I love the Austin City Limits festival. My memories and experiences from the past three years come from a very good place. The first time I came to ACL was with five friends from college, three years after we graduated. We had an absolute blast, and if it tells you anything, it was the first and last time I visited Austin before deciding to move here.
This year's festival should be particularly enjoyable, too: an awesome roster of bands, weather in the 80s, new grass on the field, Torchy's Tacos added to the food vendor lineup -- all very promising. It's also a great weekend to get out and sample the city scene if you are not a three day festival purist and want to see what all the Austin buzz is about.
If you're in town this weekend and aren't sure which of the 130 bands to go see or where to eat, drink and shop in Austin, as a local Austin transplant and live music junkie, I'm here to help.
ACL Show Picks
Headliners like Pearl Jam, Kings of Leons and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are a shoe-ins for most people at ACL but chosing between the other 125 shows can present more of a challenge. Here's a narrowed down list of those daytime/early evening bands you don't want to miss:
The Walkmen/Todd Snider
Andrew Bird/Them Crooked Vultures
Heartless Bastards/White Lies
The Dead Weather
Where to Eat
If you're taking a break from the festival and want a nice dinner, Perlas on South Congress has great seafood, cocktails and maritime décor. La Condesa downtown on Second Street is also a great option for fancy Mexican and good drinks in a gorgeous high-ceiling space. Both can have long waits, so try to make a reservation.
For more casual options, Polvos on South First Street has excellent Interior Mexican, with addictive queso and toxic margaritas (in a good way) and the Shuck Shack, on the East Side, has delicious fried seafood, cold beer, outdoor seating and bocce ball courts. Enoteca Vespaio is an Italian bistro on South Congress with awesome thin-crust pizzas and the Woodland just down the block has yummy dinner salads, home cookin' and cocktails.
For legit Texas BBQ outside of the festival (the Salt Lick will be onsite), Iron Works has tender beef ribs the size of dinosaur bones. For breakfast, try the local favorite and Food-Network-famous divey Mexican spot Juan in a Million that will simultaneously cure your hangover and equip you to drink all day at the festival.
If you're starving after 10PM the pickings are slim but all hope is not lost: Annie's Cafe & Bar on Congress Ave. has real food until 2am and may prevent you from eating Taco Cabana three nights in a row after the festival (I unfortunately can't say the same for my first trip to Austin). Homeslice on South Congress slings pizza until 3am. There's also Magnolia Cafe and Kerbey Lane, which are famous Austin diner spots and open 24 hours.
Where to Drink
Red River Street has a bunch of great bars like Mohawk, Club De Ville, Beauty Bar and Side Bar and with Emo's and Stubbs on the same strip, they will be ACL aftershow central. For something a little more out of the way, Luster Pearl is a popular spot down the street, which has $2 Pearl beer, no cover, tons of outdoor seating, ping pong tables and hula hoops. There is also Uncorked wine bar just east of I-35, which has great view of downtown from their outdoor patio.
On the East side, East Side Showroom has excellent cocktails and a small food menu attracting a fancy hipster crowd, as does the Good Knight just down the block. Fado and the Ginger Man in the Warehouse district are great bars for beer drinking revelry or head over to Docs on South Congress for pitchers and picnic tables. Across the street, Hotel San Jose has some of the best micheladas and white sangria in Austin, not to mention the best chances of a successfully stalking your favorite festival musician, who will probably be staying there.
There are also plenty of bars in the West Sixth street area like Molotov, Union Park, and J. Blacks, which can be fun in a cheestastic way. As for the infamous East Sixth street, I would steer clear unless you enjoy taking test tube shots or want to relive your frat party days.
Where to Shop
If you want to squeeze some shopping into your trip, the South Congress area will be your best bet for cool, unique Austin stuff. The street is a strip of shops, with standouts including Feathers, a vintage boutique with stylish, reasonably priced clothing and jewelry and Parts & Labour, (who also has a booth at the festival), which sells solely Austin designers' creations and sits adjacent to a vintage store with a solid used cowboy boot selection. If you're looking to invest in a new pair, Allen's Boots is also on South Congress and has everything from classic colors to hot pink sparkles and the cowboy hats to go with them. Buffalo Exchange is another huge, vintage store up by UT campus with well organized clothes for men and women and worth the trip if you have a car. Finally, people don't typically come to Austin for the mall shopping but if the mood strikes, the Domain has tons of upscale stores (Neiman Marcus, Barney's CO-OP, BCBG) and good restaurant happy hours.