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Where to #OptOutside, according to Austin’s music community

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This advertising content was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and our sponsor, REI, without involvement from Vox Media editorial staff.

Austin, Texas, the Live Music Capital of the World, boasts a wealth of musical talent as well as plentiful greenspace—more than 18,700 acres and 227 miles of trails. Musicians here are drawn to these areas for rejuvenation, inspiration, and even occasionally for performance spaces. So we tapped Dana Falconberry, a musician and artist living outside of Austin; Austin singer-songwriter and guitarist Jackie Venson; and Leslie Sisson, singer for the Austin-based band Moving Panoramas. Though Austin is always changing and growing, we asked these local musicians to share their favorite spots to #OptOutside and get away from the bustle of the city—along with their top picks for performing music outdoors.

Inspired to make some environmental change after reading about these outdoor destinations? You can join REI on Black Friday to #OptOutside for a nationwide day of action and kick off a year of change. REI will be co-hosting cleanups with Leave No Trace and United by Blue all across the U.S. You can find your nearest cleanup at REI.com/opt-outside.

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Spicewood Valley Trail

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The scenic Spicewood Valley Trail is one of Austin’s newer hikes. A moderate 1.3-mile trek, begin at Mountain View Park and admire striking bluffs, a waterfall, creeks, and stonework steps along the way. Hiking is a perfect way to get outside, particularly in Austin. As Venson describes, “There aren’t that many big cities that have true nature in them—nothing really truly wild. There’s, like, real wilderness right next to a big city here.” And to respect that rare city wilderness, Venson says she’s “made a concerted effort to eliminate single-use plastics from my life. I have a water bottle that I refill, and I do everything I can to stick to paper and cardboard products, as well as recycle everything.”

Tracy Keller on Flickr

Shoal Creek Trail

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The urban Shoal Creek Trail snakes through downtown Austin and is part of one of the area’s oldest greenbelts, providing a surprising amount of lush tree shade with plenty of secret spots ripe for exploring along the way. “It’s one of my favorite places in town,” says Falconberry. “All of a sudden you’re surrounded by cliffs and trees and water. It’s pretty incredible.” 

Lars Plougmann on Flickr

Jester King

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Situated on a sprawling farmlike space (with animals you can even pet on a free tour), this brewery specializes in barrel-aged wild ales and sour beers. “They use native and natural yeasts for their sour beers, and they are located on a beautiful piece of land, which definitely informs their process,” says Falconberry. On weekends, you can order up a pizza made with locally sourced ingredients and baked to perfection in their wood-fired oven; opt for a meatless option, like a Napoli pie or a Pyrus pizza made with spiced apple puree, pecans, radicchio, coffee bean, and caramelized onions. And of course, settle in for a night of live music (when in Austin) on Bluegrass Fridays or special events. 

Courtesy Jester King Brewery

Mount Bonnell

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Providing a panoramic view of the Colorado River, the 105-step hike up to the top of Mount Bonnell is an old-fashioned Austin tradition; visitors picnicked here as far back as the 1800s. It’s where Sisson takes her friends and out-of-town guests when they visit. “When I do get a chance to break away from it all and hit the trails or swimming holes, it definitely grounds me,” she says.

David Brooks on Flickr

Holly Shores at Town Lake Metropolitan Park

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Part of a 10-mile trail loop around Lady Bird Lake right downtown, this little park is nestled next to a dam right in downtown Austin and is one of Falconberry’s favorite spots for bird watching. “It’s pretty peaceful and if you’re lucky, you’ll find a heron feather,” she says.

Adam Muise on Unsplash

Sherwood Forest Faire

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Just 35 miles east of Austin in McDade, the Sherwood Forest Faire is an open-air Renaissance celebration, complete with music, apparel, food, and drink appropriate to the era. “My favorite part of the fair is the multitudes of musicians that play everything from amplified Celtic rock to quieter pan flute performances,” says Rozie Castoe, bassist for Moving Panoramas. “To be able to experience this kind of music not only in a Renaissance-style setting, but in the beauty that this area of the Hill Country provides is truly an inspiration.”

Casper Johansson on Unsplash

San Marcos River

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Beloved by Austinites who travel south with tubes to cool off in the rapids, the spring-fed San Marcos River is always around 72 degrees year-round and is a great place to spend the day relaxing with friends. “I’m from Michigan and the crispy Texas summers can really get me down, but this river spot is a lifesaver,” says Falconberry. “It’s very pretty.” If she’s spending a sunny day on the river, Falconberry makes sure to opt for eco-friendly sunscreen, lotions, and other beauty products. “Following the Leave No Trace principles are key, and that includes thinking about the things that are on your body,” she says. “So I try to use as many natural products on my body as possible, because all of that stuff eventually ends up in our water supply.”

