Think Austin events and you probably think the biggies: South by Southwest, Austin City Limits, Austin Fashion Week. But the calendar is jam-packed with food and wine festivals, concerts and events both mammoth and smaller and undersung, making sure there are things to do in Austin at all times, and for all types. Season to season, these are the Austin events you want to be putting in your diary.
Spring Austin events
Zilker Kite Festival
Nothing says spring like flying a kite and this annual event encourages everyone to get outside and join the fun. Kids and adults of all ages can enter their homemade kites in a wide assortment of contests and tournaments, but feel free to just grab one from the store and fly at your leisure. Attendance and contest entries are free, but proceeds made from sales and donations go to charity. Zilker Park; early March (Mar 6 2016).Photograph: Courtesy Austin CVB/Bruce Lemons
This ten day bacchanal dedicated to technology, film and music put Austin on the map as a cultural hotbed. SXSW might make your commute more difficult, but it’s hard not to get swept up in the festivities that surround this one-of-a-kind festival. Various locations; every March (Mar 11-15 2016)
Moontower Comedy and Oddities Festival
In comparison to SXSW, Moontower Comedy feels downright quaint. But don’t let it fool you—this comedy festival is every bit as exciting as its more famous competitor and is generally less crowded to boot. The four-day event features big established names as well as up-and-comers from both the local and national scene. Don’t be surprised if, in 10 years, it’s every bit as huge as every other festival in Austin. Paramount and Stateside Theaters and various locations; every April (Apr 20-23 2016).Photograph: Courtesy Moontower Comedy Fest/Jack Plunkett
Austin Reggae Festival
Flying under the radar, as far as Austin music festivals go, the annual Reggae festival celebrates the music and rhythms of Jamaica as only ATX can do it. From local bands to worldwide favorites, from traditional ska to groove heavy political reggae, everything you can possibly want is showcased here in an environment that fosters peace, love and unity. Auditorium Shores; every April (Apr 15-17 2016).Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Austin Food Bank
Eeyore’s Birthday Party
While it may be hard to explain to outsiders, Eeyore’s Birthday Party is an event as unique as Austin itself. The daylong festivities provide food, art, costumes, music and merriment in a family-friendly environment. It’s free to attend but the bash serves as a fundraiser for area non-profits, which is always a plus. Pease Park; late April (Apr 30 2016).Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Saurabh Thakur
O. Henry Pun Off
Fans of clever wordplay need look nowhere else to find the wittiest tongues to ever turn a phrase. Held at Brush Square Park at the O. Henry Museum, the contest provides a day of puns that vary from the awe-inspiring to the groan-worthy. Words are weaponized as these fully loaded puns take aim at everything in sight. O. Henry Museum; every May (May 7 2016).Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Clay Leben
Louisiana Swamp Thing and Crawfish Festival
Spring in Texas means one thing: crawfish boils. While you can find mudbugs all over this season, the Louisiana Swamp Thing and Crawfish Festival celebrates all things New Orleans with live jazz, zydeco, blues and funk. Additionally, you’ll find an assortment of local artists selling handmade items and paintings directly to the masses. Held in the parking lot of the Austin American Statesman, this must-attend boil brings Cajun spice straight to the heart of ATX. Statesmen Parking lot; late April (Apr 23 2016).
Austin Fashion Week
The largest fashion event in Texas is a celebration of forward-thinking designs presented by new and emerging voices. It’s nine days of glamour as parties, runways, galleries and shopping takeover downtown to showcase current and future trends in fashion. Austin Fashion Week proves that great designs don’t always come from New York, L.A. or Paris. Various locations; mid April (Apr 14-23 2015).
