Category Archives: USA

Travel guides to help you plan your trip to the United States.

1-4 day itineraries and things to do in popular states including New York, Boston, Chicago and Austin.

10 Best Places to Eat in Huntsville, Al

Huntsville Restaurants Honest Coffee Roasters

With over 500 restaurants in a 5.5-mile radius – how do you choose which Huntsville restaurants to dine at? From casual to character, BBQ to board games, here’s our (Gemma and Craig, two Scots who love to travel) guide to the best places to eat in Huntsville, Al. We don’t just spill where to eat but also share what to eat. Be prepared to be Alabama fed!

» PS. We went to space camp too. Check out how we got on training to be astronauts here!

Top Places to Eat in Huntsville, Al

Best Breakfast in Huntsville, Al

1. Honest Coffee Roasters

Starting with the most important meal of the day, check out Honest Coffee Roasters acai bowl for breakfast. What on earth (be prepared lots of rocket based references, this is Huntsville after all) is an acai bowl I hear you say? That was my first thought too. This light breakfast delight is a Pinterest perfect bowl of berries, banana, nuts, and peanut butter if you want it.

You may have guessed from the name but Honest Coffee also does damn fine Americano, espresso and even a Sarsaparilla drip coffee with root beer syrup. It also serves local speciality tea by Piper and Leaf for non-coffee drinkers (hot and cold).

Food and drinks are available to sit in and also take away. This is the hot spot for locals looking set up an office outside of their normal workplaces.

  • Try the acai bowl.
  • Address: 114 Clinton Ave E #106.
  • Opening times: 7am-7pm.
  • What’s nearby? The Clinton Row Color Walk is an outside corridor of street art murals by some well known Alabama artists such as Jessie Andrews.

Honest Coffee Menu

2. Blue Plate Cafe

Blue Plate Cafe is a Huntsville institution, so be prepared to see gossip over grits and business deals over biscuits.

Don’t be fooled by the large diner-like restaurant; it is often hard to get a table at the Blue Plate Cafe. Expect all the Southern breakfast goodness of omelettes, tater tots, and gravy.

Be sure to check out the vintage photos on the walls; look out for the Big Spring Park baptism.

  • Try the cheesy hash browns.
  • Address: 3210 Governors Dr SW or  7540 Memorial Pkwy SW.
  • What’s nearby? Governors Dr -U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

Blue Plate Cafe Huntsville

Lunch – Huntsville Style

3. G’s Country Kitchen

The sign on the door states ‘we don’t do fast food’. G’s Country Kitchen offers wholesome Alabama meat and two (or three) side orders served on plastic trays. Choose from chicken, catfish or burgers and add two or three sides.

There are some vegetable side options such as green beans, collard greens, potato salad and corn as well as a variety of beans, including pinto and black-eyed. Alternatively, skip the veg for mac n cheese, hush puppies (fried corn) and cornbread. One of the best restaurants in Huntsville, Al to experience how locals dine.  

Expect customers of all ages and creeds and don’t miss the pie.

  • Try the banana pudding.
  • Address: 2501 Oakwood Ave NW #5.
  • Closed Sunday/Monday.
  • What’s nearby? U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

4. Toy Box Bistro

Walking into Toy Box Bistro is like walking back in time. Games and gadgets hang from the ceiling while the Pounder Challenge poster gives you a square go (can you finish it in 30 minutes?)

In this Huntsville café, you are encouraged to play with your food! Choose a main like The Punisher dog (choose any topping, and they mean anything from the menu, no request denied) or quesadilla. Mains come with a side – and they are whacky! Four commercial machines have been ruined in the past four years making those mac and cheese waffles! Warning; the portions are massive! ‘We don’t stop when we’re full, we stop when we are ashamed’ the owner tells us.

This is a family-run restaurant, one of the chefs is the daughter, another is her partner and the toys above were collected by the owner’s late husband. Been before? Doesn’t matter, there are two new specials every single day. The chefs are encouraged to play with your food too!

Fun fact, the location has always been a restaurant and von Braun used to eat breakfast on this corner.

  • Try the loaded potato salad side.
  • Space-related option: Space C3PO.
  • Address: 511 Jordan Ln NW.
  • Closed Sunday.
  • Nearby: U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Huntsville Botanical Gardens.

Toybox Bistro Hot Dogs Huntsville Restaurants Toybox Bistro

5. Pints and Pixels

With a name like Pints and Pixels, you can really expect two things: beer and vintage computer games. This top floor popular spot serves Anaheim Chilli meals in between games of Mortal Kombat, Mario Kart, and Pacman.

There is also a cute rooftop space for hot (or cooler if we’re talking about Alabama) afternoons.

  • Try the chilli fries.
  • Address: 3, 115 Clinton Ave East.
  • Closed Monday.
  • Nearby: walk off the calories through Huntsville’s historical houses at Twickenham.

Pints and Pixels Pints and Pixels Games

6. Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment

Lowe Mill is not just a food stop, this ex-mill building is home to a collection of open art studios, theatre and makers’ space. Swing by to meet some of the Huntsville heroes such as Chris Wade (specialises in space-related art), Danny Davis from Tangled String Studios, the retired NASA engineer who builds stringed instruments using the same science principles of physics as he did at NASA and the lovely Ann Vann, who offers intricate illustrations (you can also see a Vann door mural at Clinton Row Color Walk).

Grab a Piper and Leaf tea before browsing the art space then spend half an hour deciding what to pick from the Happy Tummy menu while laughing at the pun-tastic options (sandwiches, noodle dishes, etc). Pick up some Pizzelle chocolates as a gift, for yourself.

