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The Pecan Street Festival: Free Fun for Everyone in Austin

If there’s one thing this city loves, it’s a festival. Austin, Texas, is home to some of the most exciting festivals in the country. And if you need something more exciting than that, today we’re pairing Austin’s festival scene with the most exciting word in the English language — FREE!

The Pecan Street Festival is a free event that happens twice a year. It features a line up that rivals many of the best Austin events, and it’s open to anyone who happens to be in Central Texas during either of these two weekends.

To help you get in on the fun, we’re sharing everything you need to know to plan your visit to the festival. This is the who, what, where, when, why, and how of The Pecan Street Festival.

Who Organizes the Pecan Street Festival?

The Pecan Street Association, a non-profit group dedicated to preserving Downtown Austin’s Sixth Street Historic District, puts on the Pecan Street Festival. They organize the event in partnership with Special Events Live, an event production company that specializes in both public festivals and private corporate events in Austin, Texas.

In the early days of the City of Austin, 6th Street was originally called Pecan Street. Both the festival and the association take their names from this historic street name. So, no, the Pecan Street Festival does not take place on Pecan Street — since there no longer is a Pecan Street in Downtown Austin.

However, the Pecan Street Association honors Austin’s history with their name and protects Austin’s future with proceeds from the event. Originally called the Old Pecan Street Association, the group helped revitalize the Historic 6th Street District in the 1960s and 70s. They continue to work toward this mission by supporting local artists, youth programs, and homelessness initiatives today.

The Pecan Fest earns money through sponsorships from both national and local corporate partners. They then donate the money to other local non-profits and municipal organizations.

Some of the past recipients of the festival’s earnings have included the East Austin Conservancy, the Austin Community Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, Austin Parks and Recreation, the National Hispanic Institute, and the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians.

What Does the Festival Entail?

woman looking at crafts at the fair

The Pecan Street Festival is the longest running art festival in the country, and it’s one of the five largest festivals to take place in Austin in any given year. It attracts people from all over Austin and Central Texas, welcoming more than 200,000 attendees at each festival. Between its spring and fall dates, the Pecan Street Festival hosts almost as many guests as SXSW Austin and the Austin City Limits Festival — except this festival is free.

During the Pecan Fest weekends, six blocks of Downtown Austin close to traffic, and over 200 festival vendors line the streets. There’s a juried art exhibition where artisan vendors selected by a panel of experts sell pieces they’ve made from repurposed materials of all kinds. The art festival features work in a variety of mediums, including metal, stone, clay, wood, glass, leather, and fiber.

In addition to the arts and crafts component of the festival, this is also a local music festival. More than 50 top musical acts play on two stages. The lineup includes both newcomers and veterans of the Austin music scene.

There are also more than 30 food vendors at the event, selling everything from classic carnival fare, like hot dogs and funnel cake, to healthy options, like smoothies and salads. And there are plenty of activities to keep little ones entertained, including rides, a petting zoo, face painting, and street magicians.

As the event draws near, you can see the full vendor lineup at pecanstreetfestival.org.

Where Does It Take Place (and Where Should You Park)?

Pcen street festival on East 6th St

The Pecan Street Festival takes place on East 6th Street between Brazos Street and Interstate 35. It’s in the heart of Downtown Austin, just south of the Red River Cultural District.

The strip of East 6th Street where the festival takes place is on the National Register of Historic Places. Both sides of the street are lined with beautiful historic buildings that you can admire alongside the juried artwork.

This section of 6th Street is also at the epicenter of Austin’s business district and its live music scene. It’s home to many of Austin’s best live music venues, and this historic district helped earn Austin its designation as the Live Music Capital of the World.

Parking

Unless you live in Downtown Austin, you’ll likely have to drive to the event. When you arrive, you may have to park several blocks away from the start of the festival and walk over.

The streets where the festival takes place are closed to traffic, but you can check the surrounding areas on 7th and 5th Street. Paid on-street parking may be available if you arrive early or are lucky enough to arrive as another attendee is leaving.

You can also park in one of Downtown Austin’s private parking garages, but the price of parking often goes up at festival time — thanks to the law of supply and demand. The most economical option will be to take public transit or park at a near-by friend’s house.

When Is It?

The Pecan Street Festival is a bi-annual festival. It takes place twice a year — once in the spring and once in the fall.

The spring Pecan Street Festival is on the first Saturday and Sunday in May, and the Fall Pecan Street Festival is on the last Saturday and Sunday in September. The festival runs from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday. Most attendees spend about six hours at the festival, so come early and expect a full day of fun.

Why Should You Go?

face painting at the Pecan Street Festival

This festival offers world class arts, crafts, and music — for free. If that’s not enough reason to attend, how about this: In past years, the festival was nominated as the “Best Outdoor Festival” in the city by The Austin Chronicle.

Because of its dates in May and September, this event also takes place when Austin’s festival season is starting to slow down. This is the last major festival before the hotter month’s send us all indoors, searching for AC.

Attending The Pecan Street Festival is also a feel-good activity. Even though this event is free to you, you’ll still be helping support local initiatives just by showing up. The Pecan Street Fest earns its money through sponsorships, and the more attendees the festival gets each year, the more The Pecan Street Association can charge for sponsorship. More attendees equals better sponsorships, which equals more money for local non-profits.

How Can You Take Part in the Pecan Street Festival?

vendor handing a taco to customer

All you have to do is show up on 6th Street during the festival weekend, and you can enjoy the art exhibitions and musical performances for free (we just can’t say that enough — it’s seriously FREE!).

If you plan to buy art or food, you’ll need to bring some form of payment so you can pay for those extras. Most vendors take credit cards, but it’s always a good idea to bring a little cash.

If you want to get more involved with the festival, you can also volunteer, apply to be a featured artist or musician, or talk to your company about sponsoring the event.

We Can Pecan

The Pecan Street Festival is made for all Austinites and Central Texans. This free day of fun is open to everyone, and it includes activities that will please even the most diverse family or friend groups.

There are artisan vendors showing off their unique work. There are kids’ activities, like face painting and a petting zoo. And there are incredible musical performances — something that no Austin festival would be complete without.

So during the next bi-annual Pecan Street Festival, come out and enjoy a little fun in the Austin sun. And check out ATX Guides to discover more free things to do in Austin.

Author
Shari Leflerlowres
Shari Lefler

Shari Lefler is a writer, traveler, and condiment enthusiast. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking with her dog and throwing shade with her cat.

Learn more about Shari