Where To Take A Break From SXSW

Whether you live in Austin or you’re traveling here for SXSW, you’re eventually going to need an escape from the festival. Here’s where to go.

Where To Take A Break From SXSW guide image

Every year, around the second week of March, the floodgates of South By Southwest open, and every musician/tech nerd/media mogul/film geek in the country suddenly descends upon our city (some of them even dare to ask to crash on your couch).

You either fall into the camp of the descenders or the descended upon. But it doesn’t matter. If you’re a human being in Austin during SXSW, you’re going to feel the need to get the f*ck out at some point or another. And not just to the same place that every other attendee is using as an escape valve. You need actual distance. You need real food and alcohol, the kind you actually have to pay for. And you need a place where “networking” is considered a bad word. Here are the best restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and breweries we’d recommend for escaping SXSW.

The Spots

photo credit: Nicolai McCrary

Crown & Anchor Pub review image

Crown & Anchor Pub

$$$$(512) 322-9168

Crown & Anchor is the place you go when you just want a really good burger and a beer. It’s cheap, it’s good, and best of all, nobody is going to try to pitch you on anything except for maybe the $4 beer special of the day. It tends to draw a crowd of grad students, professors, and whoever else lives just north of campus—generally a pretty chill crowd.

Equal parts neighborhood cafe, bakery, and beer garden, you could spend an entire day at Sour Duck without even realizing it. And when you need a break from the festivities downtown, you can. They’re located on East MLK, just a short ride or a very dedicated walk away from it all, but the large patio holds enough picnic tables to feel anything but busy. They also make some really great cookies, because there’s never a bad time to enjoy a cookie.

This South Side coffee shop is a great alternative to nearby Radio, which is usually crowded and barely has any parking. Cosmic Coffee also has a large porch and backyard complete with nighttime fire pits. Besides the space, we’re big fans of the food trucks parked outside, including Pueblo Viejo (for tacos) and LeRoy & Lewis, a barbecue truck serving things you won’t find everywhere else, like smoked beef cheeks and cauliflower burnt ends. Between their beer, coffee, wine, and cocktail selection, you can basically drink here for the entire day, and as if this place couldn’t get any more utopian, dogs are allowed both inside and outside.

Scholz Garten isn’t just the oldest bar in Austin. It’s the oldest beer garden in the country. It also happens to be an incredibly chill spot to grab a beer and some German food, just a few short blocks south of UT. Despite being over 150 years old, they’ve managed to maintain a lively energy. But unlike us, they’ve done it without downing three espressos before noon.

This is how this East 6th dive bar feels about SXSW: They play Apocalypse Now on repeat the entire time. They’ve seen the horrors, and they know not to get out of the boat. The Grackle has cheap drinks, one of Austin’s best whiskey selections, and a big covered patio out front - so it’s a good place to take a break from the SXSW frenzy. Just maybe tuck your badge in your shirt or something.

This brewery south of 71 is basically on a different planet than SXSW, and it brews some of the best beer in the city. Their big backyard is home to Soursop, a food truck serving a mix of Thai and Vietnamese dishes.

You go to Curra’s because it has the kind of laid-back feeling that you might need after being dragged to that secret Kanye West show in an abandoned power plant the night before. You also go to this local institution because you can get an avocado margarita alongside Tex-Mex/Mexican food like chilaquiles, mole enchiladas, queso, and ceviche.

Hanging out on a quiet corner near Airport and Manor is Oddwood Brewing—a neighborhood brewery making excellent saisons, happy pale ales, and lagers. They also make some really great bar pizzas and calzones that are nice for soaking up a day’s worth of free booze. The inside feels very home-y, with lots of wood and cozy lighting, but there’s also a pretty big patio that spills into the parking lot for when the weather is nice. They even have a room full of old video games to help you decompress a bit.  

Just a Lime scooter ride away from Downtown, 40 North is just close enough to “get away” from SXSW, without really committing to a full journey. Here, you can grab some excellent Neapolitan pizza and a glass of wine in an old converted house that’s cozy enough to whip you away from the festivities, even if just for a few minutes. And if you’re not in the mood for pizza (you okay?), they also make a great cheeseburger.

