Outdoors & Recreation
1996 Readers Poll
1996 Critics Picks

photograph by Shelly Wood   Shelley Wood

Best Basketball Court

A view of Airport Boulevard gives it that requisite urban grit, and the court itself is an immaculate, fast, red-and-green surface with a clearly-marked three-point line -- so we know where to take our chances against the fearsome low-post players who dominate play here.

Patterson Park
4201 Brookview

Best Climbing Tree

This mammoth arbor on St. Edward's campus is the fattest, most inviting live oak in all of Austin. With a trunk too big for two folks to get their arms around and a space where all the boughs meet that's as big as some living rooms, this is just the place to laze away a summer evening. Huge limbs make it easy to climb up to scary heights where you'll have a great view of the city and of the stained glass on the St. Ed's campus. If you're inclined to recline among the trees, this is the one.

St. Edward's University
3001 S. Congress

Best Fake Spring

As inviting as this bubbling pool in the middle of the courtyard is, we're surprised the Center hasn't had to fish more overheated visitors out of its cool waters.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
4801 La Crosse

Best Place To People-Watch

Tourists snapping photos with SRV, die-hard athletes crosstraining for the next Iron Man, lawyers jogging off a day of stress, happy puppies rambling along with their body-conscious masters, beginners, race walkers, cyclists... There are people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds at any given time on the Town Lake trail. Peoplewatching can take place at a particularly beautiful spot beside the lake at sunset, or it can be done on the run, covering the trail from head to foot. Everyone's friendly and there is an unspoken "no judgments" policy in the air. We like to go when it's real hot, just to see what kind of crazy people would possibly be there -- excluding ourselves, of course.

Best Professional Sport Franchise

We had the Firebirds baseball fiasco last year; on-again, off-again Texas League plans are again being loudly bruited about; a shifting line-up of soccer teams -- indoor/outdoor, amateur/semipro/in-between -- has fought for a market toehold over the years; even semi-pro football came and left without a trace. But now, Austin is quietly about to get its first serious pro sports franchise in decades, and they play, of all things, ice hockey. The Ice Bats already have a hit with their line of logo merchandise with the cool, cute-but-vicious flying rodent -- and that was before they had a single player signed. Who knows how popular they'll be when they actually start playing?

Ice Bats
Travis County Exposition Center, 7311 Decker Ln.

Best Public Tennis Courts

With the addition of courtside shade umbrellas, and cheerful, enthusiastic counter help, South Austin Tennis Center just keeps getting better. The courts are in decent shape, there are abundant playing and learning opportunities, and SATC boasts a solid, professional staff. Along with these basics, SATC offers plenty of amenities like an interesting pro shop, clean, well-stocked bathrooms, pleasant landscaping, and the best ice in town.

South Austin Tennis Center
1000 Cumberland

Best Reason To Run 26.2 Miles

We know it sounds tough, but the enthusiasm with which volunteers and onlookers greet the hordes of runners -- all ages and abilities -- who participate in this scenic race is reason enough to put on your sneakers and run for the fun of it. Thorough training is a good idea first, but we swear it's not the physical exertion that's making you see groups of cheerers-on dressed as giant pink bunnies or the cast of some recent Disney blockbuster passing out Powerade. Since the Motorola Marathon is mostly downhill, seasoned athletes from all over the world enter with hopes of running their best times. We'll be happy just to make it to the finish line.

505 Barton Springs Rd.

Best Slacker Sport

It only costs $7 or so for a disc (but not a plain old frisbee, they don't fly as well -- check your local sporting-goods store) and transportation to Pease, Zilker, or other parks around town, and you're set to go. Don't bother with the ugly plaid pants -- cut-offs and an old T-shirt fit in much better. And don't holler obscenities after a bad shot -- disc golfers are expected to be, shall we say, more mellow.

Disk Golf / Disc Golf

photograph by Shelly Wood   Shelly Wood

Best Urban Hike

Imagine a Hill Country hike in town, just out of earshot of the rush-hour noise pollution. While the rest of the city zooms by frantically, we relish a few moments of repose wandering the winding paths at Wild Basin Preserve. Sure, the occasional vista is scarred by the passing cars on Loop 360, but for the most part, Westcave is pure country -- live oak and cedar, gurgling streams, and the occasional glimpse of wildlife.

Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve
805 Capital of TX Hwy. N.

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