Organized in 1969, a month after the first manned lunar landing of Apollo 11, the Austin Astronomical Society (AAS) is a club for people who are interested in any aspect of astronomy or the space sciences. The Austin Astronomical Society's monthly club meetings are free and open to the public and feature speakers on a variety of astronomy related topics. Monthly meetings are held on the second Friday of each month at 7:30 PM in the Robert Lee Moore Building on the University of Texas campus at the southeast corner of the intersection of Dean Keeton and Speedway. The Austin Astronomical Society also holds regularly scheduled observing sessions or star parties at the Society's Eagle Eye Observatory located on the upper branch of Lake Buchanan northwest of Burnet, Texas as well as many more astronomy related activities including astronomy tours at Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve. The Eagle Eye Observatory houses three telescopes and the area around the observatory building is a large observing field with 30 powered tables for AAS members to set up their observing equipment. Some of these star parties are open to the general public and others are only for members of the Austin Astronomical Society. Annual membership dues are $25 a year with discounts for students, seniors and families.
The City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department calls Austin “A city within a park” and maintains more than two hundred parks, twelve nature preserves and twenty-six greenbelts on Austin area creeks and canyons. Most parks in Austin are open from 5 AM to 10 PM. The City of Austin Parks and Recreation website has information about swimming pools and lessons, programs for kids, teens and senior citizens, museums, municipal golf courses and tennis courts, volunteer opportunites and more including a “Park Viewer” interactive map to find parks and other recreation facilities in Austin.
The Austin Parks Foundation is a non-profit that seeks to fill in the gap between what needs to be done to maintain and improve parks in the City of Austin and what the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department can afford to do. Established in 1992, Austin Parks Foundation has created physical improvements, new programming, and greater community involvement for Austin's parks including millions of dollars in volunteer time, in-kind donations, and financial support for city parks. The Austin Parks Foundation features a “Find a Park” web page to search for parks by search for parks by amenity, as well as by zip code, area, or name.
Every summer for seven years the Austin Symphony has featured different ensemble concerts on Sunday afternoons. These free Austin Symphony ensemble concerts feature music from jazz and light classical to pops selections and film scores and are presented at the Hartman Concert Park in front of the Long Center City Terrace. The concerts start at 7:30 PM. Blankets and picnics are encouraged. Free parking is available at One Texas Center located on Barton Springs Road and South First Street. Paid parking is for $7 is available at the Palmer Garage with garage entrances on both Barton Springs Road and Riverside Drive.
Absolutely the heart and soul of Austin, Barton Springs is the largest natural urban swimming pool in the United States with a surface area of three acres and a constant water temperature of 68 degrees. Human visitors have enjoyed Barton Springs for at least eleven thousand years. Wild horses shared the springs with native American tribes such as the Comanche, Apache and Tonkawa and at one time Indian artifacts were plentiful in the area. There is some evidence that the Spanish explorers Cabeza de Vaca and Coronado stopped at Barton Springs during their quests for gold and Franciscan friars later built a mission at Barton Springs. Uncle Billy Barton began charging admission to the Springs in the 1800's despite the occasional scalping by Indians as early Austinites made their way out to what was then the countryside surrounding Austin. The springs were sold to Andrew Jackson Zilker in 1907 and in 1918 Zilker deeded the springs and the surrounding thirty-five acres to the City of Austin. Located close to downtown Austin, Barton Springs is open year round except when the city closes the pool after heavy rains and for cleaning. To find out if the pool is open, call the 24 hour hotline number at 867-3080. Barton Springs Pool charges an admission and the City of Austin charges a fee in the Zilker Park parking lots on weekends and holidays, however free parking is available on the east side of the pool off of Robert E. Lee Road adjacent to the back entrance to the pool. Note: Beginning Wednesday, December 12, 2012, Barton Springs will be closed for approximately three months until repairs to the Barton Springs Pool bypass tunnel are completed sometime in March, 2013.
