JW Marriott Austin Concierge Sheena Gendron is in the know when it comes to local things to do in Austin. (Photo: Robin Bennefield)
The stories about Austin during SXSW are epic. Who wouldn’t be tempted to go when there are tons of free performances, films and chance encounters with your tech geek hero, music idol or movie celeb crush? But there are a lot of fun things to experience in the “live music capital” without having to be in town for SXSW, or other big events, that are just as interesting and definitely weirder.
This is where JW Marriott Austin Concierge Sheena Gendron comes in. She’d been kind of stalking Austin for years before she and her husband moved from Boston five years ago. And lucky for us, because now she’s a bonafide local and can give us the inside scoop on how to do Austin the weird local way.
When’s the best time to visit Austin when it’s just Austin?
It seems like every month there’s something, but even with that being said, some of the somethings are smaller somethings that people don’t know about. We recently threw our kite festival and that is really huge in Austin and it’s so much fun to go down to Zilker Park and just fly kites with strangers. You can come across the 35 Overpass and you can see thousands of kites in the sky. (It’s the longest continuously running kite festival in the U.S.)
We also have Eeyore’s Birthday, in celebration of the actual Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. That’s not something super advertised, but it’s something locals know about. (Locals sport their weirdest in support of local non-profits.) There’s also a really fun artsy thing called Open Room Austin. It’s literally a table in the middle of a green space and people throw tea parties there almost on a daily basis. So these things happen all the time and that’s the fun of it. To not have these things planned and booked. Just to be and be able to experience these things as they happen.
What’s one of the most surprising things — if there is such a thing — that you might see in Austin?
I remember driving in the city a few years ago and we were down around 6th Street and we saw this performance happening in the middle of the street it was a giant, I thought it was a high school band, but it was the Dead Capital Band. They are literally a band of zombies. They dress up in full zombie regalia and they march around playing random rock and roll compositions and big band music down the streets of Austin. They have a Facebook page and people follow them like they follow food trucks. It’s hard to nail down those things because they happen everywhere.
Grab a spray can and tag your own graffiti in the Hope Outdoor Gallery. (Photo: Peter Tsai Photography / Alamy Stock Photo)
What are some off-the-beaten path places to eat in Austin?
My favorite place to recommend right now is Searsucker. It’s Brian Malarkey’s restaurant. He’s a celebrity chef who has a couple of other restaurants around the country, but this one is by far the most iconic to the city. A lot of people are looking for that farm-to-table aesthetic and the way that he sets the restaurant up is very shabby chic. At their two-year anniversary party they had people there doing string art…. It was their way to integrate themselves into the neighborhood. It was very cool and the food is absolutely amazing.
Fixe is another great one. It’s southern comfort food with a foodie twist, a lot of molecular gastronomy, things with foams and infusions. It’s adventurous eating. People in Austin like that. Swift’s Attic is another stand by, which has been featured on television, and has a fantastic menu.
What’s the go-to music spot for Austinites?
My go to spot, personally, is Rainey Street. Rainey Street was imagined as an alternative for locals to not do the Dirty 6th. It’s evolved to be popular as well, but I like to go down there and follow my ears, because not one restaurant is going to be playing the same thing they played the night before. The stages at the Blackheart, the Container Bar or Bangers would be my favorite hot spots.
You’ve got one day in Austin. Where do you go?
If one of my friends is visiting and we only have one day, I would definitely take them to South Congress Street – South Congress is the heart of the city – and let them peruse the shops. My favorite is Uncommon Objects. It’s like the Room of Requirement from Harry Potter. There’s stuff stacked everywhere and the store is always changing like the staircases in Hogwarts and you won’t see the same thing the next day. You’ll find things in there that you’ve never seen anywhere else. There’s also a fun place called Sfanthor, it’s the science fiction fantasy horror museum. It’s a castle with a whole bunch of wax figures of horror…. It’s right next to a fried chicken food truck, so you’re chicken and science fiction horror museums side by side. That’s what you get down on South Congress. That it’s really weird and I don’t understand it, but I’m going to go do it anyway thing.
Sheena’s Other Go-to Local Spots
- Whole Foods: Not just any Whole Foods, the flagship store with food stations with food from all over the world, and live music, of course.
- Mayfield Park: There are wild peacocks in Austin!
- Hope Outdoor Gallery: An ever-changing graffiti exhibit where you can grab a spray can and add your own art.