Adventure Guide 2013: Austin

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.

Hotels

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

Adventure Activities

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.
http://www.gadling.com/2012/04/03/journey-to-secret-beach/

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

Get Around

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.

Adventure Tip

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]

New York City: Getting Back To Where You Once Belonged

The city of New York City exists strongly. Within New York, the smallest sounds are amplified as they break through the barriers of thin drywall. The coastal weather can be bitter, biting and unforgiving and still, the easiest way to get around New York is by foot and, in effect, immersed in the unchangeable climate. Even the most basic interactions occur more frequently in New York and tailing behind them are the trivial and yet infuriating conflicts that complicate daily life. The minutiae of life is a swift dagger, taking whole days hostage at the hand of an unfriendly DMV employee – I once broke down sobbing at the DMV on 34th street in Manhattan after an employee had repeatedly accused me of forging a signature for my vehicle registration all afternoon. She pointed out an apparent discrepancy in the loop of the letter ‘D’ and called me a liar, and then eventually said something mean about my mother. I didn’t move away from New York because of her, of course. I moved away because of all of it. I was tired of fighting for my own oxygen; I was tired of fighting battles I felt never should have been started to begin with – even if the battle was as trite as My Long Skirt vs. The Torrential Downpour.

The idea that other people in other cities, albeit smaller cities, were enjoying more fulfilling lives had been haunting me. A fantasy had been unraveling in my head for years of the yard and hammock and dog I could have in another city and I couldn’t shake it. Other people were paying less in rent. Other people had sunshine most days of the year while my core was being whittled away by “The Best City In The World.” Learning about H.A.A.M. in Austin, Texas, a healthcare program that provides medical services to area musicians, was the last straw for me. On top of all other New York stresses, I was playing the freelancer-without-healthcare lottery. I packed up my 1996 Honda Accord and drove south for four days, finally landing in Austin, Texas.

%Gallery-169276%I promptly moved into a charming three-bedroom house with an expansive, private back yard. I signed up for H.A.A.M. and began going to the doctor, dentist, chiropractor and therapist. I made a lot of friends and got married. I became the proud mother of two dogs and I took them hiking and swimming regularly. I overdosed on Vitamin D during the day and saw a lot of live music at night. I paid less for just about everything and saved my money. But despite having tackled and conquered so many goals that I felt would guide me toward truer happiness, I’d been battling an internal war since the moment I arrived.

Optimism blanketed my experience in Austin at first. I was living the life I had told myself I wanted and, even if I had to lie through my grinding teeth, I was determined to enjoy it. Despite my greatest efforts, something was missing. I could say that the “something” was this or that, that it was the electricity, anonymity, intensity, creativity or autonomy, but these are all subjective qualifiers, containing as much falsehood as truth. What I was really missing while living in Austin was much more basic and primal than any intellectual or abstract rendering of what a city like New York does or doesn’t offer. What I missed most was what I’d left behind – the chaos, the conversation, the cold chill of winter and the relationships forged under such conditions. What I was missing was my home.

Although I didn’t grow up in New York, it was the only home I had ever known. I was naive and young when I first arrived at age 18 and the city had powerfully shaped me. I hated it and loved it, like most New Yorkers, but I identified with its insanity and pulse – I felt as though the city and I were moving at the same pace, quickly and manically approaching each day. With each new street corner that staged a lifelong memory, my psyche had become more entangled with New York, and thus, less separable than I’d ever realized before living someplace else. But this seemed incongruous to me with my insatiable longing for new scenery, with my work as a travel writer. If I couldn’t easily pull down a new backdrop with a new landscape and a new context and carry on without missing a beat, then what business did I have feigning an adventurous spirit? But now that I’m living in New York again, with a yard and hammock and dogs no less, I recall the words of a friend’s father when he learned that I wanted to leave the city a year before I actually did.

“Everyone needs a home. You leave, you travel, you learn, but home is the place you come back to.”

At the time, I dismissed his words because home is supposed to be where the heart is and I believed my heart was everywhere. What I didn’t account for were the tiers of the heart; the difference between the comforting core and the fleeting nature of curiosity. The stakes and circumstances are different for everyone, but one thing is certain: nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to the warm inner swell of, for better or for worse, getting back to where you once belonged.

