Central Austin offers many opportunities for short walks and day hikes through pleasant residential neighborhoods and historic areas. The Austin Convention and Visitor's Bureau and the Austin Historic Landmark Commission sponsor free walking tours of historic downtown Austin at 9 a.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tours begin at the south entrance to the Capitol and last approximately 2 hours. Call 866-GO-AUSTIN for information. Here is a link to the form to complete for a tour. Walking can be a great low impact form of exercise.
The Capitol Grounds at 11th and Congress are beautiful any season of the year. Austin citizens have used the area for recreation since 1849. The present capitol building celebrated its centennial in 1988 and recently underwent an extensive renovation.
Congress Avenue and East 6th Street are both designated historic districts that display many fine examples of nineteenth century commercial architecture. Free guided walking tours of these districts are offered, Thursday through Sunday, March through November, by the Austin Visitor's Center, 201 East 2nd St. - 512 478-0098. The 2-hour tours leave from the south entrance of the Capitol, weather permitting.
From the Congress Avenue bridge over Lady Bird Lake, hundreds of thousands of Mexican Free-tailed Bats fly out early in the evening to search for insects and other food. Forming several ribbons or columns across the sky, these bats are a sight to behold.
Bremond Block at the southwest corner of 8th and Guadalupe Streets, a unique collection of nineteenth century residences in a variety of styles. While you're in this neighborhood, walk over to...
Treaty Oak Park, a block west of Lamar Boulevard between 5th and 6th Streets. Estimated to be 500-600 years old, the live oak tree known as Treaty Oak was poisoned in 1989, catching the attention of the world. While it has lost its majesty, the tree clings to life, and people still come to pay homage to it.
Brush Square is another good place downtown, at 401 East 5th Street, where a big old tree is perfect for storytelling outdoors. Next to it is O'Henry Museum, which was once the home of William Sydney Porter (O'Henry). This museum is now listed on the National Register of Historic Sites.
Numerous structures can be found along Nueces Street, Rio Grande Street, and West Avenue between 6th Street and Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard. The Hyde Park neighborhood, bounded by 38th, Guadalupe, 45th, and Duval Streets, was developed in the 1880s as one of Austin's first suburbs. Still predominantly residential, it contains several notable buildings constructed by early settlers. Tours of some of the homes are offered every spring by the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association.
Other distinctive residential areas for pleasant day hikes include West Austin, Enfield, and Brykerwoods (located generally between Lamar and MoPac between 5th and 35th Streets). In south Austin, the most notable areas are Travis Heights and Fairview Park, bounded roughly by Riverside Drive, Kenwood Avenue, Live Oak Street, and Newning Avenue.
Waterloo Park is a short but lovely walk, with plenty of places to sit and ponder. Waller Creek runs through this downtown park at 403 East 15th Street, lending it added beauty. Because the park is relatively large considering its central location, it is a choice spot for many special events.
The University of Texas offers nicely landscaped grounds, several fountains, and buildings in a variety of styles. Weatherproof maps at several locations help with orientation. Be sure to make it over to "the Drag", the strip of Guadalupe Street that adjoins the campus. At 23rd and Guadalupe, street vendors display handmade jewelry, photographs, clothing, and many other items in the outdoor market.
Laguna Gloria, at the west end of 35th Street on Lake Austin, is a Spanish colonial-style estate that houses an art museum. A beautiful oak-canopied trail follows the edge of the lagoon to the end of the property. The big event of the year at Laguna Gloria is Fiesta, an art fair held the third weekend of May that attracts artists from all over the country.
Nearby Mt. Bonnell towers above Lake Austin and offers wonderful views of the Austin skyline and Westlake Hills. Turn right off West 35th onto Mount Bonnell Road and follow it to the parking area at the base of the mountain. Take the steps to the top, or walk to the north end and climb a less demanding trail.