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Photo by Tomek Baginski on Unsplash

Austin’s short spring season has arrived, so while we embrace the comfortably sunny weather, we should really be prepping for the return of summer's scorching temps. There’s no better cure for the unbearable heat than a dip into the eternally chilly waters of some of the city's best swimming holes. And you can’t forget to snap a cute photo for your Instagram feed.

In fact, Austin's own Barton Springs was named the most Instagrammed pool in the U.S. in a new study by BonusFinder.com. They analyzed data from social media and YouTube to find the most photogenic pools all over the United States.

The study revealed that videos of Barton Springs had been viewed over 28.5 million times on TikTok and hashtagged over 15,000 times on Instagram. Their findings led to the pool’s designation as the most popular pool to photograph on Instagram, and it's fourth place ranking on their top 10 list of the most photogenic pools in America.

In total, Las Vegas hosts six of the top 10 most photogenic pools on BonusFinder’s list. Mandalay Bay Beach and The Mirage in Las Vegas were deemed the No. 1 and No. 2 most photogenic pools, and just above Barton Springs in the third place rank was The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. Other pools on the list were found in Glenwood Springs, Colorado (No. 6) and Atlantic City, New Jersey (No. 10).

The top 10 most photogenic pools in the United States are:

  • No. 1 – Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas
  • No. 2 – The Mirage in Las Vegas
  • No. 3 – The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California
  • No. 4 – Barton Springs in Austin
  • No. 5 – The Tank at Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas
  • No. 6 – Glenwood Hot Springs in Glenwood Springs, Colorado
  • No. 7 – The Backyard at Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas
  • No. 8 – Stadium Swim at Circa Resort and Casino in Las Vegas
  • No. 9 – Encore Beach Club at Wynn Las Vegas
  • No. 10 – The Water Club at Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa in Atlantic City, New Jersey

Fintan Costello, the managing director at BonusFinder.com, said Americans are “turning their attention to where they can kick back and enjoy catching some rays by the poolside” with their spring break and upcoming summer holidays.

“Luckily, the study shows that the U.S. is blessed with some of the best and most picturesque pools in the world and there are plenty of idyllic escapes that can be found across America, without ever having to leave the country,” he explained in a statement.

Two Texas pools earned ranks outside the top 10: The Joule Dallas (No. 14) and Marriott Marquis Houston (No. 18).

The full study can be found on bonusfinder.com.

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Dip your toes into these 7 Austin pools with passes, snacks, and summer events

Wet Hot Austin Summer

Memorial Day is here, which means so are the days of sitting in a lounge chair and sweating while looking unreasonably fabulous. Whether it's to beat the summer heat or to show off a new swimsuit, Austinites may have more options than they think to take a swim at the many pools around town. Even if you haven't committed to an overnight stay, most hotels offer day passes, and some even offer other deals or poolside programming.

One great way to find passes not just to pools around town, but also to spas and other hotel amenities, is to browse ResortPass. (Not sponsored, just cool.) There are 26 Austin options on the site right now.

But we wanted to let you know what's going on beyond the pass — who will set you up for a great meal, who lets you drink out of a coconut, and whose views (or lack thereof) provide the best ambiance for your day off. Some of our choices aren't even on the platform.

Go grab your sandals, and save us a towel.

Greater Austin YMCA
Let's start with the less glamorous before we break out the poolside fashion. The YMCA is a family staple for a reason, and if your goal is just to get in the water regularly throughout the summer, especially with kids, it's a great place to start. There are "interactive hours" at the outdoor pools (more fun than swimming laps) at the East Communities, Hays Communities, Northwest Family, Southwest Family, and Springs Family YMCAs, as well as the YMCA at Camp Moody. The Y is semi-affordable; It would probably be cheaper to visit a hotel pool once or twice, but a Y membership includes a month of access, guest passes, and much more, and may replace your gym membership for the summer. $69 per month, with age and household discounts. austinymca.org

