Town Lake trail offers nature in the middle of the city

Town Lake in AustinThere are very few U.S. cities that offer residents a huge green oasis in the middle of the city.  Fortunately for us, Austin is one of them.

Town Lake (also known as Lady Bird Lake, or so I am told) and the associated Town Lake Trail offers Austinites and visitors walking and biking trails from just over a mile to almost 7.25 miles.  The trails are wide, and most of the route meanders along next to the lake (which looks like a small river to me, but hey, I’m not from around here!)  Wildlife is sparse, but there are swans, blackbirds and tons of butterflies.

Most of the path is shaded, which is critical given the summer temps around here.  Parking is hit or miss at several locations, but if one area is filled you’ll only have to go a short distance to the next on-street parking or off-street lot.  Most of it is free, too…another plus.

If you want to head out onto the water, there’s a boat rental here, offering canoes, kayaks and boards, plus lessons for the uninitiated.

There are lots of restaurants within a few minutes walk of the trail, so many people finish up their taste of nature with a taste of something more er, um cooked?

Pets are welcome and pretty much equal the number of people on the Town Lake Trail, but they must be on leashes and you must pick up their poop to avoid lake contamination. (Yes, there are trash cans, but bring your own bags.)  Off-road strollers do well here, although I have seen people with regular ones, too.

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Wildseed Farms brings wild beauty to home gardens

Wildseed Farm Texas

In the middle of wildflower season in Texas, it might be hard to think about planting and tending a garden.  After all, incredible blossoms are everywhere, from the center of 183 to the patch of dirt in front of the local strip mall.

But the fact is, most of the Technicolor flowers that are native to the Austin area are also a great choice for local gardens and landscapes, too.  That’s what I learned from our visit to Wildseed Farms, located near Fredricksburg.

But lest you think this is just a seed store, or even a nursery, I need to tell you about the unbelievable fields of flowers.  There were acres and acres of bright red, yellow and orange poppies.  Unfortunately, it seems that fields of poppies photograph about as well as they survive once cut — so you’ll have to see that amazing display for yourself.

There were also several smaller fields of larkspur — we picked enough of them to fill one large and several small vases at home for only $5.00.  And visitors can walk around through the growing gardens and see dozens of other wildflowers in bloom (and there are even clear tags identifying the flowers in each row…perfect for a new Texas resident like me who was worried about having to go into the store and ask for “those yellow flowers with the red bits near the center”.)

The shops at Wildseed Farms do have seeds…lots and lots and lots of them.  There are even wildflower mixes for other parts of the country, so visitors or people who want to send garden gifts can get the right kind for each region.

Add in the selection of garden decor, wind chimes, garden-themed gifts and beautiful cotton women’s clothing (yes, a surprise for me, too!) and you have a great place to stop on the way to Fredricksburg, or a relaxing destination all its own.

And as if that wasn’t enough, there was live music in an outdoor venue, with tables for enjoying the view, the sounds and something from the ice cream shop or snack bar.

Pets on leash are welcome here, even in the shops as long as they are well-behaved.

Walk into History at Pioneer Farms

Pioneer Farms Austin

I am a sucker for living history museums.  It’s one thing to walk into a brand new building and see pictures of the “old days” and peer into glass cases filed with old tools and such.  But to see the things in a action, in a realistic setting?  Now THAT is something else entirely.

We found out about Pioneer Farms because of a Living Social offer, and decided to check it out.

When we pulled in the parking lot, we were initially disappointed…it looked tiny, and except for a couple of other cars in the lot, deserted.  But we headed for the general store/ticket counter and showed our passes.

The helpful volunteer showed us a map that immediately changed our thoughts about the place…instead of just the handful of building we could see, there were acres and acres of historical buildings, including three early Texas homesteads…one typical of homesteaders waiting for their claim, one typical of a working German farm, and one from a wealthier landowner.  There were also blacksmithing demos (and classes!), period crafts, farm animals, and costumed docent to explain the buildings, artifacts and lifestyle.

In the end, what seemed like a 10 or 15 minute walk around a few buildings turned into a wonderful half day learning about Texas history and settlers.

This is a great place to take kids or out-of-town visitors.  Take your time wandering and absorbing the quiet of an earlier time when the ring of cell phones or the drone of the TV was mercifully unheard of.

Picnics are allowed, but pets are not.  Check their website for special events, craft demos and classes.

Lots of Steps but the View From Mount Bonnell is Worth It!

Mount Bonnell Park Austin

Yes, there are over 100 steps to reach the viewing platform at Mount Bonnell.  But when you get to the top, you’ll forget all about that burn in your muscles — the view is simply breath-taking.

Look one way, and gaze out over the water (you know, that wet stuff Austin just doesn’t seem to have enough of!). Look another, a few steps down the path, and you have a clear view of the city skyline.  Turn the other way and walk for a minute or two, and beautiful waterfront homes are in sight.

This is a great place for a picnic (yes, there are tables and benches.) Or find a rock above the water and settle down to read, write, play guitar or just enjoy the view.  Pets on leashes are welcome, parking is free and abundant, and most days this beautiful site is free from crowds.

A word of caution…Parents will need to keep a firm grip on little ones…the edges are real and the drop is significant.