To that end, here are ten activities that you should definitely try this spring in Austin:
1) Get in the water
Up north, spring generally means snowmelt and cool weather, but Texas springs — however short-lived they may be — tend to be comfortably warm. You may see this as a downside to living down south, but remember what G. K. Chesterton once said about less-than-ideal situations and you’ll come around: “An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” Look on the bright side! Toasty spring temperatures mean that you don’t need to wait until summer to learn to paddleboard at Rowing Dock, take the kids to a community splash pad, or swim in any of the greater Austin area’s amazing natural swimming holes.
Rowing Dock: 2418 Stratford Dr. 512-459-0999. Open daily 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Website.
2) Go wild
If you haven’t explored any of Texas’ state and national parks, natural areas, or wildlife preserves, spring is a great time to get in touch with your wild side! Within a 50-mile radius of the Capitol, you’ve got six state parks and countless city parks and nature preserves with plenty of trail riding and hiking, camping, stargazing, rock climbing, and fishing potential. Some of our favorite natural areas in town are McKinney Falls State Park, the Barton Creek and Bull Creek Greenbelt trail networks, and Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve. Pedernales Falls State Park, Westcave Preserve, and Lake Georgetown’s 28-mile Goodwater Trail are equally awesome, but farther from home.
Barton Creek Greenbelt: 3755-B Capital of Texas Hwy. 512-477-1566. Open daily sunrise to sunset. Free. Website.
Bull Creek Greenbelt: 7806 N Capital of Texas Hwy. 512-477-1566. Open daily sunrise to sunset. Free. Website.
3) Make new feathered friends
Ask any local birder and they’ll tell you straight: Austin is home to a huge number of birds — even some endangered species — and spring is the perfect time to seek them out with a trusty pair of binoculars and a bird identification guidebook. According to the Travis Audubon, two of the best places to birdwatch in and around ATX are Hornsby Bend Bird Observatory and Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. You’ll find plenty of other great location suggestions in Texas Parks & Wildlife’s “Austin Birding Sites” online guide. Be on the lookout for endangered species like the golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped vireo!
If you’re a noob birdwatcher, take a birding class to get up to speed on the basic principles and techniques of birding. The Travis Audubon offers multiple classes throughout the year. On March 12, Jane Tillman is teaming up with REI (Austin-Gateway) to teach a “Birding Around Austin” class and in April, Audubon members Shelia Hargis and Laurie Foss will teach “Birding-102” at Balcones.
Experienced birders should consider signing up for Bird-A-Thon 2015 to raise money for the Travis Audubon. Grab several likeminded pals and register your team online in a specific time-length category ranging from 6 to 24 hours. The team who sights the highest number of different species wins!
Balcones Canyonlands NWR: FM 1431 (Marble Falls). 512-339-9432. Open Mon-Fri 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Free. Website.
4) Explore local nature centers and gardens
Admiring the blooms at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and walking among the dinosaurs at Zilker Botanical Garden are pretty much rites of passage to becoming a true Austinite, so if you haven’t been to either of those places yet, make that a priority adventure this spring! Besides opportunities to learn to identify plant and wildflower species through guided tours and classes, the LBJ Wildflower Center houses art exhibits, roughly 3 miles of walking trails, and a nature-themed play area for the kiddos, among other activities.
Likewise, Zilker Park maintains not one but two facilities for nature-lovers: Zilker Botanical Garden and Austin Nature & Science Center. The Botanical Garden features gorgeous gardens, pools, and waterfalls, gardening classes, walking trails, and an annual Garden Festival that draws crowds from all over the state. The Nature & Science Center is a place where the young at heart can learn about conservation topics ranging from cave ecosystems to butterflies, so keep it on your radar as well!
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: 4801 La Crosse Ave. 512-232-0100. Open Tues-Sun 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. $4-10. Website.
Zilker Botanical Garden: 2220 Barton Springs Rd. 512-477-8672. Open daily 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. $1-3. Website.
Austin Nature & Science Center: 2389 Stratford Dr. 512-974-3888. Open Mon-Sat 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sun 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Free. Website.
