Outdoors & Recreation
1994 Readers Poll
1994 Critics Picks
Best Baseball League/Best Spectator Sport Bargain

One of the best-kept secrets in Austin sports, the Zaragoza League serves up major-college-quality baseball in an intimate East Austin ballpark, all summer long, for only a $2 admission (and there are no concessions, so it's BYOB and snacks). The seven team rosters are mostly made up of college players between seasons or who have finished their eligibility, plus a smattering of ex-pros and other high-level recreational players. They seem a little thin on pitching (who isn't?), but that just gives the hitters a little more room to work. In this year's championship game, played last weekend, the Gold Sox took the title by scoring ten runs in the final inning -- eight of them with two outs -- to win 15-10 over the defending champion Texas Baseball Club. As this goes to press, the Gold Sox are competing in the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, KS.

Parque Zaragoza
2608 Gonzales
512/472-7142

Best Bike Shop

With so many to choose from in this town, this is a hard call. When we go out to purchase a new bike or a new part, we look for three things: service, quality, and commitment. And it has been our experience that it's well worth the drive to visit the north location of the Bicycle Sport Shop. They're bilingual, speaking a mean bicyclese as well as street-talk for the rest of us. In most cases, any repair work will see a 24-hour turnaround. And when you drop by after that bitchin' ride on the greenbelt or life-threatening commute to work, they'll even remember your name. Oh, almost forgot: they're also open on Sundays.

Bicycle Sport Shop

Best Bus Stop

Whenever we change buses on that crucial Congress Avenue axis, we always pull the cord at 4th Street. On the southeast corner is an oasis for Capital Metronauts. A trio of trees offers abundant shade, and beneath the greenery, you can lose yourself in the Avenue of a century ago staring at the elegant Koppel Building across the street, or take a quick trip to the beach via the dolphins-and-beach-balls mural outside Gilligan's. It's grand for people-watching, quiet enough to read, and we've met some fine folks there, too. The time between transfers can go slowly elsewhere, but it flies along pleasantly here.

Best Cheap Date

We love to watch movies at the Paramount, where you can drink wine and eat M&M's while you sniffle. This time we resist, however, so that afterward we can stroll over to Little City and order a decaf cappuccino and a Frangelica cupcake, a more subtle mix of sedative and stimulant. We make a trip to the ladies' room, trying to figure out how to tame the clutter at home into smooth lines of beautiful objects and, truly, this has been achieved in their ladies' room. Then we walk up the Avenue arm-in-arm, stopping to look in the windows, recalling what used to be here or there, then up to the Capitol to see how construction is going, where we kiss, then wander back to the car.

Best Cove In The County

Climb down the rocks to the calm waters of Davis Cove and float your cares away as you admire the beautiful Central Texas scenery. Picnic tables dot the area, making it a great place for small get-togethers and overnight camping spaces. $5 per carload ($10 overnight).

Bob Wentz Park at Windy Point
7144 Comanche Trail
512/854-7275
www.co.travis.tx.us/tnr/parks/bob_wentz.asp

Best Eastside Weekend Afternoon Hang Out

Head east on either Cesar Chavez or Holly and make a right on Chicon. This will quickly put you in the vicinity of Chicano Park, a park and picnic area on Town Lake just down river from the I-35 bridge, a lively strip where mini-trucks and lowriders mingle with early evening birthday parties. Barney piñatas are just as popular as Big Bird or Ninja Turtles, and the park features a pool with bathhouse murals by Ramon Maldonado. A shaded playground complements the baseball diamond where weekly tournaments have been known to bring out several generations at a time. Older folks can chill and set a good example for the younger set. The Hike and Bike Trail runs parallel to the park, and a walk by the river in an easterly direction will take you to a delightful little footbridge. Of course, you can get a completely undisturbed view of the Holly Power Plant if you want, but the view across Town Lake to the south bank is prettier. A boat loading dock is provided for canoes and small rowboats. All in all, Fiesta Gardens is an remarkably pristine place to plunk down your kit and kaboodle on a lazy afternoon any day of the week.

