Springtime in Austin means doesn’t just mean that it’s perfect RV camping weather in Texas; it means that it’s time for South by Southwest. Often known simply as SXSW, and sometimes locally referred to as South by, South by Southwest is a conference and festival experience held in downtown Austin every March.
Is it a music festival? Is it a networking event for creative change-makers? Is it an excuse to eat a ton of tacos? South by Southwest is all that and more.
South by Southwest transforms Austin into a hub of music, film, technology, podcasting, networking, and exhibitions. While the heart of the event may be found downtown in and around Sixth Street, this legendary festival founded in 1987 really does feel like it takes over the entire city.
For music lovers, there are performances from acclaimed and undiscovered artists. For cinema fans, there are film screenings. The interactive portion of SXSW brings speakers from buzzy industries such as advertising, media, and cannabis. Event-goers can also expect parties, speakeasies, and free concerts that bring the whole city to the shores of Lady Bird Lake at Zilker Park.
Tickets to South by Southwest are usually available in tiers related to both interests and involvement in the event. You can purchase passes that give you access to all music events, all film events, all interactive events, or all events. Tickets typically go on sale in late summer, with prices increasing as the event draws closer.
Depending on when you buy your badge and what level of access you choose, you might expect to spend anywhere from $800 to $1,700. If you attend South by Southwest without a pass, you may be able to purchase individual tickets for shows at the door.
Thanks to narrow roads, nightly closures on Sixth Street, one-way roads, and general congestion, navigating Downtown Austin can be tricky no matter when you visit. If you attend South by Southwest, it might feel downright impossible thanks to additional closures and traffic. Your best course of action is to leave your RV or campervan at your Austin-area campground and make your way downtown by public transportation, rideshare, taxi, or on foot.
Parking in Downtown Austin can be difficult to find during South by Southwest. Limited parking may be available near the Austin Convention Center, but your best bet is to find parking somewhere else in the city and get to the downtown area from there. If you must park near downtown during South by Southwest, the event website offers a parking availability tool to help you find any spaces that may be available.
Public transportation by bus is available in Austin on a regular basis during the day and on a less frequent basis later in the night. Buses running up and down Congress Avenue make it easy to get downtown, and some even offer wifi on board. You can also use rideshare companies or call a taxi. Once you’re downtown, whimsical pedicabs make for a fun way to explore the area while traveling from one venue to the next.
There is no RV camping onsite at South by Southwest in Downtown Austin. Camping in an RV just outside of downtown makes for a fun and very Austin-styled experience, and it also has the added benefit of being a whole lot cheaper. Look for options in Austin as well as in nearby towns and cities, including Round Rock, Buda, Pflugerville, Elgin, and San Marcos.
RV campground options abound in and around Austin. For a more urban RV camping experience that allows for easy access to South by Southwest and opportunities to explore the city’s eclectic neighborhoods, look for a space within the city limits like McKinney Falls State Park.
If you prefer wilderness, look for lakeside RV campgrounds at Lake Travis, riverside spaces near San Marcos, or hill country views at a campground outside of the city on the way to Fredericksburg. Austin East KOA rests about 10 miles from downtown and welcomes rigs of various sizes.
South by Southwest is concentrated around Sixth Street in Downtown Austin, but as the festival continues to grow and expand, the event touches adjacent neighborhoods like Rainey Street, SoCo, and the area around the University of Texas campus on Guadalupe Street. T
o fully immerse yourself in the event, leave your RV at your campground and explore Austin by bus, bike, rideshare, or on foot. Keep in mind that parts of Sixth Street will be closed to traffic. Bicycles, scooters, golf carts, skateboards, or other wheeled vehicles may not be permitted. Plan on being on foot when you’re downtown.
March in Austin brings warm, sunny weather. Pack short-sleeved shirts, shorts, tank tops, and sundresses for outdoor events. You will likely be walking, standing, or dancing at some point, so bring comfortable shoes. Have warmer layers for cooler nighttime temperatures and a rain jacket handy in the event of a spring storm. If you’re interested in taking advantage of networking opportunities, bring something business casual (but not overly formal) to make a good impression.
Bring camping gear for hanging out at your RV campground in Austin before and after a day at South by Southwest. You may want to plan on having cooking supplies, camping chairs, and firewood if your campground permits fires. For South by Southwest, have cash and a credit card for event vendors and nearby restaurants and shops. Bring a small purse or bag that can fit essentials for a full day downtown.
Austin is sunny, and many South by Southwest events are outside, so bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. Carry important medical supplies with you at all times, as you may experience delays in getting back to your RV from Downtown Austin. Bring a reusable water bottle or purchase water at the event.
RV cooking options, including outdoor cooking rules, will vary depending on where you camp in Austin. If you wish to cook at your RV campground, stock up on groceries at your choice of chain or organic grocery stores around Austin. Travelers can also find several late-night and 24-hour grocery stores closer to downtown.
Austin is a paradise for foodies. Visitors often plan on experiencing the city’s robust food truck scene during South by Southwest. Several parts of the city even offer food truck parks that bring many food trucks to one place. Look for South by Southwest dining specials at restaurants in and around downtown. Austin is known for Texas-style barbecue, breakfast tacos, queso, and an impressive craft beer scene, so whatever you crave, you’re sure to find it.
Vendors at South by Southwest events will be available with drinks and quick bites. Guests can also look for pop-up vendors from local culinary destinations and events dedicated to celebrating the Austin dining scene. South by Southwest is a very technology-centered event, so expect most vendors to accept credit cards, but bring cash just in case.
Expect event security and an elevated police presence during South by Southwest. Have your festival wristband on and be prepared to show credentials at the different venues. Security screenings may be necessary at larger or more exclusive events or any event with a celebrity guest. Certain events may only permit clear bags and may also require bag searches before entering.
Austin is a city where if a venue or event can take place outside, it will. Keep this in mind when heading downtown for the day. While weather conditions in March in Austin tend to be sunny and in the 70s, severe storms are possible. Bring rain gear, and confirm which events will be outside versus inside if showers are in the forecast.
South by Southwest takes place throughout the downtown area, so attendees can expect to have access to nearby medical facilities, pharmacies, and other resources in Austin. There will also be EMS on site as well as staff and volunteers who can assist if you in the event of a medical emergency.