Nicolas Henderson on Flickr

Bull Creek District Park

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In a city where dogs are given VIP treatment in restaurants, parks, and hotels, it’s little surprise that on any given day hiking the trails of Bull Creek you’ll find several happy pups getting out and enjoying this 48-acre park with a stream that cuts through it, just right for a water romp. “I take my dog everywhere—his name is Dexter, and he’s a Pembroke Corgi,” says Venson. “I like taking him to Bull Creek. It’s a really great place to go swimming.”

Austin Parks & Recreation Department

McKinney Falls State Park

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Located southeast of downtown Austin, McKinney Falls refers to the rushing water that flows from Onion Creek. There are several great hiking trails here that lead to jagged rock ledges and the remains of an 1840s homestead. Says Falconberry: “The rock formations are awesome and there is some beautiful hiking as well. It kind of feels like a different planet.” 

Lars Plougmann on Flickr

Goldthwaite Festival

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When the Texas heat finally gives way to cooler temperatures in the fall and spring, music festivals where you can take your tent and sleep under the stars are ideal experiences for music lovers in no rush to get home after the encore performance. The Moving Panoramas have played a few of these festivals, and Sisson says the band is looking forward to their first appearance at the Goldthwaite Festival near Waco. Like Falconberry and Venson, Sisson says she is focused on reducing her carbon footprint as much as possible and brings her reusable water bottles with her daily, including to the festivals she plays.

Spencer Martinez Photography

Stubb’s Waller Creek Amphitheater

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Though many of the legendary music venues of Austin’s heady countercultural days of the 1960s and 1970s have gone, Stubb’s remains one of the oldest still in operation since 1986. Stubb’s hosted musicians like Stevie Ray Vaughn, John Lee Hooker, and Johnny Cash at proprietor Christopher B. “Stubb” Stubblefield’s original location in Lubbock, and continued the tradition at this backyard concert venue on 6th Street. Performers like Venson and Gary Clark Jr. carry on the tradition today.

Alex Parker

Shady Grove

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This beloved hometown Austin restaurant is a favorite of both Venson’s and Sisson’s and has earned a spot in the hearts of visitors and Austinites since it opened in 1992. It boasts the longest running free concert series in town; you can catch it if you happen to be visiting from April through the middle of September. Order up the signature Hippie Chick vegetarian sandwich plus a Shady Thang to sip on the patio while listening to tunes under the shade of the towering oak trees to get that quintessential Austin experience.

Courtesy Shady Grove
This advertising content was produced in collaboration between Vox Creative and our sponsor, REI, without involvement from Vox Media editorial staff.

Spicewood Valley Trail

The scenic Spicewood Valley Trail is one of Austin’s newer hikes. A moderate 1.3-mile trek, begin at Mountain View Park and admire striking bluffs, a waterfall, creeks, and stonework steps along the way. Hiking is a perfect way to get outside, particularly in Austin. As Venson describes, “There aren’t that many big cities that have true nature in them—nothing really truly wild. There’s, like, real wilderness right next to a big city here.” And to respect that rare city wilderness, Venson says she’s “made a concerted effort to eliminate single-use plastics from my life. I have a water bottle that I refill, and I do everything I can to stick to paper and cardboard products, as well as recycle everything.”

Tracy Keller on Flickr

Shoal Creek Trail

The urban Shoal Creek Trail snakes through downtown Austin and is part of one of the area’s oldest greenbelts, providing a surprising amount of lush tree shade with plenty of secret spots ripe for exploring along the way. “It’s one of my favorite places in town,” says Falconberry. “All of a sudden you’re surrounded by cliffs and trees and water. It’s pretty incredible.” 

Lars Plougmann on Flickr

Jester King

Situated on a sprawling farmlike space (with animals you can even pet on a free tour), this brewery specializes in barrel-aged wild ales and sour beers. “They use native and natural yeasts for their sour beers, and they are located on a beautiful piece of land, which definitely informs their process,” says Falconberry. On weekends, you can order up a pizza made with locally sourced ingredients and baked to perfection in their wood-fired oven; opt for a meatless option, like a Napoli pie or a Pyrus pizza made with spiced apple puree, pecans, radicchio, coffee bean, and caramelized onions. And of course, settle in for a night of live music (when in Austin) on Bluegrass Fridays or special events. 

