Austin consistently ranks as one of the most dog-friendly cities in the nation and with good reason. The city’s great dog festivals, pet-friendly hotels, restaurants with pet-friendly patios, a host of upscale pet boutiques, and progressive attitude toward animal rescue make it the leader of the pack. In 2010, the Austin City Council voted to make Austin a no-kill city and several great organizations work to adopt all healthy and treatable animals.
Nicknamed the “River City,” Austin is home to excellent natural areas, including off-leash parks, hiking trails, urban parks, and wilderness areas on the fringe of the city. The temperate weather makes outdoor recreation possible year around (although the hot summers mean early morning and late evening walks!)
Austin receives its “River City” moniker from the Colorado River that slices through the heart of the city. Once the source of city floods, today the river has been tamed with a series of stair-step lakes, two of which lie within Austin’s city limits. Lake Austin flows into Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake) which passes through downtown. North of the lake lie Austin’s historic buildings including the granddaddy of them all: the State Capitol. Although the building is off-limits to all but service dogs, the shady grounds are a favorite place to enjoy a dog walk.
Dog-Friendly Austin Activities and Attractions
Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail. Few metropolitan areas boast more pet-loving, fitness-conscious folks than Austin and that’s especially evident along the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail, locally known as the Town Lake Trail. (Lady Bird Lake was previously named Town Lake.) Residents and visitors alike enjoy trails in a range of terrains and difficulty levels, including the dog-friendly 10-mile Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail around Lady Bird Lake. The loop includes two pedestrian-only bridges that are great for dogs. Info: austintexas.gov/page/trail-directory. Free.
Auditorium Shores. Austin’s most popular off-leash area lies on the southern shore of Lady Bird Lake just west of South First Street. This 57-acre area is always packed with dogs enjoying a dip in the lake or a Frisbee game; you’ll also find some great photo opportunities here with the city skyline as the backdrop. Currently plans are underway to temporarily close and give this much-used area a multi-million dollar renovation to enhance the off-leash section and improve this landmark for dog lovers. Info: 920 W. Riverside Dr.; www.austinparks.org. Free.
Barton Creek Greenbelt. Stretching from Zilker Park to Westlake, this 7.25-mile trails winds along Barton Creek (which may or may not be flowing, depending on the season). The popular trail passes many scenic spots including limestone cliffs and is a favorite with runners and cyclists. Dogs need to remain on leash. Info: 2201 Barton Springs Rd. and 3755-B S. Capital of Texas Hwy.; www.austintexas.gov. Free.
Bat Colony. Austin goes batty for its summer visitors: 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats. These tiny guests live beneath the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge and exit at sunset to look for dinner (and thankfully feast on the plentiful mosquito population in the region). You and your dog can watch the bats from the hike and bike trail, the bridge, or a free bat viewing area in the parking lot of the Austin American-Statesman at 305 South Congress Avenue. The peak spectator months are July and August. For more on the bats, check out the information kiosks at the Four Seasons Hotel at 98 San Jacinto Boulevard and the Austin American-Statesman parking lot on the south shore. Info: Congress Ave. Bridge at Lady Bird Lake. Free.
Blue Starlight Mini Urban Drive-in. The tradition of the drive-in movie lives on at this in-town theater with 45 drive-in slots as well as numerous walk-in places. Leashed dogs are welcome as long as they’re friendly and don’t bark during the movie. (No barking film critics here!) The drive-in features all types of older films, from classics to indie movies. Info: 2103 E M Franklin Ave.; www.bluestarlitedrivein.com. Fee.
The Domain. Bring your dog to this open-air mall, Austin’s most upscale shopping center that’s home to stores ranging from Neiman Marcus to Louis Vuitton, to stroll the pedestrian area, enjoy one of the many outdoor restaurant patios or coffee shops, or just soak up the atmosphere. Info: Domain Blvd. in north Austin; www.thedomainaustin.com.
