Sometimes, on a lazy Saturday, all you want to do is curl up underneath a big ol' oak tree with a non-eReader book, preferably with a big shaggy dog by your side. Here are my favorite, mostly free places in Austin to do just that.
An enchanted swimming hole just outside of town, with glittering waterfalls and craggy overhangs. When it fills up they don't let anymore cars in, so get there early -- but trust me, it's worth it.
A sweet little spot for a Saturday stroll: Umlauf houses 100 sculptures on its Secret Garden-esque grounds from artist Charles Umlauf, and hosts Wednesday and Friday morning yoga classes outside.
With a three-mile hiking trail (Turkey Creek), waters shallow enough for kiddos, and even a little beach, Emma Long is a dreamy spot just off 2222 -- and it never seems to get terribly busy.
One of the best aspects of Bull Creek Park is the hilly drive down there through Far West and Mesa, skirting steep drops and rounding jaw-droppingly pretty homes -- and then, once you finally find it, a swimming hole of crystal clear water and mossy rock formations await. Every time I've been there, I've seen about 15 other folks max.
There's a tall, several story stone staircase at Mount Bonnell that leads up to one of the highest points in the city. It makes for one hell of a hike with your beloved, and if you still have energy afterwards, a marriage proposal.
It's become a popular spot for fitness boot camps and music festivals, but on an otherwise unoccupied day, Auditorium Shores is one of the best stretches of local natural utopia, surrounded on all sides by urban buzz. Not just dog-friendly, but practically dog-required, and in 2011, the Internet nearly crashed when Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara hit up Fun Fun Fun Fest here to film a yet-unnamed Terence Malick flick.
Yes, it occasionally gets overrun by hard-core Run Texers preparing for ultramarathons, but the Hike and Bike trail around Town Lake is a reliably groomed and (for the most part) even-grounded route for casual joggers and dog-walkers. I personally love the fact that it hugs downtown Austin, so that at some points in the trail, there's city lights flanking your one side, a natural expanse flanking your other.
In the precise center of Austin sits 30 acres of flowers, divided into neat little mini-gardens each with their own theme and focus: There's the Japanese Zen garden, the prehistoric garden, the rose garden, the butterfly trail. This is a wonderful spot to bring visitors, especially if you've never been yourself.
Official Dog Heaven has been located, and it is here, in Austin, Texas. Low waters, wooded little pathways, and a happy leash-free spirit characterize Red Bud, which sits just in between West Lake and Tarrytown.