Four Seasons Hotel Austin announces new restaurant concept, other updates

Guests at Austin’s Four Seasons will find “a nearly new hotel” this fall thanks to the completion of a multi-million dollar, three-year renovation spearheaded by designer Michael Dalton.

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The renovated lobby at the Four Seasons Hotel Austin will include a direct view of Lady Bird Lake. credit: Four Season Hotel Austin

Among the renovations: an open lobby concept that provides a direct view of Lady Bird Lake; a new lobby bar, Live Oak, that will feature an expansive outdoor deck; and a new restaurant, Arborist, helmed by Chef James Flowers (Wink, Asti), located in an expanded space previously occupied by TRIO.

RELATED: Can’t-miss Austin staycation ideas

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Four Seasons Hotel Austin is wrapping up a three-year renovation. credit: Four Seasons Hotel Austin

According to the release, “Arborist’s menu will reflect Flowers’ culinary roots, from his southern upbringing to previous roles that exposed him to Italian, Asian and Texan ingredients and cooking techniques.”

5 places to go swimming with the family before summer ends

It’s almost August, which means there’s less than a month to soak in those long, lingering, school-free summer days. If you’re craving a splash, here are five spots that offer fun for the family.

Camp Ben McCulloch

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Camp Ben McCulloch offers easy access to a rope swing. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

First things first, you need to know about the rope swing here, which is flanked by crisp, blue-green water and conveniently located along the trail just to the right of the main parking area. It’s simply too inviting, and too easy to access, to pass up. But those traveling with smaller children or four-legged friends will also appreciate Camp Ben McCulloch for its shady, shallow spots — it’s the perfect place to linger on a hot August day.  Learn more about Camp Ben McCulloch, which is located in Driftwood and also offers camping, at campbenmcculloch.com.

Rock’N River Water Park

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A boy shoots out of a slide at the Rock’N River Water Park in Round Rock. NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

This Round Rock water park underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation in early 2017 that doubled its physical size and increased capacity from 600 to 1,200. The lazy river, frog slide and train-theme water feature that enticed visitors before the renovation are still there, joined by features such as a humongous tipping bucket that provides monsoon-like downpours in the Splashville water playground and a rock wall where there’s no need for a harness — the pool below will break your fall. Time your visit with a Round Rock Express baseball game at the Dell Diamond, which is just down the street. Learn more at roundrocktexas.gov.

Landa Park Aquatic Complex, New Braunfels

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Sisters jump into the pool at Landa Park in New Braunfels in 2010. File photo

If you’ve been seeking a spring-fed experience in a safe, controlled environment, look no further than Landa Park Aquatic Complex. The spring-fed pool has steady year-round temperatures around 72 degrees and includes a variety of hard-to-find features including a rope swing, a climbing net and several slides, all overseen by lifeguards. Admission also includes access to the Olympic-size pool and kiddie area located at the top of the hill, a perfect option for little ones who find the spring-fed pool to be too chilly. While you’re there, save some time to explore the rest of 51-acre Landa Park, where you’ll find a miniature train, winding hiking trails, paddle boats, a playground and more. Find info at nbtexas.org/1434/Aquatic-Facilities.

Bartholomew Pool

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Lillian Florence, 8, tried to cross the lily pond bridge at Bartholomew Pool in 2014. RESHMA KIRPALANI / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

This Mueller-area swimming spot combines all the elements of a great pool experience: diving board, 25-yard lap pool, two smaller pools (one with beach entry for little kids that goes to 2 feet, another for older kids that goes to 4 feet), tube slides and various water features. There’s even a “lily pad bridge” for older kids to wiggle and wobble their way across. If you want to make a day of it in Mueller, start at the pool, then head to The Thinkery, the Alamo Drafthouse, Lick Honest Ice Creams or any of the many attractions in the area. Get pool information at austintexas.gov/department/bartholomew-pool-project.

