The Austin Guide to Fun!

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Introduction by Craig Becker

This list of Fun Things To Do In Austin was originally compiled by Andreas Speigl in February/March of 1993. Andreas has since left Austin, and obsessive/compulsive that I am about keeping lists of stuff, I couldn't bear for this one to just disappear. So with Andreas' permission, I've taken over its care and feeding.

Andreas didn't summarize who all contributed to this list (according to him, there were 42 contributors), so (unlike the Austin food lists), there is no "Contributors:" section...sure hope no-one gets miffed if I add their suggestion to the list but their name doesn't get mentioned.

As always, this list is a "work in progress", so if you have any corrections, comments, updates, or especially new recommendations, please send them to me at jlpicard@austin.ibm.com.

Craig

Without further ado:

Contents:

Parks/Nature
Libraries/Exhibits
Music
Other (fun) Stuff
Food
Other Cities
General Hints

1. Parks / Nature:

Barton Springs

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The Bats at the Congress St Bridge

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Unknown
If you have guests visiting during the summer, you must show them Austin's urbin bat colony under the Congress street bridge. The bats all fly out together from the north side of the bridge around dusk during the summer. It is really impressive. (but a bummer during the winter)

Buescher State Park (near Bastrop)

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Bull Creek Park

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Bull Creek Park on 360 between 2222 and Spicewood Springs Road. It has some nice, but relatively small waterfalls.
Kyle Knight (12/18/94)
Bull Creek Park has many great mountain bike trails.

Caves in Texas

Inner Space, Natural Bridge, Longhorn, Sonora Caverns, and Wonder Cave

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Shelley Hatfield (7/25/95)
Natural Bridge is very pretty and not far from Austin (New Braunfels). For a [much] further drive to west Texas, Sonora Caverns are really gorgeous. Some lovely formations there indeed. Sonora is probably my favorite. Longhorn Cavern and the Wonder Cave in San Marcos are okay, but there really aren't many outstanding formations in either one of them.

Enchanted Rock State Park

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Unknown
About 30 minutes North of Fredricksburg is the second largest outcropping of granite in the US. It rises about 500 ft in 1/8 mile. Nice park, trails, Beautiful view. Carry a water jug up if you climb it. Lots of cactus, deer, and armadillos to go with the scenery, and some excellent rock climbing for the adventurous.
March is a good time to do this sort of thing -- all of the roadside flowers (bluebonnets, indian paintbrushes) are starting to bloom.
Sunsets: there's a westward-facing scenic overlook on the trail to one of the primitive campgrounds that is perfect for watching sunsets. It's almost worth timing your arrival.
Sunrise: "a few years back a friend & I timed an ER trip such that we could get up on the rock for sunrise. I think that would have to go down as my fave trip to ER..."
Some say ER is like the stereotypical `Texas'.
$5/car to park for the day.
Robert Buckner (Date Unknown)
Went there for the first time yesterday since childhood. Unless you have a strong taste for danger, don't attempt to climb the rock at night. It was moonless and my friends and I scaled the rock and went down into the caves. Something eerie about going into the rock with only flashlights. Very dirty, very slippery, heart raced a mile a minute. Coming down was even worse. We had no sense of direction and jumped quite a few chasms above 30 foot drops to the ground. Dangerous, but cheaper than bungie jumping.

Guadalupe River State Park (south of Austin maybe 50 mi)

Hamilton Pool County Park (off Hwy. 71 toward Llano)

The Hill Country Flyer

Hippie Hollow

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Unknown
"Clothing Optional" bathing and sunworship. If you're a nudist, this is the place to go (although there are a few too many overt gawkers and perverts for my taste).
Anonymous (2/11/95)
Bask your naked buns in the sun at Austin's finest public nude beach. Below the Oasis. Admission is $5/car, so bring all your friends! Proves that we're all pretty much the same, once we get our clothes off.

