Your Ultimate Guide for Navigating SXSW and Maximizing Your Experience in 2023
Get ready to experience the ultimate convergence of technology, music, and film at the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. Whether you’re a seasoned attendee or a first-timer, here are some tips and tricks to help you maximize your experience at this one-of-a-kind event.
SXSW is an annual conference and festival that features a wide range of topics including music, film, interactive media, technology, business, and more. With so many topics to choose from, it can be overwhelming to navigate the schedule. Here are some tips to help you experience both official and unofficial SXSW events and activities so you have the best South by Southwest 2023.
This article focuses mainly on the interactive portion of the festival in Austin, Texas.
RSVP now to free SXSW events. Many of them reach capacity quickly.
Your Ultimate Guide to Navigating SXSW Like a Pro
- SXSW Planning Tips
- What To Bring
- Where To Park
- How To Get Around
- Networking Tips
- How To See Celebrities at SXSW
- The SXSW Events I’m Looking Forward To
- Events for Marketing Professionals
- Events for Networking
- Free Food, Drinks, and Swag
SXSW Planning Tips
When planning your SXSW experience, start by looking through the list of events and RSVPing ahead of time to the ones you’re most interested in. Create a schedule and prioritize your must-sees, and keep track of your e-tickets by moving them to a designated folder in your email account. Add your events to your Google calendar (or other online calendar) and note what you can expect for each one. For popular speakers or events, plan to arrive at least 30 minutes early to secure a spot and be prepared to wait in long lines.
What To Bring
When attending SXSW, it’s important to bring a few essential items to ensure you’re prepared for a long day of events and networking. Here are some items you should consider bringing with you:
- Comfortable shoes: You’ll likely be doing a lot of walking, so wearing comfortable shoes is important.
- Portable chargers: With all the events and socializing, your phone battery can drain quickly. Bring a portable charger to ensure that you can stay connected throughout the day.
- A Water bottle: Stay hydrated during the day by bringing a refillable water bottle to stay refreshed and avoid buying expensive drinks.
- A Backpack or tote bag: A bag is essential for carrying all of your essentials, including your phone charger, water bottle, and any free swag you may receive. I like to use lightweight packable backpacks for events like this.
- Business cards: Networking is a key part of SXSW, so bring plenty of business cards to hand out to potential connections. Yes, people still use business cards at events like SXSW, and they can be an effective way to exchange contact information with possible connections. While digital options like LinkedIn can be convenient, physical business cards offer a tangible reminder of your conversation. They can help you stand out from others who may not have brought business cards. Additionally, some attendees may prefer to exchange physical cards rather than rely on digital methods. Overall, it’s a good idea to bring business cards with you to SXSW or any other networking event, just in case.
- Layers: The weather in Austin can be unpredictable, so it’s a good idea to bring layers you can easily add or remove depending on the temperature. This is a popular Lightweight, Water-Resistant Sherpa-Lined Hooded Jacket for women. And for men, there is the Champion Stadium Packable Jacket.
- Sunscreen: Austin can be very sunny in March, during SXSW, and you’ll likely spend a lot of time outdoors walking around or waiting in lines. To protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays, bring a travel-sized bottle of sunscreen with at least SPF 30, and reapply throughout the day as needed.
Where to Park at SXSW
Parking can be challenging during SXSW, as many attendees will be driving to the event. However, there are several parking options available:
- Public parking garages: Many public parking garages located throughout downtown Austin offer hourly or daily rates. These garages can fill up quickly, so arriving early is best.
- Private lots: Private parking lots may also be available, but be sure to check for any restrictions or fees.
- Street parking: One option for parking in West Downtown Austin is paid street parking located just north of the library. If you’re willing to walk a bit, free parking can be found in East Austin around 3rd and Navasota St. Another option is paid street parking near Fair Market at 5th and Waller, which has worked well in the past. Free parking can be found on South Congress and the surrounding side streets south of the river if you’re willing to walk a bit. However, be sure to watch out for spots designated for residents only.
- Ride-sharing: Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft can be convenient for getting to and from SXSW. However, surge pricing may be effective during peak times, so be prepared for higher fares.
- Public transportation: Austin has various public transportation options, including buses and light rail. Check the Capital Metro website for schedules and route information.
