305 E. 5th St., Downtown
Antone’s reopened downtown last year three blocks from its original 1970s location. Inside, the show posters lining the walls from the likes of B.B. King and Ray Charles read like a Blues Hall of Fame. Now the two-story venue aims to not only bring in big-name acts coming through town, but to introduce showgoers to great music, including artists they may not have heard of. It also helps that hometown hero, musician Gary Clark Jr., who played some of his early gigs here, is also a partner.
Austin is one of the more bike-friendly cities, and this is a great way to cover a lot of ground and get your bearings around the various neighborhoods. While you don’t want to attempt riding through Dirty Sixth at happy hour, you should cruise around UT’s campus (kids and sports fans will want to stop and see the football stadium), and definitely head to the generous paths threaded throughout the parks bordering the Colorado River. There are numerous bike rental options in Austin, but the city bike program is actually really well done, easy to use and affordable, with locations all over. You can check out a bike with a credit card at any of the conveniently placed stations for a twenty-four-hour period, or purchase access for a longer time period—three days, a month, one year—online. (Side note on getting around: Uber and Lyft are not currently operating in Austin, but there are a variety of smaller rideshare operations that have sprung up, although the quality isn’t as high—which perhaps increases the appeal of a bike ride if you don’t have a car while in town.)
Barton Creek Greenbelt
In addition to Lake Travis and Lake Austin, Barton Creek Greenbelt is a fun place to swim when the weather is warm in Austin (and there's been enough rain to fill its swimming holes). You can also come here to bike, hike (there are several miles' worth of trails), or just wander around. The Greenbelt is a several-mile, several-hundred-acre stretch that begins at Zilker Park, which is the best playground in the city for littles. There's a train ride that goes around the park—get a popsicle before jumping on. You can also paddle-board or rent kayaks to take out into the lake that crosses the middle of the city. (The baby turtles always keep the kids entertained.) In the center of the park itself is Barton Springs Pool, a three-acre pool that is fed from an underground spring; you pay a small fee to swim. The water in the natural watering hole is kept around 68-70 degrees, which feels just right on a scorching day. The pool is open daily, but closed most of Thursday for a weekly cleaning.
16221 Crystal Hills Dr., Driftwood
This gorgeous, open-air, Spanish-style chapel is a free (except for a $100 reservation deposit) and, naturally, very popular venue for small, intimate wedding ceremonies. But if you’re just in for a visit, it also makes a great hiking destination. Perched on the precipice of an ancient walking trail in Texas hill country—on the grounds of the nontraditional business school, Wizard Academy, about 20 minutes south of Downtown Austin—the sweeping panoramic views from the chapel are stunning. Check in at the visitor’s welcome center to access the trails.
161 Glass St., Design District
This non-collecting museum has been pushing the boundaries of the Dallas art scene for thirty years. Mary Katrantzou and Richard Phillips are just a few of the artists who have shown work here, and entry to the museum is always free. Members get access to the show-opening parties, which are absolutely worth it.
Ferris Wheelers Backyard & BBQ
1950 Market Center Blvd., Design District
Amazing smoked ribs, jalapeño hot links, queso topped with brisket, tons of local beer on tap, plus the Gentleman’s Handshake (a Lone Star with a shot of whiskey) are absolutely reasons to come here. But the huge backyard is the real draw. Among the picnic tables and twinkling lights, a fifty-foot-tall, fully functioning Ferris wheel runs every evening. It’s the perfect place to go on a warm evening, especially if you have kids.
Ranging along the tracks of a long-abandoned railroad line, the Katy Trail is a beautifully landscaped three-and-a-half-mile running/walking/biking path that cuts through some of the busiest parts of town. It makes for a great jog, with CrossFit equipment stops scattered along the way.
Lady Bird Lake
Lady Bird Lake is a refreshing nature break smack in the middle of all the city action. Central to this park on the Colorado River, flanked by the towering high-rises of Downtown Austin, is the reservoir—a local favorite for everything from rowing to paddleboarding to a leisurely picnic. (Just don’t try to go for a swim.) The newly constructed boardwalk across the water, and the trails that circle the namesake lake, make this the place to go for walking and biking. Image Credit: Shane Pope on Flickr
1600 Scenic Dr., Lake Austin
This is a nice getaway from the city; the Pennybacker Bridge is an iconic landmark, which locals will tell you is best viewed by boat. A day out on the water (boats can be rented from multiple outfits) is a quintessential Austin experience, and you’ll find plenty of company ranging from families waterskiing and tubing to twenty-somethings overflowing anchored party barges. It’s worth seeking out the high, very fun rope swing on the south side of the river. Photo credit: 1nativeTexan, MisterDavidC.
Perot Museum of Nature & Science
2201 N. Field St., Downtown
Opened in late 2012, the new science museum is a must-see, not only for its stunning permanent exhibits and traveling shows but also for Thom Mayne’s groundbreaking sustainable building, which boasts a glass-enclosed staircase that cuts right through the structure. There is so much to see here that you might want to break it up into a couple of trips, but our favorite by far is the gems and minerals hall, which among other phenomena, includes an amazing five-foot geode. Plus, if you have little ones, the Children’s Museum alone is practically worth the day trip with all its requisite slides, crawl spaces, and sandpits.
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