Hailed as one of the country’s first true boutique hotels, Hotel San José started its life as a 1930s tourist court and became a 1950s roadside motel before falling into disrepair in a bad part of town. In the mid-1990s, Liz Lambert bought it and transformed it into a minimalist, mid-century–inspired hot spot, the first of her distinctive Bunkhouse hotels, and the South Congress neighborhood changed with it. Although it’s now a must-visit for out-of-town hipsters (and its bar a hangout for trendy locals), the hotel stays true to its roots; all furniture was made by local artisans from reclaimed wood and Texas leather, the three most affordable rooms have a shared bath, and Lambert’s experience renovating the hotel and contributing to the neighborhood’s gentrification prompted her to make the documentary The Last Days of the San Jose.
Nowadays, SoCo is Austin’s hottest neighborhood, and Hotel San José is in the heart of the action, hosting local and touring bands in its courtyard and parking lot, and offering some of the city’s best coffee at Jo’s, its affiliated café. Plan to spend at least one evening making new friends over Shiner Bocks at the long tables in the courtyard bar.
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Right on South Congress Avenue, across the street from the iconic Continental Club in the heart of SoCo, Hotel San José is perfectly situated for exploring the lively neighborhood’s main drag. Vintage and designer boutiques like Blackmail are within blocks, as are Austin classics like Allens Boots, stocked full of every kind of cowboy boot and hat. Drinking and dining options abound, including beers and (arguably, the city’s best) burgers at Hopdoddy and fresh seafood, cold drinks, and shuffleboard on the patio at Perla's.
Need to Know
Rooms: 40 rooms, 14 suites. From $150. Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: Classic breakfast items—eggs, pastries, yogurt, granola—can be delivered in bento boxes to guestrooms each morning, or served in the shady courtyard upon request. By late afternoon, the courtyard becomes a happening local scene, with live music or DJs and snacks such as cheese plates accompanying an extensive menu of craft cocktails and local wines and beers; Texas’ own Shiner Bock is a particular favorite here. A buffet brunch with $3 mimosas is often served on weekends, but the best option for dining is the open-air Jo’s, across the parking lot, which is also owned by Bunkhouse and serves top-notch coffee and fresh, casual food throughout the day. Spa and gym details: The hotel can arrange for basic in-room spa treatments but has neither a gym nor spa. Fortunately, a dip in the long, shallow pool surrounded by native plants and butterfly chairs can be nearly as relaxing as a spa treatment, and bicycles are available for a cruise around town.
Who's it best for: Young hipsters and adventurous travelers who want to be at the heart of the action, don’t need a full-service hotel, and will enjoy the lively outdoor lounge scene. Our favorite rooms: The four Grand Suites, off the more secluded back garden, are the most private and spacious option, though the second-floor Courtyard Suites are also quite large and each has a private balcony overlooking the pool. All rooms have outdoor seating areas (though most are shared), as well as kimono robes, Malin + Goetz bath products, and handmade furniture. Cool stuff: The hotel has hipsters, artists, and music lovers covered with its clever and quirky amenities, such as polaroid cameras to rent, a vintage typewriter to check out, and playlist-stocked iPod Nanos to borrow and hook up to the Geneva sound system in every room.