Although hot-air balloons remain Austin's most popular commuter vehicles, they're highly vulnerable to dastardly villains with handlebar moustaches who ply the sky in battle zeppelins. Tour the town from a safer vantage with today's Groupon: for $10, you get a one-hour kayak OR two-hour bike rental from Gliding Revolution (a $25 value after tax). Reservations are required and subject to availability.
Regardless of your choice of conveyance, you'll shove off from Gliding Revolution's shop located at the Austin Town Lake Holiday Inn. Upon request, cyclists receive a complimentary helmet and lock, and kayakers receive a dry bag. If you vote for the velocipede, dig your wheels deep into the crushed gravel and pedal your way around the scenic Lady Bird Lake Trails, free of the hassles of smelly car traffic and ambushes by herds of feral Segways. Otherwise, open up the whole expanse of Lady Bird Lake for exploration with some patiently paced paddle-pushing in one of Gliding Revolution's kayaks. If the spring heat has already got you beat, kayakers can take refuge under the Congress Street Bridge and commune with Austin's community of bat-themed vigilantes and riddle-dispensing trolls.
Escorting visiting out-of-towners via bike or kayak is a brilliant way to show off the city. It's also an excellent way for jaded locals to re-experience everything about Austin that seduced them in the first place, from the civic center that's dressed as a French maid to the champagne lake to the rose-petal-strewn forest trails. If you can't decide which mode of transportation you like best, buy two Groupons and try both at the same time.
Run by Texas State University, The Meadows Center introduces visitors to the lush diversity of the San Marcos Springs and intricate system of waterways. Glass-bottomed boats set out for guided tours of Spring Lake, gazing at the aquatic life and University midterm papers below. Above the springs that bubble up from the bottom, soft shell turtles and bluegill sunfish swim in the clear waters and songbirds survey the sky. Eight endangered species populate the lake, including beetles, two species of salamander, and soft-shell turtles. On land, visitors can explore gardens of native Texan plants or a hall of nature exhibit.
On sweltering summer days, the San Marcos River becomes a cooling respite for hundreds of tubers thanks to Don's Fish Camp. The shop rents tubes with coolers and sells supplies such as sunscreen and waterproof cameras for tubers to take onto the water. When not floating with a brew in hand, tubers can barbecue and picnic along the banks flush with trees and shrubbery.
The rec area accommodates those who aren’t ready to go home at the end of day by allowing guests to pitch a tent and camp under the stars to the sound of rushing water and largemouth bass that just won't shut up. To give these visitors a scenic place to tube and party, Don's team cleans up the riverbanks daily and requests guests bring no glass or styrofoam on the premises.
The engine's howl steadily builds as the Robinson R44 helicopter's blades churn with increasing velocity. Passengers look out of bubble windows and see grass whipping beneath. In a moment, the turf disappears, fading from view as the chopper lifts higher into the sky. So begins an aerial adventure led by experienced pilots Steve Van Buren and John Holler, who venture into the airways above Austin, San Antonio, the hill country, and central Texas. The air-conditioned copters—equipped with four-way communication that allows guides to maintain contact with passengers—glide through the firmament, as pilots obey all stop-sign-shaped clouds on their way to eye-catching views of sites such as historic Gruene. Crews also bring helicopters to clients for party rentals and assist landowners with predator control and game surveys.
Texas hills unfurl before Wimberley Valley Winery, gently guiding guests to the winery’s stock of wines. Since 1983, the winery’s resident winemaker has created a range of classic varietal wines in addition to offering wines from around the world. While the winemakers weave their magic in the cellar, the remainder of the winery’s staff entertains customers in the elegant tasting room. Here, an expansive stone fireplace steals the attention from sunny yellow walls, and granite counters hide bottle after bottle of wines waiting to be sampled. While tasters sink into cushy leather couches, the staff explains the flavor profiles of wine types and divulge tips for pairing wine with the right food or crazy straws.
A buoyant fleet of inflatable rafts and tubes drifts lazily down two sprawling rivers populated with exciting rapids and falls. During 1.5- to 5-hour treks, guests can traverse the Comal or Guadalupe River in an inner tube, relax with a partner in a two-seater raft, or host a regulation poker game with friends inside a raft that holds up to six. Trip durations and age cutoffs may change on a daily basis depending on current river flow.