Photography by Cherie Hogan Photography Mural Artists: Todd Sanders and Rory Skagen
As the family expert for the True Austin program run by the Austin Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, my role is to recommend the best kid-friendly fun in Austin. I field questions from parents planning a trip here, as well as questions from locals wondering how to entertain family visiting from out of town. Some wonder where to eat, others are looking for family-friendly live music, and many are seeking agespecific recommendations. I love this job! There is something magical about helping others get excited about exploring Austin with kids in tow. At Free Fun in Austin, we have the very same goal. We want to give you the information you need to have a great time in our amazing city. Whether you live in Austin or are just passing through, our aim is to encourage exceptional local adventures for families. Be sure to visit the True Austin and Free Fun in Austin websites for timely events and information when planning your visit. For this e-book, Family Fun in Austin, I invited several of Free Fun in Austin’s contributing writers to each share an itinerary for a family outing in one area of town. From the University of Texas at Austin campus to Zilker Park and beyond, these local mamas have got you covered. I hope you enjoy reading their tips for checking out some of Austin’s most beloved sights. Please visit the website provided for each locale to find current prices and hours of operation before heading off. Although the writers focused primarily on budget-friendly entertainment, not all of the attractions listed in this e-book are free. Happy exploring! Heidi Gollub Founder & Editor, Free Fun in Austin
Heart of Austin: 1 Zilker Park Heidi Okla
3 Downtown Heather King
5 UT Campus Leigh Ann Torres
Best of the Rest: 7 South Austin Nicole Basham
9 East Austin Emily Dieringer
11 West Austin Heidi Okla
13 North Austin Nicole Basham
15 Gateway to the Hill Country Kristin Shaw
17 Cedar Park, Leander, Round Rock, Pflugerville Nicole Basham
Photography by Cherie Hogan Photography When Cherie isnâ€™t busy being a mom to her rambunctious kids, you can find her capturing the in-between moments through her cameraâ€™s lens. Specializing in lifestyle photography, she enjoys shooting weddings, families, and high school seniors in a way that captures the love and personality of the people she photographs. Find Cherie on Facebook and through her website.
There are so many reasons why Zilker Metropolitan Park is considered “Austin’s most-loved park.”
Located on Lady Bird Lake, it’s home to a wide variety of activities and some of the city’s most popular attractions: Barton Springs Pool, Zilker Botanical Garden, the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, Austin Nature and Science Center and the Zilker Zephyr kiddie train, as well as the Austin City Limits Music Festival held each fall and the Trail of Lights during the winter holiday season. This 351-acre park also offers several athletic fields and plenty of open space for playing games, taking a jog, or having a picnic. It could take days to explore everything Zilker Park has to offer. But there are a few family-friendly highlights that I just can’t let friends pass up when they are in town. When my family is planning a day at Zilker Park, the first thing we do on the way is stop for breakfast tacos or kolaches to take with us for a morning picnic. (Try Maria’s Taco Xpress for tacos or Moonlight Bakery for kolaches, both on nearby South Lamar Blvd.) We eat and play in the impressive playscape near the train depot, which features oversized xylophones and a real antique fire truck for climbing. We usually plan to ride the Zilker Zephyr kiddie train in the morning hours to avoid crowds or heat from the afternoon Texas sun (especially in the summer). The highlight of the ride for the little ones is definitely going through the tunnels. Choo choooo! After riding the train and playing on the playscape for a while, there are a variety of other destinations within Zilker to choose from, but my kids always ask to go to the Austin Nature and Science Center. Located on the western edge of Zilker Park, the Nature and Science Center includes lovely hands-on educational exhibits including the Naturalist Workshop, where kids can explore touchable specimens through microscopes and magnifying glasses. Visitors can walk through the wildlife exhibit and take a look at live animals such as coyotes, skunks, owls and raccoons that have been orphaned or injured and are now getting care from the staff. But the one aspect of 1
the center that my children adore most is the Dino Pit. Kids can play paleontologist in a large sandy area and dig for buried bones. And all of the fun offered at the Austin Nature and Science Center is absolutely free! Bordering on the Nature and Science Center, you’ll find the Zilker Botanical Garden. What a gorgeous place to take a stroll! The botanical garden is located on 31 acres of varied topography that is especially suited for displaying an array of native, hybrid and exotic plants. For a low fee, you can explore a Japanese garden that includes a little waterfall and koi ponds; the Pioneer Village, which includes a cabin built in 1840; the pretty rose garden, butterfly trail and cactus trail; and the Hartman Prehistoric Garden, which showcases a statue of the dinosaur Ornithomimus surrounded by plants originating from the Jurassic period. The Zilker Botanical Garden is a picture-perfect spot to capture some great photographs of your kids among the flowers. Following these adventures in Zilker, you’re sure to work up a Texas-sized appetite. While there are many dining options just outside of the park on Barton Springs Rd., my family always begs to go to Chuy’s for some delicious Tex-Mex. This original Chuy’s location is appealing to the kids with its vibrant colors and eclectic design, including a mirror-ball wall on the exterior and Elvis shrine inside. But it’s also the food that kids love—tacos, queso, Hatch green chile sauce, yum! Chuy’s is an Austin original that has caught on across the country, with restaurants popping up in more and more cities. If you’ve still got time for more Zilker fun after lunch, head back into the park for a dip in the cool, clear waters of Barton Springs Pool. The pool itself measures 3 acres in size and is fed from underground