  • Try the birthday cake tea.
  • Address: 2211 Seminole Dr SW.
  • Opening times: Wednesday-Saturday.
  • Nearby: Campus 805.

Lowe Mill Art Huntsville Piper and Leaf Tea Lowe Mill Huntsville_

Dinner Restaurants in Huntsville

7. Campus 805

Looking to combine dinner, drinks and axe throwing? Look no further than converted high school, Campus 805. The building retains many of the old school features such as classrooms, lockers and basketball hoops.

There are two breweries on the premises, Yellow Hammer and Straight to Ale and the pizzeria, Earth and Stone. Leave room for the boozy ice cream, Bourbon Butter Pecan and Irish Coffee or alcohol-free carrot cake gelato!

  • Try the seasonal sweet potato and goat cheese pizza.
  • Space-related drink: Lika beer.
  • Address: 2620 Clinton Ave West.
  • Nearby: Civil Axe Throwing!
  • Note: Family-friendly.

Campus No. 805 High School

8. Blue Bayou – The Train at AM Booth’s Lumberyard (Now Closed)

**We look forward to hearing about the new changes at lumberyard**

All aboard the Blue Bayou! This stationary train serves up themed meals depending on your destination. The owner, Doug Smith, is a self-proclaimed hoarder and it shows. This unique destination dining experience in Huntsville is a social one.

Three meals are served ‘homestyle’ with platters and bowls placed on the middle of the train cabin table for groups to plate themselves. We dined with a local couple who taught us about the new local baseball team, the Trash Panda.

Don’t be mislead by the novelty, the hands behind the home-style meals are the city’s legendary Chef Ruth Mercado who has recently returned from Portland to take up the town’s new challenge of themed dining on the Blue Bayou.

After dinner, nip next door for live music (Smith is an award-winning music producer), let me know if you spot the ‘piano bar’ and don’t miss (you can’t miss) the 20-foot jukebox outside.

AM Booth’s Lumberyard

9. Big Bob Gibson BBQ, Decatur [AL]

No trip to Huntsville (or surrounding area) would be complete without a trip to a BBQ joint. Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ based at Decatur has more awards than sauces! Their meat is super succulent and is served on a plastic tray with sides. Can’t decide between the chicken, pork or turkey? You don’t have to with the mixed platter option. Don’t forget the championship sauce. Refillable drinks are also on offer as well as puddings. One of the best places in Huntsville to eat BBQ.

  • Try the lemon icebox pudding.
  • Address: 1715 6th Ave SE or 2520 Danville Rd SW (closed Sunday).

Big Bob Gibson BBQ Huntsville

10. Commerce Kitchen – Fine Dining in Huntsville

One of the top restaurants in Huntsville has to be Commerce Kitchen. Looking for something a little more upmarket (but still Huntsville casual?) check out the Commerce Kitchen for ‘normal’ sized plates and a sophisticated menu of grill, skewers and fish. Beer, wine and cocktails are also available.

  • Try the green fried tomatoes.
  • Space-related drink: Straight to Ale’s Monkeynaut.
  • Address: 300 Franklin St SE.
  • Nearby: Alan Shepherd footprints, Huntsville Ghost Walk and the Harrison Brothers Hardware  – Alabama’s longest-running hardware store and art gallery.

Note: another fine dining in Huntsville option is USA Today’s ‘Best Southern Fine Dining’ at Cotton Row (100 Southside Square).

Commerce Kitchen Huntsville Ice Cream Cookie

Fine Dining Catering in Huntsville

Playing host and looking for fine dining catering.? We had the privilege of eating Chupper Time Catering soup, salad and home-style platter at the Huntsville Arts Museum (al fresco, the most romantic meal I’ve had!)

Chef Brandon Crosby and his wife Casey are the loveliest of couples, you might actually recognise Crosby as he’s been on TV (Food Network ‘Cook vs. Cons’)! Chupper Time Catering can be spotted around town at food events like the Healthworks Farmers Market too.

What To Eat in Huntsville

There is no denying that there are special types of food you should try in the South and much of, but not all, is fried.

Huntsville Food

Here’s a bucket list of the best food in Huntsville, Al. Let me know in the comments if you’ve tried them and what I’ve missed.

  • BBQ (dished up on a plastic plate)
  • Meat and three (three sides not always veg!)
  • Catfish (whole is boned, fillet = no bones)  
  • Fried green tomatoes (like the film)
  • Cheesy hash browns (heaven)
  • Tater tots (small fried potato cubes)
  • Cheesy tater tots (yes cheese!)
  • Grits (corn-based porridge)
  • Biscuit (scone)
  • Beans (pinto, black beans)
  • Greens (collard)
  • Brunswick stew (served with crackers)
  • Southern coleslaw (no mayo)
  • Pickles (deep-fried)
  • Pie lemon icebox (light pie)
  • Pecan pie (thick and gooey)
  • Sweet potato pie (versatile veg!)
  • Sweet tea (served cold – less sweet = half & half)

Lemon Icebox Big Bob Gibson BBQ

Downtown Huntsville Restaurants

Short on time and staying central? Here’s the list of restaurants Downtown Huntsville not to miss and a map to help you get your bearings! Click here for the map.

  • AM Booth’s Lumberyard 
  • Pints and Pixels
  • SIP
  • Honest Coffee Roasters
  • Humphrey’s Bar and Grill
  • The Martin Bar & Bistro
  • Commerce Kitchen
  • Cotton Row

Huntsville Restaurants Downtown

Money-Saving Tips

Here’s advice on how to dine on fewer dollars in Huntsville.

