February 20, 2015

Expert Tips For Attending SXSW

Convo will be at SXSW Interactive this year, and long time Austin resident and our Head of Customer Success & Sales, Dr. Steve Elmore, has a few insider tips to make your SXSW experience more enjoyable.

Tip 1: Get your badge quickly.

This will be one of the least enjoyable parts of the conference if you arrive with the crowd. Either get there early in the morning when the doors open at 9:00 or go to the satellite location at Palmer Event Center (900 Barton Springs Rd) on March 12 & 13th. P.S Don’t forget to bring an ID and the registration code to make the process go faster.

Tip 2: Use alternate means of transportation.

SXSW turns the already gnarly Austin morning commute into something you really want to avoid. If you are staying downtown, walk! Or rent a bike or take a pedicab. Taxis can be hard to come by and parking is particularly difficult to find. Metered street parking will be almost impossible to find. One hidden secret is the parking under Austin City Hall (at Cesar Chavez and Lavaca), and it is only a few blocks from the Convention Center. If you are staying at one of the official remote hotels, there is bus transportation, but you may find yourself waiting hours. Last year Austin approved Uber and Lyft, so they may be a far more viable option – just watch out for peak usage surcharges.

Tip 3: Pre-register & plan for sessions.

The lines for the keynote speakers sometimes start 90 minutes before the event, so plan accordingly. Also, there are some very popular sessions that fill up quickly so you will need to pre-register. I’ve been disappointed more than once.

Tip 4: Bring phone rechargers.

WiFi is generally tragic during SXSW, but carriers like AT&T have stepped up over the years and bring in mobile cell towers to provide more coverage, so you should be in good shape. However, I find that my phone drains faster, so bring your Mophie or some portable re-charging battery. Trying to find a place to plug in can be very, very difficult.

Tip 5: Know where your sessions are.

Some of the venues are at hotels that are a bit of a walk, so double-check the session location when you plan your agenda. The exhibit hall is generally very crowded and noisy, and some booths are hard to get to. I like to take photos of the booths that I want to remember and return to later – like Convo!

Tip 6: Eat early or after.

The Austin Convention Center is huge, and packed to the gills for SXSW. Food can be hard to come by inside as there will be long lines, and sometimes slim pickings. Eat beforehand or afterwards as Austin is a foodie town (see more below):

  • Austin has an amazing food trailer scene and the app for that is: Austin Food Carts.
  • Breakfast tacos are the only way to start a long day of SXSW festivities, so visit Tacodeli, (1500B Spyglass Dr) Torchy’s (1311 S 1st St), or Veracruz All Natural (1704 E Cesar Chavez)- you’ll need to find someone to pick them up for you and deliver, otherwise it is a drive
  • Of course, Austin is also famous for BBQ and breakfast tacos. If you’ve seen the movie Chef, you’ll remember Franklin BBQ (900 E 11th St) – it is other wordly. And so is the line, which starts early in the morning. They are open until they sell out, which is every day and usually before the doors open, so be early in line to get your share of the goodness. Otherwise, try Lambert’s (401 W 2nd St), Stubbs (801 Red River St) or Iron Works (100 Red River St).

Tip 7: Make your dining reservations now.

All popular eateries fill up fast, and a 3-hour wait is not unheard of for the places that don’t take reservations. Steve’s top downtown picks: La Condessa (400 W 2nd St), Moonshine (303 Red River St), Uchi (801 S Lamar Blvd), Imperia (310 Colorado St) and Eddie V’s (301 E 5th St). Eating after hours? Try 24 Diner (600 N Lamar Blvd).

Tip 8: Bring ‘all weather’ clothes.

The beauty of Austin is that you’ll never get bored with the weather, and 2015 has been completely unpredictable. When it gets warm, the hottest part of the day is late afternoon. When the breeze kicks in it can cool off considerably. We’ve had snow and 100ºF in the same day, so bring at least one thing warm. And bring shoes good for walking.

Tip 9: Be cautious.

One of the reasons I love Austin is it is one of the safest big cities in the U.S. (#4). But you still need to keep your guard up as there are a lot of panhandlers, especially around the bars on 6th St. between Red River and Congress Ave. Fortunately, APD has a huge presence for epic events like SXSW, Austin City Limits Music Festival and the Republic of Texas Biker (ROT) Rally. Also, Austinites are amazingly friendly, helpful, and will gladly come to your aid. Set up a rally point should your phone die and you need to connect with your friends.

Tip 10: Do things beyond SXSW

  • Workout. As if SXSW is not enough to keep you busy, you may want to break away and do something truly ‘Austinish’. If you like a spring fed 1/4 mile pool, go to Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park. Swim 2 laps and you’ve got your mile in! High dive too!
  • Entertainment. Alamo Drafthouse is the official venue for screening SXSW Films, but they also have other first-run movies playing. The Ritz on 6th St. will be dedicated to SXSW, so try S. Lamar or the Slaughter Ln. location by Circle C Ranch. Awesome food and libations while you watch your movie in super comfy seats with a table.
  • Bats. Austin’s famous colony of Mexican free-tailed bats return to the Congress St. bridge in March, so they may appear if it is warm enough for a nightly cuisine of up to 30,000lbs of insects that will no longer be biting you.
  • Rent a horse drawn carriage for an amazing historic tour of Austin. My friends at Angeli Carriages helped me successfully propose to my wife! (512) 659-0591.

Need more help or ideas? Come see me at the Convo booth at SXSW interactive. We’ve got a super photo booth (free photos) and swag to go with live demos of our amazing app. See all y’all (that’s plural for y’all) at SXSW!

#pleasedontdresslikeacowboy #pleasebringbbq

Steve Headshot 1

 Dr. Steve Elmore, 

 Head of Customer Success & Sales


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