What’s a Lightbox Locale? ...It’s anywhere you can have one of “those” perfect Saturdays, exploring places that inspire you, nourish you, and light up you and your besties. We could all do with more of those days, so our Lightbox locals are here to illuminate you on their personal neighborhood “must visit” lists. This time around, Leigh Patterson shares her South Congress go-tos for eating, drinking, shopping and staying.
Austin’s South Congress Avenue neighborhood is definitely not a “secret” spot; chances are, if you visit the city you’ll either be staying nearby or have planned a trip to one of the many shops, hotels, or restaurants on the street. Just south of downtown, South Congress is home to a range of local businesses that retain the “spirit” of Austin — it’s where to go and stay if you want to feel at the center of the action.
Liz Lambert’s re-envisioning of a 1930s motor lodge-turned-minimalist bungalow hideaway is definitely one of the coolest spots in town. With earthy gray stucco exteriors, a bamboo-lined pool, and a hip courtyard bar where there’s often a local DJ spinning records (be sure to order the house specialty frosé!), we don’t blame you for wanting to wrap up in one of their signature striped kimono robes and never leave.
Across the street from the San José, the newer, stylish South Congress Hotel is kind of a one-stop-shop for experiencing some of Austin’s best spots: along with the hotel the property is home to a few consistently great restaurants, a mellow coffee shop, an eco-friendly nail salon, and a locally-owned boutique. As a local you can also get a day pass to the hotel’s pool and soak in a mini staycation.
Another of hotelier Lambert’s properties, tucked away on a side street just of South Congress, is the intimate and luxurious Saint Cecilia, created in homage to the patron saint of music and poetry. (Pro tip: Austinites know to simply refer to it as The Saint). A nod to the bohemian opulence of 60s and 70s rock n roll, it’s the perfect spot to both hide away and leave inspired by the vibrant, considerately eclectic interiors.
To Eat + Drink
Jo’s might be South Congress’s most ‘grammable spot — known just as well for the graffiti’d “I Love You So Much” mural on the side of the coffee stand as it is for a steady lineup of caffeine and breakfast tacos. The line starts early, so be prepared to wait for your Iced Turbo, the house specialty drink made with creamy coffee and hazelnut, served over crushed ice.
The vibe of a Parisian all-day cafe in a stylish, airy space. Filled with fun design details like pale pink walls, checkerboard tile floors, and a beautiful wraparound marble bar, June’s is a go-to spot for any time, any day (plus it happens to have a killer, ever-evolving wine list created by the bar’s namesake, master sommelier June Rodil). Cozy up at one of the brass bistro tables for a low-key breakfast or come late to watch the space come alive, Wurlitzer vintage jukebox and all. Their happy hour is also one of the best in town (and one of the worst kept secrets, so arrive early!)
Austin loves a good all-day cafe, and Café No Sé (adjacent to the South Congress hotel) fits the bill for when you can’t quite decide if you’re wanting a bright kale salad or no-frills egg and cheese on a roll. The brunch scene can feel pretty touristy, so check it out on a weekday morning to enjoy the bright, art-filled interiors in a more mellow way. The desserts are also great (be sure to ask about their house-made, seasonal ice creams and paletas!)
New York style pizza by the slice, served from a no-frills neighborhood joint. Fun and funky, Home Slice is beloved by tourists and locals alike (and is a packed house every night).
For getting your margarita fix and some chips and salsa; this is Texas, after all. Guero’s patio, smack in the middle of the SoCo hubbub, makes for prime people watching with a side of icy cerveza.
To Go + Shop + Do
A polished beach vibe meets bohemian ease at Sunroom, a local boutique that perfectly captures the particular je ne sais quoi of laid-back Austin cool; visit Sunroom to find pieces that are designed to effortlessly transition from the pool to a night out.
A dose of retail luxury in the heart of South Congress, By George has been a staple in Austin for nearly 40 years, and is one of the few places in town to find clothing, accessories, and homewares by emerging high-end designers.
On the ground floor of the South Congress Hotel is the Austin outpost of salon Tenoverten, where you can get a pedicure with natural, non-toxic polishes and sip mint tea inside their minimal and serene space. A special spot for treating yourself right.
Founded in 2005, Feathers feels less like a vintage store and more like the closet of your best-dressed friend, the one who seamlessly pairs a threadbare 70s Rolling Stones tee with the Wranglers she found in her grandfather’s closet, whose wardrobe is a blend of travel, art, and inspiration. Warm and inviting, be prepared to spend a long time perusing the racks (and come back often to scoop up their ever-changing, one-of-a-kind finds).
This storied dive bar opened in the 1950s and has been host to some of the country’s biggest names in music. Despite the reputation, Continental Club is as low key and laid back as it gets, with live music every night that runs the gamut from local acts to big names strolling up to play a surprise late-night set.
Insert local eye roll here, but truth be told: Watching over a million bats emerge nightly from under the downtown Congress Avenue bridge reminds you that you’re part of a bigger system at work. Crowds gather at sunset on the bridge, waiting until suddenly they emerge, together, billowing out like a big black tide. It’s a natural phenomenon that feels special (and a little spooky) every night.