Outdoors & Recreation
2004 Readers Poll
2004 Critics Picks
Best Outdoor Event

Hosting more than 100 bands deep in Zilker Park, during one September weekend, the Austin City Limits Music Festival is a fledgling Austin tradition that we obviously all hope to cultivate. Even though 2004 is only its third year, the ACL Festival has already gained an esteemed reputation in the industry, causing the biggest names in music to line up to be part of it. In addition, the tourism it brings serves as a great boost to our city’s economy. It’s the best bargain of the year, with one reasonable price bringing you three days of artistic genius.

Austin City Limits Music Festival

Best Sport

The noble sport of Roller Derby actually dates back to 1935 and has suffered its share of ups and downs. Leave it to Austinites to not let this odd distaff relic fade away. Our town keeps the mean spirit of Roller Derby alive, and puts a new spin on the old sport. In wild flashes of fishnets and wheels, two local leagues take to the track and mow opponents down. A symphony of breaking bones and chipping teeth, the daring hellions of the rink keep audiences thirsty for wet blood and coming back for more ... gore! And of course, the sport is not without its share of controversy and catfights. The two different leagues (banked track, flat track) are separated by politics and hard feelings. So, we're sorry to say, don't look forward to a death match anytime soon.

TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls (at their new location): Texas Thunderdome, 619 Tillery, 428-4475; Texas Rollergirls: Playland Skate Center, 8822 McCann, 452-1901

Best Basketball Court

Ahh, Westenfield Park basketball court, where there’s always a pickup game going on, and it’s almost always half-court, allowing twice the game-playing and, therefore, twice the fun – and guaranteeing no flashbacks to that time in fifth grade when you threw the ball in the wrong basket in front of everyone. Of course, you still might have to guard someone bigger than you, although we hear that Westenfield Park’s court is the most all-ages friendly in town.

West Enfield Neighborhood Park
2008 Enfield

Best Tennis Court

Attention Andy Roddick and Serena Williams wannabes: Caswell offers a variety of lessons and programs for all levels of play. As Texas' oldest operating tennis facility (built in 1946), these courts hold a lot of history beneath their nets. Step into their pro shop or smack a few on the Laykold, but avoid that tennis elbow at all costs – we hear it's naaaaaaaaaasty.

Caswell Tennis Center
2312 Shoal Creek Blvd.

Best Bowling Alley

The bowling's the best in town; it's true! There's the little blowy thing at every lane for your sweaty paws, the little dancing guy on the score screen that makes fun of you when you choke, and quite the shoe selection. But with $2 whiskey & Cokes, $3 grilled cheese & fries, and legendary enchiladas, the Dart Bowl Cafe & Bar is the coolest place in the joint, no diggity. So, gather all your friends to dine, drink, and bowl the night away – just be sure to call and check if it's league night. There's no sense in embarrassing yourself.

Best Pool Tables

Slick Willie’s has been an all-time favorite for felt fanatics here in Austin. The South Lamar location boasts a whopping 32 tables and caters to an all-ages crowd, while Burnet dominates with 35 tables for 18-and-up six-pocket fun. No matter what your age, you’ll be able to pick up a sweet game of eight ball. All locations flaunt happy hour drink specials and half-price pool all day until 7pm. If you love a mean game of stick & balls, come on and hang out, chalk up, and break the night away Slick Willie’s style.

Various locations, including 1509 S. Lamar, 707-7600

Best Gym/Fitness Facility

With locations all over town, this affordable workout facility features a friendly staff, abundant class options, and a variety of machines to allow for great workouts without any yuppie frills. In addition, the downtown location at Sixth and Congress caters conveniently to the disciplined among us who give up their lunch hours to battle the bulge. They validate your parking, and you can buy protein-laden food to feed your sore muscles. It's truly a full-service establishment.

Various locations, including 101 W. Sixth, 479-0044

Best Gear/Sporting Goods

Whatever ball it is you like to bounce, you can bet your jockstrap and/or sports bra they've got one at Academy. These sporting goods stalwarts bring their A-game when it comes to stocking their shelves with the finest quality and widest selection of goods at competitive prices.

Various locations, including 7513 N. I-35, 407-6310

Best Place for a Picnic

Austin has many superb picnic destinations, but with more than 350 acres of grass, shade, and gardens, Zilker Park has the best of these destinations concentrated in one location. Bring your kids to play on the playscape while you dine, or take your basket to the hills and cliffs overlooking Barton Springs. Wherever you choose to lay your picnic blanket, you’ll surely be satisfied with the ideal setting of Zilker.

Zilker Park
2100 Barton Springs Rd.

