Your Austin City Limits Festival Survival Guide

Headliners, hotels, must-try barbecue and more important intel

October 4, 2022 6:45 am
ACL Music Festival Weekend 1, 2015
ACL Music Festival Weekend 1, 2015
Suzanne Cordeiro via Getty

The Austin City Limits (ACL) music festival takes over Austin’s Zilker Park for two weekends each year, with this year’s dates landing on Oct. 7-9 and Oct. 14-16. About 75,000 people attend each day, so you won’t be alone — or have a lot of elbow room. But you will be among a fun-loving crowd eager to see shows and explore Austin.

Before you venture out into the fray, here’s what you need to know, from headliners and approved items, to where to eat and sleep between shows.

Who’s Headlining?

Over the course of the two weekends, the lineups are mostly consistent, though some bands will perform only one of the weekends. So, if there’s a particular act you want to see, check the schedule before confirming your attendance dates. Friday’s headliners include Phoenix, Nathaniel Rateliff and SZA. Saturday brings Death Cab for Cutie, Pink, Lil Nas X and Diplo, and Sunday will see Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kacey Musgraves take the stage.

Outside of the headliners, there are still a ton of bands, and many of them are arguably more compelling than the big draws. We’re talking Arlo Parks, the War on Drugs, Japanese Breakfast, Spoon and plenty more that are worth your time.

What to Bring

Nothing derails a long day — or a long weekend — at a music festival quicker than dehydration, tired legs and a sunburn. Fortunately, ACL allows visitors to bring a few helpful items, so go ahead and pack a small tote, drawstring bag or purse. Bag sizes cannot exceed 12″ x 12″ x 6″, and anything larger than a small purse or fanny pack must be clear. 

First up, bring an empty, reusable water bottle, because unlike most concerts, ACL has refillable water stations, and that water is free. Next on the list should be sunscreen and something to sit on. A good blanket works, especially when you’re spread out with friends, waiting between sets or taking a snack break. If you’d like some back support, chairs are also allowed — hey, there’s no prize for standing up all day. And, assuming you might be taking photos and sharing them to your social feeds, a portable phone charger can’t hurt.

Where to Stay

Austin’s hotel scene has improved dramatically in recent years, with new openings helping to alleviate the burden during ACL, SXSW and other major events. To stick with the music theme, try the Otis Hotel, which features a record player in each room, a vinyl library and personal vinyl ambassadors to help you curate your stay. The hotel is located just outside of downtown, but it’s still close to Zilker Park and all the action, so you’ll be well situated. And you can end each festival day at the sunset happy hour or in the heated rooftop pool. 

Another good pick is the Thompson Austin, which opened earlier this year with 212 guestrooms, a top-notch food and beverage program, and a spacious terrace with some of the city’s best skyline views. Its attached sibling property, tommie Austin, is a more budget-friendly option that’s still plenty comfortable, especially for festival attendees who plan to spend the majority of their time outside the room.

Austin Proper Hotel, the Line and Carpenter Hotel are three more great picks, with lots of personality, fun design elements and plenty to eat and drink. If you prefer a larger name-brand hotel or have points to burn, Austin is also home to comfortable spots like the Fairmont, JW Marriott and Four Seasons.

What to Eat and Drink

The ACL grounds are stocked with vendors serving everything from pizza and empanadas to ice cream and juice. Eat whatever you want on site, but save room for dinner — because one cannot, or should not, visit Austin without sampling some barbecue. A few smoked meat palaces, like the famous Franklin Barbecue, are can’t-miss options but involve long waits to get in. For a better chance of securing brisket and ribs before the hanger sets in, try Leroy & Lewis, a food trailer located on the grounds of Cosmic Coffee. There’s also Micklethwait Craft Meats, with its coveted Tex-Czech sausage, beef rib and Frito pie.

When tacos are in order, Nixta Taqueria has some of the best in town, and maybe anywhere. And Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ combines the best of both worlds with its brisket tacos, pulled pork sandwiches and sides like smoked corn and Mexican rice.

After-dinner drinks (or anytime drinks) can be acquired via a high-low approach, moving between Austin’s high-end cocktail bars and lovable dives. But you might as well take advantage of the city’s excellent outdoor spots, especially if you’re coming straight from a show. Kinda Tropical is a former gas station with spacious digs, lots of seating and life-giving frozen cocktails. Kitty Cohen’s is a patio bar with a wading pool, fun drinks and a generous happy hour. LoLo serves natural wines in a big, picnic table-laced backyard, and Zilker-adjacent Lenoir serves beer, wine and low-ABV vermouth in a shaded garden.

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