Happy Hour Huntsville

Honestly, everyone is happy in the Huntsville serving industry, it’s the Southern hospitality way but what makes a customer even happier? Cheap drink! Let’s look at the happy hour options.

Blue Pants Brewery

There’s no dedicated, daily ‘happy hour’ at Blue Pants Brewery, however, there are daily specials. On Tuesdays all beers are half-price and on Wednesdays, you can get social with $12 pitchers.

Slide into the weekend with $5 cocktails all night on Fridays then close the week with $1 off growler and growler fills on Sundays.


SIP is an up-market cocktail and wine bar that offers affordable happy hour options most days of the week (4-8pm Monday-Thursday). On Mondays, you can enjoy half-price whisky, bourbon and scotch. Tuesday sees half-price tequila and rum, this includes some cocktails like the SIP Margarita.

Wednesday is for the wine lovers – half-price bottles and half-price glasses if the bottle is already open. Thursdays is when the Prohibition and classic cocktails such as Old Fashioneds are half price. Finally, on Sundays, it’s obviously half-priced Bloody Mary day.

The Martin Bar & Bistro

Can you hear cheering and whooping in Downtown Huntsville? Yeah, that’s from The Martin. This casual bar caters for sports lovers and the massive open upstairs is great for those who feel the heat. Happy hour starts at 5pm from Tuesday through to Saturday.

Remember you can saunter while you sip in the Art and Entertainment District every Thursday-Sunday; just ask the bar for a purple cup. Don’t miss the interactive street art while you wander.

Food Trucks in Huntsville

Looking for some food on the fly? From dogs to doughnuts Huntsville’s got you covered. Click this link to see the full line up and where to find them.

Drury Inn & Suites Huntsville at Space & Rocket Center

Did you know that the Drury Inn & Suites offers a free drink every day for every customer (at 17:30) and dinner snacks? I am still surprised at this and think it’s a great option for visitors on a budget, especially families. The Drury Inn also provides hot and cold breakfast, access to a fitness suite, pool and rocket facing rooms.

Piper and Leaf tea have a loyalty card for chai addicts, collect stamps and get a free tea. Also if you buy and refuse their mason jars, you get money off your purchase. Saving the environment and money.

While we are on the topic of plastic-free dining, many of the catering options in Huntsville do use plastic cutlery and straws so remember your bamboo kit.

Huntsville Restaurant Week

For 10 days in August, Huntsville Restaurant Week celebrates its culinary scene in Madison County with special menus and the chance to win some foodie goodies!

Over 50 restaurants participate so there really is something for everyone who wants to support local. Deals include set prices for lunch and dinner and ‘Bonus Bites’ at restaurants that offer breakfast and snacks. Don’t miss the 10 days of deals!

So whether you are visiting Huntsville as a tourist or a local looking for a new dining experience this guide will ensure you are never short of places to eat in Huntsville, Al.

From trucks to tater tots, fine dining to experiential culinary events – Huntsville’s food and drink scene is as hot as an August day (luckily there is cold beer and crafty ice cream)!  

Like it? Pin it to your Alabama board!

Huntsville Alabama restaurants - the best BBQ, craft beer and local produce

The best Huntsville Alabama restaurants - BBQ, craft beer and local produce

Any questions or quips?
Tell us below.

→ Thanks to Visit Huntsville for hosting us,
our honest opinions as always.

SXSW Guide + How to do it for Free 2023

Austin Texas

So what is SXSW? SXSW is an incredible ten-day programme of film, music and interactive shows which takes place every March in sunny Austin, Texas. The conference is attended by media and tech businesses, artists and party-goers who are looking to discover new talent, often for free.

We (Gemma and Craig) have attended three South by South West festivals (2015, 2016, 2019) and even got hitched at Lou Neff Point straight after it in 2016. Craig ditched me and went solo in 2018.

In 2019, we opted for premium badges so we can now compare how to do SXSW for free against doing it like the industry types. Here’s your ultimate guide to SXSW with tips on bagging gratis food, booze, entry to SXSW free parties. As always, we discuss how much South by costs, what to pack and tips on how to get the best out of the fest.

South By Southwest 2023 runs from March 10-19, 2023.

You may also like our guide, free things to do in Austin and where to stay for SXSW.

What is SXSW 2023?

SXSW or South by Southwest is an annual multi-media festival and conference which takes place every March in Austin, Texas for just under two weeks. 

The 10-day event is split into three sections, interactive, film and music.

You can expect the following:

  • International movies playing in a variety of cinemas.
  • Panel members speaking at the Austin Convention Center.
  • Startups showing off their new products at the SX Trade Show.
  • Bands performing in hotels, churches, clubs and even vans.

What makes SXSW special is that the festival takes over the whole city. No space is safe.

Many locals actually escape the city.

Band in Van East 6th Austin Texas SXSW

Participants can either pay for a badge, wristband, or, with a bit of effort, see gigs and events for free.

You can purchase badges for each theme or go platinum for primary access to all three.

If you choose just the interactive or film or music badge you gain secondary priority access to the other two.

When is South by Southwest 2023?

The show kicks off March 10-19, 2023.

EDU takes place 6-9, then Interactive portion takes over on 10-19. Film overlaps on 10-18. Finally, music will fill the streets officially from 13-18.

The Future 20, a multi-night showcase dedicated to emerging artists, takes place 14-17 at ACL Live at The Moody Theater in Austin.

Purchase your early bird South by Southwest 2023 tickets here.

