The blog for inspired travel with children

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Austin, Texas

There is plenty for young ones to do in Austin, although things get a little trickier during the summer, when you just don’t want to spend a lot of time outdoors.  Really, you don’t.  The good news is, kids are welcome just about everywhere, anytime – this is an extremely casual town.  Relaxing and having fun are big priorities here.  Public transportation is weak; unless you are limiting your visit to downtown, you’ll want a car to get around.

It’s hard to describe this place – a gradually evolving structure, entirely hand-built, made from and filled to bursting with – well, any piece of old junk you can think of!  You’ll find old toys, metal and plastic parts, steps made from old tires filled with concrete set with tile and other objects – you know what?  Just go – your kids will be amazed, and probably inspired, and so will you.  Call (512) 299-7413 to make a reservation, or just bang the gong at the entrance.  4422 Lareina Drive. 

The Austin Science and Nature Center is small but great for kids who like a hands-on experience. There is a room filled with bones, shells, and all sorts of natural finds. Walk down the boardwalk to visit dozens of rescued creatures; dip your toes in the creek, and dig up a skeleton in the Dino Pit.  Entrance is on Stratford Avenue, a few yards west of the Mo-Pac overpass (park underneath the overpass).

Everybody will tell you to go to Barton Springs – and you should.  It’s an enormous (and cold!) spring-fed pool in a lovely park setting. On the weekends it can get really crowded, but during the week it is quite relaxed.  There is a large playground, a miniature train that offers rides on the hour, a walk-up snack shop (warning: nothing really healthy here), and a tiny dilapidated visitor’s center.  Deep Eddy (my personal favorite) is another larger spring-fed pool (but with a concrete bottom) on the north side of Lady Bird Lake.  It is typically less crowded and has an enormous shallow end, perfect for kids.  A small playground sits next to the pool complex (just outside the gates). There are also two kid-friendly restaurants within a minute’s walk – Mangia Pizza and Magnolia Café.  Take the first left (into the parking lot) after Veteran’s Drive, heading west on Lake Austin Blvd.

The Wildflower Center is relaxing and inspiring for adults (from both an architectural and a natural perspective), and a great place to explore for kids.  There are trails for hiking, demonstration gardens, indoor exhibits, and more.  Kids will love climbing to the top of the tower at the center of the complex.  There are picnic areas as well as a café.  4801 La Crosse Avenue

Honestly – unless it is raining or 100 degrees out and you just NEED somewhere to take the kids, skip the Children’s Museum. I include it in this list because it is right there downtown, it's about the only "museum" really geared for kids, and it just feels weird to ignore it.  If there are two adults in tow, make the best of things and take turns leaving the museum for a spot of shopping on 2nd street or a coffee from Jo’s.  201 Colorado Street

It’s easy to fit in a few rounds of mini-golf at this very cute miniature golf course.  Parking is limited but a spot can usually be found around the corner on Dawson Road.  1207 Barton Springs Road

The very impressive 19th century Capitol Building is fun to explore; it’s certainly the grandest building around, constructed from lovely pink granite with an enormously high dome. You can peek into the House and Senate Chambers, and inspect the portraits of every Texas governor in the rotunda.  Outdoors, the graciously sloping lawns, criss-crossed by paths and punctuated by statues and monuments, are also really pleasant for a picnic or just for running around.  At the southeast corner of the grounds you’ll find the Visitor’s Center, housed in the restored General Land Office building.  There are a few exhibits inside, as well as a gift shop.  Free parking in lot on San Jacinto between East 12th and East 13th Streets.

During the summer, the Alamo Drafthouse theater chain has special (and sometimes free) screenings of classic kids movies.  The best thing is that the Alamo offers a full menu with plenty of kid-friendly options.  Check their website to see if anything fun is happening during your visit.

The Bats

Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in the world - about 1.5 million little fellas.  You can view their mass exit from their digs beneath the Congress Avenue bridge between March and November, right around sunset.


