Fun in the Sun

10 awesome beaches to discover in Austin and beyond

10 awesome beaches to discover in Austin and beyond

Hamilton Pool Preserve 2012
Austin boasts some excellent fresh-water beaches. Photo by Nicole Raney

We might not have the sands of the Gulf Coast, but Austin has several beaches where you can spend a day in the sun by the water. Of course, our beaches are not the norm, but there is something for everyone, including some of the best waves for surfing and a clothing-optional beach that contributes to our national Keep Austin Weird reputation.

Bob Wentz Park at Windy Point
Located on Lake Travis, this park is part of the Travis County park system with a boat ramp, a pavilion, picnic facilities, a beach and swimming area, showers, and sand volleyball court. This park is so popular that it can be closed when it reaches capacity, so plan to go early to avoid disappointment. The location on the basin of the lake makes it a favorite for windsurfers and sailboat enthusiasts. Admission costs $10 per vehicle per day.

Emma Long Metropolitan Park
Part of the Austin Park System and located on Lake Austin, Emma Long has a nice sandy beach and swimming area. Kids can also jump in the waves made by the wake of passing boats. Day passes are $5 per car Monday through Thursday, $10 weekends and holidays. You can also camp at Emma Long, with fees ranging from $10 to $25 per night. Online reservations for camping are highly recommended.

Hamilton Pool Preserve
The "beach" is more of a small rocky area that juts out into the pool, but we would be remiss if we didn't include it. Hamilton Pool is a nature preserve with a beautiful pool formed from a collapsed grotto surrounded with fern-covered limestone walls and a 50-foot waterfall. Reservations are required in the summer, and you must call ahead to make sure swimming is allowed on the day of your visit; admission is $15 per vehicle plus a small reservation fee. Insider tip: Take plenty of water and a raft for floating.

Hippie Hollow Park
Although the beach consists of a rocky shoreline, this Travis County park is situated on one of the most beautiful parts of the Lake Travis basin and is legendary as it is clothing optional. In fact, Hippie Hollow is the only clothing-optional park in Texas, hence entrance is restricted to those 18 years of age and older. It is popular for sunbathing as well as swimming. The website says, "while nudity is acceptable, lewd behavior is not." Admission is $15 per vehicle.

Lake Pflugerville Park
This amazing lake was built as a 180-acre reservoir. Recreational options include picnicking, jogging, hiking, a playground, boat launch, seven fishing piers, and a pavilion in addition to the swimming and beach area. The beach is pea gravel, which can get hot, so be sure to bring water shoes. No motorized boats are allowed, but this is a hot spot for windsurfers, kayakers, and kite surfers. Fishing is allowed for youth under 16 without a permit.

McKinney Falls State Park
The only state park within the city limits, McKinney Falls is located on Onion Creek and is a perfect outing for a staycation with campsites and newly remodeled cabins for rent. The waterfalls flow over the limestone ledges and form perfect pools for splashing and relaxing. Fishing in the Onion and Williamson creeks is also a favorite pastime at McKinney Falls. There are 9 miles of hiking trails as well. Bring water shoes to enjoy these pebble-filled beach spots. Daily admission costs $6 for adults, but kids 12 and under are free.

NLand Surf Park
Not technically a beach, but this park is dedicated to something all beach lovers secretly dream of: surfing. The dream of engineer Doug Coors was to bring the perfect wave to Austin. NLand Surf Park is the only inland surfing destination in North America and has been the talk of the town ever since it opened. Prices vary for lessons and sessions, but shore passes are a mere $5.

Pace Bend Park
Another of the Travis County parks, Pace Bend Park is in Spicewood on the far western side of the lake and has more than 9 miles of shoreline. It is one of the best places for sunsets in Austin and has several designated swimming coves where no boats are allowed. The park has many campsites, two boat docks, picnic areas, barbecue grills, restrooms, and numerous hiking trails. The rocky beach areas in the coves are shallow, perfect for dogs and kids alike. Day use is $10 per car.

Volente Beach Waterpark
If it is a sandy beach you are craving, Volente is the place. Volente is a water park on Lake Travis that offers not only a nice beach, but rides and amusements, picnic areas, two restaurants, volleyball, and plenty of other options to keep the entire family amused. Kids will love the pirate ship area. Admission is $21 for adults and kids over 42 inches; $16 for kids under 42 inches; and free for kids under the age of 2.

West Lake Beach
In business since 1954, going to West Lake Beach is like stepping back in time. Family-owned and -run, it's located in West Lake Hills on the western side of Lake Austin. There are tons of things for families to do, like picnic, boat, and play sand volleyball. The admission is reasonable — $8 for adults and $5 for children — and there are daily specials where children get in free with an adult. The entire place can be, and often is, rented out for parties and events, so call ahead to make certain the beach is open to the public.