Austin, Texas, is known for many things — live music, taco trucks, friendly locals and world-class BBQ, to name a few — but an often-overlooked facet of the quirky capital city is its abundance of natural wonders.
With famously intense summer temperatures, mild winters and a dry climate year-round, the flora is a curious and abundant mix of stark succulents and lush wildflowers with a rough-and-tumble appearance as untamed as the Wild West itself. A visit to Austin isn't complete without an afternoon or two spent marveling at the variety of Southwestern vegetation, hill country blooms and unique Texan cacti dotting the region with their ornate symmetry. From nationally renowned nature centers to tiny community gardens, there's no shortage of organic goodness to be found within Austin's city limits.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
For naturalists in search of an educational experience ripe with historical context, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, named after the wife of former U.S. President Lyndon Johnson, is a must-see destination. Known as the crown jewel of Austin's botanical offerings, the 113-hectare compound is open to the public year-round and is home to more than 700 species native to Central Texas.
Admiring cacti at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Umlauf Sculpture Garden
Tucked in the woods alongside the popular sprawling green space known as Zilker Metropolitan Park, Umlauf Sculpture Garden is a beloved local oasis in the heart of the city. Once home to well-known artist Charles Umlauf, the garden is reminiscent of the Musée Rodin in Paris with sculptures artfully displayed along walking paths throughout the lush property where their creator once lived and worked.
A view of downtown Austin from Zilker Metropolitan Park
Zilker Botanical Garden
A short walk from Umlauf Sculpture Garden is the Zilker Botanical Garden, a simple natural space that's also accessible by the popular hiking and biking trail that circles Lady Bird Lake. Home to a family-friendly garden festival every spring, the botanical garden is open for much of the year and offers eight small gardens on its 12.5-hectare plot. You can explore everything from an aromatic herb and fragrance garden to a true Texan cactus and succulent garden and a butterfly trail.
Soothing and serene waterfall at Zilker Botanical Garden
The verdant Laguna Gloria, the original home of the Austin Museum of Art, can be found 20 minutes northwest of downtown Austin. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the waterfront residence was built in 1916 in the style of an Italian villa and is now part of The Contemporary Austin art museum. Today, Laguna Gloria houses temporary and permanent art collections both inside the house and in its terraced garden.
The Volunteer Gardens of Mayfield Park
True to the spirit of Austin, a city filled with locals who are as friendly to the earth as they are to one another, The Volunteer Gardens of Mayfield Park is a lovely local space filled with small plots, each tended by volunteers. The nine-hectare nature preserve is known as much for the peacocks that roam the property as for its water lilies and serene tree canopy.
Wildflowers carpeting the landscape at Mayfield Park
The Natural Gardener
Particularly wonderful for those who wish to take home a souvenir or two, The Natural Gardener is an urban gardening mecca complete with a nursery, vineyards, display garden and labyrinth. The greenery hub calls itself a "candy store for gardeners," offering a farmhouse store with barnyard animals roaming about, picnics in its herb garden and free classes on various topics of interest to anyone with a green thumb.
Hill Country Lavender
It only takes a quick drive — an hour or two outside of Austin — to discover the region's wildest delights.
Just over an hour's drive from the city, Hill Country Lavender is exactly what its name implies: A sprawling lavender farm in the heart of Texas hill country, where visitors can roam the lush, quiet fields and cut their own lavender for purchase whenever it's in bloom, typically from mid-May through early July.
Bluebonnets decorating the banks of a stream along the Willow City Loop
Willow City Loop
About two hours away from Austin is a stretch of Willow City Loop. Each spring, the area offers one of the best wildflower drives in Texas. Visits to the 21-kilometer loop are best timed when the state is practically exploding with blooms, usually from April through June. Pack a picnic and bring a camera along to capture all the colors.