Outdoors & Recreation
2004 Readers Poll
2004 Critics Picks
Best Austin Slacker Pastime

We Austinites are a laid-back bunch. We like beer, spicy food, exercise, open-toed shoes, and, most of all, sleep. Luckily our city has a plethora of secret napping nooks, and these winners are our favorite three. They're generally quiet (though sometimes you do encounter rogue ducks, drunk ruffians, or screaming children), and they provide both shade and sun, depending on your personal log-sawing preference. Beginning with the hill (you know which one) at Barton Springs: Snoozing under those incredible oak trees is only one of the zillions of reasons to love that pool, but it's definitely among the top five. Moving on to the Greenbelt: It's free, quieter than the Springs, and the trickling water noises work better than counting sheep. Finally, sometimes during a run, a person gets weary, and Stevie Ray offers a fantastic destination to stop and rest after frolicking around the hike and bike trail. Before you know it, after taking advantage of all these covert napping opportunities, you'll find yourself getting the recommended eight hours and loving life a little more for it.

Barton Springs Pool
2131 William Barton Dr.

Barton Creek Greenbelt
Zilker Park to Lost Creek

Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake

Best Cat House

The phrase "cat house" conjures a smorgasbord of titillating images, but the scene we envision is the gaping maw of an African lion a mere three feet from where we stand. Or the good-natured tousling of a pair of Siberian tiger siblings and the ground-jarring thud they make as they body slam each other to the ground. Such are the up-close and astonishing sights at the big cat exhibits at Austin's very own rescue and rehabilitation zoo. The bad news is that there is an ever-growing need to rescue lions and tigers from illegal owners, cruel circuses, and the like; the good news is the zoo has enlarged and added to its cat habitats allowing even more close encounters of the feline kind.

Austin Zoo
10808 Rawhide Trl.

Best Doggy Hookup

Forget about humans, it's all about the dogs at this leash-free park located at the western start of Town Lake. The coves on this little island are the best places for doggies to sniff and be sniffed without having to worry about what's yanking their collar or pesky people getting in their way. Not to mention that the area is gorgeous and the perfect setting for a little canine romance. So take Spike for a hike, swim, or jog through this lovely little pup paradise. Just watch your step and stay out of the way!

Red Bud Isle
3401 Red Bud Trail

Best Drunken Bar Game (Where One Is Allowed to Throw Sharp Things)

Meeting people in bars is almost always shady. Conversations inspired by alcohol and cigs rarely get past the tedious "What do you do, where are you from, are you allergic to cat hair," etc. The beauty of darts is that it offers an "out." Playing darts can shift the glaring focus from those first uncomfortable interactions, or simply create a diversion should you find yourself amidst a group you don't care for. Commonplace within the hidden depths of pubs and dive bars, dartboards seem to be experiencing a renaissance, popping up all over Austin. Our faves are at the Crown & Anchor, the Showdown, the Gingerman, and the Dog & Duck Pub. Free entertainment is the best kind, so if you have a dead eye for bull's-eyes or are playing with people who like to bet (or, better yet, are more drunk than you), you won't even have to buy your own beer. Plus, if you're a girl and some nasty dude is being a jackass, you can just claim to have really bad aim. Just some pleasant dart spots.

Crown & Anchor Pub
2911 San Jacinto

Best Enduring Use of Expensive Downtown Property

The only virgin property left this close to 78701, Butler Pitch & Putt is a cherished landmark, a pocket of nature in the shadow of new skyscrapers, restaurants, and residences. As every other property development opportunity in central Austin is pounced upon, Butler steadfastly remains because (thank you, God) the city designated it as park land. Butler is an enigma: not putt putt, not golf, but also bigger than a normal pitch & putt. It transcends labels, becoming a simple little haven of short grass, huge trees, and contemplative ball-whacking (contemplative, as in, the kind of contemplative that comes with consuming a cooler of beer; yes, though it is park land, you can still bring in beer ... again, thank you, God). The lush greens lining the course provide plenty of shade, even during sweltering summer heat, and if you get a hole-in-one (witnessed by at least one other person), you join the esteemed Butler Wall of Fame. Obviously, good people, such a matchless place of honor is fodder for the résumé.

Butler Pitch & Putt
201 Lee Barton

Best Excuse Not to Outlaw Speedos

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun Jordan knows how to take even the most aquaphobic landlubber and transform that person into Flipper. With the winning skill combo of patience, encouragement, and humor, Jordan and his champion staff work with swimmers of all ages and levels, from adult masters to junior tadpoles. Swim-ply marvelous!

