South Congress, from about Barton Springs to Elizabeth Street, is one of Austin’s most eclectic and most popular spots for live music, dining, and unique shopping. Depending on your mindset and situation, with kids or without, heading out for late night drinks or afternoon shopping, just about anyone can find a good time to stroll up and down the avenue.
Now there’s one group of people that South Congress isn’t really meant for, and that’s the Early Risers. You’ll be hard pressed to find a store that opens before 10 a.m., and some don’t open until 11. In that case, I suggest starting your day out at Jo’s Hot Coffee for some caffeine and baked goods. Don’t forget to get your picture taken in front of the Austin-famous “I love you so much” mural.
We headed to South Congress on a Thursday morning, and it was a completely different experience from past visits in the afternoon or evening. Not many people were out, so my three-year-old and I had most of the stores to ourselves, which was great, but it really was missing its usual vibe. If you like to be able to stroll minus the crowds, mid to late morning is your time.
If you’re new to the area or if you have just never been to South Congress, here are a few spots or activities that I think you won’t want to miss.
Big Top Candy Shop (1706 South Congress)
This is always number one on my list when we visit South Congress. The long, narrow store is filled to the brim with every kind of candy imaginable, some sold by the pound, some individually. There’s also an old fashioned soda fountain and ice cream. Fill up your bag with whatever you like (it was chocolate covered coffee beans for me that day, while my daughter opted for Pez, lollipops, and candy necklaces for herself and her sisters), and the nice people behind the counter will weigh it for you. And while you’re there, take in some of the antique decor hanging on the walls or placed throughout the store.
Vintage & antique shops
South Congress is known for its quirky and off the wall stores. One of those stores is, in fact, called Off the Wall (1704 South Congress), offering furniture, antiques, art, gifts, and more. Up and down South Congress shoppers can spend hours finding things they never knew they wanted or needed, from tchotchkes to vintage furniture or clothing. Uncommon Objects (1512 South Congress) is another great spot for hunting for unique and unusual antiques. Just about every inch of that place is full of something interesting, so keep kids close at hand. Like super close.
Stroll up and down the street any night of the week and you’re bound to hear live music playing from somewhere. Guero’s Taco Bar hosts live music in their Oak Garden. On Sundays in October, Jo’s Hot Coffee hosts live music from 12:30 – 3 p.m. On our Thursday morning we were treated to a local musician who pulled up a chair and a guitar on the corner and started playing.
There are two regular markets that I know of: SoCo Artist’s Market, in between Monroe and Milton Streets is technically open Saturdays from 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., and the Gibson Street Artisan Market is open Friday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. On a weekday you may catch a few artists set up, but you’ll want to go on a weekend to get the full effect of the markets.
While the popular food truck park that used to reside directly across from the Milton/Monroe market is no more, there are still a few down at the corner of Gibson Street. Trucks include Crepes Mille (French, crepes), Hey…You Gonna Eat or What? (American), and Wurst Tex, across the street.
Lucy in Disguise (1506 South Congress)
Lucy in Disguise is a costume and vintage shop and you will not believe your eyes when you walk in. Racks and racks of costumes, feather boas, wigs; you name it, they can likely help you find it. Unfortunately on this day we didn’t get to spend more than 60 seconds in there because my companion was being a little cranky, but I would love to take my older girls back some day.
At least once in your Austin living life, you must attend a 1st Thursday on South Congress. The street from Barton Springs to Elizabeth Street is teeming with Austinites shopping, eating, or just hanging out, listening to live music. On the first Thursday of each month, all of the stores along South Congress that normally close early stay open late (most stay open until 10 p.m., but some later). Some of the stores have special sales, and some of the restaurants and bars have drink specials, and there’s always live music coming from several directions. It’s like one big block party, and is appropriate for all ages.
The Continental Club
It wasn’t very impressive in the light of a Thursday morning, but the Continental Club is one of Austin’s most famous live music venues. Open since 1957, the club has hosted such acts as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Leroy Parnell, and more. Current owner Steve Wertheimer took over in 1987 and retrofitted the club to as much of its 1950s state as he could. The Continental Club is also famous for being one of the favorite hangouts of filmmaker Robert Rodriguez.
So tell us, what’s your favorite part of South Congress?
Leigh Ann Torres is a freelance writer and blogger living in Austin with her husband and three girls. She’s a pretty good cook, a mediocre photographer, and a horrible housekeeper. She writes about the good, the bad, and the ridiculous of life with twins plus one at Genie in a Blog.