The Best Things To Do In Austin Right Now

Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
Austin is one of those cities that everyone has an opinion on — whether it’s the best breakfast taco, strongest Mexican margarita, or the most Texas-forever dive bar. But come March, bands, brands, and fans infiltrate the city, and it can be hard to sift through the quite literal noise. While some may think locals go into hiding, true Austinites will be the first to tell you there’s never a better time to search for what keeps Austin weird.
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That’s why we scoured the city for the most of-the-moment events that showcase the finest of what Austin culture has to offer — from art installations and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pop-ups to eating experiences and secret speakeasies. There may be a million hotly contested reasons to love Austin at any given moment, but here are 29 reasons to love it right now.
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
1. Take A Dip At Kitty Cohen’s
When you need a break from it all, the Palm Springs-inspired Kitty Cohen’s, one of the new kids on the trendy East Austin drinks scene, is the place to go. Following in the Austin tradition of alcoholic slushies on tap, Miss Kitty takes it one step further with a classic kidney-bean pool in the center of the bar. With showcases throughout the week, you can expect to see some of SXSW’s coolest acts sipping on tropical drinks in the pool or hanging out at the bar’s midweek French Pool Party on March 15.
Kitty Cohen’s, 2211 Webberville Rd., Austin, TX.
2. You Can See 2017’s Festival Fashion Here First
SXSW is the unofficial start of festival fashion season or, as we like to call it in Austin, fashion. The city’s boho-chic best hit the streets and set the blueprint for the year’s looks. Check out local vintage gem Charm School Vintage, which serves up a daily dose of hippie-chic.
Charm School Vintage, 1111 E. 11th St. #150, Austin, TX; 512-524-0166.
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3. The Show Search Party Is Having A Pop-Up Store
If you loved Search Party when it premiered last fall on TBS, you’ll want to take a spin around Dory’s dream shop. At the In Search Of pop-up, you can lounge around and binge-watch season 1 of the show; meet with in-house craftspeople to imprint leather accessories or customize jewelry; or just take in its location on historic Rainey Street. You can also attend one of its many events: There's a complimentary brunch at noon on March 14 and a free happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. March 16, which is followed by an official SXSW music showcase at 6 p.m.
L’Estelle House and The Drafting Room, 88 1/2 Rainey St., Austin, TX; 512-571-4588.
4. Sour Beers Are Trending
With more than 30 breweries in and around Austin, it’s safe to say the city knows its craft beer. And while you’re here, you should definitely sample a current favorite in craft circles: sour beer. You can pick up a six-pack of Blue Owl Brewing’s owl-adorned cans at just about any market in town, but with a taproom in East Austin that has seasonal beers on draft — like this spring’s Saison Puede farmhouse ale — why wouldn’t you check out the brewery? You can also go on a brewery tour for $20.
Blue Owl Brewing, 2400 E. Cesar Chavez St. #300, Austin, TX; 512-593-1262.
5. Take Your Karaoke Underground
Hidden in a nondescript parking lot on South Congress is Ego’s, a bar so secluded there’s no cell-phone reception. There, you can jam out with locals to hits from Prince, Bowie, and endless amounts of ‘90s hip-hop free from the fear you’ll appear on the internet five minutes later.
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Ego’s, 510 S. Congress Ave., Austin, TX; 512-474-7091.
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
6. Late-Night Dining Is (Almost) Better Than Daytime
If you’re here for the festival, chances are you’ll be running on fumes within days. Breakfast tacos are within arm’s reach at any hour of the day, but a girl can’t subsist on eggs and tortillas alone. Luckily Austin’s late-night dining scene is on fire. Stalwarts like French brasserie Justine’s, which serves up its full menu and intoxicating cocktails until 2 a.m., and Garage, which offers a Philip Speer-designed menu until 2 a.m., still rule the pack. But newer eateries, like Irene’s, are picking up the mantle of fine dining at any hour.
