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Annual Sporting Events

Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays. One of the top track and field events in the U.S., the Texas Relays are held in early April at Mike A. Myers Stadium at the University of Texas. The Relays, founded in 1925, attract about 5,000 of the best athletes in Texas (and elsewhere) on the high-school, collegiate, and professional levels. Tickets can be purchased about a month prior to the competition. 512/471–3333. www.texasboxoffice.com for tickets,.

Red Eye Regatta. Every January 1st since 1976, the Austin Yacht Club starts the year off with this popular sailboat race on Lake Travis (about a half-hour from downtown Austin). 512/266–1336. www.austinyachtclub.net.

Republic of Texas Biker Rally. Every June, tens of thousands of bikers invade Austin for three days of partying, camping, talking shop, and browsing vendors' wares. Based at the Travis County Expo Center just east of the city, the event includes a huge Friday-evening motorcycle parade from the Expo Center to Congress Avenue with much of Austin looking on, and much partying ensuing (both during and afterward) among bikers and spectators alike on 6th Street. There are also free concerts by local musicians Thursday through Saturday at the Expo Center rally grounds. On its more than 300 acres, the Expo Center provides special lots for RV and tent camping. Other bikers also stay in off-site RV lots and, of course, in hotels. On-site facilities include hot and cold showers, food service, a first-aid station, and a FedEx/UPS drop site. 512/252–9768. www.rotrally.com.

Star of Texas Fair & Rodeo. Did you come to Texas to see some real cowboy stuff? Austin puts on its hat and boots at this very popular perennial affair. The event, held at the Travis County Expo Center, typically runs from the last day of February through the first half of March. It includes an indoor rodeo, a livestock and horse show, various Texas-style cook-offs, and a carnival. Entertainment ranges from name acts like Willie Nelson, George Jones, and Styx to more than 40 local bands. Proceeds go toward scholarships and youth-education programs. 512/919–3000 for information; 512/477–6060 for tickets. www.staroftexas.org.

Bicycling

As you might expect, Lance Armstrong's home base is a great bicycling town. The scenic back roads offer gently rolling hills and tempting diversions—from tucked-away waterfalls to country antiques emporia to barbecue joints. Loop 360 provides a grueling workout, while the hike-and-bike trail around Lady Bird Lake is more leisurely. And the Lance Armstrong Bikeway, which at this writing was expected to open in spring 2008, runs east-to-west on a dedicated route through downtown. The path uses a combination of off-street concrete trails, on-street striped bike lanes, and on-street signed bike routes.

Natural Areas & Parks

Austin has more than 200 parks within the city limits. Amenities in the parks range from playgrounds, swimming pools, and skate parks (the city's first was established at Maybel Davis District Park in south Austin) to artwork and historic sites, such as Umlauf Sculpture Garden at Zilker Park and Treaty Oak Square in northwest Austin.

Spelunking

Inner Space Cavern. This Mesozoic-era karst cavern 24 miles north of Austin was discovered in 1963 and opened to the public three years later. Visitors access the entrance via cable car and can choose from two trails, one that is.75 miles and another that's 1.2 miles. Tours vary in length (and price) from just a little over an hour to nearly four hours. The temperature is a year-round 72°. Kids get discounted admission; the three- to four-hour tour is for ages 13 and older only. On Saturdays, reservations are required and groups can be no larger than four. Sometimes there are $1 coupons on the website. 4200 S. I–35, Georgetown, TX, 78626. 512/931–2283. www.innerspace.com. $15–$100 depending on tour. Mid-May–early Sept., daily 9–6; early Sept.–mid-May, Mon.–Fri. 9–4, Sat.–Sun. 10–5.

Swimming

When those summer days get hotter than a potter's furnace, dip into Zilker Park's 300-yard-long, spring-fed swimming pool, a favorite with locals. The clear springs produce from 12 million to 90 million gallons in any 24-hour period, the water always a rather cool 66° to 70°.

The oldest swimming pool in Texas (1916), this former natural swimming hole near the Colorado River was the centerpiece of an early-20th-century resort and was purchased and restored by the Works Progress Administration in the mid-'30s. In recent years, the Friends of Deep Eddy, a volunteer community group, led a successful effort to fully restore the long-closed 1936 bathhouse, which reopened in June 2007.