You can learn more about the different types of accommodation, and prices, in our SXSW accommodation guide.

Want to attend online? SXSW online registration is available.

When was South by Southwest 2022?

SXSW 2022 took place March 11th – March 20th 2022.

EDU took place 7th – 10th March, then Interactive portion took over on the 11th – 20th March. Film overlapped on the 11th – 20th March. Finally, music filled the streets officially from the 14th – 20th March.

How to do SXSW for free Austin

South by Southwest Line Up 2023

You might be surprised to hear this but the lineup for SX isn’t fully announced until the weekend before it starts.

The first big wave of acts/panellists tend to be announced around August/September but it is pretty much a guessing game until March and even then some artists have to pull out because of funding.

Don’t worry, we’ll explain how to create your own SX itinerary below.

Although Austin is the live music capital of the world, it’s not just about the music.

Sessions include the topics of gender, health, business, marketing, self-help, etc.

Sessions mainly take place in the Austin Convention Center.

2023 sessions will include Grammarly, Duolingo, Reddit, Google, Sony Pictures, The Walt Disney Company, LEGO Group, Shopify, IBM, Spotify, Warner Music, MIT Mobility Initiative, Partnership on AI, and Axios.

Previous artists and speakers have included big names like Chvrches (2019) and CEO of Tesler/SpaceX (2018).

However, SXSW is not about the known, it’s about the discovery of new talent from every genre.

South by Southwest Line Up 2021

2021 Featured Speakers included Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, Julia Cheek, Maëlle Gavet, Ann Hiatt, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Emily Ma, Ghazi, Hari Ravichandran, Andrew Zimmern.

For music, Circuit Des Yeux, Moor Mother, bbymutha and Sunflower Bean joined the bill.

Everything Everywhere All At Once by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert aka ‘Daniels’ starring Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, James Hong, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr., and Jamie Lee Curtis opened SXSW Film.

SXSW 2019 Highlights

Here are some of our top music acts/events from 2019. We were lucky enough to see some gigs twice.

  • Jonathan Bree – eery band think The Village/Handmaid’s Tale with an awesome sound (saw twice). Free.
  • The Ninth Wave – Scottish band, Depeche Mode vibe played the British Music Embassy. Free.
  • Nordista Freeze – wow, energy from Nashville! Caught on the rooftop of Handlebar. Free.
  • APRE – indie pop, happy band from London (saw twice, once stripped back at Holy Roller). Free.
  • Majestic Casual party – excellent lineup at the Rainey Street party. Badges.
  • Good Omens Garden Party – this was a phenomenal two-day party with drink, food, music and puppies. Free SXSW event!

SXSW Badges Explained

SXSW was created to support artists and industry meet and discuss future partnerships. Those who are serious about networking should invest in the SXSW badge.

Badges give you access to all shows, talks, events and gigs in your chosen area (or access all areas for the platinum badge), you may still need to wait in line but not to the extent of those who enjoy SXSW by stalking the free events.

Even as badge holders, we’ve missed out of sessions and films because we missed the window to request a SXXpress Pass.

You do this through the SXSW Go app. It looks as if you have to request around 9 am the day before the event.

Another perk we’ve enjoyed as badge holders is the free daily drink at the Registrant Lounge. Here we’ve met interesting locals and visitors from a range of backgrounds including blockchain companies to gaming marketeers.

Here’s the difference between the four badges –

SXSW PanelPicker 2023

Date TBC.

On this date, the online application allows the SXSW community to have a voice in what sessions are programmed at SXSW.

How To Do SXSW For Free [music, food and booze]

It’s universally known that you can visit Austin during SXSW just to take advantage of the free music shows, eats and drinks. Venues and gigs are sponsored by private companies and with sponsorship comes free shizzle!

Here’s how to get the best out of your free South by Southwest break. You will need a holiday after it.


Planning for SXSW starts months before the big event. Start stalking the bands and artists your love on social media to keep an eye on who is attending. You should also pay attention to SXSW Twitter accounts as well as venues in Austin.

During the festival, the following official and unofficial accounts will tell you where to get food, what the lines are like and where the surprise gigs are taking place. You might want to create a separate Twitter account to keep track of events.

@SXUnofficial ‏
@Do512 <— also an app
@SXSWMF <— Craig’s favourite

During SX follow the hashtag #SXSW20 and hit the ‘latest’ tab for the most up to date news.

Also, pick up a copy of the Austin Chronicle paper for shows.

The Rules of Free SXSW Events

Our experience of 2019 was very different from that of 2015 and 2016. In the past, RSVPing was a must as stewards checked for the app tickets at the door.

Things have changed, as long as you wait in line and the venue isn’t at full capacity you might get in.

Again, keep an eye on those Twitter accounts to see where lines are doable, you need to be flexible at SXSW.

In 2019, there were heaps of ‘no badge, no problem’ signs, especially on Rainey Street. You will have to pay for your own drink at these ‘no badge’ events unless it is a sponsored party you’ve RSVPed to.

No Badges Sign SXSW Rainey Street Austin

Waiting in Line

Waiting in line is just part of the SX bloodline. Even badge holders need to stand in line at times, albeit in the primary one. We waited for a good few hours, drinking our tins from the gas station, to try and catch Years and Years one evening.

We failed to get anywhere near the front. However, one of the best things about SX is that although full one day, you’ll get to see the artist the next at another venue.

We missed Har Mar Superstar on 6th but caught him in a tiny intimate venue the next day. He was basically dancing on top of us, naked.

