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Can’t-Miss Sights During SXSW

In spite of the changes, the festival remains firmly at the center ofAustin’s best characteristics: a hub of creativity and art, a strong entrepreneurial spirit and that ongoing title of ‘Live Music Capital of the World.’ Of course, it’s no secret that the festival has moved firmly into the mainstream. McDonald’s and Bud are current sponsors and former US president Barack Obama spoke at the opening keynote in 2016.

Like it or loathe it, the massive craziness that descends upon Austin for 10 days during March has all the makings of an unforgettable time. However, whether you’re there for SXSW or not, there’s plenty to see, do and eat within walking distance of Downtown Austin.

Don’t escape Austin during SXSW. Dive headlong into the frantic, fun shenanigans and embrace the good, the bad and the weird.

What to see and do

Beat the hangover with an invigorating run around the Lady Bird Lake, just south of the Austin Convention Center. If people watching is an added incentive, we’ve heard Matthew McConaughey and cycling hero-turned-persona non grata Lance Armstrong also come by for their workouts.

Another unique Austin sight is the swarm of hundreds of thousand Mexican free-tailed bats coming out from under the Congress Ave Bridge in the evening. This is the largest urban bat colony in North America and a fascinating sight to behold. Catch it from the bridge, along the banks of Lady Bird Lake or via a boat tour.

The offbeat O.Henry Museum (austintexas.gov/o-henry-museum) celebrates the life of the city’s famed short-story writer through memorabilia and knowledgeable guides. If you’re around in May, the annual O.Henry Pun Off draws a crowd with its punny comedians.

Where to eat

Austin has a great range of international food but its strengths lie firmly in two areas: BBQ and food trucks.

Round the corner from the Austin Convention Center (and a great place to hit up if you want to avoid overpriced SXSW food vendors) is Ironworks BBQ. It may not be the most famed of them all but the location can’t be beat. Pile up the ribs, grab a local microbrew and grab a seat on the outdoor deck.

The absolute best, though, has to be Franklin BBQ, a mile north of downtown Austin. Aaron Franklin, dubbed ‘BBQ Jesus’, has been selling out of beef brisket daily since 2009. The line starts as early as 8am (doors open at 11am) but once you chow down on the melt-in-your-mouth, smokey beef brisket, you’ll understand that the hype is real. Anthony Bourdain and Obama are just some of the celebrities who’ve sampled the wares here. Not convinced? Check out Franklin’s videos.

On the food truck front, you can’t go wrong starting your day off with breakfast at the Paperboy food truck just a mile northeast of downtown. The inventive breakfast menu revolves around seasonal produce: you might tuck into sweet potato hash or goat sausage brioche sandwich.

The long wait for soft, delicious tacos is worth it at the Veracruz All Natural food truck, a mile east of downtown. Grab a refreshing, fruity, icy agua fresca while you wait.

Where to drink

Hipster, ahem, we mean specialty coffee can be found all around Austin. We dig the Arnold Palmer (the mix of cold-brewed coffee and lemonade is a great thirst quencher) at Houndstooth Coffee and the laid-back warehouse vibes at Wright Bros. Brew & Brew. At the latter, you can easily move from espresso to IPA while tapping away on your Macbook.