I like all of these places, and so do my kid and husband.

Homeslice A sit-down restaurant with a by-the-slice business right next door
House Pizza Excellent pizza just east of the Hyde Park neighborhood.
Phil’s Burgers, fries and ice cream – each location has a playground
Whole Foods The flagship store in downtown Austin has an enormous food court with something for everybody; there’s also a dining patio with a play structure upstairs. 525 North Lamar Blvd.
Central Market Pick something up from the café, or picnic fixings from this amazing grocery store, and eat on the deck (only at the central location) – the kids can play on the play structures under the oaks.  After lunch you can walk around the pond and visit with the ducks. 4001 North Lamar
Farmer’s Market There are a number of delicious breakfast options at the Saturday market – tamales from the GG, baked goods from Cake & Spoon, or whatever’s on offer at Dai Due.  Grab a coffee or hot chocolate at Texas Coffee Traders. Republic Square, Saturday mornings
Progress Coffee This converted warehouse offers views of downtown, the freeway, train tracks (and the occasional train), and a couple of metal scrap yards – and is still a very pleasant place to sit and have a snack!  500 San Marcos Street
Avenue B Grocery The oldest continuously operated grocery store in Austin, this sweet little store makes deli sandwiches in the back.  Eat at the outdoor picnic tables or stroll a few blocks east to Shipe Park for a picnic.  4403 Avenue B
Quality Seafood A busy but easy-going seafood restaurant and fish market with great fish tacos and colorful ocean-themed décor.  5621 Airport Blvd.
Sandy’s A great and very old school burger and soft serve stand; picnic tables in the back.  603 Barton Springs Road
Big Top Candy Shop Candy, candy, candy!  And more candy.  Also ice cream.  And candy.  1706 South Congress Avenue
Nau’s Enfield Drug Another old Austin landmark – the lunch counter is in the back of this charmingly un-updated neighborhood pharmacy.   1115 West Lynn Street
Fonda San Miguel The dining room is on the fancy side, but if your child is well-behaved, try going early and eating in the atrium in the front.  The atmosphere is lush and a little magical.  Be sure to say hello to the resident parrot.  2330 North Loop
Justine’s Another grown-up place, but children may do fine going early and sitting outdoors.  4710 East 5th Street


Toy Joy, just north of the university campus, is a toy store for all ages; it is packed to bursting with an endless variety of entertaining doo-dads; a tiny connected shop sells vegan soft serve and other snacks.  2900 Guadalupe Street
Terra Toys, located farther north, is a more conventional (but still very indie) toy shop that features a few small play areas near the rear of the store.  2438 West Anderson Lane
Wee Modern clothing and cuteness for infants and toddlers.  417 West 2nd Street
Bookpeople This is a huge independent bookstore with a good-sized children’s department featuring regular story-times.  603 North Lamar Blvd.
Uncommon Objects If your child is gentle with antique merchandise, try taking them them to this vintage/antique shop – it’s an inspiring visual adventure.  1512 South Congress Avenue
Lucy in Disguise Browse animal masks, fake teeth, and any other costume or disguise you can think of - there are thousands here.  1506 South Congress Avenue

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Summer Museum Exhibits

My son’s tolerance for museums varies.  He can spend hours and hours at a place with hand-on components – especially if they involve water.  He has almost no interest in rooms filled with paintings, although sometimes I try to prolong our stroll with a little game of I Spy – he gets a little exposure to the art and I get a few extra minutes to gaze.  I would love to take him to the following exhibits, happening this summer around the world – I think he’d enjoy them for a reasonable amount of time, and I would too!

The Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris is hosting an exhibit on that personable elephant beloved by children the world over, Babar.  The exhibit will feature original artwork as well as artifacts and runs through September 2, 2012.

