Fun Things For Couples To Do In Austin

Some ideas on how to spend your time as a couple in Austin, Texas.

So, you and your significant other are in Austin, looking at each other, asking, "What do you want to do?" " I don't know, what do you want to do?" To keep shrugging shoulders to a minimum, here's some fun ways to spend your time in town as a couple.

If you're a couple of history buffs, there's plenty to do and see around town. The Texas State Capitol is open 24 hours a day to the public, and there's no admission charge. There are daily tours of the building, or make a late night stroll through the statues and architecture a nice ending to a romantic evening. Head over to the University of Texas campus, and you'll find the UT Tower a worthy competitor of the Capitol. Reserve tickets, which are a mere $3 apiece, with the Texas Union Information Center a week in advance to go on a one-hour tour. Or, get in the stand-by line, as some people who reserved tickets do not always come to claim them. Afterward, walk around the campus and visit what's known as the drag. The street opposite the west side of campus, Guadalupe Street, is lined with shops, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and some fast food places. At the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, you can spend hours discovering "the story of Texas." There's three stories of artifacts and interactive displays, not bad for $5.50 a ticket. There's also an IMAX theater, the only one in Austin, next to the museum. Check local listings for showings, times and prices.

In the mood for some shopping? Head down South Congress for blocks of shops you don't find in the mall. You'll see why this area is known as a hip part of town, as the funky shops are as interesting as what they sell. From antiques to clothes to shoes to music, you can spend a day browsing or buying. And there's plenty of restaurants with just as much personality as the stores if you're feeling hungry. Other cool, local stores to check out while you're in town happen to be right across the street from each other. Waterloo Records, Book People, and the Whole Foods national flagship store, which opened March 2005, all sit on three sides of Sixth and Lamar Street.

For a luxurious Austin experience, make an appointment at the Lake Austin Spa Resort. Choose one treatment or a variety of package deals, which include a minimum of two spa treatments plus a healthy and delicious lunch prepared by renowned chefs. If you want to splurge, check out the "Over the top for two" package deal, where couples relax in an outdoor bamboo room with a private hot tub, a body scrub and wrap treatment in an outdoor treatment tent, lunch, and an eighty minute Swedish massage. Finish the fabulous day in a private outdoor suite. Gratuity is included in the $995 package. If a day of pampering isn't enough for you, check out the resort's accommodations.

If you're the type of people that like to be active during vacation, take advantage of one of Austin's hike and bike trails. For a real workout with a scenic view, try Barton Creek Greenbelt. The eight mile terrain is a bit rugged and hilly at times, so hikers and runners will break a sweat, even under the shady trees. You could also rent mountain bikes if you're both experienced in riding. Rock climbers love the limestone climbing routes on the Greenbelt. Bring water, and expect crowds at certain areas of the trail, like around the Zilker park entrance.

If you're not the die-hard workout kind of couple, but you still would like to enjoy the outdoors, check out the trail at Town Lake. You won't see many bikes on the trail because there's a lot of foot traffic. The trail is ten miles, but there are easy ways to make your jog or walk shorter, even down to two miles, by looping around on the foot bridges. Parts of the trail are shaded and there are some benches near the lake. If you go at peak times, like right before or after work, expect to see very fit runners pounding the pavement and people with dogs and/or strollers, especially between the Mopac bridge and Lamar Street. Or, the two of you could rent a canoe by the hour. It's an inexpensive way to do something active with some romance, and a little, or a lot, of teamwork.

For stationary enjoyment of the outdoors, plan a picnic in Zilker Park. First, visit Central Market or Whole Foods Market (expect to stay in there for a while if this is your first time, because it's an experience in itself) and wander through their array of gourmet foods like ripe produce, freshly prepared sandwiches and salads, and enormous wine selection. You won't find typical brand name items, so choosing a meal can be an adventure. Next, find a shady place in the park. Between the market visit and the picnic, it's easy to make an afternoon of it. It's a romantic setting with delicious food, sans waiters and other customers.

