By, Joe Noel, Head of Access Services, Tarlton Law Library
Let me tell you about some of the hidden (and not so hidden) gems of Austin! My wife and I moved to Austin in 2012 and we have absolutely loved exploring all of its wonderful aspects. I know you will too! Before I get into some of the fun, quirky, and exciting things about Austin, let me address the elephant in the room: it is probably going to be very hot! Temperatures in July are usually in the 90s (sometimes higher) and so far this year we are experiencing some of our warmest months on record. That leads perfectly into my first recommendation and my single favorite place/activity in Austin.
Barton Springs Pool
Barton Springs Pool is a natural spring fed pool just southwest of downtown. It is tucked between Zilker Park (our version of Central Park or Millennium Park) and hiking trails that people in Austin call “the greenbelt.” (This is specifically the Barton Creek Greenbelt and there are actually many other greenbelts throughout the city.) This giant pool has a long history, and through the effort of many longtime Austinites remains fairly well protected from the development all around it. The temperature is an icy 68 degrees year round but it is perfect when the heat starts to get you down. If you run, bike, or walk there you will be ready to cool off right when you walk through the gate (it is 2.1 miles from the convention center). While visiting the pool, you might also want to check out the Zilker Botanical Garden or the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, both of which are a short walk away. Local tip: don’t dip your toes in or try to ease your way into the pool slowly. Jump right in and when the shock wears off you will feel as refreshed as you have in months!
Biking and Hiking
If jumping in a cold pool appeals to you, we have many other active pursuits that you might enjoy as well. Two that I would recommend are biking and hiking. Austin is a famously (and somewhat infamously) bike friendly city. There are bike rentals all over the city, but two that I would recommend are the city’s cruiser bikes that can be picked up on almost every street downtown and Bicycle Sport Shop’s higher-end bikes for cruising, road cycling, or mountain biking. If you just want to enjoy a stroll outside and get away from all of the tall buildings around you downtown, it is a very short walk to the city’s most popular hiking trail – what the locals call the Hike and Bike Trail alongside Lady Bird Lake. This trail is perfect for everything from a short leisurely stroll to a 10 mile jog. You can reach it by just walking south a few blocks from wherever you are downtown. If you want a more challenging hike and you have access to a car, there are beautiful hiking trails all over the area. Our family favorite is the McKinney Falls State Park trails near the airport.
Rainey Street and East Sixth
Another way to cool off in the heat is with a cocktail on Rainey Street or East Sixth! Here is where my recommendations may diverge from our local Chamber of Commerce. The most popular area for bars in Austin is what people call “Sixth Street,” which really means a section in the middle of Sixth Street downtown. (“West Sixth” and “East Sixth” are two other separate areas on the same street.) Many people also call this area “Dirty Sixth.” This area is Austin’s version of Bourbon Street. Rainey Street and East Sixth have a little more of a local/hipster vibe, and late in the evening, in my humble opinion, just feel safer. A couple of bars that I would recommend are Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden, which is fairly self-explanatory, and Whisler’s, which is known for its signature cocktails. These are just two of many bars available on each of these streets, so don’t limit yourself. Part of the fun is walking around and checking out all the different places in these areas.
Alamo Drafthouse Ritz
Another way to beat the heat, especially if you only have a few hours in the middle of the day, is with our local movie theater chain, Alamo Drafthouse, which takes the movie watching experience to a whole other level. The downtown location is in the historic Ritz Theater (a very short walk from the convention center) and includes excellent food and drink options, as well as homegrown previews before the movie that are sure to make you laugh. Just be sure to buy a ticket ahead of time online and don’t use your phone in the theater (warning: bad language)!
My last tip to beat the heat, is to take advantage of our cool(ish) early mornings. And there is no better place to enjoy the morning than on South Congress. This corridor just south of downtown is probably the coolest/hippest area of Austin and can be fun for quirky shopping and people watching. This area is great for just leisurely strolling and seeing what catches your eye, but the one place I would recommend making a stop at is Jo’s Coffee for their famous Turbo iced coffee and a picture at their now iconic “i love you so much” graffiti.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we are also in the heart of one of the best areas for barbecue in America. Austin has plenty of its own hot spots (including, Franklin Barbecue – don’t even bother because of the line, Lamberts, and La Barbecue, among many others; Stubb’s or Ironworks, though not highly rated, are excellent and are easily within walking distance from the conference) and many of the best and most charming barbecue spots in Texas are just a short car ride away (Snow’s being my favorite). Since most librarians are, of course, book lovers, you may also want to check out our fantastic local bookstore, Bookpeople. A law student recently told me that Bookpeople is his “happy place,” and I think many book lovers across the city would agree. I think it’s right up there with any independent bookstore in America. The friendly staff can help with recommendations and you won’t want to leave the hip atmosphere that serves as a sort of celebration of reading. Just don’t forget to buy something (maybe a Keep Austin Weird shirt) so we can keep this local favorite running into the future. These are just a few of the many wonderful things to do while you’re here in Austin. I hope you get to enjoy a couple of them and have a wonderful conference in our beloved city!
[*] Austin Texas Sign. Creative Commons Jeremy Keith.