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2003ReadersOutdoors & Recreation

Best Basketball Court
Gregory Gym

photo by Jana Birchum

How far we've come since the old dungeon days when we half expected to find the dragon Smaug behind one of the dark, mysterious doors. Since its total reconstruction in 1997, Gregory has left its dingy, labyrinthine past in the dust and ushered in a new, golden era of sport. They come in all shapes, sizes, sexes, and colors to hoop, spike, and bang the racquetball against the wall. And it's not even dark anymore!

Gregory Gym, UT campus, Speedway & 21st, 512/471-6370, www.utrecsports.org/facilities/locations/gre.php

Best Bike Ride
The Trail at Lady Bird Lake

Free from the harassment and terror of autos, a ride on the bucolic trail is more likely to provide distraction in the form of black swans, nosy ducks, giggly babies in strollers, and panting pups. All of Austin gets here sooner or later, partaking of the treasure made even better by the water stations courtesy of Run Tex at the MoPac and First Street bridges.

The Trail at Lady Bird Lake, The Trail Foundation, PO Box 5195, 512/733-3989, www.thetrailfoundation.org

Best Bowling Alley
Dart Bowl

photo by Jana Birchum

Although the original Dart Bowl on Burnet Road became a furniture store in the mid-Nineties, the Dart’s superlative legacy continues in the former Capitol Bowl on Grover. The neighborly 32-lane alley is a far cry from Reno’s National Bowling Stadium, but you’ll never get enchiladas, fresh-cut fries, or homemade toast this good in Nevada.

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

Best Day Hike
Barton Creek Greenbelt

It'll take you from Barton Springs to the Barton Creek Mall, so pick your favorite post-hike activity (a swim or a movie?), and you'll know at which end to begin. Bring a friend for some meandering conversation, or just let yourself zone out – either way you'll get some exercise without really trying, and you'll manage to get somewhere without really having to go anywhere.

Barton Creek Greenbelt, Zilker Park to Lost Creek, 512/974-6700, www.ci.austin.tx.us/parks/greenbelts.htm

Twin Falls, and off MoPac, south of Loop 360, north of U.S. 290, 512/974-6700

Best Day Trip
TIE: Fredericksburg, Enchanted Rock

After hiking up the gentle but breathtaking mound of Enchanted Rock, nothing seems nicer than a relaxing afternoon in a biergarten or a refreshing peach ice-cream cone in downtown Fredericksburg. Celebrating Texas' German culture, this small tourist town offers quaint shopping and plenty of Wiener schnitzel for the whole family. Check out the Japanese garden, too.

Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce, 106 N. Adams, Fredericksburg, 830/997-6523, www.fredericksburg-texas.com

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

Best Dog Walk
Town Lake Hike & Bike Trail

photo by Jana Birchum

There's no butt-sniffing like Town Lake butt-sniffing like no business at all! If you thought the hike-and-bike trail was a meet market for humans, just check out the intimate canine behavior going on down at the favored hiking loop. Just please remember: Scoop that poop and no peeing on SRV's leg, eh?

The Trail at Lady Bird Lake, The Trail Foundation, PO Box 5195, 512/733-3989, www.thetrailfoundation.org

Best Gear/Sporting Goods
Academy

Oh Lord, it's like Target for jocks. You go in swearing you're going to buy one package of tennis socks and get out, and then ... how do they do it? Do they play hypnotic buy-lots-of-stuff subliminal music? Before you know it, you have your three pairs of Adidas soccer slides, sporting goods for the entire family including children you don't have yet, and enough camping equipment to stay gone for two months even though you're really a hotel sort. Yep, that's the effect of Academy. And we'd like to thank the Academy for that.

Academy, 7513 N. I-35, 512/407-6310, www.academy.com

Best Gym/Fitness Facility
Gold's Gym

Does a gym really need to have local flavor if it is responsible for keeping so many locals in shape? Sporting more treadmills and stair-steppers than any other gym in Austin, Gold's Gym is the place to work out on a time crunch. Gold's also offers aerobics, Pilates, and kickboxing classes to fit any schedule. Meatheads and casual joggers sweat together at Austin's best gym.

Gold's Gym, Various locations, 512/646-4653, www.goldsgym.com

Best Local Athlete
Lance Armstrong

What, exactly, is there left to say about the man who conquered the Tour de France five times straight? That he'll do it again next year? Mais, oui – but as much as he stands out as a heroic example of athletic prowess, excruciating dedication, and courage, Monsieur Armstrong has become a much greater "Best of Austin," donating his time, money, and endless energies to making the city a better place and to building the future of medical research. While you're sitting here reading, he's out there training, which is why the others will be playing catch-up again in No. 6.

Lance Armstrong, Lance Armstrong Foundation, 2201 E. Sixth, www.lancearmstrong.com

Best Local Team
UT Longhorns

photo by Jana Birchum

Well, duh. Whadidya think? The Aggies? Oh, sorry, we know better than to risk a good horn-goring by even suggesting such a thing. While the occasional year has lead our readers to glorify this hockey team or that minor-league ball club, when you get right down to it, this town bleeds thick, rich burnt-orange. Our readers are hooked.