Courtesy Jester King Brewery

Mount Bonnell

Providing a panoramic view of the Colorado River, the 105-step hike up to the top of Mount Bonnell is an old-fashioned Austin tradition; visitors picnicked here as far back as the 1800s. It’s where Sisson takes her friends and out-of-town guests when they visit. “When I do get a chance to break away from it all and hit the trails or swimming holes, it definitely grounds me,” she says.

David Brooks on Flickr

Holly Shores at Town Lake Metropolitan Park

Part of a 10-mile trail loop around Lady Bird Lake right downtown, this little park is nestled next to a dam right in downtown Austin and is one of Falconberry’s favorite spots for bird watching. “It’s pretty peaceful and if you’re lucky, you’ll find a heron feather,” she says.

Adam Muise on Unsplash

Sherwood Forest Faire

Just 35 miles east of Austin in McDade, the Sherwood Forest Faire is an open-air Renaissance celebration, complete with music, apparel, food, and drink appropriate to the era. “My favorite part of the fair is the multitudes of musicians that play everything from amplified Celtic rock to quieter pan flute performances,” says Rozie Castoe, bassist for Moving Panoramas. “To be able to experience this kind of music not only in a Renaissance-style setting, but in the beauty that this area of the Hill Country provides is truly an inspiration.”

Casper Johansson on Unsplash

San Marcos River

Beloved by Austinites who travel south with tubes to cool off in the rapids, the spring-fed San Marcos River is always around 72 degrees year-round and is a great place to spend the day relaxing with friends. “I’m from Michigan and the crispy Texas summers can really get me down, but this river spot is a lifesaver,” says Falconberry. “It’s very pretty.” If she’s spending a sunny day on the river, Falconberry makes sure to opt for eco-friendly sunscreen, lotions, and other beauty products. “Following the Leave No Trace principles are key, and that includes thinking about the things that are on your body,” she says. “So I try to use as many natural products on my body as possible, because all of that stuff eventually ends up in our water supply.”

Nicolas Henderson on Flickr

Bull Creek District Park

In a city where dogs are given VIP treatment in restaurants, parks, and hotels, it’s little surprise that on any given day hiking the trails of Bull Creek you’ll find several happy pups getting out and enjoying this 48-acre park with a stream that cuts through it, just right for a water romp. “I take my dog everywhere—his name is Dexter, and he’s a Pembroke Corgi,” says Venson. “I like taking him to Bull Creek. It’s a really great place to go swimming.”

Austin Parks & Recreation Department

McKinney Falls State Park

Located southeast of downtown Austin, McKinney Falls refers to the rushing water that flows from Onion Creek. There are several great hiking trails here that lead to jagged rock ledges and the remains of an 1840s homestead. Says Falconberry: “The rock formations are awesome and there is some beautiful hiking as well. It kind of feels like a different planet.” 

Lars Plougmann on Flickr

Goldthwaite Festival

When the Texas heat finally gives way to cooler temperatures in the fall and spring, music festivals where you can take your tent and sleep under the stars are ideal experiences for music lovers in no rush to get home after the encore performance. The Moving Panoramas have played a few of these festivals, and Sisson says the band is looking forward to their first appearance at the Goldthwaite Festival near Waco. Like Falconberry and Venson, Sisson says she is focused on reducing her carbon footprint as much as possible and brings her reusable water bottles with her daily, including to the festivals she plays.

Spencer Martinez Photography

Stubb’s Waller Creek Amphitheater

Though many of the legendary music venues of Austin’s heady countercultural days of the 1960s and 1970s have gone, Stubb’s remains one of the oldest still in operation since 1986. Stubb’s hosted musicians like Stevie Ray Vaughn, John Lee Hooker, and Johnny Cash at proprietor Christopher B. “Stubb” Stubblefield’s original location in Lubbock, and continued the tradition at this backyard concert venue on 6th Street. Performers like Venson and Gary Clark Jr. carry on the tradition today.

Alex Parker

Shady Grove

This beloved hometown Austin restaurant is a favorite of both Venson’s and Sisson’s and has earned a spot in the hearts of visitors and Austinites since it opened in 1992. It boasts the longest running free concert series in town; you can catch it if you happen to be visiting from April through the middle of September. Order up the signature Hippie Chick vegetarian sandwich plus a Shady Thang to sip on the patio while listening to tunes under the shade of the towering oak trees to get that quintessential Austin experience.

Courtesy Shady Grove

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