Top 10 Things to Do in South Congress, Austin
Just south of the Colorado River, South Congress Avenue – or SoCo, as locals call it – offers a sample of Austin’s quirky culture. Whether you’re looking to meet new people, visit the famous sites, or simply get a breath of fresh air, SoCo promises a variety of fun activities within walking distance of one another.
It may not have the sheer volume of, well, volumes that Austin’s similarly famous Book People hosts, but South Congress Books promises an intimate atmosphere where avid readers can find good reads. A local staple since 2011, it boasts an impressive selection of first editions. The inventory includes everything from classical literature to obscure philosophy and bizarre conspiracy theories. The store also offers a selection of vintage posters and other artwork. The staff possess a profound familiarity with their merchandise, and can help the curious customer find a special book to suit all tastes.
Looking for gag gifts with a potentially lewd twist? Monkey See, Monkey Do has you covered, as long you’ve got a wicked sense of humor and a helping of ’80s and ’90s nostalgia. Although the store primarily deals in toys aimed at adults, not all are inappropriate. Vintage action figures abound, and you’d be hard-pressed to find another store nearby that sells tin Star Wars lunchboxes from bygone decades. If toys aren’t your thing, Monkey See, Monkey Do has plenty of other novelties, including quirky books, apparel, and magnets.
Pay tribute to the colorful street performers
Austin is well-known for its art and music, and many creative people embrace alternative venues and audiences here. South Congress offers a prime opportunity for amateur performers to showcase their unique talents. Musicians, dancers, mimes, living statues, and beat poets all comprise just a fraction of the talented individuals who regularly line the streets. Their presence helps to give South Congress a festive and lively atmosphere. Few will ever charge, but it’s courteous to throw a few dollars their way.
Originally limited to artwork from the southern United States, Yard Dog Art Gallery now presents a wide variety of pieces from artists across North America. Since 1995, it has been the place to purchase art on South Congress. The collection includes works by Reg Mombassa, Jon Langford, and Camp Bosworth. The gallery is always looking for new artists to add to the roster, and even consider mailed-in submissions. Browsing the gallery is free, but buying anything can run up quite a bill as many of the pieces cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.
Consistently rated as the best ice cream vendor in Austin, Amy’s Ice Creams dishes out hundreds of rotating flavors that keep patrons coming back for more. Since opening in 1984, it has swept the state and spread to Houston and San Antonio. The South Congress location is never lacking in customers, and a nice cone goes perfectly with a walk down the drag. Amy’s is often open late in the evening, usually closing around 11pm or midnight.
If ice cream isn’t your thing, Big Top Candy Shop provides a menagerie of colorful treats. With more than 2,000 brands of packaged candy and hundreds of varieties of bulk candy, the walls are lined with sweets. There’s also a service counter where customers can pick up blends of shaved ice or other tasty, chocolate-coated concoctions. The general aesthetic of the store recalls classic circus imagery, and there are numerous candy-themed posters advertising strongmen and the like.
Complementing its equally eclectic 6th Street counterpart, Museum of the Weird, this medieval-looking structure in the middle of an otherwise trendy urban street will surely strike a chord with science-fiction and horror aficionados. At Sfanthor, visitors are welcome to browse a gallery of cult television and film icons cast in wax sculptures. Painstaking recreations of famous movie monsters dwell side-by-side with authentic arts and crafts from the likes of sci-fi giants such as HR Giger. For a nominal fee – $8 for adults – fans can witness these pieces in their imposing majesty and maybe take a bit of weirdness home from the gift shop. Since its opening in early 2015, Sfanthor has also acted as a one-stop shop for comics, action figures, and other nerdy memorabilia. Sfanthor offers free parking in its private lot, a phenomenon arguably more alien to South Congress than anything within the museum walls.
Few Austinites will contest the dominance of Home Slice when their weekly (or daily) pizza cravings kick in. If that isn’t evidence enough of its popularity, Home Slice actually occupies two adjacent storefronts – the first as a dine-in pizzeria, and the second, aptly titled More Home Slice, as more of a take-out place. Both locations offer authentic New York-style pizzas, as well as calzones, salads, sandwiches, wines, cannolis, and cheesecakes. With its enormous pies – 18in (46cm) for large ones – and reasonable pricing, there’s no better place to grab dinner on South Congress.
Whether it’s Halloween or convention season, Lucy in Disguise remains the definitive costume store in Austin. With room after room full of dresses, wigs, props, and jewelry, you can assemble almost any outfit you want from Lucy’s stock – assuming they don’t already have it pre-made. They have costumes for every genre and time period: fantasy, pioneer, pirate, sci-fi, steampunk, western, adult, and more. The staff are incredibly helpful and know exactly what you need to put the perfect touches on your costume. If you don’t plan on reusing your outfit, Lucy has a rental policy, and also provides special discounts for theatrical productions.
Austin’s reputation for graffiti artwork characterizes the city. Many of its most prolific murals line the brick and concrete canvases of South Congress. The “I love you so much” mural on the side of Jo’s Coffee is the perfect backdrop for couples of all ages to photograph themselves against. A brief walk down the drag will reveal more murals. Some act as decorative advertisements for storefronts; others stand out as quirky portraits of figures, such as Mr Rogers. Regardless, these sites attract both tourists and residents alike, to take pictures and create lasting memories.