Lifestyle

Travel: Austin, Texas

Rocking out in cowboy country's cultural capital.

From March 12 to 21, a huge crowd of bands, film nuts, movie execs and music lovers will converge in Austin, Texas, for the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) film and music festival. The event, now in its 27th year, is one of the city’s largest — more than 170,000 people pile into the growing desert locale to make deals, listen to copious amounts of music and explore this always-active college town.

Where to stay: If you’re in town for business but still want to be close to the cultural hot spots, check out the Hilton Austin. It’s located in the heart of downtown, just one block away from Sixth Street — a main destination for nightlife revellers. An elevator ride to the eighth floor will take you to the Tower Health Club & Spa, which features a 48-foot pool and stunning sight lines.

Take in a ground-level view of Austin at the Hotel Saint Cecilia, located on the city’s trendy South Congress Avenue. The hotel is a favourite of Jim Eno, drummer for popular Austin-based rock band Spoon. “It’s a hip little place,” he says. Patrons can stay in large suites that include a private study, or crash in a colourful bungalow to get a real taste of Austin living.

Hilton Austin: 500 East 4th St., (512) 482-8000; www1.hilton.com, Hotel Saint Cecilia: 112 Academy Dr., (512) 852-2400, hotelsaintcecilia.com

Where to dine: Even though Austin isn’t your typical Texan town, the Grade A beef still stands out. Grab a hearty steak at Eddie V’s downtown location, a popular place for entertaining clients. It has a classic steak housefeel, complete with a piano bar lounge, and has drawn the likes of actress Kate Hudson, baseballer Rogers Clemens and cyclist Lance Armstrong.

Justine’s is a bustling French bistro situated in the up-and-coming East End — a haven for artists and musicians. Beth Krauss from the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau describes Justine’s decor as “depression-era circus, silent-movie style.”

Eddie V’s: 301 East 5th St., (512) 472-1860, eddiev.com; Justine’s: 4710 East 5th Street, (512) 385-2900, justines1937.com

Where to unwind: You can’t go to Austin, especially during SXSW, without seeing live music. The Continental Club, also located on South Congress Avenue, is the “granddaddy of Austin music venues,” says Krauss, who sums up the ambiance as a hot rod morphed into a music venue. The neon lights, pool table and old-timey wooden bar has played host to the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Kinky Friedman.

Continental Club: 1315 South Congress Ave., (512) 441-2444, continentalclub.com

What not to miss: As the home of the state government, Austin boasts the Texas Capitol, a towering 19th-century building that sits atop one of the city’s highest points. Built in 1888, it features a sprawling lawn, intricate renaissance revival designs and artifacts dating back more than 100 years. Other highlights include the must-see museums at the University of Texas, featuring one of the original Gutenberg Bibles and the first photo ever taken.

The mini-guide: What you really need to know about Austin

What to pack
Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Texas Food CD

SXSW specialty music genres
Digital hardcore: Fusion of hardcore punk and electronica
Freak folk: Psychadelic folk/rock
Musique actuelle: Avant-garde jazz with a francophone twist

Prices
SXSW platinum badge: $1,268
Eight-ounce filet mignon at Eddie V’s: $36
Miller High-Life beer at the Continental Club: $2.50
35-minute tour of the Texas Capitol: Free