Inks Lake State Park (northwest maybe 30 mi)

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Scott McCusker (11/28/94)
Very nice place... it's not too crowded most of the time. There is an abundance of deer, and if you're friendly enough they will eat right out of your hand! (no guarentees, but I did it) The lake is big enough for a little waterskiing as well. The place has a desert look and feel, and several places with good views. Bring a camera. It is also located about 10 miles from Burnet, so you aren't _too_ far from society in case you forget something (food?). The place has hook ups for trailers, but I've always gone with just a tent. The shower/bathroom facilities are far cleaner than most, and there seems to be enough of them. There is a boat launch.
It does get crowded on holidays, esp. July 4th.

LBJ Ranch (near Johnson City (see also: 6. Other Cities))

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It is a pretty big ranch that is now a museum. Visitors might want to see a "real" Texas ranch. (buffalos, longhorns, etc.) Especially nice in the spring when the wildflowers are in bloom.

Lost Maples State Natural Area

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Shane Williams (1/23/95)
Lost Maples State Park is two and a half hours from Austin and about an hour south of Fredericksburg. It's a good place to go backpacking (especially in the fall) with around ten or fifteen miles of backcountry trails, but for a day trip, E-Rock or a closer spot would be a better alternative.

McKinney Falls

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Unknown
This is rumoured to be a really nice place, and it's a lot closer to Austin than Enchanted Rock.
Be aware that it is very close to a sewage treatment plant, and if the wind is wrong it can be pretty unpleasant.
"McKinney Falls is nothing if you've ever been to Perdenales Falls."

Mount Bonnell

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A gentle climb up stone steps, to a knoll at the top with picnic tables, from which you can see all of Austin. Pretty for picnic.
This is the place that was responsible for Austin being selected as the capital of Texas. It has a great view of Downtown Austin, Lake Austin, and the loop 360 bridge.
You just go out W. 35th St. all the way past Mo-Pac (2222 W) until you get to Mt. Bonnell Road. Then turn right, and you go up this really steep hill! The drive itself is an adventure. When you get to the top, there is a park where you can get out and look around. There is an excellent view of Lake Austin to the west, and the Austin skyline (including the UT Tower and the Capitol) back to the southeast.

The Oasis

The Oasis for a wonderful sunset.

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Don't try to eat dinner at the Oasis. The food is awful. Also be warned that on a Saturday when the weather turns nice around 6pm or so the line'll stretch for several hundred feet.
"But there *is* something nice about watching the sunset from the patio of The Oasis while a bit dizzy from Margaritas."
Alternative: Mt Bonnell, Barton Creek Mall(!)

Palmetto State Park

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Pedernales Falls State Park

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It is about 1 hour from Austin and has some very nice hiking places. It's about 50 miles from Austin and on the way to the enchanted rock (about a 30-mile detour). There's a swimming area, though I suspect it's pretty crowded on weekends, so you may want to consider visiting it on during the week. The falls are very impressive after a big rain, and there are some pretty nice hiking trails that parallel the river.
A very serene place for a quite evening by the river.

Town Lake

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Town Lake is the thickening of the river through downtown. rent a canoe, canoe into Barton Springs to see all the wildlife.

West Cave Preserve (off Hwy. 71 toward Llano)

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Shelley Hatfield (7/25/95)
This is very similar to Hamilton Pool in that it is in the same river valley, and is a natural pool. However, this preserve is about 20 times more breathtaking. The pool lies under some caverns, over which flows a slow waterfall, complete with ferns. It's a real slice of Eden. To get there, you take one of the tours (every hour or two hours on weekends only, until 4pm) through the river valley. It's approximately a mile. Admission is free, but any donations you can make are appreciated.

Wild Basin Nature Preserve (off Loop 360).

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Wildflowers Blooming

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In the Spring you should definitely drive up into the hill country and see the wildflowers go ape. Just about everything from here to Marble Falls, Burnett, and Llano is full of color, and it ain't like being in Kansas anymore.

Windy Point at Lake Travis

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Good swimming and picnic area with lots of windsurfers. Windy point is further down the same road that the Oasis is on.

Zilker Park and the Botanical Gardens there

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Ride the little train, feed the ducks; also the Zilker Garden Center, which is a beautifully landscaped and terraced hillside with many points of interest and the rose garden at the bottom. Austin Nature Center: (??same as Bot.Gardens??) It has several indoor exhibits, several nature trials, and a live animal exhibit.

