8 Reasons to Explore Austin Texas Outdoors
In many ways, Austin, Texas, is a playground. Whatever your recreational preference, Austin likely has it. The city is, after all, in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, which boasts state parks, rivers, swimming holes, cliff walls, and every other type of outdoor destination imaginable. Land-goers and water-lovers alike have countless ways to choose to spend their time outdoors. Here are nine reasons Austin has become a mecca for lovers of the outdoors.
1. Incredible Urban Recreation with the Barton Creek Greenbelt
While the greenbelt meanders throughout the city, the Barton Creek Greenbelt boasts almost 13 miles of trails. Barton Creek passes both Sculpture and Twin Falls – steep cliffs that are great for climbing – and this section of the greenbelt features lush forest that’s great for a plethora of activities. Whether you prefer to hit the trail on two feet or two wheels, you can look forward to enjoying typical Hill Country landscapes and scenery along the way.
2. Downtown Paddling on Lady Bird Lake
Lady Bird Lake is a reservoir created by two dams on the Lower Colorado River, which flows through downtown Austin. Motorized boats aren’t permitted, so Lady Bird Lake is a perfect destination for kayakers, canoers, and stand-up paddleboarders. With the Hike and Bike Trail on both sides of the lake, in addition to Zilker Park, Barton Springs, Red Bud Isle, and Festival Beach along its shores, a day spent on the lake offers countless opportunities for recreation. Plus when you’re finished, enjoy cocktails at any of the establishments along Barton Springs Road.
3. Excellent Bouldering & Climbing Close to Downtown
As mentioned, the Barton Creek Greenbelt is a great destination for climbers, but several other parks just outside of Austin also offer great rock-climbing terrain. Reimers Ranch (on the same stretch of road as Hamilton Pool) provides highly technical cliff walls that skilled climbers love to practice on. Pedernales Falls offers varied terrain along the Pedernales River. It offers wild bouldering opportunities with rocky riverbeds and giant boulders scattered from the shorelines to the center of the river.
4. Amazing Cycling Culture
Austin features a strong cycling culture, with local bike shops providing anything you need from rentals to guidance. At Mellow Johnny’s, to name just one, you can shop, rent gear, and grab a coffee as you talk shop with the locals. You’ll find endless trails to explore both in and out of the city. Mountain bikers will enjoy the off-road routes found on the in-town greenbelt and at nearby parks like Pedernales Falls. Or take a leisurely downtown ride along the Hike and Bike Trail. Road bikers will find plenty of open road outside of town, including the Willow City Loop, where you can rack up endless scenic miles in the Texas Hill Country.
5. Access to Excellent State Parks and Recreation Areas
Whether you prefer staying closer to the city or you’re looking to get a bit farther away, you’ll find state parks and recreation areas in every direction of Austin. Some of the closer parks include Emma Long Metropolitan Park, Windy Point, McKinney Falls, Walter E. Long, Red Bud Isle, and Hippie Hollow. If you go a bit farther away, you have parks like Palmetto State Park, Pedernales State Park, Reimers Ranch, Narrows Recreation Area, Enchanted Rock and Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area, among many others. Whether you’re looking for a place to set up camp for a night, well-kept hiking trails, or steep rock walls for river diving, Austin’s surrounding parks have something for everyone.
6. One of the Country’s Best Springtime Wildflower Displays
People often misconceive Texas as a dry, colorless climate – and they couldn’t be more wrong. Central Texas in particular is wildly colorful, especially in the spring when the bluebonnets begin to blossom. The meadows, countrysides, and roadsides are lined with wave after wave of seasonal bloom, including Indian paintbrushes, poppies, Queen Anne’s lace, and rain lilies. From March through October, it’s one color after another, making for amazing hikes, photography, and wildflower drives both in and outside of the city.