A visit to Lake Travis, which sits northwest of Austin, is always a fun time. The Lake is actually part of the Colorado River, and flows sixty miles through the hill country. The drive is scenic and hilly, so you'll get to see something more than the buildings around downtown. Rent a boat, jet skis, or swim. If you choose to float and catch some rays, you'll only pay for parking. Be aware that weekends bring large crowds and families to certain areas, so if it's privacy you're after, go during the week. Or, check out Hippie Hollow, an "adults only" area of the lake that allows nudity. Don't worry that your body's not up to par, because it's not all beautiful people who dare to go bare (take the name of the area into consideration here). And, you don't have to strip down; in fact, lots of people don't. It's just a matter of whether you're comfortable being around naked strangers. If getting up close and personal with the lake isn't your thing, make plans to visit The Oasis. The restaurant that sits along side of Lake Travis provides patrons with a breathtaking view of the sunset from forty different decks. You're paying for the view more than the cuisine, so don't expect the food to wow you. That said, the restaurant is packed when the sun's going down, so try to get there a couple of hours ahead to get an outdoor seat. It might seem like a large chunk of time to spend waiting for the sun, but it's a spectacular view. Bring your camera.

There are plenty of places to get great food in a romantic setting when the sun's already gone down. Plan to pay higher prices for the food, location and atmosphere of places like Mars, Jeffrey's, or Truluck's, but if you can afford it, it's worth splurging. If you're trying to watch your wallet, Sampaio's, Eastside Cafe, or The Bitter End will provide a romantic atmosphere and wonderful food for not a lot of cash. One night, save room for dessert at Halcyon, a coffee house/bar in the Austin Warehouse District. Order the s'mores, and you'll get your very own small campfire for the table. It might seem silly, but you'll find that lots of people go to Halcyon for this very reason. Just have fun with it. Or, have a chocolate espresso martini to appease the kid and grown-up side of yourself.

For an even more hands-on food experience, consider reserving two spots at a cooking class held at Central Market. You'll get to make dinner together and learn something to take back home. Topics vary from pairing wine and cheese with entrees to hands-on knife skills. Tickets start around $30, most are about $50. The classes fill up fast, so if this is something you're interested in, plan ahead. Check out the Web site before arriving in town to see what classes are offered and if one catches your interest, go ahead and reserve the tickets.

You won't have to worry about a long dinner making you late for a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse. The menu and atmosphere is far from romantic unless buckets of beer and greasy burgers make you swoon, but it is a fun experience. The seats are like regular movie theaters, but a bar-sized table stretches in front of each row so you have a place to put your food and drinks. It's a good idea to order your tickets online and arrive about 45 minutes early. This will leave you plenty of time to browse the menu and place your beverage and food order with your waiter before the movie starts. If you don't want to make this a full evening, try it for lunch or an afternoon movie and snack. And don't worry, popcorn and soda are on the menu. So are chips and salsa.

Couples will find Sixth Street to be more of a singles scene, mostly made up of students. If you both like to bar hop, it can be fun, but unless you're a pair of party animals, don't make this an entire evening. To avoid the crowds, go to Sixth Street around nine o'clock. Things don't really start picking up until around eleven. You can get a huge mug of beer for only $6 at Logan's, and you'll be entertained by sporadic movie clips and songs from the 80's. There are a couple of piano bars on Sixth that draws a more mature crowd, so if you like to hear other people play Elton John's hits, and you like to sing along, pay a visit to Crocodile Rocks. Or, if Mad TV or Saturday Night Live cracks you up, check out Esther's Follies, a sketch comedy troupe that has been onstage in Austin for over twenty years. Expect jokes about politics and celebrity imitations. The huge windows behind the stage that look out onto the Sixth Street crowd allow for some pretty funny improv jokes. Shows run on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and the tickets are reasonably priced. But, if you want to keep the mood romantic, spend more time in the Warehouse District, which is the area around Fourth Street. The patrons at bars and restaurants in this area are typically graduate students, professionals and visitors. It's a mature crowd that is willing to pay more for better atmosphere, drinks and company. Here, you have your pick of romantic places. Check out The Bitter End B-Side, the brew pub part of the restaurant, for a hip but cozy bar scene. If you're both beer buffs, check out the Gingerman. You'll appreciate the variety of beers, the indoor ambiance and the outdoor patio, if it's a nice night. Saba Blue Water Cafe is also in the area, and is swanky-hip establishment with an eclectic dinner and drink menu.

So, now you're problem may not be thinking of things to do, but deciding which things you should do. Remember to compromise with your partner. Both of you can always come back.

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