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2014ReadersOutdoors & Recreation

Best Annual Festival
Austin City Limits

Every spring now, like clockwork, news of the fall's ACL festival lineup hits the Internet-o-sphere, and the populace goes apeshit. Who wouldn't with the concatenation of class-act acts both world-renowned (Outkast, Belle & Sebastian) and soon-to-be-world-renowned (Mø, Von Grey). Truth be told, we buy our tickets early-bird, because, what? Like ACL Fest would ever disappoint? Pshaw. And like clockwork, we get to gloat that we're already going.

Austin City Limits Music Festival, 300 W 6th Ste. 2100, 512/478-7211, www.aclfestival.com

Best Basketball Court
Shipe Park

Whether your skill level is H-O-R-S-E or you hit the court every afternoon for intense pick-up games and mad dunking sessions (those exist, right?), you will love this clean and centrally located court in Hyde Park. Sure, the court sees plenty of players, but in this case, that’s a good thing.

Shipe Park, 4400 Avenue G, www.shipepark.org

Best Bowling Alley
Dart Bowl

A rainbow-hued, carpeted horizon depicts bowling pins, flung every which way by a sentinel army of bowling balls quixotically placed in 10-pin arrangements. You wonder why the bowling balls have suddenly substituted the pins – some kind of psychological remark on the nature of power and skills mastery, maybe? Then someone taps you on the shoulder, "Hey! You're up!"

Dart Bowl, 5700 Grover, 512/452-2518, www.dartbowl.com

Best Cheap Thrill
Peter Pan Mini Golf

We'll save you the Mastercard parody (which is funny because Peter Pan doesn't accept plastic), but just know that the dollar amount that you'll pay to play mini-golf amongst the iconic plaster and concrete "sculptures" of this two-course mainstay is inversely proportionate to the amount of fun you're likely to have. Unless you're dead inside. In which case, what's the point of even living anymore? We'll tell you: Peter Pan is always BYOB. Priceless!

Peter Pan Mini-Golf, 1207 Barton Springs Rd., 512/472-1033, www.peterpanminigolf.com

Best Day Trip (Dry)
Enchanted Rock

Someone once promised us a picnic at Enchanted Rock. Promises unfulfilled, it never happened. That’s all right, the 62-mile batholith is perfectly trekked in solitary contentment. Stargazing, rock climbing, and fairy shrimp all balanced on a pink granite mound, it’s truly a spiritual experience. Charged by the forces of campfires and healing properties, Enchanted Rock remains the quintessential Hill Country day trip.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, 16710 RR 965, Fredericksburg, 830/685-3636, www.tpwd.state.tx.us

Best Day Trip (Wet)
Hamilton Pool

Holy heaven on Earth, Batman! Just over 20 miles from town this triple-threat winner – a natural swimming hole just off the Pedernales River – offers a rich oasis of vegetation and wildlife with a limestone grotto nestled in a gorgeous protected habitat, the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. Pack a lunch, walk the trails down to the beach area, and spend the day at one of Central Texas’ most cherished outdoor adventure spots. When the water levels are copacetic, a 50-foot waterfall rushes down, but even in the heat of summer, there’s plenty of water in which to play. It's ingrained in local folklore and has been featured in films, so you’d better get there early, because this secret Batcave fills up.

Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve, 24300 Hamilton Pool Rd., Dripping Springs, 512/264-2740, www.parks.traviscountytx.gov

Best Escape
Hamilton Pool

Holy heaven on Earth, Batman! Just over 20 miles from town, this triple-threat winner – a natural swimming hole just off the Pedernales River – offers a rich oasis of vegetation and wildlife with a limestone grotto nestled in a gorgeous protected habitat, the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. Pack a lunch, walk the trails down to the beach area, and spend the day at one of Central Texas’ most cherished outdoor adventure spots. When the water levels are copacetic, a 50-foot waterfall rushes down, but even in the heat of summer, there’s plenty of water in which to play. It's ingrained in local folklore and has been featured in films, so you’d better get there early, because this secret Batcave fills up.

Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve, 24300 Hamilton Pool Rd., Dripping Springs, 512/264-2740, www.parks.traviscountytx.gov

Best Gear/Sporting Goods
REI

REI is one of those stores where "popping in and out" is not an option – whether you're outfitting for a trek across the country, embracing nature for a weekend camping trip, or just feel like fueling your well-worn travel fantasy. Get to talking with one of the knowledgeable staff and the afternoon will be gone before you know it.

REI, 601 N. Lamar, 512/482-3357, www.rei.com

REI, 9901 Capital of TX Hwy. N., 512/343-5550, www.rei.com

REI, 201 University Oaks, Round Rock, 512/255-1938

Best Golf
Topgolf

It's golf in your own private bull pen without the pain and $uffering of a private country club – kinda like your own bowling lane or karaoke room. So grab your gang, and claim your own waitstaff-attended bay. Hit a golf ball at the colored target, and enjoy a drink. Topgolf stands for "Target Oriented Practice Golf." You set the pace. You choose the shots. For putt's sake, you are at Topgolf. It is no surprise this Dallas HQ'd entertainment empire – with locations across the country and across the pond – is on our readers' map for backswing shenanigans and pure fairway fun.

