Since 1987, SXSW has continued to grow both in size and scope. It originally focused on showcasing film and music, but it now features a dizzying lineup of art, games, technology, and everything in between. In 2018, over 2,000 musical acts performed. It would take days on end to watch the 2018 festival’s film selections. And if you spent an hour at each gaming expo space, it would take you even more hours to get through them all — and that’s only if you never slept.
The point is: we can see why you’d want to get in on the action. We’ve rustled up the 12 best SXSW venues for harnessing a bit of the festival’s incredible energy.
Just because it’s Austin doesn’t mean it isn’t still Texas. The Rambling Rose Ranch is the perfect spot to let the lights and crowds fade into the background for a few hours. Designed and built by hand, the property offers many small details, from the boho tilework on the stage stairs to the distressed painting on the vintage free-hanging windows that surround the outer courtyard space. There’s over 10,000 square feet of space to work with here, so put it to good use. Turn on those string lights, order some kegs from one of the nearby craft breweries, and throw the perfect Southern urban party.
2. An enchanting outdoor amphitheater, complete with secret gardens
If your event includes music — or even if it doesn’t — don’t overlook this funky historic property. Both the house itself and the accompanying artist cottages are elegantly decorated, but perhaps the most charming aspect of the space is the mysterious and beautiful side gardens that snake around the property. There’s just so much to discover around every corner, and the center of it all is a distinctive outdoor amphitheater.
3. This striking downtown Austin mansion
For those whose tastes skew towards the classic and tasteful, this popular downtown mansion is a perennial favorite. Located just down the street from the Austin Convention Center, this massive mansion can accommodate up to 1,600 people outdoors and 99 indoors, as well as parking for up to 60 cars. In downtown Austin, that’s nothing to shake a stick at. Since this spot is a favorite for weddings, the property is well set up to host large events, meaning management can hook you up with on-site security personnel, in-house catering, and a venue manager to make sure your event goes off without a hitch.
The Hangar Lounge is modeled after a 1950s airport lounge, and it’s executed wonderfully. There’s a steel hangar bar on the spacious rooftop patio, and the interior exudes comfort and mid-century modern for days. Throw on your best Mad Men suit, order up a martini, and rest assured that you’re doing the festival right.
5. An actual East Austin train station
We’re all aboard the hype train for this amazing space. Springdale Station was restored in 2016 and converted into a full-time event space, and the results speak for themselves. If you’re looking for something unique and memorable, there are few places as original as this one. It oozes vintage. Outside, an antique awning covers the decommissioned railway, flanked by brass lamps from 1939. The indoor areas are a mix of clean, modern design, dotted with well-curated historic relics dating back as early as 1917. There’s just something magical about standing on an old train platform with a drink in hand, surrounded by friends. We think you’ll feel it, too.
If your event has a creative or interactive slant to it, check out this artistic warehouse space. The amenities include a large open space with a PA, projector, and chairs, so it’s perfect for screening a new film — or throwing some video up on the wall to serve as a thematically-appropriate backdrop. There’s plenty of unadorned wallspace to decorate and even a laid-back outdoor area with a distinctly Austin vibe. While a lot of venues themselves define the character of an event, warehouse art spaces like this are more of a blank canvas — you can make them into anything you want them to be.
7. The roof of a hotel on 6th Street
Take in the Austin skyline from the roof of a new boutique four-story hotel situated on hip 6th Street, a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of downtown. The roof overlooks a popular food truck pavilion, offering easy access for guests to partake in one of Austin’s classic culinary traditions. Since this space is part of a hotel, you could also go a step further and book a room. This gets you a discount on the venue price, and it also means you only have to stumble a short distance to crash at the end of a memorable night.
If you’re going for a Pinterest-worthy vibe, you can’t do better than this boho design studio. It’s a single open space perfect for mingling, but each painstakingly designed interior layout within it creates its own distinctive sub-space. Honestly, you could probably take pictures in each room layout and tell people you went to 10 different parties. It’s full of beautiful things, and people like being surrounded by beautiful things.
Ignore the fact that it’s gorgeous for a second — we know, it’s hard — and consider the fun fact that the builders designed this gorgeous house from the ground up to promote health through the use of nontoxic building materials, better air quality, and thoughtful lighting design. Sure, you won’t be living here, but the best event spaces are the ones that have a story. They’re the ones that were built with love and care, and this is one of them. The massive hilltop lawn is an ideal place to prop up a lawn chair and watch the sunset over the downtown skyline, and if you’re there in the afternoon, the natural light through the massive windows is particularly striking.
10. This downtown loft event space
This loft event space is in the heart of it all, a blank canvas ready for your vision. It’s got an exposed brick display wall on one side and a floor-to-ceiling chalk wall on the other, so you can transform it into whatever you need it to be. Situated on 5th and Brazos, the spot’s in an area where Austin’s growing business center intermingles with the infamous 6th Street entertainment district, so things are bumping around here during SXSW.
11. This aerial and dance arts studio
By day, this space is a studio for aerial and dance practice, so the main hall is enormous and open. But that same space also has a floor-to-ceiling curtain and theatrical lighting system, which can be put to dramatic use. The best part of all is the presence of aerial silks and trapeze swings, which can make for eclectic decorations or be put to actual use — the venue will provide circus arts performers if you’d like, for an additional fee. What other event has that?
12. This bright and modern event space
Add an upscale touch to your event with these surroundings. This event space is big enough for whatever you throw at it, and the textured treatment of the largest wall in the room is sure to make the perfect selfie backdrop. Ample large windows provide plenty of natural light, and there are breakout rooms aplenty for more intimate areas or to use as staging areas.
Each of the 12 best SXSW venues brings something different to the table. Whether it’s providing a memorable experience simply through the space itself or enabling you to craft your experience just the way you want it, there’s a venue out there for you. Austin ups its game every year in anticipation of each SXSW being bigger and better than the last. Spaces get booked quickly, but there’s no shortage of them. People flock to SXSW because they’re expecting memorable cultural experiences — here’s to hoping you give them one they’ll never forget.