Outdoors & Recreation
2014 Readers Poll
2014 Critics Picks
Best Bald Spot

Sleek stone steps lead to panoramic views of the Texas Hill Country atop Mount Baldy aka Prayer Mountain aka Old Baldy. "Baldy" is somewhat deceiving because the mount sports generous patches of numerous tree varieties. Located just outside of Wimberley, this nature escape closed to the public indefinitely and was purchased a few years ago by the local City Gate Church (which blessed it "Prayer Mountain"). Apparently, City Gate's prayers were answered when buyers purchased the property the congregation could no longer take care of. If the mountain's three names weren't confusing enough, the land exchange stems to 1900, when Mount Baldy and its nearby fair-haired sister mountain were purchased by the Lowery family and dubbed Edith and Edna, respectively.

Best Hoedown

The San Marcos Neighborhood Gardens project works to cultivate community bonds by providing training, resources, and space to grow organic food, flowers, and herbs (the kind you eat). It's not quite a hoedown, though hoes are welcome, but a space located in the city's Dunbar Historic District that contains private plots for local residents, as well as two plots reserved for donation to the Hays County Food Bank. We give it a big "Best of Austin" green thumb of approval. Way to grow, San Marcos!

San Marcos Community Garden

David Brendan Hall

Best Improved Entry to the Soul of Austin

Entering the waters of Barton Springs Pool has always provided a thrilling jolt, whether one inches slowly in from steps or a ramp or plunges in recklessly from the diving board or deep end. Entering the grounds from the South entrance, however, used to be an experience more akin to a revisit to the Dust Bowl than a gateway to paradise. But not any more. The newly landscaped hillside, environmentally sensitive parking lot, and ADA pathway have transformed the Robert E. Lee Road entry into a pastoral setting worthy of the pool it serves. The whole pool experience has been revitalized as a result: The hillside has been extended to include massive trees protected by tended rings of mulch, janky overhead power lines are gone, providing an unobstructed view of the stately Texas sky, and a thoughtfully terraced wheelchair ramp/path provides poolside access where there was once erosion blighted, barren dirt hillside. Friends of Barton Springs take a bow, or better yet: a dip!

Barton Springs Pool
2131 William Barton Dr.

Friends of Barton Springs Pool

Best Lover's Wake-Up Caw

When we think "peacock," and earnestly try to suppress the traumatic visual of pre-tweens bobbing their necks to that filthy filthy Katy Perry song, we think of the 100 eyes of Argus. They see all. Truly. Hera (you know, Zeus' wife) knew that, and as a tribute to her loyal 100-eyed watchdog pal, placed those eyes on the plumes of her favorite bird, the noble peacock. We lie. We actually think of finding a shady spot near the cottage at Mayfield Park and spreading out a blanket. On that blanket, we place pillows, bottles, and a basket of tempting treats intended for tempting intendeds. 1-2-3. That's it. We lay out our bounty and just wait. It's a pretty simple formula, and, trust us, one that works. Your beloved, fully rested and sated by your thoughtful offerings will be a-slumber (or something…) in your arms in no time. And don't worry, Casanova, you won't snooze through curfew. Peacocks are pretty freakin' loud. And curious. Actually, they're downright nosy. Just watch out for the 100 eyes of Argus. They really do see all.

Mayfield Park & Preserve
3505 W. 35th

Bret Brookshire

Kate X Messer

Best Most Intense (Lost) Tennis Face

The resolve! The focus! That lip! That hair! For years we'd been meaning to give this face an award. On the day we had enough time to pull over and really check her out, construction barricades were up and demolition crews were mowing down her residence, the UT Tennis Center on Trinity. So yes, this award is posthumous – well, to the mural, not to the person. Just the teeniest bit of digging yielded details about the identity of this awesome Eighties UT tennis wiz. She's Beverly Bowes, 1987 Southwest Conference Player of the Year. After spending most of the Nineties in Florida (Palm Beach County re-pruh-zent!) Bowes returned to Austin a pro (Lost Creek Country Club), then in the 2000s, returned to college sports as coach, first at Southern Methodist, then back to her alma mater UT. Now she offers private coaching, consultation, and public speaking on all things tennis. We're going to miss her on our Trinity drive-bys, but we'll never forget that face.

UT Women's Tennis
403 E. 23rd

Best New Eastside Respite

With the Texas sun blazing and Austin humidity sticking, it's easy to want to spend summer hidden away in the cool embrace of an air-conditioning unit. We get it. Unfortunately, your kids probably don't. When they drag you wide-eyed and blinking into the sunlight, steer them in the direction of Bartholomew Pool and all of its renovated, newly opened glory. Between the winding waterslide duo, frog slide, "lily pad" obstacle course, and diving board, the whole family will find something to keep them occupied, wet, and happy.