Jordan Aquatics

Best Guerilla Show Spot

We ain't sayin' how we know about it. We ain't sayin' why we know about it. And we ain't sayin' anything more about it. We're just sayin'... So if you find yourself in close proximity to this Town Lake landmark and hear the fresh, yet familiar sounds of teenage kicks, well, just remember you heard it here first. Unless you didn't, which definitely means you are much, much cooler than we are, and probably means you are much, much younger than we are. We're just sayin'...

Town Lake

Best Kick in the Grass

Emma Goldman is credited with saying, "If it doesn't include soccer, I don't want any part of your revolution." Hold back that quip about lawlessness and organized sports: Anarchism and soccer have a richly intertwined past. Four years ago a cadre of local activists emerged from smoke-filled basements and played a game of soccer. They have been playing every Sunday ever since. Their goals are to have fun, stretch their legs, and forget, for a moment, the looming spectre of global domination. As in any anarchist collective, hierarchical structures are dismantled: No showboating, and keep the testosterone at bay. And egalitarianism reigns: Make sure everyone gets the ball. Outside of those two arch edicts, anything goes. Feel free to pop into MonkeyWrench Books, your friendly neighborhood anarchist bookstore, to find out the where and when.

photo by Jana Birchum

Best Kite Extravaganza

It’s a bird, it’s a plane ... no, it’s a giant flying cat ... kite. Just one example of something you might have heard in passing at this year’s 76th annual Zilker Park Kite Festival. Each year, in early March, the air and trees of Zilker fill with kites of all shapes and colors at this fun-filled annual fest. There are workshops for kids of all ages to build their own kites, as well as kite stunts and competitions awarding titles for smallest, largest, and most unusual kite. Brought to you by the Exchange Club of Austin, the event donates all proceeds to charities dedicated to helping local children in crisis. It’s a day sure to make you sing, “Let’s go fly a kite.”

ABC Kite Fest
Zilker Park, 2100 Barton Springs Rd.

Exchange Club
PO Box 684921

Best Neighborhood to Make Out In

Gone are the days of kissing at Makeout Point, but sometimes you need to express your love... right now. Pick a neighborhood, any neighborhood. Our favorite is one with few streetlights, lots of windy roads and dead ends, and neighbors who stay to themselves. Beverly Hills doesn't put these virtues on the home buying asset sheet but we've found them to come in handy on nuerous occasions. ****is this too dirty**** Location: Next to Highland Park elementary where 2222 goes, at that point where 2222 turns into a windy road (to the right) or you can go up this hill into a neighborhood.

Best Open House

This past March marked the fifth year that thousands of visitors flocked to the University of Texas at Austin for what is touted as "The Biggest Open House in Texas," and it is. The event is an opportunity for the public, especially school children, grades K-12, to explore everything burnt orange. There are numerous hands-on activities, student performances, research, and demonstrations presented by colleges throughout the university. Last year boasted an ROTC climbing wall, an exhibition in photographs from the Civil Rights Movement, and even a chance to march with the famous Longhorn Band. Oh, did we mention the entire day is free?

405 W. 25th, 471-7753

Best Place to Experience the River Wild

Peering into the primitive majesty of the woods surrounding Twin Falls may not reveal a crazed Kevin Bacon brandishing a handgun, but may indeed create enough of a "natural" distraction to make you lose your grip on the inadequate stick or slippery rock you were relying upon for support and balance. Thus begins a spiraling descent into the watery vortex of the falls. As you surface with your comrades, you'll find yourself laughing not only at the near-fatal rapids you've just survived, but also at the fact that you aren't alone. Several floating areas provide the perfect view to observe other hapless Twin Falls worshipers, undoubtedly next in line to fall victim to the waters' unforgiving rocky, wet vacuum. If it's a sunny day, grab a cooler and some floaties, but leave your hip replacement at home; Twin Falls promises to be more entertaining than watching Meryl Streep swim.

Barton Creek Greenbelt
Twin Falls, and off MoPac, south of Loop 360, north of U.S. 290, 512/974-6700
Zilker Park to Lost Creek, 512/974-6700

Best Place to Learn Pilates

What is it? A sport? No. An activity? Well, more like moving yoga. It's exercise, OK? Pilates has hit the U.S. and already has kind of a bored-housewife aura to it (and Mecca attracts more than its share of the golf-visor crowd). It's not a pursuit for the budget-crunched, either. But Mecca's Pilates staff makes it easy to get past all that. They work with all kinds of people who need to rehabilitate themselves, both in body and mind.

Mecca Gym and Spa
524 N. Lamar

Best Place to Pretend You Are Barry Bonds

Softball in a sandlot is fun, but softball under the big lights? It's an entirely different ballgame. The pressure is on. No excuses. Put up or shut up. From the beautiful fields to the trained umpire staff and an actual, working scoreboard, this is the real deal. For just a second, with your ball soaring over the fence, you can forget about your day job and pretend you are playing in the bigs. Even if just for a second.