springs, with an average temperature of 70 degrees— ideal for cooling folks down in the scorching summer heat, but many locals swim year-round. Entrance fees for the pool are quite reasonable. If you’re swimming with little ones, you can head to the south end of the pool where the water is more shallow, but be careful: It’s quite slippery, so water shoes can come in handy. Whether you dive right in, just dip in your toes, or simply sit on the grassy hillside by the pool for some people-watching, you can be sure that you’re getting a true taste of Austin by visiting this local gem. Freelance web producer Heidi Okla is mom to three boys (ages 3, 5 and 7) and can’t pass up any opportunity for fun family adventures. Browse her literacyfocused kids’ activities on her blog, Read ‘Em and Leap.
H e at h e r K i n g
acked into the center of Austin are entrepreneurs and corporate junkies in high-rise buildings, as well as hip urban-dwellers in modern lofts and condos. This business-focused center is nestled in the midst of what “keeps Austin weird”—locally owned mom-and-pop shops and restaurants for the hipster, the wanderer, the tourist and, well, everybody! Visitors will experience no shortage of sites to see, food to eat, stores to shop, and historical locations to peruse, but may have trouble narrowing them down. No worries, friends. You can’t go wrong with these faves. The Bullock Texas State History Museum is filled with the rich Texan history this state holds dear. Even the smaller tots are entertained with the expansive exhibits, which pull museum-goers into The Story of Texas. There are three levels of exhibits with different themes, and many are interactive. Come for the education and stay for some 3-D entertainment at the IMAX theater. Bonus: The first Sunday of the month, admission to the museum is free! Just a few blocks south of The Bullock Museum is the State Capitol of Texas. This beautiful building is surrounded by 22 acres of gorgeous grounds and monuments to discover. The Capitol Visitor’s Center is staffed with tour guides and counselors to take you on a (free!) tour of the building and grounds. Self-guided tours are also an option, and you’ll be provided with pamphlets to help your family get around and stay informed. After you’ve had your fill of Texas history, or if taking in the historical sites isn’t your thing, make your way south on Congress Avenue for a hilarious
improv show at the Hideout Theater. If you haven’t experienced improv theater, this is your chance, and if you love improv theater, this spot will not disappoint! Check the Hideout’s calendar for times to fit your trip agenda and look for their Sunday afternoon kids’ improv shows with Flying Theater Machine. Are you getting hungry? Thought so. Austin is known for its excellent food, and downtown has everything from super casual to fine dining. If you’re wrangling the small ones, a great stop in your day is the downtown Whole Foods Market at 6th and Lamar. A must-see for foodies, the flagship store has its own unique style and vibe. It’s also a great place to pick up some healthy lunch, shop for some snacks, and play. Yes, play! The roof of this Whole Foods is home to a playground for the kids and a great view of Austin for you. Got a babysitter? Head to the Driskill Grill, famously known for its exquisite food and atmosphere, located in the beautiful Driskill Hotel. It’s getting late … it’s about to get dark … are you ready for bed, or are you ready for BATS? Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in North America. We’re talking upward of 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats streaming out from under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. Seeing the bats is as easy as showing up somewhere near the bridge (at Congress Ave. where it crosses Lady Bird Lake). Each night at dusk, the bats leave their home en masse for their nightly hunting escapades. At the peak of the season, it can take up to 45 minutes for all the bats to leave the bridge. You will be witness to the largest cloud of any living thing you’ve ever seen! Kids love it, and if you’d like an even more unique experience, see the bats from the water. Both Lone Star Riverboat and Capital Cruises offer “bat cruises.” For planning purposes, note
that late summer is the best time to see the bats, but they begin congregating in March and leave for warmer climates in September. Word-Nerd Bonus Locale: One of the best bookstores ever is in downtown Austin. BookPeople, independently owned since 1970, is one of those places that brings out the “I’ve been there!” in people. And it’s not just a store, but a community, supporting local authors and their readers. Kids will love the children’s area (check the website for storytimes) and grownups will love … everything. It is located at 6th and Lamar (right by Whole Foods and right across the street from Waterloo Records, a local legend for music-ophiles). Heather King lives north of Austin and adventures downtown (or nearby) with her family almost every weekend. She is a freelance writer and also writes regularly at her personal website, The Extraordinary Ordinary.
