With all of Austin's hot restaurants and cool hotels, do you ever wish you were a tourist in your own town? We've created a guide to the ultimate South Congress staycation, featuring old standbys and new favorites in Austin's quintessential quirky neighborhood.
Where to stay
This funky Austin landmark received an upscale renovation earlier this year by SoCo hotelier Liz Lambert. The outdoor pool has a new rooftop deck, the lobby has a kitschy gift shop, and the rooms have a midcentury modern vibe. There is also a new patio bar, Fine Foods, where you can sip an Ann Richard’s Revenge — pair it with a burger from the new Jo’s Burger Box food truck.
Hotel San Jose
The first of Liz Lambert's hotels, Hotel San Jose is a magnet for celebrities and in-the-know locals who want to duck in for a drink by the pool or a quick getaway. It is also dog-friendly, if you just can’t stand to be away from your pooch. With 40 rooms surrounded by lush garden areas, a lounge, and a pool all tucked behind stucco walls, it’s a hidden treasure on one of the busiest streets in town.
South Congress Hotel
This anticipated hot spot opened in fall 2015 with 71 guestrooms, 12 suites, and a rooftop pool and bar. It also houses four high-profile eateries, ranging from all-day Cafe No Se to the very exclusive Otoko (more on that below).
Where to eat
An intimate Italian trattoria tucked away on South Congress, Botticelli’s has a great wine list, huge selection of antipasti, and authentic Italian specialties. The stuffed Botticelli bread is the stuff of dreams. They have reasonable happy hour prices all day on Sunday and Monday and 5-7 pm every other day of the week. The outdoor beer garden has live music Thursday through Saturday.
Guero's Taco Bar
You never know who you will run into at Guero’s — even Bill Clinton has been known to visit frequently when he is in Austin. In any case, it is home to some of the best Tex-Mex in town, with hand-made tortillas, a salsa bar, hand-shaken margaritas, and to-die-for mole. Wednesday through Sunday you can also enjoy live music, a full bar, and appetizers in the Oak Garden.
June's All Day
Favorite Austin sommelier June Rodil is behind this casual SoCo concept where you can indulge in wine and bites all day long. It opened in 2016 and has become an instant favorite — in fact, it was named Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year in our 2017 Tastemaker Awards.
Perla's Seafood & Oyster Bar
Balance the summer heat with cold oysters and seafood. Perla’s menu changes seasonally based on availability, but the offerings are fresh and consistently good. They serve brunch on Saturday and Sunday and have happy hour prices Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 pm. Meet your friends for oysters and drinks on the patio under the shade of a giant live oak tree.
This exclusive restaurant located at the South Congress Hotel is lauded by national magazines and boasts one of America's best new chefs, Yoshi Okai. It has only 12 seats and serves a multi-course, omakase-style menu for $150 per person — you'll need to snag reservations well in advance.
What to do
Shop 'til you drop
South Congress is a shopper’s paradise chock-full of specialty stores. Pop into Uncommon Objects, Yard Dog, Turquoise Door, and Tesoros Trading Company for folk art, vintage treasures, and funky finds; visit Allen's Boots for the quintessential cowboy footwear; or scope out Kendra Scott's colorful collection of jewelry. You'll also want to make a pilgrimage to the Yeti flagship store, where you can build your own cooler or just grab a drink.
Listen to live music
In addition to the patio at Guero’s and the beer garden behind Botticelli’s, there are several options for listening to live music. Since 1955, the Continental Club has been the stuff of legends, with everyone from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Eric Clapton taking a turn on the stage. The main club is a historical treasure hosting roots rockers, country and western singers, and rockabilly heroes. Upstairs, the Continental Club Gallery is a smaller, more intimate space where you can hear jazz, soul, and R&B.
C-Boys Heart and Soul is a funky neighborhood juke joint hosting live music downstairs; there's also the Jade Room upstairs, as well as a shaded patio. Expect to hear R&B, soul, and blues nightly. And on Sunday afternoons, this joint hosts its own version of Chicken Shit Bingo.
See the bats
Yes, we said bats. Since you're staying on SoCo, this tourist attraction is a must. Austin is the home of the largest urban colony of Mexican free-tail bats in the world, and every evening they emerge from underneath the Congress Avenue Bridge to feast on mosquitos and other insects. For nightly viewing information, call the Bat Conservation International Hotline at 512-327-9721.