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Things To Do at SXSW in Austin, Texas—Everything From Movie Premiers To Free Sushi

The annual South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, offers an unforgettable sensory experience with activities catering to all interests and backgrounds through the blend of technology, music, film, food, health, and culture. We love how the city buzzes with energy with thought-provoking panels, live music, movie premiers, product launches, brand activations, networking events, and plenty of food and drinks. In 2024, SXSW runs from March 4th through 16th, starting with the educational conference and ending with music showcases.

AUSTIN, TEXAS - MAR 9: SXSW 2012 South by Southwest 2012 Annual music, film, and interactive conference and festival on March 9, 2012 in Austin, Texas. Festival is held from March 9-18. Poster on 6 street
Photo credit: GSPhotography / Shutterstock.com

Things to Do at SXSW This Year

The amount of options can be overwhelming, but no worries! As long-time Austin residents, we have been attending SXSW events since the late 1990s and can provide suggestions for making the most of your time at the festival. Whether you want to discover up-and-coming artists, get the inside scoop on a new technology product, or practice yoga with your favorite YouTuber, it’s all possible at South by Southwest. Here’s what to know about all the things to do at SXSW in 2024.

Free Events, Parties, Meals

Attending SXSW comes with a hefty price tag, as badges for festival access can be quite expensive. For instance, the walk-up rate for entry to the EDU portion alone is $795, while primary access to all events is $2095 for walk-ups. However, there are many free SXSW events, parties, and shows each year. Local shops and venues often host promotional exhibits, while various brands and businesses organize events to promote their offerings and boost brand awareness. You can learn more about these no-cost events by joining relevant Facebook and Discord groups and searching online.

AUSTIN, TX - MAR 12: SXSWi 2012. SXSW Interactive Conference on March 12, 2012 in Austin, Texas. Convention center is packed with attendees.
Photo credit: Alfie Photography / Shutterstock.com

Educational Programming

SXSW EDU is an international education conference with daily keynotes, hundreds of sessions, 12 thematic tracks, film screenings, and opportunities to receive continuing professional education credits. I attended SXSW EDU in 2018, where Dan Rather spoke, and I brought back a lot of great ideas to use in the classroom, along with plenty of educational swag.

This year, the sessions will cover accessible learning in non-academic environments, reimagining social and emotional learning, the importance of increasing access to outdoor education, and more from speakers representing worldwide perspectives. There will be a keynote session with Carol Dweck, an American Psychologist known for her work on growth mindset and motivation.

Interactive Exhibits

The festival’s interactive portion offers various sessions, panels, meet-ups, and workshops covering a vast spectrum of topics from technology, science, culture, design, transportation, energy, and more.  Things to do at SXSW during the interactive section include product launches, tech demonstrations, and hands-on exhibits showcasing the latest technology and innovations.

SXSW has a history of successful groundbreaking platforms, such as Twitter’s emergence in 2007.  It wasn’t technically a launch, but SXSW served as a pivotal “coming out” celebration for the company.  Festival goers speculate who will be the next success story each year, with past triumphs including Pinterest, Foursquare, and the Instagram Android App.

Film and TV

The film and TV segment of the festival offers nine days of connecting with industry experts through programs and screenings spanning a diverse range of genres, including comedies, dramas, documentaries, and XR projects. There are more than 300 screenings and comedy showcases during the film and TV segment. Past SXSW movie and TV premiers include favorites like The Hurt Locker, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2010, What We Do in the Shadows, and a surprise screening of Air last year.

There are always a ton of celebrities in town for both official and unofficial functions during that time. I’ve personally seen John Krasinski, Elijah Wood, Elizabeth Olsen, Oliva Wilde, and one actress I embarrassingly didn’t recognize and asked what she did for a living.

Music Things To Do at SXSW

South by Southwest started in 1987 to showcase Austin’s eclectic music to industry professionals. A small group of music enthusiasts wanted to create an event that would give the outside world a close-up view of the Austin music scene. Initially, it served as a launching pad for emerging independent artists, helping launch the careers of several musicians, such as John Mayer and The White Stripes’ Meg and Jack White.

Over the years, SXSW has evolved into an opportunity for festivalgoers to hear up-and-coming musicians and big-name headliners. Lady Gaga performed at the festival in 2014, Soundgarden was in 1994, and Foo Fighters, Kanye West, The Flaming Lips, Boyz II Men, and Drake gave surprise performances at SXSW. Attendees never know who they might see and what those artists may become.

Food and Drink

Believe it or not, there is an actual food track at SXSW. It draws attention to sustainable and healthy eating while exploring the impact of technology and innovation on the way we grow, process, cook, and consume food. In addition to talking about food, there are many options for consuming it. During the festival, Austin offers everything from food trucks to fine dining. Many official and unofficial events offer free food and drinks, ranging from a few small bites and samples to full meals with open bars.

Follow social media accounts and hashtags like #sxdrinks #sxnoms to stay updated on culinary offerings. If you’re willing to venture a little ways away from downtown, you’ll avoid some of the crowds.

Pro tip: The length of the line often indicates how amazing the offering is.

Networking and Meet-Ups

Official meetups, listed on the SXSW schedule, cater to various industries and interests, such as the Women in Tech Meet Up or Acts of Random Kindness Meet Up—an idea hackathon promoting kindness and personal growth. Additionally, many networking events facilitate connections between founders and funders, fostering collaborations between startups and investors.

Networking isn’t confined to designated events. Meaningful business connections can happen anywhere. For instance, I made some valuable connections with local media community members at a SXSW brand activation. So, come prepared with your elevator pitch and business cards-or use business card apps to maximize your networking potential at the festival.

Wellness and Outdoor Activities

SXSW has evolved beyond its traditional focus on music, film, and tech to include wellness events, including panels, demonstrations, and exercise activities. Within the SXSW EDU Health & Wellbeing track, discussions focus on social-emotional learning, human flourishing, whole-child education, and addressing mental and physical wellness for educators. Additionally, panels such as “Is The Wellness Industry Well?” and “Wellness in the Music Industry” offer health insights from various perspectives and industries.

Attendees can also partake in panels and group exercise classes indoors and outside that may include favorite influencers or celebrities. In previous years, speakers like Peloton instructor Emma Lovewell and actress Judy Greer have shared their expertise, while Adriene Mishler from the YouTube channel Yoga With Adriene led a special all-level yoga class!

Brand Activations

Over the years, SXSW has become a prime destination for advertising, drawing massive crowds of approximately 345,066 people in 2023. With such a big audience, the festival offers exposure to increase visibility and promote products. Big brands such as TikTok, Porsche, Roku, Amazon Prime, and HBO Max have hosted events and demonstrations during SXSW. Attendees get fun swag (such as TikTok throw pillows) and gain insights into new app features, upcoming TV series, and a glimpse of exclusive cars designed by artists. As the popularity of these activations continues to grow, SXSW 2024 even offers a session titled “Behind the Scenes: The Power of SXSW Activations,” which is about measuring the impact and effectiveness of these marketing campaigns.

Cultural Things To Do at SXSW

In addition to the culture track at SXSW, numerous cities, countries, and artists from around the world host events to share not only business opportunities and musical performances but also insights into their cultures and ways of life. For example, in 2018, Casa Mexico put a spolight on Mexico’s position as a global leader in innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship while also celebrating its diverse culture and traditions. Similarly, in 2016, Japan House offered high-tech sessions and exhibits alongside culinary delights such as sushi. In addition to many other cultural “houses,” in 2024, Australia House will be located in the heart of Rainey Street, featuring all-encompassing Australian experiences ranging from music performances to technology showcases and interactive displays.

This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.

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