In California, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) is showcasing this amazing sculpture:

 Metropolis II by Chris Burden

Created by the artist Chris Burden, Metropolis II is an exquisitely planned jumble of miniature roads and railways, with actual tiny vehicles zipping along.  We’ve seen plenty of model railroads in our day, but nothing like this.  While you’re there, you can’t miss the La Brea Tar Pits, located at the Page Museum right next door.  This amazing museum features over a million Ice Age fossils, with an active on-site dig recovering more fossils all the time.  Children can watch paleontologists at work and explore the Pleistocene garden – a landscape that recreates the Los Angeles of 10,000 – 40,000 years ago.

Yayoi Kusama isn’t exactly a children’s artist, but her work often has an undeniably child-like appeal.  I’d love to take my son to her upcoming retrospective at the Tate Modern in London and see what he thinks.  You’ll have to act fast on this one – the exhibit runs only though June 5, 2012. 

The Passing Winter by Yayoi Kusama

At the Queensland Art Gallery in Australia in 2011, Kusama installed the "The Obliteration Room," a domestic scene painted entirely white.  Over the course of two weeks, nearly every surface was covered by colored dot stickers, given to children to place where they wished.  Amazing!

The Obliteration Room By Yayoi Kusama

Another exhibit happening this summer at the Queensland Art Gallery really invites the participation of kids.  Artist Fiona Hall’s project “Fly Away Home” deals with the worlds of humans and birds, as well as issues of migration and the environment.  Children can contribute by making a bird and nest of their own from paper money designed by Hall.  The exhibit runs through September 16, 2012.

I've never planned a trip solely around a museum exhibit - but I can see doing so for the right exhibit.  I'm still sorry I missed the Alexander McQueen show at the Met last year!  I may try to catch the show on Jean-Paul Gaultier at San Francisco's De Young Museum this summer - I think my son would go for it, and when we're done, we can stroll over to one of his favorite playgrounds right there in Golden Gate Park.  Everybody wins!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Stay: Berlin Radisson Aquadom

Berlin is pretty high on my list of Places I Really Want to Go, for lots of reasons.  I just keep hearing about how cool it is and about the creative energy happening there.  Lots of artists, lots of ideas, lots of architecture, lots of all kinds of great stuff.  And then I saw this:

Now, I normally don’t fuss too much over hotels – I try to find something clean and affordable in a decent location.  Done.  But the Berlin Radisson is something else.  It’s… spectacular!  Or – is it a ridiculous waste of water and resources?  Perhaps both…  I do know my son would flip out over this.

According to Radisson, the 25 meter high Aquadom holds more than 1500 tropical fish and over 50 species.  The glass elevator at the center of the Aquadom carries 48 guest and one guide; the elevator deposits riders onto a viewing platform just beneath the roof of the hotel. 

I might also flip out.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Copenhagen, Denmark

What follows is a verrrry incomplete list of Places You Must Take Your Child While in Copenhagen (or Kobenhavn) – after all, we were there for less than a week!  Not nearly enough time to do everything we wanted.  So instead of an exhaustive list, I’ll tell you what we did do that was wonderful – which was just about everything!  What fabulous spots did you find while in Copenhagen?   

Tivoli Let’s just get this one out of the way, because, come on: TIVOLI!  It’s always the first thing on everyone’s list.  Yes, it was fun.  However our son was too short to go on most of the rides (he was 5 1/2), so we spent much of our time there at Petzi’s World, which is an admittedly delightful playground within Tivoli.  We also spent an insanely long time in line waiting to order food. I think next time we may skip Tivoli and head to Bakken, another historic pleasure park located outside of the city, in a more bucolic setting. 

National Museum of Denmark The National Museum is a winner for everybody – beautiful displays of art, artifacts, interior architecture, mummies, etc. There is also a wonderful kid’s play area that includes a Viking boat, enchanting settings for dress-up and make-believe, and lots of opportunities for climbing and hiding.

