SXSW is officially underway in Austin, Texas. Since its inception in 1987 as a small showcase of alternative music, SXSW has addded a film festival, an interactive festival, and generally metastisized into a two week extravaganza of parties, product launches, and stunt marketing. This year's SXSW offerings sound like they were dreamed up by Stefon on Saturday Night Live: there's a giant Ferris wheel, a life-size TIE Fighter, two Obamas, and plenty more. Here's a list, by no means comprehensive, of 16 things to know if you're heading into the craziness.
1. SXSW GO
Every self-respecting showcase for “cutting-edge technologies and digital creativity” has to have its own official mobile app. Thankfully, SXSW does. The SXSW Go app has event recommendations, venue maps, and transportation schedules, with some obligatory social networking functionality thrown in. To quote the SXSW first timers guide, you "cannot overemphasize the importance of downloading SXSW GO." Download it before you arrive, delete it when you leave, and use it in between.
Cool Panels and Events
2. VR/AR Track
This year SXSW will host its first showcase of virtual reality and augmented reality technology. Check it out if you're in Austin: it probably won't be long before virtual reality becomes actual reality, and SXSW becomes an event you experience through a pair of goggles from the comfort of your own home.
3. Crowdsourcing the Hyperloop
The Hyperloop - Elon Musk’s proposed system for transporting people and cargo at speeds of nearly 800 miles per hour using hovering pods shot through depressurized tubes - is a ridiculous fantasy. Unless it’s the future. Decide for yourself at this presentation featuring Hyperloop Technology’s CEO Dirk Ahlborn.
4. Why Happiness Is Hard and How to Make It Easier
If you’re looking to come down gradually from the craziness of SXSW, stop by the closing keynote address from Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk and cofounder of the meditation app Headspace.
5. Interactive Innovation Awards
The Academy Awards for nerds, the Innovation Awards ceremony is the capstone to SXSW Interactive. It's a huge celebration of "the best in digital design, health technology, privacy and security, 3D printing, augmented and virtual reality.” We’ve also heard it’s a pretty fun party.
Getting Around Austin
6. SXSW Festival Shuttle
The free SXSW festival shuttle circulates between the convention center and major venues downtown. Shuttles depart every 7-10 minutes throughout the day, and run with reduced frequency until 2:30 AM.
7. Hotel Shuttles
Festival-goers staying outside of downtown can purchase a five day pass from SuperShuttle, starting at $100.
8. Capital Metro
Austin’s public transportation network is not as extensive as a car-less visitor might hope. Still, bus service throughout downtown is frequent, and the fares ($2.50 for a day pass) can’t be beat.
9. Bike Rental
The Austin B-cycle bike sharing program offers unlimited rides of 30 minutes or less ($8 for a 24-hour explorer pass). Finding an available B-cycle will be unusually difficult during SXSW, so if you're hoping to get around Austin on two wheels, renting a bike through Spinlister might be advisable.
10. Ride Sharing
Be warned: Uber’s surge pricing during SXSW has in the past reached comical levels. Uber and Lyft (“the official ridesharing partner of SXSW 2016”) have designated pick up and drop off zones around the city, and incentivized drivers from out of town to work in Austin during SXSW. High fares are probably still in the cards, but knowing the best spots to hail a ride and avoiding travel during periods of peak demand can help (sort of).
Franklin Barbecue is as famous for its three-hour line as for its brisket. We’re not saying the meat is anything less than transcendent, only that you should have gotten in line yesterday if you hope to get any during SXSW. Alternatively, you could head to one of Austin’s other renown barbecue joints.
Austinites are a laid back group, but they take tacos very seriously. So to stay clear of controversy, we’ll leave the recommendations to the experts at Texas Monthly.
13. More Tacos
The most important taco of the day is the one you eat for breakfast, or as a late night snack at the end of your SXSW revelry. Whatever you call them, here are 20 of the best in Austin.
14. Swag Exchange
SXSW attendees get loaded down with so much promotional swag that it can cause plane delays. This year at the Take5 Swag Exchange you can take all those (let’s face it) worthless corporate freebies and trade them for concert tickets, pedicab rides, Take5 bars, and other stuff you actually might want.
15. Free Events
If you haven’t forked over for an expensive wristband, SXSW can seem like a giant party you’re not invited to. But there are plenty of free shows and panels if you know where to look. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Austin, use this handy tool built by the local paper to search for the best free events.
16. Ransom Center
If you're looking for a something (free) to do off the beaten festival path, head to the University of Texas campus and visit the Ransom Center, one of the world’s premier collections of literary and cultural artifacts. With a Gutenberg Bible, two Shakespeare folios, and the oldest photograph in existence, the Ransom is a welcome analog antidote to SXSW’s digital overload.
Are you headed to Austin? Let us know by tweeting to @Rocketrip using the #SXSW2016!
Featured image by Flickr user Paul Hudson