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Insider’s Guide to Austin City Limits

One of my favorite things about living in Austin is the music scene. Any night of the week you can find incredible artists playing around town. From locals like Shakey Graves, Gary Clark Jr. and Willie Nelson to touring artists stopping through, there is always something for everyone. It’s also home to one of my favorite music festivals: Austin City Limits.

The three-day outdoor music extravaganza brings lots of traffic and crowds, but it’s impossible not to embrace the fun-loving crazy vibe of the weekend. Jared and I like to treat it like a vacation and play tourist in our hometown, so we thought we’d share our go-to-guide to the festivities with you. While there’s a lot to see and do, ACL is best enjoyed with a loose, relaxed itinerary. Our favorite ACL moments are always the spontaneous and unexpected ones—whether it’s discovering a new artist or racing pedicabs through the city streets.

Anyone else planning to head out to Zilker Park this weekend for the festivities?

PACK:

Sunblock
It may be fall, but temperatures here can still climb into the 80’s in October. Use plenty of SPF and don’t forget to reapply every couple of hours when you’re spending all day outdoors. My favorites: EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF46 and Dermatologica Solar Defense Booster SPF 50.

Rain gear
The only thing predictable about Texas weather is its unpredictability. Shows go on rain or shine, so I pair some comfy rain boots with shorts and t-shirt (my go-to festival uniform) and stash a lightweight waterproof jacket in my bag in case of an unexpected downpour.

A re-usable water bottle
Running from show to show and dancing with friends in the hot Texas sun will work up a sweat. Stay hydrated—especially if you’re drinking alcohol! There are free water-filling stations throughout the venue to help you beat the heat.

Cash for pedicabs
These human-powered taxis are hands down the best way to get around. Not only will you avoid the traffic jams, you’ll get an awesome view of the city as you pedal around town. We’ve met some awesome drivers over the years that always make it feel like an adventure – blasting music from their boomboxes and racing other pedicabs—and they work their butts off, so tip ‘em well!

DOWNLOAD

The Official ACL Festival Mobile App
It lets you create your own custom schedule based on the acts you want to see and helps you map out the park prior to arrival. You can also find the most up-to-date info on set times, emergency information and weather.

PARENT-HACK

Austin Kiddie Limits
Kids 10 and under get in free to the festival and this family-friendly section offers a much-needed respite from the crowds from 11am to 7pm each day. Here you’ll find everything from kid performers and sing-a-longs to photo booths, hands-on art projects and necessities like nursing and changing stations.

LISTEN

Golden Dawn Arkestra
One of the best live shows I have EVER seen! This “afro-psych-surf-electro-funk-jazz” band is not to be missed.

Silent Disco
Every night from 8pm to 10pm at the Titos Handmade Vodka Stage, the festival provides glowing wireless headphones to the crowd and you can rock out to the music of your choice from three live DJs. It sounded kinda weird when I first heard about it, so I had to see what the hype was all about and have to admit it was fun—and made for some awesome people-watching.

Paul McCartney
It’s Sir Paul…need I say more?!

EAT

Terry Blacks
You can’t leave Austin without trying some true Texas BBQ. This joint is right outside the venue, making it perfect spot to fuel up for the festivities.

Launderette
Confession: I’d eat here for breakfast, lunch and dinner if I could. The food is delish, they make a perfect Bloody Mary and the vibe is so warm and welcoming you’ll feel like you’re hanging at your best friend’s house.

Magnolia
Once the shows and after parties have come to a close, take the pedestrian footbridge across Lake Austin to this 24-hour café. The menu has something to satisfy every 3am craving—from queso and burgers to tacos, pancakes or even a vegetable plate.

Juan in a Million
There are no shortage of opinions when it comes to where to eat Tex Mex in town, but this is an old standby. Some swear the gigante Don Juan taco is the ultimate hangover cure.

PLAY

Broken Spoke
This honky-tonk bar is an Austin institution. Dust off your cowboy boots and stop in for swing or two step lessons starting at 8pm Wednesdays through Saturdays.

Texas Rowing Center
Enjoy the festival music while paddle boarding around the lake.

SHOP

Kiki Nass
This boutique embodies the spirit of Austin—cool, casual and eclectic. They’ve got an impressive edit of clothing for women and kids, as well as a curated collection new and vintage home goods.