Hiking along the Barton Creek Greenbelt

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2. Libraries/Exhibits:

Capitol

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Laguna Gloria Art Museum (on the way to Mt Bonnell)

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UT Campus:

(Check with the Visitor Center for a self-guided walking tour)

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LBJ Library (Lyndon B. Johnson) often has interesting exhibits
HRC (Harry Ramson Center) (21st and Guadalupe) to see the/an original Gutenberg bible
Texas Memorial Museum

Wineries and Breweries

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Austin is a relative newcomer in the wine business and there are several wineries in the vicinity that offer tours. The same goes for breweries. I doubt these will compare to those in Germany, but Hill country wines are supposed to be unique.

3. Music:

Austin is also known as a great music city with a lot of local talent. Often called "alternative music" until they become more nationally known, such bands can be found at the Continental Club, the Lizard Lounge, and several other places. Naturally, wandering 6th street is a good fall-back.

Don't miss an evening at the Split Rail on South Lamar, the original country western music place in town, where everyone who is anyone in country music once has played. don't eat the food there though ... prepare to dance the Texas Two-Step and the Cotton-Eyed Joe....

A weekend concert at Symphony Square, the Austin Opery, Captain Tom's, or Gruene Hall (take IH35 towards San Marcus)

Antone's tends to have the biggest names.


4. Other (fun) Stuff:

Iceskating: there is an icerink in Northcross Mall.

If your parents are into go-carts, they have a 60mph go-cart track between San Marcos and Austin. I forget the name, but it is just around Buda. Fun, but not for the faint of heart. [sorry, I've been informed that this place na longer exists -ed]

Esther's Follys comedy show on 6th (but it might be too locally and nationally oriented to be funny to folks from out of the country).


Malibu Grand Prix

On I-35, just south of 183.

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Doug McLaren (11/17/94)
They don't quite go 60mph, but they're a lot faster than your average go cart, and a whole lot of fun. Last time I went there (a few years ago) it cost like $2/lap to race, so the cost can add up fast.

5. Food:

See separate restaraunt guides.


6. Other Cities:

Fredericksburg

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Unknown
Settled by German immigrants starting 1845. Museums. There are several German restaraunts (none very authentic, at least not Eiffel), shops, the Admiral Nimitz museum (WWII stuff), and several 'Sunday Houses' left from the late 1800's.
Have lunch at the Altdorf (great Wurst)
Everything's along the main street. (hwy 290)
It is on Hwy 290 W about 80 miles. (1.5 hrs) (same way as for the Salt Lick except you keep going on 290 instead of turning into 1826) On the way there, stop in...
Ron Boerger (2/6/95)
A wonderful "German" town with quite a bit to do. Many craft shops (including a maker of Mandolins among other musical instruments!), some great bakeries and German resturaunts, and of course open-air biergardens! Fredericksburg also features many fine B&B's and it's a great place to spend a few days. Just up the road a piece is Enchanted Rock, too. My fiancee and I love to head out to "our" B&B in the Nimitz birthplace, which among other things features a handcrafted 8' bathtub. :-)

Johnson City

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Unknown> Unknownhich is the birthplace of former U.S. president Lyndon B.Johnson.
There is also the LBJ farm further down the road. It has a nice park for a picnic lunch as well. (see also 1. Parks/Nature)
Also in Johnson city is some of the best jerky.

New Braunfels (on the way to San Antonio)

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Settled by Germans starting in 1845. The settlements were organized by the Adelsverein. There are museums which you might find interesting.
Also, beautiful cave Natural Bridge Caverns (stalagtities and stalagmites), and a safari-like drive through African animals who come to your car to be fed (right next to the Caverns).

Salado Texas (Texas history)

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About 1 hour north of here on I-35. It has shops and a couple of very good restaurants, and shows what Texas was like about 100-125 years ago. Salado was the only stage coach stop between San Antonio and Fort Worth at the turn of the century. Eat at the Stage Coach Inn.

San Antonio

The Alamo.

