Outdoors & Recreation
2001 Readers Poll
2001 Critics Picks
Best (far) East Side Hike

A shame it may be, but if you visit McKinney Roughs on a sunny Sunday afternoon, you may have the place all to yourself. That's 1,100 acres of place, with 17 miles of both hiking-only and joint hiking/equestrian trails. You'll enjoy landscapes more varied and just as interesting as the more exalted places west of town. Two caveats, though: Wear good boots because the joint-use trails can be a bit rough, and start early because the gates close at 5pm.

McKinney Roughs Nature Park
1884 Hwy. 71 W.
Cedar Creek
512/303-5073
www.lcra.org

Best Access To Austin's Bicycle Underground

Didn't know Austin had a bicycle underground? Well, that's probably because you were too busy overground, mowing it down with your SUV. Maybe it's time to get back in the saddle. Clown Dog Bikes bike shop has its finger on the pulse of Austin's bike underground. Find out when the latest Critical Mass will be, whose bike has been stolen or found, which new riders are especially good, or just come in to get your bike fixed after you pitch face-first into its chain. John, the owner, rarely makes customers pay for labor, but always treats everyone with respect - even if you did just call the gear shift the brake.

Clown Dog Bikes
2821 San Jacinto
512/477-4221
www.clowndogbikes.net

Best Adult Children Swings

Dodge the "poopy meadows" and the frolicking families, and there are plenty of reasons to seek out this popular treelined Eastside neighborhood's own little slice of peace and quiet. A pool, tennis courts, picnic facilities, and acres of space for spontaneous soccer games are just part of the charm. But best of all is making the trek with a love interest and finding two empty swings next to each other. Sturdy enough for rowdy daredevil kids, yet delicate enough for lovers, the hard rubber seats are big enough to hold even the heftiest hunk's butt. You'll be laughing even as you're entangled in chains, swaying into the evening while the sun goes down on a hot summer's dusk.

Patterson Park
4201 Brookview
512/477-7273

Best Change In The Weather

J. Frank Dobie used to say that Texas weather was a string of droughts broken by an occasional flood. After three years of below average rainfall, Central Texas was blessed with a wet winter that extended into the spring. Although the summer turned out to be hot and dry as usual, at least this time the water levels in area reservoirs and Aquifer were above normal.

Best Coming-Out On Wheels

It was inevitable, really: the thump of the roller disco beat, the twinkle of the disco ball, the twinkle in the eyes of the cute shaved head babe on the in-lines ... oh, who wouldn't fall in love all over again? Sigh. Every second and fourth Wednesday of the month, Skate World Northwest opens its doors and its very huge heart to Rainbow Skate, a fundraiser for a revolving array of local charities and a gay-friendly skate night for families and singles of all persuasions. Admission is only $6 and includes skate rentals if you need 'em (and you are welcome to bring your own).

Skate World
9514 Anderson Mill
512/258-8886

Best Dive Shop

Say you're planning a trip to the Caribbean or somewhere along the Pacific coast, or to some exotic locale where what's underwater may be more interesting then what's above. Check out Tom's Dive & Ski, a place stocked to the gills with wet suits, masks, snorkels, scuba equipment, and a staff of local, knowledgeable, and well-traveled salesman. The 30-foot pool in the back of the store? It's used by those who have been breathing comfortably above sea level and need a change of pace, in other words, participants in their three weekly dive classes culminate in a trip to the depths of Lake Travis.

Tom's Dive & Ski Inc.
5909 Burnet Rd.
512/451-3425
www.tomsscuba.com

Best Fourth Of July Vantage Point

Watch out for those broken beer bottles! The dead-end portion of West 11th in Old West Austin, which sits in the shadow of developer Gary Bradley's towering "Castle," may be a hangout for rowdy teens most weekend nights, but it's also the perfect vantage point for watching the Independence Day festivities. No huge crowds to muscle through, no parking hassles, and one of the best views of the downtown skyline you could ask for any day of the year. (Note to readers: The city of Austin screwed this one up this year by moving the festivities from Town Lake to Zilker Park, but that, in all likelihood, is just a temporary oversight.)

