Zilker Botanical Garden
There's a simple beauty to the 31-acre (13-hectare) Zilker Botanical Garden. It’s in the wooden footbridges, the lily ponds, the rock waterfalls and the quaint, brick-paved walkways that wind under large tree canopies.
The Zilker Botanical Garden is made up of many smaller gardens. Check out the Green Garden, set up to show locals how to keep their plants and flowers alive during the area’s frequent periods of drought. It features many varieties of "Austin-hardy" plants, which fare well with little water.
Set aside an afternoon to wander this peaceful respite. If you have kids, don't miss the Hartman Prehistoric Garden. There are more than 100 tracks made by six or seven dinosaurs, which roamed the area of the parklands more than 100 million years ago. These awesome tracks have been preserved, along with the bones of an ancient turtle. There are also native plants from that prehistoric era, as well as a life-size sculpture of an ornithomimus, the three-toed dinosaur that left its footprints in what is now the botanical garden.
Take a leisurely walk through the Isamu Taniguchi Japanese Garden, which opened in 1969. Taniguchi, a local landscape architect, was 70 years old when he spent 18 (unpaid) months designing and constructing this tranquil garden. The ponds were designed to spell out the word Austin, and you can see the city skyline from most parts of the garden. Stop and rest at the Japanese teahouse, located amongst the pathways and ponds. The bamboo structure is designed to emphasize humanity’s relationship to nature and has the words ten-wa-jin ("heaven, harmony and man") on the outside.
Zilker Botanical Garden is located on the south bank of the Colorado River, near downtown Austin. There’s a small entry fee and free parking. This is a great addition while exploring the surrounding Zilker Metropolitan Park. There are no food facilities, however, and picnicking is not allowed.