Emma Long Metropolitan Park. Austin’s largest park sits on the banks of Lake Austin and offers off-leash fun for Fidos along the 2.5-mile Turkey Creek Trail. The trail crosses the creek numerous times and is a favorite on hot days. The park, which can get congested on summer weekends, includes boat ramps, a nature trail, restrooms, and tent and RV camping. Info: 1600 City Park Rd.; austinparks.org. Fee.
French Legation Museum Park. Austin’s oldest remaining house served as the French Legation in the days when Texas was a separate country. Today the structure is a museum surrounded by a 2.5-acre park that welcomes you and your dog to enjoy a game of Frisbee or an afternoon picnic during museum hours. Open Tuesday to Sunday afternoons 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Info: 802 San Marcos St. with parking at 9th St. and Embassy Dr. www.frenchlegationmuseum.org. Free for use of grounds.
Hancock Golf Course. This nine-hole course is one of the oldest in Texas, dating back to 1899. Dogs are welcome to come along and will find plenty of shade to enjoy as you test your skills on this course alongside Waller Creek. Info: 811 E. 41st St.; www.austintexas.gov. Fee.
McKinney Falls State Park. We’d love this park just a dog bone’s throw from the city if it permitted dogs in the water. If your dog isn’t as wild about watersports as ours are, you will find plenty of trails for some excellent dog strolls (on a leash no longer than six feet). Campers can choose from several types of sites. Info: 5808 McKinney Falls Parkway , 13 miles southeast of downtown Austin off US 183; (www.tpwd.state.tx.us. Fee.
Mount Bonnell. You and Fido will a get a workout climbing the steps up Mount Bonnell, one of the city’s highest points and an excellent vantage point to view Lake Austin and the surrounding countryside. The parking area is located 1 mile past the west end of West 35th Street. Closes at 10:00 p.m. daily. Info: 3800 Mount Bonnell Rd. Free.
Norwood Estate Off Leash Park. This large, fenced dog park is located just off the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail (see above) near the intersection of I-35 and Riverside Drive. Info: 1009 Edgecliff Terrace. Free.
Red Bud Isle. Located just below where Lake Austin spills into Lady Bird Lake, this 13-acre island offers off-leash fun and frolicking for Fidos. Come early (the parking area isn’t large) and explore the off-leash island which includes both quiet and busy spots for dog swimming and fetching beneath the shady cypress trees. Info: 3401 Red Bud Trail; www.austinparks.org. Free.
Spicewood Vineyards. Located west of Austin in the community of Spicewood, this award-winning vineyard welcomes Fidos on leash to its outdoor tables and shady patio. This vineyard offers tours and tastings Wednesday through Sunday. Info: 1419 Country Rd. 409 Off TX 71, turn on to County Rd. 408 south for .7 mile then right onto County Rd. 409 for 1.5 miles; www.spicewoodvineyards.com. Free admission.
Sustainable Food Center Farmers’ Market. These Austin farmers’ markets are run by a local non-profit and comprise the largest certified growers-only farmers’ market in the state. Four locations invite you to bring your leashed dog and shop for everything from local produce to dog treats. Info: Downtown (400 West Guadalupe St. at Republic Square Park, Saturday 9am – 1pm), Sunset Valley (3200 Jones Rd. at Toney Burger Center, 9am – 1pm), The Triangle (4600 Lamar Blvd. — Triangle Park, (512) 236-0074, Wednesday 3pm-7pm), East (2835 E Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. — MLK & Miriam Ave., Tuesdays 3pm-7pm); (512) 236-0074; www.sfcfarmersmarket.org.
Texas Capitol Complex. The iconic Capitol building is the heart of the city, surrounded by shady grounds that invite you and your dog to stroll and enjoy the grounds of the seat of Texas government. The southeast corner of the grounds contains the Capitol Complex Visitor Center, housed in the oldest government office building in the state (once the workplace of short-story writer O. Henry) and today a visitors and information center with statewide coverage. Info: parking at the Capitol Visitors Parking Garage at 1201 San Jacinto; www.tspb.state.tx.us.
