Located just south of Austin’s downtown, the South Congress neighborhood (or “SoCo,” for folks in the know) is home to some of the city’s buzziest hotels, shops, art galleries, and restaurants. It's walkable, trendy, and undoubtedly touristy, although there are pockets of quiet to be had, too. Homegrown favorite bars like C-Boys and Ego's are less crowded than more popular spots, although a night out at the iconic Continental Club is a must-do. Along the main strip, you'll find several shady patios that are perfect for margarita-sipping, eclectic shops selling upscale vintage clothing and souvenirs, and swanky eateries like Perla's, Enoteca Vespaio, and June's. And, looming in the distance, the views of the downtown skyline and conspicuously pink capitol building can't be beaten. Here are some can't-miss SoCo spots to check out.
Get Down and Groovy at C-Boy’s Heart and Soul
The famed Continental Club owner, Steve Wertheimer, dedicated C-Boy’s Heart and Soul to C-Boy Parks, the manager of the legendary (and now defunct) Rome Inn club, where performers like Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds first began playing in Austin in the 70s. This retro-fabulous, red-lit bar hosts regular live music, with a heavy emphasis on soul and blues, and the Japanese-American-styled bar upstairs—designed to resemble the Japanese GI bars from the 50s—is the place to be after-hours.
Indulge in Self-Care at The Herb Bar
A cozily tucked-away, ivy-covered shop selling an extensive array of essential oils, tinctures, and other natural health and body care products, The Herb Bar has been around since 1986. You’ll likely find the perfect souvenir here, among the lovingly curated (and very fragrant) selection of regionally made sunscreens, handmade cards, Texas flower essences, astrological art, and locally made hair care products.
Stay at the South Congress Hotel
Located smack-dab in the middle of lively SoCo, the South Congress Hotel boasts a collection of hip eateries: Otoko (a 12-seat Japanese omakase restaurant), Manana (a coffee and bakeshop), Cafe No Se (a sunny all-day cafe), and Central Standard, a classic American bar and grill. Design-wise, the hotel embodies a sleek, modern spirit, with leather couches, exposed concrete, giant windows, and heavy-duty wood. The rooms all feature Matteo bed linens, rainfall showers, locally sourced minibars, and exclusive streaming access to over 40 movies from Drafthouse Films. And, the rooftop pool and bar is the place to be in the summertime.
Sing Your Heart Out at Ego’s
Sing your heart out at Ego’s, the city’s cult-fave karaoke bar that’s hidden away behind a gas station and under an office building. Maybe it’s due to its nondescript (bordering on impossible to find) location, but Ego’s is still one of those hidden-gem spots that’s getting increasingly harder to find in Austin, especially in a location as popular as SoCo. It’s always full of regulars on any given night, and the National Karaoke League meets here on some weeknights.
Experience Casa Neverlandia
Casa Neverlandia is a true symbol of Austin’s quirky, earthy soul. One of the city’s weirdest homes (and that’s really saying something), Casa Neverlandia is a rainbow-colored, mosaic-covered residence that serves as an homage to the homeowner and artist James Talbot's past—some of the bricks and tiles are from his childhood homes in countries like Turkey, Morocco, and Venezuela—and an ode to the natural world, in the form of solar panels attached to a four-story lookout tower and a rainwater collection system.
Jam Out at The Continental Club
The legendary Continental Club lives up to the hype. This mecca of homegrown music opened its doors in 1957, and as the trendy South Congress Avenue continues to change at warp speed around it, the Continental Club remains refreshingly predictable—expect to come here and witness some outstanding live music, every single night of the week. Mondays belong to honky-tonk (Dale Watson), Tuesdays are for jazz and blues, and Wednesdays host lauded local singer-songwriters like James McMurtry and Jon Dee Graham.
See Bats at the South Congress Bridge
Every evening at dusk, from March through October, millions of Mexican free-tailed bats take flight from underneath the Congress Avenue Bridge, forming a giant, black cloud against the glittering skyline. It’s a sight unlike any you’ve seen before, and it’s best experienced by boat—catch the show from a double-decked, paddlewheel riverboat emblazoned with the Star of Texas (hey, when in Austin!) with Lone Star Riverboat.
Hike Along the Blunn Creek Greenbelt
Technically in Travis Heights but just a few blocks over from South Congress Avenue's main action, the Blunn Creek Greenbelt makes for a scenic spot to stroll around if you’re craving some forested nature. The Greenbelt trail connects two parks—Little Stacey to the north and Big Stacey to the south—while the Blunn Creek Preserve is a few blocks away, across the street from St. Edwards University. While both parks are well-frequented by locals, the preserve feels like a secret world, despite its central location.
Stroll Around the Hotel San Jose and Jo’s Coffee
If you went to SoCo and didn’t take a picture in front of the famed “I love you so much” mural at Jo's Coffee, did you even go? Actually, we’d recommend that you skip the mural crowd, grab a Belgian Bomber (half cold-brewed iced coffee, half Turbo—a delectable in-house concoction of chocolate, hazelnut, coffee, and cream), and head on over to next-door Hotel San Jose. Famed local hotelier Liz Lambert designed this unique, bungalow-style boutique hotel, and the leafy courtyard makes for a pleasant (and equally photo-worthy) reprieve from the hustle-and-bustle of SoCo Ave.
Get a Pair of Cowboy Boots at Allens Boots
Get fitted for your requisite pair of cowboy boots (must-have attire for touring around SoCo) at Allens Boots, one of the most iconic shops along the strip, instantly recognizable by the giant, cherry red cowboy boot sign out front. There are over 4,000 boots on display here, from big-name brands like Justin, Frye, Lucchese, and many, many more. Channel your inner rodeo queen or king with a full Westernwear look—Allens also sells hand-tooled belts, hats, clutches, and other accessories that’ll have you feeling at home on the range.
Peruse the Racks at Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds
You can’t stroll along SoCo Avenue without a quick peek inside Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds, an eclectic costume store with an enormous collection of vintage clothing, masks, shoes, wigs, and virtually any accessory you might need for your next themed party or Halloween night out. You could feasibly spend hours in here, trying on all manner of outfits, which are available for rent or purchase.
Browse the Shelves at South Congress Books
Austin is home to a treasure trove of cool independent bookstores, and South Congress Books is no exception. This impeccably curated used bookstore specializes in rare first editions, music, art, photography, fiction, vintage children’s books, and other collectible gems—the space feels more like your biggest bookworm friend’s personal library than an actual bookstore. Owner Sheri Tornatore opened South Congress Books in 2011, and the store quickly became a beloved SoCo landmark soon after.