Outdoors & Recreation
2015 Readers Poll
2015 Critics Picks

David Brendan Hall

Best Body Slam

The French philosopher Roland Barthes described professional wrestling – or, as he called it, true wrestling – as the battle of good against evil. Inspire Pro Wrestling is winning a different battle. They’re getting one of America’s greatest, purest forms of physical spectacle and drama taken seriously. Creative Director Max Meehan has gathered the best grapplers, bruisers, and high-flyers from Texas and beyond, filling the Marchesa Hall with screaming crowds. After two years, Inspire has become a promotion that wrestlers from around the globe praise for its dedication to excellence. And that’s inspirational.

Inspire Pro Wrestling

Best Choo Choo Ch'Boogie

America's romance with rail can sometimes seem an odd and fickle fling, as old modes give way to new. Here in Central Texas, however, the Austin Steam Train Association keeps the trains running on time in a living history museum of real-life rail cars and engines restored to their former glory: a fully operational leisure rail system to afford glimpses into the past along routes of the present, featuring regular treks like the Hill Country Flyer and Bertram Flyer and special event excursions celebrating various themes and holidays. Volunteers here are not mere docents, they are conductors, engineers, and tradespeople restoring decades- and centuries-old rigs and their love of history is as deep as the roots they honor. Their passion is 100% can-do and their only wish is to share it all with everyone. All aboard!

Austin Steam Train
401 E. Whitestone Blvd., Ste. C-100
Cedar Park

Best Colony of Flying Creatures, Non-Bat

Behind a Jonestown realty office stands a structure altogether unremarkable in its utility. The 16-feet tall and 10-feet in diameter concrete cylinder looks like what it was built to be – a cistern. Arrive at dusk in the late summer months, however, and you'll see it transform, as hundreds of chimney swifts nosedive into the free-standing structure after a long day hunting insects. They're not here to stay, only on their migratory way to the Amazon Basin. But Jonestown residents are so smitten with their swift friends that in 2012 the city began Swift Fest (say that 10 times fast) in their honor. A cautionary note for swift friends heading up from Austin: Beware of that speed trap.

Swift Fest
18649 FM1431

Best Date Spot for You and Your Pup

No more feeling guilty when going out for drinks leaving Pickles alone at home. You can both meet your friends or make new ones at this wonderful new spot, featuring playgrounds with agility equipment and clean water bowls where dogs of all sizes can play to their hearts' content. Trained "Bark Rangers" take care of scooping duties and watching the pups while you relax with a cold local brew, a glass of wine, or a signature cocktail paired with tasty backyard fare. You can sign up for an annual membership or pay as you go. Two paws up for Yard Bar!

Yard Bar
6700 Burnet Rd.

Sandy Carson

Best Hidden Hike (in the Middle of the City)

Most of Austin knows our green space is pretty great, which is why it can be a difficult place to hike in solitude. The Blunn Creek Nature Preserve is the perfect alternative for adventurers who want to be one – and not one of many – with the outdoors. Tucked between Travis Heights and St. Edward's University, it's an in-town hike that nonetheless feels like a Hill Country retreat. With fields of wildflowers, gurgling streams, and picturesque bluffs, Blunn Creek is the perfect place to not really get away.

Blunn Creek Nature Preserve
1200 St. Edward's Drive

Best Karaoke at a Bike Shop

Brother-and-sister team Aaron and Sarah Goeth are not only co-owners of this friendly full-service retail bicycle shop, but are also bandmates, movie-night curators, and karaoke hosts with the mosts. BYOB and BYO rendition of Queen's "Bicycle Race" – or just go with perpetual crowd-pleaser "Bohemian Rhapsody." Check their Facebook page to see when these open-to-the-public showdowns go down, and scope out their great selection of refurbished vintage bicycles while waiting for your turn to croon.

Windmill Bicycles
2209-B Manor Rd.

Jana Birchum

Todd V. Wolfson

Best Pool With a View

The High Road on Dawson resides in the old Elks Lodge. One of the main attractions is the pool that overlooks Downtown. If the pool could talk, it could tell the history of Austin's skyline. The club has hosted a Fourth of July pool party since the pool was built in the late Fifties. This year's pool party was packed with young and old, neighbors and the famous, hipsters and conservatives alike, as the crowd ooooh'd and ahhhh'd as the city of Austin displayed fireworks over Ladybird Lake. Open year round, the pool is maintained by member volunteers.

High Road on Dawson
700 Dawson

Best Squeeze

Lone Star living teaches us that accordions rock as hard as guitars. Texas Folklife’s ninth annual Big Squeeze Accordion Contest Finals at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in June summoned the next generation of native firestarters. Finalists plucked from around the state by Austin’s nonprofit roots preservationists, button pushers 21 and younger pumped their wheezy squeezes for top honors in polka, zydeco, and conjunto categories. The sea of family, friends, and headlining genre queen Eva Ybarra did the rest, raising such a joyful community clatter that local history was made.

