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A Locals’ Guide to ACL Fest

Each year when October hits, the city of Austin goes through a metamorphosis. The weather cools down a bit, people take off work and relax even more than usual, the city starts to buzz, and hundreds of thousands of locals and out-of-towners gather together to hear some great music. That’s right, it’s ACL Fest time, baby!

I love this festival because you can see big-name artists and discover new up-and-comers all at the same place. This year, I’m excited to see Guns n’ Roses, Gary Clark Jr., Childish Gambino and Lizzo. Bonus: The festival also has great food, fun activities for the kids, interesting art vendors, and prime people-watching (including plenty of quirky fashions).

More than 75,000 people attend the festival, which takes over Zilker Park, each day, so it can be overwhelming if you’re a newbie. I asked seven of my favorite people to reveal their best tips for navigating the packed festival. Here’s what they said.

And if you’re an ACL Fest fan, I’d love to hear your best tips, too! Leave them in the comments.

Gina Whittington, event planner and owner of WHITT

What’s your best insider tip for someone new to ACL?
Your cell phone won’t work, so you have to rely on your eyes to find people—look for monuments. It’s super easy to get stuck with a great group of people at one stage and never leave your spot, so make a schedule of your “can’t miss” shows and set an alarm so you don’t miss them. And if you’re coming from out of town, pack a rain poncho, just in case.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for people bringing their kids to ACL?
Have zero expectations. Your kids might not love the festival as much as you do. Austin Kiddie Limits rocks and gets better every year, but kids have their limits. Don’t push them too much or you’ll have a full-on meltdown.

Where do you enjoy going for the after parties?
Continental! You never know who you are going to see jump on stage and sit-in to play.

Angela Doran, photographer

What’s your best insider tip for someone new to ACL?
Decide if you’re going to be a chair person or not. Which means, you’re either bringing chairs to sit behind the chair line, or you’re going to be standing or sitting on the ground. We prefer not to lug chairs around, but if we did, we’d probably use these to keep it light. Instead, I slip this tiny blanket into my fanny pack. We’ve used it for the past three years and it’ has amazing weighted corners and is easy to fold back up.

What do you always make sure to wear or bring with you?
My staples every year are: 1) A hat to keep my face out of the sun all day. 2) A fanny pack with sunglasses, card wallet and lip balm/gloss and blanket. 3) A water bottle for refilling at the hydration stations. (Pro tip: Attach a carabiner so that you can hook it to your husband’s belt loop. Ha!) 4) Ankle booties. Over the years, I’ve found this is my footwear of choice. They keep my feet relatively clean and are comfortable to walk in for long days.

Do you have any advice or suggestions for people bringing their kids to the festival?
Definitely go into the festival using the Family Entrance—you’ll skip the long entry lines. I love that they make you do Tag-A-Kid right when you get in! Definitely make sure you bring a water bottle to keep them hydrated and make sure to check out all of the fun activities at Austin Kiddie Limits. My son loves to get his hair spray-painted every year.

Adrienne Bosh, founder of Sparkle&Shine

What’s your best insider tip for someone new to ACL?
My all-time number one tip would be to wear comfortable shoes! Just like with any other music festival, there’s a ton of walking. The last thing you want is for your feet to be in pain, so definitely make sure you’re wearing shoes you know you’re able to walk in or stand in for long periods of time.  For getting to and from the festival, I highly recommend using the shuttle or ride-share services, such as Uber or Lyft.

What do you always make sure to wear or bring with you to the fest?
Since it’s all outdoors, I always make sure to wear SPF and sunglasses. I also bring a fanny pack or crossbody bag to pack all of my essentials like hand sanitizer, an external phone battery, lip balm, tissues, etc. I also tend to be a little extra when it comes to festivals (or really any occasion!) so I’ll probably also be rocking some glitter in my hair which means I’ll, of course, need to bring the glitter spray with me to re-apply!

Do you have any advice or suggestions for people bringing their kids along?
I think it’s important for parents to encourage their kids to have fun, but I recommend having a conversation or two beforehand to go over some rules and safety precautions. I have a talk with my kiddos at home a week or two beforehand and then I remind them of everything we talked about in the car ride over so that it’s fresh in their brains. However, you can never be too safe, so I like to leave a note in my kids’ pockets with my name and phone number in case we get separated.

Nicole Trunfio, model and CEO of erthjewelry

Do you have any advice or suggestions for people bringing their kids to ACL?
Wear them! I love baby wearing, and if they are too big, a stroller for sure because you know they love to complain about the amount of walking they have to do!