University of Texas Department of Athletics, 326 Bellmont Hall, 512/471-4602, www.texassports.com

Best Park
Zilker Park

It may not be hard for the readers to pick this prince of public spaces, but where to begin to sing his praises? At the acres of welcoming green expanse, under the live oaks like shadowing empresses, in the garden of flowering delights? Or maybe the fields that host everything from soccer tournaments to balloon launches, from family reunions to long, romantic walks, from holiday magic to magical music festivals. Not to forget the grand public spaces, like the Hillside Theatre that is home to Shakespeare and Runyon, or the kiddie train that winds its way through the greenscape like the remembered road to grandma's house. The park's most precious jewel, of course, is the city's beating heart – Barton Springs, the ever-renewing waters that hold our best, highest promise. As long as we can preserve these waters, the dreams of the city remain alive, unto the generations. Forever.

Zilker Park, 2100 Barton Springs Rd., 512/974-6700, www.austintexas.gov

Best Participatory Sport
Disc Golf

Ah, witness the tanned and shirtless boys hurling the mighty disc in the park. Sweat beads up on their bald heads, their heaving shoulders. Oh, see the disc fly – soaring, hovering, sputtering to a halt. Huh, what did the disc land in? That is dog poop. Nobody touch the disc, OK? It's cool – we'll get another disc. Here, smoke this while you wait. The sun threads between the distant trees, and a deep understanding settles within us all: Disc golf rules, dude.

Austin PARD, 200 S. Lamar, 512/974-6700, www.austintexas.gov/parks

Best Public Golf Course
Lions Municipal Golf Course

"Old Muni" still has her teeth! And our readers love her. Named for the civic organization that founded her back in 1928, this municipal West Austin gem has had her turf spiked by two of the great Bens in golf history – Hogan and Crenshaw. Wouldn't you like to join their ranks and smack a few out on her ample greens? We bet Tiger would ...

Lions Municipal Golf Course, 2901 Enfield, 512/477-6963, www.cityofaustin.org/parks/lions.htm

Best Public Sports Venue
TIE: Dell Diamond, Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium

Texans like their sports year-round, as evidenced by this split of loyalties between the orb and the pigskin. Dell Diamond is, of course, home to our local legends the Round Rock Express, who keep Austin's summers sweltering with some hot Texas League baseball, and DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium is the autumn locus for all things orange, long, and horned 'round these parts.

Dell Diamond, 3400 E. Palm Valley Blvd., Round Rock, 512/255-2255, roundrock.express.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t102

Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, 2100 San Jacinto, 512/471-3050, www.texassports.com

Best Skating Rink
Playland Skate Center

It would be enough if Playland simply boasted the full-on roller-skating experience – neon lights, groovy music, a glittering disco ball (shaped like a skate!), and the gratifying sound of wheels on wood. But there’s so much more: Playland hosts regular rock-outs like roller derby, adult-skate nights, and birthday parties for young and old. Still not convinced? Two words: fog machine.

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

Best Spectator Sport
High School and Longhorn Football

Are you ready for some football? Some Texas Schoolboy Football, y'all? How about those rivalries? Reagan vs. LBJ! Austin vs. Westlake! Crockett vs. Bowie! Or how about some hot Longhorn action? That our "Best of Austin" issue conveniently comes out at the dawn of pigskin season is purely a coincidence, really. But you can be sure we'll see you out Friday nights, under the lights … or in a sea of orange come Saturday mornings.

University of Texas Football, 2012 Robert Dedman, 512/471-3050, www.texassports.com

AISD Athletic Department, 3200 Jones, 512/414-1050, www.austin.isd.tenet.edu/k12/sports/index.php

Best Swimming Hole
Barton Springs Pool

The springs survived yet another crisis this year, partly manufactured by headline writers but very real in another sense – without the community's vigilance, the Jewel of the City still lies in harm's way. In the valley of the shadow of death from a thousand parking lots, the springs continue to gush forth their fulfilled promise of eternal summer, unending youth, the promethean energies of the earth. Don't forget to swim in the Best Swimmin' Hole, while repeating this ancient mantra: You'll never miss your water, 'til your springs run dry.

Barton Springs Pool, 2201 Barton Springs Rd., 512/867-3080, www.austintexas.gov/department/barton-springs-pool

Best Tennis Court
South Austin Tennis Center

Game, set, match! Whether you're looking for a place to practice those overheads, improve your backhand, meet some new rallying partners, or just hit the ball around with a few buddies, this municipal tennis court is the place to be. With 10 outdoor courts to choose from – and they even accept reservations (two days in advance) – there will be no more driving around searching for just the right tennis spot.

South Austin Tennis Center, 1000 Cumberland, 512/442-1466, www.rippnertennis.com

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