Outdoors & Recreation
2009 Readers Poll
2009 Critics Picks
Best Annual Event

Forget prior years' dusty heat waves, and just admit already that ACL, with its incredible lineups (MIA, Foo Fighters, Oasis, Calexico), stunning midset sunsets, and exquisitely tuned Austin vibe beats Coachella and Glastonbury – its only real festival rivals – hands down. Drink water, rock out, repeat yearly.

Austin City Limits Music Festival
300 W 6th Ste. 2100
512/478-7211
www.aclfestival.com

Best Basketball Court

The game’s on the line halfway through football season in 2004. Vince Young takes a three-pointer. There’s a hard box out, knocking him to the ground, which leaves a split second to decide whether to help him up or run. The former is chosen and apologies are exchanged. The moral of the story? Be careful who you choose to guard. Only at UT’s world-class Gregory Gym can you rub elbows with greatness and always find a decent pickup game.

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

Best Bike Ride

Imagine how Lady Bird Lake might have turned out without Lady Bird. Originally a between-dam reservoir and cooling pond for the old Holly Street Power Plant, the lake sure wouldn't have been ringed with one of Texas' oldest urban hike and bike paths. And it sure wouldn't be the recreational destination that it is today, tamed back in the early Seventies by the then-named Town Lake Beautification Project (chaired by guess who?!) and maintained these days by the Trail Foundation. Each time you loop our beloved watermark on your two-wheeled steed, thank Austin's top first lady; she not only kept but made Austin beautiful.

Lady Bird Lake
512/974-6700
www.cityofaustin.org/parks

Trail Foundation
PO Box 5195
512/733-3989
www.townlaketrail.org

Best Bowling Alley

If you've never tried the enchiladas at the Dart Bowl Cafe, you simply haven't lived yet. They're a cheesy Tex-Mex treat of slathered-with-chili goodness – and they're a great way to start or end an evening of knocking pins. This Austin institution has 32 lanes and some of the best quarter vending machine trinkets in town (personally, we like the 50-cent bling dispenser). The staff is always friendly, and the price couldn't be more right. And, hold your hat, because Monday is Dollar Mania day, with games, shoes, nachos, and hot dogs going for a cool buck apiece after 9pm.

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

Best Day Trip - Wet

Drought be damned, Hamilton Pool perseveres. A winding trek through the Hill Country yields one of Central Texas' sunken treasures, a natural pool and preserve with a stunning waterfall and hiking trail. Though the weekends can get a bit hairy, its limestone-cut beauty and tranquility are worth the wait, giving credence to the pool's description as a "gods' footbath."

Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve
24300 Hamilton Pool Rd.
Dripping Springs
512/264-2740
parks.traviscountytx.gov

Best Day Trip – Dry

EEEEOOOOooUUuUAUUA! Is that the sweet sound of a land whale? Hardly. That's the creaking and groaning of Enchanted Rock. That other pink granite dome, the state Capitol, has nothing on this natural, massive geological formation. Ditch gramps and any nature haters at the plethora of antique, Texana shops and delightful gourmand stops that make up the main strip in Fredericksburg, and bring a picnic and good climbing shoes. You'll need 'em. When the park reaches capacity, it closes, so call ahead to plan your trip.

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

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

Best Fitness Classes

Tried all the "Best of Austin" Food & Drink winners? You'll want to stop by Yoga Yoga or 24 Hour Fitness to work it off, or, better yet, to get in fighting trim to start the tour. They're two reasons why Austin is the fittest city in the state. Cool off in the 24 Hour Fitness indoor pool, or burn off last night's overindulgence with an Ashtanga class at Yoga Yoga.

Yoga Yoga
1700 S. Lamar
512/358-1200
www.yogayoga.com

24-Hour Fitness
1000 E. 41st
512/458-2424
www.24hourfitness.com

Best Gear/Sporting Goods

There's no Lady Bird Lake without kayaks, no Mount Bonnell without boots, and no Barton Springs without swim trunks (Hippie Hollow, we hear, is another story). We love our outdoor activities around here, but we couldn't do it without our tie-for-the-win friends at REI, if you make the hike to the Arboretum or Downtown, and Whole Earth, the homegrown alternative with three locations around our urban jungle. (Enchanted) Rock on, Austin.

Whole Earth Provision Co.
1014 N. Lamar
512/476-1414
www.wholeearthprovision.com

REI
601 N. Lamar
512/482-3357
www.rei.com

(l-r): REI and Whole Earth Provision Co.   Jana Birchum, John Anderson

Best Golf

Since 1934 Austinites have been playing through on this 141-acre, 6,000-yard public golf course on the southern edge of the Tarrytown neighborhood. Sixty-seven thousand rounds of golf are played here every year, and the course was the first integrated golf course in the South. One of the oldest amateur tournaments, the Firecracker Open is still played there every summer – among the winners over the years are golf legends Tom Kite (in 1968) and Ben Crenshaw (in 1969 and 1971). Still, the future of this city treasure is in doubt: The city's lease on the land expires in 2019, and the University of Texas Regents have been exploring ways to develop the land that would create more revenue for the school. Will the Muny be saved? We'll have to wait and see.

Lions Municipal Golf Course
2901 Enfield
512/477-6963
www.austintexas.gov

Best Local Team

Is there anyone more passionate about the Longhorns than Austin is? Yes - the rest of the UT alumni all over the world and slavishly devoted fans in places we've never dreamed of. Everything's big in Texas, and our burnt orange obsession proves it, season after season.