Bright Leaf is a natural area over 200 acres in size within the city limits of Austin, Texas. It is free and open to the public, and guided hikes take place every second Saturday and Sunday of every month. The Austin Chronicle Critics Picks 2008 awarded it the "Best Walk in the Park" of Austin. Bright Leaf is a natural area over 200 acres in size within the Austin city limits. In order to protect the fragile nature of Bright Leaf, all hikes in the park must be guided hikes. Free guided hikes on the second Saturdays and Sundays of the month at Bright Leaf Preserve are fun free stuff for both children and adults. Park visitors are to meet the guide at the parking lot off of 2222 and Creek Mountain Road. Hikes are approximately 4 miles long, last 2-1/2 hours and are free. Hikers should dress for the weather and bring a water bottle. Bright Leaf began as the inspiration of Georgia Lucas who purchased the land in 34 separate real estate transactions in order to put together the property she named Bright Leaf. To gather 216 acres of contiguous undeveloped land within the city limits of Austin today would be impossible. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has recently partnered with the National Wildlife Federation to offer a Best of Texas Backyard Habitats certification program. Wildscaping is an important concept for wildlife, water conservation, and an appreciation of the beauty of the native plants around us. Bright Leaf is a great place to see some of the native plants that can be used in wildscapes and are available at area nurseries.
The City of Austin BMX and Skate Park for skateboarders and BMX bicyclists (small, maneuverable bikes designed for spinning and doing tricks) is Austin's newest park and opened in June of 2011. The BMX and Skate Park is 30,000 square feet and features a skate bowl, a large plaza with streetscape elements, shade structures, unisex restroom and skateable public art pieces. The Austin skate park project was funded by 2006 Bond Election and designed by New Line Skateparks from British Columbia, Canada. The skate park is designed for all skill levels. Use of helmets and pads is encouraged. Admission is free. The City of Austin BMX and Skate Park is open from 5 AM to 10 PM daily.
Emma Long Metropolitan Park commonly known as City Park has a designated swimming area on Lake Austin and a large sandy beach. This 1150 acre park features boat ramps volleyball courts, camping sites with water and electricity hookups and dressing areas with hot showers. The Emma Long Metropolitan Park is a 1150 acre park located right on the shores of Lake Austin. It has boat ramps, sand volleyball courts, a designated swimming area in Lake Austin and a large sandy beach. Men's and woman's rest rooms, hot showers, and dressing areas are also available. There are 20 camping sites with water and electricity hookup and 46 tent camping sites with water available every third site. Emma Long Park is named after the first woman elected to council in a major Texas city. Overnight camping is permitted.
Located about a half hours drive from downtown Austin, Hippie Hollow is the only clothing optional public park in Texas. Hippie Hollow's tradition as a nude swimming hole began in the early 1960s in Austin and continues today despite court challenges. Entry to the park is restricted to those people 18 years and older. The swimming area is not a beach, but a series of limestone ledges leading down to the water.
The Hornsby Bend Bird Observatory is located at the Austin Water Utility's Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Plant. It is hosted by the Austin Water Utility's Center for Environmental Research at Hornsby Bend. More than 350 birds have been recorded here. The complex consists of 4 lagoons, woods along the Colorado River, and fields. There are monthly bird walks, volunteer work, and bird counts at the Education Center. Be prepared for unpleasant odors during the summer.
An oasis of classic days gone by amusement located on five acres in north Austin, Kiddie Acres is geared toward younger children under ten years old. This amusement park is open year-round with free admission and is a long-time favorite for birthday parties. Tickets must be purchases for rides and activities. Family owned and operated since 1979, Kiddie Acres features carousel rides, a ferris wheel and pony rides, as well as an 18 hole miniature golf course. Concessions including popcorn and cotton candy are available.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center was founded by Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Taylor Johnson, First Lady of the United States from 1963 to 1969 during the presidency of her husband Lyndon B. Johnson, and the actress Helen Hayes in 1982 as the National Wildflower Research Center with the goal of protecting and preserving North America's native plants and natural landscapes. Since it's founding, the Center in southwest Austin has become one of the country’s most credible research institutions and effective advocates for native plants became a University of Texas Organized Research Unit in 2006. The public gardens, woodlands and meadows display native plants of the Central Texas Hill Country, South and West Texas, while the conservation program protects rare and endangered flora. The Wildflower Center hosts frequent events to help educate and entertain the public including book signings, art shows, photo exhibits, plant sales, gardening festivals, kid's events and annual parties and galas. The Wildflower Center also presents an informal education program called Go Native U with classes on sustainable use and conservation of native wildflowers, native plant gardening, the benefits of native plants and other topics related to sustainable landscape design. Some of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center informal classes are available as online webinars.