5) Take bluebonnet photos
Every true Texan’s got a photo of themselves grinning in a patch of bluebonnets. It’s basically unavoidable, so we might as well feed the tradition in Austin too. To those who prefer “weirdness” over conventionality, we suggest: like the Loop 360 Christmas Trees, don’t ditch the tradition — make it your own. Here’s betting that no one has a portrait of themselves sitting amidst bluebonnets while surrounded by a dozen hot pink flamingo lawn ornaments. Wearing a flamingo costume. Holding a small animal who is also wearing a flamingo costume. Anything odd goes!
In part thanks to TxDOT’s genius roadside wildflower planting program, Texas’ highways are known as being some of the most beautiful in the nation, especially in the hill country. Among all of the reds and yellows, you’ll find plenty of blues, so as long as it’s safe to stop, roadsides are a great place to take bluebonnet photos. Last year, the bluebonnets along Highways 71, 195, and 360, FM 1431, RR 2244, and Quinlan Park Road were reportedly quite impressive.
Other great places to source bluebonnets are wilder city parks and gardens such as Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park, Brushy Creek Lake Park, and Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Both the Barton Creek and Bull Creek Greenbelts boast lovely patches, and you can bet that McKinney Falls State Park and Lake Georgetown have impressive bluebonnet collections as well. However, if you’re looking for bluebonnets plus Austin skyline views, St. Edwards University‘s fields take the cake.
Roy G. Guerrero Park: 400 Grove Blvd. 512-477-1566. Open daily sunrise to sunset. Free. Website.
Brushy Creek Lake Park: 3300 Brushy Creek Rd (Cedar Park). 512-401-5500. Open daily sunrise to sunset. Free. Website.
St. Edwards University: 3001 South Congress Ave. 512-448-8400. Open daily sunrise to sunset. Free. Website.
Hit ‘next’ to see the rest.
6) Breathe fresh air
When summer hits, it won’t be easy to enjoy sitting outside and breathing in the fresh air. You won’t always feel like throwing a frisbee with a buddy, taking your dog for a walk, or sunbathing on Zilker Park‘s Great Lawn — you know, because of the sweaty humid ick that is summertime in Texas. Sure, you can do those things in the mornings and the evenings when the sun turns it down a few notches, but why not play at midday during the spring?
Bring your lunch to work and eat it in the park, go fishing or kayaking, learn to fly a kite or skip rocks, go hiking with your dog, start up a garden in your backyard or weed the one you’ve got. Whatever you do, just make sure that you get outside this spring, even for only a couple of hours every week. You’ll be glad you did!
Zilker Park: 2001 Barton Springs Rd. 512-974-6700. Open daily sunrise to sunset. Free. Website.
7) Buy stuff at farmers markets
Because a ton of veggies and fruits grow perfectly in Texas during the spring, farmers markets are arguably at their very best in March through May. Add that to spring’s mostly-pleasant daily temperatures and you’ve got yourself the perfect recipe for a successful farmers market shopping extravaganza. If you’re keen on supporting local businesses and buying sustainable produce, SFC Farmers’ Market, Barton Creek Farmers Market, Mueller Farmers Market, and any of the other 12 markets hosted in and around Austin each week can absolutely hook you up with the good stuff.
SFC Farmers’ Market: Open Tuesdays 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Alexander and 17th St; Wednesdays 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Triangle Park (4600 N. Lamar Blvd); Saturdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Republic Square Park (422 Guadalupe St) and Toney Burger Center (3200 Jones Rd). 512-236-0074. Website.
Barton Creek Farmers Market: Open Saturdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Barton Creek Square Mall (S Loop 1 & S Capital of Texas Hwy); Sundays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 2323 S Lamar Blvd. 512-280-1976. Website.
Mueller Farmers Market: Open Sundays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Browning Hangar (4550 Mueller Blvd). 512-363-5700. Website.
8) Visit as many food trailers as possible
If you ask locals to name some of their favorite aspects of Austin’s culture, you can bet that food trailers will rank high on just about everyone’s lists. That’s because most of Austin’s food trucks, in all of their ethnic ambiguity and eccentricity, serve food that will leave you weeping — either with pure joy because you’ve quite simply never tasted anything so amazing, or with utter despair because your plate is already — and tragically — empty.