Leigh Ann Torres
ust north of the Capitol and downtown Austin, the University of Texas campus is a perfect destination for an excursion. From history and culture to sports and education, the large but dense campus has something for everyone in the family. We’ll take you on a tour of some of its well-known highlights and hidden gems. Parking on the UT campus can be tricky, but this map of campus area parking garages gives you several options. Start at the southwest corner of campus, at the Harry Ransom Center (HRC), where guests can view the Gutenberg Bible, the first major book printed with moveable type in the West. The HRC owns one of only 21 copies in known existence. Also on view at the HRC is the first photograph, taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 or 1827. Both are on display in the lobby, but if you have time, head further into the HRC to view the current exhibit. Admission is free. Next, head up 21st St. and pause for a photo op in front of the Littlefield Fountain with the famous UT Tower in the background. Walk up the tree-lined South Mall, flanked on each side by some of the university’s oldest buildings (also known as the “Six Pack”) on your way to the Main Building for a 45-minute self-guided tour of the UT Tower. If you have a little extra time before your tour, explore nearby Battle Hall, also known as the Architecture & Planning Library, one of the oldest and most intricately detailed buildings on campus. A little further north, still walking distance, take the family to see the historical (and possibly haunted) Littlefield House and the Battle Oaks, three massive, intertwined oak trees that have stood since the Civil War. After your tower tour, check out the turtles at the College of Natural Sciences’ turtle pond, just on the north side of the Main Building. If you plan ahead, you can pick up some turtle food from a local pet shop and give them a little snack. 5
Speaking of snacks, the nearby
Texas Union has several options
for hungry tourists, from fast food to the Field of Greens Fresh Market, which sources its food locally. After grabbing a bite, head downstairs for a quick game at the Union Underground, a 12-lane bowling alley and billiard hall one floor below the food court. Check the website to see if Glow Bowl fits your schedule. Older kids will love the black lights, lasers and music. After throwing a few strikes and spares, it’s time to head to the south end of campus and the Blanton Museum of Art, located at the intersection of Congress Ave. and Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. The Blanton houses one of the largest collections of art in Central Texas and hosts many traveling exhibitions as well. Admission for kids under 12 is always free, and there’s a Family Creativity Center on the second floor mezzanine where budding artists can create their own works. Upon leaving the Blanton, you’re probably close to where you parked. It’s time to hop into your car and head over to the east end of campus for a few more can’t-miss spots. The LBJ Presidential Library and Museum, on Red River St., is a popular attraction honoring Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency. The museum houses three floors of photos, artifacts, telephone recordings and even a replica of the Oval Office during his time in the White House. Park for free in Lot 38 (entrance on Red River St., flanked by library banners). After soaking in some presidential history, it’s just a short walk over to the Texas Memorial Museum, where kids and adults alike can marvel at exhibits of fossils, wildlife, gems and minerals, plus a Texas Pterosaur, the largest flying creature ever found. Make sure you end this part of the tour with a stop at the Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. The UT Athletics Department provides guided tours, or you can take a self-guided tour with views of the football field, a museum filled with history and artifacts of Bevo—the university’s beloved Longhorn mascot—and the trophy room, displaying National
Championship and Heisman trophies, among other awards. Texas Union snacks be darned, after hoofing it all over the UT campus, you deserve a decent meal. Head on over to Trudy’s Texas Star, a campus-area tradition since 1977, and kick back with a Mexican martini while the kids gobble down some nachos, quesadillas or other TexMex delights. You’ve earned it! Leigh Ann Torres is a freelance writer and blogger living in Austin with her husband and three girls. She’s a pretty good cook, a mediocre photographer and a horrible housekeeper. She writes about the good, the bad and the ridiculous of life with twins plus one at Genie
in a Blog.
