THE VIOLET CROWN. THE LIVE MUSIC CAPITAL OF THE WORLD. WELCOME TO Austin, texas: THE HOME OF OUTDOOR VOICES, WILLIE NELSON, AND DAMN GOOD TACOS.
In just its modern years alone, the city of Austin has undergone quite a transformation. Since its establishment as the largest trove of live musicians in the nation, Austin has added a fast-growing tech hub (“Silicon Hills”), budding creative community, and a deservingly hyped food scene to its cultural index.
Austin has come a long way, but the local community here is still as tight-knit and loyal as ever. From keeping gentrification of historically Black and Brown communities at bay, to preventing classic music venues and hole-in-the-walls from falling victim to COVID, the locals here embrace camaraderie and Southern hospitality as pillars of life.
With a hallmark lake that halves the city and rolling hills all around, it’s inevitable that Recreation is at the heart of the Austin lifestyle. But do you know all of its most precious nooks and crannies?
We’ve enlisted Austin transplants-turned-locals Maria Oliveira and Ryan Lerma (you may know them from Passport Vintage), along with Antone’s Nightclub co-owner Noel Bridges and local creatives Gabby Phi and Adraint Bereal, to bring you the insider’s guide to Austin, Texas. Starting at Lady Bird Lake, then working backwards from south to north, (use MoPac as the Yellow Brick Road if you ever get lost), these are the Recreational spots that define our home city.
“The community here is supportive like no other.” Passport Vintage owners Maria and Ryan wear head-to-toe Outdoor Voices.
Lady Bird Lake
The central spine of Austin, this river-like reservoir on the Colorado River ultimately forks off into every other Recreational must-see. On any given weekend, people from all walks and corners of Austin congregate (respectfully distanced and masked) to stroll, jog, row, picnic, and just about any other activity you can imagine. With walking access to rental spots like the Texas Rowing Center and Epic Sup, Lady Bird Lake is hard to miss and even harder to ignore.
From west to east, our Austin locals are here with all the parking tips, trail spots, and hidden gems of the area.
A west end artery of Lady Bird Lake, the Deep Eddy Municipal Pool is one of the greatest local treasures around town. Spread out for sunbathing on the lawns or take a cold water dip. Currently, the lap swim section is open on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
Afterward, claim an outdoors table at Pool Burger, owned by Noel and Will Bridges, the same couple that now own Austin’s longstanding Antone’s Nightclub, for some after-sun grub and a tiki drink or two. Noel recommends the Loco Moco, a Hawaiian-inspired comfort dish that’s “kind of a sleeper item.”
A leisurely walk to your east will take you to the Veterans Drive Trail Head, where you can enter the trail right under the MoPac Bridge.
I don’t care how cool your pool is, it’s never going to compete with the magical feel of Deep Eddy.
Day well spent. Team OV hangs at Deep Eddy, pre-COVID. Photos by Adam Kingman.
Even if you’re mid-run, walk this bridge to take it all in.
You can find one of the most scenic skyline views of Austin from the MoPac Bridge, one of the three main crosspoints, and a “moment of relief” according to Maria, for trail runners.
Ryan suggests walking this bridge, even if you’re mid-run, “to take it all in.” You’re sure to be in great company with other paddleboarders, kayakers, and otherwise Recreationalists soaking in the picturesque skyline.
Cross the MoPac Bridge southward and you’ll find yourself right next to Zilker Park, Austin’s signature 351-acre metropolitan park and seasonal home to the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Pick a grassy patch to lay out your blanket, catch some rays, and play with all the dogs that are bound to come snoop around your picnic.
Afterward, Ryan recommends Sandy’s Hamburgers for a traditional, no-frills burger, fries, and soft serve trio that’s been an Austin staple longer than you’ve probably been alive.
Pro Tip! If you’re struggling to find parking along the Trail, try the entrance closest to the ZACH Theatre. According to Maria, “there’s always parking over there.”
It’s not the only greenbelt in the Austin area, but when locals mention The Greenbelt, they’re referring to the 12.34 miles of interconnected trails that are accessible within minutes of downtown Austin. The entrance at Gus Fruh, which locals consider to be the best, gives you the feeling of being far from the city without ever leaving.
Pro Tip! A University of Texas student created Greenbelt Now, which pulls data from the USGS Water Services to show you which areas are most swimmable. Plus! To find the best waterfront swings (besides the ones at Gus Fruh and Sculpture Falls) check this rope swing guide.
All roads lead back to Lady Bird Lake. Photos by Ryan Lerma.
Home to Maria and Ryan’s vintage haven, Passport Vintage, South Austin is one of the most quintessential and culturally diverse Austin neighborhoods. Hit all of the best hidden gems, hole-in-the-walls, and mom-and-pop shops in one easy afternoon — then go cool off in the lake.
A bustling commercial hub and social center, SoCo is definitely the place to be for a walk, talk, and window shop experience.
Ryan and Maria suggest grabbing a bite to eat at June’s All Day before a casual walk up and down SoCo. Shop previously loved books at South Congress Books, make a coffee and pastries run at Mañana in the South Congress Hotel, or grab a piping hot slice of Homeslice Pizza.