We seriously recommend that you try Chi’lantro BBQ, The Peached Tortilla, Kebabalicious, or Torchy’s Tacos if you’re looking for a sound meal, but if you’re craving sweets, Gourdough’s and The Holy Cacao are the ways to go. For a comprehensive list of all of the food trailers in Austin, check out Austin Food Carts‘ and Food Trailers Austin‘s online directories and maps.
Chi’lantro BBQ: 1509 S Lamar Blvd. 512-428-5269. Hours vary. Website.
The Peached Tortilla: 5520 Burnet Rd #100. 512-330-4439. Hours vary. Website.
Kebabalicious: 1720 Barton Springs Rd, 7th & Congress, Driskill & Rainy St. 512-394-6562. Hours vary. Website.
Torchy’s Tacos: 1311 S 1st St. 512-366-0537. Open Mon-Thurs 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fri 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sat 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sun 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Website.
Gourdough’s: 1503 S 1st. 512-707-1050. Open Mon-Thurs 10 a.m. to 12 a.m., Fri 10 a.m. to 3 a.m., Sat 8 a.m. to 3 a.m., and Sun 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. Website.
The Holy Cacao: 1311 S 1st St. 512-851-2253. Open Mon-Tues 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Wed-Thurs 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fri 10 a.m. – 9 p.m., Sat 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sun 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Website.
9) Attend festivals and community events
Spring brings just as many opportunities to attend festivals as it does for bird-watching and buying local produce, especially in the Live Music Capitol of the World. SXSW 2015 may already have happened, but we’ve still got a few spring music festivals coming up — namely, Old Settler’s Music Festival on April 16-19, Austin Reggae Festival on April 17-19, and Austin Psych Fest on May 8-10.
Beyond music, April will bring Austin Jo’s Coffee’s annual Pet Parade on the 4th, Cap 10K on the 12th, Art City Austin on the 25th and 26th, Austin Food & Wine Festival and Georgetown’s Red Poppy Festival on the 24th through 26th, and Eeyore’s legendary Birthday Party on the 25th. In May, you can look forward to attending the Pecan Street Art Festival on the 2nd and 3rd and the O’Henry Pun-Off on the 9th. For other festivals and related events, keep tabs on the AustinTexas.org, Culture Map Austin, and 365 Things To Do In Austin events calendars.
10) Start gardening or beekeeping
Getting involved with a community garden or starting up your own beekeeping or gardening operation might be the single-most constructive activity that you could undertake this spring — both for yourself and for your neighbors.
Community gardens are cropping up everywhere around Austin (pun intended). Some of the more well-known gardens across the city are Sunshine CG, Festival Beach CG, and Deep Eddy CG, but you’ll likely find at least one smaller operation in your very neighborhood to get involved with. Check out the Coalition of Austin Community Gardens or Austin Parks & Recreation’s Sustainable Urban Agriculture Program to source gardens near you, connect with other local gardeners, and discover tips and other resources to benefit your own personal gardening pursuits.
The Austin Area Beekeepers Association and Bee Friendly Austin provide great resources and support to beekeepers of all experiences levels and those considering starting their own hives, leading up to their grand Tour De Hives event each fall. Additionally, a number of local beekeepers maintain blogs to keep interested and involved parties up to date on the challenges and rewards of beekeeping in ATX.
Sunshine Community Garden: 4814 Sunshine Dr. 512-458-2009. $40-90 per plot/year. Website.
Festival Beach Community Garden: Waller St and Clermont Ave. 512-508-8320. $50 per plot/year. Website.
Deep Eddy Community Garden: 300 1/2 Atlanta. 512-415-9068. Website.
Since Texas springs are relatively short-lived, this list is guaranteed to keep you busy all season, so we suggest that you get to it! Let us know how you spent your time on Facebook or Twitter, and have a happy spring!
Featured photo: Flickr user Vanessa Nunes, CC licensed.
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