Why a Weekend in Austin can be so rewarding for runners

It occurs to me that Hop Skip Jump has helped people plan trips worldwide but has never offered guidance on some of the things that make the city we call home so wonderful. I am a dedicated runner, and I figured I would address this by helping any like-minded folks considering a weekend in Austin plan some small part of their trip: where to run in Austin and what to do when you are done.

In many ways, living in Austin as a long-distance runner is a bit of a cheat code to life. Despite the unforgiving summers (which can be defeated with 5:30 am runs!) Austin has everything you could ask for in a prime running destination:

  • Miles & miles of trails, both urban & natural
  • Loads of beautiful neighborhoods make the miles glide by
  • Both rolling hills & flat stretches allow for the training of your choice no matter the day
  • Coffee shops on practically every block, providing a wonderful starting or ending place & always providing something to look forward to post-run
  • You will find some of, if not the best, breakfast tacos anywhere. They are the perfect post-run food to replenish all those lost nutrients in a delicious package.
  • Barton Springs. Everything above can be found in one way or another in lots of places. Barton Springs is ours & ours alone. A permanent 68º natural spring in an urban setting provides an end to runs that is hard to find anywhere else.

In the paragraphs below, I will attempt to give you a tidy little package for your enjoyment should you decide to come for a weekend in Austin & mix in some running with everything else this city offers.

The right time of year for a weekend in Austin

May is a good month for a weekend in Austin, thanks to its moderate average temperature of 75.5°F (24°C). During this month, the city’s weather is pleasantly warm, hitting an average high of 86°F (30°C) and dipping to a low of 65°F (18°C) in the evenings. Such conditions are ideal for hitting Austin’s scenic trails and enjoying the aforementioned Barton Springs afterward. Opting for May for your Austin adventure helps you avoid the peak summer months, characterized by their notably higher temperatures and discomfort.

The same can be said for October, though the temperatures are still pretty high. If you are just coming out of a summer of your own, our hot fall temperatures may not be ideal.

Where to Run

There are hundreds of places to run during a weekend in Austin. I have chosen three. I tried to provide some diversity of locale and distance. The distances available range from 7 to as long as you like. All 3 have shorter options for sure.

The 10-Mile Route Around Lady Bird Lake

This iconic loop offers runners an unparalleled experience, blending urban views with natural beauty. Traversing this trail, you’ll enjoy the serene waters of Lady Bird Lake on one side and the bustling cityscape of Austin on the other. The trail is well-maintained, with ample space for runners of all paces, and features water stops along the way. It’s perfect for those seeking a long, uninterrupted run with the bonus of experiencing Austin’s vibrant energy and picturesque scenery.

In addition to the big 10-mile loop, there are bridges across Lady Bird Lake for cutting this route to 7.5, 5, 4 & 3 miles.

The Northern Walnut Creek Regional Trail

Entrance to the Northern Walnut Creek Regional Trail

Tucked away in North Austin, the Northern Walnut Creek Regional Trail offers a verdant, tranquil escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. The 7-mile out-and-back route winds through lush landscapes, offering shade and scenic views that make the miles fly by. The path is primarily paved, making it accessible for runners seeking a smooth surface amidst nature’s backdrop. It’s an excellent choice for those looking to immerse themselves in greenery while enjoying a moderately challenging distance.

Mt Bonnell & the Neighborhoods of Tarrytown, Old West Austin, UT Campus & Hyde Park

I couldn’t begin to guess how many long runs I have taken over the years, including some or all of these neighborhoods. There are loads of hills, capped by the challenging half-mile climb up Mt Bonnell, beautiful old neighborhoods on the shores of Lake Austin, and the beautiful campus of the University of Texas. There are many choices here, and every single one makes for a pleasant, safe, memorable run to cap any weekend in Austin.

