Best of Austin: Get Out

Ever wondered why people in Austin are so fit? Because they never run out of things to do outside.
Wed December 31, 1969 6:00 am
Best of Austin: Get Out
Illustration by Lorenzo Petrantoni

Best View

Conventional wisdom says that the best view of Austin can be seen from the limestone cliffs of Mount Bonnell, and the dramatic vistas of Lake Austin and the ever-expanding city skyline definitely make this pretty overlook worth the visit. A steep walkway of one hundred—odd stone steps (wear comfortable shoes) leads all the way up to the pavilion, from which you can look down on some of Austin’s most exclusive real estate. (It’s worth noting that Mount Bonnell is one of the highest points in the city, though it is less a “mount” than a hill.) Unfortunately, on a nice day, it can get rather crowded with tourists—and amorous teenagers after dusk—who make the panorama a bit less scenic. We think the most breathtaking views of Austin are from the observation deck of the University of Texas Tower. On a clear day, you can see all the way out to the Hill Country, and the spectacular 360-degree view is truly jaw-dropping. But there’s a hitch: You can only access the observation deck by scheduling a tour through the Texas Union, so it is important to call ahead and make a reservation. Mount Bonnell, 3800 Mount Bonnell Dr.; the University of Texas Tower, 24th and Guadalupe, 512-475-6633 or

Best Place to Swim Laps

Young swimmers tend to use the chlorinated western section of Deep Eddy Municipal Pool, but the lap lanes on the eastern side are spring-fed and chlorine-free. That means no red eyes or green hair. But there are rules to swimming here, and a newcomer best adhere to the guidelines or risk upsetting one of the many passionate regulars. If a lane is free and nobody is standing in a line, jump in. If the lanes have one person each, get close to the edge of the pool and ask the swimmer if you can share with him. (Be sure to find out if he wants to circle or just split the lane; nine times out of ten he will want to split since swimming speeds vary.) If there are two people in each lane, ask any folks standing outside the pool where the line begins and wait your turn. 401 Deep Eddy Dr., 512-472-8546 or

Best Leisurely Walk

One of the bestintro ways to spend an afternoon is to stroll through the Zilker Botanical Garden, where it’s easy to lose track of time while you commune with nature. The 31-acre oasis boasts hundreds of native, hybrid, and exotic plants, as well as a rose garden, an herb garden, and a butterfly garden. (The latter includes an open-air hatchery and flora that lures butterflies during their spring and fall migrations.) There is even a prehistoric garden, which re-creates the natural habitat of the Ornithomimus dinosaur, whose ancient, three-toed tracks were discovered on the grounds of the botanical garden in 1992. (Alas, you can’t actually see the tracks anymore; paleontologists made casts of the footprints, then reburied them so as to prevent further deterioration.) The pièce de résistance, however, is the meticulously landscaped Japanese garden, where stone pathways and streams wind their way past waterfalls, footbridges, and koi-filled ponds. Its design sprung from the imagination of the late Isamu Taniguchi, a Japanese immigrant who was held in a South Texas internment camp during World War II. Out of gratitude for the education that his sons later received at the University of Texas, Taniguchi landscaped this quiet refuge in the late sixties. Working for no pay (and with no restrictions on what he could do), he spent a year and a half transforming three acres of rugged caliche cliffs into a place of serene reflection. Pay close attention and you will notice that six sequential ponds—each of which is designed to resemble a letter—spell out the word “Austin.” 2220 Barton Springs Rd., 512-477-8672 or

Best Sunset

The Oasis restaurant is the predictable sunset-viewing destination, located on a gorgeous bluff with a sweeping view of Lake Travis. Traditionally, the sunset here is met with applause, and margaritas are the drink of choice, along with specialty mixes such as the “Oasis Sunset,” a blend of Bacardi Limón rum, Captain Morgan spiced rum, lemonade, orange juice, and grenadine with a float of Bacardi 151. A good part of the deck was destroyed by a fire in 2005, but it has since been remodeled and now accommodates (gulp) two thousand people. But if watching the sunset with a big crowd isn’t your style, we suggest the Dry Creek Cafe & Boat Dock, a little tavern on Mount Bonnell Road with a stunning view of the sunset from a rustic rooftop deck. The property name is slightly misleading: This is more of a saloon than a cafe or a boat dock, since the place doesn’t serve food and is nowhere near the water. Luckily, plenty of beer is available. Drink your domestic longneck (cash only, please) on a rickety chair and listen to the vintage jukebox play Hank Thompson, Willie, Waylon, et al. And unless you want to draw stares of contempt from those around you, hold your applause for your favorite old country song. Oasis Restaurant, 6550 Comanche Tr., 512-266-2442 or; Dry Creek Saloon, 4812 Mount Bonnell Rd., 512-453-9244

Best All-Ages Playscape

Vince Hannemann started building a crazy tower dubbed the Cathedral of Junk in his South Austin backyard 21 years ago, and since then, he has destroyed old sections and built new wings. (The last time we visited, in the spring, his most recent addition featured a few live rabbits enclosed in a large covered cage.) The structure’s metamorphosis is a big part of the appeal. Not only is Hannemann constantly attaching motorcycles and telephones and other miscellaneous scrap to the assembly, but nature adds some finishing touches every day: Vines meander up the spiral staircase to the top of the tower, and birds make their nests in the thick of the dead electronic typewriters and metallic whatnot. Situate yourself on one of the “thrones” and take it in. 4422 Lareina


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