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Peacock at Mayfield Park and Wildlife Preserve
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Where to escape from SXSW

Best places to recharge or flee during the fest

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Peacock at Mayfield Park and Wildlife Preserve
| Shutterstock

The stat is staggering, no matter how many times it’s said: More than 400,000 people, when all is said and done. That’s the influx downtown Austin gets during SXSW. That’s like, what, close to half of the city proper’s total population?

It’s fun, exhilarating—and sometimes overwhelming. When that’s the case, our map of places where you can get away from it all is something visitors and locals alike can probably use. Austinites who want no part of anything SXSW-related and haven’t managed to flee the city entirely (to, say, one of the many great small towns around here) might also appreciate a reminder of all the fun, quiet, or entertaining places they can escape to.

If you seek food and drink away from the madness, Eater Austin has compiled extensive lists of the best restaurants and bars to fill that bill.

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1. Inner Space Cavern

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4200 I-35
Georgetown, TX 78626
(512) 931-2283
Visit Website

This natural underground cavern was discovered by construction workers building the I-35 highway. Choose from one of the guided tours (we like the one-hour version) and learn the difference between stalagmites and stalactites while you explore the cavern’s Ice Age animal fossils.

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2. Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park

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12138 N Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78753
(512) 974-6700
Visit Website

To get far away from festival crowds and throw in a healthy nature experience while you’re at it, head to Walnut Creek Part. Part of a greenbelt that connects with Little Walnut Creek Park in East Austin (also quite pleasant), it many hilly, meandering trails and walks along its shaded creek bed. If you happen to have a dog or a mountain bike, take them along—it’s popular with mountain bikers and an off-leash dog park as well as being generally dreamy.

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3. Playland Skate Center

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8822 McCann Dr
Austin, TX 78757
(512) 452-1901
Visit Website

ince opening in 1973, Playland Skate Center has been the place to get your roller-skate on. (At 27,500 square feet, it’s also the largest in Austin.) In addition to keeping the rink in great shape, it features a light show, fog machine and state-of-the-art sound system.

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4. Pinballz Arcade

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8940 Research Blvd
Austin, TX 78758
(512) 420-8458
Visit Website

If overstimulation is actually your thing but you want to escape SXSW crowds specifically, check out Pinballz arcade. It’s full of pinball machines, of course, as well as old-school video games and a bunch of other fun stuff. It’s a local fave.

5. Dart Bowl

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5700 Grover Ave
Austin, TX 78756
(512) 452-2518
Visit Website

For almost 60 years, Dart Bowl has been there for Austin bowlers young and old, enthusiastic amateurs and wizened experts who are no strangers to the perfect game. Be sure to try the enchiladas in the snack bar.

6. Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve

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3505 W 35th St
Austin, TX 78703
(512) 974-6700
Visit Website

It’s all about the peacocks at Mayfield Park. Stroll around there and the nearby, lakeside Contemporary Austin—Laguna Gloria grounds, and you’ll peace out, despite (because of?) the squawking.

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7. ‘The Color Inside’ by James Turrell

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2201 Speedway
Austin, TX 78712
(512) 232-0818
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If you have time, a full tour of all the art brought to the University of Texas by its amazing Landmarks program is advised, as is popping into Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin, recently completed on the grounds of the Blanton Museum. If you’re pressed for time and in need of a break, though, head to Turrell’s permanent installation (a Landmarks project)—an enclosed structure with an oculus for experiencing how the view of the sky transforms as colors on the walls change. The ideal times to visit are at sunrise and sunset, but the place is quiet, contemplative, and compelling any time of the day.

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8. Museum of Natural & Artificial Ephemerata

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1808 Singleton Ave
Austin, TX 78702
(512) 320-0566
Visit Website

This “museum” is also the East Austin home of a couple and their two children, and, okay, it is genuinely weird. Part collection of oddities of little monetary but plenty of entertainment value (a narwal tooth, a glitter-painting of Elvis Presley) and Barnum & Bailey sideshow-style amusements (the last cigarette smoke by “the ghost of Marilyn Monroe”), it’s a fascinating place where you might want to spend a lot of time, despite its diminutive size.

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9. Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum

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605 Robert E Lee Rd
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 445-5582
Visit Website

In 1991, four forgotten acres tucked in the woods near Barton Springs were turned into an art garden after 20th-century American sculptor Charles Umlauf donated dozens of stone and bronze works to the city. The garden has evolved since then, with xeriscaping, winding paths, benches, and a small pavilion being added. Now it’s like a walk in the park. With art.

