Austin's temperature has been over 100° nearly every day since June, so getting the hell out of dodge is a tantalizing prospect. But as we stare down what may be a “double-dip” recession, that may not be an option; fortunately, Austin boasts plenty of low-cost attractions for recreation on a budget. Since my modest wages as a freelance writer preclude any lavish vacations in far-flung locations, I gravitate to the low-cost and free attractions that the city offers. Here’s how I like to spend a glorious day away from it all for less than $15:

Zilker Botanical Garden
Price: Free

[slideshow] Since cycling is my primary form of transportation, I look for recreational activities that won't put me at risk of getting heat stroke en route. Zilker Botanical Garden, located in the city’s expansive Zilker Park, is one of my favorite getaway locations within 15 minutes of downtown. The garden is situated on 30 acres of park land and boasts an improbably wide array of plants given the city’s unforgiving climate. Ornate cacti, exotic tropical plants, vibrants flower beds, meandering paths winding through koi ponds: Zilker Botanical Garden is an oasis amid the city’s urban sprawl. Best of all, admission is free. Don’t miss the Hartman Prehistoric Garden, a recreation of the local habitat in prehistoric time, featuring charming dinosaur statuary.


Barton Springs
Price: $3 admission

After checking out the native plants and dinosaur statuary, I like to cool off at Barton Springs, a large public natural pool located across the road from Zilker Botanical Garden. Barton Springs may be the city’s top attraction for locals, and for $3 admission, it's one of the most affordable.

Photo of Barton Springs by camera_obscura on Flickr

Barton Springs attracts Austinites from all walks of life. On any given day, the rolling grass-covered hills that surround it are covered with families and college kids, downtown professionals and tatted-up metal guitarists. It often feels like half of the city's population happens to be at Barton Springs at the same time, but the pool and the park area surrounding it are so large that it rarely feels overcrowded.

Photo by Michael Coté on Flickr

The water in the natural spring is refreshingly cold, good for a short dip. I’ll set up a spot, jump in the water for a few minutes, get out and read a book and people-watch until I dry off — at which time it’s time to jump back in and repeat the process. Barton Springs is one of the cheapest and best ways to get sweet relief from the triple-digit temperatures.

Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse-Cafe
Average plate: $8

Photo by Emily Chang on Flickr

A fifteen minute ride from Barton Springs is Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse-Cafe, a delicious (and affordable) vegetarian cafe. Tofu scramble so savory you won’t miss the egg, potent coffee, and cheap bottles of Lone Star beer — what more do you need? The restaurant relocated to a new location a few months back, and while the new spot lacks some of the run-down charm of the previous location, the food and the service are as good as ever.

What are your favorite low-cost Austin attractions? Let us know in the comments.

Paul M. Davis


Paul M. Davis

Paul M. Davis tells stories online and off, exploring the spaces where data, art, and civics intersect. I currently work with a number of organizations including Pivotal and

Things I share: Knowledge, technology, reusable resources, goodwill.