Best Community Garden

Among the biggest community gardens in the nation, with close to 250 cultivated plots, Sunshine Gardens helps support the Sustainable Food Center of Central Texas and provides a perfect place for people without yard space to flex their green thumbs. Prices are cheap, and planting space is plentiful. Gardeners work diligently and purposefully to maintain beautiful grounds and promote health all over the city with their hobby.

Sunshine Gardens
4814 Sunshine Dr.

David Brendan Hall

Best Swimming Hole

The water may be friggin' freezing, but Austin has once again voted the Springs its all-time favorite swimming hole. The loyalty is not surprising, really, for what other town has such a beautiful, chlorine-free spot right smack-dab in its heart? Or for that matter, as its heart? So come on, jump in – the water's fine. Heh, heh, heh.

Barton Springs Pool
2131 William Barton Dr.

Best Place to Skate

Welcome to an in-line skater's heaven. At 23 feet wide and 3.1 miles long, this paved paradise winds and heaves with inclines and declines ranging from the mellow to the intense. Remember, though, the loop is off-limits to joggers: This baby's made for wheels, and fast ones at that. Open seven days a week, sunrise to sunset.

4900 La Crosse

Best Bike Ride

Austin is an anomaly of a city. Yes, it has big buildings, nightlife, and the rush of traffic, but these concrete elements somehow seem at home within their lush, green setting. This contrast ensures that Austin’s Town Lake Hike & Bike Trail affords one of Austin’s many nonurban pleasures all within minutes' access to the bright lights/big city. On any given day, you can hop off the interstate and onto your bike for a spin around the lake. The sanded path is studded but not packed with runners, bikers, and walkers so as to create the warm glow of urban community wellness. On town Lake, between Pleasant Valley and Zilker Park.

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

Best Place to Get It On Outdoors

Stretching over several miles of Hill Country nestled deep in Southwest Austin, the Barton Creek Greenbelt offers randy couples a prime locale for lovemaking in the style of our animalistic ancestors. Private alcoves set back from the trail itself even allow for joyful ebullience and nudity. Just be sure to bring a blanket to protect your ... ummm ...

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

Best Day Trip – Wet

Back in the day, the ol' Florida Citrus Commission had a saying: "A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine!" We'd like to offer this Lone Star revision for 2004: "A summer without Schlitterbahn is like a summer in Hell!" The Texas summer – even one as mild and perfect as 2004's – is just unthinkable without watery respite. And whether slippery slides of screaming speed are your thing, or you prefer calmly coasting the cool current, Schlitterbahn – home of the nation's No. 1 water-ride innovator – is Central Texas' wettest destination. Cozily and compatibly parked along the banks of the Comal River in charming New Braunfels, less than an hour south of Austin (plus a South Padre location open since 2001 and a Galveston park opening soon), Schlitterbahn is not only Texas' theme park, she's nature's theme park as well.

381 E. Austin St., New Braunfels, 830/625-2351
33261 State Park Road 100, South Padre Island, 956/772-7873
2026 Lockheed, Galveston, 409/770-9283
14353 S. Padre Island Dr., Corpus Christi

Best Day Trip – Dry

After years of hearing the mysterious creaking and groaning of this enormous geological formation, the Tonkawa Indians believed the rock to harbor spirits and claimed to see ghost fires burning atop the ridge. While fire is closely monitored by park rangers nowadays, and the spooky noises have been chalked up to the decidedly unghostlike expansion and contraction of the rock itself due to the warmth of the sun and coolness of the night air, the majestic pink beauty of the park attracts rock climbers, bird-watchers, and picnickers alike.

Enchanted Rock
16710 RR 965

Best Camping

Only 30 miles to the west, Pace Bend is a popular spot for campers of all types. The steep cliffs overlooking Lake Travis attract the more adventurous, thrill-seeking types, therefore causing a lot of hooting and hollering as people fling themselves down a good 30-foot drop to the water below. For those who prefer a more serene outdoors experience, it would be prudent to camp on the easterly side of the park, where all it takes is a few quiet steps and a suit to enjoy a swim.

Pace Bend Park
2011 N. Pace Bend Rd. (RR 2322)

Best Place to People-Watch

Our beloved springs are not only a great place to swim, play, work, or take your precious Poochie, but also a great place to bask in the sheer number and variety of human eye candy at all hours, not only in weekend prime time. Barton Springs has its die-hard regulars, like the early-morning folks who go to jog or soak up the cooler weather, as well as the end-of-nighters who take advantage of free admission and a scene of unique camaraderie along the grassy knolls. This laid-back and happenin’ park is a natural wonder ... no wonder we locals voted it No. 1.

Barton Springs Pool
2131 William Barton Dr.

David Brendan Hall

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