Normally Maggie and I have a wide selection of places to walk; Austin is loaded with city walks, park trails and interesting neighborhoods. Nowadays, with everybody on shutdown and social distancing, our options are more limited. The parks and trails are open, but often so crowded it’s hard to keep enough distance from jogger, cyclists and other heavy-breathing people. We’ve gone from the City of the Violet Crown to the City of the Virus Cloud.
Maggie and I have adjusted by shunning downtown and the hike and bike trails in favor of the many interesting neighborhoods, some of which we’ve never explored before.
- Hyde Park. Austin’s original suburb, dating from 1891. Today it’s a mixture of Victorian mansions from the turn of the 20th century and more modest homes from the 1920’s and 30’s. Except for the hulking mass of the Hyde Park Baptist Church, there are very few newer buildings. Looking at the old houses, you can see that the builders gave each one a distinct personality, even with the cottages and bungalows. It’s great for walking because there are many shady streets, not a lot of traffic and interesting houses and yards to look at. Most blocks have sidewalks, but they can be intermittent, stopping and starting up again on the same block. Hyde park is surrounded by other walkable neighborhoods: for variety, we sometimes drift across 38th Street into the North University area, or across Duval into the Hancock neighborhood. This whole area is our “go to ” destination when we want to get out of our neighborhood.
- French Place. The houses in French Place go from about the 1960’s to modern times, but most are from the 60’s and 70’s. The yards are mostly neatly trimmed: a few are messy, but many are spectacular, especially this time of year when everything is in bloom. Actually, when Maggie and I walk, we start at about French Place and Manor, and we can go all the way up to Airport Blvd. (If you look at a map, the whole area is called Cherrywood, but we think of the part south of 38 1/2th Street as French Place and north of 38 1/2th St as being Cherrywood.)
- Rosedale. Another “old” Austin neighborhood: lots of cute houses dating from the 1930’s and 40’s, families with little kids playing on the sidewalks and in the streets (at least, while we’re all on lockdown). For walkers, the big attraction is shade: several of the streets have trees that tall enough to grow all the way across and meet in the middle, a rare treat in Austin and welcome respite from the sun. Not a lot of sidewalks, but not much traffic, either.
- Travis Heights. Our old stomping grounds, and a fine place for a stroll. A little hilly for the mobility challenged. Charming old houses (some dating from the 1930’s) interspersed with modern construction; usually well done but sometimes a bit much. Plenty of shade, but sidewalks are sometimes lacking, so you have to be careful when walking. Stacy Park cuts through the neighborhood north-south, but the trails can be crowded these days.
- Mueller Neighborhood. The old airport was demolished twenty years ago and is now the site of a planned neighborhood. You might never know the airport was there, except for the control tower, standing as a memorial, and the airplane hangars, which are now rented out as sound stages to film studios. The planning was well executed with ponds, parks, sidewalks and trees. A fine place to walk, but the trail is unavoidable in spots, which can put you uncomfortably close to your fellow walkers. Normally this would be a welcome diversion, but right now it’s sometimes hard to maintain six feet of separation.
- Clarksville. Two hundred years ago, when the Pease Mansion was the center of a plantation, Clarksville was the where the enslaved workers were quartered. The city edged them out by not providing paved streets or sewers, and by the 1970’s Clarksville became a nearly all-white neighborhood; the only remnants are the tiny whitewashed church and some houses with small sizes and odd shapes. Today it makes for interesting walking, engaging the mind as well as the senses.
There are lots of other places we’ve found, but these are the best so far. We hope this list inspires you to get out and explore your surroundings. Just remember to always be safe.