Kids Rule in Austin

From its children’s museums to its expansive parks and playgrounds, Austin welcomes kids with open arms.

Austin is a kid-friendly town, especially for the type of children who like to spend time with their active, fitness-minded and intellectually curious parents. Here are a few top Austin attractions and activities to consider adding to your Austin vacation that have been big hits in my family. 

1. To the Museums

The Austin Children’s Museum, in the heart of downtown, features a rotating group of traveling and homegrown feature exhibits in the museum’s main space, as well as a core group of permanent exhibits that allow kids hands-on play at everything from construction to train engineering to hanging upside down like Austin’s famed bats. The museum’s latest exhibit, En Mi Familia, explores Mexican-American culture as envisioned by famed artist Carmen Lomas Garza.

201 Colorado St. Tel. 512-472-2499. Admission: $6.50 for adults and children over 2, $4.50 for toddlers 12 to 24 months, free for infants under 12 months. Hours: Tue. to Sat. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sun. 12 to 5 p.m.

Older kids interested in Texas history should visit the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, which colorfully explores Texas’s rich and complicated history. The Bullock also hosts the city’s lone IMAX Theater, which offers 2-D and 3-D shows and during the summer, hosts a series of free Friday night concerts.

1800 N. Congress Ave. Tel. 512-936-8746. Combination tickets prices (for exhibits and IMAX): $12 for adults 19 to 64, $7 for kids 5 to 18, $5 for children ages 3 to 4. Children age 15 and under must be accompanied by someone 16 or older. Hours: Mon. to Sat. 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sun. 12 to 6 p.m.

The McKenna Children’s Museum, 45 minutes to the south in New Braunfels (but well worth the drive) allows kids interactive opportunities to explore space, banking, medicine and camping.

801 W. San Antonio, New Braunfels. Tel. 830-606-9525. Admission: Labor Day to Memorial Day, $5.50; Memorial Day to Labor Day, $7.50. Infants 12 months and under, free. Hours: Summer, Mon. to Sat. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thu. 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sun. 12 to 5 p.m. Spring, Fall, Winter, Tue. to Sat. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sun. 12 to 5 p.m. 

2. A Different Sort of Zoo

The Austin Zoo is a little off the beaten path both in location and approach. Located about a half hour west of downtown, the Austin Zoo is primarily a sanctuary for exotic animals that were rescued from private owners. Though it started as a goat ranch, the zoo now features a diverse range of more than 300 animals representing more than 100 different species, including lions, tigers, jaguars, monkeys, iguanas and Galapagos tortoises.

10807 Rawhide Trail. Tel. 512-288-1490. Admission: $8 for adults, $5 for kids 2 to 12. Hours: daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Next: Great Outdoors, Kid Spa and Restaurants

3. The Great Outdoors

For Austinites, “going to the park” means heading out to the vast expanse of Zilker Park just southwest of the downtown corridor. In addition to being one of the city’s most trafficked playgrounds, Zilker is home to Barton Springs Pool, a natural, spring-fed, notoriously refreshing (read: 68 degrees Fahrenheit year-round) pool. The Zilker Zephyr train ride within the park gives families a close-up view of creeks and other natural features. 2100 Barton Springs Road. Tel. 512-974-6700.

Speaking of pools, the oldest swimming pool in Texas, Deep Eddy Pool, features a kid-friendly shallow end, a newly restored bathhouse and movie nights during the summer where visitors can take in a family-friendly film while soaking in one of the city’s most beloved bodies of water. 401 Deep Eddy Ave. Tel. 512-472-8546.

For fans of flowers, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is just the ticket. The center, located in far south Austin, is an outgrowth of a foundation created by the famed former First Lady and actress Helen Hayes in 1982, and features more than 40 acres of native Texas flowers and plants in all their colorful splendor.

4801 La Crosse Ave. Tel. 512-292-0100. Admission: $7 for adults, $6 for seniors 60 and over and students with an ID, $3 for kids 5 to 12, free for children 4 and under. Hours: Tue. to Sat. 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sun. 12 to 5:30 p.m.

4. Pampering for the Post-Pampers Set

Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa, located a half-hour southeast of Austin near Bastrop, is adding a novel new concept to its Spa Django for adults—a spa catered specifically to kids. Called Wild Hare Spa, its services include massages, an “ice cream pedicure,” and an “ooey gooey manicure” in which jelly leaves peanut butter for the more glamorous surroundings of the spa. Rates start at $239 per night for two adults and two children. 575 Hyatt Lost Pines Road, Lost Pines. Tel. 512-308-1234.

5. Your Table (and Playscape) Is This Way

For some kids, the dining out experience isn’t complete without scampering up and down a playscape. Options for kids who want to eat and slide include:

The flagship Whole Foods in downtown Austin, which is regarded by some of its fans to be a Disneyland of food, has a playscape on a rooftop terrace—which is also home to a Christmastime ice skating rink. 525 N. Lamar Blvd. Tel. 512-476-1206.

Central Market, another Austin foodie destination with a café and a number of grab-and-go selections within the main store, has a sizeable playscape within sight of its courtyard stage, which hosts Austin musicians throughout the year. 4001 N. Lamar Blvd. Tel. 512-206-1000.

Phil’s Icehouse was created with kids and their parents in mind—in addition to an assortment of burgers, hot dogs and other libations, Phil’s has a playscape complete with giant cow statues and a shuffleboard court. There’s also an Amy’s Ice Creams store connected to Phil’s, for one of Austin’s favorite sinful desserts. 5620 Burnet Road. Tel. 512-524-1212.

[Read about more recommended restaurants in our Austin Eats article.] 

Destinations: Austin

Themes: Art and Museums, Family Travel

Activities: Arts and Entertainment, Museums