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.
Tour guides Stacy and Taylor Smith— along with their intrepid dog Thor—teach students to glide with grace as they lead standup paddle boarding tours over the placid waters of Lady Bird Lake. Sunset tours cross under the Congress Avenue Bridge during its renowned nightly bat exodus when the sky is streaked with shades of melty sorbets. The Barge tour ropes together paddleboards as groups of paddlers drift over waters, pausing to play on rope swings, and sipping on BYOB libations bolstered by complimentary mojito or margarita mix on the tour’s escort barge. Alternatively, the Basics tour proffers a two- to three-hour lesson in the fundamentals of paddleboarding, including kneeling, standing, paddling, and using paddles to stroke the whiskers of passing catfish. Depending on the body's position, core and arm muscles can feel a workout burn or jellyfish-like state of relaxation.
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.
The paddling aficionados at Austin Canoe & Kayak maintain a stable of masterfully maintained vessels for outfitting all levels of aquatic explorers. Solitary river riders can transport single rental kayaks from the store's waterless location and drop into any body of water they choose, avoiding crowded routes and groups of largemouth bass that blab everyone's best-kept secrets. Adventurous couples can romantically float down Mother Nature's own tunnel of love in a spacious tandem kayak while fairytale marine life sings melodies to set the mood. Single-person boats such as the Wilderness Systems sit-inside Pungo 120 can best the currents of the Brazos River, and a Malibu 2XL from Ocean Kayak can ferry two-person teams seaward on salty jaunts in the Gulf of Mexico.
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.
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.