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Movie about The Alamo in the Imax Theater at the Riverwalk mall.

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Riverwalk through downtown.

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The 5 Mission Churches:

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Drive down the Mission Trail leaving south out of downtown. It's a well marked, roughly ten mile drive with stops at the four other historic missions in San Antonio (the Alamo being the fifth), as well as a two hundred year old dam still in use. The missions all date from the early 1700s, and are currently maintained as a National Historical Park, complete with helpful leaflets and park rangers with Smokey Bear hats. Fascinating architecture and history, and rarely crowded. One of the Missions now has a nature trail so you can get an idea of what the land was like when the Spanish first decided to settle there. One of the most impressive features of this park is that these beautiful old buildings are still used by the locals for services (something to keep in mind if you're visiting on a Sunday).

Lone Star brewery museum

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San Marcos

(along I35 south about 30 miles from Austin (exit 200))

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There is a tacky place called Wonder World. They have an OK cave tour ( very wimpy though ).
Factory Shop complex for shopping.
Aquarena Springs. The shows are kitsch but the scenery is pretty as are the fish.

Farther away:

Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountain National Park

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Both host some truly stunning scenery and bizarre ecosystems, and are definitely worth the drive if you can afford a four or five day trip.
If you go to Guadalupe Mountains, take time to visit nearby Carlsbad Caverns (just across the border in New Mexico), since you don't find yourself out in that part of the world all that often.

Big Thicket National Preserve (an hour east of Houston)

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Dallas/Fort Worth

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Museums

Houston (3-4 hours)

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The new NASA Space Center attraction. This now costs about $10 per person, but has been developed by Disney. I haven't been to the new, but the old had the actual Mercury re-entry capsual complete with charred heat shield and others as well.

Laredo/Mexico

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Shopping

New Orleans

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No comment ;-)

Padre Island National Seashore (half an hour south of Corpus Christi)

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UT's MacDonald Observatory

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Yucatan or Belize (weekend flight)

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7. General Hints:

When you visit the Capitol, be sure to stop by the tourist info desk and ask for "one of those Texas Tourist books", and some bumper stickers. The books have lots of glossy pictures of tourist locations throughout Texas, and make nice souveniers, especially for people visiting from out of the country.

Don't walk, run to your nearest bookstore and pick up the Texas Monthly Guide to Austin and Hill Country. It has everything remotely interesting to do between here and San Antonio.

Look in the phone book. In the middle (the color section), they have a nice section on attractions in Austin. If you're looking at things like entertainment/restaurants, look in the Chronicle---they have a good list of what's happening each week.

Pick up just about any issue of the Austin Chronicle. Call the Austin Chamber of Commerce. Pick up one of the Austin books at any bookstore.

One of the big HEB's (e.g. 183 behind Aboretum) or Barton Creek Mall may be impressive to foreigners. [my mom was real impressed with the Simon David on Great Hills, and she's from Illinois -ed]

I usually take visitors to the North West suburban Austin for the views and nice homes. (ie, take mopac north to Far West, follow Far West to the west, keep following it when it turns, and then just drive around a bit when it hits a T intersection on the top of Cat Mountain.)

With about 168 movie screens, Austin has one screen for every 3000 people. Everyone in Austin could go to a movie every week or ten days without filling the theatres.

We've also got a large number of theatres, ranging from UT student efforts, through tiny houses of dedicated actors, to venues for big touring companies.

The yearly ArmadilloCon SF Convention (http://www.io.com/~shiva/fact/dillo) can be fun.


Contributors

Ron Boerger (ron@mpd.tandem.com)
Joe Bowen (jobo@austin.ibm.com)
Robert Buckner (lajitas@austin.ibm.com)
Earl Cooley III (shiva@io.com)
Terry Dyke (tdyke@bga.com)
Kyle Knight (kyle@martin.cm.utexas.edu)
Scott McCusker (mccusker@cs.utexas.edu)
Doug McLaren (dougmc@comco.com)
Karen Sebastian (ksebast@dvorak.amd.com)
Thomas White (twhite@dvorak.amd.com)
Shane Williams (shanew@mail.utexas.edu)