Justine’s, 4710 E. 5th St., Austin, TX; 512-385-2900.
Garage, 503 Colorado St., Austin, TX; 512-369-3490.
Irene’s, 506 West Ave., Austin, TX; 512-298-0853.
7. It’s Safe To Go Back In The Water
For a city with no shortage of water sports, winter can be miserable, but in March, the lakeside businesses reopen. Gear up at EpicSUP ATX right on the water, where you can get outfitted with paddle-boarding equipment as well as learn how to actually stay upright with lessons. For a little less adventure, go to the Texas Rowing Center to take all manners of boats out on the water. Time either activity with the setting sun, and you might even spot the Congress Bridge bats who make their triumphant return in March.
EpicSup ATX, 2200 Lakeshore Blvd., Austin, TX.
Texas Rowing Center, 1541 W. Cesar Chavez St., Austin, TX; 512-467-7799.
8. The Rodeo Is In Town
Austin may be a blue island in a red state, but the city’s Western roots run deep as ever. Case in point: The rodeo still comes to town. Running through March 25 at the Travis County Exposition Center, Rodeo Austin is two packed weeks of concerts, carnival rides, and actual Prorodeo competition events. There will be a craft-beer garden on site, but it is BYOCB: bring your own cowboy boots.
Rodeo Austin, 7311 Decker Lane, Austin, TX; 512-919-3000.
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
9. The Hottest Rooftop Party Is At A Grocery Store
We weren’t kidding when we said there was music everywhere during SXSW. Case in point: There's a concert series on the roof of the Whole Foods parking lot downtown. Southwest Invasion is a three-day series of concerts, and this year’s lineup includes Modern English, Bridgit Mendler, and Kate Nash. But let’s be honest: You’re going for Hanson, which is a headlining act this year. We’re all going for Hanson.
Whole Foods, 525 N. Lamar Blvd., Austin, TX; 512-476-1206.
1o. Sip Frozé At The Hotel San José
The Hotel San José, located on Austin’s trendy South Congress Avenue, has recently become the city’s best place to see and not be seen. Secluded from the throngs of foot traffic, the Spanish-style bungalow hotel and its accompanying lounge are the perfect places to slip away from the city to unwind. And with nightly music, an inventive cocktail list, and homemade chicken wings from 12 to 5 p.m. every day, where else would you rather go?
Hotel San José, 1316 S. Congress Ave., Austin, TX; 512-852-2350.
11. Barton Springs Pool Reopens
Sure, it was only closed a week, but Barton Springs Pool is all clean just in time for SXSW. Made entirely from natural spring water, the 18-foot-deep tourmaline-blue pool is a local favorite for swimming, sunbathing, and staving off the Texas heat. Admission is $3 for an adult, and bikini tops are optional. After all, topless sunbathing is legal in Austin, and Barton Springs is known for its hippie visitors who love to keep Austin weird.
Barton Springs Pool, 2201 Barton Springs Rd., Austin, TX; 512-867-3080.
12. Sleigh Bells Returns To The Stage
After making us wait almost three years for a new album, the Brooklyn noise-pop duo is back at SXSW with its latest album, Jessica Rabbit. The band will be in Austin at a number of political rallies throughout early March, but the best way to truly experience Sleigh Bells is to have an all-out dance party at its late-night SXSW showcase on March 15 at Banger’s. Get there early to catch Austin favorite Wild Belle and start sampling the many, many beers Banger’s has on tap — well over 100 at last count.
Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden, 79 Rainey St., Austin, TX; 512-386-1656.
13. Comedy Comes To Town
What started as an experiment to offset the music-heavy festival roster 10 years ago has become its own juggernaut. SXSW Comedy branches out significantly this year, with live recordings of popular podcasts like Doug Benson’s Doug Loves Movies, show tapings at ACL Live, and independent shows like the narrative storytelling experiment Good Trip With Shane Mauss. The track has shows throughout the week and a roster packed with stars from Saturday Night Live, the Upright Citizens Brigade, and more.