Schlitterbahn New Braunfels

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Grab a gator and float your way across Schlitterban New Braunfels. credit: Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort

Since it opened in 1979, locals and visitors alike have been making pilgrimages to this water park complex, which spans more than 70 acres and is home to 51 attractions ranging from exhilarating classics like the Cliffhanger tube chute and Soda Straw body slides to family-friendly features such as the Polywog Pond Kiddie Park and Kinderhaven wading pool. Torrent River in the Blastenhoff section of the park is like a lazy river on steroids — crashing waves at every turn make for hours of exhilarating floating. You can even stay the night at the on-site Schlitterbahn Resort New Braunfels — resort guests receive special benefits including early access to the Blastenhoff section of the park before it opens to the public each day. schlitterbahn.com/new-braunfels

Want to visit Austin’s new floating water parks? 4 things you need to know

As of this summer, Austin is home to two new floating water parks — one called Waterloo Adventures on Lake Travis and another operated by QuestATX that’s located near the airport.

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Waterloo Adventures, a floating water park on Lake Travis, opened June 29. Contributed by Waterloo Adventures

Want to get in on the water park fun before summer ends? Here are four things you need to know.

Make a reservation in advance. Both companies request that you book online and arrive early on the day of your reservation to register, sign waivers and attend orientation.

Water shoes are recommended. The obstacle courses can get quite hot on those 100-degree days. Water shoes will protect your feet and give you better traction along the course.

You can buy alcohol there. Both parks have on-site bars where you can purchase a variety of beverages. Food is available, too.

Leave your little ones at home. Children must be 7 years old and at least 45 inches tall to participate. Life jackets are provided and required.

5 cool-weather destinations you can visit in August for cheap

Do Austin’s 100-degree summer temperatures have you dreaming of mountains, snow and ice? Never fear!

Here are five cool places you can travel to in August — for cheap.

Colorado

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The Breckenridge area of Colorado is stunning in late summer and fall. credit: Keri Wiginton

Frontier Airlines offers numerous low-cost nonstop flights to and from Denver. If you travel Aug. 11-16 out of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, for example, you can find a round-trip nonstop flight for $136.40 (additional baggage and seat fees may apply). Average high temperatures in Denver in August are in the 80s, but you can always rent a car and head to a resort town like Breckenridge, where the average August high is around 70.

Minnesota

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The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is home to David Nash’s “Standing Frame,” left, and “Spoonbridge and Cherry” by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Los Angeles Times photo by Christopher Reynolds

Have you been to Minneapolis lately? Here’s your chance. Sun Country Airlines is offering select nonstop flights from Austin to Minneapolis in August for as low as $96.40 round-trip (additional baggage and seat fees may apply). Bonus: The average August high in Minneapolis is 80 degrees.

Oregon

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Portland Japanese Garden is one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan. credit: Mauri Elbel

People say there are a lot of similarities between Austin and Portland, but when it comes to August temperatures, Portland’s are decidedly lower, rarely topping a high of 80 degrees. Right now, you can book a late-August flight to Portland on Frontier Airlines for as low as $136.40 round-trip (additional baggage and seat fees may apply).

United Kingdom

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The grounds of the Tower of London. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

Make like a royal and hop across the pond for a change of scenery. Norwegian Air’s new direct flight from Austin to London Gatwick is affordable and comfortable. If you travel Aug. 11-21, for example, a round-trip flight is $574.80.

Iceland

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This Icelandic farm is in South Iceland near the Ring Road. credit: Adrienne Butcher

Want to be as cold as ice? Iceland, that is? WOW Air has one-way flights from Dallas to Reykjavik for as low as $99 each way. For an Aug. 16-22 trip, a flight would cost $248.99.

 

 

Want to visit the World’s Tallest Squirrel Statue? It’s located just outside of Austin

Central Texas may receive a lot of awards and designations, but here’s one I just learned about: Berdoll Pecan Candy and Gift Company, located just outside of Austin in Cedar Creek, is home to the World’s Tallest Squirrel Statue.

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The World’s Tallest Squirrel Statue is located at Berdoll Pecan Candy and Gift Company. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

Yes, it’s true. No city, from San Francisco to Sydney, can top our squirrel. Nuts, right?

Here are some fun facts about this miraculous creature, who is named Ms. Pearl: She’s 14 feet tall, has lived at Berdoll since 2011 and is the star of between 30 and 100 photos each day, according to on-site signage.

You might recognize Berdoll from the towering, scrolling sign out front announcing everything from “vine ripe tomatoes!” to “chocolate covered pecans!” as you make your way down Highway 71 toward Bastrop. Inside the shop, you’ll find items that range from Texas-centric to kitschy — plus lots of free samples.