Located approximately twenty miles from Austin, the drive to Lake Travis can take up to an hour depending on traffic conditions and destination. Lake Travis is sixty-five miles long with 270 miles of shoreline and has seventeen public parks and numerous private facilities. Although it is one of the most popular recreational lakes in Texas, Lake Travis is also considered one of the most dangerous due to its cloudy waters, narrow configuration and extremely heavy boat traffic. The lake can be unexpectedly deep at points and the bottom of the lake is uneven with brush, trees and rocks. The lake covers 18,929 acres and the lake elevation when full is 681 feet. While the lake's limestone cliffs and shoreline are the perfect backdrop for both sailing and power boating, be extremely cautious when swimming at Lake Travis, especially with children. There are on average four drownings a year on Lake Travis. As lake levels drop due to summer or drought conditions, the number of drownings usually increases as swimmers sometimes try to swim to now exposed “sometimes” islands and misjudge the distance. Alcohol is also often a factor in lake drownings as the motion of the waves and the intensity of the sun can magnify the effects of drinking. Life jackets are recommended for children and those who are not strong swimmers.
The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) operate forty parks and recreation areas along the Texas Colorado River including the Austin area and several of these parks have swimming areas available. The LCRA (Lower Colorado River Authority) maintains 42 parks along the Texas Colorado River, from the Hill Country to the Gulf of Mexico. From camping to fishing to hiking, LCRA has many different varieties of park to offer. The website has a comprehensive list of all parks the LCRA maintains.
There's an old folk tale in Austin that if a couple walks up the 100 stairs to the top of Mount Bonnell they will fall in love, the second time they will get engaged, and the third time they will inevitably get married. Regardless of the actual statistics, Mount Bonnell is the oldest tourist attraction in Austin, and has been enjoyed by generations of Austinites since the 1850s. A great view of Austin, it is a bit of a hike, so be sure to wear appropriate shoes.
Austin Parks Foundation is a non-profit organization committed to building partnerships, advocacy and action for parks. In conjunction with Alamo Draft House, the Austin Parks Foundation sponsors a fun free thing to do in downtown Austin with free outdoor movies at Republic Square Park. Dogs, picnics and lawn chairs are welcome. Alcoholic beverages are not permitted in the park. Republic Square Park is located at 5th Street and Guadalupe Street. There is free parking on surrounding streets. There is also parking in the State Garage at San Antonio and 4th Streets for $5. Movies begin at dusk which is usually around 8:30 and there is pre-show entertainment starting at 7 PM. Check the Movies in the Park website for a schedule of upcoming movies.
At just under 2500 acres, Reimers Ranch Park is one of the biggest parks in the Hill Country. Located in Dripping Springs, the park is notable among rock climbers, as well as fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and swimming. There is a 10.00 entrance fee per vehicle, and the park is only open during the day.
The Rowing Dock on Town Lake offers recreational boat rentals right on the shores of Ladybird Lake. They rent kayaks, paddleboats, and stand up paddleboards at an hourly rate. They will assist with getting your boat in and out of the water, and with your paddles and lifejackets. Also available are summer camps, group rentals, and rowing and kayaking lessons.
Built by the Works Progress Administration between 1933 and 1937, Big Stacy Pool is located within the Travis Heights neighborhood close to the South Congress shopping district. The pool is called Big Stacy to differentiate it from Little Stacy, the wading pool located within the same city greenbelt. Popular with lap swimmers, Big Stacy Pool is free, open year-round and heated in the winter by water from an Artesian well located 2000 feet below the surface. The pool is wheelchair accessible and there is a handicap lift. Parking can be scarce in the late weekday afternoons when lap swimmers arrive after work, but there is additional parking in the neighborhood around the park. There are usually three lap lanes open in the summer and six in the winter. One of Austin's famed moontowers can be seen from Big Stacy Pool.