El Chile Cafe y Cantina imageoverride image

El Chile Cafe y Cantina



open table
$$$$(512) 457-9900

You go to El Chile when you want a margarita bigger than your head and some Mexican food or Tex-Mex to go with it. There’s a big patio, and all of the food - from the tacos to the chicken mole - is consistently good.

When all you want is a quiet place to go read a book and drink some coffee in peace, go to Mozart’s. It’s right on Lake Austin, so you’ll feel slightly more refreshed and recharged while in actuality only being about seven minutes west of the heart of South By. Besides the coffee, they also serve very good pastries.

Posse East, just north of campus, is a sports bar that’s been around since 1971, and the kitchen here turns out admirable bar food and Tex-Mex classics. The queso here is excellent and you should get a large to share with the table. And you can get a very good patty melt alongside pitchers of beer. They don’t have a full liquor license, so there aren’t any mixed drinks, which in some ways keeps the rowdiness at bay. The odds of spotting a SXSW badge here will be very low.

We can really only think of one place in the world where you can get best-in-class barbecue, breakfast tacos, and pizza all in one place, and that’s on the massive patio of Meanwhile Brewing. That’s because they’re home to Distant Relatives, Pueblo Viejo, and Dough Boys, some of our favorite spots in town for what they each offer. Of course, Meanwhile is more than just a food trailer park—they’re a brewery, and a good one at that. Come here to relax on a sprawling patio, eat more food than you can handle, converse with the squirrels, and enjoy some really fun beers. It’s easy to forget that anything else is going on when you’re here. 

Very few SXSW attendees (let alone locals) know about Alta’s Cafe, a semi-hidden spot that’s literally a block from the Convention Center in the Waller Creek Boathouse. With an incredible view of Town Lake, the dog-friendly patio is a fantastic place to be - it even has plenty of outlets if you need to get some work done. The food menu is broad: breakfast tacos, avocado toast, cheese boards, salads, and sandwiches. To drink, there are smoothies, beer (and beer flights), wine, and very good coffee.

If you’re looking for a chill beer garden with pretzels and good pastrami sandwiches, head north to the Easy Tiger location at the Linc in the Highland neighborhood - where hopefully the only brand activations going on will be between you and an IPA from Austin Beerworks.

Lala’s Little Nugget might just be the most festive dive bar in town, as it’s been continually decorated for Christmas since the 1970s. It’s a little out of the way in a stripmall in Crestview, but the odds of bumping into people from SXSW are slim to none, so you can revel in the Christmas cheer all on your own.

When you’re in charge of shepherding your visiting coworkers around town and want to prove to them that Austin is more than just Sixth Street and Rainey, head to ABGB down south. This huge indoor/outdoor beer garden with an equally large patio is well-equipped for large groups of people, and besides serving lots of beers in huge mugs, it also has surprisingly good pizza.

This Christmas light-covered dive just west of downtown looks like a set straight out of Friday Night Lights, but with more old hippies and fewer Tim Riggins sightings. Grab a pitcher of Lone Star or really whatever cheap beer you prefer, and play some pool while enjoying the sounds of Willie Nelson on repeat. When you get hungry (or decide you want a tiki drink), check out Pool Burger around back.

Hidden away on a residential street north of UT’s campus, Draught House is one of our favorite beer gardens in town. They’ve always had one of the city’s best rotating tap selections - even before most people started caring about beer - and recently they opened their own food truck serving chicken wings, burgers, and fish and chips. Check their website ahead of time because they offer discounts on select beers (and even free food) during certain days of the week.

Spend a chill Sunday afternoon hanging out on the picnic tables in The Little Darlin’s huge patio out back. There’s a stage for live music, but be warned that sometimes there are SXSW shows on the weekend, so check online first before heading out. As far as food goes, stick with the basics, like the burger or the cast-iron mac and cheese (add carnitas).

This East Side pub has proudly been a shelter from SXSW events for as long as we can remember. It’s not far from downtown or the craziness of East Sixth, but with a big backyard, ping pong, skee ball, and “fat” sandwiches (their word, not ours), Gourmands feels like it’s worlds away from South By. They also serve breakfast, so in case you had a few too many Lone Stars last night, this place has you covered before noon, too.

Chase Sapphire Card Ad