- Biking or walking: If you’re staying in the downtown area, biking or walking can be a great way to get around and avoid the hassle of parking. Another option is parking a few miles away from downtown and biking in. This can be a great way to avoid crowds and traffic, and many bike rental options are available in Austin. Just plan your route and allow plenty of time to get to your destination. Additionally, be sure to bring appropriate gear like a helmet and lights if you’ll be biking after dark.
How to Get Around
Once you’re downtown, there are several ways to get around SXSW:
- Walking: Many events and venues are within walking distance of each other, so walking can be a great way to get around and explore the city.
- Biking: Biking can be a convenient way to get around downtown, and many bike rental options are available in Austin. Just be sure to follow traffic laws and wear appropriate safety gear.
- Ride-sharing: Ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft are widely available in Austin and can be convenient for getting around quickly.
- Public transportation: Austin has various public transportation options, including buses and light rail.
- Electric scooters: Electric scooters are a popular way to get around Austin, but be sure to follow safety guidelines and be aware of other pedestrians and vehicles.
- Pedicabs: Pedicabs, also known as bike taxis, are a fun and eco-friendly way to get around downtown Austin. Pedicabs can be found throughout the city, and many drivers are happy to give you a tour of the area as they transport you to your destination. Just be sure to negotiate the price before you get in, as rates can vary depending on the driver and the distance. Additionally, be aware that pedicabs can get busy during peak hours, so plan ahead and allow extra time if you’re using this mode of transportation. The cost of Austin pedicabs during SXSW can vary depending on the distance traveled, the time of day, and the demand for rides. Generally, you can expect to pay a higher rate during peak hours and for longer distances. As of 2022, the average cost for a short pedicab ride during SXSW was around $10-15, while longer rides or rides during peak hours could cost upwards of $20-30 or more. It’s always a good idea to negotiate the price with the driver before getting in and to be aware of any additional fees or charges that may apply.
Here are some tips to help you maximize your networking opportunities at SXSW.
- Come prepared: Bring plenty of business cards and a pen to take notes on the business cards you collect.
- Attend networking events: SXSW offers a variety of networking events, including mixers, meetups, and panels. Check the schedule and plan to attend events that align with your interests and goals.
- Be approachable: Smile, make eye contact, and be open to meeting new people. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and strike up a conversation with someone who seems interesting.
- Listen actively: When you’re networking, listening actively and engaging with others is important. Ask questions and show genuine interest in what they have to say.
- Follow up: After the event, follow up with the people you met. Send a quick email or LinkedIn message to thank them for their time and suggest a follow-up meeting or call.
- Use social media: Social media can be a powerful networking tool, so don’t be afraid to use platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram to connect with other attendees and share your experiences. Popular hashtags for South by Southwest are #SXSW, #SXSW2023, #ATX, #SXTips, #SXLinesand subscribe to a Twitter list specifically for the conference.
How To See Celebrities at SXSW
Here are some tips to increase your chances of spotting a famous person at SXSW.
- Attend high-profile events: Check the schedule for high-profile events like film premieres or keynote speeches by well-known speakers. These events are more likely to attract celebrities, so arrive early and be prepared to wait in line.
- Keep your eyes open: Be aware of your surroundings and keep your eyes open for familiar faces. Celebrities might be walking around the festival or grabbing a bite at a local restaurant..
- Be respectful: Remember that celebrities are people too, so be respectful if you spot one. Avoid asking for photos or autographs if they seem busy or are with friends or family.
- Follow social media: Follow the social media accounts of celebrities or SXSW itself to stay updated on any surprise appearances or events.
- Try attending private events: Some celebrities might attend private events or parties during SXSW. These events may require an invitation or a special pass, so do your research and network with other attendees to find out about any exclusive events.
- Celebrities can also be spotted outside the Paramount Theatre, which hosts many film premieres and other events during SXSW. Additionally, some people have reported seeing celebrities walking down the streets of downtown Austin or in front of higher-end hotels, such as the Four Seasons or the W Hotel.
- Follow Spill the ATX for the latest celebrity Austin celebrity sightings.
The SXSW Events I’m Looking Forward To Attending
Check out my updated list of SXSW events with links to RSVP and details about each event.
I’m looking forward to attending at SXSW to network, learn, and eat good food. I’ve picked out the events that align with my marketing, content creation, and entrepreneurship interests. All of these events are free and do not require a badge, although some may offer VIP passes for purchase or provide priority entrance for badge holders.