Rosenborg Palace Garden We could have spent all day here – the formal gardens are so beautiful, and so relaxing to simply wander around.  Our son could have spent all day just in the gorgeous playground here.  Its design is incorporated into the formal arrangement of the gardens as a whole, and is enclosed by hedges.  Four distinct play areas extend from a central sandpit, which has a "moat" and is presided over by two incredible carved wooden dragons.  The play areas are simple and even elegant – one was a small forest of wooden posts, some of them with little carved elements here and there.  Another area was similar, but with wooden stumps instead of posts. There is a small café across the path if you get hungry.

Rosenborg Castle and Royal Treasure The castle is beautiful, and do explore it.  But the Royal Treasure – good lord!  The collection of jewels is large and exquisite and so sparkly it made me crazy. 

The University of Copenhagen Botanical Garden We wandered into these gardens by chance late one afternoon, and were glad we did.  It’s a beautiful and fascinating place to wander and make discoveries.  So many winding paths and little botanical worlds within the garden.
The Round Tower Do you need to exhaust your young one?  The Round Tower features a winding interior ramp that goes up and up and up…  at the top there is a small outside viewing area, with views all around.  We were grateful for the tiny and unexpected bathroom about halfway up.

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art This wonderful museum is a few train stops north of the city and we almost didn’t go for that silly reason – I’m so glad we did!  The collections and exhibits were terrific, and the site itself, studded with large sculptures, is just a delight to stroll around.  There is a large grassy hill (great for rolling down) that looks out over the sea, with a wooded hillside criss-crossed with narrow footpaths.  The footpaths are part of an art installation.  

At the rear of the building is a large children’s wing, with connected rooms for different art activities.  The small lego room features a table and wall covered in grey lego flat pieces – all of the legos were yellow.  This simplified color palette really makes you focus on form – I thought it was great.  At the bottom of the wing is a large sculpture studio, with generous tables and slabs of clay ready to be worked.  From here we headed right out into the back of the property, where a path winds around a small lake (look for the miniature houses hidden in the woods) and a long hillside slide proved irresistible to my son. 

Royal Naval Museum This museum is home to hundreds of meticulously crafted scale model sailing ships.  I didn’t think of this as my cup of tea before we went, but I found them stunning.  The ships were used as models for shipbuilders, who might not be able to read or understand technical drawings.  My son was more interested in the very detailed dioramas dramatizing historic sea battles.  There’s also a terrific children’s play area in the basement with a pirate ship and “docks”.

While I wish we had had the chance to dine at Noma, we mostly kept it cheap and no-frills when it came to meals.  This involved eating more hot dogs than I really care to admit.  We couldn’t believe how many hot dog vendors we came across, but apparently it is a Thing.  Luckily, we also found a great little pizza place near our hotel, right next to a skate park – we dined al fresco and O got to practice his version of parkour as soon as he was finished.

Pizzaria La Fiorita: corner of Nansengade and Ahlefeldtsgade Streets

Arhus, Denmark

We spent just a few days in Arhus, but we came to really like it – it has a cozy feel, is very charming, and is easy to get around.  We were in town for the SPOT Festival, which features mostly Scandinavian bands.  We saw some great music at night, and during the day, while my husband was working, my son and I explored on foot.  First we wandered over to admire the sturdy brick Cathedral, which has a play fountain in the plaza out front.

We caught a bus in the center of town that took us to the beach just outside of town.  Since I don’t read Danish and was totally confused by the posted schedule, I just crossed my fingers and hoped I picked the right bus – and I did! The beach was low-key and very peaceful, although there was a bit of drama when a dense bank of fog suddenly rolled in, as jet-skis tried to race ahead of it and swimmers fled the water en masse. 

The beach, just south of downtown

One day we visited the large and curvaceous greenhouse in the Botanical Garden.  We wandered from one increasingly humid room to the next, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the incredible flora growing all around us.  The greenhouse backs up to Den Gamle By (The Old Town, a sort of mini historical faux-village representing a variety of time periods), which we skipped although it looked cute (my son wasn’t interested).  Next time!

