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

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