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Get local y’all and navigate SXSW like an Austinite

I spend a majority of my days ghostwriting blogs for C-level executives, helping to establish them as thought leaders in their industry. I get paid to be an expert when I’m actually not—I just do my homework.

Similarly, I’ve lived in Austin for four years and love the city, but I’m no South by Southwest expert. This year will actually mark my first time even going downtown during the festival’s takeover.

What I do know is that Austinites are full of small-town kindness, and are also very protective of who is awarded local status. Most Austinites wouldn’t give me the honored title of local, but in the past few years, I have learned a few things about where to get the best breakfast taco, hear some great live music, and order a great cocktail at happy hour prices.

How to do SXSW like a pro

Like any good writer, anytime I face a problem, I do some research. I read articles written by actual experts, talk to my mentors, and ask friends for advice. I took that same approach here, and after lots of painstaking, arduous research (and more than a few tacos), here are my findings.

Prepare to be tired

Every person I’ve talked to has said that SXSW is overwhelming. It’s days and days of stimulating talks, crowds, traffic, and parties. I really covet and protect my eight hours of sleep each night, but I’m ready to give it up for the rigors of SXSW. First though, I’m spending as much quiet time as possible at home before the big event. I also plan to take a day or two off afterwards to recover. This is an opportunity I can’t pass up even if it’s energetically exhausting.

For those people-people and extroverts among us, however, SXSW promises to be blissful. No matter if you go for the talks, the films, or the music, you’re sure to not be disappointed. Austin is home to a mighty live music scene year round, but during SXSW, you can’t go into a bar or restaurant without encountering a live band. I’d make a recommendation of where to go, but generally, you can’t go wrong. Enjoy the music wherever you go and don’t forget to tip the musicians.

Download the app—and get ready to walk

The SXSW Go app lets you browse the lineup and build your calendar of events, provides location and venue information, and helps coordinate networking opportunities. It is the one place where everything will be perfectly organized during the few crazy-making days.

Transportation during SXSW is notoriously difficult—Be prepared to walk, but also know there are festival shuttles between venues, ride-sharing services (try going local with RideAustin), carsharing from car2go, and CapMetro buses. Just know that both SXSW and downtown Austin are not high heels-friendly. This is the time to break out your most comfortable walking shoes and to wear clothing that goes from day to night.

Eat, not just drink

The other recommendation I heard over and over again is to eat, not just drink. Many parties have free drinks and alcohol abounds in the city. I plan to enjoy the party scene, but not so much that I can’t be up the next morning for the speakers I want to hear.

See Austin by eating like a local

Austin is known as the live music capital of the world, but really, the best way to see Austin is to eat your way through and leave five pounds heavier than you arrived. Yes, it’s a difficult life for those of us who live here.

Austin is known as the live music capital of the world, but really, the best way to see Austin is to eat your way through and leave five pounds heavier than you arrived.

Start your day with breakfast tacos

Is there any other way to start a day? Though Austin may or may not have invented the breakfast taco, this hearty and delicious delicacy is a daily must do. If you don’t believe me, consider that in 2016, President Obama stopped in at Torchy’s Tacos before giving his keynote.

Each Austinite you ask will have a favorite street corner taco place, and really, you can’t go wrong. I personally have a few, depending on where I happen to be in the city. The best and most affordable tacos I get are from a taco trailer on South 1st near Once Over Coffee. I’m honestly not sure it even has a name.

Indulge in a hearty burger

When it comes to burgers, I don’t want to go high class. I want a mom-and-pop joint that’s been cranking out nothing but burgers since the day they opened. If that’s what you’re looking for, go no further than Hut’s Hamburgers. This iconic hole-in-the-wall is located just off of 6th Street and will provide the perfect greasy burger—or one like you’ve never tasted before. Hut’s goes for high-quality local meat and also serves up some originals, like The Fats Domino Burger, bringing the heat with jalapenos and spicy New Orleans seasonings.

Don’t skip the late night eats

If you find yourself out late (or up early) during SXSW, head on over to 24 Diner to chow down on some high-quality comfort food. Menu options include all-day breakfast fare such as the fried chicken biscuit or a goat cheese frittata. If breakfast isn’t what you’re looking for, 24 Diner also has a bar, burgers, and seasonal desserts.

Go for a fancy happy hour, on the cheap

If you’re on a strict budget but still want to enjoy the upscale food-scene, follow 6th Street west until you find Nightcap. This cozy converted home-to-restaurant serves up some of the best happy hour snacks and cocktails in the city. Don’t miss “The Rise of The Dicktatorship”—made with gin, creme de cacao, cocchi americano, and lime. For small bites, I highly recommend the soft pretzels and the cheese plate. And if you’re still hungry, simply stay for dinner. You can’t go wrong.

Try some Texas Ramen. (Yes, it’s a thing.)

Kemuri Tatsu-ya is a fusion Japanese and Texas barbeque izakaya, or gathering place. Bring friends and try out the daily sashimi, Blistered Shishitos, and Texas Ramen. Don’t miss the Guaco Poke made with tuna, fresh wasabi, avocado, pickled red onion, and Kaiware sprouts. Kemuri Tatsu-ya is also known for their creative cocktails, such as the “Puff Puff Pass,” made with sweet potato shochu, aged rum, pecan, grapefruit, and five spice bitters. And beware: it serves two.

Get outside the city limits

Most visitors think Austin is sunny and hot year-round, but the spring can be very wet (lest ye forget your umbrella). But if the day is sunny and warm, mosey over to Contigo. Modeled after the owners’ family ranch, this restaurant is just far enough outside the city to make you feel like you’re in the Texan countryside. Order the glazed pork belly with kohlrabi confit or go all out with the rabbit and dumplings. To do it right, bring friends and order one of every small plate to share.

If you’ve got a car and more time, head out to the Jester King Brewery. Austin is home to many fantastic local breweries, but visiting Jester King isn’t just about the beer. Located about 25 minutes outside of downtown, it takes some commitment to get here and people stay for the afternoon. Grab a beer, play some lawn games, make new friends, and simply enjoy the outdoors.

Austin is truly a foodie paradise and its fare won’t break the bank. It’s tough to see the Austin we locals know and love during a festival like SXSW, but at the very least you’ll get to try our food. So rest up, chow down, and please come back y’all. Just don’t move here.

Page Grossman became an entrepreneur at 22, knowing that she never wanted to settle down in a cubicle. With a degree in journalism, some money in a savings account, and Millennial-spirit, Page founded her own freelance writing business. Page writes about creating an intentional lifestyle through travel, finances, entrepreneurship, health, fitness, and nutrition. Depending on the day, you can find her writing for various blogs, slaying SEO, researching grammar questions, banishing the Lorem Ipsum, fostering kittens, and traveling the world on Instagram.