7. Swimming Holes and Spring-fed Pools
With so many rivers in the area, it’s no surprise that you’ll find numerous swimming holes in the Greater Austin area. Within the city limits, you’ll find two spring-fed pools: Barton Springs and Deep Eddy, both of which are open year round and are long-time Austin hot spots. Outside of town, you have swimming holes like Jacob’s Well, Hamilton Pool and Krause Springs, all providing unique landscapes, crystal clear water and cypress shade.
8. Outdoor Yoga
Yoga is all the rage in Austin, and outdoor yoga has become a popular draw. For one, the flagship Whole Foods on North Lamar offers seasonal yoga classes on its rooftop – for free. In addition, you can find studios teaching outdoor classes at places like Auditorium Shores, or on stand-up paddleboards on both Lady Bird Lake and Lake Austin. However you like to flow, there’s a teacher and studio in Austin with an outdoor opportunity.
Austin is the ideal place to enjoy a long weekend. But don’t expect to just kick back and relax. There’s way too much to see and do, from shopping on funky South Congress Avenue to stand-up paddleboarding on Lady Bird Lake and seeing live music in one of the many clubs around town. Get ready for three jam-packed days of fun!
DAY 1 Explore downtown with a Walking Tour from the Austin Visitor Center. Pick your own starting time and place – your guide will tailor a tour to suit your interests – or join a guided tour. For the ultimate Austin music tour, visit Austin City Limits (ACL) Live and get a behind-the-scenes look at The Moody Theater, where the famed Austin City Limits television show is taped. Or join in the Austin Live Music Crawl with Austin Detours, led by a local musician who will take you off the beaten tourist path. Discover hidden gem music venues tucked into neighborhoods and see 2-3 shows in a three-hour tour span.
Grab a quick lunch at the food trucks in east Austin. Local favorites here include Northern Thai street food from DEE DEE, savory smoked meats from Micklethwait or flavorful vegan fare from Arlo’s at The Grackle.
Next, take a shopping stroll along South Congress Avenue, known for its funky stores and chic boutiques. Check out the kicks at Allens Boots, one-of-a-kind jewelry and clothing by local artisans at Parts & Labour, bulk penny candies at Big Top Candy Shop and wild costumes at Lucy in Disguise With Diamonds.
Keep caffeinated with an iced Turbo from Jo’s Coffee and snap a souvenir selfie with the “I love you so much” mural painted on the coffee bar’s wall. Other weird and wonderful murals that make great photo opps include the iconic “Greetings from Austin” mural in the South Austin neighborhood and the silly “You’re My Butter Half” in East Austin.
Or head out for a craft cocktail at The Hightower, which offers a daily happy hour. In the West Sixth area, toast the man in black at the divey Mean Eyed Cat, a Johnny Cash-themed bar that has a happy hour Mon.-Fri. At VOX Table try a modern twist on old classic, such as the Jalisco Old Fashioned made with Altos Anejo tequila, ancho reyes, pineapple and Bittercube Corazon bitters, during the daily happy hour.
Once the sun begins to set, line up on the Congress Avenue Bridge to witness a staggering 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats fly into the night sky from beneath the bridge, which takes place nightly from spring through fall. Grab a spot among the crowds on the bridge’s sidewalk or take to the water with Lone Star Cruises or Capital Cruises, which will put you right in the middle of the action on Lady Bird Lake for an unbeatable view of Austin’s unofficial mascots.
For dinner, circle back to South Congress for homemade Mexican dishes (with made-from-scratch tortillas and mole) and icy hand-shaken margaritas at Güero’s Taco Bar. Its Oak Garden features live music Wed.-Sun. nights.
DAY 2 Start your day with brunch (served daily!) at the South Congress Café. Try the migas: homemade corn tortillas loaded with farm-fresh eggs, refried black beans and a smoked gouda potato pancake. Or have brunch at Sway, an award-winning modern Thai restaurant named one of the 50 Best New Restaurants in America by Bon Appétit. Sway’s Thai take on brunch classics includes the basil chicken and waffle.