Best of the Rest
f you plan to spend more than a day or two in Austin, or just want to venture outside of its center, you’ll find that our city has tons more family fun to offer. Our guide to “the rest” of Austin, divided roughly by region, gives you the best bets for kid-friendly activities from families who live and play there.
Nicole Ba sham
If everything is bigger in Texas, then everyone is friendlier in Austin, and a laid-back, casual atmosphere makes it easy for travelers to fall in love with the capital city. Nowhere is this vibe more prevalent than in south Austin, an area longtime residents simply refer to as “south of the river.” Austin is a study in contrasts, with politicos, creatives, tech transplants, professors, foodies and families sitting side by side at locally owned coffee shops like the South Congress Ave. staple, Jo’s. South Congress—or “SoCo”—was once frequented by prostitutes and drug dealers, but is now a vibrant thoroughfare with boutiques and eateries lining both sides of the street. There’s a lot to see, but it’s well worth making a stop at Lucy in Disguise for the kids. Their eyes will pop as they step inside this deluxe costume store, brimming with anything you could possibly need to assume another identity. Lucy’s is packed from ceiling to floor with hats, wigs, masks, jewelry and all types of clothing, a lot of which you can try on. Although business is steady all year, expect the store to be especially chaotic in the weeks leading up to Halloween. Allens Boots is just south of Lucy’s and is a mainstay of SoCo. Upon walking in, you’ll be greeted by the 7
aroma of leather, thanks to Allens’ mind-boggling selection of cowboy boots for men, women and, yes, kids. Allens also has cowboy hats, western wear and other souvenirs to remind you that you are, indeed, in Texas. Once you’ve had your fill of cowboy culture, head south another two blocks to Big Top Candy Shop, a celebration of all things sugary. Not only does Big Top have over 300 types of bulk candy and thousands of varieties of packaged treats lining its walls, but the store also offers refreshments like shaved ice, floats and ice cream at its soda fountain. After a trip to Big Top, you are sure to have secured Parent of the Year status. Once you have poked your head into a few more stores on SoCo, load your crew into the car and make a trip down to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Although we have a lush botanical garden in Zilker Park, the Wildflower Center was created to honor its namesake, Lady Bird Johnson, the former First Lady who saw beauty in native plants. Stroll among gardens throughout the property to learn more about the different landscapes found in Central Texas. A highlight is the Cathedral of Oaks on the Texas Arboretum Trail, where you can select from dozens of swings and take a break in the shade beneath towering trees. You might have heard that we appreciate weird here in Austin, and one place that certainly fits the definition is the Cathedral of Junk. Unassuming from the street, Vince Hannemann’s backyard contains an evolving, gigantic DIY clubhouse you could spend hours exploring. Part art, part upcycling and all fun, the Cathedral of Junk shows that one person’s trash (rotary dial telephones, Barbies, tiles, tools, wires, tires and so much more) is truly another person’s treasure.
