If the University of Texas is the seat of Austin’s intellect, and the state capitol is its political pulse, Barton Springs is the city’s soul. The Native Americans who settled near here believed these waters had spiritual powers, and today’s residents still attest to the springs’ refreshing and restorative gifts. The pool was privately owned until 1918, when Andrew Jackson Zilker deeded the land to the city. In the 1920s, the city enlarged the pool by damming the springs and building sidewalks. Although the original limestone bottom remains, concrete was added to the banks to give uniform sides to what is now a swimming pool of about 1,000 x 125 feet.
Each day, approximately 32 million gallons of water from the underground Edwards Aquifer bubble to the surface here. Maintaining a constant 68F (20C) temperature, the amazingly clear water actually feels colder in the summer than it does in winter, when a few brave souls unwilling to do without their daily swim have the huge pool all to themselves. Lifeguards are on duty most of the day, and a large bathhouse offers changing facilities and a gift shop. This is a favorite gathering spot for Austinites, but if you’re not up for swimming, you’re not likely to visit.