Pecan Street Spring Festival
This annual event benefitting the Pecan Street Association features the best of Austin’s local music, local artists and local eateries to celebrate all that is great about the city. After almost four decades, the Pecan Street Festival has become known for providing locals with the quintessential Austin experience. Admission is free. First weekend of May.Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Emmanuelle Bourgue
Summer Austin events
Taking place near and atop Congress Avenue Bridge, home to the largest urban bat colony in the world, Bat Fest celebrates all the things that make Austin great. With three stages of live music, 75 artists booths, food vendors and, of course, bats-a-plenty, Bat Fest is a unique Austin experience that can’t be duplicated no matter how hard you look. Congress Avenue Bridge; every August (Aug 16 2016).Photograph: Courtesy Austin CVB
Blues on the Green
Austin’s largest and longest-running free concert series is a must for all locals. Held in beautiful Zilker Park, Blues on the Green offers fans a chance to check out the blues that our city, state and nation has to offer each and every weekend throughout the long summer months. Zilker Park; weekly during May.Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Sanjoy Ghosh
Paramount Summer Classic Film Series
For cinephiles, there’s no better way to beat the summer heat than with Paramount Theater’s Summer Classics. Lasting throughout the summer, you can check out classic movies both old and new in the one-of-a-kind setting of the Paramount Theater. Noir, blockbusters, romance, action…whatever your taste may be, you’ll find something to love in any one of the many themed showcases. Paramount Theater; May-September.Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/JD Hancock
Austin Ice Cream Festival
What beats ice cream in the summer? More ice cream. You’ll be screaming for ice cream as artisan vendors, homemade amateurs and professional favorites gather for competitions and sampling at the Austin Ice Cream Festival. When you’ve had your fill of frozen confections, there are still games, exhibits and live entertainment to sate your appetite. The best part is that proceeds go towards local charities. Fiesta Gardens; every August (Aug 13 2016).
ATX Television Festival
The biggest names from the past, present and future of television gather for panels, Q&As and previews of the coming season to create a TV-lover’s dream come true. Festivalgoers can meet with everyone from actors and directors to music supervisors to find out just how the magic behind their favorite shows is made. Usually, the ATX Television Festival manages to reunite the cast of at least one famous show of yesteryear, which is always a special treat. Over four days in June (Jun 9-12 2016).
Republic of Texas Biker Rally
Celebrate the freedom of motorcycles with this massive rally that draws enthusiasts and professionals from all over the world. The event features celebrity builders, handmade bikes and plenty of live music from outlaw country to classic rock’n’roll. Even if you don’t attend the show proper, you can still watch the annual bike parade that ends at the Capitol Building.Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/atmtx
Nobody loves queso like Austin loves queso. Any restaurant worth its salt knows to have this on the menu, and everyone has their favorite personal recipes. Each year, the pros and the amateurs face off at the Quesoff at the Mohawk for the title of best queso in town. Entry is free but $5 gets you a bag of chips to use to sample the cheesy deliciousness. Mowhawk; mid-July.
African American Book Festival
Promoting literacy and a love of reading in the African American community, the African American Book Festival showcases the best new works written by African Americans about issues affecting the community. Meet your favorite authors, find some new favorites and attend panels to learn about the issues influencing current trends in African American literature. Carver Museum and Library; late-June.Photograph: Courtesy Carver Museum
Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival
It’s no secret we Texans love our hot sauce. Sample hundreds of new sauces, attend seminars on making your own and enjoy live music from the best local musicians. Admission is free with three can donations benefiting the Austin Food Bank—but bring your wallet. Whether you love red or green, mild or hot, you’ll definitely be wanting to leave the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival with a full bag of sauce. Late August.Photograph: Courtesy Austin CVB/John Anderson
Austin Pride Week
This weeklong celebration of LGBTQ rights and pride has morphed into an unstoppable beast of events. Pay tribute to the Stonewall Riots at the Stonewall Rally on the steps of Capitol Building; take part in the Werk Fashion Show; or just come out for the parade and dance the night away. Various locations; late August.Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Alexander Shenkar
Fall Austin events
East Austin Studio Tour
Showcasing the talent and diversity of East Austin’s arts community, EAST is a self-guided adventure through the wonderland of Austin art and artists. Visit artists in their studios to see their latest works and works in progress and support the local scene with purchases and contributions. The lineup is always diverse, showcasing projects across mediums, so no matter where your tastes lie you’ll find something to strike your fancy. Over two weekends in November.
