Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Austin Flingers, stay and see more of Austin and Texas

When you come to Austin for the Fling, we can promise you lots of garden visits and fun with fellow bloggers. But it also gives you a chance to be a tourist in our weirdly wonderful city, and to make a day trip or two to visit other cool spots in central Texas. Over the years, I've added days to my Fling trips in multiple cities, with my spouse and kids joining me either pre- or post-Fling on tourist adventures. I highly recommend it!

The easiest course is staying on at the Fling hotel so you can walk or cab/rideshare to nearby destinations. Another option, especially if you're planning to rent a car to explore a little farther afield, is to switch post-Fling to a hotel outside of downtown. For example, the charming Lone Star Court, located in the Domain mixed-use development in North Austin, is today showing rates of $179-189 for the days after the Fling. I've done it both ways myself -- staying put or switching hotels -- and it really just comes down to what works for your budget and what you plan to see during your extra days.

But the real question is, how will you choose what to see? Austin has so much going on -- the music scene; beautiful parks, trails, spring-fed swimming holes, and lakes; museums for art lovers and history buffs; and the cultural dynamism that happens in a city composed of hippies and hipsters, artists and musicians, high-tech entrepreneurs, 50K university students, and a seasonal swarm of state capital workers and politicians -- and we're located right on the edge of the picturesque Hill Country, where roadsides bloom with wildflowers and towns settled by German and Czech immigrants beckon tourists looking for laid-back and friendly Texas charm.

Here are my top picks for local attractions and fun day trips. 


Things to Do: Downtown and nearby 


Live music on 6th Street and beyond: Look up club listings, and you're sure to find multiple options any night of the week. Iconic live music venues downtown, near the university, and in nearby South Austin include the Continental Club, Stubb's, the Saxon Pub, Cactus Cafe, and classic Texas dance hall the Broken Spoke. 

Good eats: Find our friend Sheryl's distinctively Austin restaurant picks here. And here are our downtown restaurant recommendations.


Shops on South Congress
Shopping: 2nd Street District has nice boutiques and is fairly close to our hotel. But for funky, colorful Austin shopping and people-watching, plus great views of the Capitol, you can't miss a stroll along South Congress Avenue. This is the uniquely Austin shopping/dining/hangout strip most people envision when they talk about Austin. It's a bit of a hike from the hotel (a 30-minute walk one way) but just a short cab/rideshare away. Don't miss it.

Bats: A large colony of Mexican free-tailed bats lives in the cracks under the Congress Avenue Bridge, and Austin has joyfully adopted them as the city's mascot, turning out in droves to watch them emerge each night in a black cloud and begin their nightly mosquito- and moth-hunting. You can watch them at sundown from the west side of the bridge or below along Lady Bird Lake, or take a bat-watching cruise to watch from the water.

Esther's Follies: Need a good laugh? Catch a live show at Esther's Follies, a mix of modern-vaudeville musical numbers, political satire, and hilarious (and a little naughty) magic acts. The theater faces a wall of windows overlooking 6th Street, pulling passersby into the acts. Sit at the front and you'll likely get pulled in too. Make a reservation to be sure of getting a seat, and go enjoy this beloved Austin theater troupe.

Texas Capitol: The domed Texas Capitol building is an Austin icon, and whatever your politics it's a cool place to visit if you enjoy history and architecture. Tours are free.

Texas State Capitol
Texas History Museum: Learn about our state's often rollicking and adventurous stories at the Bullock Texas History Museum.

LBJ Presidential Library: President Lyndon B. Johnson's history is preserved at the LBJ Presidential Library near the UT campus, just north of downtown.

Blanton Museum of Art: The Blanton is one of the largest university art museums in the country. Located north of downtown on the UT campus. Closed on Mondays.


Go Play Outside, Nature Lovers


Hike-and-Bike Trail around Lady Bird Lake
Hike-and-Bike Trail: Take a stroll, go for a run, or pedal a rented bike on Austin's beloved Hike-and-Bike Trail and Boardwalk around Lady Bird Lake on the southern edge of downtown. There are 10 miles of trails, but bridges across the lake enable you to cut that into 3- or 4-mile round-trip jaunts. Check out this site for insider info about where to go. As for me, my favorite sections of the trail are along Barton Creek and across the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, and the Boardwalk portion of the trail over the lake. Both the Pfluger Bridge and the Boardwalk offer great views of downtown (selfie time!), but the north end of the Pfluger Bridge has the added bonus of a native-plant garden in the Pfluger Bridge Circle. 