Zilker Park. This 355-acre park at 2100 Barton Springs Road is Austin’s backyard, a popular place to enjoy everything from a shady picnic to a kayak outing on Lady Bird Lake. For a Frisbee game, head to the 47-acre “Great Lawn” off-leash area bounded by Stratford Drive, Barton Springs Road, and Neff Road. Your other dog-friendly options in the park include:
- Barking Springs. Just downstream from Barton Springs, a human-only swimming hole that’s definitely one of the tops in the country, you’ll find what’s nicknamed “Barking Springs” for it’s popularity with four-legged water lovers. People and their pooches can swim together at the spillway for Barton Springs. The 68-degree, crystal-clear water is guaranteed to cool the hottest Austin day. Info: 2101 Barton Springs Rd.; Free.
- Zilker Boat Rentals. Dogs are welcome at this canoe and kayak rental company that’s operated on the shores of the lake since 1969. If you need a doggie life jacket, you’ll need to bring your own. Info: 2100 Barton Springs Rd.; zilkerboats.com. Fee.
- Zilker Botanical Garden. Leashed dogs are welcome in the multiple gardens that comprise these botanical gardens. Stroll through the Xeriscape Demonstration Garden to see the native plants that are tolerant of Central Texas’s hot, dry summers. Nearby, keep Fido away from the spines at the Cactus and Succulent Garden filled with West Texas cactus and succulents. Blooming cherry trees fill the Isamu Taniguchi Oriental Garden in early spring while the Mabel Davis Rose Garden blooms throughout the spring. Your dog walk can also include the Herb and Fragrance Garden and the Hamilton Parr Memorial Azalea Garden, in bloom during March and April, and the Douglas Blachly Butterfly Trail, lined with local flowers and plants that attract numerous species of Texas butterflies. Info: 2220 Barton Springs Rd.; (Free.
- Hartman Prehistoric Garden. Here’s your dog’s chance to meet a dinosaur! This 1.5-acre garden welcomes pets on leashes to view the ancient plants of the Cretaceous period, approximately 100 million years ago. The garden features replicas of original dinosaur tracks, two large dinosaur sculptures, limestone cliffs, and more. Info: 2220 Barton Springs Rd.; www.hartmanprehistoricgarden.com. Free (parking fee on weekends and holidays).
Dog-Friendly Austin Restaurants
Austin is filled with dog-friendly restaurants where you and your dog can enjoy patio dining outdoors. With the city’s temperate weather, fall, winter and spring dining can all be comfortable. (During the summer, we take our dogs out to breakfast instead of dinner, unless we’re traveling!) Here’s a sampling of just a few dog-friendly patio restaurants:
Amy’s Ice Cream. An Austin institution since 1984, pet parents and their pups can enjoy a tasty treat outside one of the chain’s many area locations. Info and locations: www.amysicecreams.com.
Austin Terrier. With a name like this, you just know this dog-themed northwest Austin eatery has to be dog-friendly, and it is. Although the patio isn’t the largest in Austin, it welcomes you and your dog; the menu is filled with burgers, sandwiches, salads, and pizzas. Info: 3435 Greystone Dr.; www.austinterrier.com.
Crown and Anchor Pub. Drink a toast to your tail-wagging chum on the uncovered patio of this Austin institution, which has been serving award-winning beer and some of the best pub grub around for more than a quarter of a century. While you sip on some suds, Spot can lap water from a dog bowl and chow down on a free dog treat, which are made in house. Info: 2911 San Jacinto Blvd.; (512) 322-9168; crownandanchorpub.com.
Dirty Martin’s Place. A favorite among college students at the University of Texas campus, this hamburger joint—which has offered a menu of Americana meals for the past 80 years—welcomes pet parents and their pooches in the outdoor area. Info: 2808 Guadalupe St., (512) 477-3173; dirtymartins.com.