SXSW free parties

Wristbands For Free Shows

Don’t expect free food and drink at every party. The free, like actual free, days will be the BIG parties held at the notable venues:

  • Stubb’s BBQ – free breakfast tacos and beer aka in bed by 8 pm.
  • Fader Fort – this is the first year we’ve managed to get an RSVP! Sign up for the newsletter and apply nearer SXSW 2020.
  • Whatever TV show is being pimped – pop up venue, three free drinks and food tokens.

For Stubb’s BBQ you wait in line on guest list opening day to collect the passes then line to get in. Once the free beverages run out there are no more so get in early.


The Do512 app is useful but difficult to use. The best way to get around it is the search for the act you wish to see and pull up the venues that they are playing at then investigate which party that would be. Twitter is definitely the best app at your disposal and taxis apps will be required to get into the city and out.

SXSW Go is the official SX app. As badge holders, it has been useful for scheduling events and attempting to request SXXpress passes for popular events. Craig didn’t feel this app was much use as a non-badge attendee.

A charged phone is essential, pack an Anker battery charger US / UK too.

SXSW free gigs

SXSW Venues

There are hundreds of venues at SX and the will literally pop up anywhere. Some of the most popular ones for free parties include:

  • Cheer up Charlies – 900 Red River St, Austin, TX 78701 (Gus Dapperton, Men I Trust, Gang of Youths).
  • Container Bar – 90 Rainey St, Austin, TX 78701 (The Marias, a bar made out of… containers. Saw Charles Bradley here in 2015).
  • Rainey Street – rammed full of sponsored parties that change every day (Dreamer Boy at Bangers ’19).
  • Hotel Vegas – 1502 E 6th St, Austin, TX 78702 (5 different rooms, day goers can stay until evening without getting thrown out).
  • Mohawk Austin – 912 Red River St, Austin, TX 78701 (Broken Social Scene ’19. We actually went to a Junior Boys gig here on the night of our wedding elopement).
  • British Embassy – now at Cedar Courtyard. Awesome venue.

Accommodation in Austin SXSW

Hotels and hostels prices hurt in Austin around SXSW. Be prepared to pay around three times the amount you would normally pay for a popular North American city and if you get in quick don’t be complacent.

We’ve now stayed with HI Hostel Austin twice in a private room. It is in the perfect location, 30-minute stroll along the water to the city.

Airbnb in Austin

Straight after our first SXSW stint, we checked into an airstream through Airbnb and in 2016 after being ditched by Drifter Jacks Hostel we booked an Airbnb miles away from the city resulting in a taxi every day but that’s the reality of accommodation options during SX.

We’ve had countless number of Airbnbs cancel on us when they’ve realized that the period we were trying to book was SX.

Straight after the festival prices drop, we stayed in a cute garden hut house at Barnton Springs and chilled by the swimming pool.

Read next | Our full SXSW accommodation guide

Getting Around Austin

Uber, Lyft and Ride Austin all operate as taxis in Austin. Ride Austin is a nonprofit company fighting against Uber and Lyft operating in Austin and carries the slogan Keep Austin Local. It operates on an app basis like Lyft and Uber.

New to Austin is the electronic scooter system. Uber (Jump), Lyft and Bird all have scooters dotted around the city. You need the app and a credit card to activate the scooter.

I’m quite an anxious driver but using the scooters with ease. The traffic is very understanding (surprisingly). You can’t use the scooters on the sidewalks or down by the river. Stick to the cycle lanes when there are some.

Austin B-Cycle programme allows bike rental for up to 24 hours.

What Do You Wear to SXSW Conference

Anything goes but be comfortable. Expect some days to be hot and sticky, other is can rain (not that often though). The number one item on your packing list should be well worn in shoes for all the dashing between locations.

If you are there to network you should aim to stand out. Bright hair, cool hat? Whatever your bag is. Prepare your elevator speech before you go too. Don’t forget your business cards.

SXSW Packing List

  • SXSW Badge
  • Proof of age
  • Credit cards and cash ($1 for drinks tips)
  • Comfortable shoes
  • Waterproof coat – I recommend Marmot Precip US / UK, folds away neatly, looks good
  • Warmer layer
  • Day bag
  • Phone battery pack – we use Anker US / UK
  • Phone charger cable
  • Hydration tablets US / UK – for the hangovers, seriously,
  • Business cards
  • Shades
  • Sunscreen
  • Camera
  • Battery pack
  • SD Card
  • Earplugs for music venues
  • Reusable water bottle – Bud Light party refused us entry, capitalism killing the planet
  • Reusable straw – I have this bamboo cutlery kit US / UK
  • Reusable cup
  • Hand sanitizer

SXSW For Free Roundup

Don’t be put off by the queues, SXSW is an electric 10-day event bringing together the best of music, film, and interactive to one of the U.S’s hottest cities.

Regardless if you are a badge goer or a free gig stalker I highly recommend adding SXSW to your bucket list.

Oh, and take your ID – you have to prove who you are (and that you are over 21) at every door.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is SXSW free?

It can be. There are plenty of free SXSW events around the city during the festival but the main point of SX is to connect clients with creatives and give companies the space to showcase their talent during the badge’s events.

SXSW Meaning?

SXSW or SX stands for South by Southwest. Apparently, it came from the movie North By Northwest.

How Long is South by Southwest?

The festival is officially ten days but there are events before and after if your liver can handle it.

Where are the Free SXSW Shows?

All over the city! On rooftops, in shops, in trucks, in theatres, and less surprisingly, in bars. Check out venues for an idea of some of the reliable venues.

