Because Austin is growing so quickly, 2013 is the year to explore all that Austin offers – before the trails are as crowded as the flagship Whole Foods downtown. For nearly a decade, the city itself has been attracting more people than it can seem to keep up with. Austin ranked first on Forbes’ list of America’s Fastest-Growing Cities for the second year in a row in 2012. But while the city is struggling to keep up with the tremendous boom, and indoor space still seems relatively limited (demonstrated by the many packed coffee houses, music venues, bars and office and apartment buildings), there’s plenty of outdoor space to go around in Austin.
Austin’s adventurous reputation owes much to its weather. With the exception of the smoldering mid-summer afternoons, Austin’s climate is perfect for outdoor adventure year-round. The community of Austin also prides itself on the myriad adventure activities available, and the locals relish in the ability to quickly drop what they’re doing and find a nearby adventure.
And there’s plenty of adventure to go around. Whether you’re interested in caving, climbing, hiking, swimming, paddling or tubing, Austin has a unique geography that’s perfect for the multitalented outdoors enthusiast. Use this guide to help discover it.
Heywood Hotel: The Heywood Hotel is one of Austin’s newest boutique hotels. Located in the center of the growing and creative East Austin, the Heywood is within walking distance of great bars, music venues, restaurants, shopping and downtown. While you’re in the neighborhood, try my favorite Bloody Mary from Rio Rita. The Heywood also includes free bike rentals, so grab a bike and head on out to your day of adventure. From $169.
heywoodhotel.com1609 East Cesar Chavez Street
Hotel San Jose: Hotel San Jose isn’t new in town – it was built in 1939. But the hotel is still a staple in Austin. Open-aired rooms are further enriched by cool amenities at Hotel San Jose, like a music and video library, a community typewriter and Polaroid cameras, and the open policy on animals. So if you’re planning to take your canine best friend on a hiking tour of Hill Country or need a bike to round out your adventure in Austin, you might want to stay here. This area of Austin is a perfect launching pad for everything from nightlife and food trucks to Lady Bird Lake and its many adventurous activities. While in the SoCo area, take a journey back in time with a stop into the eclectic vintage store Uncommon Objects. From $185.
sanjosehotel.com 1316 South Congress Avenue
McKinney Falls State Park: The McKinney Falls State Park camping grounds certainly aren’t a hotel, but they’re worth mentioning in this adventure guide. The park is beautifully equipped for all kinds of adventures. Hiking and bike trails loop through the grounds. Expansive rock formations dot the area, providing a decent basis for rock climbing. Or you can cliff dive right off one of those formations and into one of the surrounding natural pools. Campsites have water, electric, restrooms and picnic tables. From $15.
tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/mckinney-falls 5808 McKinney Falls Parkway
Eat and Drink
24 Diner: Great cocktails, wine and beer are just afterthoughts at a place like 24 Diner, where you can get delicious and upscale diner food at any time of the day or night – which isn’t exactly common in the city of Austin. Hit up 24 Diner for a big breakfast before you begin your day of adventure or after you’ve worn yourself out and just need a strong drink and some comfort food. Make a steep trek through a semi-hidden graffiti display by checking out the Castle Hill graffiti while you’re in the neighborhood.
24diner.com 600 North Lamar Boulevard
East Side Show Room: East Side Show Room is kind of an adventure in and of itself. The cuisine showcases local ingredients in a gourmet, heavily French style and the bar brings traditional cocktails together with fresh, innovative concoctions.
eastsideshowroom.com 1100 East 6th Street
Hillside Farmacy: Hillside Farmacy isn’t even a year old yet and the place is usually crowded. With actual pharmacy relics in tow, this trendy little restaurant is open 8 a.m. – 11 p.m. and is equally great for brunch or dinner. The drinks are great and the food is part southern comfort, part New American. There’s even an old, upright piano in the back room. While you’re in the area, learn a thing or two about wine from the guys at East End Wines.
hillsidefarmacy.com 1209 East 11th Street
Barton Springs: Barton Springs, a chilly spring-fed, man-made pool across the way from Zilker Park, is a famous Austin landmark for a reason. It’s refreshing, big, and well worth the $3 entrance fee. Go ahead, try to swim laps here. For no money at all, fewer people, less oversight and a bit more of an adventure, you can also swim in the creek just beyond the Barton Springs fence – if you’re facing the entrance to the official springs, the unofficial springs are to the left of the fence.
http://austintexas.gov/department/barton-springs-pool 2201 Barton Springs Road
Secret Beach: For a laid-back adventure filled with river-swimming and surrounding woods for hiking, check out Secret Beach, just beyond Roy G. Guerrero Park and before the Colorado River Wildlife Sanctuary. It’s a sandy beach and perfect for sunbathing after your swim. The water rises late afternoon when the dam is opened, so go a little later in the day if you want more water in your adventure. Note that this beach, as well as nearly all other natural water sources in Texas, is subject to drought-induced low levels.
Barton Creek Greenbelt: Austin is landlocked, so you have to rely on the dammed up Colorado River (Lady Bird Lake, which offers stand-up padding), Barton Creek and other creeks, rivers, ponds and lakes for water adventures in the area. The BCG is shorthand for an incredible stretch of preserved land that winds its way through the city of Austin. While the creek flows through the BCG, the steep slopes that surround it are go-to spots in Austin for rock climbing, hiking and biking. And since the creek is always nearby, there’s always a swimming hole.
http://www.austinparks.org/our-parks.html?parkid=206 3755-B Capital of Texas Highway
Getting around Austin isn’t always easy if you don’t have a car. As an aid, look into Car2Go, a shared car service that allows you to rent cars by the minute, hour or day and leave them wherever you choose within the city for 38 cents a minute.
Biking is a popular method of transportation in Austin, with a strong bike culture and special lanes on many roads. Several companies, including Barton Springs Bike Rentals and Austin Bike Tours and Rentals will rent bikes to visitors from $22.50 per day. Pedicabs and taxis are also quite common in the downtown area for localized transportation. In addition, Capital Metro provides the MetroRail, an expanding train service that connects outer and east Austin to downtown, while Capital Metro buses go all over town. A single ride on the bus is $1, but you can get a day pass for $2.
From Austin-Bergstrom Airport, take the Austin SuperShuttle or a taxi into town for the quickest commute. You can also take the Capital Metro bus from the airport into town.
Although this might seem obvious to you now, make sure to wear protective shoes when exploring Austin’s outdoors. Thorns, burrs, rattlesnakes, fire ants and plenty of other harsh conditions and risks exist outside in Texas. You can wear sandals to Secret Beach and Barton Creek, but wear sturdier shoes when exploring the Greenbelt and McKinney State Falls. While it doesn’t hurt to take extra precaution, it can definitely hurt to not. One thing I learned while living in Texas is that people down there wear cowboy boots for a reason.
[Photo credit: Flickr users austinevan (top) and Steve Snodgrass]