So you were lucky enough to get a ticket to Austin City Limits? Sweet! Now you’ve got to research where you’re staying, figure out what to pack, sift through the festival’s FAQ, etc. Oh wait. You don’t because I already did it for you! Consider this your ACL cheat sheet, detailing how to get there, where to stay, what to wear, what to bring and, most importantly, the inside tricks to maximize your fun. Oh yeah, and we've also detailed 10 breakout bands you don't want to miss. You’re welcome.
Alongside the major discount flight sites, check out American Airlines, which is offering a 5 percent discount for flights to Austin from Oct. 9 - 17 with the promotion code 49H2DK.
Starting at 10 am, you can catch the shuttle to the festival grounds at Zilker Park from Republic Square (4th and Guadalupe Streets) in downtown. It’ll bring you back at the end of the night, but remember that the last one leaves at 11 pm.
There’s no parking at Zilker Park and out of respect for the locals, parking is discouraged in surrounding neighborhoods. Designated parking is at One Texas Center (1.3 miles to the park) and the Palmer Event Center (1.1 miles to the park). The shuttle doesn’t make stops at either location, so it’s up to you to get yourself the rest of the way.
Taxis are allowed access near the festival entrance/exit, but given the festival's massive attendance, be prepared to fight for them.
If you’re staying downtown, Zilker Park is between 1.3 and 2.5 miles away depending on your starting point. A doable distance in the morning, but you’ll probably dread the walk home by the end of the night.
ACL recommends biking and so do I. The fest has plenty of bike racks, but bring your own lock though. You’ll get to your next destination quicker and skip the traffic jams you’re likely to face leaving on foot or by car. Austin has plenty of bike rental shops too. Here’s a list of a few near Zilker Park:
WHERE TO STAY
There’s no camping at Zilker Park, so you’ve got to make lodging plans. If you haven’t booked a room yet, stop reading this and do it now! ACL’s massive popularity means many hotels are booked up a year in advance. The hotels listed below are close to Zliker Park and recommended by ACL, so if you find an opening, snatch it up right away.
Hostels are a cheap alternative to hotels if you don’t mind atypical amenities (like sharing a room or a bathroom with strangers). Just do your research, so you know what you’re getting into. We recommend these two hostels:
Even though Zilker’s not an option, there are campsites nearby. Check out some of the spots below:
Air BNB is an innovative alternative to hotels. If you’re not familiar, the site lets normal people list their extra rooms, apartments, homes, whatever, and rent them out for a night, weekend or more. As I’m writing this, there are more than 1,000 results for ACL weekend. One includes a bike too!
Couch Surfing is similar to Air BNB, and has a reputation for making friends out of strangers. Since Austin is known for its welcoming spirit, this might be the best time to try it out.
Maybe this is obvious, but JIC, see if you’ve got any buddies who’ll let you crash for free. Facebook makes this easy by letting you sort through your friends by current location.
WHAT TO WEAR
Austin is a young city, and, as its “Live Music Capital of the World” nickname attests, a trendy one too. So yes, you’ll want to look hip, but before you pack those skinny jeans and flannel shirts, consider this: The temperature in Austin fluctuates a lot in October - the average high is 83 degrees, while the low is 61. This means layers are the trick to staying comfy, and more comfy equals more fun. Here’s the palette to start with:
WHAT TO PACK
You might not see all these items as necessities, but in my 10 years of attending festivals, I’ve learned it’s better to be over-prepared than under. Plus, ACL makes it easy to keep your stuff nearby with a bag check by the Lady Bird Lake entrance. Bring a smaller backpack for the essentials, and keep the emergency items at the bag check. And don’t forget to take a peek at ACL’s list of allowed and prohibited items. On to the checklist:
HOW TO HAVE THE MOST FUN
Make a Plan
Get the festival guide as soon as you get through the gate and make your game plan for the day. If you’re with a group and want to meet up during the day, agree on a common meeting place for each stage and for the end of the night. Don't expect to rely on your phone, since without fail, it’ll either be dead or without service. ACL’s not huge, so you should be able to move from stage to stage quickly, but still take walking time into consideration.
Break Your Plan
Festivals are about adventure and discovery, so don’t treat your plan like a class schedule. See the sets you want to even if your friends aren’t as jazzed about them. If you’re walking past a band you don’t know, but dig the sound, stop and listen. Just go with the flow.
Avoid the Hottest Time of the Day
If you can’t stand the heat, go later in the day. You might miss out on discovering some new bands, but you’ll have loads more energy going into the night.
Drink Water Constantly
Passing out is the opposite of fun. As is nursing a brutal headache, taking a trip in an ambulance, etc. Hit up the three water filling stations in between sets to avoid a medical emergency.
Eat Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
When it’s hot, eating can feel like a chore, but with constant walking and standing, you’ll need all the energy you can get. ACL has a wide variety of food options including a local farmer’s market. Greasy food will suck the life out of you, so stock up on the light and healthy.
Don’t Overdo the Booze
Yes, beer and live music are an excellent pair, but pace yourself. Nothing kills the fun like a massive hangover. And how bummed will you be if you don’t even remember the best set of the weekend?
Prepare for the Worst
Make sure your name, e-mail address and phone number are in your wallet in an obvious place. Consider putting labels on your phone and camera too. Nice people return these items all the time, so make it easy for them to find you.
Live in the Moment
Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, iPhones – they’re hardwired into our lives now. But concerts are always better when you’re absorbed in the experience, so let your social network wait. And let’s be honest: You’re never going to watch those phone videos again anyway.
Don’t Be That Guy
This isn’t a private show, so be respectful of fellow festival-goers and the friendly vibe. If you’re tall, don’t wear a top hat. Don’t block other people’s view with a giant inflatable monkey or excessive sitting-on-shoulders. Don’t shove aggressively through the crowd. If you can’t get any closer without groping people, stay where you are. Don’t litter. Just be a nice person like your momma taught you, okay?
Remember the Golden Rule
If you take nothing else from this guide remember this mantra (it came from a memoir on neurosurgery, but that doesn’t make it complicated): “Never stand when you can be sitting, never sit when you can be lying down and always eat and sh-t at the first available opportunity.”
Got any festival tips of your own? Add them in the comments below!