Cool Off on Lady Bird Lake with Paddle Boards, Kayaks, and More Water-Worthy Vessels

Make a splash in Austin's downtown reservoir.

Photo by Mark Bowers, courtesy of Rowing Club
Photo by Mark Bowers, courtesy of Rowing Club
Photo by Mark Bowers, courtesy of Rowing Club

With the Texas summer upon us, it can often seem the only solution to beating the heat is staying in the breeze radius of an AC unit. But, don’t resign yourself to going stir-crazy in your apartment just yet, as there is another way to tolerate the temperatures within your own backyard: Lady Bird Lake. This dammed reservoir of the Colorado River is accessible from downtown Austin, and-undeniably-one of the best things about living in the city. And we’re here to provide all the 4-1-1 you need to make the most out of your time on the lake: what to bring, what to do, where to grab a cocktail afterwards.

What to know before you go

Maximize your time living that Lake Life with some minor preparation beforehand. The first thing to consider is transportation. Although Lady Bird Lake spans 400 acres, the amount of parking space around it is far smaller. (If you live within biking, walking, or scootering distance, you can-and should-avoid this particular problem.) However, for those of us without a boujee downtown condo, driving is the only path to an aquatic adventure. Some of the best places to park are South Lakeshore Boulevard, near Festival Beach, or in Zilker Park itself.

No matter what your form of transportation ends up being, there are two items you should bring on your ride: sunscreen and water. The words Texas sun may sound sweet when Leon Bridges croons them, but the reality of the summer weather is much more harsh. Nothing will ruin your Lake day, and the days that follow, quicker than heatstroke, dehydration, or severe sunburns. Stop by one of the two bodegas on Barton Springs Road, Thom’s Market and The Austinite Market, to snatch some SPF and H2O.

Photo by Marcus Clark, courtesy of Rowing Club
Photo by Marcus Clark, courtesy of Rowing Club
Photo by Marcus Clark, courtesy of Rowing Club

What to do on Lady Bird Lake

As enticing as the water might look on a July day, swimming is not allowed in Lady Bird Lake due to water pollution. Motorized boat traffic is another no-go when it comes to the area. While, at first glance, that may sound limiting, there are still plenty of ways to explore the shores.

Rent a paddle board, canoe, or kayak

Without a doubt, your best, and easiest, options for hitting the water are stand-up paddle boards (a.k.a .SUPs), canoes, or kayaks. And, with the reservoir boasting a plethora of equipment rental spots, there’s no need to drop big bucks at REI.

Rowing Dock
At this spot west of MoPac, the chill vibes and encouraging staff will make even self-proclaimed klutzes confident they can balance on a SUP. In addition to paddle boards, Rowing Dock also has kayaks, pedal kayaks, and canoes for rent. A popular destination for Lady Bird visitors, their first-come, first-serve policy, and small parking lot, means you’ll want to get there early – especially on weekends.

Live Love Paddle
Located in Riverside, Live Love Paddle is further east than many of the other rental companies, and, consequently, is less congested with tourist traffic. Their watercraft choices include paddle boards, canoes, and both single and tandem kayaks. Part of what makes this place a top choice is the small, but much-appreciated, amenities found there. Any canoe-renting regular will tell you how rare it is to find a rental spot with plentiful parking spots, free storage lockers, and back supports included in every kayak rental.

Zilker Park Boat Rentals
Started back in 1969, Zilker Park Boat Rentals is truly the OG of Austin’s boat rental scene. The dock is technically located on Barton Creek, a tributary which feeds into Lady Bird Lake. For those looking to spot some Texan wildlife while they raft, the Creek is a tried-and-true location to observe all kinds of critters. Great egrets, snapping turtles, and leopard frogs are a few of the fauna you could glimpse from inside one of Zilker Park Boat Rentals’ canoes, SUPs, or kayaks.

Courtesy of EpicSUP
Courtesy of EpicSUP
Courtesy of EpicSUP

The site of EpicSUP’s barnyard dock makes it an ideal choice for outdoor enthusiasts to get a double dose of Lone Star nature. Stationed in the southeastern part of the Lake, this rental service is basically a stop itself on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail. This proximity means you can take in the best of the Lake from the land as well as the water – and, accordingly, there’s plenty of secure bike parking to be found on site. EpicSUP offers rentals of paddle boards, single kayaks, and double kayaks, and, it only takes a glance at their Instagram to confirm these boats are pet-friendly.

Texas Rowing Center
Texas Rowing Center may be best known as a rental spot, but there’s a lot more behind this business’ doors than just oars. There’s a deep desire to engage with the community, so much so that you can even use their dock to launch your personal boating equipment. But, if you’ve yet to invest in a watercraft of your own, they have plenty of kayaks, SUPs, and canoes available to rent. Should you want to dip your toes deeper into the boat life, the Texas Rowing Center also has all levels of rowing classes to sign up for.