Spectator Sports

Next to UT football, Austin's most popular spectator sport may be the Round Rock Express baseball team, a AAA affiliate of the Houston Astros. The Express (owned by a group led by Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan) began in 2000 as a AA team, and moved up to AAA in 2005. It plays 72 home games from April through September at the Dell Diamond, an extremely pleasant place to pass a few hours, no matter who's winning. The open-air stadium seats about 8,600 with room for more in an outfield grass berm area. No ticket costs more than $12 (as of 2008), and it's hard to find a bad seat in this very fan-friendly (and family-friendly) ballpark.

Formerly the Columbus (Georgia) Riverdragons, the Toros, a team in the NBA's Development League, or "D-League," was rebranded when it moved to Austin in 2005. Affiliated with (and owned by) the San Antonio Spurs, the Toros play home games November through April at the Austin Convention Center.

This arena football expansion team began play in 2004, and moved down from the AFL to af2 (the Arena Football League's developmental league) beginning in the 2008 season. The team plays from April to July. Home games are at UT's Frank Erwin Center.

South Austin

The Veloway. This 3.1-mile paved asphalt loop winding through Slaughter Creek Metropolitan Park is reserved exclusively for bicyclists and rollerbladers. Riders always travel in a one-way clockwise direction. It's off the beaten path in far southwest Austin, not far from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. No facilities except for a water fountain that sometimes doesn't work. 4103 Slaughter Lane, Austin, TX. 512/974–6700. www.veloway.com.

Boating

From March through October, this downtown-based company offers nightly bat-watching cruises from an electric paddlewheel boat, along with sightseeing, dinner, and lunch cruises on Lady Bird Lake. Cruise prices vary, but start at $8 for adults. Charters are available. The company also rents canoes, pedal boats, and kayaks beginning at $10 an hour, and Duffy electric launches (seating up to 10) beginning at $45 an hour.

This double-decker paddlewheel riverboat sails every evening for hour-long bat-watching cruises March through October, and every weekend for 1½-hour sightseeing cruises. Tours are $8 or $9.

West Austin

On Lake Travis, Daybreak rents pontoons, ski boats, and waverunners, plus a party boat. Hourly prices begin at $55 for pontoons, $75 for ski boats, and $135 for a party boat (including captain). Ask about discounts for longer rentals.

Lakeway Marina. Adjacent to the Lakeway Resort and Spa, this marina on Lake Travis rents ski boats, pontoon boats, and waverunners. Hourly rates begin at $75 for pontoon boats and waverunners and $80 for ski boats; ask about discounts for longer rentals. Also available are fishing guides, beginning at $225 for two people for four hours. The marina is open daily. 103A Lakeway Dr., Austin, TX, 78734. 512/261–7511. www.lwmarina.biz.

Golf

This resort is associated with four private courses, including two of the top-ranked courses in Texas, Fazio Foothills and Fazio Canyons. Unfortunately, you either have to be a member or a hotel guest to play here. Greens fees vary widely by season, day of the week, and time of day, but for resort guests the Fazio Canyons and Fazio Foothills courses run from $80 (twilight) to $250 per person, including a forecaddie (but not gratuity). The Crenshaw Cliffside course runs from $60 to $180 (forecaddie not required) and the Palmer Lakeside course from $45 to $155 (forecaddie not required). Various golf packages are also available throughout the year; check website for details.

The likes of Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, and Ben Hogan are among those who have played at this affordable 6,001-yard, par-71 public course in West Austin. It was originally built by the Lions Club in 1928 and taken over by the city six years later. It is open daily, dawn to dusk. Greens fees run $7–$20. Cart fees are $22.

Northeast Austin

Named for a legendary local golf instructor, Harvey Penick opened in 2005 in northeast Austin as a "First Tee" course for the specific purpose of teaching golf to young people (though golfers of all ages and abilities can play). The 112-acre, 9-hole, par-30, PGA Tour–designed course is next door to the East Communities YMCA. Lessons are offered. There's also a driving range and short course. Greens fees are $12 for 9 holes, $18 for 18 holes. Youth pay less. Cart fees are $8.75 for 9 holes, and $13.50 for 18 holes.

Downtown

Austin Nature and Science Center. Adjacent to the Zilker Botanical Gardens, this complex has an 80-acre preserve trail, interactive exhibits in the Discovery Lab that teach about the ecology of the Austin area, and animal exhibits focusing on subjects such as bees and birds of prey. 301 Nature Center Dr., Austin, TX. 512/327–8180. www.ci.austin.tx.us/ansc. Suggested donation of $2 per adult and $1 per child. Mon.–Sat. 9–5, Sun. 12–5.