Monroe E. "Lefty" Krieg Softball and Athletic Complex
515 S. Pleasant Valley

Best Place to Walk Off the Pain

"It is solved by walking," St. Augustine said. While not much is known about how labyrinths figured into the times of antiquity, we do know this: Like most other forms of mysticism, the use of labyrinths was quashed in "enlightened" times. Yet the forms of labyrinths remained behind, on hilltops, on tabletops, in churches, in gardens. And the postmodern world seems to need them now more than ever. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Lauren Artress, an Episcopal priest in San Francisco, interest in labyrinths in the U.S. has been on the rise over the last 10 years. In fact, we have over 25 public labyrinths to walk here in the Austin area. At least one is the community project of an Eagle Scout! Most are on church campuses, but one is in place at the Natural Gardener, another at Clear Spring Studio, and another at Seton Southwest Hospital. Others are installed on private property at retreat centers, such as the Labyrinth of the Lake in Canyon Lake and Red Corral Ranch in Wimberley. Remember, a labyrinth is not a maze; you can't get lost, no matter what, and no particular spiritual affiliation is required. Walking the labyrinth allows you to explore a relationship with the Divine, and a chance to figure things out.

The Natural Gardener
8648 Old Bee Caves Rd.

Seton Southwest Hospital
7900 FM 1826 (Camp Ben McCollough Rd.)

Best Reason for a Recluse to Die and Give the County Her Land

Knowing there isn't a single highway nearby to ruin our reverie, a trip to Brightleaf is the best reason to gussy up the stick pony and tear through the underbrush in search of the Nazis and their stolen musem artifacts. When Georgia Lucas bought her first tract of this stretch of land near 2222 in the 1940s, there were no other houses around. To insure that things stayed that way, she slowly aquired 33 more tracts of land to bring the total to 217 acres. Upon her death, the county inherited the land to create a nature preserve. Surrounded on all sides by neighborhoods, Brightleaf remains a bastion of natural beauty...and the best place to recreate the Ewok dance party. Travis County 854 7275 1010 Lavaca i left a message here. at one point this place was by appointment only. i don't know if it still is. Most parks are so small that just as you were getting into your best Indiana Jones mode and on the verge of finding the Nazi encampment with all the stolen museum artifacts, when rudely you find yourself next to a highway.

Bright Leaf
Between MoPac and Highway 360, bordered by 2222 and Crestway Drive

Best Team of Arborists

Austin Tree Specialist is an excellent choice when it's time to prune an unruly cedar elm or diagnose an ailing live oak. This team of trained experts can be trusted with the delicate task of chainsaw surgery and earth-friendly tree cures. Pat Wentworth is the proud owner of Austin Tree Specialist and a former president of the Texas Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture.

Austin Tree Specialists
P.O. Box 50061

Best Trainer With a Heart and Smarts

For the uninitiated and unfit, getting a trainer is always a scary prospect. Not so with Marc Frazier. A patient, kind, and certified massage therapist, Marc has a professional's understanding of that complex network of structural systems that operates underneath your skin – and he wants you to get it, too. The muscles you'll develop working with Frazier will go a lot deeper than the pecs and delts that elicit the oohs and aahs. With better posture, your body will run more efficiently. Just think: gain without the pain.

Hyde Park Gym, 4125 Guadalupe, 206-0773

Best Urban Wilds

Still untapped and untrammelled; close to town, must make appt to visit. Interesting story of woman who owned the land, left it to the state w/ specific instructions that it never be developed. Only low impact activities allowed by visitors.

Bright Leaf
Between MoPac and Highway 360, bordered by 2222 and Crestway Drive

Best Water Boys

The RunTex folks aim to satisfy all your fitness needs, right down to the last drop. Sweaty hoofers on the Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail can help themselves to free cold water and sports drinks from the dozens of 10-gallon barrels that RunTex provides at two locations. There's the familiar flatbed truck stand on the north end of the MoPac pedestrian bridge, and there's the smaller setup on the south shore next to the South First bridge. Both thirst-quenching stations foster a communal spirit among trail users, acting as a sort of outdoor equivalent of the office cooler.

2201 Lake Austin Blvd., 512/477-9464
422 W. Riverside, 512/472-3254

Coolest Return to Form

Chaparral's decision to leave Northcross Mall back in the earlier days of this century sent icy shivers up the spines of neighbors, skating fans, and small-mall aficionados alike. That sad, sad day seemed to be a sure death spiral for this last standing remnant of Austin's human-sized malls. Well, lace up those boots and find your blades' sweet spots, Sonia Henie, 'cause the Chap's back, and it's time to go turn some crazy eights and show the new kids what a lutz jump's really supposed to look like. They'll be camel spinnin' in no time!

Chaparral Ice
2525 W. Anderson

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