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Berdoll Pecan Candy and Gift Company contains a variety of Texas-centric gifts. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

The shop is next to Berdoll Pecan Farm and turns out 11,170 pecan pies every year. Traveling when the shop is closed? Stop by the 24-7 pecan pie vending machine.

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Even if the Berdoll is closed, you can visit the pecan pie vending machine any time of day. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

You can visit Ms. Pearl at 2626 State Hwy 71 West in Cedar Creek. Learn more about her here.

Heading to the airport soon? Here are 5 new places to check out

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport has always made a point to highlight local businesses. And if you haven’t flown in a few months, you’ll be glad to know that now even more options are now available.

“It’s always great to represent Austin, keep it local,” said Jacob Moreno, store manager at Paradies Lagardere, which operates several of the new shops. “We’re a big supporter of Keep Austin Weird and supporting local businesses. We partner with a lot of local brands.”

Here are five new places to check out at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport:

RELATED: The best gifts at the Austin airport

Berry Austin

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Berry Austin opened at the Austin airport in June. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

This third location of Berry Austin, a local treat shop known for delicious fro-yo with Austin flare, opened across from Gate 8 in late June. Don’t miss the shop’s intricate recycled decor, created by Berry Austin owner Kathy Steele.

RELATED: Need a sweet treat? Let’s go for some fro-yo!

Departure Lounge

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Departure Lounge opened at the Austin airport in June. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

This popular Austin travel agency/wine bar now has an airport location near Gate 8. Expect its signature modern decor, wide menu and, naturally, expert travel advise.

Briggo

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Briggo opened in mid-July at the Austin airport. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

Ever wish you could have coffee 24-7 when you’re traveling? Now you can. On Tuesday, the app-based coffee kiosk Briggo opened near Gate 8. Order using the app, then arrive at the machine to find your favorite drink waiting for you.

RELATED: App-based coffee kiosk, Briggo, opens at airport

BookPeople

This light, bright airport version of the popular Austin bookstore offers a host of titles without sacrificing its local vibe. It opened last spring.

Peached Tortilla

The Peached Tortilla has long been known in Austin thanks to its unique brand of Asian-Southern fusion. As of May, you can get it, along with JuiceLand and Hippies & Hops, at the airport.

RELATED: Where to eat at the Austin airport

Mad Greens and Hut’s Hamburgers are expected to open by the end of the year.

Austin ‘critically important’ to Port Aransas recovery, tourism official says

It’s been 11 months since Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas coast, and Port Aransas tourism officials have a message to send: It’s time to come visit.

“We’re open for fun,” said Jeff Hentz, president and CEO of the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau, when he stopped by the Statesman on Wednesday. “We’re coming back. We’re obviously in the middle of what traditionally is our busiest season and I’m just amazed that so many people have come and looked around and said, ‘You know, I can tell you had some damage but you guys are making a remarkable comeback.’ There’s really nothing that’s not open that people are used to coming to Port A and doing with the exception of the golf course.”

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Violeta, 8, left, Jenny and Joe Stark walk along the water at Port Aransas Beach June 13. ANA RAMIREZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Hentz said the city’s lodging inventory is currently around 50 percent and is expected to be at more than 70 percent by the end of the summer.

In terms of restaurants and bars, 62 were open prior to Hurricane Harvey and 63 are open now. Two closed permanently after the hurricane, followed by three new ones that opened.

He called Austin “critically important” to Port Aransas tourism.

“For us to continue to support the growth in Port A, Austin has to be a central player in that,” Hentz said. “We’re really Austin’s beach. Austin is going to be even more critical in our marketing and outreach. Austin alone could probably keep our beach full almost year-round.”

Hentz urged tourists to consider fall and spring travel in addition to summer and to increase their length of stay.

“The businesses that everybody loves, they’re back, the owners are back. The characters and the quirkiness of Port A, that’s what’s back. Nothing left except the visitors, and that’s what we’re trying to bring back, because we can’t afford to lose a fall or even a summer when we’re open. We’ve just got to get the word out.”

From treehouses to trailers, check out these unconventional Texas hotels

Sure, hotels and Airbnbs are great, but sometimes we all crave a little something different.

