Austin City Guide

As the Texan capital, Austin has played a central political role since the state joined the Union in 1845. The city has taken on an increased importance at a national level since the start of the 21st century. Home to the creative festival SXSW, low taxation and a leading live music scene, Austin has helped diversify the Texan economy beyond oil, gas and ranching. Companies like jobs board Indeed, Tesla and Whole Foods Market are headquartered in the city. Couple this with comprehensive hospitality offering from the likes of MML Hospitality and sophisticated cycling, running and swimming infrastructure and it’s easy to see why the city has attracted Americans to relocate.

To make the most of this Austin city guide for endurance athletes, note a few patterns and features. Facilities are broken into categories according to their running, cycling or swimming. Instead, a full directory of locations final Directory section – place names in Directory link directly to the venue’s Google Maps profile, so click to pull up directions. Finally, the Sleeping & Eating section at the end of the guide provides an insight into good places for sleeping, eating and taking coffee during your time in Austin.

Orientation & Logistics

Austin’s axis hugging the Colorado River has shifted with the development of the South Congress roadway and neighborhood, pulling residents beyond the Downtown and historic city core. Hotelier Liz Lambert almost singlehandedly converted South Congress from a dwindling annex to a vibrant thoroughfare with the opening of Hotel San José in 2000.

South Congress trots north into town, spanning the Colorado River to connect with numbered roads which just out laterally – 5th and 6th passing west to Clarksville, and to the emerging east side in the opposite direction.

Austin may be a blue city electorally, but she’s lime green when it comes to transit. Scooter sharing company Lime have done a good job harnessing the green bike lanes and countering an auto-first agenda. With no metro, Austin’s bus infrastructure has taken on the burden of moving a determined crowd of transplants – the “CapMetro” app provides a decent ticketing experience.

The heat and humidity of summer in Austin abates in October when a short season of merely warm weather carries across to Spring. Rains are frequent with heavy downpours common.

Running

The trail infrastructure that weaves along and across Austin’s section of the Colorado River rival the best in the nation, directing runners to quieter patches beyond the immediate city traffic. Jumping onto the south bank of the Colorado River from South Congress opens up a continuous trail in both directions – known as the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail.

Runner on Walnut Creek Trail, returning to town

Take the track east to South Walnut Creek Trail (above) – roughly 5km / 3.2 miles from Austin’s Downtown. Alternatively, take the path west on smooth trail over Barton Creek to the 1 (freeway), then double back to retrace your steps, or cross the river and return on the north bank (road shoes fine, see surface).

A third option would be to take the trail west, then cut up Barton Creek instead of following the Colorado River. A more hairy trail run route – Barton Creek Greenbelt Trail 7 – not sheer but narrow and mixed underfoot.

An athletics track at Rudolph Gamblin Field (Google Maps) provides a 400m running option on the South Congress side of town. Access is from the South from Elizabeth Street.

Track at Rudolph Gamblin Field

Group runs and other workouts are organized by Austin Tri Club – check in with there by emailing to find out if you can join their planned workouts. Locations are orientated around residential neighborhoods, so can take time to get to if staying on South Congress or Downtown. Another great resource in Austin is Natasha van der Merwe of NVDM Coaching – email natasha@nvdmcoaching.com to get onto sessions as a guest.

Cycling

Road cycling infrastructure is robust in Austin, with recent trails leading out the East and fair roads pointing to the West.

For an initial spin, follow runners onto South Walnut Creek Trail – just note that there is a 15mph speed limit when navigating the southern pathway along the river. South Walnut Creek Trail is 7.3 miles in length, and hours are from 5am to 10pm. Note Flitch Coffee (Google Maps) near the trailhead if you’re looking for some motivation to get you pointed.

A longer route west can be 50 mile / 2,800vft (850vm) route to the dam. See route

Cyclists not completely bitter about a 7-time Tour de France winners’ business ownership should go to Mellow Johnny’s for downtown bike rental and group rides. Their fleet is available on a 24-hour basis, meaning you could could pick up a bike before 5pm one day, ride into the evening and the following morning, then return the bike before your 24 period is over (if renting for a single day).

Rapha also have a Clubhouse down the road from MJ with a rental fleet available to RCC members with plenty group rides available for non-members. They’re open 11am to 8pm, so you’ll want to pick up your rental model the evening before.

Swimming

Barton Springs Pool is one of the more impressive urban oases, on par with The Serpentine (London) and Aquatic Park (San Francisco). The pool is 1000ft / 300m in length, essentially offering an open water swimming experience within metropolitan Austin. Note that it’s not exclusively open for lap swimmers (see below), so get there early to carve out your lane alongside a perimeter. Opening times are libertarian – between 5am to 8am and 8pm to 10pm there is access for those open to swimming unguarded (no lifeguard). Purchase tickets via the website link above.

Barton Springs Pool, Austin

Those looking for more measured lanes can swim on guest passes the outdoor Deep Eddy Municipal Pool, completed in 1915. Their pool is 33 yards in length and is currently offering free access. Open from 9am to 7:30pm (just note the pool is closed on 14th March 2023) – normal closure date is first Tuesday of each month.

Sleeping & Eating

As the most vibrant city in Texas, Austin has hospitality in spades. Restaurants have flourished on South Congress, while a series of recent hotel openings creates choice on either side of the Colorado River.

For restaurants on South Congress you have Aba, Mediterranean fare and an off-street setting, and seafood from Perla’s opposite. Brunch at Josephine House in Clarksville. The South Congress Hotel is recommended below for overnight stays, but lean on Proper Hotel when Downtown – they have an all-day menu.

The Meteor bike shop and cafe is an institution for endurance athletes in Austin. Mañana Coffee next to South Congress Hotel is worth bookmarking, while Jo’s Cafe offers an outdoor seating on the other side of South Congress. As for coffee Downtown, Intelligentsia Coffee have a stunning venue near to Proper Hotel.

The South Congress Hotel is your first choice for an accommodation in Austin – blending boutique hotel details with large spaces and a prime location. The 71 guest rooms include 12 suites for long-stays, and twinnable rooms for travelling with colleagues or friends. South Congress have a on-site gym.

Those looking to stay more centrally or for longer in Austin should check into Sonder. Their furnished apartments close the gap between an Airbnb and hotel, offering at a more sustainable price point and the kind of consistency and check-in experience which Airbnb lacks. Book directly through their app for the best price (their apartments are also listed on Airbnb). Sonder’s gym is an impressive combination of dumbbell weights, barbells and static equipment for cardio.

Directory

Aba

Intelligentia Coffee

Jamail Texas Swimming Center

Jo’s Cafe

Mellow Johnny’s

Meteor Cafe

Josephine House

Rapha, Austin

Mañana Cofee

South Congress Hotel

South Walnut Creek Trailhead


Email Will Ross (will@zafiri.com) with questions or comments, and have a browse of other Zafiri City Guides. This San Diego City Guide was last updated in March 2023.