My first trip to Austin was in July 2012, when my husband and I were deciding whether we would like to permanently move here. We stayed downtown, walked around S. Congress and 6th Street, and although it seemed nice, it was impossible to fully enjoy because it was 115 F (46 C) in the shade. I remember thinking 6th Street was a little weird, maybe even too awkward for me. And definitely not where I’d spend my time.
Fast forward to fall 2014 and a few trips later, when we in fact moved to the Austin metro area. During my first 6 months here it was a pleasure to stay in the suburbs and I hardly went back downtown. But with South by Southwest approaching I had no choice. I had always heard of the event and now that I live here I had to experience it. Plus, it would be a great way to meet people and network. On Friday March 13th I took the metro rail until the very last station – in front of the Convention Center – and in the next 10 days I discovered the most vibrant, lively and amazing part of town I had been ignoring for such a long time.
Downtown reveals itself at this time of the year. With temperatures varying between 78-58, the whether is perfect to walk around. I immediately went back to 6th Street and found it open for pedestrians only. There were hundreds of people hanging out inside, outside and at the terraces of the various bars and restaurants, all of them offering live music. The mix of styles and the eclectic atmosphere brought up a really nice feeling of wow!
As SXSW occurs in several buildings downtown, you have to walk north, south, east and west of the Convention Center in order to attend the sessions & events you choose. I had driven a few times on S. Congress Ave, but a walk turned out to be way more pleasing. 2nd St has some awesome restaurants I’m already looking forward to try and I discovered a food truck selling the best grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever had in my life!. It might have been the crowd, the happy people, the amount of parties and events, the music… but I felt an urgency to stay downtown, feel the positive vibrations and enjoy every single second.
I also got to visit some hotels and 2 of them really surprised me in the best way possible. The Four Seasons has an awesome garden facing the Colorado river. It’s among the best natural places I’ve seen in a downtown hotel even when I compare it to the dozens of hotels I’ve already stayed worldwide. And the new JW Marriott (opened 1 month ago) inspires sophistication and elegance in every single detail. The pool area was the perfect place for meetups. You feel refreshed only by looking at that inviting blue water.
From now on I don’t know what to expect of downtown. I hope that on Fridays and weekends it’s possible to relive a little bit of that same atmosphere. Even if SXSW is not an event for you, I’d certainly recommend visiting Austin at this time of the year just to experience the celebration that takes over the city everywhere you go. Certainly hotels and airfare are more expensive, as it’s just like going to major events like Carnival and the Super Bowl. But the memories you will take back home will be more than worth it.