Kick Pleat
A go-to spot for discovering new designers. From flowy bohemian dresses to chic and comfy jumpsuits, lived-in denim, and heirloom-quality jewelry, their collection is always feels thoughtful and effortlessly stylish.

Feathers
The best vintage store in town offers a treasure trove of vintage jackets, denim, dresses and jewelry from around the globe.

STAY

Fairmont Austin Hotel
If you want to splurge, Austin’s newest hotel boasts stunning views of the city and Lady Bird Lake, a world-class spa, five restaurants and a rooftop bar.

Hotel San Jose
Originally built as a motor lodge, this 40-room property got a mod facelift by hip hotelier Liz Lambert. I love the bungalow style and cactus-filled courtyard—and that it’s just steps away from some of the best shops and restaurants in Austin. Bonus: Rooms are stocked custom striped kimono robes and Malin + Goez products.

Firehouse Hostel
Tucked inside the city’s oldest firehouse (circa 1885), this unique hostel offers guests chic dorm-style accommodations and private room options in the heart of the city at affordable prices. In the downstairs lobby hidden behind a bookshelf you’ll find a speakeasy pouring prohibition-era cocktails. Cheers!

 
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13 Comments

  • Carly

    I was hoping you’d make a post for ACL! I went for the first time last weekend and it was AMAZING!! Absolutely loved Sofi Tukker’s performance and Borns! So much fun 🙂

  • Jennifer

    Thanks for the great ideas! Austin sounds like a fantastic town. I hope to visit someday and have filed this away for future reference!

  • Julie

    I can’t wait to get to Austin one of these days soon (SXSW, I hope, in 2019.)

    I experienced Silent Disco in Sixthmen’s The Rock Boat Cruise last year. Your description is apt. It sounded insane and ridiculous, and also a must-experience. It’s so much fun, and it’s glorious to take the headphones off for a minute and hear the horribly out of sync mess of beautiful sing-a-long going on. Everyone needs to check this out. I may need to add ACL to my travel plans next year.

  • Jeanne

    Yes to Terry Blacks! We just got home from a visit to Austin. Is a great city!

  • Jill trapp

    Thanks for this! My 21YO son is moving from Arkansas to Austin. I need all the info on the area I can get! Nervous momma here lol! Even when they are grown you worry just as much!

  • Jordan Sirkin

    I’m traveling to Austin for the first time in November. Can’t wait to experience this city! Everyone seems to love it when they go.

  • Amanda

    I am hoping to apply at the university in Austin for my masters/PhD. Probably in a year or two. Thanks for this! Gives me some ideas of what it’s like in Austin! I have a bunch of research to do on rentals, boarding barns and so on.

  • Jenni

    Thank you! I take notes since one day, I’d like to go on holiday in Austin. 🙂

  • Susan C.

    Fingers crossed about the Fairmont. Stayed there 2 weeks ago and had some issues. Now they are sending a free weekend to us to show how outstanding a stay there is really supposed to be. I’m excited to hopefully have a good experience because it’s a stunning hotel with gorgeous views. Your review has my hopes back up! Have a fun second weekend of ACL.

  • Lisa lujan

    Would love to see autin Texas some day
    It’s beautiful
    Hope to see all the wounderful places ☺️🙂🙂☺️☺️☺️

  • Kim Jacobs

    Thanks so much for the recommendations! They cane in really handy for this first time ACL goer!

  • Karen Graham

    Hey Gen,
    Thanks so much for the ACL tips. We had an amazing time after splurging on platinum tickets (we figured we might as well, since we were coming all the way from Australia). And I can see why you love the festival so much. We also went to South Congress today in the cold wintery conditions and took refuge in the wonderful Magnolias! The food was amazing and the staff super friendly. So thanks for recommending it.

    Also, I just wanted to say that it was lovely to meet you on Sunday on the Platinum deck at ACL. As I said then, I really enjoy reading your blog, especially the health tips, exercise and hiking posts. I look forward to reading some more. I hope you all had a wonderful time at ACL.
    Karen xo

  • Dawn

    Was in Austin in June, and my first meal was at Juan In A Million! Didn’t get to try Launderette even though it was literally across the street from our AIRBNB. Maybe next time!

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