The Austin City Limits Festival, now in its 14th year, is an ever-growing, ever-changing beast, but its timing is like clockwork. It’s the first giant festival of the fall season (rife with festivals, of course), and it can be counted on to take over Auditorium Shores (along with most of the adjacent neighborhoods)—as well as a number of music clubs since the addition of its official Late Night Shows in places such as Stubb’s and the Continental Club—for two weekends a year.
According to its website, the festival has added more shade, a family-friendly entrance, and upgraded facilities, and more around the park. Nevertheless, you have to crash—or at least leave the venues—at some point. Then again, maybe you’ll want to call it a night early and hang out at your hotel bar trying to spot rock stars, have a soiree of your own, or just crash in luxurious, restorative comfort for a few hours.
Sure, you can stay at the W or the JW Marriott and do all of those things. No judgment. But if you’re looking for something a little more intimate, with a connection to Austin’s musical past (and present), the places below might offer you a much better glimpse of the town behind the festival.
↑ Hotel Saint Cecilia, one of transformative local hotelier (patron saint of Austin hotels?) Liz Lambert's projects, was conceived as a rock & roll hideaway—it was created in honor of the patron saint of music and poetry—and it delivers. It's located off busy South Congress, but the generous grounds, grand oak tree out front, and overall vibe make it seem like it's miles away from the fray. Think Rolling Stones 1969 tour or Bob Dylan and The Band at Big Pink.
↑ A relatively new addition to Austin's hospitality palette, Hotel Van Zandt is located on Rainey Street, an extremely active entertainment area in a southeast pocket of downtown. It's a Kimpton Hotel, but it takes Austin and its music seriously, from its namesakes (both the late musician Townes and his deeply rooted Texas family that includes Isaac Van Zandt, the first ambassador to the United States for the Republic of Texas, his great-great-great-grandfather) to its live-music stage that focuses on local musicians, especially songwriters. Except for the Rainey, its presidential suites are named after Townes Van Zandt or characters from some of his most well-known songs (there's a Pancho and a Lefty, as well as a Loretta. Most of them feature a poker table and record player and collections, and some have upright pianos.
↑ Another new arrival, South Congress Hotel oozes hip but doesn't skimp on comfort. Designed by local rock-star architect Michael Hsu in collaboration with Dick Clark + Associates and Studio MAI, it possess a retro, cosmopolitan cool that's rooted in the local culture, which it engages and embraces through its bar and adjacent restaurants and retail.
↑ Built in 1886 and recently restored to something like its original glory, the Driskill might seem like a staid choice for music-fest guests. in point of fact, however, it has hosted rock stars of all types (social, political, musical) and their fans for many a decade—and its bar is a popular, intimate place for visitors and locals to meet all year round. It's also downtown and absolutely gorgeous.
↑ Hotel San José, Liz Lambert's first hospitality project, is an Austin original—upscale, minimal, peaceful, laid-back, and beautiful. Its cabana-style rooms have hosted many a celeb, but it's also popular with regular folk (especially those who value the inventive and lovely design all around them), and its garden courtyard bar sees plenty of local traffic, as well.
↑ Yes, it's a Four Seasons, but this one has been the celebrity go-to in Austin far longer than any of the hotels (save the Driskill) have existed. It could be because it's tucked back from the street and fronts the river—offering privacy and unobtrusive convenience—the dependability of its soft lighting and its luxurious decor, or the discretion of its staff. Or maybe it's the spa. Whatever the case, if you hang out in the comfy bar long enough, you'll probably see somebody who's Somebody at some point.