Finding the Perfect Balance in Texas Hill Country

It’s 7 a.m. in Austin when I pull into the parking lot at Stephen F. Austin High School with a dear friend, longtime local—and fellow travel writer—Becca Hensley.

Our plan is to join the stream of people heading toward Lady Bird Lake on a soft dirt path that shadows the Colorado River, which splits the Texas capital across the middle.

There are myriad ways to enjoy the heartbeat of outdoor activity in downtown Austin (named for former First Lady Johnson, who championed lake cleanup efforts and worked to bring the shoreline trails that now exist here), but an early morning walk is the perfect fit today.

The sweet scent of still dewy soil (before the Texas sun has a chance to bake it) fills the air, a distinctive smell I remember from my Aggie days in College Station.

As kayakers glide across the water, Becca amuses me with a story of a swan biting her in the behind on a sunrise bike ride around the lake. Our conversation jumps around constantly, a mishmash of unfinished stories and run-on sentences.

After our walk, we make a beeline to the original Maudie’s Tex-Mex on West Seventh Street, established in the early ’50s, for breakfast tacos.

Our morning represents an approach to wellness I can get behind: staying healthy, in the company of great friends, followed by a tasty reward.

How do you find balance in Austin, without skipping the queso? Here are a few ideas:

> Outdoor Odyssey on Lady Bird Lake

In summer, one of Austin’s most popular activities is watching the world’s largest urban bat colony emerge from under Congress Avenue Bridge each night.

But on a fall weekend, my favorite thing to do is gaze at the hundreds of colorful kayaks gliding across Lady Bird Lake. Stand-up (SUP) paddle boarding is also extremely popular here, and it’s not unusual to see a dog riding tandem with its owner.

Looking to join the crowd? There are several rental stands around the lake; try the Texas Rowing Center, open year-round.

> Hill Country Healing

I’m someone who thinks staying healthy on the road includes a daily cappuccino. I also believe the cleansing indulgence of a spa can heal you, and I’ve found two great options in and around Austin.

At Lake Austin Spa Resort, a wellness mecca located 40 minutes outside the city in the heart of Hill Country, you can go for the day, or stay overnight. Like Lady Bird Lake downtown, Lake Austin is the crown jewel of this destination spa, which provides ample hammocks and pool loungers for taking in the view.

The first thing you see upon arriving at the spa is an enormous organic garden, used daily by its house chef. Though calorie counts are clearly listed, it’s not fanatically healthy (when I was there, fettuccine, steak, and scallops were on the menu). And you can also order wine—my kind of balance.

If you’d rather stick to the city, Hiatus Spa is a small urban retreat in central Austin, where an hour-long massage turns into a highly efficient full-body tune-up.

In another nod to balance, the spa provides giant bowls of Hershey’s Kisses alongside the lemon-infused water on offer in the waiting room.

> Whole Foods and Beyond

Austinites are proud that the now global organic powerhouse Whole Foods Market has its roots in the city (the first store was established here in 1980).

Today, the company’s flagship store on N. Lamar Boulevard is a must-visit site offering amenities that go far beyond mere grocery shopping. It’s a local hangout offering great barbecue, small restaurants, a wine bar, and more.

Though I’m a Whole Foods fan, my Texas obsession is Central Market, a huge grocery store where I’d happily eat each and every meal of the day.

And when I’m in town, I never miss a visit to Juice Land, an Austin favorite with more than a dozen locations throughout the city.

> Life-Changing Travel

I’m a firm believer that traveling contributes to a healthy, balanced lifestyle. Lucky for me, downtown Austin’s Departure Lounge agrees.

By day, the West Fifth Street establishment is a modern, stylish coffee shop; by night, it turns into a wine bar with small bites. But, in a twist, Departure Lounge is also part travel agency, the brainchild of local entrepreneur Keith Waldon.

Don’t worry; there aren’t agents angling to sell you anything—meetings are by appointment only. Travel magazines and brochures scattered about allow guests to dig up ideas about where to go next, while touch-screens showcase beautiful locales around the world.

In the end, the Departure Lounge was a place I found hard to leave (ironic, I know). I loved the community feel at this fabulous relaxation spot where locals and visitors alike can dream about their next trip—the perfect balance.

Annie Fitzsimmons is Nat Geo Travel’s Urban Insider, exploring the cities of the world with style. Follow her adventures in Texas on Twitter @anniefitz and on Instagram @anniefitzsimmons.