February 11, 2013

Within Austin City Limits

Austin has smitten us with its amazing weather. We have spent the last month (winter month at that!) running around in shorts and t-shirts, bathing countless hours in the sunshine. We have quickly grown to appreciate the city for all it has to offer and have even established several places that we can call our favorites, as in, places we will truly miss when we leave. There is something very special about this city, with its colorful murals and bright neon signs. Its artistic vibe is like a breath of fresh air in the middle of the Texan desert. After Portland, I would say Austin is our second most favorite city in the US, and if we could find a way to live in both places, we would. (Preferably Austin in the winter and Portland in the summer!) In our month here we have yet had a day when we were bored, with nothing to do. The city offers a long list of attractions and we have slowly been ticking them off, one by one. Because we have enjoyed this city so much, I have decided to share a city guide with you, in case you decide to come visit the city for yourself! Enjoy!


Downtown Austin

Downtown Austin
Downtown Austin
Austin's downtown proper lies north of the Lady Bird Lake, roughly between I-35 and Lamar Blvd. The Texas State Capitol Building sits atop the Congress Avenue hill in the middle of downtown Austin. The grand capitol building is made of Texan pink granite and there are free tours offered throughout the week. Just down the street is the Historic Sixth Street district, a street lined with live music bars, where nightly entertainment can be found on any night of the week. The Historic District is on 6th street between Congress Avenue and Red River Street. There is also another happening portion of 6th street that falls between Lavaca and West streets, although this side of sixth is more mellow and offers more outdoor patios. The west-most portion of downtown, along Lamar boulevard is sometimes called the Warehouse district and there you can find the Whole Foods headquarters along with the flagship store. The store offers up ample samples on weekend afternoons and also has a great outdoor patio perfect for evening dinners. The Book People bookstore, a neat place to relax, is just around the corner from Whole Foods. On Saturdays you can also find the the Austin Downtown Farmers Market, held in Republic Square Park. 

Central Austin

Central Austin
Central Austin
The University of Texas campus is just north of downtown. The campus itself is quite beautiful, with lots of tree lined sidewalks, statues and fountains. The Blanton Museum of Art is on campus, and admission is free on Thursdays. The Hyde Park residential neighborhood is further north of campus. This neighborhood was the first planned subdivision in the city and first development involving a design for street cars. Today the neighborhood is a collection of streets filled with cute homes and several cafes and restaurants on Duval St.

South Austin

South Austin
South Austin
Just across the Lady Bird Lake from downtown is south Austin, between Lamar Blvd and Congress Avenue. The main streets are Congress Avenue, First Avenue and Lamar Blvd (with Congress being the most popular, closely followed by First). Some of the locals call South Congress SoCo. South First follows suit with SoFi, and Lamar as SoLa. This is the hip district of Austin, where you can find lots of food trailer parks, interesting neighborhoods full of unique craftsman style homes, vintage stores and unique restaurants. Colorful neon signs light up at night, calling attention to the many food establishments along the avenues, and outdoor cafes are lit with cheerful patio lighting. 

Lady Bird Lake and Zilker Park

Lady Bird Lake and Zilker Park
Lady Bird Lake and Zilker Park
Lady Bird Lake was created in 1960 when the city of Austin dammed up the Colorado River, which flows through Austin. Downtown Austin lies on the northern shore of the lake and south Austin is across the way. There is a 10 mile long Hike and Bike soft surface trail that runs along the shoreline between the MOPAC highway bridge and the Pleasant Valley Rd bridge. Water sports are very popular on the lake, even in the winter, and most weekend afternoons you will find folks enjoying kayaking, canoeing, rowing, stand up paddle boarding and water bicycling. The lake offers great views of downtown Austin, and there is a whimsical Liz Carpenter fountain in Butler Park (just off the Hike and Bike trail) that lights up at night in a rainbow of colors. 


Zilker Park is a large greenspace on the southern shore where Austinites meet up for picnics, soccer, frisbee, sun bathing and volleyball. The park is also home to a popular off-leash dog area. The Zilker Botanical Gardens can be found on the western edge of the park and can be visited for just $2 a person throughout the day. Barton Creek flows along the east edge of the park. The Barton Springs Pool is a man-made swimming pool filled with year-round 70 degree water from the fourth largest spring in Texas. The Barton Creek Greenbelt trail starts in Zilker Park and goes 8 miles deep into the Barton Creek Wilderness. The trail is a single track trail that runs along the length of Barton Creek and its popular with runners, hikers and bikers. There are numerous public swimming holes along the trail. There is also a popular climbing wall, called the Great Wall, that offers beginner to advanced climbing routes. On Saturdays the Barton Creek Farmers Market sets up shop behind the Barton Creek Square Mall. 

East Sixth St. District

East Sixth Street District
East Sixth Street District
If the historic sixth street district is the popular place to go, east sixth is where the true hipsters go. Here you will find a district that's in the process of gentrification, nestled east of I-35, between San Marcos and Comal streets. Darkened saloons intermingle with live music bars and food trailer parks. The Texas Coffee Traders warehouse, where you can find freshly roasted coffee, is just off of 6th, on 4th street.

West Austin

West Austin
West Austin
The more upscale neighborhoods of the city lie in West Austin, between the Colorado River and the MOPAC highway. Within the residential neighborhoods is a hidden jem, the Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve, that is one of my most favorite parts of the whole city. The nature preserve has beautiful gardens and is filled with wonderfully colorful peacocks. These peacocks roam the grounds freely, and if you are lucky, display their gorgeous tails. The preserve has several ponds and a few short hiking trails, and is a great place to spend a relaxing afternoon (and its free!). Just outside the preserve is Covert Park. This park sits on top of Mount Bonnell and offers great views of downtown Austin and Lady Bird Lake. After visiting both places you can take a drive along Scenic Drive and wind your way down to the intersection of Enfield Rd and Lake Austin Blvd. where you will discover several restaurants and Mozart's Coffee Roasters Cafe, all of which have great outdoor seating right over the water.

Other Attractions Worth Mentioning:

Independence Brewery Tour- every first Saturday of the month from 1-3. Free
Live Oak Brewery Tour- every other Sunday from 12-1:30. Free
Cathedral of Junk- an epic collection of junk in one man's backyard. Donation recommended
Balcones Canyonlands Ntl' Wildlife Preserve- a place to hike and bird watch, northwest of Austin. Free


This is by no means an all-inclusive list! These are just places that Sky and I discovered during our time here, and I am sure there are many more interesting places to go and see. I hope you find this list helpful and I hope you enjoy your time in Austin!

For more pictures of Austin, click here.

Happy Austin Exploring!

M.

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1 comment:

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