5 Places to Explore in Austin
This is a guest post by Abbie Mood, a freelance writer based in eBike Austin who we recently asked to help identify the best things to do in town on a Faraday.
The capital city of Texas is a bicycling mecca—so much so that the Austin City Council even has a Bicycle Master Plan and holds community walk-and-bike conversations. The plethora of dedicated bike lanes and trails make pedal power a great mode of transportation to experience many of the unique activities that Austin has to offer. Exploring with an electric bicycle takes the grunt work out of biking and allows visitors to range farther out. And, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
I picked up my Faraday e-bike rental from South Congress Hotel. When I arrived, my bicycle was ready and waiting for me. This was my first time on an e-bike, and Shawn (the hotel valet and Faraday bike contact) did a great job of explaining the bike to me and demonstrating how it worked. Turns out, it works just like a regular bicycle—only better and easier. With the simple flip of a switch, you can move into one of two levels of electric assist to move you along. Within five minutes I was all set to go and excited to explore some of the best activities in Austin by e-bike, starting in one of the most happening neighborhoods in the city.
1. Hike and Bike Around Lady Bird Lake
Winding through downtown Austin, Lady Bird Lake is actually part of the Colorado River and is home to the 10-mile Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail, creating an urban oasis in the heart of the city. This path is a gateway to the Austin lifestyle. The trail meanders along the water’s edge with the downtown skyline as a backdrop.
Riding around the lake provides a shaded, peaceful experience that feels far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. You’ll pass numerous spots on both sides of the lake to rent kayaks, hydrobikes, or stand-up paddleboards. The hotel provided a U-lock with my bike rental, so it would have been super easy to pop out the kickstand, lock up the bike, and get out on the water for an hour or two.
I found plenty of spots to sit and relax or grab a bite to eat near the lake, such as Alta’s Café on the north side near I-35. Along this east end of the area, you can connect with the Boardwalk, a $28 million project completed in 2014 that features multiple viewing areas and piers. Don’t miss the uniquely Austin art installation, Belting It Out, a collection of 36 bronze, western belts integrated into the railings with Texas song lyrics embossed on them.
2. Enjoy Zilker Park
Continue on to the west end of the hike-and-bike trail to the crown jewel of Austin’s green spaces: Zilker Metropolitan Park. Covering more than 350 acres, the park offers recreational activities including picnic sites, playgrounds, volleyball courts, rowing docks, and a disc golf course. Zilker is also home to a beautiful botanical garden, the Austin Nature and Science Center, Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, and the Zilker Hillside Theatre.
The park plays host to a constant schedule of events, such as the world-renowned Austin City Limits Music Festival (spanning two weekends in October) and the summer music series Blues on the Green. There is also the Kite Festival held each March and the holiday Trail of Lights.
Zilker is a big biking area with lots of trails, so this was the perfect place to power down the pedal assist feature of the Faraday and get some old-fashioned pedaling in. While I didn’t have a furry friend with me this time, the front cargo rack is the perfect place to strap on a dog basket and bring Fido along for a ride (and a walk in the park!).
3. Take a Dip in Barton Springs
Bring your bathing suit to the park and take a dip at the quintessential swimming spot in town, Barton Springs Pool. Beloved by Austinites, the pool is a refreshing place to take a break on a hot day, with year-round water temps of 68-70 degrees courtesy of the underground springs that feed it. The deepest part of the pool is 18-feet deep and there is a well-maintained and clean public bathhouse.
Located at Zilker Park, there are plenty of options to grab a bite to eat from the concession stand or from the regular visits of food trucks. The pool also features an educational exhibit where you can learn about the history and biology of Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer.
4. Hit the Veloway
To really focus on the bicycle experience, ride 10 miles from downtown Austin to the Veloway, a trail reserved exclusively for bicycles and rollerblades. It was the first facility of its kind in the country, offering a wide, 5K track that traverses the natural terrain of more than 100 acres through Circle C Ranch Metropolitan Park. The paved asphalt loop is free of all motorized traffic, making it perfect for concentrating simply on cycling without cars to worry about. One of the biggest benefits to riding an e-bike is that you can ride farther out, but with much less effort than on a traditional bicycle. Anytime I started to get tired, I just cranked the bike’s electric pedal assist up to the second of two levels and cruised along.
An added bonus is the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center across the street. Founded in 1982 by the former first lady and the “First Lady of American Theater” Helen Hayes, this special place has a mix of cultivated gardens and natural/wildland areas featuring native plants and animal species. There are several quarter-to-one-mile trails that guests can wander along, as well as rotating art and educational exhibits.
5. Cruising SoCo
If you want to get your city fix, head across the river from downtown to South Congress Avenue, known simply as SoCo to locals. This vibrant, compact, neighborhood is lined with boutiques, restaurants, art galleries, food trucks, and music venues. Street musicians are often found along the sidewalks, and artisan tents can usually be found on weekends and First Thursdays. First Thursdays are popular events that brings more booths, music, and later operating hours to the stretch.
Most of South Congress has a dedicated bike lane, making it easy to go a few blocks in between pit stops to check out the offerings. Browse classic vintage stores like Feather’s, Prototype and Uncommon Objects, or upscale boutiques such as Kendra Scott Jewelry, Blackmail, Creatures and Stag. It’s easy to store your eclectic purchases on the front bike rack—just make sure to secure them with a bungee cord or net.
SoCo offers a ridiculous amount of dining options, from restaurants like Vespaio and South Congress Café to Guero’s Taco Bar and Perla’s Seafood & Oyster Bar. There are also dozens of food trucks that line the street. Jo’s Coffee has been a local favorite for nearly 20 years and has one of the most iconic, photographed spots in the city: the “I love you so much” wall. (Tip: It was the perfect spot for snapping a cute selfie with my shiny e-bike.)
You can also satisfy your sweet tooth at the Hey Cupcake! truck or the adorably old-fashioned Big Top Candy Shop.
The perfect place to end an adventurous day in Austin is the nearby Continental Club, where you can hear top music artists play in a true classic Austin venue. It’s been open since 1955 and has live music every night of the week – just look for the flashing neon sign!
In addition to being available to rent at South Congress Hotel, Faraday Bikes are available in two local dealers in Austin: Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop and Rocket Electrics.
Featured image provided by Anne Worner.