October 2, 2012


Austin City Limits 2012 Survival Guide

Tim Mosenfelder
Tim Mosenfelder

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.

Free Shuttle
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:

Curt Teich Postcard Archives
Curt Teich Postcard Archives


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:

  • Firehouse Hostel – 2.2 miles away
    605 Brazos St.
    Austin, TX 78701
  • HI Austin – 3.3 miles away
    2200 South Lakeshore Blvd.
    Austin, TX 78741

Even though Zilker’s not an option, there are campsites nearby. Check out some of the spots below:

Alternative Lodging
 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.

Tim Mosenfelder
Tim Mosenfelder

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:

  • Backpack – You’ll be carrying at least a couple of pounds and a backpack distributes that weight evenly. Save yourself unnecessary pain and leave the shoulder and cross-body bags at home.
  • Two pairs of comfortable shoes - I personally prefer Keds or Vans, but many advocate boots. Either way, these shoes should be broken in to avoid blisters. (If blisters do crop up, that’s when you break out the second pair of shoes.) And please oh please, don’t wear flip-flops or heels. Your little piggies will get stomped or you’ll break an ankle. Major festival fail.
  • Shorts – I avoid pants like leaves-of-three. If it’s sunny, you’ll be sticky as hell. If it rains, you’ll feel like there are shackles around your ankles. Long skirts are practically pants. And short skirts? You don’t want to pull a Britney.
  • Bandana – This is your most versatile tool. Pull it over your face to keep out dust. Drench it in water to cool your self down. Keep the sweat out of your eyes. Or make an impromptu tube top.
  • Bathing suit –  One of the best things about ACL is that the cool waters of Barton Springs run right through the park grounds. If the day gets toasty, you’ll want to be prepared for taking a dip.
  • Watch – You’ll be checking the time constantly to hit up your choice sets, so spare your phone’s precious battery and pack a watch instead.
  • Extra socks – Because soggy socks can make you homicidal.
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Don’t wear black. Period.

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:

  • Water – ACL allows two unopened plastic bottles, plus a refillable bottle or CamelBak. If you’re worried about leakage, carry it in a Ziploc bag to keep your other items dry.
  • Cash– Aside from merch, most transactions will require cash. Sure there are ATMs, but expect long lines and hefty fees.
  • Spray sunscreen – Spray is quicker than lotion and gives you better coverage. Just make sure you grab the plastic spray bottles as aerosol containers aren't allowed on the grounds.
  • Poncho – Lighter and easier to pack than an umbrella, but just as effective.
  • Hand sanitizer – You'll be using Porta Potties and sweating all day.
  • Tissues or TP – Because the Porta Potties will no doubt run out of TP by mid day.
  • Phone charger – You never know what will happen at a festival, so pack it just in case.
  • Lightweight blanket - To sit on during down times.
  • Notebook and pen – You’ll be discovering new bands and songs along with making new friends and memories. Be prepared to jot down those details.
  • Caffeine pills – These are more effective than energy drinks or coffee at kickstarting your day or giving you a second wind. Extra bonus: They don't make you have to pee.
  • Bug spray
  • Extra bobby pins/hair ties
  • Gum
  • Earplugs
  • Band-Aids
  • SPF chapstick
Gary Miller
Gary Miller


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.

Tim Mosenfelder
Tim Mosenfelder

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!