SXSW various locations; 512-467-7979.
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
14. Clive Bar Is Having Double R Diner Pop-Up
Like the Friends café and Luke’s Diner that came before it, the iconic eatery from Twin Peaks will have a pop-up diner at SXSW March 16 and 17. The Double R will serve up much-needed caffeine, free cherry pie, and a healthy dose of nostalgia to the warriors powering through the second half of the conference.
Clive Bar, 609 Davis St., Austin, TX; 512-524-1623.
15. Rock Out With Empress by #BossBabesATX
Quickly springing onto the Austin scene as an event production nonprofit, #BossBabesATX is dedicated to bringing together women in media to discuss diversity, equal representation, and all manners of art creation. Its monthly meetups are always packed, and for SXSW, it’ll be hosting its own music showcase, Empress, alongside Girlfriend ATX, a femme DJ collective that raises money for female-focused nonprofits. It all goes down March 14 at famed venue Cheer Up Charlies.
Cheer Up Charlies, 900 Red River St., Austin, TX; 512-431-2133.
16. Women In Media Will Make Their Mark
While more women are making their mark in media and entertainment, the industry is still a male-dominated one. Join Refinery29’s Shannon Gibson at the TBS Search Party Pop-Up on March 14 as she moderates an immersive conversation with Anu Valia and Gabrielle Nadig, director and executive producer, respectively, of the award-winning Shatterbox series.
L’Estelle House and The Drafting Room, 88 1/2 Rainey St., Austin, TX; 512-571-4588.
17. Vibes ATX’s Day Parties Promise To Change The Game
There’s no shortage of day parties worth attending (or sneaking into) during SXSW, but the one we’re most excited for is Vibes XX17, which takes over the Vulcan Gas Company on March 17 and 18. With performances from Warhol.SS, Alex Wiley, and jokes throughout the day from “Dicks Out For Harambe” creator and standup comedian Brandon Wardell, Vibes is keeping it hype as ever — and changing the rules of what day parties look like.
Vulcan Gas Company, 418 E. 6th St., Austin, TX; 512-522-8851.
18. Cool Off With Avocado Margaritas At Curra’s Grill
Everyone will tell you to try the breakfast tacos and you certainly should, but for a true Austin experience, add the avocado margaritas at Curra’s Grill to your itinerary. An Austin institution just off trendy South Congress, Curra’s has been serving up the uber-refreshing (and intensely boozy) avo margs for decades, and its popularity as the local’s margarita of choice has yet to wane. Wash it down with another, or try some of Curra's to-die-for queso or mole.
Curra’s Grill, 614 E. Oltorf St., Austin, TX; 512-444-0012.
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
19. Collide With Culture
Is it a restaurant? A bar? A coworking space? With Collide ATX, there’s no need to decide. One of the newer additions to East Austin’s thriving arts scene, it offers free coworking space during the day and a bar/event space at night. It also brings in a rotating menu of artists and chefs from all parts of the globe to host dinners, talks, and a variety of events. March 16 to 19, Collide will take over Austin’s famous Rainey Street for #CollideOnRainey, a weekend of music.
Collide ATX, 1802 E. 6th St., Austin, TX; 512-609-8174.
20. Drink Under The Radar
Tucked into a nondescript parking garage downtown (Austin loves its hidden parking-lot bars) is the appropriately named Garage, which serves up fancy-pants bar snacks, like ahi poke, alongside seriously inventive drinks. The holy grail of hidden drinking, however, is Midnight Cowboy, a former brothel (ahem, massage parlor) turned speakeasy.
Garage, 503 Colorado St., Austin, TX; 512-369-3490.
Midnight Cowboy, 313 E. 6th St., Austin, TX; 512-843-2715.
21. Eat Barbecue Like A Local
If you don't want to wait in the long lines at Franklin's, you could head over to its neighbor La Barbecue. Long known to locals as Texan ‘cue royalty, La Barbecue has flavorful brisket, juicy sausage, and all the soft white bread you can handle.
