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Downtown Austin’s Waterfront

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Downtown Austin’s Waterfront

Most Texas downtowns don’t have waterfront views, but then again, Downtown Austin isn’t like most downtowns.

Just consider the photo above – cruising Lady Bird Lake in a retro boat converted from gas to electric engine from Austin Retro Boat Rentals. / Photo by Zaid Patel

Aerial View of Town Lake, November 1968 / Photo by Neal Douglass

As the southern boundary of the downtown district, Lady Bird Lake offers easy access to hike and bike trails, boat and kayak rentals, and peaceful views to downtown residents, workers, and visitors. Lady Bird Lake was developed in 1960 with the construction of the Longhorn Dam and is owned and operated by the City of Austin in cooperation with the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). Why LCRA? Because Lady Bird Lake is really a reservoir created from the Colorado River.

Lady Bird Johnson, former first lady of the United States, was a supporter and organizer of lake improvements and beautification efforts back in the early 1970s. When she died in 2007, the Austin City Council renamed the lake in her honor. Today the north and south shore of the lake feature native plants and trees that protect the shores and offer color and texture to the landscape.

Lady Bird Johnson, Michael Frary, and unknown man show off a painting of the Town Lake Gazebo. / Photo by Mike Fluitt

The Lake is also home to wildlife, including the Mexican free-tailed bats who make their home beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge that spans the lake. During warmer months, tourists flock to the bridge to watch over a million bats take flight for their nightly feedings, truly a one-of-a-kind experience.

Access to the Lake has certainly furthered downtown development. Since 2004, thousands of residential units have been added with more under construction. In the last few years, city owned properties – including the Seaholm Power Plant and the Thomas C. Green Water Treatment Plant – along Cesar Chavez Street have been repurposed or will be in the near future. The City of Austin still maintains a strong lakefront presence with its unique City Hall and new Central Library that features not only books but also meeting rooms and reading porches that overlook the lake.

City of Austin staffer Don Stence describes Town Lake improvements, 1968. /Photo by Recreation Department – City of Austin.

Just across the Lake from Downtown is Auditorium Shores, a well-loved park that offers amazing views of the Downtown Austin skyline and home to many local festivals and events. A memorial to the late Stevie Ray Vaughan can be found at the water’s edge and is a popular stop for fans of his music, as well as pranksters.

While Austin continues to grow, Lady Bird Lake will maintain its status as the heart of downtown and the city, and will continue to be a place where families and visitors go to make memories and connect with nature.

The skyline and Lady Bird Lake. / Michael Barera, Wikimedia

Visit Austin
austintexas.org

Downtown Austin Alliance
downtownaustin.com

Lady Bird Lake
austintexas.gov/page/lady-bird-lake

Retro Boat Rentals ATX
74 Trinity St.
Austin, TX 78701
(512) 663-5145
retroboatsatx.com

Central Library
710 West César Chávez St.
Austin, TX 78701
(512) 974-7400
library.austintexas.gov/central-library

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