Green Mesquite BBQ. From classic hamburgers and ‘cue to Po Boys and Jambalaya, this eatery offers a heaping helping of tasty treats served up with a side order of live blues and bluegrass tunes that provide sustenance for the soul, all of which can be enjoyed with your canine companion on the patio. Info and locations: www.greenmesquite.net.
Guero’s Taco Bar. Enjoy Tex-Mex with your tail-wagging chum on the patio of this taqueria, which has been an Austin staple since 1986. Info: 1412 South Congress; (www.guerostacobar.com.
Hanover’s Draught Haus. Located north of Austin in the suburb of Pflugerville, this casual bar is known for its live music and large beer garden and also serves burgers, bratwust, and fajitas as well as barbecue on Fridays and Saturdays. The 1903 building began its life as a saloon before being converted to a lumberyard. The dog-friendly patio has been the site of pet benefits such as Wag the Dog Canines & Cocktails to benefit Texas Humane Legislation Network. Info: 108 East Main St.; (512) 670–9617; www.hanoversaustin.com.
Rudy’s BBQ. Rudy’s claims to be the home of the “Worst Bar-B-Que in Texas” and always boasts a long line ready to belly-up for brisket, barbecue tacos, and more. The barbecue is smoked in German-style pits where the meat is never in direct contact with the heat or flames, and is served with Rudy’s famous “sause” which is now shipped worldwide. Dogs are welcome on the expansive wrap-around patio. Info and locations: www.rudysbbq.com.
Sherlock’s Baker St. Pub and Grill. One look at the menu—which includes such favorites as Watson’s Chicken Tender Platter and Shepherd’s Pie—and it’s elementary why Austin pet parents love this British-style pub. Dog devotees can enjoy their meal alongside their canine companions on the patio. Info: 3003 South Lamar Blvd., www.sherlockpubco.com.
Taco Deli. Sit on the patio with Spot and savor a Tex-Mex meal at one of this restaurant chain’s three Austin locations. Menu items include Carne Asada, Ceviche Yucatan and Puerco Verde, as well as vegetarian dishes including the Freakin’ Vegan (refried black beans, avocado and pico de gallo) and Papadulce. Info and locations: www.tacodeli.com.
Whole Foods Market. Dogs are welcome on the shady outdoor patios of this chain supermarket, which is open seven days a week. Info and locations: www.wholefoodsmarket.com.
Dog-Friendly Austin Hotels
Austin is home to numerous dog-friendly chains but here’s a look at some unique properties that welcome dogs:
Decker Creek Bed and Breakfast and Biscuit. Located on 50 acres on Decker Creek, this dog-centric “B&B&B” just might be a dream dog vacation. Each of the property’s two cabins has its own screened porch and fenced yard plus you’ll find acres and acres to explore, a creek for a doggie dip, and even agility equipment. Stays include a full country breakfast as well as homemade dog biscuits; you also don’t need to worry about packing dog towels, beds, or crates if you need them. Info: 16029 Decker Laker Rd., Manor; deckercreek.com.
The Driskill Hotel. Built in 1886 by cattle baron Jesse Driskill, The Driskill is Austin’s oldest hotel. Within easy walking distance of the State Capitol and right in the Sixth Street entertainment district, this elegant hotel welcomes small dogs but has some restrictions. Up to two dogs per room are permitted but only for dogs 35 pounds or less. At the time of check-in, you’ll need to show proof of bordetella and rabies vaccinations within the past 12 months. Dogs may not be left in guest rooms and, except for check in and departure, can’t be in the lobby or other public areas. Also, dogs aren’t permitted on the bed covers or other furnishings. Info: 112 E. Sixth St.; www.driskillhotel.com.