Call ahead to make an appointment to visit, and be sure to bring along a $10 donation for your group. From the days of Janis Joplin playing at Threadgill’s to the rise in popularity of the Austin City Limits Music Festival, music is interwoven into our city’s history. And no trip to Austin would be complete without live music, so the last stop is the Broken Spoke, one of Austin’s few remaining country-and-western bars. When you arrive, notice how old and new Austin have had to learn to coexist, with “the Spoke” almost engulfed by new developments. What hasn’t changed is the unpaved parking lot, the regulars gliding across the dance floor to local bands, and an entire room full of photos and other memorabilia from music legends who have played here in the past. If staying for two-stepping is out of the question, your crew can always try their hands at shuffleboard and sample the restaurant’s chickenfried steak, which is rumored to be the best in Austin. Chances are, you’ll find yourself getting comfortable. This is Austin, after all. A recovering workaholic, Nicole Basham now spends her time rediscovering Austin through her almost-8-year-old son’s eyes. Nicole, a soccer-playing mom, also enjoys tickling too close to bedtime, making and consuming baked goods, and being silly. You can find more of her writing at Free Fun in Austin, LiveMom and Savvy Source for Parents.
E m i ly d i e r i n g e r
he neighborhoods east of downtown hold a treasure trove of museums, locally owned restaurants and, perhaps unexpectedly, farms. The blackland prairie east of I-35 has played a central role in Austin’s farm-to-table movement. A handful of urban farms tucked within east Austin’s established neighborhoods offers families the unique opportunity to see where food is grown and to get to know the folks doing the growing, all less than 10 minutes from downtown. Springdale Farm grows over 75 seasonal veggies, beautiful flowers and herbs on their 5 acres. Your kids will have a blast watching Springdale’s chickens and ducks, but it’s Ellie May, the farm dog, who is sure to steal their hearts. Boggy Creek Farm, one of the oldest urban market farms in the country, has been feeding Austin since 1992. In addition to offering farm-fresh produce, Boggy Creek partners with other farmers to showcase local dairy and meats. You can kick back in the shade of a stately live oak tree and nibble on some award-winning artisan cheeses while your little ones drive toy trucks in the dirt under the watchful eyes of chickens. Head a little farther east, and you’ll find Green Gate Farms, unique in its mission to nurture the next generation of farmers through classes, workshops and camps. On select Fridays families are welcome to explore the farm, commune with the animals (hogs, goats and sheep, oh my!), and while away some time swinging under the old oak tree. Just a hop, skip and jump from any one of these farms lies The Thinkery, Austin’s new children’s museum, in the Mueller development (site of the former Austin Municipal Airport). The Thinkery has a focus on STEAM learning: science, technology, engineering, art and math. Two lovely, light-filled floors of exhibits—exploring everything from healthy living and kitchen science to tinkering and design challenges—embrace the STEAM theme and guarantee that your whole family, grownups included, will stay engaged and entertained. If you find yourself running short on time, the Currents exhibit upstairs is not to be missed. If your kids don’t wear themselves out on the Thinkery’s out-of-this-world playscape, the Mueller 9
development offers a plethora of energy-burning activities. Right across the street from the Thinkery’s entrance is Mueller Lake Park, which boasts a fenced-in playground (with water fountains and restrooms), an easy loop trail around the lake, ducks to feed, and acres of lush green grass for romping or lounging. Want to sweeten the deal with a picnic? Take a short walk over to Mueller Trailer Eats, where a bevy of food truck options awaits. Happen to be visiting on a Sunday? Grab some delicious local fare at the Mueller Farmers Market. Perhaps you’re hungry but walking just isn’t your thing? Drive on over to Paco’s Tacos. This momand-pop shop does its part to keep Austin weird while cooking up tasty tacos with a smile. Their kid-friendly outdoor seating area can’t be beat. If BBQ’s what you crave, Micklethwait Craft Meats is sure to satisfy. This tiny trailer will fill your brood with craft meats by the pound or by the plate (you’d be remiss to skip the sausage of the day), along with delectable sides and homemade desserts while they last. Picnic tables can fill quickly here but don’t despair. Get it to go and scoot down the road to Rosewood Park for a picnic with some room to roam. In her life before kids, Emily held jobs as a zookeeper, a middle school teacher and a tour bus driver in the wilds of Montana—not one of which prepared her for the adventures of motherhood. Now she’s living the good life in Austin with her husband, two sons and a Great Dane. When she’s not off gallivanting with her boys, you might find Emily baking up a mean batch of cupcakes, recalling obscure ‘80s song lyrics, or dreaming of peace and quiet.
