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Open Room, Sand Beach Park
Open Room, Sand Beach Park
Library of Congress

SXSW 2017: where to go and what to see in Austin

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Open Room, Sand Beach Park
| Library of Congress

Austin is always buzzing these days, but during SXSW it becomes a different kind of beast. Metal clubs become comedy venues, favorite movie theaters are full of badgeholders and celebrities, and it takes a temporary village of tents and forts to pull off all the parties, demos, and events around downtown.

That's all well and good, but at some point you're probably going to want to check out some of the great places Austin has to offer year-round. To that end, we designed this guide map of places you'll really want to visit while you're here. Most are free and festival-adjacent, and none of them require SXSW credentials of any kind to enjoy.

Have a ball, y'all.

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Sand Beach Park/Open Room

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There are many reasons to love Sand Beach Park, a patch of loveliness between Seaholm and Lady Bird Lake and in view of the Austin "Graffiti" (railroad) Bridge. But by far the best reason is Open Room, an art installation and darn good, long, well-lit picnic table created by Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt as part of the city's Art in Public Places program.
Library of Congress

The Contemporary Austin—Jones Center

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The Contemporary Austin's downtown branch is called the Jones Center, a beautifully remodeled downtown space designed by LTL architecture firm, perfect setting for the new, edgy, often performative art and events the museum excels in exhibiting. The museum also recently unveiled a new version of its rooftop deck/event space, and it's sure to host some exciting events.

Encore Records

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Encore Records might not be as storied as Waterloo Records, but it has plenty of great vinyl, CDs, and other stuff in a variety of genres. Plus it's closer to the Convention Center.

Deep Eddy Pool

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Deep Eddy Pool is a little west of Barton Springs, just as historic, fed by the same spring, and much more peaceful.

Yard Dog Folk Art

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Yard Dog has been exhibiting folk and outsider art from the South since 1995, and it specializes pieces by musicians who also work/ed in visual art, including Jon Langford, Tom Russell, Ian McLagan, and Jad Fair.

South Congress Books

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Owned and run by a rare-books expert and longtime Austinite, South Congress Books is a great, intimate place to find all kinds of (real) Texana, (real) Austin writing, and (real) Austin cultural artifacts, especially related to music. It's also a welcoming oasis when you're overwhelmed by SoCo crowds.

Peter Pan Mini Golf

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Okay, admittedly, this looks like a weird choice. But it's one of the few goofy, storied Austin landmarks left, and it's actually pretty cool. Not to mention wayyyy old-school and over the top, even for minigolf courses of its era. Just look for the giant Peter Pan looming over Barton Springs Road at South Lamar.

The Driskill Bar

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The Driskill Hotel was built for a cattle baron in 1886, and its vintage grandiosity is still largely intact. For many decades, it was the finest and best hotel in the city, the place where politicians, socialites, and other fancy or powerful people gathered. That includes its bar, which is lauded for its bar-ness as well as its historic atmosphere. (Tip: The lobby bathrooms are reliably a civilized, quiet place to go for a few moments of regrouping and reflection.)

A photo posted by The Driskill (@thedriskill) on

Willie Nelson Statue

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The Stevie Ray Vaughan statue on Lady Bird Lake is, rightfully, a symbol of Austin. But Willie is one of the cosmic cowboys who started Austin down its strange and wonderful path. Stop by and give the dude his due.

Starr Building

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We probably wouldn't recommend this to anyone but Curbed readers because it's just a building. And a mosaic mural. However, since it's a significant local midcentury building that was renovated by local award-winning architects at McKinney York, we think you might be interested. It also contains an original mosaic mural by abstract modernist Seymour Fogel, restored under the watch of the Texas Commission on the Arts. Its upper floors currently house the McGarrah Jessee ad agency, which is no slouch in the design department, either.

Charm School Vintage

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Charm School has one of the most well-curated selections of vintage clothing, accessories, and random things we've seen anywhere, ever. It's in a Bercy Chen-designed building on a happening section of East 11th, too, and there are some other great shops nearby.

