The two week long beast that is South by Southwest is almost here. If you’re looking to avoid SXSW and stay away from the madness that will flood downtown, this one’s for you!
While people from all over the world come to Austin for the festival’s music, film, and tech events, many Austin locals wish to steer clear of all that craziness. If you’re one of those such locals, here are our picks for alternative activities, restaurants, bars, and more. But whatever you choose do, heed our warning: do not drive through downtown!
Our Top Restaurant Picks
Waterloo Ice House Burnet Road
8600 Burnet Road
Opening their first location on South Congress in 1976, Waterloo Ice House has since become an Austin staple. Whether you’re looking for breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks — you’ll find it here. Waterloo Ice House starts serving breakfast at 7 a.m. on the weekdays with dishes like biscuits and gravy, the Waterloo Benedict, and breakfast tacos. Lunch and dinner feature a blend between Mexican and American with dishes like Waterloo Fajitas, burgers, and wings. This restaurant is also a great place if you’re looking to escape the SXSW madness with the family as they have a large kids menu plus a playground with large patio, game room, and plenty of TVs.
Foreign & Domestic
306 East 53rd Street
Located just a little north of downtown Austin, this neighborhood American-European fare offers a creative menu and abides by a nose-to-tail approach when preparing their dishes. Chef Sarah and Chef Nathan come from a background where quality food was important and a huge part of their life. In addition to an incredible dinner menu, Foreign & Domestic also serves a killer brunch with dishes like steak and eggs or blueberry crepes. Come for the biscuits, stay for the happy hour deals.
Southside Market and Barbecue
1212 US-290, Elgin, TX
The chances of all the out-of-towners wanting to get their BBQ fix while in Austin is pretty high. If you’re craving BBQ during SXSW, we recommend venturing about 40 minutes outside of Austin to Elgin. Southside has been serving locals since 1882 and is doing it right. William Moon, founder of Southside, began selling sausages out of his wagon which eventually led to the physical restaurant in 1886. While they’re famous for their hot sausage, the lamb is the real star of their menu. Don’t want to make the drive to Elgin to get their BBQ? Southside recently opened a second location in the Shops at Arbor Walk on 10515 North Mopac Expressway.
Olive & June
3411 Glenview Avenue
Tucked into the neighborhood jus off Mopac, this elegant yes also casual Italian restaurant offers incredible dishes with a wine list that can’t be beat. Executive Chef and Owner, Shawn Cirkiel, designed Olive & June to be a place where you could come for date night or with your family. They offer small plates and antipasti, and larger pasta dishes with their fresh, homemade noodles. Every Sunday, Olive & June offers a family-style meal in addition to their menu. This pre fixed menu changes weekly and offers options for kids. Sit outside on their beautiful patio that was built around an existing tree, or grab a booth on one of the many levels inside.
Lala’s Little Nugget
2207 Justin Lane
Located in a strip mall, Lala’s is sure to be free of all the SXSW goers. Founded in 1972, they keep their Christmas decorations up all year round and serve a mean cocktail. The staff is super friendly and gives off that neighborhood/hole in the wall feel. Pro tip: there’s great BBQ next door.
The Little Darlin’
6507 Circle S Road
If you’re looking for live music during SXSW and don’t want to stand in a long line that only folks with badges are getting into, head south to The Little Darlin’. This neighborhood watering hole features tons of craft beer, food, and a big back yard with games. Escape the crowds and relax with the locals!
10212 Menchaca Road
Head a little South on Manchaca for this completely outdoor bar and music venue. Slushies, local beer, corn hole, food trucks — everything you could want to escape SXSW on a weekend day. Not only can you bring your pups, but you can play sand volleyball on one of their three courts.
Sam’s Town Point
2115 Allred Drive
If you’re looking for fancy cocktails and plush interior, this is not the place. Think of your best friend’s grandpa’s house that they decided to put a bar into. It’s unpretentious, divey, and serves the coldest Lonestars. They occasionally have music, but during SXSW the place will be packed with locals and all kinds of musicians. Pro tip: Dottie’s chair at the bar is off limits.
Less Crowded Areas Outside of Austin Proper
35 Minutes South of Austin
If you’ve never been to the “Barbecue Capitol of Texas” then this is your sign to go. Especially since we’re pretty sure all the people visiting Austin for the festival will be crowding up all the local BBQ spots. But don’t worry Lockhart has four major barbecue restaurants to choose from.
40 Minutes West of Austin
Dripping Springs is the perfect way to escape the crowded city. It has something for everyone. From spectacular natural wonders, a plethora of vineyards, craft breweries, local distilleries, and so much more!
45 Minutes Southwest of Austin
Only 45 minutes outside of Austin, the whimsical small town of Wimberley will have you itching to explore. The town’s motto is “A nice place to visit… a great place to live.” It’s not hard to imagine the allure of living in a town like Wimberley as it’s very picturesque.
50 Minutes South of Austin
Gruene (pronounced green) looks like a film set rather than a real town. But don’t let that fool you, Gruene has a lot of offer in the terms of a daytrip. You can dine as the popular Gristmill River Restaurant and Bar, it’s a legendary Texas experience. Speaking of legends, what’s a trip to Gruene without a visit to Gruene Hall. The famous dance hall has seen its fair share of legends. If you’ve never been, SXSW is the perfect excuse to cross this off your bucket list.
60 Minutes Northwest of Austin
Do you like shopping, breweries, wineries, galleries, hiking, boating, kayaking, fishing? If you said yes to any of those then Marble Falls is the spot for you! It might be an hour but it’s worth the trip out.
Getaways and Staycations
Omni Barton Creek
8212 Barton Club Drive
Want to escape the crowds and relax? How does a 4,000 acre resort sound? Omni Barton Creek has a golf course, pools, seven different dining options and a spa. They recently redesigned their spa, the 13,000 square-foot spa sanctuary is the cherry on top of an ultimate getaway. Did we mention the views of Hill Country? What we’re really saying is book your stay sooner rather than later.
Spoon Mountain Glamping
210 Masonic Lodge Road, Wimberley
If you’re looking for more of a glamping getaway experience try Spoon Mountain! You can enjoy one of three large safari tents tucked into the cedars on a little hilltop in Wimberley. The tents have hardwood floors, comfy beds, a full bathroom, gorgeous sunset views, and a back deck that includes a HUGE outdoor soaking tub. There’s also a community pavilion, fire pit, outdoor games, and hot tub. Spa services are available on site if desired. As if that isn’t enough, you’re close to Blue Hole and everything else Wimberley has to offer!
Blue Skies Retro Resort
13372 N State Highway 16, Fredericksburg
This Palm Springs style retro resort is perfect if you’re looking for a getaway that’s remote, yet close to a lot of activities! Nestled between the Texas Wine Trail and Enchanted Rock, Blue Skies Retro Resort is less than a two hour drive from Austin. There are five Shasta trailers, each with private yards and a tiny bathroom inside (the showers are located outside the trailer). If you’re really looking for some peace and quiet, this is the getaway for you!
Find more local staycations and getaways, here.
Featured photo via Circle Brewing.