While you’re at it, drop into the brand new Outdoor Voices shop and say Hey, Hi, Hello — we’d love to have you in!
On the corner of Fletcher and South 1st, Passport Vintage is our go-for troves on troves of vintage denim (Levi’s galore) and apparel.
Saturday scenes at the farmers’ market. Maria wears the Sweatee T-Shirt and RecTrek Pants by Outdoor Voices.
While Ryan considers himself a through and through East Austin stan, Maria claims Downtown Austin as her go-to scene. “I love walking around downtown on weekend afternoons because it’s quiet, and it feels like you’re in a really big city.”
I love walking around downtown on weekend afternoons because it’s quiet, and it feels like you’re in a really big city.
Start your Saturday by hitting up the SFC Farmers’ Market, located in Republic Square downtown. According to Maria, “There’s a man who sells $8 cash-only eggs — but they’re totally worth it. Grocery store eggs are usually 12 weeks old, but his are 1 day old. You can taste the difference.”
While you’re there, stop by the three-in-one butcher shop, salumeria, and restaurant Salt & Time next door for some quick lunch.
Walk two blocks south to Intelligentsia Coffee for a midday boost or The Peacock at the Austin Proper Hotel for a pre-dinner cocktail. “They have an amazing outdoor space and a great paloma,” says Maria.
Austin’s infamous nightlife scene might be on timeout, but there are still some locally favorited spots on West Sixth that are worth checking out.
BookPeople is Texas’ largest independent bookstore — and they’re still safely servicing locals with good reads. Grab your own before walking a few blocks over to Better Half for coffee, cocktails, and a really great patio space.
If you’re looking for a full walkable day of Recreation, drop yourself in East Austin and go, well, anywhere from there. Devoid of any skyscrapers or flashy commercial institutions, the east side truly radiates Austin’s infamous friendly neighborhood feel.
Make like Ryan and take your bike (or rent one!) to Brew and Brew for a morning coffee before riding through the eclectic East Austin neighborhoods between 7th and 12th Street or East Cesar Chavez.
If you’re a coffee aficionado like, well, every other Austinite, Gabby Phi, co-founder of @ganbeigals, loves Greater Goods Roasting or Palomino Coffee. Plus! For your next take-out excursion, Gabby recommends the DIY suadero taco kit from Suerte.
Austin’s newer, more northern hemisphere is home to up-and-coming districts like Mueller and The Domain. Not to mention, it’s experiencing a serious growth spurt, thanks in part to the steady influx of tech types and young people. For a less obvious choice of a day, our locals have two favorite strips.
Nestled between small businesses and residential complexes, North Loop houses some of the most locally adored vintage shopping in Austin. Maria recommends walking the strip to check out Blue Velvet and Room Service Vintage.
While you’re in the area, Ryan recommends a visit to his friends at Lo-Fi Vintage on Guadalupe.
The University of Texas at Austin
While it may be regarded a students-only zone, there are actually a few Recreation-friendly gems on the sprawling Forty Acres. Adraint Bereal, a recent UT graduate and author of The Black Yearbook, seeks out the Caven-Clark Lacrosse Field “to kick it and clear my mind.” Same goes for the hilly lawns outside the LBJ Library.
THE NEIGHBORHOODS OF AUSTIN ARE CRAZY COOL AND SO ECLECTIC.
Around town. Photos by Nicole Slevin.
We love Austin so much (and obviously know it like the back of our hands) that we’re throwing in a couple extras.
For a quieter, lesser known trail hike, Ryan recommends McKinney Falls in southeast Austin. “It’s made of completely flat rock, and then there are these crater-like water holes that make you feel like you’re on the moon.”
Adraint suggests Lost Creek Trail. “If you walk all the way to the back of it, there’s a great mini cliff for jumping into the water.”
For an easy day trip, Gabby loves Reimers Ranch Watering Hole in Dripping Springs.
For when you’re feeling sporty, Noel recommends visiting the public 18-hole Lions Municipal Golf Course. “It’s just a gathering place for all walks of life, even people that don’t play golf.”
Before you head off to The Capitol City, buff up your cultural index right from the couch. Head to wildsam.com for the full Field Guides collection.
Austin-based group and Grammy winners Black Pumas. Stream here.
Local artist Deborah Roberts. Learn more here.
Learn Franklin Barbecue’s iconic meat-smoking ways. Buy the cookbook here.
In lieu of this year’s in-person festival, ACL’s 40th anniversary show. Watch here.
Editor’s Note: Given the current state of the world, The Recreationalist does not encourage long distance travel to any particular region. Instead, these guides were crafted to pay homage to the local people, communities, and cultures that have kept these cities strong for generations, and perhaps even for learning a new thing or two about the place you call home.
Featured photos by Ryan Lerma, Maria Oliveira, Nicole Slevin, and Adam Kingman.
Culture list and illustration by WILDSAM.
Did we miss anything? Let us know what your favorite Recreational spots in Austin are below.