[Photo Credit: Elizabeth Seward]

Photo Of The Day: Austin Graffiti

This photo of Austin’s East Side captures several things I love about Austin all at once. This photo captures the train rushing by, reflecting the graffiti in its windows. The vibrant graffiti to the left is the kind of graffiti dispersed all over East Austin, but this East 5th building is a graffiti staple. The glow of sunset is saturating everything within the photograph, the same way it does every early evening. Moonlight Towers are historical Austin landmarks and there’s one standing on the horizon of this photo. And finally, just one of the many motivated artists on the East Side is standing in the middle of it all, Laquinton Wagner. This photo was taken by Ben Britz. If you have a photo you’d like to submit as Photo of the Day, submit it to the Gadling Flickr Pool.Tour Austin, Texas

Look Up: The Perseid From Texas

I’m moving out of Austin and back to New York just before what would have marked two years in Texas. I only have four weeks left until I pack the POD and I have an expanding bucket list to make good with before I go. One of my incentives for leaving NYC in the first place was the sky. I wanted to see it. I wanted to observe its expansive breadth and color during sunrise and sunset. I wanted to see that glimpse of the world beyond Earth provided with each shining star and planet in the night sky. In the event of a meteor shower, like The Perseid, I wanted to see those soaring trails of light, too. And so we drove; we drove west. At the suggestion of a friend who was in a back seat of our van, we followed the highway west and into the ink black of the early morning. Steep hills and sudden, sharp turns paved the path into the Westlake area, where we followed our friend’s directions through a twisting, gravel road that brought us to the windy top of a ridge, wherein his family owns ten acres of land.Pine in the air outside, cedar in the ranch’s interior, and a blank canvas of a sky, ready for the brush strokes of passing meteors. We took lawn chairs out to the center of the wooded yard and looked up.

“Six years ago, we heard an awful noise coming from out here. It was a mountain lion eating a baby deer,” my friend told us.

I curled my legs into my chest and wondered where my dogs had wandered off to. Every twinkling star I saw through the trees beside me looked like a glowing, peering eye of a calculating cat. My shuddering was paused at the sight of what I’d come to see, a shooting star, a member of the Perseids participating in its annual, orbital dance. Vega was straight above and persistent as an LED flashlight shining from across the room, but Vega isn’t across the room. Vega is 25 light-years away. It’s 2.1 times as massive as the Sun and a planet about the size of Jupiter may be in orbit around Vega.

We know nothing, I thought as I stared at Vega. We see nothing, I thought as I concentrated on the sky, hoping that the layers between me and the rest of space would shed like onion peels. This is all we have, this small ball of a planet, barely plotted on the map of it all. Zoom out on the universe and we fade away alongside the meteors we see, which are similarly relatively tiny. But then again, maybe that’s everything. Perhaps the best we can do is take those harrowing right turns into our countryside and look around and then look up. The scents of the wild, the instinctive fear of a predatory animal looming, the mysteries within the keyhole view of the universe we see from here – we’re hardwired to explore and take note. Bucket lists exist because of this facet of our being, the pursuit of knowledge and even better, knowledge by way of experience. I wanted to see a meteor shower in the Texas sky and I did. And while my bucket list for Earth is a bottomless well, one day our travel planning will be based off of a list that isn’t anchored to this one little planet. We’ll one day vacation on the Moon or Mars, but then what? The universe is expanding and travel will follow suit. And no matter where we are, no matter which far-off planet we get to, we’ll always be compelled to look around and then look up.

Perseid Meteor Shower Brings Show of Shooting Stars

Blogger Rants About Austin In Post And Austinist Strikes Back

Austinist bashes Michael Cocoran for bashing Austin.When I was living in New York, I regularly read Gothamist. When I moved to Austin, I began reading Austinist. Covering a good mix of national and local news, I try to check in when I can. Blogger Michael Corcoran recently penned what appears to be a hate letter to the city of Austin on his blog. Unfortunately, any valid points lurking within the post were discounted, if not negated, by a slew of commentary not well received by many readers. Summing up Austin as “mediocre” and discrediting the merits of live music in the city, Cocoran probably hasn’t won over a lot of fans with this bashing rant. With all of this said, I was more or less indifferent toward the post when I read it. Cocoran doesn’t like it here in Austin – a lot of people don’t. I certainly have my own gripes with Austin. Fine. But what took me surprise was the response Cocoran’s blog received via Austinist contributor Terry Sawyer. Sawyer came to the defense of Austin in light of Cocoran’s remarks in this post. Sawyer’s response-post highlights much of what is good about Austin as well as much of what is wrong with Cocoran’s argument against Austin. It’s one thing to admit that the grass is always greener. It’s another thing to proclaim that the grass isn’t green at all. If you’ve been to or live in Austin, read these posts back to back and comment here with your thoughts.

Michael Cocoran’s anti-Austin post
Terry Sawyer’s pro-Austin post

Tour Austin, Texas