Hotel Van Zandt
If your pool visit doesn't include spritz and giggles, why are you even there? Hotel Van Zandt is opening up its stylish rooftop pool for the "Spritz & Giggles Poolside Happy Hour & Sunset Swim" event series. Every Monday through Thursday, visitors can enjoy $8 frozen Aperol spritzes, $8 specialty cocktails, and a special pool menu with items like a refreshing green salad, pork belly al pastor tacos, and a spicy fried chicken sandwich. Geraldine's, the main restaurant, is right inside for even better drinks, expanded bites, and sometimes live music. Starting at $48 per day for adults, $15 for kids. hotelvanzandt.com

Carpenter Hotel
If one day at the Carpenter Hotel pool is just not enough, the hotel has now added monthly passes. In addition to unlimited access to the secluded pool in the Zilker neighborhood, a pass gets a $30 discount for the new monthly BBQ Pool Parties (bringing attendance down to $25). That will include a great spread of less commonly seen barbecue items like grilled bay scallops, mushroom skewers, elotes, deviled potato salad, and more. Monthly pass holders also get to bring one child under 8 for free. $40 daily, $200 monthly. Both Monday through Thursday. carpenterhotel.com

South Congress Hotel
The South Congress Hotel is right in the middle of where many Austinites want to be on a summer day, if it weren't so dang hot. This rooftop pool solves that problem in style, with daily pool passes every day of the week, as well as cabana rentals. Café No Sé supplies poolside drinks and snacks, and downstairs, Austin's Best New Restaurant Maie Day offers a hearty meal after a day of napping in the sun. Cabanas can be rented for four people and include self-parking, bottled water, and a bottle of champagne or bucket of High Noon. Days for $40 and cabanas for $300 on weekdays; days for $75 and cabanas for $400 on weekends. southcongresshotel.com

Hotel Viata
Hotel Viata is a bit of a sleeper hotel among Austin boutiques, as it's located a little beyond West Lake Hills. Still, if you want a taste of Italy, the drive to this retreat will be worth it. Not to mention, with the extra room these downtown hotels can't offer, a pool pass includes access to a hot tub, fire pits, and great views of the hills around the city. Pool passes are available, but if you want to see it for free before you spend, wait for June 10; The hotel invites guests 21 and up to check out the pool for free at the "Summer Festa in Piscina" party, with a "Taste of Italy" add-on ($55) for Aperol Spritz, limoncello lemon drops, and negronis all day. $45 per day for adults, $25 for children. resortpass.com

Wax Myrtle's
This rooftop bar and pool is known for its never-ending events calendar, and of course that energy extends to poolside entertainment. There will be live music on the weekends, plus live DJ sets on Saturday nights, alongside whatever other programming happens to be going on inside. Even if it's a do-nothing day, these large, over-the-top drinks will give you a delicious challenge. The "Boot Scootin Fruity" mixes rum, an aperitivo, hibiscus, and lime in a cowboy hat punch bowl ($90); the luxe "Mojito 75" combines Moët & Chandon with rum and mojito must-haves in a disco ball ($230); and an unnamed cocktail is worth trying just to enjoy it from a real coconut. Starting at $15 for adults, $10 for children, and more for daybeds and cabanas. waxmyrtles.com

Austin Motel
Perhaps one of the best known pools in Austin for its retro vibes, fun events, and accessibility to on-foot wanderers is the Austin Motel. This is a great, less expensive choice that's probably more fun for casual pool revelers who would feel a little put out by having to dress up and behave in a more luxe hotel setting. There are also frequent poolside events at this motel, like the free "Bounce Motel" series with live DJs, or the body-positive "Chunky Dunk." The pool is offers daily passes every day, even when there's nothing on the calendar. $25 on weekdays, $45 on weekends, or $600 in three-and-a-half-month "waves." austinmotel.com

Carpenter Hotel pool

Photo by Andrea Calo

Austinites don't need to stay at a hotel to be invited to the pool. (Pictured: The Carpenter Hotel)

6 Austin museums are offering free admission for military families all summer long

spread the museum love

Half a dozen Austin museums are honoring active-duty military personnel and their families with free admission through the Blue Star Museums initiative, May 20 through September 4, 2023.