March 10 – Equitech Texas Welcome Breakfast: ATX breakfast event, where mission-driven, under-estimated founders, funders, and allies can connect, celebrate and convene. Join colleagues from across the country to share best practices, and potential partnerships, and link up pipelines to build an inclusive tech city. Limited to 150 guests, RSVP is required,
March 10 – 14. Inc Founders House and Fast Company Grill: There will be daily talks, happy hours, and complimentary snacks and drinks will be served daily. RSVP required.
March 10 – Capital Factory Startup Crawl. The Capital Factory Startup Crawl provides networking opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors. You work your way around a laid-out setup of booths with startup companies, free food, free drinks, and more. General Admission tickets are first-come-first-serve and don’t guarantee entry. Consider purchasing VIP tickets ($50) for guaranteed entry, including dedicated access through a VIP line, early admission, and a swag bag. Early Admission tickets ($10) are also available. Long lines are expected, so buying VIP or early admission tickets reduces your time waiting in line.
March 10 -13. Jo’s Coffee | Amazon Ads. Between 9 am and 12 pm, you can indulge in complimentary beverages courtesy of Amazon Ads*. You can choose from a variety of drinks, including drip coffee, cold brew, Turbo (Jo’s signature sweet, creamy coffee drink with chocolate and hazelnut), Belgian Bomber (iced Turbo mixed with cold brew), and hot or iced tea (black, green, or hibiscus).
March 10 -13. Brand Innovators Marketing Leadership Summit. This multi-day event focuses on the latest trends and technologies shaping the marketing landscape. to enhance your brand’s engagement with customers. There are many great panels and plenty of free food and drinks during the day. Register ahead of time.
March 11. Create & Cultivate Future Summit. The Create & Cultivate Future Summit is a one-day conference, where experts and professionals from different industries discuss creativity, entrepreneurship, and career development topics. Attendees can enjoy workshops, connect with like-minded individuals and gain valuable insights from successful professionals. The conference offers food and drinks all day long. Get there early (at least 30 minutes) to get a gift bag worth $400 for the first 200 attendees. You must RSVP.
March 11. Unstoppable WoW3: 1 Year Anniversary Brunch. Connect with inspiring women in Web3 and like-minded individuals, learn from educational discussions, and network. Be sure to reserve a spot.
March 11 – 12. SHE Media Co-Lab at SXSW. This event has a lineup of leading experts and change makers in the health field. Attendees can hear from renowned speakers like Katie Couric, Maria Shriver, and Christy Turlington Burns as they explore the science, history, and personal stories that shape our understanding of health. Other activities include discussions, demos, and networking opportunities. RSVP.
March 11 – 14. Wonder House: UArizona Meets SXSW, Network with the University of Arizona visionaries as they discuss topics such as technology, culture, film, music, and more. Last year’s event was held at Fogo de Chao, and they had amazing food and drinks. Register ahead of time.
March 13. RECHARGE with RE/MAX. Come to this unofficial SXSW event to relax and unwind. Enjoy complimentary mini facials, chair massages, cocktails, and engaging conversations with experts in Austin Real Estate. The facials and massages will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis. RSVP now and keep an eye out for additional exciting updates.
March 13. Google Cloud for Startups Community Event. This is an event focusing on women founders. Attendees can learn from a panel of VC investors, ask Google experts cloud questions, and network with VC partners and other local startup leaders. While there is an emphasis on women startup founders, all startup founders are encouraged to attend as there will be content for both technical and non-technical founders.
March 15 – A Day in the Future of Fashion. This fashion event has startup demos, pop-up markets, and discussions with industry leaders. Enjoy networking, music, free drinks, food, swag, and more.
March 15 – The Creative Industries Expo. They are opening the Expo to all Austin industry professionals for Austin Industry Day. No badges are required for entry!
Events for Marketing Professionals
Events for Networking
Free Food, Drinks, and Swag
Rachel Belkin is an Austin, Texas blogger, entrepreneur, speaker, freelance writer, and educator. After selling her lifestyle blog for six figures in 2021, she teaches business, blogging, and influencer marketing strategies that helped her build her business on part-time hours. Bylines include MSN, HuffPost, Medium, NewsBreak, and Hometalk. She has been featured on KXAN, Studio 512, Fox 7 Austin, CBS Austin, and other news and media outlets.