Even though it's one of our largest states, anyone from Texas will tell you: It's another country down there. Austin is an amazing hybrid of indie ingenuity and Texan culture, and if you are going to be headed to the capital of the Lone Star State, you ought to embrace the particularly unique flavor.
The Harry Ransom Center
It's important to remember that the University of Texas at Austin is one of the finest institutions in the U.S., and its facilities are beyond awesome. The best case in point is the gorgeous, hallowed Ransom Center, which, in its most basic iteration, is set up to preserve documents. Think 16th century literature, country-shaping political documents, and original manuscripts by writers like Beckett, Kipling, and Vidal. The Ransom Center is, in many ways, dedicated to living history.
Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin, 300 West 21st Street (Between Guadalupe Street and Whitis Avenue); 512-471-8944. hrc.utexas.edu.
Juan In A Million
Are you ready for a breakfast taco? We said...are you ready for a breakfast taco?! Californians and New Yorkers are always shocked to try Austin's Mexican food, which is so different from their own regional takes on the cuisine, because Austin serves straight-up, rib-stickin' Tex Mex — with a particular down-home flair. The perfect example is the breakfast taco, a filling, delicious, and totally Texan offering filled with eggs, potatoes, and whatever-else. And nowhere does a morning taco quite like Juan In A Million.
Juan In A Million, 2300 East Cesar Chavez Street (at Mildred Street); 512-472-3872. juaninamillion.com.
Every city has the bookstore — a super-curated collection of tomes, art books, and magazines that immediately makes visitors realize how much more they need to read. DOMY has a couple of Texas locations, but the Austin outpost is quirky, gorgeous, calming, and is known for its own SXSW showcases with a particular DIY spin. The only problem: Once you buy your book, you'll have to carry it around all night. Alas.
DOMY Books, 913 East Cesar Chavez Street (at San Marcos Street), 713-523-3669. domystore.com
Photo: (From left) Courtesy of Harry Ransom Center, DOMY-Austin, and Juan In A Million
Obviously, if you are swinging by Refinery29 for some SXSW advice, you might be interested in enjoying the more fashionable aspects of the city. Austin thrifting is, in one word, major, but with so many members of the media heading down for South By, there is a lot going on for the stylistically inclined.
Most Austin residents swear by the tip-top vintage at Feathers, which ranges from complete retro finds to more on-trend, vintage-inspired used goods. The ladies at the shop take good care to stay on top of trends and are incredibly, positively, totally friendly. The entire shop is decently priced, and a trip to SXSW wouldn't be complete without some dusted-up cowgirl boots or a well-worn denim vest. Another plus: All of South Congress is a perfect shopping trip, so your visit will be well worth it.
Feathers, 1700 South Congress Avenue (at Milton Street); 512-912-9779. feathersboutiquevintage.com
Formally known as StyleX (or "Style By"), The Neighborhood takes the panels and discussions occurring during the Music and Interactive portions of the festival and gives them a particularly fashion-related bent. CEOs, founders, and even R29ers will be speaking at the event, which will take place March 11-14 from noon to 8 p.m.
The Neighborhood, at the 400 West block of 2nd Street. wetheneighborhood.com.
Happy Hour At The Driskill
There is a reason The Driskill is booked months, nay, years before SXSW: It is the most chic, luxurious, and old Austin accommodation around. Expect to see celebs and musicians holding court, and enjoy the glamour without spending loads by taking advantage of the incredible happy hours. From 5-7 p.m. on Mondays through Wednesdays, you find $5 specials, but hours are extending Thursdays through Saturdays, when deals kick off at 4 p.m.
The Driskill, 604 Brazos Street (at East Sixth Street); 512-474-5911. driskillhotel.com
Photo: (From left) Courtesy of Feathers, photographed by Christy Kurtz, courtesy of The Driskill
Or if you are heading to South By on a budget (like, a "my entire band is sleeping in a van" budget), there are lots of incredible options. Austin is, at heart, a college town, and finding simple ways to save while still rocking out is totally feasible.
Bike Rental at University Cyclery
Okay, $100 for a week isn't exactly "cheap," but do the math: Being able to make it from the east side to downtown in five minutes without fighting with 18 people over a cab or haggling with a rickshaw driver is priceless. And if you divide the time you will be there by the cost of the bike, it's less than $20 a day to be able to control where and when you get somewhere. That's, like, the cost of six Shiner Bocks!
University Cyclery, 2901 North Lamar Boulevard (between West 29 and 30th streets); 512-474-6696. universitycyclery.com.
East Side Kings Various Locations
Telling an Austinite to go to East Side Kings is like telling a Chicagoan to try deep dish or a Californian to eat an avocado. You'll get a resounding, "Duh." The reason ESK is so ubiquitous is because the chef, Paul Qui, won Top Chef Season 9, but still serves some of his most delicious dishes from a food truck. Fortunately, each spot is littered around the area, so you can check online to see which one is closest to you.
East Side King at The Liberty Bar, 1618 East 6th Street (Between Chomal Street and Chalmers Avenue); at The Grackle, 1700 East 6th Street (At Chalmers Avenue); at Shangri-La, 1016 East 6th Street (at Medina Street); and at Hole In The Wall, 2538 Guadalupe Street (at West Dean Keaton Street).
Free Tattoos with Sailor Jerry
What's more rock 'n' roll than Austin? Tattoos, clearly. This no-hassle, guest-list free Sailor Jerry showcase not only doesn't require badges, but it is also chock-full of some pretty hip bands. (Natural Child and No Bunny, for example.) But if you get there early (noon to 7 p.m.), you can get some classic Sailor Jerry ink by some of Austin's most well-needled denizens. Hey, what happens in Austin stays on your arm.
The Gypsy, 1504 East 6th Street (between Onion and Comal streets); 512-243-6118; gypsyloungeaustin.com.
Photo: Courtesy of University Cyclery, East Side Kings, and Sailor Jerry's