AUSTIN, Texas -- One could theoretically avoid the snarls of traffic that often plague boomtown Austin by hopping on a boat at the docks off the Lower Colorado River near the Pennybacker Bridge and Austin Country Club, and heading a couple of miles downstream on Lake Austin to Oyster Marina on the town's old west side.
This is one of Austin's most coveted zip codes (Ben Crenshaw lives in this historic neighborhood, as well as many other distinguished Austin families), but for tourists, it's an affordable and welcoming a place to explore. Even if there are fewer food trucks and handlebar mustaches compared to the east, this is an established part of town where you're bound to enjoy a full day of outdoor leisure.
As a resident myself, here's how I would spend a fine spring day here, anchored by a round of golf at "Muny."
Breakfast at Town Lake
In the morning, take a jog on the Hike & Bike Trail on Town Lake, or better yet, see just how good dogs have it in this town at Red Bud Isle, where they run free. Two breakfast institutions in the neighborhood are Magnolia Cafe, a 24-hour diner with Tex-Mex staples (yes, breakfast tacos included) as well as more traditional American breakfast items. For a cup of joe on the lake, head to Mozart's, which has plenty of outdoor seating in a quiet setting on Lake Austin (no full breakfast, though, mostly pastry items).
Golf at "Muny:" Lions Municipal Golf Course
After breakfast, for the day's main event, look no further than "Muny."
Of the five 18-hole courses in Austin's municipal system, Lions Municipal Golf Course is the oldest (1924) and shortest (6,001 yards), and hasn't received much of the updates the other facilities have recently. So why then, after all these years, is venerable Lions probably the toughest public tee time to score in town?
Simply put, many locals find this old beast sublime, warts and all.
"The holes are more interesting," said resident Lorenzo de Paolis, comparing it to Morris Williams Golf Course, which he lives closer to. "You have to shape the ball certain ways.
"I'm a big nature freak, and these are the best trees [on a course] I've ever seen."
Courtesy of Lorenzo de Paolis
This is a local haunt where groups waving to one another on opposite fairways seems commonplace. If it's your first time at Lions, I wouldn't play any locals like 'Zo for cash. Despite picking up the game four-and-a-half years ago, 'Zo knows Lions like few do. He plays here, quite literally, nearly every afternoon (sometimes twice). In addition to working as a tutor, he helps out part time at the course both on the grounds and as a kind of unofficial historian.
His golf swing is hardly elite, but it's grooved to say the least. A round with him and his 9-year-old golden retriever Willow (who usually strolls down the cart path at a leisurely pace just behind the golfers) reveals just how well they both know the layout. You'd think 'Zo could sleepwalk around this place and shoot even par. His best score here is a 7-under 64. Some of the town's finest golfers enlist 'Zo's caddie services at Lions, and he was witness to the recent course-record 60 shot by well-known local golfer Jay Reynolds in the past year -- finally surpassing Crenshaw's record 61.
It's true that many of Texas' greatest golfers like Harvey Penick, John Bredemus, Ben Hogan, Crenshaw and Tom Kite all have their Lions legends (boxer Joe Louis played here, too). But there are also countless locals whose legends are based around their time at "Muny" like Roy Kizer, Barbara Puett and Lloyd Morrison (you can read more about them at SaveMuny.com).
Residents are very willing to share the course and its many stories with anyone, but you'll need to act fast to score weekend morning tee times (weekend times become available Tuesday morning). But there's good news for non-residents. You pay the same low green fee as townies on this city institution. Friendly golfers of all ages, abilities and wardrobes, often with their dog in tow, make this place as undeniably "Austin" as anywhere in town.
19th hole: Deep Eddy Pool, plus more bars and restaurants
If you've sweated out 18 holes of golf on a warm day, a cool respite is just a par 5 or so away at Deep Eddy Pool, Texas' oldest swimming hole dating back to 1924. A section of the pool is still fed by cool 68-degree spring water. How does that sound on a summer afternoon?
While popular, it's seldom as busy as Barton Springs at Zilker Park. Also, there are a handful of local bar and dining establishments near Deep Eddy, including Deep Eddy Cabaret, which has been here for generations and is the epitome of a local dive bar. Or, head east of the MoPac expressway and there are some more choices. El Arroyo is another staple for cheap drinks and Tex-Mex. Also, Donn's Depot is a good spot for live music most nights. The Clarksville neighborhood has some fine dining options. One I recently discovered is Cafe Josie, which has an all-you-can-eat prix fixe dinner menu that has imaginative courses and is plenty filling for $45.
Stay and play in Austin
There are no hotels on Austin's old west side, but there are a fair amount of short-term rental properties (rental "granny flats" are a staple in central Austin) in Tarrytown and Clarksville available on HomeAway and AirBnB. But a few Austin institutions worth checking out are Hotel San Jose on festive South Congress and Austin's Inn at Pearl Street closer to the Capitol complex.
New downtown hotels have been sprouting up like bluebonnets in March. Hotel Van Zandt (which just opened near Rainey Street), JW Marriott and South Congress Hotel are all brand new. More are coming, including a huge Fairmont hotel near the convention center, scheduled to open in 2017. The historic Driskill is the town's most decorated hotel, but if you can't afford a room, pop in and explore the bars over a martini or two.