This local non-profit promotes the enjoyment and understanding of birds and wildlife in their natural habitats in Central texas. The Travis Audubon Society provides free field trips and programs on wildlife conservation and manages two wildlife sanctuaries, the 690 acre Baker Sanctuary for Golden Cheeked Warblers in northwest Travis County and the 10 acre Blair Woods in East Austin.
Many parks in the Travis County Park system surrounding Austin have swimming areas, including Bob Wentz Park at Windy Point, Pace Bend Park and Tom Hughes Park (Marshall Ford). Entrance fees are required at most parks and life guards are not on duty. Always use caution when visiting natural swimming areas due to possible rugged terrains, steep inclines and variable lake levels. Glass containers and fireworks are prohibited in all Travis County Parks.
Unplugged at the Grove is a free, all ages Austin outdoor music series that runs each Thursday night from April to September at the Shady Grove restaurant on Barton Springs Road adjacent to Zilker Park. 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of free music in Austin at Shady Grove Restaurant from Unplugged at the Grove. Sponsored by KGSR Radio, Unplugged at the Grove always presents some of Texas most talented and accomplished musicians. Tables at Shady Grove Restaurant fill up fast, but folding chairs and blankets to sit on the lawn are okay to bring into Shady Grove for the free Austin concert. Parking is available in the Shady Grove parking lot, but do not park in the nearby neighborhoods. It's always a good idea to get there early for this free thing to do in Austin to get a good parking spot and a good seat. The 2013 free music in Austin series licks off on April 11 with Austin favorite Bob Schneider. The tentative 2013 schedule for Unplugged at the Grove is April 11 - Bob Schneider; April 18 - Suzanna Choffel; April 25 - Dirty River Boys; May 2 - Alejandro Escovedo; May 9 - Jimmy Lafave; May 16 - Carolyn Wonderland; May 23 - Whiskey Myers; May 30 - Special Guest To Be Announced; June 6 - What Made Milwaukee Famous; June 13 - The Trishas; June 20 - To Be Announced; June 27 - Reckless Kelly; July 4 - Alpha Rev; July 11 - Ruby Jane; July 18 - To Be Announced; July 25 - Cari Hutson; August 1 - Ray Wylie Hubbard; August 8 - Lincoln Durham; August 15 - James McMurtry; August 22 - Band Of Heathens; August 29 - Special Guest To Be Announced; September 5 - To Be Announced; and September 12 - To Be Announced.
In August 1975, the City of Austin put $1.6 million into the purchase of land to lengthen the Barton Creek Greenbelt west of Loop 360, and the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve was created. As an interdisciplinary laboratory for St. Edwards, Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve provides one of the biggest examples of the Greenbelts that exist around Austin.
For over fifty years, the Zilker Botanical Garden has hosted the Zilker Garden Festival every spring as a fundraising event featuring plants and garden themed accessories for sale as well as educational displays and fun activities for kids.
A traditional free thing to do in Austin every summer is to take the family out to the Zilker Hillside Theatre summer musical. The Zilker Hillside Theatre is located in Zilker Park across the parking lot from Barton Springs swimming pool. The stage is located in a natural amphitheater under a stand of 100 year old pecan trees and in addition to the summer musical features numerous locally produced musical and dance oriented events including the Austin Symphony and Shakespeare in the Park. Admission to events at the Zilker Hillside Theatre is always free but there is a $3.00 fee to park in the Zilker Park parking lots. Most events start at 8 PM and blankets can be placed on the hillside after 6 PM. Theatre goers may bring a picnic or other refreshments, but alcohol is not permitted in the park. The 2011 Zilker Theatre Production Summer Musical is "Footloose." The free summer musical will open on Friday, July 8 and will be presented on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Saturday, August 13. Performances of the free Zilker summer musical start at 8 PM.
Located at 2100 Barton Springs Road, Zilker Metropolitan Park is considered "Austin's most loved park." This 351 acre park is home to a variety of recreation opportunities and special events for the individual or the whole family. The Hike and Bike Trail snakes through it, Barton Springs Pool, Austin's oldest, is open daily, Zephyr train rides for the family, soccer fields, multi-age playgrounds, picnic areas are all offered. Special events are held there on a regular basis. It is located in the heart of central Austin.