Topgolf, 2700 Esperanza Crossing, 512/222-5950, www.topgolf.com

Best Place to Camp
Inks Lake

It’s a Colorado River reservoir, so this Hill Country superstar boasts constant water levels and scenic backdrops, including a waterfall. Primitive, hike-in camping sites are awesome and available with a reservation, but there are also air-conditioned accommodations for the more cabin-inclined. Hiking, boating, swimming, and both pier and shoreline fishing are favorite pastimes; special activities like moonlight paddling happen on the regular. Go outside!

Inks Lake State Park, 3630 Park Road 4 W., Inks Lake, 512/793-2223, www.tpwd.state.tx.us

Best Place to Skate
Playland

This returning victor is about to get tricked out with a new wooden floor, so we're fairly certain we'll see it back in this winner's slot for years to come. Playland features a playscape for kids and offers day care, lessons, parties, Sk8 4 Fitness Fridays, and fundraiser options for schools, churches, and charities. Adult night is Tuesday, after 7pm. Fortunately nearby Austin Beerworks is closed on Tuedays so there is little risk of skaters rolling over and forgetting to return their rentals.

Playland Skate Center, 8822 McCann, 512/452-1901, www.playlandskatecenter.net

Best Place to Tube
San Marcos

We're always surprised that the professors at Texas State University in San Marcos don't show up to the first day of classes in the fall with gnarly tan lines, a Lion's Club inner tube strapped around their waists, faintly smelling of beer. If we were a professor, that's how we'd roll. Which is probably why we're not … anymore.

Tube San Marcos, 170 Charles Austin, San Marcos, 512/396-5466, www.tubesanmarcos.com

Best Pool/Billiards
The Grand

There ain’t no frills, and that’s just the way we like it. It’s a field of fun at this longtime late-night institution: Tons of pool tables, arcade games, a jukebox, dartboards, pizza, draft beers, and great specials on billiards and drinks create a dive after our own dark little pool-hall hearts.

The Grand, 4631 Airport, 512/454-1986

Best Scenic Drive
RM 2222

We like to turn left onto 2222 coming off of the dramatic decline from Spicewood Springs Road. Used to be that you could look out onto the rolling hills of West Austin without seeing nary a McMansion in sight – and that's painfully not so anymore. Still, if you follow the advice of brilliant lyricist Chamillionaire and "Keep Drivin," you'll suddenly feel like you're in an altogether different, and older, Austin.

Best Social Bike Ride
Thursday Night Social Ride

One can hardly sip a martini from a patio on the first day of the weekend without seeing this horde of cyclists whir by. Luckily, you’re invited. Perfect for making new friends or meeting up with the tried-and-trues, the Thursday Night Social Ride is a veritable union of cycling and synergy. Thursday is the new Friday after all.

Social Cycling Austin, www.fb.com

Best Swimming Hole
Hamilton Pool

Holy heaven on Earth, Batman! Just over 20 miles from town, this triple-threat winner – a natural swimming hole just off the Pedernales River – offers a rich oasis of vegetation and wildlife with a limestone grotto nestled in a gorgeous protected habitat, the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. Pack a lunch, walk the trails down to the beach area, and spend the day at one of Central Texas’ most cherished outdoor adventure spots. When the water levels are copacetic, a 50-foot waterfall rushes down, but even in the heat of summer, there’s plenty of water in which to play. It's ingrained in local folklore and has been featured in films, so you’d better get there early, because this secret Batcave fills up.

Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve, 24300 Hamilton Pool Rd., Dripping Springs, 512/264-2740, www.parks.traviscountytx.gov

Best Swimming Pool
Barton Springs

Enjoy howling at the moon? Love a good LARP? How about just a dunk into (what seems like) icy water on a sultry summer night? Okay, fine, this is a great place to go by daylight too. Right across Lady Bird Lake from downtown, this is the spot for that midday swim we wouldn't recommend attempting in the lake. With nearby picnic tables and a toot-toot tour aboard the Zilker Zephyr handy, the springs make for an excellent family outing as well. But when the sun goes down and the admission follows suit, Barton is Austin's nightswim nirvana.

Barton Springs Pool, 2201 Barton Springs Rd., 512/867-3080, www.austintexas.gov

Best Tennis Court
Caswell Tennis Center

Game, set, and match, no other tennis courts have dominated over half of the Best Tennis Court "Best of Austin"s throughout the years as has Caswell. Makes sense, what with their eight well-lit courts and reasonable fees (reservations recommended). Even if your game is more fetch than fire, they've got friendly pros that'll get you in the know, and clean courts are aplenty. Competitors, you got served.

Caswell Tennis Center, 2312 Shoal Creek Blvd., 512/478-6268, www.lovetennis4caswell.com

Best Yoga/Pilates
Yoga Yoga

We hope you know, Austin, that you are spoiled in this category. Yoga Yoga's hook from the very beginning was to offer several styles of yoga under the same roof (something which is now commonplace, but not so in 1997 when Yoga Yoga opened a space on South Lamar). In this way, the kundalini yogi and the hatha yogi can all go to the same studio, connecting through practice and a shared sense of community.

Yoga Yoga, 4477 S. Lamar #420, 512/358-1200, www.yogayoga.com

Yoga Yoga, 1700 S. Lamar, 512/358-1200, www.yogayoga.com

Yoga Yoga, 2167 Anderson, 512/380-9800, www.yogayoga.com

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