Save to your Austin board

How to do SXSW for free

Are you going SXSW?
Let us know in the comments below

We Eloped to Austin! Here’s Some Pictures.

Capitol Hill Austin Wedding Special Corey Mendez Photography

On March 22nd 2016, Craig and I (Gemma) eloped to Austin, Texas. Why Austin? We love the city and the festival South By Southwest. Craig has been three times, and I’ve been twice. Since it is relatively simple for Scots to marry in Texas we decided to get wed after SXSW and before we started travelling home (slowly) from our 18-month career break to travel. You can read all about our Vancouver engagement and Austin elopement here as this article is dedicated to the photos!

Let me know which is your favourite in the comments below!

1. The Ring Bearing Box Rings Austin Wedding Special

2. The Ring Exchange

Ring Exchange Lou Neff Point Austin Wedding Special

3. Me ‘Greeting’ – Scottish word! DefinitionLou Neff Point Austin Wedding Special

4. Wedding Selfie At Lou Neff Point

Lou Neff Point Austin Wedding Special Corey Mendez Photography

5. Frida Kahlo Knows

Capitol Hill Austin Wedding Special Corey Mendez Photography

6. Outfit Change For Dancing at Mohawk

Austin Wedding Special

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Austin Wedding Special Corey Mendez Photography Mohawk Junior Boys

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Photography thanks to Corey Mendez Photography, give him a like at Facebook!

An Austin Elopement

Armit Wedding Austin Elopement Capitol Hill

Cowboys! BBQ! Live music! Our Austin elopement was easy, sunny, and awesome! On the 22nd of March 2016, my partner, Craig, and I tied the knot in one of our favourite cities, the only city that we visited twice during our year travelling around the Americas!

The Setting

Craig and I have been together for three and a half years. We’ve been travelling for just over one year on an 18-month career break, backpacking around the Americas and Europe. When we met back in 2012, we both made it clear that we wanted to get out of Scotland and see more of this crazy world.

In the past year, we’ve hiked to Machu Picchu in Peru, cycled the world’s most dangerous road in Bolivia, stayed in an ex-cartel mansion in Colombia, dived in the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, skied at Whistler in Canada, ate our way around Portland and Seattle, and danced with the stars at Disney, Orlando!

It’s been an incredibly fun-packed year which started in Austin (after a two-day trip to New Orleans) at the music festival South By Southwest (SXSW), and that’s where we returned this March to see free music and then tie the knot!

Craig popped the question in Vancouver, under the fake stars of the HR MacMillan Space Center with a ring fashioned out of a plastic straw cover from Cuba.

An Austin Elopement Two Scots Abroad

All-Star Cast

Our Austin elopement would not have been possible without the support of two kick-ass people: our wedding officiant, Sarah Reed from Let’s Do It Vows and our photographer, Corey Mendez Photography.

Let’s Do It Vows

Google ‘wedding officiants in Austin’ and there are heaps of them. So how do you choose? I looked for one that performed same-sex marriages because let’s face it, this is Texas.

I figured that if they were happy to wed the LGBQT+ community then they’d be liberal and cool, like us!

I emailed Sarah to enquire about the rules for Brits marrying in Texas, using her own initiative, she made all the relevant enquires for us, I knew she was a keeper! Sarah also sent me a picture of herself and family dressed up at Hallowe’en and that sealed the deal for me! Sarah offered some ideas for free venues…

Lou Neff Point, Ladybird Lake, Austin Elopement - Corey Mendez Photography

Our Austin Wedding Venue

Lou Neff Point at Ladybird Lake was a natural choice.

During SXSW, we walked downtown along the riverfront each day, watching the kayakers on the water, ogling at the turtles, admiring the skyline. We’re not the most emotional people (Craig would suggest that I am slightly on the spectrum) but this spot felt right.

The sun shone, the ducks quacked, and we had a small audience who clapped politely as Craig kissed his bride!

Lou Neff Point An Austin Elopement - Corey Mendez Photography

An Austin Elopement

After a trip to the hairdressers for me, a full Irish breakfast (the closest thing to a Scottish he could find) for Craig, Champagne (thank you to Esteban and his partner, our apartment hosts) while getting ready, we took a Lyft taxi (like Uber) to Lou Neff Point at 2pm.

Nothing classy, just practical! We laughed as I had to totter down a muddy hill to get to the spot. No diva in me!

We met with Sarah and Corey, Sarah moved people on (she’s a bouncer too) and set up our camera (she also had a tripod, ex filmmaker!) for filming (this was unsuccessful, sorry! I’m actually pretty happy with that, I cringe at having to watch myself; we do have a voice recording though).

Corey worked his magic on his two swanky cameras. Lots of natural shots, which is our thing!

An Austin Elopement - Lou Neff Point, Ladybird Lake - Corey Mendez Photography

Craig offered us all a swig of ‘Vitamin R’ (Nicaraguan Rum) from his new flat-pack hip flask (my gift), it’s a Scottish tradition to have a nip.

The ceremony was quick, Sarah told our story, read a quote from Good Will Hunting, we said our vows. I only had three lines, I forgot the second! There was me slagging Craig for using notes in his phone! We exchanged rings to

‘I’m awesome, you’re awesome, let’s be awesome together!’

Something we used to say back in the day! The ceremony closed on an Apache Blessing and a quick smooch. The new Mr and Mrs Armit!

An Unforgettable Surprise

I didn’t cry, until this point! My friends, The Roxanne Appreciation Society (Helen, Gemma T, Laura, Mhairi), had arranged for Sarah to bring pink Champagne, glasses, and they had sent a card with this hilarious poem:

The bottle made for a great prop during the photoshoot! I am blessed!