Fiesta Gardens
2101 Jesse E. Segovia
512/480-8318

Best Example Of "When Life Gives You A Lemon, Make Lemonade

When Treaty Oak was intentionally poisoned in 1989, an international outpouring of help, prayers, and gifts pulled the centuries-old tree through the crisis. But not before it was disfigured by dead limbs that had to be cut away. Through the efforts of John Giedraitis, Austin's City Forester, the amputated branches live on through works of art. Valued at $250 per foot, the branches, ranging from three feet in diameter to pencil size, have been sold to artisans with the funds going to support the free distribution of trees to neighborhoods throughout Austin. P.S. Look for an exhibit of all the items left at Treaty Oak, from chicken soup to crystals, at the Austin History Center beginning around the first of September.

Treaty Oak
Baylor & W. Fifth

Best Happy Hour

The Hike and Bike Trail may be more trendy and popular, but there are few better ways to cap a long day at work than a dip in the magical waters of Barton Springs Pool. In the evening hours, the pool is never overcrowded, and it draws Austinites from across the board: youngsters and oldsters, couples and singles, families and groups of friends. Whether you want to float, wade, dive, swim serious laps, or just bask in the setting sun, Barton Springs in the early evening is as heavenly as this city gets.

Barton Springs Pool
2131 William Barton Dr.
512/974-6300
www.austintexas.gov/department/barton-springs-pool

David Brendan Hall

David Brendan Hall

Best Outdoor Shower

If we had all the time in the world, we would spend half of it at Barton Springs and the other half in the women's dressing room at Barton Springs. There's a skinny blond woman nude sunbathing in the grass; we can't tell if she's 24 or 44. Then there's a gaggle of girls whose voices and/or radios are heard but not seen. After a while, someone comes in and yells: "Is anyone in here named Jennifer? Your father's out there waiting!" and they appear like a flock of birds, snapping their wet, perfectly-combed hair back in barrettes. In the solar shower, girls and even boys are rinsed and in the courtyard a woman who borders on obese slowly rotates beneath the shower. We've never seen an unclad body as large as hers; she is not ashamed -- and we, too, find it beautiful.

Barton Springs Pool
2131 William Barton Dr.
512/974-6300
www.austintexas.gov/department/barton-springs-pool

Best Palm Grove

Thirty-six sleek, moppy-headed palms have migrated to the end of Hudson Bend to gather around this new marina/restaurant. Word has it that ten more are on their way.

Emerald Point Marina
5973 Hiline
512/266-1535

Best Place For Hot Dogs

No, no, not hot dogs. Hot. Dogs. We've learned it's a dog's world at the spillway downstream from Barton Springs Pool. On one Saturday afternoon there, we counted over 20 dogs fetching, swimming, sniffing each other... you know. Yes, there is supposed to be a leash law at the park, so bring one about 20-30' long (clothesline works pretty well), just in case.

Barton Creek Greenbelt
Zilker Park to Lost Creek, 512/974-6700
Twin Falls, and off MoPac, south of Loop 360, north of U.S. 290, 512/974-6700
www.ci.austin.tx.us/parks/greenbelts.htm

Best Place For Navel Gazing

For contemplative moments, nothing beats the elegant solitude of Mayfield. Choose a shaded bench on a sultry afternoon: a veil of dragonflies drones above, a koi rises to nip the dim surface of a stone-lined pool afloat with waterlilies so perfect they might be carved from lapis. You drift, wordless, ageless, without time. The strangled cry of a peacock calls you back.

Mayfield Park & Preserve
3505 W. 35th
512/974-6700
www.cityofaustin.org/parks

Best Place To Avoid Trendy Exercising

If you're more concerned with the actual exercising than what to wear as you do it, head east. Instead of a parade, it's really more like a park should be, with lovely open spaces along the river and regular folks just doing their thing.

Hike & Bike Trail
Austin PARD
512/499-6700
www.austintexas.gov

Best Place To Ponder Our Relationship With Nature

Barton Creek's been largely dry since last fall, so there are no crowds at Twin Falls this summer. It's just as well. We ride our bikes up and down the Greenbelt and the falls are a good place to jump off and cool down. We're not the only ones who think so. By 10am, families have spread themselves across the rocks rushing with water, and kids are riding down the falls on their butts. But we're ashamed to say that some of the people who love the falls are stupid. They forget bits of wrapper and cigarette butts; they leave cans and grocery bags of trash around the heaped-up garbage can as if it's an offering to Freeport-McMoRan. We ponder. And pick up what we can.

