Guide to Navigating Austin City Limits: What to do, See, and Where to Eat
If you’re familiar with the Music scene in the US then you’re probably familiar with Austin City Limits, the city wide music festival that engulfs the whole city in a sea of strange people, delicious food, and savory beer. This month long music festival happens every year and will be kicking off this weekend with shows and musical fun all weekend long.
In order to help you hit the ground running, we put together a list of common places to stay, eat, how to travel, and other fun activities besides the festival. If you enjoyed this article or found it useful please feel free to share on facebook, pinterest, and with friends and family.
Where to stay
Hostels, hotels, apartments for rent, room shares, and free accommodation.
Whether you’re on a shoe string budget or you’re looking to ball out with a luxury apartment Austin has the right place for you.
Accommodation when traveling:
hostelworld.com – find cheap and affordable hostels, 2,4,8 bed dorms and privates.
hostelbookers.com – another good alternative for booking inexpensive accommodation.
airbnb.com – rooms, homes, luxury homes, apartments, and …other forms of accommodation are all for rent here.
Some good Airbnb alternatives include:
P.s. If you’re ever in Europe checkout housetrip.com and avoid the Airbnb 3% fee.
Some free accommodation resources:
couchsurfing.com – festivals are kind of the one time that couch surfers aren’t super excited to host. Outside of ACL though you will find a lively CS scene with folks meeting up weekly for various activities. You do need to create a detailed profile in order to get a decent response to messages.
Facebook – stay with friends and family and offer something in exchange for their hospitality.
Lots of times people will list their flat or whole apartment for the weekend and you can score a pretty sweet location near all the action.
Pro tip: The closer you are to Downtown (DT) the better because you don’t have to deal with traffic and everything is within walking distance.
Staying on the East Side or South of Congress will be lower cost and will afford you proximity to some really cool music venues and bars around town.
Where to Eat
Whether you’re here to work, train or just to enjoy the festival you’ll love these restaurants. All but one of them are good for your budget AND good for your belly.
Also, this is not a complete list of all the healthy spots in Austin just our favorite spots to grub out so if we missed your favorite restaurant then please know that we aren’t hating on them we just didn’t include them in this list. If you make it out to just a few of these then your belly and your taste buds will appreciate you.
The Beer Plant: Location – Terry Town
My favorite Vegan Gastropub, they serve whole food plant based fare with a wonderful lineup of 30+ delicious beers and several more wines and spirits to offer. Great for a lunch or evening spot, though they also serve brunch on Sundays. Make sure to call ahead to reserve a spot. $$ website: Thebeerplant.com
Citizen Eatery: Location – Allandale
Contemporary Vegan and Vegetarian Food in an open and warm space. 10% off for ACL wrist band holders. Just show your wrist band and they will apply the 10% to your ticket final value (limit 1 per customer) $$ website: citizeneatery.com
Mother’s Cafe: Location – Hyde Park
Mother’s Cafe has been around Austin longer than I’ve been on the earth. This place has been serving up good vegetarian and vegan eats to the Austin community for over 30+ years. The food here is great and the setting is nice and quaint. You won’t regret coming here and trying their vegan enchiladas or getting some of their coconut ice cream. $$ website: Motherscafe.com
Counter Culture: Location – East Side
This is one of my primary staples in Austin. My girlfriend and I come here at least once a month and they are by far the most unique with their menu. Seasonal items and weekly specials decorate their menu often. This place is good for breakfast, lunch and dinner and they serve both kombucha and alcohol. You can expect them to be rather busy during Austin City Limits but it’s still worth a stop by to get your grub on. $$ Website: countercultureaustin.com
Mr. Natural: Location – East Side & South Lamar
Located right down the road from Counter Culture, this is the second location of Mr. Natural, the other being located in ‘Deep South’ Austin, off of South Lamar.
I love this place because if features healthy plant based food that has a Mexican flare and influence. The owners are originally from Mexico and when my girlfriend and I went to their buffet (definitely worth it if you are in Austin when they have one) we learned how the owners started the restaurant as a way of educating the local hispanic community on the benefits of a plant based diet and taking care of one’s health.
They also have a natural supplements shop located right next door in a separate building on the East side location. $$ website: mrnatural-austin.com
Arlos: Location – They have 3 different food trucks
One is located at the Spider House Cafe, another on the East Side, and one on Red River Street near 6th Street. They serve one of the best vegan burgers in town and they are definitely great after bar / concert food. Treat yourself and your friends to one of their vegan cheese burgers and you won’t regret it. And everything on their menu is vegan but feel free to ask if you have any questions or concerns. $ website: www.arlostruck.com
The Clay Pot: Location – Downtown northwest of the Capital Grounds
If you are staying near or in the Downtown district, and you are hankering for some really good Indian food then stop by the Clay Pot for lunch or dinner. They have some amazing Channa Masala and Aloo Gobi. $$ website: clay-pot.com
Casa De Luz: Location – SoCo (south of Congress Ave.) Next to Zilker Park
An experimental kitchen / food and holistic education center, Casa De Luz is setup in a contemporary cafeteria setting. It’s a bit deceiving when you walk in. If you haven’t been there before you may think you’re wandering into a meditation center or a zen garden by mistake. Make not mistake you are in the right spot.