Fun Fun Fun Fest
Easily one of the best music festivals Austin has to offer, Fun Fun Fun Fest, set against the backdrop of Auditorium Shores, provides an eclectic mix of music from across the spectrum, plus comedy, wrestling, extreme sports and food for every taste. Known for attracting recently reunited acts and established legends, Fun Fun Fun Fest closes out the festival season in the biggest and best possible ways. Auditorium Shores; first weekend of November (Nov 6-8 2016).Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/starbright31
Texas Book Festival
Cultivating a rich and diverse cross-section of authors from the local, state and national scenes, the Texas Book Festival offers bibliophiles the chance to discover the best new works from their favorite authors as well as wonderful new literature they might not have seen before. With signings, panels, discussions and sales, the Texas Book Festival is a must for any and all lovers of the written word in ATX. State Capitol and surrounding areas; early-November (Nov 5, 6 2016).Photograph: Courtesy Austin CVB/Marjorie Kamys Cotera
Austin City Limits Music Festival
Of all the Austin music festivals, this one is the most traditional. By bringing in nationally recognized, big name artists, ACL inspires legions of pilgrims to the land of ATX to pay homage to the musical gods with two weekends of debauchery. As an added bonus, many of the artists often perform sideshows at area venues in the week between fests, giving locals the chance to see their favorites in a more intimate setting. ACL is the quintessential Austin experience, and a must for all locals. Zilker Park; over two weekends in late-September, early-October (Sep 30-Oct 2, Oct 7-9 2016).
Forget those snobby and pretentious film festivals you’re used to: Fantastic Fest is something else entirely. Founded on a partnership between Alamo Drafthouse and Ain’t It Cool News, Fantastic Fest is a showcase of genre films by fans of genre films, frequently serving as a platform for new and emerging voices in the world of sci-fi, action and horror to make their marks. If it’s bold, weird, frightening, bloody, or just cool, you’ll find it here. Late September (Sep 22-29 2016).Photograph: Courtesy Fantastic Fest/Waytao Shing
Austin Fan Fest
Thrown in part as a kickoff party for Austin’s F1 Race, the Austin Fan Fest is a celebration of Austin’s culture like no other. With a carnival atmosphere, attendees can experience live music from both local and national acts and eat the finest foods Austin has to offer. The best part? It’s free to attend. It’s three days of wild entertainment that serves as a thank you to the people who make Austin so wonderful. Circuit of the Americas; late October.
Austin Film Festival
AFF shines its light on the oft-forgotten aspect of cinema: the writers. Cultivating a fantastic lineup of the year’s best independent and major release movies, Austin Film Festival provides audiences with exquisitely written films that deserve recognition and accolades. Additionally, audiences can attend panels and discussions with screenwriters to gain insight into the process and learn more about the art of film writing. Various locations; over eight days in October (Oct 13-20 2016).
Winter Austin events
Trail of Lights
This holiday tradition is a must for residents and visitors. The walkways of Zilker Park are transformed into a Christmas Wonderland ripe for photography or just fun times in the park. Escape the chilly air beneath the warm glow of the lights displayed nightly from 7pm to 10pm. Whether you’re there to visit Santa or just take in the Christmas Spirit, the Trail of Lights will work its holiday magic. Zilker Park; through December.Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Valerie Hinojosa
Austin’s New Year
Austin’s New Year (ANY) is more than just a celebration of the coming year—it’s a celebration of ATX itself. The family-friendly environment of Auditorium Shores features live music, local food vendors, local artists and a beautiful fireworks show, making this a New Year’s celebration that’s as unique as our city. Auditorium Shores; New Year’s Eve.Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Nathaniel Fruchter
Chili Cold Blood Chili Cook Off
It may never get that cold in Austin, but even in mild weather chili can warm the soul. Hosted by local band Chili Cold Blood, whose friend Nick Curran passed away from cancer in 2012, the Chili Cook Off benefits the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM) to ensure continued healthcare coverage for Austin musicians. The best chili-makers in the city come out for a day of good eats and great music, making this a unique and fun Austin experience. White Horse Saloon; February.
You don’t need to travel to Brazil to experience the decadence of Carnaval. One of the biggest Carnaval celebrations outside Brazil takes place right here in Austin, with Carnaval Brasileiro. Spend the evening dancing to samba in wild costumes; lose yourself to the rhythms and find freedom in the party groove in one of the biggest and most outrageous dance parties of the year. Palmer events center; late February.Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/satanoid
Austin Free Week
With the Holiday party mood still running high, the first week of January finds the clubs and musicians of Austin joining forces to showcase the best and brightest of the local scene, absolutely cover free. Austin is nothing without the efforts of its local musicians, and this celebration of local artists encourages discovery and support for everyone involved. Various locations; early January.Photograph: Courtesy Austin CVB/Lauren Logan