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The Culture of South Austin

Jun 2, 2008
Austin has many colorful neighborhoods and shopping venues, but most inhabitants of the city will tell you that Austin is divided into two distinct areas: South Austin, and North Austin. The Colorado River runs directly through the central part of the city, encircling the downtown business district on its southern perimeter, and as is flows west, the river skirts the northern edge if Zilker Park and the Barton Springs area. The part of the river which flows through the metro area was recently named Lady Bird Lake, and was previously called Town Lake.

South Austin is thought of among Austinites as the laid back area of town; it is a very eclectic area, and most of the residents are thought of as informal, casual and very individualistic. South Austin has two main thoroughfares which attract restaurants, clubs and shopping areas. South Congress Avenue is one of these streets, which begins at the State Capitol Building a few miles north of the river, and ends a few miles south of downtown and eventually merges with Interstate 35, which is the primary north-south freeway in the Austin area.

South Lamar is the other main thoroughfare, which runs the length of Austin, from its northern starting point where it begins, a few miles north of Austin at Interstate 35, to its furthest southernmost point, a few miles south of Austin, where it eventually flows into the freeway interchange at Highway 290 West and Loop 360.

Austinites refer to the shopping and entertainment area of South Congress Avenue as the SOCO area, and many world class restaurants can be found in SOCO, as well as numerous clothing stores, antique and retro shops, and also street vendors, selling a variety of reasonably inexpensive goods to pedestrians and other passersby. Once a month, the merchants of the SOCO district hold a street fair of sorts along the sidewalks outside the restaurants and shops called First Thursday, on the first Thursday of the month. Frequently there is live music and most of the stores display their wares on the sidewalk, along with the street vendors, who show up in full force.

Many reasonably inexpensive new housing developments are being built in this area as well, mostly condos which have a great view of the lake and the SOCO district. Many famous landmarks are in the SOCO area, including the Hotel San Jose, with adjacent Joe's coffee shop, both favorites among locals and tourists.

Across the street from the San Jose, in the heart of SOCO, is one of the most well-known blues and rock-oriented nightclubs in the Austin area, called the Continental Club. The city's daily newspaper, the Austin American Statesman, also calls northern SOCO its home, and is just south of the Congress Avenue Bridge. The bridge itself has a pedestrian walkway on each side, both of which give pedestrians a beautiful view of Lady Bird Lake. The neighborhood of Travis Heights surrounds SoCo an is a collection of ecletic 1940's and 1950's homes.

One of the most unusual events in Austin is the nightly flight of the bats from under the bridge, where they nest, to the Austin skies right after sunset, a beautiful and very dramatic sight. The bats are the most numerous in March and April, and are actually Mexican free tailed bats on their yearly journey to and from Mexico. Tourists and many others flock to the area to watch the bats make their nightly pilgrimage to the stars and clouds above Lady Bird Lake.

The bat colony is the largest urban bat colony in North America, and during their peak season they number over a million bats. The free Austin Orange Dillo bus runs every ten minutes on First Thursday from convenient free parking at One Texas Center on Barton Springs, so visitors don't have to worry about parking on Congress itself.

South Lamar, which is occasionally referred to as the SOLA district, is an up and coming area for well known eateries and shops as well. South Lamar is more residentially oriented than the SOCO area and has cute older homes in neighborhood of Barton Hills, with nearly every cross street having homes, apartments, duplexes and various other dwellings, as well as schools and churches, which can also be found in the SOCO area.

The western edge of the South Lamar neighborhood run alongside the eastern perimeter of Zilker Park and Barton Springs, home to Barton Springs Pool, which is the fourth largest underground spring-fed pool in Texas.

The pool encompasses three acres and has a year round temperature of 68 degrees. Starting at the pool area, the Barton Springs greenbelt offers hiking, bicycling and walking for many miles, adjacent to well-known Barton Creek, which feeds the pool. There are many well developed hiking trails with informative kiosks describing the area and the attractions in each location, such as the location of local swimming holes such as Campbell's Hole, a very old and well-known swimming hole which is fed by the waters of Barton Creek as well.

The South Lamar area is close enough to the SOCO area for pedestrians to walk the short distance, or hop on the city bus, and between the two long streets is another slightly less developed area adjacent to South First Street, which runs parallel to Congress and Lamar, between the two. South First is also home to many restaurants and shops, and is a pleasant place to stop while traversing between South Congress and South Lamar. Things just don't get much better in Austin than living or visiting the South Austin area!
About the Author
Ki works as a realtor in central Austin. His website features information on Austin real estate along with a free mortgage calculator and map based search of the Austin MLS.
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