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Austin See And Do

Austin City Limits
Zilker Park
Austin , Texas
Tel: 888 512 7469
www.aclfestival.com

For more than 30 years, the weekly PBS show Austin City Limits has been a window into the city's incomparable music scene, featuring artists from Willie Nelson to Spoon. Tickets to tapings are free, but they're pretty darn hard to come by. The local radio affiliate, KLRU, announces the location of a giveaway one to two days before the concert: Whoever shows up first at that location gets 'em (limit of two). So you have to be in Austin (and be speedy) to score.

Of course, ACL also puts on the Austin City Limits Festival in September, which leans toward more established acts, from Coldplay to Lucinda Williams. Its party atmosphere is comparable to the annual South by Southwest festival, but it's much easier to navigate. All shows are held in Zilker Park (rather than SXSW's zillion tiny nightclubs around town). Sign up on the ACL site to be alerted to ticket on-sale dates; tickets get more expensive as the event approaches.

Also good to know: Because of the convincing backdrop of the city skyline and other local landmarks, it's a common misconception that the show is filmed outdoors; it's actually shot in a studio on the University of Texas campus.

Barton Springs Pool
2101 Barton Springs Road
Zilker Park
Austin , Texas
78704
Tel: 512 476 9044
www.ci.austin.tx.us/parks/bartonsprings.htm

This spring-fed public pool, framed by sunbather-friendly green spaces and the canopies of ancient pecan trees, is idyllic on a sunny summer day. The water is chlorine-free, and at 68 degrees, it's a bracing eye-opener if you're recovering from a long night on the town. On weekends in fine weather the place is jammed with families, hippies, and young people out to get a nice tan. Tops are optional for women, though you won't see too many women taking advantage of that. There's not much else on-site to speak of, but if you walk up Barton Springs Road a bit you'll find quite a few restaurants and food carts. Don't pass up the snow cones; they really hit the spot in the Texas heat.

Open Fridays through Wednesdays 5 am to 10 pm, Thursdays 5 to 9 am and 7 to 10 pm.

Hill Country

The Hill Country may not be as dramatic as Big Bend or the Piney Woods, but many Texans say it's the most beautiful region in the state. In the spring, when bluebonnets and other wildflowers add a splash of color to the limestone cliffs and live oak–covered hills, it can be downright spectacular. You'll see hordes of families pulling over on the highways to take photos in the flowers. You can see why Lance Armstrong trains here. In fact, cyclists of all types come for the challenging terrain and stunning beauty. Hill Country Bicycle Works in Fredericksburg rents high-quality mountain and road bikes and recommends the best trails (830-990-2609; www.hillcountrybicycle.com). For hiking and camping within an hour of town, drive west on Highway 71 to Llano, then head south on Highway 16 until you reach Enchanted Rock State Natural Area (830-685-3636; www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/enchantd). Get there early, though, as the park fills up fast. For a more sedentary afternoon, take Farm-to-Market Road 1431 to Marble Falls and savor the chicken-fried steak at the Blue Bonnet Café; (830-693-2344; www.bluebonnetcafe.net). The journey home at sunset is even more enjoyable on a full stomach. Better still is Café 909 (830-693-2126; www.cafe909.com), where the menu goes beyond mere comfort food to haute Texas cuisine with dishes like grilled peaches wrapped in Speck and sprinkled with shaved Parmesan and balsamic syrup.

Lakes
Austin , Texas

It's hard to get more landlocked than the interior of Texas, but Austin has three lakes nearby—two essentially within town—that on weekends explode into social scenes.

Lady Bird Lake (renamed from "Town Lake" for Lady Bird Johnson, who recently passed away) isn't actually a lake, but rather the Colorado River. The wide part of the river that runs through downtown is ringed by hiking and biking trails; sculling is also popular, though motorboats are prohibited.

Lake Austin sits between two dams on the western edge of town and is rimmed by million-dollar homes; its usually calm surface is perfect for waterskiing. The Hula Hut has a deck on Lake Austin and is massively popular after work (3825 Lake Austin Blvd.; 512-476-4852; www.hulahut.com)—probably because the cocktails are better than the food. Next door is Mozart's, whose magical lakefront location makes it one of the most romantic coffee shops in Texas—perhaps America (3826 Lake Austin Blvd.; 512-477-2900; www.mozartscoffee.com).

Located 20 minutes outside of town, Lake Travis has more than 270 miles of shoreline. Though there might be fewer cigarette boats spraying rooster tails than in the go-go days of the dot-com boom, the waters are still full of ski boats, and there's as much boat-to-boat socializing as actual waterskiing. A handful of marinas offer day rentals for powerboats, party barges, and wave runners; try Just for Fun (Emerald Point Marina; 5973 Hiline Rd.; 512-266-9710; www.jff.net). Johnny Fins (16405 Clara Van Trail; 512-266-2811; www.johnnyfins.com) and the Lakehouse Café; (512-264-7040; www.lakehousecafe.com; weekends only) are the main options for float-up dining and drinking—but take heed of strict local policies on drinking and boating. There are several beaches, but the curious steer toward Hippie Hollow, the only public clothing-optional park in the state.

South by Southwest
Tel: 512 467 7979
www.sxsw.com

Every March the big daddy of music events sweeps into town, bringing groups from as far away as Iran and Sierra Leone playing everything from jazz to metal. The emphasis, though, is on indie rock—it's sort of like Sundance for the drum-banging set. Shows can be all but impossible to get into without the all-in-one badge (costing in the $600 range), which provides access to all concerts, industry conferences, and the trade show. The badge also grants you access to many of the buzzy, too-cool-for-school private parties hosted by record labels and music mags. Getting around is nearly impossible without a badge—some bars won't even let you in, concert or no concert. However, if you can't drop the cash on a pass, you can see acts at the free outdoor stage at Lady Bird Lake or check out the tamer film fest, where tickets can be obtained much more easily. Still, the frenzy of activity can be thrilling for music buffs, who get to see all of the hottest bands playing tiny venues throughout the city.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.