henever friends come to town, I love to show them aspects of Texas that might surprise them. Let’s venture beyond those BBQ pits, boot-scootin’ dance halls or strolls along 6th Street. Many folks coming from afar picture all of Texas to be something out of a cowboy movie: dusty, dry and flat. For that reason, I just love taking visitors to marvel over the beautiful views of Lake Austin and the lush landscapes along the edge of the Texas Hill Country. For a busy day ahead, the first plan of action is to fuel up on delicious breakfast fare at an Austin original, Kerbey Lane Cafe. Named for its location on the quaint street in west Austin, Kerbey Lane Cafe is housed in an adorable bungalow that feels like stepping into Grandma’s house for some homemade goodies. The cafe is well loved for its selection of pancakes, ranging from vegan and gluten-free options to the most decadent ones (cinnamon roll pancakes, anyone?). This is a very kid-friendly establishment, and they even offer free meals for children on Tuesdays and sometimes
during summer months, so be sure to ask your server about specials. Once you’re full and ready to walk off some of those extra last bites, head over to Mount Bonnell. Hike up 100 steep stairs to reach one of the highest points in Austin for sweeping views of the lake and hills below. This is one of Austin’s oldest and most popular free tourist attractions, so be sure you bring the camera to capture the picturesque view. My kids like to sit and watch boats go by and pretend that they can spy into the pools of the fancy homes below. Mount Bonnell is a pretty quick stop and perfect for little ones with short attention spans. If you’re ready to take in more sights, there are two wonderful options that are in very close proximity. Down the hill you can choose between Mayfield Park and Preserve or Laguna Gloria—or maybe you can visit both, depending on how much time you have. Mayfield Park is one of my kids’ favorite destinations for a morning hike through short trails, but you can just as easily skip the trails and have a grand time walking around and enjoying the beautiful gardens, green lawns and quiet ponds full of lily pads, frogs and turtles. The most exciting feature of Mayfield Park, however, is the impressive muster of peacocks freely roaming the grounds. My children just love watching peacocks perch in the trees above us or strut around showing off their colorful plumage. And as a bonus activity, the kids can collect the feathers that scatter in the grass.
Just steps away from Mayfield Park, youâ€™ll find Laguna Gloria, one of my personal favorite places for a stroll and a picnic. Laguna Gloria is a Mediterranean-style estate and art museum with gorgeous gardens and breathtaking views of Lake Austin. Austinite Clara Driscoll purchased the property in 1914 and designed her home after being inspired by her honeymoon in Lake Como, Italy. The art museum is housed in the Driscoll Villa. The museum has an admission charge for adults, but you can visit for free on Tuesdays. â€”Heidi Okla
nicole ba sham
ure, south Austin may have the Barton Creek Greenbelt, but if you find yourself on the opposite side of town, the Bull Creek Greenbelt is a great place to enjoy the beauty of our outdoor surroundings. Not only is it free, but it’s also a great place to start your day, particularly during the warmer months of the year when you want to take advantage of lower temperatures. Depending on the time of year, the water level will vary, and there are several access points. The Lower Greenbelt ’s southernmost point is Bull Creek District Park , which is frequented by many dog owners and their furry companions. Formerly an off-leash park, Bull Creek is now on-leash, although parents of dog-phobic little ones should know that there are occasionally owners who “forget” that it has changed. The creek’s shore offers plenty of room to
skip stones or simply to test out which rocks make the biggest splash. On the southern edge of the park, you may find rock climbers testing their skills, and there are several places kids can also do some climbing of their own. The 3.5-mile long Lower Greenbelt trail extends all the way north to where Old Spicewood Springs runs underneath Loop 360, otherwise known as the Capital of Texas Highway. Keep an eye out for poison ivy along the trail, and be prepared in case owners don’t clean up after their dogs. Bull Creek can get deep at times, and you’ll often see children and dogs cooling off in its waters. You may also spot fish, tadpoles and even an occasional snake in the waters (usually non-venomous, but use caution). The Upper Greenbelt trail winds on the outside of Loop 360, starting at St. Edward’s District Park and ending a mile later in the neighborhoods to the west. The trail is a bit more shaded than on the other side of the highway, and seems to have fewer hikers. Once you’ve had your fill of hiking, you can continue your outdoor