Austin's very own version of "March Madness" is upon us. Every year SXSW expands, as foodies, film buffs, techies, and musicians flock to our town from far and wide. Want to ditch the fest? There are plenty of things to keep you occupied in March that don't involve the festival. This list includes local places you always wished you had checked out and a couple of easy day trips.
Learn how to dance at the Broken Spoke
Owner James White bills the Broken Spoke as "the last of the true Texas dance halls." This place has seen everyone from Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson to numerous film stars and politicos. What you may not know is that it also has the best chicken-fried steak in Austin, so here's our suggestion: Go for dinner and live music any Wednesday through Saturday from 6-8 pm and stay for the Texas two-step and swing dance lessons with instructor Teri White at 8:30 pm. Get there early to sign up for lessons, as the classes fill up fast.
Feel the "Pride and Joy" at the Bullock Museum
The Bullock Texas State History Museum just debuted a quintessential exhibit on the life and career of a local legend. "Pride & Joy: The Texas Blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan," put together by the Los Angeles Grammy Museum and guest curated by Jimmie Vaughan, features several guitars — including Vaughan's famed "Number One" Fender Stratocaster — alongside early family photographs, original concert posters, tour ephemera, stage outfits, handwritten lyrics, and exclusive archival concert footage. If you really want to up your Austin cred, this is one exhibit you cannot miss.
Zip line through the Texas Hill Country
There are three zip line tours less than one hour from downtown. Who knew? Zip lining is an excellent family adventure and an unforgettable experience. Choose between the longest zip line in Texas at Lake Travis Zipline Adventures; Spicewood's Cyprus Valley Canopy Tours, which offers an overnight in a tree house; and the Wimberley Zipline Adventure. Reservations for all three are highly recommended.
Check out "Stories To Tell" at the Ransom Center
The Harry Ransom Center is an internationally renowned humanities research library and museum that is home to a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, as well as extensive offerings from writers, filmmakers, and artists. The current exhibit, "Stories to Tell," features more than 250 items from the permanent collection, including the green velvet "curtain dress" worn by Vivien Leigh in Gone With The Wind; manuscripts from David Foster Wallace, Julia Alvarez, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez; and Sir Conan Doyle’s spirit photographs. Admission is free and the gallery is open daily at varying times.
Hit the skies with Austin Biplane
Experience the thrill of soaring over downtown Austin, the Texas State Capitol, Lady Bird Lake, and more in the world's only current-production cockpit biplane with Austin Biplane. It may just be the most unique way to enjoy our city and the surrounding Hill Country. Two passengers fly side-by-side in the front seat while the pilot flies from the rear cockpit. Prices start at $289 for two passengers on a 20-minute flight. If you feel like splurging, check out the ultimate date night package that comes with a limo, a champagne sunset flight, and dinner for two at Eddie V's Prime Seafood.
Catch Broadway hit Beautiful at the Bass Concert Hall
This award-winning musical, which chronicles the life of singer/songwriter extraordinaire Carole King, makes its Austin premiere March 21-26. To date, more than 400 of King's songs have been recorded by over 1,000 artists. Beautiful promises a nostalgic evening of singing along with memorable tunes like "You've Got a Friend" and "I Feel the Earth Move."
Live it up at the Blanton Block Party
In February the "reimagined" second-floor galleries of the Blanton Museum of Art opened to the public, putting its permanent collection on display in a fresh and modern way. Celebrate on Saturday, March 25, during the Blanton Block Party, a free community festival. There will be outdoor family activities, a museum studies symposium, live music, food, and tours throughout the day. In the evening the party will feature an after-hours viewing, a cash bar, live music, dancing, and a photo booth. There will also be a lecture and book-signing by renowned artist Nina Katchadourian in conjunction with the current exhibit, "Nina Katchadourian: Couriouser." You can also get in to the Blanton for free on Thursdays.
Listen to Austin Classical Guitar at the Cactus Cafe
Expand your musical horizons with local institutions Austin Classical Guitar Society and Cactus Cafe. Located in the Texas Union on the University of Texas campus, the Cactus Cafe was established in 1979 as an intimate performance space with reasonable prices. The Austin Classical Guitar Society recently celebrated 20 years of bringing world-class performers to Austin. In 2016, the two stalwarts began a series of intimate and relaxed concerts called "Classical Cactus." The next performance features San Marcos-based composer and guitarist Mark Cruz and Eric Slavin on Wednesday, March 22.
Explore the Hamilton Pool Preserve
The gorgeous Hamilton Pool area was created as a nature preserve by Travis County in 1990. Take a short drive frown downtown and you will find a collapsed grotto composed of fern-covered limestone walls with a spectacular natural swimming pool and waterfall. There are hiking trails, restrooms, and picnic tables. Reservations are required from May 1 through September 30, so now is the time to go. Call ahead to 512-264-2740 and make sure the preserve is open for swimmers and hikers; the wait is updated daily at 9 am. Take cash (entry costs $15 per vehicle) and leave the pets behind.
Enjoy a Gospel Brunch at Stubb's Bar-B-Q
What could be better than live gospel music, a buffet of Stubb's renowned barbecue, and a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar on a Sunday morning? All we can say is amen, hallelujah, and pass the biscuits. Make reservations well in advance for either the 10:30 am or the 12:30 pm seatings to avoid disappointment.