Why Austin is a creative hotspot all year around
There’s more to the city than SXSW, says writer and Soho House Austin member Riley Reed. Here, she shares the cultural highlights to look forward to in 2023
Tuesday 31 January 2023 By Riley Reed
Austin is a magnetic metropolis. With abundant cultural happenings, innovative restaurants, global festivals and every kind of taco you could possibly imagine, it’s little wonder that the Texan city continually ranks as one of the fastest growing urban centres in the US. The opening of Soho House Austin in 2021 was yet another reminder of how the city has become a hub for creatives, both locally and internationally.
Indeed, while Austin has boomed and evolved significantly in the past few years, it remains alluring, dynamic, and fun. There is always something to do, someone to meet, somewhere to go, and Lady Bird Lake (right by the House) remains a beautiful environment for running, biking, kayaking, and other outdoor activities.
Read on to learn more about the elements that make Austin unique, and dive into a multitude of events – from festivals and food to art and sports – which you should come and experience as soon as you can.
The best of art and culture
As a multimedia artist, my list of art, film and performance events you should engage with is extensive. Austin has a rich cultural scene with several spaces to explore, including George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center, Blanton Museum of Art, Long Center for the Performing Arts, The Contemporary Austin, AFS Cinema, The Paramount Theatre, and the Bullock Texas State History Museum.
There’s also literary events like the African American Book Festival and Austin International Poetry Festival, as well as music and film events such as the ATX Television Festival and Cine Las Americas, which showcases contemporary films and videos by and about Latinos/ Latinas globally and Indigenous groups in the Americas. Plus, AAAFF, which celebrates unique voices of Asian American Pacific Islander filmmakers, providing a forum for audiences to experience their perspectives.
The Paramount Summer Classic Film Series and Austin Film Festival celebrate the art of cinema. And The Austin Studio Tour offers a self-guided tour of the city’s art studios. Ballet Austin’s 60th annual performance of The Nutcracker is a cherished holiday tradition, and The Capital City Black Film Festival provides a platform for Black filmmakers to showcase their works.
My favourite place Barton Springs is Austin’s natural ‘crown jewel’: a magical, sacred space to hang out, meditate, listen to drum circles, and wade through water fed from underground springs. On the first day of the year, you can indulge in a courageous, communal polar plunge at the natural springs pool, which stays at a constant 68°F throughout the year, making it warmer than winter. But this is Austin, so when it comes to climate it’s impossible to predict.
The trademark leg race
For athletes, the Statesman Capitol 10,000 – the largest 10K in Texas and the sixth largest in the country – proves a great, sweaty way to see the city. Another iconic event is the Austin Marathon, hosted by Ascension Seton, which takes runners through the city’s historic sites. In November you can engage in Thundercloud Subs Turkey Trot, the largest five-mile run in Texas.
For a post-run recharge, head to Soho House Austin, which is home to Healing House – a wellness programme that includes everything from workshops and classes to full day retreats.
The immersive experience
If you love nature, the Field of Light exhibit is an immersive and emotional experience. Hosted at the 16-acre Texas Arboretum’s Wildflower Center, it features 28,000 fibre-optic lights powered by solar energy that symbolise the intersection of art, technology and nature. During spring, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center holds Tuesday Twilights events with live music and food trucks. And experience the magic of December at the most beloved holiday tradition, the Austin Trail of Lights before ice skating (yes, we know how to do that in Texas) on the Plaza at Whole Foods Market.
The biggest festival
Austin is home to the South by Southwest (SXSW) – colloquially referred to as ‘South By’ – an aggregate of parallel film, interactive media, inspiring education, and music festivals. Austin celebrates Juneteenth with the Central Texas Juneteenth 2K Parade & Celebration featuring floats, entertainment and local vendors. Stay up to date on a range of highly sought-after events with Origin Studio House, a community space highlighting the best of Black art, design, music and culinary experiences. Soho House Austin will also be hosting an array of events across the 10 days of the festival, including screenings, live performances and workshops on everything from music to psychedelics.
Other events in the city include Eeyore’s Annual Birthday Party (which, I must say, is epic), Austin Pride Parade & Festival (also epic), and Fiesta Gardens. There’s also The Front Fest, featuring performances, films and creative experiences putting Texas women and LGBTQ+ creatives of all kinds front and centre, and The Bat Fest, which highlights the 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerging from under the bridge at dusk.
The food lover’s foot trail
Food and drinks events like the Bloody Mary Festival, Jo’s Chili Cook-Off, Austin Oyster Festival, JMBLYA at Circuit of The Americas, Soul Food Truck Fest, ATX Black Food Week, and Austin Food + Wine Festival are an epicurean adventure for all. The city’s commitment to sustainability can be experienced at Field Guide Festival, where more than 30 farmers and chefs present food to celebrate the connection between Austin's farmers, chefs and health.
Plus, on the first Sunday of every month, Soho House Austin hosts Feast in the club – an expansive food spread, including a mix of classic dishes, over-the-top desserts and Austin favourites. Taking place from 12pm to 4pm, you’ll also find live music throughout the day, and it’s just one of many culinary events hosted at the House. Chef’s Tables, House Suppers and the Soho House food series One Night Only are also on the monthly agenda for members.
The best live music
As the live music capital of the world, music in Austin ranges from folk to country to rap and reggae. You name it, Austin plays it. For some of the larger events, attend the classic Blues on the Green for free summertime concerts; Austin Urban Cultural Fest, an R&B, neo-soul and hip-hop music festival; Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic, created by Willie Nelson himself, and the Austin City Limits Music Festival – one of the country’s largest music events, it takes place over six days, with more than 140 musical acts on eight stages over two weekends in Zilker Park.
Meanwhile, at Soho House Austin you’ll find Dante’s HiFi, a vinyl listening bar pop-up from Miami dedicated to the analog audiophile music culture in Austin. Open from Wednesday to Saturday, the space has held events for the likes of Major Lazer’s Walshy Fire, who hosted a talk before playing; Marc Farina’s Mushroom Jazz, and OutKast’s Big Boi, who sang over his tracks to a packed room. This month, you can expect a 1990s hip-hop night with Tony Touch and a night with the legendary Stretch Armstrong, among others. The Music Room at the House is always hosting various events, be it live performances or comedy clubs.
Planning a trip to Austin? Visit our bedrooms page to book your stay at Soho House Austin.