Hotel San José. The “Keep Austin Weird” vibe for which the city is known takes center stage at this downtown hotel known for its cool atmosphere and clientele. The South Congress (SoCo, to the trendy) former motor court is just a few blocks from the lake and is within walking distance of several restaurants, including dog-friendly Jo’s, located right in the parking lot. The rooms, with their concrete floors and minimalist style, are a favorite with dog lovers. Info: 1316 South Congress Ave.; www.sanjosehotel.com.
Lake Austin Spa Resort. Frequently lauded as one of the best spas in North America, the spa, available to day visitors, and adjoining 40-room resort lie on the shores of Lake Austin, a narrow swath of water that begins at the foot of the Hill Country and flows through the western part of the city. The resort is especially known for its 25,000-square-foot LakeHouse Spa, a two-story, Texas-sized structure resembling many Hill Country farmhouses with its limestone exterior and screened upstairs porch. With 30 treatment areas staffed by over 80 therapists, the facility features many signature treatments created with products grown right on the resort grounds such as prickly pear, rosemary, and lemon verbena. Dogs aren’t permitted in the spa (or other guest areas including the dining room, pool, gardens, or boat docks). Only the freestanding cottages are dog-friendly. This posh spa charges an equally posh pet fee. Info: 1705 South Quinlan Park Rd.; lakeaustin.com.
Lakeway Resort and Spa. Whether you’re looking for a weekend of spa pampering, boating, tennis, or golf, this quiet resort has plenty to offer. Dogs under 30 pounds are welcome. There is a non-refundable pet fee, per pet and dogs cannot be left unattended in rooms. Rooms have private patios, many with great views of the lake; pet guests are restricted to the first floor of the hotel. Info: 101 Lakeway Drive (18 miles west of Austin on FM 620, off TX 71 on Lake Travis); www.lakewayresortandspa.com.
Mansion at Judges’ Hill. Tucked on the southern edge of the University of Texas campus, this elegant hotel is a historic landmark. The 1900 home in Classical Revival style offers a pampering downtown getaway for you and your dog. You’ll enjoy his and hers bathrobes while your dog naps on an embroidered bed and will dine (and drink) from porcelain bowls. The hotel charges a cleaning fee per stay but there are no size restrictions for canine guests. Info: 1900 Rio Grande St.; (512) 495–1800 or (800) 311–1619; www.mansionatjudgeshill.com.
Dog-Centric Austin Festivals and Events
April: Mighty Texas Dog Walk and Festival. Every spring, Austinites take to the streets with their pooches for the annual Mighty Texas Dog Walk and Festival, a fundraiser for Service Dogs, Inc. Each year, the event attempts to return the Guinness World Record title for “World’s Largest Dog Walk” to the Capital City. (Austin was the scene of two previous records.) Besides a Texas-sized dog walk, the day of fun includes other record-breaking attempts, exhibitions, booths, and more all along the shores of Lady Bird Lake. Info: www.servicedogs.org.
April: Buda Weiner Dog Races. Held in Buda, a small town south of Austin on I-35, these annual races have earned the town the name “The Weiner Dog Capital of Texas.” Contestants and onlookers come not only from across Texas but from neighboring states who come to watch these petite racers give it their all as some charge to the finish line, others head off to sniff a trail, and some show more interest in their motivating squeaky toys rather than the finish line. Two days of races are accompanied by fun competitions like Best Dressed Weiner Dog and plenty of vendor booths. The event is held in City Park; parking is so tight that shuttles transport attendees from Cabela’s parking lot. Info: www.budalionsclub.com.
September: Barkitecture. For nearly 10 years, this annual event presented by Animal Lovers of Austin, Inc. has showcased the work of innovative architects and designers that create unique dog houses for auction. Along with the doghouse fun, the event features numerous adoptable dogs as well as a dog “Spaw.” Info: Triangle Park, https://barkitectureatx.com/.
For More Information
- Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau; (866) GO-AUSTIN or (512) 474-5171; www.austintexas.org.