Texas Folklife Resources Office
1708 Houston St.

David Brendan Hall

Best Trap and Skeet Range

Located minutes east off of 290, Capitol City Trap & Skeet Club is the most convenient place to take out your everyday frustrations on some bright orange clay birds. Trap and Skeet are an American and Texas tradition, and Capitol City offers a friendly, fun, and welcoming place to participate in a sport centuries old. Capitol City has multiple traditional trap and skeet towers as well as a unique course that wraps around the property. The towers are good for beginners because they offer consistent targets. The course is a fun step up for intermediate and expert shooters, with each station launching targets in different directions, traveling at varying speeds. You’re sure to catch “the fever” after shooting at Capitol City.

Capitol City Trap & Skeet Club
8707 Lindell

Best Vacation Flood Relief

Need a break? Why not funnel vacation dollars into our own backyard to aid neighbors affected by the Memorial Weekend floods? A list of recommendations could easily take pages; for this award, we'll name-check a few resources to get you started:
• Martindale: When the wild hustle and bustle of San Marcos and Gruene are too much, but you still wish to be a stone's throw, consider going east for a float down the San Marcos River.
• Taylor: Home of the legendary Louie Mueller Barbecue. Need we say more?
• Bastrop: Yes, wildfire-recovering Bastrop was hit by the floods as well, especially Bastrop State Park, which is open for business.
• Blanco: The Austin Steam Train goes to Blanco, and there's plenty to do, including the town square and Blanco River State Park.
• San Marcos: The last few weeks of good tubing and Texas State Bobcat sports top the fall. Plus, this mini-Austin is as live-music loving as we are.
• Wimberley: One of the sweetest collections of bed & breakfasts and non-chain accommodations in Texas and our area artists' colony always offers a magical getaway.

City of Martindale
409 Main St.

Taylor Chamber of Commerce
1519 N. Main St.

Blanco Chamber of Commerce
312 Pecan St., Blanco

Explore Bastrop County
804 Pecan St.

Bastrop State Park
100 Park Rd. 1A

Tour San Marcos
San Marcos Tourist Information Center, 617 I-35 N., San Marcos

Wimberley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center
14100 RR 12

Best Venture Point in Point Venture

Floating right atop Lake Travis is a waystation for wayward Austinites. Steer your ship into one of many boatslips between mile markers 16 and 17 (across from the Lakeway Resort and Spa), or drive ’n' walk, it don't matter! What awaits is a dockful of food, music, and a roiling, tumbling, mess o' catfish. Speaking of … what is their precise geometry as they fight for your food and attention? A knot? A ball? A hypercube? We don't rightly know the answer to that, but they'll keep you and any kids you might bring entertained for a solid hour. And remember to keep a close eye on your young'uns while you sit ’n' sip, as the proprietors promise to give unattended minors "a double espresso and a free puppy to take home."

The Gnarly Gar
18200 Lakepoint Cove
Point Venture

Best Way to Grow a Garden in a Drought

Ancient indigenous agriculture cultures used to make a practice of burying unglazed, porous clay pots called ollas (pronounced “oyas”) to water their vegetable gardens. Fast forward several centuries: Two military wives have brought back the idea to drought-stricken Texas. Instead of watering by sprinkler or hose, gardeners plant the ollas, fill them with water once or twice a week, and let the plant roots draw the moisture from the vessels. Available at finer gardening and hardware stores.

Dripping Springs Ollas

John Leach

Best Weekday Secret

These 11 miles of limestone waters mark the best-kept secret weekday getaway. There are dozens of trails, boulders, cliffs, seeps, springs, and waterways to satisfy your inner Yogi Bear, and little to no crowds if you go on a Monday or Tuesday. Have the kids (or very skinny adults) slide down the small channeled waterfalls, and check out the "secret area" – just look for the concrete stairs. Use the park entrance by Xiang Yun Temple on Loop 360.

Bull Creek District Park
6701 Lakewood

Most Formidable Footpath

She may not be as vaunted or glamorous as her younger sibling to the east (the James D. Pfluger), but the Crenshaw's got it going on! This veritable runners runway – a trail suitable for casual stroller, dog trotter, power walker, and marathon maniac alike – that runs under MoPac near Zilker Park, is named for environmental activist and visionary Roberta Crenshaw, whose efforts to stave off showy circus-like initiatives and encroaching development introduced the notion that Lady Bird Lake (Town Lake in her day) could be a peaceful, in-town respite. Though Ms. Crenshaw passed in 2005, when she was here, she walked with giants like Lady Bird Johnson and made sure we all had a place to enjoy the bounty that's right under our feet.

Austin PARD
200 S. Lamar

Todd V. Wolfson

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