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Austin: In Three Days

The three towns on the following itinerary provide opportunities for any number of activities -- strolling a town square, canoeing, shopping for discounts at outlet malls, visiting a water park, and even tubing on the Guadalupe River. If tubing strikes your fancy, the day trip is usually best done in the late spring to early summer when the water in the lower Guadalupe is flowing fast and deep enough so you don't have to paddle and you won't scrape your backside on the rocks. If you have kids, they will enjoy Schlitterbahn, an extremely large water park that counts many faithful among central Texas's youth. Start: Head south from Austin on I-35.

1. San Marcos

Thirty miles south of Austin is San Marcos, a college town that some are calling the new Austin. San Marcos has a nicely restored courthouse and town square, making it a nice stop for stretching your legs. If you're looking for a more active endeavor, San Marcos is a great place for canoeing. Ask at the Aquarena Center (1 Aquarena Springs Dr.; tel. 512/245-7575; www.aquarena.txstate.edu) for outfitters renting canoes. Just past San Marcos on the Interstate are two outlet malls, Prime Outlets (tel. 800/628-9465 or 512/396-2200) and Tanger Factory Outlet Center (tel. 800/408-8424 or 512/396-7446), which boast hundreds of name brand stores and attract a lot of visitors.

Continue south on I-35 to reach:

2. New Braunfels

When you get to New Braunfels, drive through the center of town. It still has a good deal of the small town feel about it, despite the town having grown considerably in the last few years. New Braunfels is home to the Schlitterbahn water park, a great destination for families looking to get wet. If you'd rather do your cooling off in a less hectic environment, head to nearby Gruene (now practically a suburb of New Braunfels), the next (and last) stop on the itinerary.

3. Gruene

Gruene (pronounced green) is upstream from New Braunfels and is the lower end of the long stretch of the Guadalupe River. For many locals, it's the favorite spot for tubing. Drive up River Road, and you'll see one outfitter after another renting inner tubes. Rent one, and then plunk down into the refreshing Guadalupe. You'll see what all the fuss is about.

Take a Break -- The Gristmill River Restaurant & Bar -- After tubing and changing clothes, you can grab a bite to eat at this traditional Texas restaurant. 1287 Gruene Rd. tel. 830/625-0684.

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