What do you always make sure to wear or bring to the fest?
My passes, my credit card and phone, and a matte lip color. I love festival attire so much so I always have a lot of fun with that, but I travel with just the necessities

What’s the show are you most looking forward to this year?  
Definitely my husband [Gary Clark, Jr.], but I’m also dying to see Childish Gambino, James Blake, Billie Eilish, and Mumford & Sons, and I might have to make a stop to see Cardi B.

Billy Mercer, makeup artist and co-owner of Lip Service XO

What’s your best insider tip for someone new to ACL?
Stay hydrated! Adult beverage, water, adult beverage, water, adult beverage, water—say that over and over until it’s locked in your brain. Also, download the ACL Fest app. It will give you all of the information you need, and then some.

What do you always make sure to wear or bring with you to ACL?
Sunscreen and a non-glass refillable water bottle.

Which day is your favorite out of the three?
I feel like Sundays are more chill, so that’s my favorite day. But this year, my favorite is whichever day Robyn is performing.

Jamie Chandlee, CEO of Rank & Style

What’s your best insider tip for someone new to ACL?
Go later in the afternoon so you aren’t baking all day. And pace yourself!

What’s your favorite place to eat or drink?
My favorite place to eat is the one with the shortest line! If there’s any barbecue left, I usually try for that, but Peached Tortilla and East Side King are particularly satisfying. I also love grabbing a Juiceland smoothie on my way in.

Any favorite after parties or late night shows?
I love watching all of the shows that pop up all over town during ACL. Stubb’s and Mohawk are two venues that have never let me down. Or try to snag tickets to tapings at ACL Live.

Jared Padalecki, actor/father/husband

What insider tip would you share to someone new to ACL?
Park downtown on the earlier side and walk or pedi-cab to Zilker. Enjoy the sights and sounds and the other festival-goers. Soak in the buzzing energy and enjoy the view of Austin’s skyline that is changing ever-so rapidly. But, most importantly, wear a Dri-fit shirt of some kind!

What do you always make sure to wear/bring with you?
I sweat a lot, so I pack a fresh shirt. Also, sunglasses and a baseball cap. Some of the midday shows are a doozy in the fresh early fall sunlight. And, if you plan to camp out at one of the venues to get a better position, make sure to bring a lightweight and water-resistant blanket to stay off the grass and mud. I’ve been there several years when the park turned into a bit of a mud pit.

Any advice for people bringing their kids?
Bring headphones to dull the noise. And maybe a disposable camera to let them capture their own memories that will last a lifetime.

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  • Suzanne

    Definitely a great article, I have taken lots of notes. Hope to see you there. Especially Angela’s micro blanket. Space is at premium in my purse.

  • Carrie 💜

    Guns N Roses is playing ? Wow. Sounds fun. Never been

  • Marisol Fierro

    Hydration people hydration!! Nothing worse than alcohol and heat together. I’ve been to ACL since my husband and I move to the best city ever Austin! So this will be our 4th year.
    I’ve been to the GA and VIP this year since is Guns and roses wanted to try some Platinum. Hopefully will be all worth it.
    First time we brought our 2 year old reason why we went VIP and loved the kiddie area full of snacks even complementary
    diapers and wipes with a diaper change station. They let me bring in my diaper bag (backpack) and went through the fast family line which is the same for VIP.
    We are absolutely hook with ACL and will be going as many times as possible.

  • Betty Figueroa

    Great tips! I’ll be sure to incorporate most, if not all! (Now, I wonder if there’s adult strollers 🤔)

  • Hailey Owens

    This will be my first year going. It’s also around my birthday! Talk about an amazing gift! My mom is a Dallas native so I’ve always considered Texas my home away from home. I can’t wait to experience the chaos and thrills of this festival. I’m sure I’ll bring plenty of memories and pictures back to sweet home Alabama. 🖤

  • Wendy G.

    Stay hydrated!! The line looks long, but trust me it’s better to take a while for a refill versus sticking it out in the hot sun with no water in your system.
    Also, for those considering on getting an Uber after the festival, I honestly recommend you stick to the shuttles. It’s free, and the line wait looks intimidating but it goes by quick.

    Port-a-potties can get a little gross, just take some moist wipes with you.

    AND don’t bother taking snacks like a banana or anything else that’s not an empty water bottle bc they won’t let you in with it.

    Setting a meet up spot not so close to the exit gate works best. Because even though you’ve set up a meet spot, it’s a sea of people trying to get out too.

  • Kendall Carpenter

    Thank you so much for sharing this! My sister went a few years back, loved it, and shared the experience with me. Since then, I’ve been saving up for a long time to try it out myself! So the year has finally come! All of this really helps, and I hope to see you all there!!! xoxoxo

  • Elina

    Your blog is fantastic! Yesterday I subscribed and I love spending time of the day reading you!

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