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Austin - Texas

Page 3 of 3: Where to Eat | Scenic Day Trip | Hotels

Nearby State Parks

Texas Hill Country offers more than a dozen scenic state parks. Three are located within a short drive of downtown Austin. For general parks information, call 800-792-1112

McKinney Falls State Park is located inside the Austin city limits, at 5808 McKinney Falls Parkway, in south Austin. The 640-acre park is named for Thomas F. McKinney, who came to the area in the early 1820s as one of Stephen Austin's first 300 colonists. McKinney built his impressive home, stone fences, and the first flour mill in the area with slave labor. The ruins of the homestead are on view. The park offers camping, hiking, cycling, picnicking and fishing. Swimming is permitted in Onion Creek, when creek conditions are right. Tours are provided for a fee. Park facilities include screened shelters with bunk beds (bring your own air mattresses), campsites with water (some with electricity), and walk-in sites beside the creek. An interpretive trail leads .75 mile along the creek. An additional 3.7 miles of walking and cycling trails are available. The interpretive center contains exhibits and an audio-visual room, plus an outdoor amphitheater. The park is located 13 miles southeast of the State Capitol building, off U.S. Highway 183. Take McKinney Falls Parkway south to the park entrance. Camping reservations: (512) 389-8900

Inks Lake State Park lies on the reservoir, part of the Lower Colorado River system. The park is located nine miles west of historic Burnet, via Texas Highway 29 and Park Road 4. Deer, quail, and many songbirds are resident in the park. Recreational activities include camping, backpacking, hiking, golf, swimming at the beach, boating, water skiing, scuba diving, and fishing (bass, crappie, catfish). Facilities include campsites with water and electricity, restrooms with showers, backcountry campsites (1.5 miles from the center of the park), picnic areas, a nine-hole golf course, and an amphitheater. the Texas Park Store rents canoes and paddle boats year-round, and sells basic groceries&emdash;a boon to campers. For camping reservations, call (512) 389-8900.

John J. Stokes San Marcos River State Park is an undeveloped piece of land across the San Marcos River from the A.E. Wood State Fish Hatchery, operated by the City of San Marcos. The site, also known as Thompson's Island, provides a quiet day of canoeing, boating, and fishing. While there are no picnic tables (or restrooms), there are places along the river to spread a blanket for a picnic. San Marcos is 30 miles south of Austin, via Interstate 35, the route to San Antonio.Exit the freeway at U.S. Highway 80 and turn right on River Road. Drive one mile and turn left onto County Road to reach the island.

Scenic Sidetrip

For a fine day trip in the hills west of the city, take the Mopac Loop Expressway (Loop 1) to Bee Cave Road. Drive west on Bee Cave Road to Texas Highway 360 (Capital of Texas Highway) and turn right. The route leads through chalky limestone hills. There's an overlook 1.5 miles along this highway, with views of the downtown skyline. Continue north on TX 360, crossing the Pennybacker Bridge over Lake Austin. Take Bull Creek Road (FM 2222) and drive west for several miles until you reach TX 620. Turn left and proceed one mile to Commanche Trail. Turn right and you'll pass the Oasis Cantina Del Lago, a fine restaurant overlooking Lake Travis. Continue on TX 620 and cross Mansfield Dam. A visit to Leftwitch Winery is possible at this point. Drive another seven miles until you reach TX Highway 71. To return to Austin, turn left on TX 71 and left on Bee Cave Road.

If you have time, turn right on TX 71 and drive 1.5 miles to Hamilton Pool Road. Turn left and drive 13 miles to Hamilton Pool, a distinctive natural place where you'll see a collapsed limestone grotto, with a waterfall and pool. Another four miles down the road is West Cave Preserve, a 30-acre natural area with wildflower meadows and stands of ashe juniper and oak. This is a sanctuary for the golden-cheeked warbler and many other birds. Weather permitting, tours are available on Saturdays and Sundays at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. To return to Austin, retrace the route to TX 71. Turn left and take TX 71 to Bee Cave Road.

Where to Eat

Threadgills

If we were to recommend only one restaurant to visit during your stay in Austin, it would have to be Threadgill's. Located at 6416 North Lamar, this is a landmark institution that survived prohibition as a gas station and bootleg joint, run by Kenneth Threadgill and bought by Eddie Wilson in the 1970s. What used to be a small diner is now a large, informal cafe with several rooms, plus a store and museum where you can buy take-out food, Threadgill's special seasonings, frozen food, and Threadgills memorabelia. But it's the food which is the attraction here: grilled, country-style, bronzed (dipped in Cajun spices), Southwestern-style served with chipotle cream sauce and smoked corn relish, and -- above all -- chicken fried. I've been cooking my own chicken-fried steak since finding Threadhill's recipe, courtesy of Jane and Michael Stern and Gourmet Magazine, a recipe you'll also find in Eddie Wilson's own Threadgill's Cookbook (Longstreet Press, 1996). Using the double-dipped eggwash process, the chicken fried steaks are wonderfully tender, with a distinctive crisp batter coating. Served with mashed potatoes, a savory cream sauce, cornbread, yeast rolls, biscuits, and a choice of vegetable plates, this is comfort food heaven. Humorist Roy Blount said "Eddie Wilson is the Proust of Supper," and you too will gain a new respect for :"everyday food" at Threadgills. The decor is "eclectic Americana," the walls covered with Texas artifacts. For information on open hours, call the restaurant at (512) 451-5440. You can also visit a second Threadgills in Austin.

Manuels

Tex-Mex cuisine is served in a moderately upscale scene at Manuel's, at 310 Congress, downtown. The food is consistantly fine, presenting a southwestern twist to dishes like mole enchiladas and chile rellenos. There is a bar, and the premises is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10:45 p.m., with appetisers served until midnight, (512) 472-7555).

Poke-e-Jo's Smokehouse

(1603 West 5th Street, 1202-C Interstate 35, and 9828 Great Hills Trail)
This small chain offers three locations for traditional Texas barbecue. Pork loin, sausages, pork ribs, and brisket are served up with side dishes including corjn on the cob casseroles, and fried okra. All locations serve beer and wine. Call (512) 388-7578 for open hours.

Bitter End

is a warehouse converted into a large, busy brewpub. At 311 Colorado, the restaurant offers several of its own brews, along with a selection of appetizers and entrees which are several cuts above usual pub fare. The space is separated into a bar and dining spaces, opening for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and re-opening for dinner at 5:30 p.m. (Friday and Saturday), and at 6 p.m. on other days.

Sullivan's Steakhouse

at 300 Colorado, offers the quintessential club-style steakhouse environment, with dark wood, historical boxng photos on the wall, and the most tender beef around. The bar opens at 4:30 p.m., with dinner served from 5:30 to 11 p.m. (daily except Sunday). For reservations, call (512) 495-6504.

The Oasis

For food with a view, drive to the shore of Lake Travis and The Oasis. Located 400 feet above the lake at 6550 Commanche Trail, the Oasis is a hotel (private cottages) and restaurant with dining rooms and a scenic outdoor dining area. Steak, seafood, and Mexican specialities highlight a wide-ranging menu. Lunch is served Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner is served from 5 p.m.

 

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