Held on the first Thursday of every month, First Thursday on South Congress Avenue gives visitors a chance to shop, drink and eat late into the evening along Austin’s funkiest boulevard. The main strip stretches roughly from Academy Drive to Crockett Street.
Many of the locally owned clothing boutiques stay open late for First Thursday shoppers. Two of the most popular stores are Allens Boots and Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds. Fans of antiques and oddities flock to Uncommon Objects. Along the sidewalks and in the (increasingly scarce) vacant lots, vendors sell everything from jewelry to folk art. Most shops welcome dogs, and there are plenty of dog-friendly patios along SoCo.
Bands often set up in parking lots along the street, but you can always find good music at Guero’s outdoor stage and the Continental Club. It was the Continental Club that started the revival of this once-forsaken stretch of South Congress. For a more intimate musical experience, check out the Continental Club Gallery next door to the main club. If you get a little overwhelmed by the music and the crowds, a nice place to enjoy some wine and cheese is in the interior courtyard of the Hotel San Jose.
At the southernmost tip of SoCo, C Boy’s Heart & Soul, which is owned by the Continental Club’s Steve Wertheimer, presents blues, soul and an eclectic mishmash of Austin music.
Though it’s primarily a bar, Doc’s Bar and Grill has excellent enchiladas, and the service is surprisingly fast even when it’s packed. Of course, all manner of food trucks also descends upon South Congress for First Thursday. If you’re in the mood for seafood, head to Perla’s, which also has a large outdoor patio. Kids will love the Big Top Candy Shop, which is situated near the southern end of the strip. To grab the attention of adults, the shop sells nostalgic candies from yesteryear that you probably thought no longer existed.
As if that weren’t enough to cause a serious sugar buzz, it also has an old-timey soda fountain.
Jo’s Coffee is a walk-up coffee shop with a patio that’s superbly located for top-notch people watching. The shop also frequently presents bands and film screenings in the adjoining parking lot. If nearby restaurants are too crowded, Jo’s has a small selection of sandwiches and pastries for a quick bite.
Yes, it’s a pain. Parking in the surrounding neighborhoods will almost certainly get you towed. The on-street parking is mostly reverse-angle. If you’re willing to pay a little more, there is a parking garage tucked in behind Guero’s. For more parking tips, see this primer on South Congress parking.