If you’re seeking a unique stay during your next Texas getaway, here are some spots to consider.

Cypress Valley Canopy Tours

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The Nest at Cypress Valley Canopy Tours. Contributed by Cypress Valley Canopy Tours

Cypress Valley Canopy Tours may be known for its zipline tours above the lush Texas Hill Country, but it’s also gaining a reputation for the overnight stays it offers in its treehouses. The property’s Nest, for example, includes two bedrooms, a lounge, a kitchenette/dining room, an outside shower and a small bridge that connects to a bathhouse.

Infocypressvalleycanopytours.com

The Flophouze Hotel

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The Flophouze Hotel in Round Top, Texas, is made from recycled shipping containers.

Visitors to the Flophouze Hotel, which opened in Round Top in 2017, can choose from a half-dozen shipping-container “houzes” outfitted with eco-friendly and recycled materials such as bowling alley floors. Hammocks, fire pits, cozy chairs and complimentary Topo Chico are among the amenities. Oh, and just to complete the theme, there’s a shipping container pool, too, manufactured by Modpool.

RELATED: You won’t believe this Texas hotel and pool made of shipping containers

Infoflophouze.com

El Cosmico

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Guest trailer at El Cosmico in Marfa, where customers stay in trailers, tents, yurts and teepees. credit: Chris LeBlanc

From yurts to trailers to safari tents, if you’re looking for an unconventional place to stay in West Texas, El Cosmico is the place for you. Self camping is also available here.

RELATED: Stay with the hipsters at Liz Lambert’s funky Marfa outpost, El Cosmico

Infoelcosmico.com

Son’s Island

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Son’s Island in Seguin also offers “glamping.” Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

In addition to being a hidden island paradise that’s just an hour from Austin, Son’s Island offers overnight glamping. Guests receive overnight entry for four people, use of a cabana overnight and a 14-by-9 tent with two cots and foam queen-size mattresses. There’s even s’mores on Friday and Saturday nights.

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Want to try a rope swing? Head to this free swimming hole just outside of Austin

We weren’t planning to try a rope swing that day.

But when my two daughters and I walked past one last week while visiting one of our favorite swimming holes — Camp Ben McCulloch — the temptation was immediate.

They looked at me expectantly: “You go first, Mom.”

It’s been years since I did a rope swing, if ever. But this one, flanked by crisp, blue-green water and conveniently located along the trail just to the right of the main parking area, was too inviting, and too easy to access, to pass up.

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Camp Ben McCulloch offers access to a rope swing. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

First, I got in to test the depth of the water. It was deep. Then I swung the rope back and forth and pulled on it to test its sturdiness. It was sturdy. Safety is paramount in rope swinging, of course — read Pam LeBlanc’s guide to Austin-area rope swings for more safety tips.

At long last, I plunged in, much to the delight of my daughters, 9 and 6, who instantly followed suit.

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Camp Ben McCulloch is a kid- and pet-friendly place to swim on the outskirts of Austin in Driftwood. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

RELATED: Did you know there’s a tropical island paradise an hour’s drive from Austin?

It was the most fun we’ve had in ages.

Want to try it for yourself? Learn more about Camp Ben McCulloch, which is located in Driftwood and also offers camping, at campbenmcculloch.com.

Did you know there’s a tropical island paradise an hour’s drive from Austin?

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If you’ve lived in Central Texas for very long, you probably have a list of favorite swimming holes. But here’s one I just discovered and instantly fell in love with — Son’s Island in Seguin.

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Son’s Island in Seguin has a tropical feel. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

Picture this: A private, thatched-roof lakeside cabana for you and your friends, complete with a hammock, grill, tables and lounge chairs. You can rent a kayak, a canoe or a paddleboard on site, or enjoy beach volleyball, cornhole or jumbo-size game of Connect Four.

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Canoe rentals are available at Son’s Island in Seguin. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

OK, so the water might not be quite as blue as Hawaii, but you’ll still feel far, far away.

Want to stay overnight? There are tents available that come with two queen-size beds, two fans and lanterns.

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Son’s Island in Seguin also offers “glamping.” Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

You can book online at lakeplacidisland.com. Cabanas, which cost around $150 for an eight-hour rental and include a private dock, go fast, so reserve early.