Established by the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, and the U.S. Department of Defense, the Blue Star Museums program annually provides military families free access to 2,000 museums nationwide throughout the summer. The program begins yearly on Armed Forces Day in May and ends on Labor Day.

Free admission is extended to personnel currently serving in the U.S Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard (including those in the Reserve), and all National Guardsman. Members of the U.S. Public Health Commissioned Corps and NOAA Commissioned Corps are also included in the program.

Those who qualify can use their military ID to bring up to five family members – including relatives of those currently deployed. More information about qualifications can be found here.

There is no limit on the number of participating museums that qualifying families may visit. Admission for non-active military veterans, however, is not included.

According to the National Endowment for the Arts website, the initiative was created to help "improve the quality of life for active duty military families" with a specific focus on children. The site states two million have had a parent deployed since 2001.

"Blue Star Museums was created to show support for military families who have faced multiple deployments and the challenges of reintegration," the website says. "This program offers these families a chance to visit museums this summer when many will have limited resources and limited time to be together."

Among Austin's participating museums, the Blanton Museum of Art recently held its grand opening celebration to debut their new grounds, complete with a new large mural by Cuban-American artist Carmen Herrera.

“As a museum that has long been at the forefront of collecting work by artists of Latin American descent, as well as the place where Ellsworth Kelly realized his last great work of art, entering the collection at this moment marks a high point in my long career," Herrera said.

Here's a look at all the museums in Austin that participate in the Blue Star Museums initiative.

For those looking to take a drive around Central Texas, the Temple Railroad and Heritage Museum and Taylor's Moody Museum are also participants in the Blue Star Museums initiative.

More information about Blue Star Museums and a full list of participants can be found on arts.gov.

Awe-inspiring new exhibit debuts at the Alamo with sneak peek

REFIGURE THE ALAMO

Ask first-time visitors about their experience at the Alamo, and you're likely to hear a frequent refrain. Guests accustomed to hearing about the mission's heroic history are surprised that the grounds are so small. But that's slowly changing with ambitious plans to bring the site's original footprint back to life.

Starting May 25, visitors will get a sneak peek at the complex's newest structure, the Mission Gate and Lunette exhibit, before it officially opens in 2024. Funded in part by a $3 million donation from the Joan and Herb Kelleher Charitable Foundation, the exhibition gives guests a broader understanding of the Alamo's scale.

The historical recreation was crafted by lauded San Antonio artist Carlos Cortés. A third-generation concrete faux bois artisan, his work is featured throughout the city, most notably on the River Walk, where his fantastical The Grotto greets thousands of Museum Reach visitors each year.

The life-size sculpture stands in for the original main gate of the fort at the southern boundary of the complex. Cannons and placards scattered throughout give crucial context to the structure. Though early renderings show the beams and spiked fence with more verisimilitude, the forms currently stand in ghostly concrete — inviting quiet contemplation.

When the exhibit is finished next year, guests will be more fully immersed in the hallowed grounds, which extend far beyond the walls of the iconic Church and Long Barrack. Coupled with the upcoming Alamo Visitor Center and Museum and the recently debuted Ralston Family Collections Center, it will turn the grounds into one of Texas' most awe-inspiring historical sites.

"We are deeply grateful to the Joan and Herb Kelleher Charitable Foundation for their support of the Alamo and our ongoing efforts to preserve this important piece of Texas history," said Dr. Kate Rogers, Executive Director of the Alamo Trust, Inc., via a release. "Their generosity will allow us to continue to educate and inspire visitors from around the world, ensuring that the legacy of the Alamo lives on for generations to come."

Alamo Mission Gate and Lunette exhibit

Photo courtesy of the Alamo.

The Mission Gate and Lunette exhibit gives visitors an understanding of the original ground's scale.