Coffee, coffee, coffee

As was the experience for many, the isolation of the Pandemic several years ago was often broken only by the opportunity to get outside & exercise. It was on these runs that my running buddies & I used to plan coffee shops into our runs. It gave us an opportunity to socialize a little bit more & to support some of these local businesses that were struggling to stay afloat. It was such an enjoyable habit that we have never given it up & now, just about every run involves coffee shops after or even during our longer runs.

Austin has no shortage of wonderful coffee shops, but I will list the five we have woven most tightly into our running routine. These all open early and are on or near the routes I mentioned above should you plan a weekend in Austin & want to work in a caffeination pit stop.

  • Medici: Their location in Clarksville has become our go-to meeting spot this winter. A nice rolling route followed by cold brew on the front porch, watching this old West Austin neighborhood come awake.
  • Epoch: Their North Loop location is open 24 hours, making it a permanent stop on just about any long run in this part of NE Austin and a frequent meeting place when we want to start somewhere a little different.
  • Quack’s: Their Hyde Park shop doesn’t open until 7, which is a little late for our runs the last couple of years once I had kids, but sitting on the bench out in front of this little bakery & munching on a Morning Muffin with a giant YETI cup of cold brew is never a bad idea.
  • Mozart’s: Mozart’s has been around forever (at least in Austin years), and you will understand why as soon as you park. Their location on the shores of Lake Austin, with massive Live Oaks covering their sprawling outdoor decks, makes for a relaxing post-run snack and coffee just about any day of the year.
  • Bennu: Another 24-hour option; we have been opting for E Austin routes a lot lately & never miss a chance to stop at their MLK store, or if we are further north, we will hit their new Highland location. Both provide easy ways to dip back into less crowded neighborhood streets & their massive vegan chocolate peanut butter cups are on another level.

And now we eat

After years of very intense running & trying to learn all I could about my body & how to fuel it, I know that breakfast tacos are not the most nutritious thing you could eat after a 20+ mile long run in an Austin July. Still, you would be hard-pressed to convince me that they aren’t some of the most satisfying things I could eat! And it just so happens that Austin is in the running for some of the finest breakfast taco establishments anywhere. So, with that in mind, here is a short list of the places that are open early & are always ready with some of the finest post-run food you could ask for should you plan a weekend in Austin:

Bouldin Creek Cafe, as Austin as you can get after a weekend long-run.
  • Bouldin Creek Cafe: If I could rank Bouldin Creek 1st – 4th & then the next in line 5th, I would. This, to me, is the quintessential Austin restaurant, with an out-of-this-world breakfast menu to boot. Their breakfast tacos are unique, being all vegetarian & featuring tofu scrambles & vegan chorizo if that is your thing. Still, the more traditional ingredients are on point here as well. They have a little bit of everything & it is all delicious. Not only is it one of my favorite places to eat, but its location on S 1st in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood makes it one of the most “Austin” places I can think of when people come to visit.
  • Paco’s: My wife’s favorite breakfast tacos, bar none, are also near the top of my list. This little shack just outside the Mueller neighborhood has a full menu & multiple breakfast plate options, but I would know nothing about those since I have only ever had the breakfast tacos. I don’t have many regrets about that!
  • Veracruz All-Natural: This former taco truck is now in multiple locations & has some of the greasiest, tastiest tacos you can find. With spots all over town, make sure you pick one that also has its aquas frescas. They are always pleasant, but especially after a sweaty run!
  • Taco Joint: I have only been to the location on the UT Campus, but Taco Joint has some very unique & enjoyable breakfast taco options and some surprisingly good cold brew. Start or finish a run through UT Campus from here & you will be happy with all of your decisions.

And finally, Barton Springs Pool

No matter what else you do during your time in Austin—and there is a ton to do—you just cannot come to Austin and go on a run between May and October if you don’t find a way to include Barton Springs. I have run in places all over the world, along beaches & in mountains & near mountain streams & remote lakes, and I have never found a way to start a day that is as pleasant as a sweaty summertime Austin run followed immediately by a dive into Barton Springs. The water is always frigid. It will seem miserable. But the moment you hop out back into that warm Austin summer morning air, you will know what nirvana feels like. That is all.