"The best day tripping things around Austin" is a big category. There is never enough room for me to mention everything and my memory can't remember something until the week after the deadline even though I've had a year to make notes. The following is a list of some of the best travel items as best as I can remember.
Best place in Austin to take out-of-town visitors: Take visitors to the State Capitoldowntown. Completed in 1888, the seat of our state government is still a magnificent building, especially with the addition of the underground extension. The Capitol is open to the public Monday-Friday 7am-10pm and Saturday-Sunday 9am-5pm. Start your visit at the Visitors Center in the old General Land Office Building on the southeast corner of the grounds. The information desk, gift shop, and museum are open Tuesday-Friday 9am-5pm and Saturday 10am-5pm.
Best Ecological Project: David and Margaret Bamberger have spent the last three decades replanting native grasses, restoring springs, and generally rebuilding the 5,500 acres of their cattle ranch outside of Johnson City. They have even constructed an artificial bat cave to go with a natural cave on the ranch, the Bracken Cave, which is home to 20 million free-tail bats. In March 1998, the National Wildlife Federation honored the Bambergers with a special achievement award for what is considered the largest habitat restoration project on private land in Texas. To see the bats emerge from the caves between March and October (August is the best time), make a reservation with the Bambergers at 830/868-7303.
Best Texas Cities to Travel In: Corpus Christi and El Paso were the least congested cities in the U.S. according to an annual report released by the Texas Transportation Institute this year. According to the report, residents of Corpus Christi only lost six hours of their lives in one year in traffic jams. Los Angeles, Ca., and Washington, D.C., were the worst with residents losing 59 hours of a year in traffic.
Best Side Dish: Try the "soon to be famous" cornbake casserole at the Riverside Marina Grill at the San Antonio Street Bridge over the Comal River in New Braunfels. The slight spiciness of the sweet corn concoction goes great with their smoked meats. Also enjoy their patio overlooking the river.
Best Place to View the Night Skies: Southwestern University's Fountainwood Observatory in Georgetown is open to the public for viewing one Friday night a month with student astronomers available to point out the bright spots in the heavens. In addition to the observatory's
16-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, viewers can look through an array of smaller telescopes set up on the northeast side of the campus. If the clouds permit, the next free public stargazing events are Sept. 25, Oct. 17, Nov. 20, and Dec. 11. Call 512/863-1242 for more information.
Best community store: When faced with the closing of their local convenience store, the rural community of Warda bought it and began running it as a group enterprise. On US77 between Giddings and La Grange, the store is also a domino parlor, post office, and a cafe with a great hamburger. The store is open sunup to sundown, but the cafe is only open Monday-Tuesday 10am-2pm, Wednesday-Saturday 7am-9pm, and Sunday 4-9pm.
Best Place to Take Kids on a Day Trip: If Thomas Edison had designed a theme park, then the H.E.B. Science Treehouse at the Witte Museum in San Antonio would be it. The center is both fun and educational for kids of all ages where they can do everything from surf the Internet to play with magnets, then you get to walk through the rest of the history and science museum. At 3801 Broadway on the northern edge of Brackenridge Park (and the zoo), the museum is open Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm and Sunday noon-5pm. Admission is $5.95 for adults and $3.95 for ages 4 to 11, everyone is admitted free on Tuesdays from 3-9pm. For more information, call 210/357-1900.
Best Sunday Drive: Follow the old Goliad Road (FM390) from US290 at Burton to Independence. This is the only road in Texas that has been designated both scenic and historic. At the east end, in the historical village of Independence, is the ruins of the first Baylor University and the Antique Rose Emporium where you can find a garden of unique plants besides a hundred different kinds of roses. On the west end in Burton are the great homemade pies of the Burton Cafe. The round trip can easily be done in an afternoon.
Best New Discovery: All year I wander around the back roads looking for unique places to write about. Occasionally I run across a place that has all the right elements to make me want to go back and take my friends. Lookout Mountain is just such a place with a combination of friendly hosts, a relaxing place to watch the sunset, good food (and BYOB), and environmental awareness. Spend an evening watching the sunset from Barbara and Joe Day's porch and see if you don't agree. Lookout Mountain is between Wimberley and Dripping Springs and is open Wednesday-Sunday or by special arrangements. Call for directions and dinner reservations, 512/847-5010.
Coming up this weekend ...
Wendish Festival in Serbin combines the music and food of the German and Czech cultures for a truly unique party on the grounds of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Sept. 27. 409/366-2441.
Fall Polka Festival in Sealy keeps the dance floor and food warm all day at the K.C. Hall, Sept. 27. 409/885-6370.
Studio Staff Show at Sunset Canyon Pottery presents a collection of work from an individual perspective by potters who work together daily, Sept. 26-Oct. 24. 894-0938.
Coming up ...
Come & Take It Camp-Out at Ranch Richey Refuge near Belmont combines Texas history with campfire music and food for a family weekend, Oct. 2-4. 444-4550.
Texas Renaissance Festival in Plantersville re-creates an English village on the Texas prairie with more than a day of fun and frolic like no other festival, Sept. 3-Nov. 15 (weekends only). 800/458-3435.