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SXSW 2020: Where to go and what to see in Austin

10 can’t-miss places to check out during the fest

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Neon on South Congress
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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 (though a few are an easy walk from downtown), and none of them requires SXSW credentials of any kind to enjoy.

Have a ball, y’all.

Map points are ordered west to east.

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Deep Eddy Municipal Pool

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While the Austin weather is all over the place in the spring, if it’s warm enough for a cool plunge, Deep Eddy Pool is well worth the visit. It’s a little west of Barton Springs, just as historic, fed by the same spring, and much more peaceful.

Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum

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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, and ponds that make it a sort of art adventure—as are the rotating exhibits in its buildings and pavilions. It’s a popular events space, but it’s also a quiet refuge from even the most madding crowd.

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.

A post shared by Linda Ray (@atxgardenista) on

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, be sure to check out the mural on the side by renowned artist Lance Letscher.

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.

A post shared by Todd Sellars (@todd.sellars) on

Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail

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Ten miles of gorgeous, tree-lined path that has the river on one side and the bustling city (north and south versions) on the other, and one that features the iconic Stevie Ray Vaughan statue, wanders past Auditorium Shores, and harbors a special space for bat-viewing is pretty hard to top.

Hi, How Are You? mural

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The now iconic mural started as a drawing by late Austinite and 1990s indie rock poster child/cautionary tale Daniel Johnston. It helped make him a worldwide cult-famous musician and artist when when Kurt Cobain wore a T-shirt with the image on it to the 1992 MTV Music Awards. (It’s from the cover of Johnston’s album Hi, How Are You, though title is Jeremiah the Innocent, and Johnston later confused matters by stating that he thought of it as The Innocent Frog.) In 1993, Sound Exchange record store (also iconic, though defunct) commissioned Johnston to paint the image on a wall outside the store. After several defacements and restorations, as well as negotiations with subsequent business owners of the building and countless reproductions on everything from coffee mugs to onesies, it has become a mainstay of the Austin tourism franchise, though it means something quite different to Austin old-timers.

Mural with outline drawing of frog in black paint and words Hi How are you above By Philip Kromer, via Wikimedia Commons

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.)

Ellsworth Kelly’s ‘Austin’ at Blanton Museum of Art

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The Blanton Museum of Art of the University of Texas campus just unveiled this 2,715-square-foot, freestanding work by internationally renowned modernist Ellsworth Kelly. Kelly donated the design for the building shortly before his death in 2015, and it is both the only structure he designed and his final work.

Vaulted stone room with colored glass panels and sun shining through them
Inside Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin
©Ellsworth Kelly Foundation. Courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin

Texas Music Museum

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The Texas Music Museum collects and preserves artifacts, documents and reference material surrounding the diverse traditions of Texas music, and uses these collections in the presentation of exhibits, educational programs, and performances.

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Deep Eddy Municipal Pool

While the Austin weather is all over the place in the spring, if it’s warm enough for a cool plunge, Deep Eddy Pool is well worth the visit. It’s a little west of Barton Springs, just as historic, fed by the same spring, and much more peaceful.

Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum

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, and ponds that make it a sort of art adventure—as are the rotating exhibits in its buildings and pavilions. It’s a popular events space, but it’s also a quiet refuge from even the most madding crowd.

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.

A post shared by Linda Ray (@atxgardenista) on

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, be sure to check out the mural on the side by renowned artist Lance Letscher.

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.

A post shared by Todd Sellars (@todd.sellars) on

Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail

Ten miles of gorgeous, tree-lined path that has the river on one side and the bustling city (north and south versions) on the other, and one that features the iconic Stevie Ray Vaughan statue, wanders past Auditorium Shores, and harbors a special space for bat-viewing is pretty hard to top.

Hi, How Are You? mural

Mural with outline drawing of frog in black paint and words Hi How are you above By Philip Kromer, via Wikimedia Commons

The now iconic mural started as a drawing by late Austinite and 1990s indie rock poster child/cautionary tale Daniel Johnston. It helped make him a worldwide cult-famous musician and artist when when Kurt Cobain wore a T-shirt with the image on it to the 1992 MTV Music Awards. (It’s from the cover of Johnston’s album Hi, How Are You, though title is Jeremiah the Innocent, and Johnston later confused matters by stating that he thought of it as The Innocent Frog.) In 1993, Sound Exchange record store (also iconic, though defunct) commissioned Johnston to paint the image on a wall outside the store. After several defacements and restorations, as well as negotiations with subsequent business owners of the building and countless reproductions on everything from coffee mugs to onesies, it has become a mainstay of the Austin tourism franchise, though it means something quite different to Austin old-timers.

Mural with outline drawing of frog in black paint and words Hi How are you above By Philip Kromer, via Wikimedia Commons

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.)

Ellsworth Kelly’s ‘Austin’ at Blanton Museum of Art

Vaulted stone room with colored glass panels and sun shining through them
Inside Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin
©Ellsworth Kelly Foundation. Courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin

The Blanton Museum of Art of the University of Texas campus just unveiled this 2,715-square-foot, freestanding work by internationally renowned modernist Ellsworth Kelly. Kelly donated the design for the building shortly before his death in 2015, and it is both the only structure he designed and his final work.

Vaulted stone room with colored glass panels and sun shining through them
Inside Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin
©Ellsworth Kelly Foundation. Courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin

Texas Music Museum

The Texas Music Museum collects and preserves artifacts, documents and reference material surrounding the diverse traditions of Texas music, and uses these collections in the presentation of exhibits, educational programs, and performances.