7 Tips to Survive Austin City Limits Like a Local
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As we get closer to the Austin City Limits music festival, I feel that it’s my job as an Austinite to help those music lovers coming to our city best enjoy the festival. Not only is it one of the largest events in the Austin area, but it’s also one of the most fun. However, almost 450,000 people attend the festival each year so it can cause for some large scale headaches.
Don’t Stay at a Hotel
Easily one of the most practical tips on this list, all of the downtown hotels are not only very expensive during the ACL weekend, but are far from the actual festival. Instead, consider staying in an Airbnb or VRBO. Many Austinites use the two-week ACL Fest as a way to get out of town, so your options, if you book early enough will be plentiful. These homes are going to be walking distance from the festival — an absolute plus! When searching Airbnb (take $55 off your first trip!), look for homes that are near Zilker Park or in the Bouldin Creek/S. Lamar area. These will be closest to the festival.
Don’t Rent a Car
This goes back to my previous point of finding a nearby Airbnb rental. Parking is at a premium and it will cost you. Zilker Park, where the festival is located, is only accessible via Barton Springs Rd. With everyone trying to attend the festival, this road gets quickly congested. If you can’t find an Airbnb rental within walking distance, consider using a rideshare, like Lyft or Uber, or taking the shuttle. Austin also has many options for personal transit, including bike rentals and scooters. (But for goodness sake, please ride safely)
Know the Lineup
Zilker Park is much bigger then it looks on the map and the largest stages are on opposite ends of the park. Make sure you know your line up ahead of time to easily navigate the masses. Consider arriving early (before 12pm) to avoid the largest lines at the entrance.
Ditch Your Cell Phone
This doesn’t just simply apply to a “be in the moment” vibe. With so many people concentrated in one small area, cell reception is usually spotty at best. Make a lineup plan with friends, consider picking a specific meeting place, and well, enjoy the festival.
Enjoy the Local Eats
When it comes to food, ACL Fest is one of the best. Local vendors come out with food trucks galore, so it’s not your standard fare. Consider trying local bites if you’re looking to stay in the festival (they accept, cash, credit/debit and cashless payments) or take a reprieve from the heat and head down Barton Springs.
Barton Springs has some Austin traditions, including the original Chuy’s (if you like Tex-Mex), Sno Beach (for the best sno cones you’ve ever had), Shady Grove (classic American), or Barton Springs Saloon. The wait isn't usually too long for these spots during the afternoon — the perfect time to take a break from the heat and rehydrate. With a margarita, of course.
Dress the Part
Austin weather is never dependable, but one thing that you can be sure of is that it will be HOT. Even in October, Austin is in full summer swing. Make sure to wear light, breathable clothing. A hat will help to keep the sun off your face and neck (there are very few trees for shade). Of course, make sure to wear comfortable shoes. Dust can be a problem during ACL Fest, so wearing closed toe shoes or sneakers will be your best friend. (Note: There have been years that the park has received heavy rain, causing large mud pits. So watch the weather and keep your wardrobe flexible!) If it’s a hot and dry year, you’ll want to bring a bandana or something to cover your mouth and nose with. You might not notice it in the moment, but you’ll be glad you did.
WHAT TO BRING
One of the recent changes, and likely the most important part of festival planning, is what you are allowed to bring into the festival. In recent years, ACL Fest has become increasingly strict in regards to bag styles and sizes. Per the rules:
“…bags will be restricted to small purses, totes and drawstring bags only. Bag size may not exceed 14” x 11” x 5” (35cm x 28cm x 12cm), or 30 linear inches (75cm) in total, and must have no more than one singular pocket or opening. Backpacks and bags with multiple pockets are prohibited. Hydration packs are allowed but must be emptied of all liquid and have no more than two pockets in addition to the one holding the water reservoir.”
What you should bring:
Blanket – You aren’t going to want to stand all day and it’s the perfect way to keep the dust and ants at bay. Plus, you can carve out a little spot for your posse. This one from Amazon is perfect because it’s water resistant AND folds up into a tiny little pack. Trust us: You won’t want to carry a heavy blanket around all day.
What you shouldn’t bring:
(from the ACL website)
E-Cigs or Vaping devices
Aerosol containers (including sunscreen and personal beauty products)
Any and all professional audio/video recording equipment
Drones or any other remote flying device
Camping or Tent setups. Includes camping umbrellas, tents and cordoning off your chairs with tape/rope
Coolers of any kind (exceptions may be made for medical use)
Glass containers of any kind
Firearms, explosives, and weapons of any kind (including pocket knives, pepper spray, fireworks, etc)
Illegal and Illicit substances of any kind
Drugs or drug paraphernalia
Outside food or beverage (including alcohol)
Professional-grade radios or walkie-talkies
Pets (except service animals)
Skateboards, scooters, bicycles, wagons, carts (including red wagons) or any personal motorized vehicles
Tents, canopies, or shade structures of any kind
Unauthorized/unlicensed vendors are not allowed. No unauthorized solicitation and materials including handbills, flyers, stickers, beach balls, give-aways, samples, etc.
Large chains or spiked jewelry
Bicycles inside the festival grounds (free parking is available near festival entrance)
No Inflatable furniture (rafts, chairs, etc.)
Read more: 50 Things to Do in Austin in the Summer