La Barbecue, 1906 E. Cesar Chavez St., Austin, TX; 512-605-9696.
22. Take In Taping At ACL Live
There’s no better place to take in live music than ACL Live at the Moody Theater. The newer venue’s acoustics are unparalleled and the space holds true to the indie music roots of the city’s other festival, Austin City Limits. Acts like Ryan Adams, The Avett Brothers, and the Wu-Tang Clan will all be recording at ACL Live during the festival and are not to be missed.
ACL Live, 310 Willie Nelson Blvd., Austin, TX; 512-225-7999.
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
23. Check Out An Eastside Story
Six Square, a historically black neighborhood nestled in Austin’s now-trendy East Side, gets its due with photographer Liz Moskowitz’s new exhibit, which features photos of East Austin churches. It’s on display at the Gallery at Six Square through March 24.
Six Square, 1152 San Bernard St., Austin, TX; 512-505-8738.
24. Ice-Cold Drinks At Yeti Cooler’s New Barrr
Austin-based Yeti is an institution — best known for its rugged coolers that are intended for serious hunting and serious partying — and it just opened its flagship store on South Congress Avenue. While coolers of all sizes are available, the real draw is its very Texan, aptly named Barrr, serving up beers, barbecue, and bar snacks from a perch overlooking South Congress.
Yeti Flagship, 220 S. Congress Ave., Austin, TX; 512-640-7249.
25. Life Film Premiere
While mere mortals will have to wait until March 24 to see the film, SXSW festival-goers can check out Life alongside its stars, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, on March 18 at 8 p.m. With the two fighting extraterrestrials who want to destroy Earth and Daniel Espinosa (Safe House) directing, Life will close out the festival with nearly two hours of beautifully choreographed fight scenes in zero gravity.
ZACH Theatre 202 S. Lamar Blvd., Austin, TX; 512-476-0541.
26. Knock Back A Frosty Armodelo At La Perla
La Perla is one of those Austin bars that has been around seemingly forever. Located in an East Austin house turned restaurant, the no-frills local favorite has been mixing up Armodelos, a spicier take on the Michelada, to local patrons from day one. And after a long day of show-hopping, nothing takes the edge off faster.
La Perla, 1512 E. 6th St., Austin, TX.
27. SXSW’s Music Headliners Have Never Been Better
Whether you’re checking out the internet’s hottest acts or taking in the hits from Wu-Tang Clan or Talib Kweli, the headlining acts at SXSW Music are worth the wait — and the packed tents and big crowds. Save the rest of your time for showcases, but don’t snooze on the biggest sets of the fest.
SXSW various locations; 512-467-7979.
Illustrated by Paola Delucca.
28. Fall Into Austin’s Biggest Stage Show
No trip to Austin is complete without seeing local favorite Afropop band Golden Dawn Arkestra. Less a show than an all-encompassing experience, the self-described psychedelic afrobeat collective is made up of a rotating ensemble of performers covered in bodypaint, dressed in tribal wear, and outfitted with every percussive instrument imaginable. Listen to it at Levitation’s official SXSW showcase at Hotel Vegas on March 16 at 7 p.m., or cruise over closer to 9 p.m. when it’ll be performing its own full show in the same space.
Hotel Vegas, 1502 E. 6th St., Austin, TX; info@hotelvegasaustin.com.
29. Shop The Drag
Vintage finds used to be limited to trendy South Congress, but between Urban Outfitter’s Space 24 and gems like Monkies, the strip of shops up and down Guadalupe Street next to the University of Texas offer grown-up fashion on a college budget.
Urban Outfitters Space 24, 2420 Guadalupe St., Austin, TX; 512-472-1621.
Monkies Vintage & Thrift, 1904 Guadalupe St. Suite C, Austin, TX; 512-520-4595.
I Luv Vintage, 2915 Guadalupe St, Austin, TX; 512-840-0065.