On March 7, Austin becomes the official playground for SXSW. Even if you didn't buy a badge or wristband, you can try out some of the awesome — and absolutely free — shows and sights from the festival. These are our top picks for free official fun, including some big SXSW shows that only require a free guest pass.
SXSW Gaming Expo: March 7-9
Plenty of tech geeks have paid a pretty penny to attend SXSW Interactive, but you can skip all of that hoopla and get right to the fun stuff at the annual SXSW Gaming Expo. Requiring only a guest pass, the expo features games, tournaments, video game history museum and a special event from Pennzoil called Karting Reimagined. Live your childhood dreams with go-karts on a track right out of Mario Kart.
SXSW Community Screenings, “Faces of Austin”: March 8
SXSW offers a few ways to enjoy a slice of the film festival for free. One of the first is the Community Screenings series, “Faces of Austin,” an exhibition of short films showcasing the talent and people who call Austin home.
Films for the Forest: March 10
Another free exhibition, Films for the Forest is an annual short film contest from Austin’s Rainforest Partnership. Featuring a range of films covering climate protection and environmental sustainability, Films for the Forest teaches audiences about international filmmakers, as well as the world we live in.
SXSW Eco Light Garden: March 8-15
At first glance it just looks like a simple art installation, but the Eco Light Garden’s interactivity is worth the stop — especially if you have kids in tow. Playing with the different effects between light, sound and geometry, the garden also keeps you plenty occupied when you’re waiting for your next party.
Outdoor Stage at Butler Park: March 13-15
Butler Park is the site of several musical performances open to the public (with a SXSW guest pass), and big names are taking the stage to provide free entertainment. The first night features an impressive lineup for the Jimi Hendrix Celebration, including Slash of Guns N' Roses fame. Foster the People and Childish Gambino are also on the lineup.
Renegade Craft Fair: SXSW Edition: March 13-15
Celebrating the best and brightest artists and creators, the Renegade Craft Fair is a favorite seasonal occurrence in Austin. This time, the fair joins in the fun of SXSW. With a free guest pass, you can shop for various handmade goods, including clothing, jewelry, housewares and more. Trust us: It is much better than collecting bags of swag at booths all over town.
Flatstock 43: March 13-15
After SXSW Music, you may want a memento or two to take home and hang on your wall. Flatstock is where you can find vibrant gig posters made by some of the most influential poster artists worldwide. Flatstock is open to anyone with a free SXSW guest pass.