 Inside the Greenhouse

Instead, we walked up the hill to the Steno Museum, a fascinating museum dedicated to the history of medicine and astronomy.  The museum had an entire room devoted to reproduction, with a giant soft sculpture womb (we climbed in and took a mini-nap), pregnancy costumes for trying on, and all kinds of startling items on display.  This was the type of place that could never-in-a-million-years happen in Texas, and it was great to see the subject explored so straightforwardly, even humorously. 

The Steno Museum also had all sorts of displays featuring historical medicines, prosthetics, equipment, you name it. These were fascinating - and occasionally horrifying.  While the astronomy part of the museum was a little advanced for my son, there were some hands-on exhibits that he was able to enjoy and even learn a little something from.

Arhus is one of those places that I would never have thought to visit (until the invitation to the SPOT Festival came along), but which turned out to be very charming.  We were pleased to meet you, Arhus!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Stay: The Landmark Trust

The Landmark Trust is a wonderful organization in the UK that buys and restores unique and often spectacular historic buildings. Then, instead of turning them into “hands-off” museums or private facilities, they make them available for rent to the general public.  The Trust’s goal is "to promote enjoyment of historic buildings by enabling as many people as possible to experience living in them for a short time." 

Each property is fascinating in its own way, and the Trust provides a thoroughly researched history for each one. I can't think of a more enjoyable way to teach children about the magic of architecture and history -  instead of touring a historic site with fences and signs all over the place, you can explore, play, dine, and just relax in one.  Imagine spending a whole weekend in a 13th century castle!  Or perhaps a 18th century gothic temple is more to your taste.  There is even a former train station available – perfect for train-obsessed little boys.

The Trust also operates five properties in Vermont (including Rudyard Kipling’s former home), two in France (including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s former weekend house), and four in Italy (including the former homes of Keats and Robert and Elizabeth Browning).

These are just a couple more from the UK - I'm getting addicted to browsing through these!

Find out more and enjoy perusing all of the amazing properties here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

M. Sasek - So Inspiring!

M. Sasek’s series “This is…” has enchanted countless young travelers – I still remember being given my now dog-eared copy of “This is San Francisco” by my grandparents – I loved the jazzy illustrations and simple descriptions of city life.  It got me excited about my upcoming visit to the city!

M. Sasek (also known as Miroslav Sasek) was a Czech austhor and illustrator who later lived in Munich and Paris (both cities are included in the series).  He originally trained as an architect, and you can see his keen understanding of structure in his drawings of buildings – the illustrations overall are very lively and uncomplicated, but the buildings are quite correct and relatively detailed.  I think they ground the pictures and make the scenes really come alive!  The people are also wonderfully drawn - real characters, all of them...

Parisian artist

My dad recently gave “This is Texas” to my son, and it is just as captivating, if a little out-of-date. Well, they all are, really – they were written between 1959 and 1970.  New editions contain updates in the back, and it’s fun to compare the old and new, and see how things have changed.  We live in Texas, and although I love to leave the state when I can, it’s nice to see O getting interested in exploring his home state, too.

I wish we’d had the New York book before our trip there a few years’s ago –perhaps I’ll pick it up anyway, and see how it compares with our memories!

images by sarah and from

What's it all about?

Kids can enjoy the simplest pleasures, and find beauty and adventure just about everywhere.  Now, that doesn’t mean I believe you should just stay home!  I’m starting this blog because I love traveling with my family, and hope to do more and more of it.  My goal is to create a place where I can share the adventures we’ve had, and get inspired by the adventures of others.  I also want a place for armchair traveling, since I do a fair amount of that too!  I want to explore other travel-related topics as well – things like languages, great ideas or products, inspiring books…  Finally, I want to do all this with an eye for beauty and great design – because I just can’t help myself!  Let's have some adventures, shall we?