Barton Springs Pool: This marvelous, 3-acre, spring-fed swimming pool is the heart and soul of Austin. Locals flock to Barton Springs Pool all summer to cool off in the 68-degree non-chlorinated water, but even in winter (when the water feels warmer than the air) dedicated swimmers will be out there doing laps. Go dip your toes just to say you did, or bring your suit and go for a refreshing swim. Closed for cleaning on Thursdays.

Mount Bonnell view of Lake Austin
Zilker Park: Barton Springs Pool is located within Zilker Park, an expanse of playing fields, rocky outcroppings, a big playground for kids, and a miniature train you can ride. The Hike-and-Bike Trail runs alongside the park on the south side of the lake near Barton Creek.

Mount Bonnell: You'll need a car to get here, but the view from Mt. Bonnell is worth it. Tucked in a cliffside neighborhood of high-end homes with killer views is a parking area at the base of a long set of stairs up the hillside. At the top you'll enjoy a sweeping view of Lake Austin and the iconic Pennybacker Bridge.

Hamilton Pool
Barton Creek Greenbelt: Take a scenic hike along a spring-fed creek with swimming holes and tall limestone bluffs on the Barton Creek Greenbelt. The greenbelt is hugely popular among Austinites of all ages and seemingly every dog owner in town. You'll find access points along Capital of Texas/Loop 360 and MoPac on the west side of town.

Hamilton Pool: One of the most beautiful hiking/swimming spots in the Austin area is at a collapsed grotto called Hamilton Pool, about an hour west of Austin. A 50-foot airy waterfall spills over the lip of the gigantic collapsed cave ceiling into a circular pool, which is open to swimmers, conditions permitting. It's a fairly easy hike around the pool and also out to the Pedernales River. Because of overcrowding, in the warmer months (like May) you'll need a reservation to enter, so plan ahead and reserve well in advance. 






See Texas! A Day-Tripper's Guide

Wildseed Farms poppy field
Go West: My favorite road trip, especially in spring, is west through the Hill Country to the charming German-settled town of Fredericksburg. It's located about an hour and 40 minutes from Austin along Highway 290 West, a scenic drive that takes you through rolling, rugged country where roadsides are often lined with wildflowers if we've had adequate winter rains. The famous Texas bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush will be pretty much done by early May, but you can look for pink evening primrose, blanketflower, Mexican hat, and more.

Vineyards and wine-tasting rooms line the route, and just before you reach Fredericksburg, you'll see Wildseed Farms on your right. Stop to photograph their wildflower farm fields and check out their nursery and retail store while you're there. You can easily spend a couple of hours in Fredericksburg exploring the main street shops and restaurants. At the town's National Museum of the Pacific War, established in the boyhood home of Admiral Nimitz, you'll find a Zen-style Japanese Garden of Peace. If you have time, push on about 20 minutes north on RR 965 to see Enchanted Rock, an enormous pink granite dome rising above scrubby ranch land.

Antique Rose Emporium
Go East: Head east from Austin into lovely, rolling farm country to visit Brenham and the beautiful gardens and nursery at Antique Rose Emporium. Located about an hour east of Austin, ARE's gardens contain bounteous roses but also plenty of other plants, especially grasses and perennials, with an old chapel as the centerpiece. Head to Brenham's town square for lunch and visit the Blue Bell Creamery for an ice cream sample afterward. For a true botanical experience, with rare plants from Mexico and China, push on (with an advance reservation for a private tour, ideally with a group; tell them you're garden writers and Pam sent you) to Peckerwood Garden in Hempstead, the garden of plant explorer and landscape architecture professor John Fairey, which is now under the stewardship of a nonprofit foundation.

Garden at Magnolia Market
Go North: All you Fixer Upper fans will want to head north on unscenic but speedy I-35 to visit Chip and Joanna's Magnolia Market at the Silos in Waco. An hour and 45 minutes later, and you'll be shopping amid the shiplap, eating at their food trucks, and visiting the market's adorable farmhouse garden.

Go South: Remember the Alamo! History lovers as well as garden lovers will find plenty to do in San Antonio, about an hour and a half south of downtown Austin. Head south on I-35 to visit San Antonio Botanical Garden, the Alamo, the famous River Walk, and Pearl, a fun and beautifully landscaped mixed-use site with shopping and restaurants built around the old Pearl Brewery. On the way there or back, detour to tiny Gruene (pronounced Green) for old-fashioned Texas charm with a handful of unique shops, wine tasting rooms, the Gristmill restaurant, and an authentic dance hall where -- if you're lucky -- a Texas swing band will be playing.

Hibiscus at San Antonio Botanical Garden

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