Pick up a rod and go fishing

Don’t let the proximity to skyscrapers fool you. Despite its urban location, Lady Bird Lake is a fisher’s paradise. The lake has been specifically stocked with several species for the sole purpose of recreational fishing. While you can hook catfish, sunfish, and carp from the shores, the large population of bigmouth bass in the river-like reservoir means they are the most frequently caught flippers. However, before you cast off, be sure to purchase a fishing license, and review the Lake’s bag and size limit regulations.

Lounge out on a river cruise

If you’re looking for a lakeside activity that involves less movement, and more merlot, book a ticket for a river cruise. Taking a tour on a larger craft will allow you to see way more of Lady Bird Lake than you could paddling (and doesn’t give you sore arms, to boot). And, the most popular local cruise companies, Capital Cruises and Lone Star Riverboat, even offer a few different choices to cater to the experience you want to have. Both offer daytime sightseeing tours, where you can catch the full spectrum of the flora and fauna that calls the Lake home. As well, both host a bat-watching, sunset tour, where you’ll get a front seat for the winged creature mass exodus that happens every night under the Congress Avenue bridge. Should you crave this kind of peaceful float, but the thought of mingling with tourists gives you the heebie-jeebies, you can take your own private tour in a donut boat. These small, electric boats come with a shaded umbrella, a table for snacks, and enough room to fit ten of your friends.

Where to refuel post-lake session

After spending the whole day basking in nature, you need sustenance. In Austin, nothing says ends a good day quite like margaritas and queso. Both are in high-supply at Mexican restaurant, El Alma, which is a walkable distance from where the Lake meets Auditorium Shores. Also near that stretch of the water is classic Austin snack shack, Sandy’s Hamburgers. Established in 1946, their menu of patties, hot dogs, malts, and sundaes will make you nostalgic for the summer you watched Grease on repeat. For a healthier option, head to the Zilker-adjacent location of local chain sensation, Juiceland. The always-killer flavor combination of banana and peanut butter in the Wundershowzen smoothie will make you forget they snuck in spinach. Then there’s the high-end nibbles at glamorous restaurant, Nido. Located on the rooftop of The Loren Hotel, a building which literally hugs the banks of Lady Bird Lake, you can indulge in ricotta gnudi while taking in the breath-taking sight of the water at night.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on¬†Instagram,¬†TikTok,¬†Twitter,¬†Facebook,¬†Pinterest, and¬†YouTube.

Molly Moltzen is a writer living in Austin, TX. You can find her on Instagram at @molsquared.


The Best New Bookstores in LA are Curated, Specific, and Personal

Discover a new favorite book, join a book club, and maybe even do some karaoke at the new wave of LA bookshops.

Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

A couple of years ago, the legendary Powell’s Books in Portland released a perfume designed to evoke the smell of a bookstore. The scent has notes of wood, violet, and the lovely and unusually precise word biblichor, the particular aroma of old books. The reality of the scent is what it is-mostly sweet and floral-but more important is the imagery it conjures. The best bookstores are both cozy and mysterious, familiar and surprising, with endless potential for discovery.

Los Angeles has a wealth of independent book sellers, including beloved legacy shops like The Last Bookstore, The Iliad, and Chevalier’s. But a new wave of bookstores has been growing over the last few years, shops that eschew the traditional one-of-everything mindset to focus on specificity, curation, and point of view. There are bookstores with themes, bookstores that double as event spaces, bookstores that reflect their neighbourhoods, bookstores that take inspiration from a specific person-whether that’s the shop owner, a historical figure, or a little bit of both-and so many more.

Like the niche-ification of the internet and the culture at large, these new and new-ish bookstores provide a space to discover books, ideas, and perspectives led by an expert, the kind of things that you may never have found on your own. They can also be a safe harbour for pure nerdiness, a place to dive deep into your favourite category or cause. To help you on your way, we’ve put together a list of some of the best new bookstores in LA, with a focus on curated shops with their own specific perspectives.

Photo courtesy of Octavia's Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf

Octavia’s Bookshelf

Pasadena is a famously book-friendly city, with bookstore royalty in the form of legendary Vroman’s and its own literary alliance. Now it has one of the most exciting new bookstores too. Octavia’s Bookshelf is owner Nikki High’s tribute to the science fiction master Octavia E. Butler, who was a Pasadena native herself. The name of the shop provides a clue into High’s inspiration, titles she imagines Butler would have had on her shelves, with a focus on BIPOC authors. The storefront is small, but the collection is impeccably curated and the space is cozy and welcoming for readers of all backgrounds.

Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop

North Figueroa Bookshop

Highland Park
Vertical integration can be a beautiful thing, especially when it allows independent creators more control over their products. The new North Figueroa Bookshop is a shining example of the concept, a storefront built on a collaboration between two publishers, Rare Bird and Unnamed Press. North Fig features titles from those presses, of course, including lots of striking literary fiction and memoir, but it also features a curated collection of other books. They’ve made it a point of emphasis to serve the needs of the local Highland Park, Glassell Park, Cypress Park, and Eagle Rock community-there’s lots of fiction from fellow independent publishers, other general interest titles with a focus on California history and literature, and plenty of Spanish-language books.

Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

Zibby’s Bookshop

Santa Monica
Speaking of vertical integration, there’s another new combined publisher and bookstore on the other side of town. Zibby’s Bookshop is the brainchild of Zibby Owens, Sherri Puzey, and Diana Tramontano, and it’s the physical home of Zibby Books, a literary press that releases one featured book a month. That system is designed so that each book gets the full attention and resources of the press. Owens is an author, podcaster, and book-fluencer, and she has become something of a lit-world mogul with a magazine, podcast network, event business, and an education platform too. The shop has a unique sorting system, built around a feeling for each book-in store many of the shelves are labelled by interest or personality type, like “For the foodie,” or “For the pop culture lover.” On their webshop, you can browse for books that make you cry, escape, laugh, lust, or tremble. There are recommendations from Owens and the staff, sections for local authors, family dramas, and books that have just been optioned. If this all seems a little overwhelming, you should probably avoid the section dedicated to books that make you anxious.

The Salt Eaters Bookshop

Inglewood native Asha Grant opened The Salt Eaters Bookshop in 2021 with a mission in mind-to centre stories with protagonists who are Black girls, women, femme, and/or gender-nonconforming people. Over the last year and change that it’s been open, it has also become a community hub, a place for Inglewood locals and people from across town to drop in, to see what’s new and to discover incredible works in the Black feminist tradition. They also host regular events like readings, discussions, and parties.

Lost Books

Thankfully, legendary downtown bookshop The Last Bookstore’s name is hyperbole, and owners Josh and Jenna Spencer have even gone so far as to open a second shop, Lost Books in Montrose. Instead of the technicolour whimsy of the book tunnel at The Last Bookstore, Lost Books has a tunnel of plants that welcomes you into the shop, which opened in the summer of 2021. They sell those plants in addition to books, and coffee and vinyl too, which makes Lost Books a lovely destination and a fun little surprise in the quaint foothill town just off the 2 freeway.

Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe

Stories Books & Cafe

Echo Park
Ok, this one is fudging the criteria a little-Stories has been open for almost 15 years. But over those years the shop has become a pillar of Echo Park community life, hosting readings, discussions, and events, and their cafe tables function as a de facto office for about half of the neighbourhood on any given afternoon. After the tragic recent passing of co-owner and Echo Park fixture Alex Maslansky it seemed like the shop’s future was in doubt, but thankfully after a brief hiatus co-owner and co-founder Claudia Colodro and the staff were able to band together to reopen and keep the beloved cafe and bookstore going strong.

Page Against the Machine

Long Beach
The name alone makes it clear what you’re getting at Page Against the Machine-revolutionary progressive books, with a collection centred on activist literature, socially conscious writing, and a whole lot of political history. The shop itself is small but the ideas are grand, with fiction by writers like Richard Wright, Colson Whitehead, and Albert Camus next to zines about gentrification and compendia of mushroom varieties. They also host regular readings and discussions.

Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte

Re/Arte Centro Literario

Boyle Heights
Boyle Heights has its own small but mighty combined bookstore, art gallery, gathering space, and small press in Viva Padilla’s Re/Arte. Padilla is a poet, translator, editor, and curator, and as a South Central LA native and the child of Mexican immigrants, she’s focused on Chicanx and Latinx art, literature, and social criticism. Re/Arte’s collection has a wide range of books, from classic Latin American literature to modern essays and everything in between. Re/Arte is also now the headquarters for sin cesar, a literary journal that publishes poetry, fiction, and essays from Black and Brown writers. There are always community-focused events happening too, from regular open mics and zine workshops to film screenings and more.

The Book Jewel

Most bookshops host events, but few host them with the regularity of The Book Jewel, the two- year-old independent bookstore in Westchester. Their calendar is so full with readings, several different book clubs, signings, and meet and greets that there are sometimes multiple events on the same day. The shop also hosts a ton of family-focused readings, with regular storytime on Sunday mornings often followed by a talk with the author. It’s a great fit for the relatively low-key (but not exactly quiet) suburban neighbourhood, and it’s no coincidence that storytime lines up with the Westchester Farmers Market, which takes place right out front.

Reparations Club

West Adams
Most bookstores lean into coziness, aiming to be a hideaway for some quiet contemplation or maybe a quick sotto voce chat-not so at Reparations Club, the exuberant and stylish concept bookshop and art space on Jefferson. Owner and founder Jazzi McGilbert and her staff have built a beautiful and vibrant shop full of art from Black artists, including books but also records, candles, incense, clothing, and all sorts of fun things to discover. There’s a perfect seating area to sit and hang out for a while, and they host a range of wild and fun events from readings to happy hours, panel discussions to karaoke nights and more.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Ben Mesirow is a Staff Writer at Thrillist.


Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.