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10. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

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4801 La Crosse Ave
Austin, TX 78739
(512) 232-0100
Visit Website

The Wildflower Center operates year round and invites return visits. In addition to offering vast displays of its namesake flowers (depending on the time of year), it offers many more displays, educational programs and events, and the opportunity to see more 800 species of native Texas plants, buildings and hardscapes that are constructed with locally harvested stones and reflect regional architectural styles, a 68,500-gallon capacity rainwater capture and storage system, and perhaps some of the more than 143 species of birds, 15 species of mammals, and 1,800 species of insects that populate the center’s 284 acres.

1. Inner Space Cavern

4200 I-35, Georgetown, TX 78626

This natural underground cavern was discovered by construction workers building the I-35 highway. Choose from one of the guided tours (we like the one-hour version) and learn the difference between stalagmites and stalactites while you explore the cavern’s Ice Age animal fossils.

4200 I-35
Georgetown, TX 78626

2. Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park

12138 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753

To get far away from festival crowds and throw in a healthy nature experience while you’re at it, head to Walnut Creek Part. Part of a greenbelt that connects with Little Walnut Creek Park in East Austin (also quite pleasant), it many hilly, meandering trails and walks along its shaded creek bed. If you happen to have a dog or a mountain bike, take them along—it’s popular with mountain bikers and an off-leash dog park as well as being generally dreamy.

12138 N Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78753

3. Playland Skate Center

8822 McCann Dr, Austin, TX 78757

ince opening in 1973, Playland Skate Center has been the place to get your roller-skate on. (At 27,500 square feet, it’s also the largest in Austin.) In addition to keeping the rink in great shape, it features a light show, fog machine and state-of-the-art sound system.

8822 McCann Dr
Austin, TX 78757

4. Pinballz Arcade

8940 Research Blvd, Austin, TX 78758

If overstimulation is actually your thing but you want to escape SXSW crowds specifically, check out Pinballz arcade. It’s full of pinball machines, of course, as well as old-school video games and a bunch of other fun stuff. It’s a local fave.

8940 Research Blvd
Austin, TX 78758

5. Dart Bowl

5700 Grover Ave, Austin, TX 78756

For almost 60 years, Dart Bowl has been there for Austin bowlers young and old, enthusiastic amateurs and wizened experts who are no strangers to the perfect game. Be sure to try the enchiladas in the snack bar.

5700 Grover Ave
Austin, TX 78756

6. Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve

3505 W 35th St, Austin, TX 78703

It’s all about the peacocks at Mayfield Park. Stroll around there and the nearby, lakeside Contemporary Austin—Laguna Gloria grounds, and you’ll peace out, despite (because of?) the squawking.

3505 W 35th St
Austin, TX 78703

7. ‘The Color Inside’ by James Turrell

2201 Speedway, Austin, TX 78712

If you have time, a full tour of all the art brought to the University of Texas by its amazing Landmarks program is advised, as is popping into Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin, recently completed on the grounds of the Blanton Museum. If you’re pressed for time and in need of a break, though, head to Turrell’s permanent installation (a Landmarks project)—an enclosed structure with an oculus for experiencing how the view of the sky transforms as colors on the walls change. The ideal times to visit are at sunrise and sunset, but the place is quiet, contemplative, and compelling any time of the day.

2201 Speedway
Austin, TX 78712

8. Museum of Natural & Artificial Ephemerata

1808 Singleton Ave, Austin, TX 78702

This “museum” is also the East Austin home of a couple and their two children, and, okay, it is genuinely weird. Part collection of oddities of little monetary but plenty of entertainment value (a narwal tooth, a glitter-painting of Elvis Presley) and Barnum & Bailey sideshow-style amusements (the last cigarette smoke by “the ghost of Marilyn Monroe”), it’s a fascinating place where you might want to spend a lot of time, despite its diminutive size.

1808 Singleton Ave
Austin, TX 78702

9. Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum

605 Robert E Lee Rd, Austin, TX 78704

In 1991, four forgotten acres tucked in the woods near Barton Springs were turned into an art garden after 20th-century American sculptor Charles Umlauf donated dozens of stone and bronze works to the city. The garden has evolved since then, with xeriscaping, winding paths, benches, and a small pavilion being added. Now it’s like a walk in the park. With art.

605 Robert E Lee Rd
Austin, TX 78704

10. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

4801 La Crosse Ave, Austin, TX 78739

The Wildflower Center operates year round and invites return visits. In addition to offering vast displays of its namesake flowers (depending on the time of year), it offers many more displays, educational programs and events, and the opportunity to see more 800 species of native Texas plants, buildings and hardscapes that are constructed with locally harvested stones and reflect regional architectural styles, a 68,500-gallon capacity rainwater capture and storage system, and perhaps some of the more than 143 species of birds, 15 species of mammals, and 1,800 species of insects that populate the center’s 284 acres.

4801 La Crosse Ave
Austin, TX 78739