Getting there: SoCo is usually considered the 1100-1700 block of South Congress Avenue, just south of the Congress Avenue Bridge. From here, you can easily walk to most Downtown attractions, as well as the Texas Capitol.
Shopping: Most of the shops on South Congress Avenue are open daily from about 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Check official websites for details.) Popular options along this strip include Parts & Labour, a boutique comprised of goods handmade by local artists; New Bohemia, where vintage clothing and jewelry is the order of the day; Monkey See, Monkey Do!, created for kids and kids at heart to congregate to enjoy fun and funny throwback items; and Uncommon Objects, which is filled with unique home goods.
What to see: While exploring the SoCo district, take a walk down to Congress Avenue Bridge, where 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats (it’s the country’s largest urban bat colony) emerge nightly between March and November around dusk to search for food, blanketing the sky in black. It’s an Austin tradition you absolutely must see. For a special experience, rent a kayak or canoe and watch it from the water. Or, for something more structured, sign up for the sunset cruise on the Lonestar Riverboat, an electric-powered paddle wheeler that offers spectacular views of this event.
Eat: There are a variety of great restaurants along the South Congress strip. One favorite is Perla’s Seafood and Oyster Bar, where fresh oysters and fish are flown in daily from both coasts and perfectly made cocktails are the order of the day. Don’t miss the cornmeal fried Gulf oysters, paired with a perfect house-made margarita. For a more laidback experience, try the Magnolia Café. The sign out front may say, “Sorry, we’re open,” but you won’t be disappointed with a meal here. This Austin institution serves breakfast 24 hours a day with some of the best omelets, breakfast tacos and pancakes around. In more of a lunch mood? Go for the voodoo blue cheese burger or the hummus and tabouli plate.
Nightlife: There are several nightlife options in SoCo, but the most legendary has to be the Continental Club, which has been one of Austin’s best, and most loved, music venues since 1957. Performers here have included Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Ely, Butthole Surfers, Kinky Friedman and Charlie Sexton. No matter the artist, the mix of blues, folk, country and soul performed here will have your toes tapping. Cover varies depending on the artist; check official website for details.
Stay: If you’re visiting Austin or simply want to enjoy a night out on the town in SoCo, you have several hotel options. Hotel San Jose features a beautiful courtyard, gorgeous European-style rooms and a friendly yet hip vibe with rooms starting at $95 per night. For a more family-friendly vibe, check out the Austin Motel, where the 41 themed rooms (“Monet honeymoon” and “polka-dot surprise” are among the themes) and a sparkling, 1950s-style pool will keep the entire gang happy. Rooms here start at around $100 per night.
First Thursday: First Thursday On the first Thursday of each month, SoCo merchants keep their doors open until 10 p.m. and the streets fill with shoppers who enjoy live music, free drinks and other exciting special events. You'll love the lively atmosphere here; in fact, you might even make a few new friends with similar interests. Just go in with a calm, laid-back attitude and you'll be all set.