fun at Northwest District Park. Tucked between Burnet and Mopac, this park has plenty to offer. Tennis fans can get in a few sets on the courts, and during the summer months, the pool is a great place to cool off (the separate shallow wading pool is great for nascent swimmers and even has a bit of shade). Two playgrounds and two sets of swings can please both the younger and not-as-young set; the playground for younger children is mostly shaded and has a nearby a water fountain. Unlike some of the larger parks, parents can keep an eye on both playscapes at once. There is a ravine close to the playscapes that offers some off-thebeaten-path exploring and free play, and a picturesque pond completes the scene. On weekends, you’ll often spot families fishing in its waters. To the south of the pond is a field that is great for kite flying. After all of that outdoor activity, you are sure to be hungry, so load up the crew and head on over to Phil’s Ice House, just off of 183 in the Austinville shopping
center. You can pick from all manner of Austinthemed burgers, and the kids can play on the playscape out back until your food is ready. Make sure to save room for dessert! Amy’s Ice Creams next door offers a rotating menu of frozen goodness and such favorites as Mexican vanilla. Pick some delicious toppings and your “scooper” will crush them in for a decadent treat. If ice cream just isn’t your thing, Baked by Amy’s is also in the same shopping center and offers cookies, bars, cupcakes and other baked goods. Now that you are properly fed and have had a chance to rest your legs, hop back into the car and make your way to Jumpoline. Unlike the warehouses stocked with inflatables, Jumpoline has wall-to-wall trampolines. For the littler set, there is an area off to the side to get your jump on. Both kids and adults can show off their tricks to the latest pop songs. There is even a dodge ball area towards the back of the
facility, although it can sometimes result in tears if your kids get hit. For adults who would rather observe the fun, there are tables lining the outside of the main area. Once you’ve had your fill of jumping (adults will discover it gets tiring very quickly!), take a trip back in time on the short drive over to Kiddie Acres. This retro amusement park has been a favorite for Austin families since 1979. Choose from a carousel, train, Ferris wheel, boats, Jeeps, miniature golf and airplanes, or take a ride on a pony. The more ride tickets you purchase, the more you save, and you can use any leftovers on a subsequent visit. After this itinerary, you and your family are guaranteed a good night’s sleep, and you’ll have places you’ll probably want to revisit! —Nicole Basham
K r is t i n shaw
hen we planned our move to Austin from Atlanta, the only thing we knew is that we wanted to live on the far west side of town because we fell in love with the views of the Hill Country. And so we picked an apartment sight unseen in Westlake, and we haven’t left the area since. So where should you hang out with your family if you’re in this area? If you’re in the southwest part of it (near Bee Caves Rd. and Loop 360, also called Capital of Texas Highway), you might start with the fantastic Hill Country Galleria. There are plenty of places for kids to run and play, and there’s something for every season: splash parks in the summer and “snow days” (with manmade snow) in the winter. (Since Austinites joke that there are really only two seasons here, that pretty much covers it.) Begin the day with a walk around the Galleria, stopping at the new candy mecca, The Candy Jar, to ogle its contents, including gourmet chocolates from local chocolatier Maggie Louise Confections. If you’re there on a Sunday, don’t pass up an opportunity for brunch at The Iron Cactus. There is no way you can walk out of there without a happy, round tummy. And then you can walk it off windowshopping at the rest of the outdoor mall. If it’s not a Sunday, consider driving out Highway 71 past the galleria 15
It’s All Good Barbecue. With a pistol-shaped smoker in the front, you can’t miss it, and you won’t want to. The brisket is incredible, and the short ribs are a gift from heaven. Got more time? Head north on 360 and park at the Pennybacker Bridge (often called the “360 Bridge” by locals), which spans Lake Austin. If you have older kids, climb up the trail to the top of the rocks and look out over Austin from above the bridge. It’s dizzying and fantastic. Keep going north on 360 and head up to the Arboretum area, just past Great Hills Trail. The Arboretum has a hidden little park, found by walking past the fountain just beyond Amy’s Ice Creams, with iconic Texan marble cows standing guard—kids love climbing all over them. The grassy area is perfect for picnics and footraces, and the small boardwalk area has expansive views of Austin. Don’t miss Amy’s Ice Creams, of course, a homegrown company with some of the best ice cream in the country. While you’re there, head to the duck pond with some ice cream cone scraps and feel the locals. There is a beautiful path around the Arboretum, and in nice weather (which is well over 300 days a year in Austin), it’s an enjoyable walk. If you like to cook, bake, grill or, heck, EAT, step into nearby stores Con’ Olio and Savory Spice Shop to check out their wares. Con’ Olio carries an amazing selection of olive oils and balsamic vinegars from all over the world, which you can sample with the tiny cups