North Austin

Mount Bonnell. Rising to a height of 785 feet, Mount Bonnell offers the best views of Austin. Stop by during the day for a glimpse of the sweeping panorama of rolling hills, the Colorado River and the 360 Bridge, and the downtown skyline in the distance. It's an easy climb up from a parking area near the road (more of a diversion than a serious hike); you'll find students, lovers, families, picnickers and just plain old tourists here. Mount Bonnell Rd., off E. 35th St., Austin, TX. 817/265–7721 or 800/433–5374. Free. Daily, dawn to dusk.

West Austin/Zilker Park

Zilker Park. The former site of temporary Franciscan missions in 1730 and a former American Indian gathering place is now Austin's everyday backyard park. The 351-acre site along the shores of Lady Bird Lake includes Barton Springs Pool, numerous gardens, a meditation trail, and a Swedish log cabin dating from the 1840s. In March, the park hosts a kite festival (2008 saw the 80th edition). During spring months, concerts are held in the park's Beverly S. Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theater, a natural outdoor amphitheater beneath a grove of century-old pecan trees; in July and August, musicals and plays take over. Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum, at the park's southern end, displays 130 or more works by sculptor and former UT art professor Charles Umlauf. Art workshops for both kids and adults are occasionally offered. 2201 Barton Springs Rd., Austin, TX. 512/974–6700 (Parks Dept.); 512/477–5335 (theater); 512/445–5582 (museum). www.ci.austin.tx.us/zilker. Free (main park), parking $3 per vehicle; $3.50 (museum). Daily, dawn to dusk (park); Wed.–Fri. 10–4:30, Sat.–Sun. 1–4:30 (museum).

Canoe rentals. Canoe rentals are available for the hour or day. www.zilkerboats.com.

Canoe rentals are available for the hour or day.

West Lake

Barton Creek Greenbelt. This park follows the contour of Barton Creek and the canyon it created west along a 7.9 mile-long area from Zilker Park to west of Loop 360. It has a trail for hiking and biking, plus swimming holes when the creek is full (very rain-dependent, it's usually in spring and fall). Access points: Zilker Park, Loop 360, Twin Falls, and Scottish Woods Trail Falls (near the intersection of MoPac and Loop 360), and Scottish Woods Trail (at the trail's northern border off Loop 360), Austin, TX. 512/499–6700 or 512/472–1267. www.austinparks.org/our-parks.html?parkid=206. Free. 5am–10pm.

Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve. Stunning contrasting views of the Hill Country and the Austin skyline make it worth the trip to this area near the 360 Bridge. You can wander along 227 acres of walking trails (there are 10 different ones); guided tours are offered on weekends. The cool folks at Wild Basin offer numerous outdoor-oriented classes, nighttime stargazing sessions, even concerts by well-known touring musicians. 805 N. Capitol of Texas Hwy., Austin, TX. 512/327–7622. www.wildbasin.org. $3 suggested donation, $4 guided hikes (weekends and by reservation only). Daily, dawn to dusk (park); daily 9–4 (office), Tues.–Sun. 9–4 (gift shop).

South Austin

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. This 43-acre complex, founded in 1982 by Lady Bird Johnson and actress Helen Hayes, has extensive plantings of native Texas wildflowers that bloom year-round (although spring is an especially attractive time). The grounds include a visitor center, nature trail, observation tower, elaborate stone terraces, and flower-filled meadows. 4801 LaCrosse Ave., Austin, TX. 512/292–4100. www.wildflower.org. $7. Tues.–Sun. 9–5:30.

Beyond Austin

McKinney Falls State Park. This 744-acre state park is 13 mi southeast of downtown Austin. Per the name, the park has two waterfalls (visitors should exercise extreme caution near the water, as people have drowned here). A 4.5-mi nature trail is used for hiking and biking. Other popular activities in the park are fishing, picnicking, camping, and wildlife-viewing (including bird-watching and sightings of white-tailed deer, raccoons, squirrels, and armadillos). 5808 McKinney Falls Pkwy., off U.S. 183, Austin, TX. 512/243–1643. www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/mckinney_falls. $2. Daily, dawn to dusk.