The South By Southwest music, interactive and film festival kicks off March 7, which means a boatload of free parties, concerts and swag is about to invade Austin, Texas. Lucky for penny-pinching travelers, Austin is already rife with free entertainment. Here are the ten coolest free finds in town.
Even if you don’t buy a SXSW badge, the fest still provides a smorgasbord of free fun ranging from a video game expo to eco art installations. Sxsw.com/free contains the official events open to the public, but net-savvy travelers can also get the deets on free private events by keeping up with local publications like Austin360.com, AustinChronicle.com, RSVPster.com and Do512.com.
Take a dip
Barton Springs, the mother of all pools, charges an entry fee, but there are still plenty of spots along the city’s greenbelt that you can visit without paying a dime. Throw on your bathing suit and hit up local faves like Lost Creek, Sculpture Falls or Secret Beach.
Get a gander at brand new games at the SXSW Game Exposition or head to Kung Fu Saloon in downtown Austin to kick it old school. This ninja-themed bar boasts an impressive selection of 80s and 90s arcade classics, all of which are free on Sundays.
Grab a paddle (board)
If you’ve never tried stand up paddle boarding, now is your chance. SUP ATX offers free lessons every Sunday morning for beginners of all ages.
A few museums in town are perma-free and bless them for it. You can always peek at the fossilized remains of dinos at the Texas Memorial Museum located at the University of Texas, Austin, or hop over to Camp Mabry just north of the city to see the Texas Military Forces Museum. A trip to Austin would be remiss without boning up on the state’s history. Thankfully the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum offers free admission the first Sunday of each month.
See some art
Historical museums aren’t the only place where you can score a deal. You can also slip in to see exhibits at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas every Thursday, the Mexic-Arte Museum every Sunday or at The Contemporary Austin modern art gallery every Tuesday on the house.
Austin is home to the world’s largest urban bat colony and it’s basically a crime to leave town without seeing them. Living under the Congress Avenue Bridge, an estimated 1.5 million bats take flight at twilight. Bring a blanket and nab a seat near Lady Bird Lake for prime viewing.
Catch a flick
The illustrious Alamo Drafthouse runs free screenings of kids movies the last Saturday of each month during the school year and provides gratis children’s films every Monday through Thursday during the summer. You can catch the occasional non G-rated freebie at the Alamo locations, but you’re more likely to score complimentary films at Spider House Cafe and Ballroom or through the Austin Film Society.
Take a tour
Austin is the capital of the great state of Texas and you can learn all about it through the Texas State Capitol’s free guided tours. If you’d rather hoof it on your own, the Austin Visitor’s Center can hook you up with self-guided tours of downtown Austin and the Texas State Cemetery.
Take in some tunes
With more live music venues per capita than anywhere else in the country, you simply can’t leave town without getting your groove on. There are far too many free shows to list here, but head to Do512.com/free to bask in the overwhelmingly awesome selection of no-charge concerts at your disposal.