- March 5, 2014

5 Ways to Avoid SXSW 2014


Sheesh… Is it already South by Southwest time in Austin again? If you’re anything like me, SXSW — or “South-by,” as so many folks abbreviate it — used to inspire that tingly feeling of excitement at the prospect of catching unusual first-run films or sweating amongst the crowd at my future-favorite-band’s show while downing plastic cups of free beer. Yeah, that was back in the PK days…pre-kids, that is.

These days, when early March rolls around and I realize that both Spring Break and SXSW are around the corner, I’m filled with not a tingle of excitement, but a quick frisson of anxiety: How will I avoid South-by this time? And how will we enjoy our staycation — what Spring Break has turned into for this little family living on a budget — when everything in town seems to swell with pedestrians and pedi-cabs and the cute, scruffy 25-year-olds seeking coffee and beer and the next big gig that we, ourselves, used to be?

I truly don’t mean to bag on our great city’s greatest music and film conference. I’ve had some incredibly fun times at SXSW (as well as its proudly contrary spin-offs, like years ago when my band played at the Chain Drive for SXS&M… Yeah, good times. PK times, of course). Now, having little ones in tow just makes navigating SXSW a little less manageable, and the crowds, sweat and port-a-potties a little less appealing. These days, I’m all about finding ways to feel as if I’m joining in the fun without, you know, actually joining in the fun.

Living in southwest Austin definitely makes it easier — we can stay south of the river and find fun things to do away from the sweaty bloat of downtown. So, if you’re like me — looking for ways to avoid South by Southwest 2014 while still feeling like you’re having some Spring Break fun on staycation with the kids — read on for my five suggestions (all free, of course!).

Image from Cabelas.com

1. A trip to Cabela’s in Buda, TX — Just a quick jaunt down I-35 takes you to one of the strangest, most fascinating outfitters I’ve ever seen. Even if you’ve never gone hunting or fishing in your life and don’t intend to start now, that’s not what Cabela’s is about — not entirely. There’s also the aquarium stocked with live fish, and the bizarre taxidermied-animal display. Okay, vegans, vegetarians and animal lovers might or might not love a visit to Cabela’s… It’s definitely a little eerie, walking among those regal, dead lions and bobcats and elephants. But it’s like a free trip to a natural history museum! During the weeks of SXSW 2014, there are even some cool kid-friendly events going on at Cabela’s, including kids’ archery lessons both Saturday, March 15 and Sunday the 16th, from 11 AM–3 PM both days. And, um, you can also go learn some great tips and tactics for varmint hunting. So, there’s that. Cabela’s: 15570 South IH-35, Buda, TX 78610; ph. 512-295-1100.

2. Story time at the Barnes & Noble on Brodie Lane — Every Wednesday and Saturday morning at 11, Barnes & Noble hosts story and craft time at their Sunset Valley store. The events calendar on their website doesn’t specify which stories or crafts will be featured each week, but in my opinion, not knowing exactly what you’re showing up for only adds to the fun. You can also call ahead, of course, to see which story, craft or age group will be highlighted. Sunset Valley Barnes & Noble: 5601 Brodie Lane, Ste. 300, Austin, TX 78745; ph. 512-892-3493.

3. Hiking the Greenbelt at Twin Falls — The Twin Falls portion of the Barton Creek Greenbelt has always been one of my favorite hikes. Parking is usually easy (from Mopac, take the 360 North exit, and then proceed as if you’re going to get back on Mopac headed south, but instead of getting on the highway, continue straight along the southbound frontage road. You’ll see cars parked on the right side — that’s where you should park, too — and before you reach the turnaround beneath the highway, you’ll see the green Twin Falls trail entrance sign among the trees and boulders on your right. Note: DO NOT leave valuables in your car — break-ins are, unfortunately, not unheard of here). Hiking with kids is surprisingly easy, in my experience. Mine are still small enough to ride on my back in the Ergo or frame backpack; older kids can walk along the uneven path with their parents. In March, there is usually still water rushing along the Greenbelt, and you’ll see why Twin Falls got its name. There is a very shallow area that’s easy enough to wade in with a baby or toddler, and deeper areas that are fun for good swimmers. Check out Heidi Okla’s lovely recent piece on hiking Twin Falls. Twin Falls: South Mopac Expressway, Austin, TX 78746; ph. Austin Parks Foundation: 512-477-1566.

4. Free events at the Austin Public Library — Specifically, this year, the Muppet Movie Marathon on Wednesday, March 12. Starting at 11:30 in the morning and going all the way till 8 PM on 3/12, the Manchaca Road Branch of the Austin Public Library will be screening all five Muppet movies in reverse chronological order (so, starting with the 2011 film The Muppets at 11:30 AM, and ending with the 1979 The Muppet Movie sometime in the evening). All films are rated G except the first, The Muppets, which is rated PG. And refreshments will be provided. Um, enough said — this sounds awesome. APL, Manchaca Road Branch: 5500 Manchaca Road, Austin, TX 78745; ph. 512-974-8700.

5. Most any coffee shop before 9 AM — Okay, so the coffee and pastries won’t be free. But getting to visit your favorite coffee shop or taco place during SXSW without having to wait in long lines or fight for seating? Priceless. Just be sure to go early, before most SXSW attendees are awake yet. Remember, much of the conference happens late and goes into the wee hours of the night, so many revelers are still sleeping in the early and mid-morning. Most families, of course, are already up and going by that time. Don’t be scared to grab a taco at the Barton Skyway Tacodeli before heading out to Twin Falls, or sit down for coffee and some AM people-watching at Jo’s Hot Coffee on South Congress. Even the trendiest places don’t usually get hoppin’ till after 9 AM.

And if you turn out to be braver than I am, be sure to check out the Guide to Family-Friendly Fun at SXSW 2014, info about free Symphony Square concerts during SXSW, or the official SXSW 2014 list of free shows (just don’t forget to get your free guest pass online). And if you want the best of both worlds — enjoying SXSW while avoiding crowds — check out Avoid Humans, a nifty Web-based app developed by Austin’s own GSD&M that will tell you the current least-crowded places in Austin.

Catherine A. Morris is a writer as well as a once-and-future teacher, musician, jogger and triathlete living in southwest Austin, Texas. Yes, most of her former passions and pastimes have given way, at least for now, to her current, main passion and pastime: caring for her two kids, toddler Pearl and baby Zephyr. Pearl and Zeph make Catherine and her husband laugh (and cry) on a daily basis, and give Catherine plenty of good reasons to seek out free, fun activities to keep everyone alive, engaged and happy from one moment to the next.