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A handful of big, centrally located parks makes downtown Austin ideal for hiking. First and foremost, there’s the eight miles of (main) trail in the sprawling Barton Creek Greenbelt (map), all limestone cliffs and dense foliage along a rocky creek bed (the creek has popular swimming holes...when there’s water in it, which most often happens in the spring/summer, but depends on rainfall). You can access the greenbelt at a couple of points—the northern Spyglass trail entrance is right across from Tacodeli, if you wish to hike post-breakfast tacos, though we preferred to start further south, at the Gaines Creek/Twin Falls trail entrance (to get there, take the southbound Mopac frontage road south of 360; just before the frontage road loops under the expressway, you’ll see cars and parking spots on the right; map).
Right smack in the center of Austin is the Lady Bird Lake Hike & Bike Trail and Zilker Park (map)—which, to further confuse matters, also connects with the Barton Creek Greenbelt further south. Zilker Park nestles alongside Lady Bird Lake (formerly known as Town Lake, a reservoir of the Colorado River) and is home to botanical gardens, canoe rentals (see below), volleyball courts and recreation fields, and the historic natural-spring-fed Barton Springs pool, which is said to average a year-round temperature of 68°F. The Lady Bird Lake trail winds along both sides of the lake to connect, at its western end, with Zilker Park; on the south side, the gravelly path takes you past the famous Stevie Ray Vaughan statue near Auditorium Shores, from which you can hike west and over a picturesque footbridge to reach Zilker (and connect, if you wish, with the Barton Creek Greenbelt).
Escape the city on a canoe or two-person kayak from Zilker Park Boat Rentals (map), right in the middle of the park, and enjoy a peaceful paddle along Lady Bird Lake. Open year-round, the stand charges $12 per hour or $40 for the day. Alternatively, on the south shore of Lady Bird Lake, Austin Rowing Dock (2418 Stratford Dr., map) rents out single and tandem kayaks ($10-$15 per hour), paddleboats ($25 per hour), and stand-up paddleboards ($15 per hour), as well as offers instruction courses (if you’re sticking around town for a while). Check out this roundup of places to paddleboard in Austin for more ideas.
Like Nashville, Austin is a country-music town at heart, and the legendary Broken Spoke (3201 S. Lamar Blvd., map) honky-tonk is among the best introductions you can get to it. Show up any evening Tuesday through Saturday for live music, cheap Lone Star pitchers, and dancing—and don’t even try to make excuses: The Spoke offers complimentary two-stepping lessons from 8pm-9pm (Wed-Sat only). For a real Austin experience, visit on a night when Dale Watson is holding court, and don’t forget your cowboy boots and hat.
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