Austin, Texas, is one of my favorite places in the world! And that’s not only because I spent four years living there during college. The unofficial motto “Keep Austin Weird” is very applicable as the city really has a spirit of its own – a certain charm that’s uniquely Austin.
On my recent return trips to Austin for business and fun, I’ve been especially drawn to South Congress in Austin. The South Congress area is an eclectic district with great restaurants, retail, music venues, and more. The authentic Austin quirk and southern hospitality both shine through on South Congress.
Here’s how to spend a weekend on South Congress in Austin…
How to Spend a Weekend on South Congress in Austin
- Check into the wonderful Hotel San Jose, a lovely boutique hotel with 40 bungalow style rooms located in the heart of the South Congress action. The property is full of personality, quirk, and history. I can’t recommend Hotel San Jose enough! In fact, I’ll share more info and beautiful images of the hotel next week. So, stay tuned for that…
- Enjoy a cocktail on the patio of the hotel, amidst the beautifully lush gardens. I recommend the Rosso Amaro, a tasty blend of prosecco and grapefruit. The red wine sangria is also very popular.
Note: if by chance you are unable to book a room at Hotel San Jose during your time in Austin, I also recommend the sister property Hotel Saint Cecilia. I tend to alternate between the two on my visits to Austin. While these hotels are related, they each have their own very distinct vibes. However, I love both. If it’s wrong to love two hotels at the same time, I don’t want to be right! Ha. If you’re a dog lover like I am, you’ll be happy to note that both hotels are very dog friendly.
- In the early evening, before dinner, while it is still light out, stroll a few blocks over to first street. In order to be a proper tourist in Austin, you simply must take your photo by the well-known Greetings form Austin mural, located at 1st Street and Annie Street. This postcard-like mural is very well done, capturing many iconic scenes all at once. Note, though, that to get a good photo, the photographer will have to stand in the middle of the street. So, exercise caution when capturing this moment.
- You may remember seeing this mural featured here.
- After that, cross the street and walk a few doors up first street to Elizabeth Street Cafe for dinner. This restaurant is one of my favorite Vietnamese restaurants anywhere! Take one look at the menu, and you’ll understand why. Combine delicious food with the cute, quaint patio space, and you have a winning combination. I definitely suggest dining on the patio, if the weather allows. I recommend ordering the shrimp and avocado spring rolls, the Niman Ranch pork belly steamed buns, a bowl of pho, and the drunken noodles. (I’m getting hungry just typing all of that!) That’s what we had on this night. It was more than enough to feed two people.
- After sleeping in and lounging around in the beautiful kimono robes provided in room at the Hotel San Jose, wander next door to Jo’s Coffee. Jo’s Coffee serves up great coffee, as well as delicious breakfast tacos. The people and pooch watching is fun, as locals crowd the patio with their dogs.
- Plus, Jo’s is the home of another iconic Austin wall — the ‘I love you so much’ wall. You can snap a pic while waiting in line to place your order.
- After breakfast, maybe spend some time relaxing by the pool back at the hotel.
- For a light and delicious lunch, stop by Cafe No Se, a restaurant newcomer to South Congress. Located in the new South Congress Hotel, Cafe No Se serves California-inspired cuisine. My recommendations from the menu are the shredded kale salad and the avocado toast. As good as the food is, it is rivaled by the interior design. The light-filled space creates an inviting, comfortable atmosphere through the use of reclaimed wood tables, white-washed walls, potted plants, and beautiful art.
- Then, embark on an afternoon of shopping on South Congress as you wander up and down the character-filled street. There are high-end shops, vintage shops, women’s shops, men’s shops, and everything else you can imagine. I’ll highlight two stores for you…
- By George: this fashion and lifestyle store has been an Austin staple for over 30 years. The South Congress location draws you in with its light, airy feel and beautiful merchandising. The store highlights some of my favorite emerging fashion, plus an eclectic offering of gifts and home decor.
- Parts & Labour: I just stumbled upon this quirky little shop during my most recent visit to Austin. I was drawn to the store initially because of the cool new purple geometric mural on its side wall. When I wandered into the store, I found a charming collection of handmade goods from local artists. T-shirts, greeting cards, original art, and posters are just a few of the fun offerings you’ll find here.
- You might remember the purple Parts & Labour mural wall from this article.
- If you find yourself in need of a little afternoon sugar rush, grab a cool bite to eat at Amy’s Ice Creams. An Austin institution for over 30 years now, Amy’s is a must-try. Choose your ice cream, then choose your crush’ns. My personal favorite combination is the Mexican vanilla ice cream with fresh strawberries mixed in! Can you believe I’ve been ordering that combination faithfully for 20+ years? Boy, I’m aging myself with that confession!
- Start the evening off right with some fresh oysters and cool cocktails on the oak-shaded patio at Perla’s. Happy hour on the patio at Perla’s is one of my favorite Austin pastimes. Once you finish enjoying the outdoor ambiance, take a seat inside for a delectable meal. Without a doubt, Perla’s is one of my favorite seafood restaurants period. I must admit I don’t have any specific recommendations here, because I’m always trying something new. And I’ve never been disappointed. You’ll love it!
- As it gets later in the evening, cross the street to the legendary Continental Club. In a city full of live music establishments, the Continental Club still stands apart as one of the longest continuous running clubs in all of Austin. Operating since 1955, the club has hosted musical legends like Stevie Ray Vaughn, Robert Plant, and many more. You never know who you might catch performing here! Check out the calendar of events here.
- If you sing and dance the night away until the early morning hours, as we tend to do, you might need a late night snack. If that’s the case, Home Slice Pizza is your place! The carry out window serves awesome pizza by the slice until 3 am.
- Sleep in! Ha. After that late night out, you’ll need it.
- Once you wake up, get packed, and check out of your wonderful room at Hotel San Jose, you’ll need a bite to eat before hitting the road. I suggest a stop at Torchy’s Tacos. If this Austin taco joint is good enough for President Obama, it’s surely good enough for you and me, right? While President Obama ordered a republican, a democrat, and an independent taco, my taco of choice is the fried avocado on a corn tortilla with diablo sauce. Plus, don’t forget a side order of street corn and some chips and queso. Survey the full menu here. It’s “damn good.”
- While at Torchy’s, be sure to walk across the side street for one last photo opp. Painted on the side of a barbershop, this nostalgic, retro TV stripes wall is sure to bring a smile to your face. Cross your fingers that no cars are parked in front of it. But the wall is big enough, that even if there are cars there, you can still make it work. When we were there, there were two cars parked in front of the wall, so the colors actually extend beyond what you can see here.
- After that, with a full heart and a full tummy from a good time in Austin on South Congress, travel safely back home.
A weekend on South Congress in Austin is a great way to experience a historic, unique part of the city all on foot. I love that essentially this whole itinerary is within walking distance.
Thanks for reading along. We hope you enjoy this travel guide and find the information useful. We’d love to hear your thoughts! And if you’ve been to Austin or live there, please feel free to chime in with additional ideas.
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Thanks as always for stopping by.
Photos by Maritere Rice; graphic design by Ashley Cardoza