Barton Creek Greenbelt
Zilker Park to Lost Creek, 512/974-6700
Twin Falls, and off MoPac, south of Loop 360, north of U.S. 290, 512/974-6700
www.ci.austin.tx.us/parks/greenbelts.htm

Best Place To Rollerblade

According to Ed Downs, who teaches the sport of in-line skating at UT's Informal Classes, the best place in the Austin city limits is the Shoal Creek Greenbelt. He rates a 2-mile concrete path in Pflugerville Park a little higher.

Best Place To Sip Coffee & Watch The World Go By

You can lurk in the dim interior and stare out the window at the endless parade of extras from the little theatre of life. The mix of types can be surreal. Couples all dressed up in their Sixth Street best (but why so early?!), followed by odd knots and conglomerations of various kinds of street people. A Fellini/Wertmuller/Tennessee Williams kind of thing. Bring your camera.

Best Place To Skate

We would say Austin's free public skateboard park, but that doesn't exist. So we guess the next best adrenal blast comes from The Gauntlet: a loud, aggressive run in which the skater rockets out of control from the top of the Drag to the Capitol, heedlessly destroying as much public property, smashing as many storefront windows, and running into and over as many helpless pedestrians as possible. A truly ultimate Gauntlet run might also contain some actual skateboard tricks, like Old Lady grinds, Ollie-to-fratboy, and maybe even a switchstance plate glass windowsmash if one is lucky. All of this hopefully without getting busted for violating the hallmark of legislative wizardry that protects the peaceful citizens in that area: the anti-skateboarding ordinance.

Best Public Links

We're not sure this category should be here at all. Golf, in our book, is a serious, debilitating addiction, and we hate acting as enablers. But after all, addicts can't really help being addicted, can they? If you or someone you know has a golf jones, sources tell us that this is the place to go for a quick, cheap fix. Maintained like a country club, at near the price of a city course, said one poor duffer, who's got a $50 a week habit and a strange twitch when he starts in on the subject. "Tell them it's British links style," he adds mysteriously, "golfers will know what that means."

Devaki Knowles

Best Spot For A Picnic Without Leaving Town

We like to spread our blanket on the amphitheatre's grassy risers, overlooking the water. Others hang a right at the lagoon, pursuing overgrown trails to their own private meadows. Either way, deviled eggs never tasted better.

The Contemporary Austin at Laguna Gloria
3809 W. 35th
512/458-8191
www.thecontemporaryaustin.org

Best Way To End The Day

We linger over dinner at our favorite South Austin Mexican restaurant -- Seis Salsas or Guero's though we should try to branch out some -- and play footsie. After we've crossed back over the Congress Avenue bridge, we park by one of the hotels and sit on the hillside to wait for the bats. There's a small crowd. Kids hold balloons. Some people wander over from out of town, even from as far as Holland, and ask what we're doing. By the time the long thread of bats unwinds itself above the Statesman building, we've given out directions to three different restaurants and the smallest children are having sweet dreams.

Best Winter Swim

The best remedy for winter blues is to head over to Stacy Pool, where a huge spigot runs constantly with hot spring water. We swim slow, easy laps from the cozy shallow end, speeding up a tad when we reach the cooler deep end. Some nights the moon is there just under our arm when we turn to breathe. Besides the joy of gentle lap swimming (it's the only place someone kindly volunteered pointers for our stroke and we were grateful), there's also space for kids to play. We leave our towel close by. The dressing rooms are heated and the showers hot. We ooze into the car and zing back to life when we hit the Congress Avenue bridge and see the Christmas lights and the Capitol sending us best wishes for a cheery holiday.

Little Stacy Pool & Park
1400 Alameda
512/974-6700

Best Women's Basketball League

What with the success of the Lady Longhorns and the wealth of solid high school programs in the area, we expected to find a hotbed of women's rec sports competition somewhere in town. Instead, it turns out, we couldn't find a women's league currently running. But wait! There's a light on the horizon: the Givens Rec Center is forming a Women's division this fall, scheduled for Wednesday nights, starting August 24. For info on how to join, as a team or an individual, call Donald Dallas at 928-1982.

Givens Recreation Park
3811 E. 12th
512/928-1982
www.ci.austin.tx.us

Most Romantic Place To Watch Bats

Request a third-floor room with a downtown view and you get the common balcony area that is just dandy at sunrise. It's even better at sunset during bat season, when you can relax with room service outdoors and a cold Dos Equis while watching the Mexican Free-tails spiral into black columns in the dusk.

Hyatt Regency Austin
208 Barton Springs Rd.
512/477-1234
www.austin.hyatt.com

 
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