The Ultimate Guide to SXSW in Austin: The Lineup, The Parties and More!

Whether you’re a seasoned CEO, budding entrepreneur or an employee at any career level, SXSW has something to offer you! It now spans 10 days and offers a myriad of tracks, panels and keynotes, but not to worry! We’re breaking it all down for you below in our Ultimate Guide to SXSW…

My first SXSW was in 2003 when my college roommates and I decided last minute to go see a film. It was so low-key! We bought tickets right before the screening and sat in a small, half-empty theatre. Today SXSW attracts nearly half a million visitors come March who are eager for the conferences all-star line-up of speakers which have included Elon Musk, Oprah, Jeff Bezos, Brené Brown, Barack Obama and so many more. SXSW can definitely be overwhelming to navigate so we’re helping to break it down below…

What is SXSW?

South by Southwest, otherwise known as SXSW or South by, began in the spring of 1987 in Austin, TX as a small, under the radar film festival. Thirty plus years later it’s anything but under the radar.

Today SXSW spans 10 days and includes SXSW Interactive for Tech, SXSW Music, SXSW Film, SXSW Edu and SXSW gaming.

Who Should Attend SXSW?

In 2019, SXSW drew an attendance of over 400,000 festival goers and conference attenders. Whether you’re an entrepreneur in the early stages of launching your business, a seasoned marketing professional in the tech industry, or somewhere in between, chances are that SXSW has something for you.

There are so many different tracks now that it’s easy to tailor your experience to your own needs and interests. Last year some of the topics included drones, blockchain and building a better music industry, among many, many others. Have an interest? Chances are you’ll be in good company.

Do You Have to Have a Badge? How Much Does One Cost?

Yes and no. In order to attend official SXSW panels and keynotes at The Convention Center, official SXSW musical performances and SXSW film screenings you will need a badge. A platinum badge that gives you access to all three tracks will cost you upwards of $1600, depending on when you purchase. (Ticket prices go up as the event gets closer.) Badges for just one track are $1270.

If a badge isn’t in this year’s budget, not to worry. You can still experience a ton of SXSW without one. For starters you can sign up here for a guest pass which will give you access to a lot of free events including the outdoor stage, wellness expo, job market and more!

There are a ton of brand activations, parties and other events all week long. Follow this twitter account, The Austin Chronicle and Austin.com for full listings of events. If you want to hang with the SXSW crowd, head to Rainey Street and South Congress where parties and festival attendees abound.

How to Make the Most of Your Time at SXSW:

If you have a badge, the best SXSW plan will include a mix of official SXSW panels and keynotes at the convention Center, networking with others in your industry, and enjoying the perks of being in a city like Austin.

Don’t make the mistake of over-booking yourself. Plan to wait in line and for things to take longer than expected. Allow space for that impromptu coffee meet up with a new connection or that serendipitous conversation you’re bound to strike up after the panel.

Where to Stay for SXSW?

Depending on when you’re reading this, options might be limited! Book a hotel or Airbnb as soon as you know you’re attending SXSW.  Luckily, Austin, Texas is full of great accommodations. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • JW Marriott– the best location near the convention center
  • The Fairmont– tied with the JW Marriott for best locations. Both are extremely walkable.
  • LINE Hotel– Alfred’s coffee in the hotel lobby is worth the booking alone.
  • The Proper– the best design and the hotel restaurant, Peacock is delicious!
  • Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt
  • South Congress Hotel– a little further from the convention center but near many of the best restaurants, shopping and plenty of SXSW activations.

Where to Eat in Austin During SXSW and Why Reservations are a Must!

Austin is one of THE best foodie cities! (You can check out our favorite Austin restaurants here, our favorite Austin coffee shops here and where to get the best healthy bites in Austin here!) That said, a lot of brands will book out Downtown Austin and East Austin restaurants for parties and activations during SXSW so it’s important to either have a reservation or call before you go. Fareground and the LINE Hotel are both great nearby locations to fuel up on food and caffeine.

Want to do SXSW on a budget? There’s almost no reason to have to buy food or booze during the week! You can likely party hop your way through breakfast, lunch and dinner with no problem.

Check out this twitter account, The Austin Chronicle and Austin.com for full listings of events with possible free food and drink potential.

How to Get Around:

Downtown Austin traffic can get really congested during SXSW, so I would recommend not renting a car and doing ride shares instead. The fares can get steep to and from the airport, so consider using Uber’s carpool featured (Uber Pool) to split shares. Once downtown, you can get almost anywhere downtown on foot and will only need to hop a ride share or public transit to get to events happening in East Austin.

How To Pack for Austin Weather / What to wear at SXSW:

There’s a popular saying in Texas that goes something like, “If you don’t like the weather in Texas hang around for an hour.” It’s especially true in the spring when a beautiful 80 degree day can be followed by thunderstorms and a drop of 30+ degrees in temperature. Check the forecast before you go, but also plan for a few different weather scenarios when packing. Most hotels will be able to offer you an umbrella so save the space in your carry-on for something else.

SXSW is very casual by day with plenty of opportunities to dress up at night. At the Convention Center you’ll see everything from guys in suits and dress shirts to jeans and polos. The same goes for the women. Pant suits, jeans, dresses– anything goes. The one thing that’s not optional is comfortable footwear. You’re going to be on your feet waiting or walking a lot, so don’t skip the sneakers. (For tips on wearing sneakers and still looking stylish, see here.)

What to Bring With You During the Day at SXSW:

  • Cell phone
  • Charger
  • Reusable Water Bottle
  • Snack
  • Wifi Hot Spot
  • Business Cards, if you have them
  • An open-mind and willingness to adapt your schedule
  • Your badge, if you have one
  • Notebook and pen

Where to Go Out at Night:

Photography by Katie Jameson

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  1. I’d love to go to SXSW sometime!!

    Jennifer
    Effortlessly Sophisticated

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