UPDATED MAR 24, 2020
There's no substitute for a day spent in the sunshine and fresh air, and one of the things we love most about Austin is that we've got an impressive array of green space. So, when you need to take a break from the daily grind, pack a picnic and go for a stroll through one of these parks — they're among the best in the city.
Get out there and smell the roses! The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a peaceful and educational way to enjoy nature. Each flower or plant has its named displayed and the sanctuary features a windmill, tiny ponds, and a butterfly garden. The center hosts events throughout the year such as yoga, midnight strolls, photography lessons, and plant sales. Oh, and no matter how old you are, don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy one of the many tree swings!
Ah, Zilker. The crown jewel of the Austin parks system. A large expanse of grass crawling with pick-up soccer games, cute dogs, picnics, and people reading under trees. Zilker is host to some of Austin’s most famous festivals throughout the year: Austin City Limits, Kite Festival, Trail of Lights, Zilker Relays, and Blues on the Green.
Nestled right between the Lamar and Congress bridges is a grassy patch on the bank of Town Lake. This is Auditorium Shores, one of the most accessible entrances to the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike Trail. There is a splash pad for the little ones and a dog park for the furry ones. Be sure to pay your respects to the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue and take advantage of one of the rarest sites in the city—free parking.
Domain Central Park is the perfect place to take a break from a bunch of luxury stores. It’s a favorite spot amongst Domain residents and regularly hosts themed 5ks for charity. Plus, the well-manicured landscape and sand volleyball courts have made the park home to multiple recreational sports leagues.
With over 12 miles of forested trails, Walnut Creek is a mountain biker’s heaven. Because it’s an off-leash park, it’s also a great place to visit with your four-legged friends. The trails wind through mesquite trees, streams, and fields of wildflowers. You certainly won't regret spending the day here.
This beltway might be considered mainstream (pun intended), but it is well worth a visit. The space covered by the Barton Creek Greenbelt is vast and includes multiple points of interest. Take a nice hike from Zilker Park to Gus Fruh, a popular watering hole lined with rope swings. Or opt for a quick dip at Barking Springs — the dog friendly section of Barton Springs Pool. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, take the trail to Seismic Wall and try your hand at outdoor rock climbing.
Want a weekend getaway without actually getting away? Pitch your tent at Emma Long for a few nights. Or just stop in and throw a beach towel down on the lawn of the day use area. The beach offers a prime view and entrance to Lake Austin. Oh, and the grills? Hope you’re competitive — these barbecue pits are some of the most coveted in the city.
Mueller Lake Park — a man-made park breaking down suburban stereotypes. This area has everything you could possibly want from a green space: food trucks, sci-fi-esque play structures, catch and release fishing, and a farmers market on Sundays.
Walter Long is just far enough away from downtown Austin to give you a sense of escape. An eclectic mix of Austinites frequent this park, including triathletes, bass fishermen, dog enthusiasts, and boaters. The fish may regret their bites, but the picnickers sure don't!
You wouldn’t know it by the name, but Festival Beach Park is a generally quiet and calm area. Sitting on the shore of Lady Bird Lake in East Austin, runners often take a break from their training to watch the boats glide past the cityscape during one of the Austin Rowing Club’s regattas.
The island getaway you want, no plane ticket required! Red Bud Isle is a 13-acre off-leash dog park in the middle of Lake Austin. But don’t worry: dogs are not required. There is plenty to do here, so take your pick: canoeing, hiking, picnicking, or just enjoying being surrounded by waggin’ tails.
Have you heard the rumors of a secret beach in Austin? A short hike through the Guerrero Colorado River Park will take you to this elusive place. But that’s not all — the park also has one of the top-rated disc golf courses in the state of Texas.
Mayfield Park delivers the offbeat charm that Austin is famous for. A magical place at the foot of Mount Bonnell, the gardens are a mine of botanical beauty. But the real reason people come to Mayfield Park? The peacocks! Walk around and observe them relaxing in trees, perching on top of houses, or strutting their stuff.
Tom Hughes Park is a rocky outcropping overlooking Lake Travis that takes the cake for the best place to watch a sunset. The hike down to the water is short, steep, and rocky. At the bottom, the cove is a popular place to throw in a floaty and drift around for a few hours.
Don’t go chasing waterfalls — or do, that’s fine too! Bull Creek, off of 360, is a wonderful area for hiking, swimming, and exploring. In the springtime, water levels are highest and make the beltway a good spot to stop and splash around. Fitt tip: bring waterproof shoes; the trails follow the stream and often force you to walk through tide pools.
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