The “hip strip” of South Congress Avenue (otherwise known as SoCo), is one of Austin‘s most popular neighbourhoods. This vibrant, eclectic, thoroughly Austin neighbourhood provides the perfect walkable day out, and is especially popular on First Thursdays, a monthly street fair with live music, art and craft stalls, and more. Here’s our guide to what to see and do in the SoCo district.
The beautiful thing about shopping the SoCo district is the wide variety of stores and vendors. SoCo used to be known for its “funk factor”, which is definitely still there with many vintage shops and iconic, long-time stores such as Lucy in Disguise. A bedazzled costume shop, this local institution sells all sorts of unique and outrageous costumes and is filled with accessories, thrift treasures, vintage duds and a ton of jewellery.
Just next door, you’ll find Uncommon Objects, an antique and vintage mall selling everything from 1970s hi-fi players to 19th century corsets to vintage Playboy magazines. Curios and folk art from around the world are usually in ample supply in the ever-changing inventory, as are the requisite-for-Austin 1960s-70s mod furniture and accessories. For a real old-school Texas purchase, head on over to Allens Boots; unmistakable with the giant red boot on the roof, Allen’s has been in this location since 1957, with more than 4,000 boots lined up on its shelves.
But recent years have seen the addition of many upscale boutiques to the SoCo district, such as Austin favourite, Kendra Scott Jewellery and Parts & Labour, selling fashionable clothing as well as original paper goods, key chains and accessories. Blackmail Boutique and Atelier is a working design studio that makes gorgeous handmade, one-of-a-kind clothing on the premises, while stylish gents after outdoorsy clothing should pay a visit to Stag, known for its playful “Cowboys and Indians” theme.
The SoCo dining scene is also eclectic, with everything from food trucks (and many of them!) to casual restaurants to upscale establishments. Start the day with an organic coffee and breakfast taco at Jo’s Coffee, and check out the “i love you so much” wall art – one of the most photographed spots in Austin.
Guero’s Taco Bar is a local icon, and Bill Clinton’s favourite place to eat in Austin; classic Tex-Mex food along with killer margaritas and a tree-shaded outdoor patio makes it hard to beat. South Congress Café is a popular spot for dinner and weekend brunch; drinks are just as good as the outstanding food, with their house-made infused vodkas. For those in search of seafood in Austin, served up on one of the city’s sunniest patios, head to Perla’s, where fresh fish and oysters are flown in daily (be sure and take a peek at their amazing aquarium).
Other SoCo district favourites for happy hour and bites include Snack Bar, a retro spot serving sustainably-sourced creative cuisine, local craft beer and small vineyard wines, and artisan coffee in a relaxed atmosphere; and Hotel San Jose, a chic boutique hotel with the perfect patio for pre-dinner aperitifs. Just as popular with locals as with visitors, the bamboo-lined pool and soft lighting create a magical environment in which to enjoy a drink and cheese plate amid the Austin movers and shakers.
For dessert, get your sugar rush at Hey Cupcake! Housed in an adorable airstream trailer, this is part of a thriving trailer food court. In case you aren’t a cupcake kind of person, there’s also Mambo Berry’s smoothies and Crepes Mille, serving piping hot crepes in offbeat combinations.
There is perhaps no better way to end the evening on South Congress than at the Continental Club, a classic Austin music joint. In a city known for live music, this granddaddy of them all has enjoyed its reputation as the premiere old-school music club since 1957. The likes of Willie Nelson, Tommy Dorsey, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Joe Ely have played here, and visiting celebs such as Johnny Depp have been known to jump up on stage and play.
Many of the restaurants, bars and stores along SoCo also host live music nights. Guero’s Oak Garden has its own bar and a stage where music acts perform Wednesday through Sunday nights. And it’s not unusual to see people on horseback along the street “” sometimes, going right into buildings. This is Texas, after all. If you see a man and horse in the Texas National Outfitters store, it’s probably the Sixth Street Cowboy; he plays his music there frequently, with his horse Big Red. You can also catch him at Jo’s and the Continental Club.
On weekends, don’t miss the market that sets up in several parking lots along Congress. Handcrafted goods, jewellery, unique clothing creations, vintage boots and recycled t-shirts sit booth-by-booth next to imported crafts from Peru, artisan pottery and professional photography. The market is even bigger on the First Thursday of each month, when the entire SoCo district comes alive with vendors, street performers, artists, live music and fantastic people watching.
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Have you been to Austin’s SoCo district? Where are your favourite places to go? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Shelley Seale