Outdoors & Recreation
2005 Readers Poll
2005 Critics Picks

John Carrico

Best Austinite-to-Austinite Gift

Need to reintroduce the jaded to the twin pools of liquid ecstasy, Barton Springs and Deep Eddy? Here's the perfect gift: a 40-aquatic-adventures-for-$32 swimming pass that is the perfect way to re-educate any dehydrated spirit about why Austin is the Best. Place. Ever. Pick up these fabulous punch cards at either pool during open hours and distribute liberally!

City of Austin Aquatics
400 Deep Eddy Ave.

Best Drum Circle

On top of the hill at Barton Springs, where the girls tan topless and a vaguely familiar smell lingers in the thick, hot air, the drummers beat a mean bongo. There are many places in town where one might catch an impromptu drum circle, but no backwoods clearing or dirty streetcorner can provide the ambience that makes the low-key (but generally on-key) musical performances at the springs so special. The circles are predominately male with the occasional sarong-clad female, but all are welcome to join the jam.

Barton Springs Pool
2131 William Barton Dr.

David Brendan Hall

Best Free Blues

If your motto is "If it's for free, it's for me," then you probably went to at least one of KGSR's Blues on the Green summer concerts. From June through August, the radio station sponsors free shows at Zilker Park every other Wednesday. Fans of blues and free things converge at the park's Rock Island, unfold the lawn chairs and blankets, enjoy the music, and watch the sky go from blue to purple to black. This year, the series included Eric Johnson, Marcia Ball, Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins, and more. The series will be back again next summer.

Zilker Park
2100 Barton Springs Rd.

Best Gateway to the Great Outdoors

Every year in early autumn, the headquarters of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department is turned into the Texas Parks & Wildlife Expo, an outdoor interactive showcase of the outdoor experience possibilities at our state parks and wilderness areas. The 14-year-old two-day event offers something that can't be found in a superstore at the mall. Some of the hands-on demos include fishing, aquatic life, camping, sporting dogs, birds of prey, archeology, and wildlife conservation and management. Activities include rock-climbing, kayaking, mountain-biking, fishing and shooting rifles, bow & arrows, clay targets, and more, all taught by experts. There are crafts and games for little kids and living history scenarios, including pioneer life and Buffalo Soldiers. Old-fashioned family entertainment, once a year and all for free!

Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
4200 Smith School Rd.

Best Local Exotic Bird Colony

Maybe you don't like non-native species; so move to Germany. In the meantime, in Austin there's a thriving colony of aliens right smack (almost) in the heart of American athletics, and by this we mean there are parakeets living right next to the Krieg sports field. These feisty green birds with their nests amid the floodlights and electrical wiring are technically Monk Parakeets and have been in Austin for roughly 30 years. The local population was greatly augmented, we hear, when one Austinite released more than 15 birds in the early Nineties.

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

Best Mountain Biking Trails

Walnut Creek Metro Park boasts plenty of ample amenities (swimming pool, softball and soccer fields, picnic facilities, playground, volleyball, basketball, and restrooms), but the trail system is what sets it apart. Actually two trails, both with side trails that when added together cover nearly 15 miles over much of the park's 294 acres, the system keeps even the crankiest bike crank pumping. The trails closer to the parking lot are a fine warm-up before hitting the much more technical routes on the south side of the creek. And somehow, even having to share single-track lanes with the occasional hiker or dog-walker doesn't distract from the bountiful beauty the trails afford.

Walnut Creek Park
12138 N. Lamar

John Carrico

John Carrico

Best Place to Film a Horror Movie

Decker Creek was dammed in the late Sixties to form Walter E. Long Lake. Acres of East Austin green space and this public lake are surrounded by barbed-wire fencing, preventing escaped convicts from the nearby Austin Jail from taking a little leafy refuge. The city of Austin Web site reports: "Walter E. Long Lake is currently used primarily to cool the generators at the Long Power Plant. In response to citizen complaints, investigators find an average of five pollution spills each year in Decker Creek; the most common spill type is sewage, followed by petroleum and sediment." Best place to film a horror flick, y'all. Get those cameras rolling.

Walter E. Long Lake
6614 Blue Bluff Rd.

Best Place to Learn Tree Species

Admittedly, distinguishing tree species is a pastime of the elderly. But that's no excuse: You need to know your trees, slacker, and Father Time ain't waitin'. Fortunately for you, the Capitol Grounds, with their 27 different varieties of trees, can clear up any identification confusion. It's safe to say that you will be impressing your friends when you can finally distinguish between a Chinese Arborvitae and an Alianthus. Just pop on into either the Capitol building's information desk or the Capitol Visitor's Center next door for a "trail map" of the trees and their locales, and get cracking.

Capitol Grounds
1100 Congress

John Carrico

Best Scenic Drive

If we’re going to be stuck in traffic for a few hours, we’d rather be stuck on Loop 360 than any other road. Circling around town, the road runs through white cliffs, awe-inspiring hills and valleys, and over Lake Austin on the landmark Pennybacker Bridge. It may be just on the edge of the city, but after taking the loop, we feel like we’ve been on a vacation. Be sure to pack a camera to catch an unforgettable sunset.

Loop 360, from Research Blvd. to Bee Caves Road

Best Secular Shrine

Favorite Son Lance Armstrong has gotten plenty of local kudos (and why not?), but the folks at 24-Hour Fitness (Hancock Center) have spared no expense or emotion in establishing the sanctuary of the First Church of Lance, Cyclist. There’s an enormous LiveStrong bracelet over the reception desk; a Lance Honor Wall (from baby pictures to anatomical stats to autographed tour bike); action photos and banners on every available pole (one apostate bodybuilder sacrilegiously dislodged a banner, the better to see his pecs in action – is nothing sacred?); even holy scriptures from the Gospel of the Lance (“What am I on? I’m on my butt on a bike six hours a day!”); and a sacred plexiglas-front locker in each locker room (complete with preserved bodily relics like the Lance’s cycling shoes and UT sweatshirts). Rome may have St. Peter’s, but we’ve got Lance! And Sheryl! Hallelujah!

24-Hour Fitness
1000 E. 41st

John Carrico

Best Soccer Shop With the Cutest Employees

Soccer USA on South Lamar is just about the best place in town to get your fútbol fix of socks, shorts, cleats, and some serious shin guards. It's a one-stop shop for all your soccer needs, including advance tickets to local and touring games and local team merch and branded gear. They even have everything you need to sign up for one of the many recreational teams in the city. But they've also got a ridiculously good-looking staff. So even if you don't particularly need anything soccer-related, it's worth the trip to find a dreamy clerk and strike up a conversation about World Cup 2006; they’re very knowledgeable.

221 S Lamar, 320-8447

Best Yoga Teacher in a Ganesh-less Environment

The first time you attend one of Cary Choate's classes, you'll probably leave cursing his name and nursing your quivering abs. Those bold enough to return risk developing a cultish attachment to his carefully designed, hurt-so-good sequences. The phrase "gym yoga" tends to be an insult in yoga circles (and often for good reason), but Cary never allows the focus on the physical to overshadow the attention to pace and breath that makes yoga yoga. Even in the dreaded alligator pose.

24-Hour Fitness
1000 E. 41st

Gold's Gym
Various locations

UT Rec Sports
1 University Station D7500

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