Lou Neff Point, Ladybird Lake Wedding, An Austin Elopement - Corey Mendez Photography

Corey Mendez Photography

Post ceremony, Corey drove us around Austin playing paparazzi for the afternoon!

We took advantage of Austin’s street art at Castle Hill, this area will leave you speechless.

Frida Kahlo was selected as our backdrop, I dressed up as her on Hallowe’en (the day Craig proposed) and there is a running joke about my monobrow (thanks for that gift, Dad), so it seemed apt.

An Austin Elopement - Castle Hill, Austin Texas - Corey Mendez Photography

Next stop was Congress, Texas State Capitol Building to be exact. This is the image we used to announce getting hitched via social media.

You can see how talented Corey is, we certainly lucked out! We headed to South Congress (SoCo) when I realised I had left my camera at Congress and Corey drove us back.

Craig managed to retrieve it from lost and found, oops!

Texas State Capitol, Austin - An Austin Elopement - Corey Mendez Photography

Finding ‘Thee’ Photographer

A few months back, I did a call-out on Craigslist for a ‘non-traditional’ wedding photographer and the response was overwhelming.

We chose a chick who was super into it, well, until she was employed by SXSW then started giving us the impression that she thought she was ‘too big’ for the project.

Craig made the decision to dump her when she didn’t reply to our contract three weeks before the wedding. Cue mild panic during Craig’s sick week in Granada, Nicaragua. I did another Craigslist call out, again with an outstanding response. I pulled in my expert photography friends, my family and friends to vet six photographers.

Corey felt right; he has wedding photography experience, loves taking photos of bands, and has exciting examples of event photography. His website is a work of art, which was is obviously an appeal being a blogger. It was no wonder he was employed by SXSW this year too!

An Austin Elopement - Texas State Capitol - Corey Mendez Photography

I created a Pinterest board of wedding photography I liked the vibe of, Corey was enthusiastic, he liked the direction so that was it, we had found our photographer two weeks before touching down in Austin!

Junior Boys at Mohawk

We love music! Much of our travel is based around attending gigs or festivals. We’ve just booked the end of our career break in Lisbon, Portugal to see Arcade Fire in July! Craig discovered that Junior Boys were playing Mohawk the night of the wedding so we decided to attend.

I changed outfits, we had dinner and drinks then danced our socks off! Corey met with us to take some incriminating snaps of us and creative shots of the band.

Junior Boys at Mohawk 3.22.16 - Corey Mendez Photography - Austin Elopement
Junior Boys Mohawk, An Austin Elopement - Corey Mendez Photography

The Gear

I wore a yellow 60’s vintage dress by day and a blue and white Western number by night.

The yellow shift was purchased in Vancouver. My friend Maddie and I were out browsing one day, I tried it on, she got teary so we knew it was ‘the one’. 

Burcu’s Angel knocked off money on the dress so it set me back… $50 CAD / £25!

My cornflower blue (my something blue!) shoes were a cheap number from an Austin shopping mall; the bag was picked up two days before the elopement along with the earrings.

Craig looked dashing in his navy suit. He’s so last minute, the brown shoes were bought from Urban Outfitters the day before, along with his SoCo sunglasses and wedding ring.

I loved the braces!

I bought him a yellow handkerchief to compliment my dress.

The skinny tartan tie was a 30th birthday present from me a few years ago, he’s been carrying it in his backpack ‘just in case’.

Castle Hill, Austin, Street Art in An Austin Elopement - Corey Mendez Photography

Craig bought me a new Swatch watch after one year of complaining about never knowing the time. Hello to the girls at Swatch who helped him out!

My 60s beehive was sculptured, and it was a real work of art, by Paul Van Dyck (his real name, not the DJ!) at Topaz Salon. Mel did a cut for me when I arrived in Austin and pointed me in the direction of Paul for the updo. It was a stunner!

I splurged and got my lashes done Lashes de Bella, they really made my eyes pop.

No fake tan required after eight weeks in Nicaragua!

What About Your Families?

I know an elopement is not for everyone. Craig and I attended eight of our friends’ weddings the year before we left, they were lovely, but just didn’t feel like us. We saved up £20K to do this trip; the average UK wedding costs £25K so you can see where we’d rather spend our money!

As my Gran said ‘I knew it Gemma, you’re just too cheap to spend that kind of money on one day!’ And she knows her first-born granddaughter well! We are hosting a big part-ay on our return with a buffet, disco, and Ceilidh. There will be lots of booze and dancing, the part of weddings that everyone actually enjoys!

Craig’s brother found out two weeks ago that we’re headed to Budapest next month (I’m going to teach English). Impressively at short notice, he managed to round up a few of the boys so he’s having a delayed mini-stag (bachelor) party in the cheapest country to drink alcohol in Europe (Hungarians, get out while you can!)

He’ll have a proper one on his return!

My pals, Helen and Shelley will surely create some kind of mayhem for the girls on my return. I hope it’s 90s themed (*everyone groans* I LOVE FANCY DRESS!)

Corey Mendez Photography - An Austin Elopement - Ladybird Lake

Special Thanks

A massive thank you to our families and friends for respecting our wishes, paying for our wedding meal (which actually paid for my hair too!), my folks for the Budapest trip, as well as all of the vetting via photos!

To everyone we met in Austin (thanks for brunch and the beer, John!), our apartment host, Art, who received packages on our behalf before we arrived, Estaban for the Champagne and chocolate.