Best Free Outdoor Movie Venue

Since all the movie theatres have headed out to the boonies and become stadium-style complexes, real theatre experiences are hard to come by. The exception is the Bike-in Theatre, which, in conjunction with Cinemaker Co-op and Cinematexas, encourages people to bike to the center of town to see films, instead of driving out to the boonies to watch Steven Spielberg's latest not-so-masterpiece. Every week has a new theme played out in a whirlwind lineup of shorts, musical acts, and feature films. For example, the El Mariachi screening was preceded by the band, Mariachi Estrella, Cinematexas shorts, and an episode of The Prisoner (all 17 episodes were screened over the course of the summer). Prizes galore are offered throughout the night to those brave souls up for the challenge of barrel riding or limbo. We're not sure if the outdoor theatre continues into the chilly months, but if it does, we bet they can throw a little fire into the lineup to keep us warm.

Best Grass (the Legal Kind)

What's 19.5 acres, at least 4 inches deep, and takes seven people eight hours to mow at a cost of $10,000 per month? That's right, it's the Capitol building lawn. Okay, we know ... water costs, rationing, all that. But if you haven't taken a walk on that lush St. Augustine grass on a summer evening or spent an hour lying on the East lawn, watching the bats circling lovely lady liberty on a full moon evening, then you don't know what you're missing.

Best Locomotion Maker

Adult Night at the Playland Skating Center lifts the stigma against adults having any kind of fun that is just a little bit silly. Since nobody under 18 is allowed, parents can wear their shortest shorts, roller dance with that special somebody they've been checking out, or sing their heart out to "Celebrate Good Times," without the critical audience of their teenage children. The skate-shaped disco ball makes the "dark" skates (no overhead lights) a whole lot flashier, and the lightning bolt and skate-shaped neon lights come out to shine. Same as kids' nights, adult fast skates occur, as well as that last loooooong slow song to finish the night out. Happening every Tuesday night, it's a great way to skate those cares away.

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

Best Maps

As William Faulkner said (sort of), the past is never behind us; it isn't even past. But don't take our word for it; go see for yourself at the Austin History Center, where you'll find the outlines of today's megamalls and sprawling suburbs in the blueprints of a simpler past. Sigh in wistful longing for the days when the city began and ended at Lamar. Close your eyes and recall a time when the Capitol was still made of charming (and flammable) wood. Shift your gaze to the horizon, where the insane asylum - still known as the State Lunatic Asylum until 1925 - belches smoke into the clear Texas sky. After an hour meandering down these quiet boulevards, you'll think nothing of plunking down 10 bucks for an old Austin map. We did.

Austin History Center
810 Guadalupe
512/974-7480
library.austintexas.gov/ahc/about-us

Best New Place To Get Your Om On

Exuding a more personal vibe than Austin's meatmarket gyms or larger yoga studios, Bodhi Yoga offers many forms of the art, including classical hatha, Iyengar, ashtanga yoga, and "hot" or Bikram yoga, where the rooms are turned up more over 100 degrees. The beautiful new studio in West Campus boasts high ceilings, wood floors, mini waterfalls, light-drenched classrooms, and a friendly counterperson to greet you as you walk in. And, after the seriously devoted Bikram yogis offer insight into the therapeutic effects of this weird "overheating" thing they do, you'll have good reason to check out the facility's sparkling clean bathrooms and showers.

Bodhi Yoga
2905 San Gabriel
512/478-2909
www.bodhiyoga.com

Best New Yoga Studio For Regular Folks Who Eat Barbecue And Drink Shiner Bock

In a new, unassuming studio off of South Lamar reside two earthy yoginis, Nina and Kelly, who howl at the moon with the rest of us. Sure, their yoga classes have their share of bona fides and the lessons are the real deal, but there's no mystical chanting or holier-than-thou esoterica; they welcome sinners like us, who occasionally fall from grace - i.e, you don't need a tight body or to be a pretzel to get those inner-peace goodies. Where else but South Austin?

Yoga for Normals
2919 Manchaca
512/708-1661
www.yogafornormals.com

Best Nighttime Drive

At the junction of 2222 & Loop 1, noise and light pollution surge in a rush of convenience stores, video rental places, and hair salons. Take a turn onto 2222 West, and all that fades away as blackness swirls in to drape the night. It's too bad that it takes a road through the Texas Hill Country for us to be able to fully enjoy it so easily, conveniently, and safely at night, but it's one of the sexiest roads we have. Full of curves and hairpin turns, 2222 is exciting to cruise. The threat of falling rock is clearly identified by little signs lining the road, just so you know.