Texas Longhorns
www.texassports.com

Best Place to Camp

The perfect summer day trip, Inks Lake State Park is in Burnet County, about 90 minutes from Austin, and boasts the mighty Devil's Waterhole. Surrounded by pink granite, the constant-level lake allows for canoeing and has its own tour on the weekends, along with plenty of scenic hiking trails and a golf course. The primitive camping sites are highly recommended but require early reservations.

Inks Lake State Park
3630 Park Road 4 W.
Inks Lake
512/793-2223
www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/inks-lake

Best Place to Skate

With birthday parties for big and little ones, Texas Rollergirls meets, skate lessons and sales, and weekly gatherings of middle schoolers, Austin's largest skating rink has something for everyone. While Playland covers fun, the Veloway in Southwest Austin offers something for the more serious skating set. Rollerbladers (and bikers) have been enjoying the 3.1-mile paved track through the scenic Hill Country since the Eighties. Rad!

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

Veloway
4900 La Crosse
512/974-6700
www.cityofaustin.org/bicycle

Sandy Carson

Best Place to Tube

Butt in cold water and beer or juice box in hand – this is tubing, and this is what makes tourists and travelers who've never experienced a good ass-soak cringe with envy. Next time you and your out-of-towner are in New Braunfels – coincidentally home to one of the nation's highest rated water parks – make time for Landa Park, where you can enjoy the Comal River in a less turbulent way – the relaxed way – the "Best of Austin" way. Free drop-in or $7 tube rental with $10 deposit. Remember your sunblock!

Landa Park
192 Landa Park Dr.
New Braunfels
800/572-2626
www.nbtexas.org/index.aspx?nid=156

Best Pool/Billiards

We were never bored because we were never being boring, and you don't have to be bored either. From foosball, darts, shuffleboard, air hockey, and even video games at Buffalo Billiards to pinball machines and never-ending rows of pool tables at the Grand, there's plenty of friendly competition to be had. The Grand's regulars, old and new (since the management changeover in 2007) keep the jukebox going when Monday night DJs aren't around, and Buffalo Billiards' three rooms ply libations in cozy warmth.

The Grand
4631 Airport
512/454-1986
www.thegrandaustin.com

Buffalo Billiards
201 E. Sixth
512/479-7665
www.buffalobilliards.com

Jana Birchum

Best Scenic View

A rite of passage for any new River City romance, Mount Bonnell is Austin's tunnel of love. That couple's cute mop top sizing up your Chihuahua as you and your new squeeze cuddle while dreaming of the riverfront mansions far below loves the view as much as you do, and little do they know it, but watching you sets their fate: One day they too will be rubbing noses with that special someone; the high mountain air intoxicates all who fill their lungs with it.

Mount Bonnell at Covert Park
3851 Mount Bonnell Dr.
512/974-6700

Best Swimming Hole

It’s midmorning on a toasty Friday in August, and Barton Springs Pool is filled to the gills with regulars and newcomers splashing about or lounging on the hillside. A glistening duck rides the waves near the diving board. Across the way, some teenagers take turns jumping in, climbing out, and jumping in again. A middle-aged man strides by in a Speedo. Want to lose your inhibitions? Head to the Springs. The first-time visitors are easy to spot by the way they drink in the size and beauty of this blessed spot in the heart of Austin. A tow-headed boy passes through the front gate and stops dead in his tracks. “That’s the biggest pool I’ve ever seen,” he murmurs in wide-eyed wonder. “Dude,” an older boy exclaims, “there’s fish in there!” Ah, summer. And fall, winter, spring. Barton Springs – the big mama of Texas swimming holes – is a year-round favorite, an institution steeped in centuries of spiritual, mythical, and frolicsome history. Families, students, friends, lovers, and lawmakers come here to exercise, socialize, read, think, and maybe gawk at an occasional topless sunbather, although sightings of that variety have grown scarcer over the years. The 1,000-foot pool draws its life from underground springs that generally run a brisk 68 degrees. It’s home to an assortment of aquatic plants and animals, including the endangered Barton Springs salamander. Longstanding traditions are sacred here. There's the annual Polar Bear Plunge, which brings out the heartier souls every New Year's Day, regardless of temperature. In frigid weather, the pool almost – almost – feels like a warm bath. And there’s the full moon swim, which takes place on a designated night of each month, with swimmers yipping and yelping into the darkness. It’s primitive and great fun, with the turnout for this event growing steadily since its inception about 15 years ago. Who needs an excuse to howl at the moon? Back at poolside on this Friday morning, another first-timer passes through the gate, pauses at the top of the stairs, and calmly sums up the scene in one word: "Wow."

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

Jana Birchum

Best Swimming Pool

Texas’ oldest swimming pool never ages. The spring-fed, chlorine-free waters are a welcome relief in the summer, whether being enjoyed as a heat respite or for exercise along the steady lap lanes. A family-friendly, city-operated favorite, there’s something for everyone, whether you're looking to read in the shade of big pecans or sunbathe in the surrounding green.

Deep Eddy Pool
401 Deep Eddy Ave.
512/472-8546
www.deepeddy.org

Best Tennis Court

Ask Austinites with love for the game, and they’ll tell you: Caswell for the win. Bangers like Andy Roddick have been known to put away a few here; just think what it can do for your game. Eight well-lit courts, all-level lessons for both kids and adults, and a pro shop that will restring your racket and sell you game gear, snacks, and everything but tissues (there’s no crying in tennis).

Caswell Tennis Center
2312 Shoal Creek Blvd.
512/478-6268
www.lovetennis4caswell.com

 
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