The Real SXSW Visitors Guide
An out-of-towner's guide to SXSW: How not to get on Austin's bad side
Editor's note: With SXSW in full swing, our sister site, CultureMap Austin, has put together this handy guide for out-of-towners so they can avoid pissing off the locals.
Welcome to Austin! We're not going to follow up with any of that "please don't move here" nonsense because, frankly, we're glad you're here for SXSW. You pump hundreds of millions of dollars into our local economy, boost the reputation of our city as an international destination, and give us a 10-day break from having to take any real responsibility in both our professional and personal lives. So, hello!
Now that we've said that, we do have a few friendly suggestions for how to keep alive the spirit of fellowship and fun. Feel free to refer back to this guide as you spend the next few days running around Austin like a mad man, chasing the free Lone Star and endless breakfast tacos.
Tip your bartender
This is an overall metaphor; just tip everyone. In addition to employing some of the friendliest people you've ever met, Austin's service industry tends to attract some of the best and brightest.
Because a huge portion of our economy is driven by the service industry, everyone you meet — from your concierge to your valet to your server — makes his or her living based on helping you have a great time. Bring small bills and tip accordingly. Just because that cocktail is complimentary doesn't mean you get out of tipping the bartender who served you.
Note: Take special care of them as it gets later into the festival. While you're 1,500 miles away from home having the time of your life, many of us are pulling 14-hour shifts and surviving on nothing but free coconut water and KIND bars.
There's a whole Austin outside of downtown
Contrary to what you may think, there's a whole big world outside of downtown. Enjoy it. Pop into a local watering hole that isn't giving away free cocktails. Have a conversation that isn't about "big data" or "the cloud." Get on a bus (it will cost you $1 each way) and head north to Burnet, North Loop and Crestview. Head east of Fader Fort and discover a whole world of galleries, patios and mom-and-pop restaurants.
Bypass South Congress and head to South First, which has the city's most underrated vintage shopping. If you're not sure where to go, just find some friendly locals (we'll be the ones without the badges around our necks), and we'll point you in the right direction.
You look cooler if you leave celebrities alone
We assume you New Yorkers and Angelenos know what we're talking about. From musicians to movie stars, quite a few famous folks call Austin home. And those who aren't lucky enough to live here fly in for the festival.
Here's one thing we've learned: Celebrities just want to party like the rest of us. So do your part in maintaining Austin's reputation as a place where they can do that. If you see Tim Riggins — sorry, if you see Taylor Kitsch — at the coffee shop, don't bug him. Just quietly freak out on the inside and immediately text your mom like the rest of us.
Treat food trucks like restaurants
We didn't invent food trucks, but we did turn them into a huge Austin attraction. Some of the best chefs in the country — nay, the world — operate out of Austin food trucks, and we're lucky to have them.
But we also know that, like the service industry folks, many people make their living staffing, cooking, running and serving in these mobile eateries. (Including, full disclosure, the author of this article who spent two years of graduate school living entirely off tips from a South Congress snow cone stand.) Tip accordingly.
"Why do I have to do all of this tipping?" you may find yourself asking. Because you just ate a meal created by James Beard Award-winning chef Paul Qui and it cost you $11. That's why.
Don't complain about our traffic
Obey traffic laws
We know you're "working" while you're down here, but many of us still have conduct business as usual. We still have to navigate downtown to get to meetings, appointments and to meet our out-of-town friends who all seem to end up at The Belmont. (Guys, even during SXSW we don't want to go to The Belmont.) So whether you're walking, biking, on a Segway (don't do that) or in a car, make sure not to cross against the light and obey the rules of the road.
Also, if you can't figure out how to use our parking meter system, don't leave a note on your windshield to the parking enforcement officer that reads, "Sorry, couldn't figure it out!" He will snatch it off, show it to an Austinite and together we'll spend a few minutes laughing at your expense. Then you'll get a ticket.
Don't be offended when we're glad you leave
One of the best moments of all of SXSW happens on the final Sunday, when Shangri-La unfolds its giant "Thank You, Go Home" banner and most of the bars won't let you in unless you have a Texas ID.
Don't take it personally. Remember, we've had people sleeping on our couch/floor/dining room table for two weeks. We've had house guests drinking our booze, using all our toilet paper and leaving piles of crap all over our coffee tables.
We've driven friends from Rainey Street to Butterfly Bar to Ginny's and back again without complaint. We haven't had a decent meal that didn't revolve around free booze in 10 days. We've been doing what you're doing while still having to run our family, go to work, pay our bills and field phone calls from our parents asking us why we haven't called them back since early March.
So yes, we're glad to see you come but don't be offended when we see you go.