provided. Kids love to watch the staff fill the bottles from large silver vats. Hop next door to Savory Spice Shop, and everyone can inhale the scents of hundreds of spices and rubs while the knowledgeable staff answers your questions. When you’re ready to wrap up for the day, the choices for dinner are endless in this area. But if you want something local AND delicious, there’s nothing better than Z’Tejas. Although they have restaurants in four states now, the original was born in Austin in 1989. The Arborteum-area Z’Tejas has a gorgeous patio, plenty of room and wonderful food. The hot skillet of cornbread brought to your table is worth the stop. Kristin Shaw is a freelancer by day, writer by night, full-time wife of an Austin native, and mother of a mini-Texan. Her favorite things are family, ‘80s hair bands, classic cars, sports, Italy and dessert—not necessarily in that order. She’s proud to be a co-producer of the 2014 Listen to Your Mother show in Austin. You can reach her via Twitter (@AustinKVS); her blog, Two Cannoli; or on The Huffington Post, where she is a featured blogger.
nicole ba sham
here are a few attractions farther north we just couldn’t keep to ourselves. Brushy Creek Lake Park is a beautiful slice of Cedar Park. In addition to large playgrounds, ample pavilions, nicely maintained trails and a lake stocked with fish, the park is the site for a popular splash pad. Unlike other splash pads, the Brushy Creek Splash Pad is fenced in, which is helpful
if you have wanderers. If you are up for a walk or bike ride, the hike and bike trail connects to Champion Park with a huge, shaded sand pit with dino bones you can unearth nearby. The Quarry Splash Pad in Leander is unlike any you have visited before. As the name suggests, the splash pad was built on the site of a former quarry. Compared to many splash pads at local parks, the Quarry Splash Pad is huge, with a large sand pit, a water slide, kid-sized climbing walls, a waterfall and water cannons. There are a few covered pavilions or you can lay out your gear on the Astroturf. Admission is $2 per person. Be sure to bring cash for the automated pay stations. Another must-do park in the area is Play for All Abilities in Round Rock, which was designed for children with special needs. The large park is entirely fenced in, and the playscapes have adaptations to allow all kids to enjoy the amenities. Preschoolers will love the Brushy Creek Village, complete with a pretend library, school, grocery store, fire station and more. Very close by is the Dell Diamond, the home of the minor league Round Rock Express baseball team. The Diamond offers lawn seating and Friday night fireworks, and lots of game day promotions. Just up the road from the Dell Diamond is the Rock’N River Family Aquatic Center. Rock’N River is a crowd pleaser and is much easier on the gas tank and the wallet than some of the larger water parks in the area. Most kids’ favorite part is the lazy river, although the more intrepid take a ride on one of the two water slides. The younger ones can wade in the water playground, and shaded tables are perfect for taking a break or enjoying a picnic.
For a low-key, shady park, head to Pflugerville, east of North Austin and south of Round Rock. Pfluger Park’s playscape is shaded by large trees, and there’s also a gazebo and tiny playhouse. Gilleland Creek, a shallow creek great for wading, is just a few paces away from the playscape. With a low bridge across it, toddlers to preteens alike will enjoy playing “Pooh sticks” (throw a stick in the upstream side, run across and watch it come out the downstream side). Looking to end your vacation with a big splash? If there’s one splurge to be made, this water park is it. Near the 130 Toll Road in Pflugerville, the family water park Hawaiian Falls Pflugerville features a football field-sized wavepool, a 10,000 square-foot children’s activity pool, a 1,000-foot-long river, and multi-slide towers featuring speed slides, tube slides and a six-lane mat racer slide. The year-round Adventure Park features multi-level ropes courses, adventure trail climbing nets, a 60-foot high climbing and rappelling wall, a six-story free fall attraction and 500-foot long zip lines. —Nicole Basham
Published on Sep 11, 2014
Austin is a great city to explore as a family. From candy stores to urban farms, and mini locomotives to water slides, the state capital of...