Best Parks Patron

Lady Bird Johnson was awarded the Theodore Roosevelt National Park Medal of Honor by the National Parks Foundation for her work in preserving open spaces and parklands across the country. Announced just before the former first lady's 88th birthday last December at the LBJ Library, the award has been presented only once before, to Laurence Rockefeller in 1995. The award was created to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to conservation efforts. Former First Lady Johnson was given the medal for her contributions to preserving the national parks, as well as her efforts through the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to bring environmental causes to the center stage.

Lady Bird Johnson
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
4801 La Crosse
www.wildflower.org

Best Place To Pong

When the summer heat's in full swing, nothing beats indoor sports. Rick Mueller has maintained a USATT sanctioned club in Austin for more than five years with the help of some dedicated players. Currently housed in Uncle Bob's Storage on 183 and North Lamar, the club is open on Tuesday and Thursday from 6pm to midnight, Saturday, 1-6pm and Sunday, 2-6pm. On Sundays you can participate in the club's round robin tournament. Dues are $40 a month or $5 a day.

Austin Table Tennis Club
8956 Research Blvd
www.austintabletennis.com

Best Place To Pretend Your Car's A Roller Coaster

Who doesn't love the thrill of one's car plunging down a steep hill and then shooting up again? We found one particular "hill" that's still tame enough for the coaster-phobic. Such is the case with the large dip in northwest Austin, on the quietly residential Hart Lane. Surrounded by middle-class homes, the straight and smooth lane makes it a worry-free place to get off the brakes. The road is also a favorite with the local Anderson High seniors, and the hill has been the victim of a few spray-painting pranks that can be seen with permanent clarity as the g-forces flip your stomach.

Best Reason to Hoof and Hoop It Up

Mooove your rump roast, Longhorns, this is a cattle call for basketball, 'cause the Clark Field courts are back at UT, basking in the shade of a new cow pen (dormitory) to the east (which stands on Clark's old site), and a parking garage just across the cattleguard to the west. Back from the warehouse are those same ugly backboards and tight rims, same as they ever were, as well as that nice, grippy outdoor tennis court surfacing. Hoof, we mean, hoop it up, Longhorns!

Clark Field
Waller Creek at 21st

Best Way To Beat The Heat

Austinites have more reason to get nekkid on a regular basis: Not only do we need a way to deal with the oppressive heat of summer, we are also a damn fine-looking bunch. It's not like City Council is going to shrug their shoulders and declare the town clothing-optional anytime soon, but we do have some recourse: the Hill Country Nudists. This naturist society keeps a pretty low profile, not inflicting themselves on the general public too often (save their appearance at last year's Mr. Sinus Theatre 3000 screening of Doris Wishman's Nudes on the Moon). So if you'd like to join their fray, you need to seek them out - look for one of their periodic informational meetings held at the Austin History Center, or call to see what they're up to next.

Best Young, Upwardly Mobile Bicycle Shop

Roosting atop one of the most oddly placed shopping centers in town (bordering the Davenport Ranch and Austin Country Club), Cycle 360 Bicycles is a breath of fresh air and maybe not quite what you'd expect considering the high-end real estate of its surroundings. Prices are relatively inexpensive (surprise!), and customers can select from more than 250 models, built on the floor. The staff is ready to assist with the properly sized frames, tires, helmets, clothes, all personally fitted for your own tour de hill country. And yes, there is a framed tribute to gear-guru Lance.

Cycle 360 Bicycles
3801 Capital of Texas Hwy. N., Ste. G200
512/306-8778
www.cycle360.com

Safest North/South Bike Route

From 56th Street in the north to Cesar Chávez downtown, ours is a delicious, car-free jaunt on Duval/San Jacinto when compared to the relatively clogged bike-hostile arteries of Guadalupe and Red River. Through historic Hyde Park, down the gullet of the university, and ending at the Four Seasons, we're ready to party on Sixth Street or enjoy the hike-and-bike trail around the river. Shed the car and shed some pounds! Free parking!

 
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