You pay for your drinks and the meal of the day when you walk in and then it is self serve from there. The smiling faces of the people in the kitchen and the delicious aromas lingering in the air while you’re waiting in line, are enough to make anyone have an appetite. $ website: casadeluz.org
Juice Land: Location – Various spots around town
If you’re in the mood for something tasty, healthy and easy on the budget then check out Juice Land. You can grab a smoothie, a juice, a sandwich, a wrap or tabouli all for around $20 bucks (mix or match). Most food trucks will cost around or more than eating at Juice Land. The benefit to coming to a Juice Land, is that you’re doing your body good and not deviating too much from your training. Remember there are multiple spots around town, so look out for one while you are out and about. $ website: juiceland.com
$ = under $15 (per person); $$ = 15 – 30 (per person); $$$ = 30 – 50 (per person)
Getting around the Live Music Capital
The city streets become congested with cars for the 2+ weeks of ACL, and driving becomes even more of a pain when you’re here in the thick of it. If you want some advice from a 25 year Austin native, I’d suggest you look at a few other forms of transit to get you around.
Take a ride share:
Probably the most common and the most frequented option and the best alternative to taking a taxi.
Lyft is the ride share of choice in my book because they are the most reasonably priced, pay their drivers well, and they have plenty of drivers out on the roads.
Download the app here Lyft App and use Promo code Kristian51907 to get $5 bucks off your first ride.
Take a Chariot:
This is probably the best resource for ACLer’s this week and next. If you haven’t heard about Chariot yet then you need to check it out.
Chariot is a new app in town that offers shuttle service around the downtown scene. They came into Austin in 2017 for SXSW and I got a chance to speak with one of the reps about their service. A San Francisco based startup Chariot is focusing on solving the Austin and San Francisco Traffic Problem. They offer routs around town that cater to professional and working class folks but lends itself well to the music, food and bar scene as well. Checkout their rout options here: https://www.chariot.com/routes
Download Chariot on the App Store and use the coupon code: 3O6EO to get a free ride for a whole week.
Travel by foot:
If you pick a spot closer to the east side or downtown sure you may pay more of a premium to get near the venues but you can also save yourself the $30+ dollars a day on the car rental, and the $40 + in gas you’ll be forking over for that vehicle. Not to mention the insurance claim that may come out of trying to drive in Austin traffic…
Rent a bicycle:
The most efficient and easy (in my opinion) way to get around Austin. You can rent a bike a a local shop, pick one up at walmart for cheap, or simply use Austin’s done for you service bicycle share Austin BCycle.
Austin BCycle – The popular system offers an easy and affordable way of getting around Austin and a healthy alternative to driving. And the best part, you don’t have to worry about locking your bike because of the easy return locations all across town. Find out more on their site at http://austinbcycle.com/
Take the Bus:
The least expensive method, second to walking, and when taken locally and combined with a bicycle can be a good mode of transport around ACL, probably even faster than travel by car.
Other Activities to do In Austin
I like to use the site ShowlistAustin.com to find free shows around Austin. Every year there are more paid shows and less free spots to find great live music, but if there are free shows happening or there are people under 21+ in your party then definitely check out this site.
It was put together by a local Austinite who was tired of not knowing what was playing in Austin each week.
The author of the site defines their strategy for finding shows as follows:
“I go by the information that I gather from websites, newspaper ads, flyers, etc. Therefore, some of the information might be inaccurate. I will try as best I can to make it accurate. Please don’t hang me if it’s not – just let me know.”
I expect this to be pretty full during Austin City Limits.
Barton Springs: This Natural Spring fed pool is a great place to cool off after a hot Texas summer day, or even a warm day at ACL. Barton springs in home to hippy yogis, corporate execs, and bristling bronzed lifeguards, along with pups, kids, families and grandparents. Go between 9 – 10 am and get in free. All pricing info is found at http://www.austintexas.gov/page/barton-springs-pool-schedule.
If you are looking for a little less crowded spot, check out deep eddy pool, also spring fed but lesser known. Parking could be a little tricky so riding a bike would definitely have it’s benefits.
LBJ Library: Check out this historic land mark which is one of 14 presidential libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration. Having more than 45 million pages, 650,000 photos and over 5,000 hours of recordings you could probably spend the rest of your life in this library.
Take a Duck tour: If you want to check out the river from a duck’s view and you want a scenic tour by land then you need to check out the Austin Duck Tours. According to their site it’s:
“An amphibious tour of downtown Austin, Texas and beautiful Lake Austin inside one of our Unsinkable, US coast guard inspected, Hydra Terra vehicles. Austin Duck Adventures is Austin’s best tour with 75 minutes of sightseeing that includes Historic Sixth Street, the State Capitol Building, Bob Bullock State History Museum, the Governor’s Mansion, and Lake Austin.”
Check out their site at http://austinducks.com/
Taking a Run Around Town Lake
Open to the public and free, this city designed trail lends itself to runners and walkers alike. You can come out to congress bridge and find parking down on the south end of the river. This time of year though, parking will be cramped so it may not be a bad idea to find a ride share, bus, or bike to the south side of town lake and start your run.
Renting a Standup Paddle Board or Kayak and getting out on the water
Year round, Austin is a great city to be able to get outdoors and have some good clean fun, and what better way then to go out and enjoy our lovely lake. You can rent a kayak or paddle board for the day, at a variety of locations, and paddle the days away while you are enjoying the sunny Austin weather. Paddle yourself near Zilker and maybe catch some free live music.
Whether you’re coming to Austin for the weekend or staying for good, there is plenty to do here and you won’t find yourself getting bored. There is literally live music every night of the week, you just have to know where to find it.
If you’re looking to hit up ACL fest but you don’t yet have tickets check out Facebook market place, the ACL site, or head over to showlistaustin.com and see about catching some free music shows around town.
P.s. want to see more of the great state of Texas? Get the travel guide here and never miss a thing while on your trip though Texas. http://amzn.to/2fZZUe2
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