Explore the Texas State Capitol Complex at the Texas Capitol Visitors Center. Housed in the renovated 1857 General Land Office Building that was originally used to store state land records, the Center features fascinating exhibits on the history of Texas and offers free guided tours of the Texas State Capitol.
Within the East Sixth Street National Register Historic District you’ll find the Brush Square Museums, a trio of free must-see museums. The Susanna Dickinson Museum is the stone home of the only Anglo adult survivor of the Battle of the Alamo; the O. Henry Museum is the quaint, Victorian-style former residence of the famed short story writer; and the Austin Fire Museum is housed in the still active Fire Station #1, built in 1939.
For lunch, the LeRoy and Lewis food truck offers a creative take on barbecue, with meats sliced to order and sides like the yummy pumpkin gooey butter cake.
The University of Texas at Austin is home to an impressive collection of museums. The Blanton Museum of Art is one of the country’s leading university art museums, with works by Mark Rothko and Thomas Hart Benton; the Harry Ransom Center houses cultural archives that include the Watergate papers; and the LBJ Presidential Library features inspiring exhibits on President Lyndon Baines Johnson and his beloved wife, Lady Bird Johnson.
Spring is prime time for patio dining. For dinner, sample the Italian specialties beneath an ancient oak tree on Olive & June‘s patio. Or throw back some freshly shucked oysters al fresco at Perla’s Seafood and Oyster Bar.
After dinner, do some two-stepping at Broken Spoke, an old-fashioned honky-tonk that’s been known as one of the best dancehalls in Texas since opening in 1964. Pull on your boots and join in one of the dance lessons offered Wed.-Sat. nights. Or get in on the boot scootin’ at The White Horse, Austin’s legendary honky-tonk boasting live country jams and some of the best two-steppers around.
Head to the Red River Cultural District to hear live music and hang in eclectic bars. See a live show or join in a themed dance party at Cheer Up Charlies, a lesbian-owned bar and music venue that showcases a diverse range of acts. Sip a Kombucha served on tap in the charming backyard sheltered by a pink parachute canopy. Or catch famous up-and-coming bands at Mohawk and The Sidewinder.
DAY 3 Star the day at the new brick-and-mortar location of Veracruz All Natural (which got its start as a humble food trailer), famous for its migas stuffed with eggs, tortilla chips, avocado, pico de gallo and Monterey jack cheese.
Take a jog on the leafy 10-mile Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trailat Lady Bird Lake, which winds along shimmering waters and has picturesque views of Austin’s skyline. Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard at Congress Avenue Kayaks, SUP ATX or Zilker Park Boat Rentals to explore the glittering waters of Lady Bird Lake, all while getting a body-toning workout.
Get a java jolt at Houndstooth Coffee downtown, where the baristas push boundaries with exclusive concoctions like the frozen Japanese iced coffee.
Next, check out Zilker Park, a 360-acre oasis in the heart of downtown that’s the site of festivals and free music at Zilker Hillside Theater, plus it’s home to Zilker Botanical Garden, Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum and Barton Springs Pool, a spring-fed swimming spot with grassy hills for sunbathing.
Make it a boozy afternoon and pull up a chair in the taproom of urban winery Infinite Monkey Theorem for a flight of Texas-made wine. Or stop in the North Austin warehouse and taproom of Austin Beerworks, where weekend tastings feel more like a backyard barbecue, with live music and bites from local food trucks. Whiskey lovers will want to check out Still Austin Whiskey Co., a true grain-to-glass distillery where everything from mashing to barreling and bottling is done in-house. Take a 30-minute tour to see how Still Austin’s whiskey is made, then enjoy it straight up or in a cocktail best sipped in the whiskey garden.
Have dinner and drinks on Rainey Street, a charming block of residential bungalows transformed into hip eateries and bars. Sample the small plates at the award-winning Emmer & Rye, and stop in for an expertly made martini at Clive Bar.
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