Emily and Andrew (Along Dusty Roads), Carolann and Macrae (One Modern Couple), Tracie Travels, Darren (Poetic Mouse), Craig and Karen (Whiteside of Life) for helping us find Corey.

COREY! You are kick-ass, we want you to come to Scotland in April where it rains, you’ll love it!

And Sarah, get you and your husband over for the party, more pink champagne and whisky to be consumed!

Finally, you guys, the ones who have been on this trip with us since March 2015, and the newbies who are about to go with us to Europe. We wouldn’t be Two Scots Abroad without you.

Texas State Capitol, An Austin Elopement - Corey Mendez Photography

Love Craig & Gemma aka Mr & Mrs Armit!

Give us some love in the comments below,
anyone crying?!

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Photographs by Corey Mendez Photography

The Society Hotel, Portland Review

The Society Hotel private dorm bed with curtains

The Society Hotel, Portland may be situated in one of the oldest buildings in Oregon’s hippest city, but it is also the new kid on the block. The accommodation is unique for two reasons. Firstly, it blurs the lines between a hotel, hostel, and stay-vacation. Secondly, when opened up for construction, the team discovered an Aladdin’s cave of hidden treasures, stuck in a time warp of the 1930s.

The Society Hotel, Portland, OR

First impression of The Society Hotel?

This place is chic.

The decor, the colour scheme, the attractive and upbeat staff, the cafe which serves coffee, cocktails, and craft beer (it is Portland after all), and the rooftop hang out area, all contribute to a really cool living space.

Chic cafe with grey and yellow decor at The Society Hotel in Portland, OR

Then you look closer and realise that nothing is quite what it seems at first glance.

The coffee tables are actually cement blocks, the reception wall is made up of doors, the pictures hanging from the walls are newspaper clippings from the 1930s, one features JFK’s Dad!

There’s something deeper than just an aesthetically attractive hotel. In its past life, the 1880s building at 203 NW 3rd Avenue has taken on many roles – a Mariner’s Home for sailors (1881), a hospital (1889), a couple of hotels (1901, 1944), and home to the Chinese American Advocacy Group (1945 – 1952).

When the building was unsealed the team found trinkets from the building’s previous life, resembling a large-scale time capsule.

The owners of The Society Hotel, Portland wanted to preserve as much of the building as possible by reusing not only things like the Chinese American Advocacy Group safe for decor but also the building materials.

Accessorise at The Society Hotel in Portland

95% of the wood was reused, the original windows were maintained, and the staircase, which guests can use, demonstrates the changes the building has gone through when you study the difference in its materials.

Naturally, management added the necessary earthquake reinforcements and updated the building to meet current standards as well as fitting solar panels – resulting in a new hotel with a nostalgic feel.

You can find the hotel mentioned in our guide to free things to do in Portland, Oregon.

The Rooms

The Society Hotel rooms cater for all types of travellers and tourists.

The private king room includes a bed big enough for four, a private bathroom, sofa, table, side table, and dressing gowns.

Some of the private queen rooms have shared bathrooms, but forget queuing for your morning shower: there are approximately three rooms to one bathroom.

The Society Hotel Bunkrooms

As mentioned previously, The Society Hotel is blurring the lines between hotel and hostel.

This is evident in the dorm room.

The room itself is massive!

The very high ceilings avoid that typical claustrophobic feeling found in dorm rooms.

There is a small kitchen with a tap, which runs hot and cold, a large table for socialising, and lockers. Each bunk bed has a memory foam mattress, shelves, and curtains for privacy.

Hostel owners – this is the way forward, wake up!

This structure conjures up a romantic feeling of being on an old-fashioned train or cruise boat!

The beds are all crafted by a local business, Axiom.

That’s another thing I like about The Society Hotel—they’ve used local companies where possible.

The hand soaps are currently by Roots Soap and the next supplier is a partner they met at Portland’s famous Saturday market.

The Society Hotel private dorm bed with curtains

The Location

The Society Hotel (203 NW 3rd Ave) is situated in Old – Town / Chinatown which is the next area in Portland to become gentrified according to our bike tour guide from Portland Cycles.

The hotel is a five-minute walk from the riverfront with the iconic Portland, Oregon sign, and next door to the Pearl District

In less than ten minutes you’ll find yourself in downtown, so head to Broadway Avenue for drinks at Bailey’s Taphouse and burritos at Santeria, (check out the bathrooms!)

The Mexican was an excellent tip by Aaron Levy from the front desk of The Society Hotel!

Guinness Book of Record holder, Voodoo Doughnut is close by, as well as Cycle Portland Bike Tours.

If you have spent time in Seattle or Vancouver, you won’t be phased by the homeless which congregate around the missions.

Portland does have a homeless situation like many of the Pacific Northwest cities but on the positive side, these cities offer the best services for those in needs, and obviously, the warmer climate is attractive to those in insecure accommodation.

If you are not so city savvy, there’s a simple solution: turn left out of The Society Hotel to avoid it. In all honesty, my good morning greetings were met with happy responses!

Throughout our travels, we are continually in search of unique accommodation. We’ve stayed in an airstream in Austin, a treehouse in Colombia, and now a time capsule in Portland!

Visiting Portland in winter? Don’t miss the top festive events.

Book The Society Hotel in Portland, OR Hotel here.

The Society Hotel rooftop at sunrise

The Verdict

We’re proud to support this community cautious boutique hotel from the start and look forward to visiting again in the future!

For more about the building of the hotel watch their video on YouTube.

This article was written with thanks to The Society Hotel who invited us to stay for two nights in exchange for this honest review. We wish the team the best of luck but we know they won’t need it!