The Cloak Room

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Located in a basement across the street from the state Capitol, the Cloak Room has been called the city's most dimly lit bar, and has been rumored to be the place of backroom legislative shenanigans since the 1970s. It's also been called a dive bar, but the selection is more than fine, and longtime bartender Bev is a no-nonsense pro you'll want to get to know.

A post shared by Susan Floyd (@texarchivist) on

Sand Beach Park/Open Room

Library of Congress
There are many reasons to love Sand Beach Park, a patch of loveliness between Seaholm and Lady Bird Lake and in view of the Austin "Graffiti" (railroad) Bridge. But by far the best reason is Open Room, an art installation and darn good, long, well-lit picnic table created by Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt as part of the city's Art in Public Places program.
Library of Congress

The Contemporary Austin—Jones Center

The Contemporary Austin's downtown branch is called the Jones Center, a beautifully remodeled downtown space designed by LTL architecture firm, perfect setting for the new, edgy, often performative art and events the museum excels in exhibiting. The museum also recently unveiled a new version of its rooftop deck/event space, and it's sure to host some exciting events.

Encore Records

Encore Records might not be as storied as Waterloo Records, but it has plenty of great vinyl, CDs, and other stuff in a variety of genres. Plus it's closer to the Convention Center.

Deep Eddy Pool

Deep Eddy Pool is a little west of Barton Springs, just as historic, fed by the same spring, and much more peaceful.

Yard Dog Folk Art

Yard Dog has been exhibiting folk and outsider art from the South since 1995, and it specializes pieces by musicians who also work/ed in visual art, including Jon Langford, Tom Russell, Ian McLagan, and Jad Fair.

South Congress Books

Owned and run by a rare-books expert and longtime Austinite, South Congress Books is a great, intimate place to find all kinds of (real) Texana, (real) Austin writing, and (real) Austin cultural artifacts, especially related to music. It's also a welcoming oasis when you're overwhelmed by SoCo crowds.

Peter Pan Mini Golf

Okay, admittedly, this looks like a weird choice. But it's one of the few goofy, storied Austin landmarks left, and it's actually pretty cool. Not to mention wayyyy old-school and over the top, even for minigolf courses of its era. Just look for the giant Peter Pan looming over Barton Springs Road at South Lamar.

The Driskill Bar

The Driskill Hotel was built for a cattle baron in 1886, and its vintage grandiosity is still largely intact. For many decades, it was the finest and best hotel in the city, the place where politicians, socialites, and other fancy or powerful people gathered. That includes its bar, which is lauded for its bar-ness as well as its historic atmosphere. (Tip: The lobby bathrooms are reliably a civilized, quiet place to go for a few moments of regrouping and reflection.)

A photo posted by The Driskill (@thedriskill) on

Willie Nelson Statue

The Stevie Ray Vaughan statue on Lady Bird Lake is, rightfully, a symbol of Austin. But Willie is one of the cosmic cowboys who started Austin down its strange and wonderful path. Stop by and give the dude his due.

Starr Building

We probably wouldn't recommend this to anyone but Curbed readers because it's just a building. And a mosaic mural. However, since it's a significant local midcentury building that was renovated by local award-winning architects at McKinney York, we think you might be interested. It also contains an original mosaic mural by abstract modernist Seymour Fogel, restored under the watch of the Texas Commission on the Arts. Its upper floors currently house the McGarrah Jessee ad agency, which is no slouch in the design department, either.

Charm School Vintage

Charm School has one of the most well-curated selections of vintage clothing, accessories, and random things we've seen anywhere, ever. It's in a Bercy Chen-designed building on a happening section of East 11th, too, and there are some other great shops nearby.

The Cloak Room

Located in a basement across the street from the state Capitol, the Cloak Room has been called the city's most dimly lit bar, and has been rumored to be the place of backroom legislative shenanigans since the 1970s. It's also been called a dive bar, but the selection is more than fine, and longtime bartender Bev is a no-nonsense pro you'll want to get to know.

A post shared by Susan Floyd (@texarchivist) on