Bartholomew Pool
1800 E. 51st

Lizzie Jespersen

Best New Path Through the Woods

Austin’s longest paved hike-and-bike trail opened in August, and it’s a winner. Covering more the seven miles from Govalle Park east of Downtown to Lindell Lane just shy of U.S. 290 in Northeast Austin, it follows the shaded creek bed most of the way. Perfect for all skill levels of bicyclists, walkers, and joggers, the trail has already become a popular way to avoid the traffic-clogged automobile arteries.

Southern Walnut Creek Trail

Best New Way to Avoid I-35

Thanks to the ongoing efforts of the Trail Foundation and Austin Parks & Recreation Department, the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail no longer forces pedestrians and cyclists to meander up the sidewalks of Riverside Drive to cross I-35 at one of the busiest intersections in town for the sake of a jolly jaunt round the lake. Nay, explorers can loop the landmark lake from MoPac to the dam at Pleasant Valley Drive nearly oblivious to the traffic havoc nearby, and the planned eastern pedestrian bridge will pretty much banish sight of the automobile from one's stroll.

Hike & Bike Trail
Austin PARD

Sandy Carson

Best Resort Repurposing

Next time you're hanging out at Schlitterbahn's Treehaus Luxury Suites, pick up one of the bar stools. Yeah. So, after you recover from that hernia, we bet you'll say to yourself, "Geeeez, that thing's a tree trunk!" Well, guess what? That thing's a tree trunk. After the decimation of acres and acres of gorgeous Texas timber in the 2011 Bastrop County Complex fire – the largest and most destructive in the state's history – SchlitterJefe Jeff Henry figured the ambitious building projects of his empire of waterparks might be able to put that languishing resource to good use, in the spirit of reclamation, to honor the loss. And what reclamation. And it's not just bar stools. It's siding. It's end tables. It's bar tops. It's support beams. It's now integrated into pretty much everything the Schlitterbrand builds. What's next? Decommissioned oil rigs? Don't get him started….

381 E. Austin St.
New Braunfels

Visit Lost Pines

Best Self-Guided Stump Tour

New Rule: Create a one-tree self-guided stump tour and advertise it as a "Best of Austin" winner and have us come upon it entirely organically, and we’ll throw a complimentary "Best of Austin" award your way. Transcribed from above photo: “2nd Annual Self-Guided Stump Tour. ‘Chronicle’ Best Stump Tour!” Congratulations, y’all. You most surely deserve it.

Self-Guided Stump Tour
4300 Avenue F

Sandy Carson

Best Skate Coach

Competitive roller sports exist in Austin because of Sonny Felter. He’s coached the Texas Speed Club to multiple medals and championships, and he taught the first Texas Rollergirls and TXRD Roller Derby how to skate. A hard taskmaster and a loving father figure, Sonny’s sacrificed nights, mornings, and weekends to train speed skaters on quads and inlines, from juniors to veterans, making them faster, stronger, safer. When the U.S. Olympic Committee proclaimed him Roller Sports Developmental Coach of the Year for 2014, they confirmed what we all knew: Sonny has put a smile on every skater’s face.

Sonny Felter
Texas Speed Club

Best Sports Party

World Cup fever was rampant in Austin this summer, but no one did it bigger or better than our hometown soccer team, who worked with the city to put together a massive outdoor watch party on the Long Center grounds on July 1 for the final U.S. game – drawing a reported 5,000 fans. Within the same month, the Aztex also: announced that they’re going pro next season, with the help of some heavyweight new investors; won the PDL Mid South Division, and hosted the PDL playoffs, both for the second year in a row; and set both regular-season and playoff attendance records in their last games at the amateur level. Onward and upward.

Austin Aztex
2720 Bee Caves Rd. #220

Jana Birchum

Best Water ReBirth

You're a dolphin. Or a manatee. And someone else is in control. The body in this environment is not limited by gravity the way it is on dry land. You can be heavy, or clumsy, or in need of physical rehabilitation, and here, be as graceful as a sea creature. Keep your eyes closed; the experience can take you higher. A therapist holds you in the pool, pulling and pushing your body through the water. As you are gently propelled, the gush and rush of the water creates a lullaby like no other. You're a giant baby ready to get born. Balletic. Soaring. Rippling. Invincible. For the better part of the last decade or so, Judy Kegg has immersed herself in the healing practices of the aquatic bodywork known as Watsu. From learning to training, Kegg's mastered the art, and this year, has a pool at the Sol Healing & Wellness Center fit for her vast wealth of Watsu ways. Come on in! The water's wet!

Floating Lotus Watsu
13805 Ann

Critics: Media
Critics: Politics & Personalities

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle