The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum and the Texas Memorial Museum, are child-friendly, but outdoor attractions are still Austin's biggest draw for children. There's lots of room for children to splash around at Barton Springs, and even youngsters who thought bats were creepy are likely to be converted on further acquaintance with the critters.
Austin has the largest urban bat population in North America. Some visitors are dubious at first, but it's difficult to be unimpressed by the sight of 1.5 million of the creatures, who emerge from under the Congress Avenue Bridge shortly before dusk and flitter through the air in a long winding ribbon floating above the river on the east side of the bridge.
Each March, free-tailed bats migrate from central Mexico to various roost sites in the Southwest. In 1980, when a deck reconstruction of Austin's bridge created an ideal environment for raising bat pups, some 750,000 pregnant females began settling in every year. Each bat gives birth to a single pup, and by August these offspring take part in nightly forays for bugs, usually around dusk. Depending on the size of the group, they might consume anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 pounds of insects a night -- one of the things that makes them so popular with Austinites. By November, these youngsters are old enough to fly back south with their group on the winds of an early cold front.
While the bats are in town, an educational kiosk designed to dispel some of the more prevalent myths about them is set up each evening on the south bank of the river, just east of the bridge. You'll learn, for example, that bats are not rodents, they're not blind, and they're not in the least interested in getting in your hair. Bat Conservation International (tel. 512/327-9721; www.batcon.org), based in Austin, has lots of information, as well as bat-related items for sale. Log on to the website or phone tel. 800/538-BATS (538-2287) for a catalog. To find out what time the bats are going to emerge from the bridge, call the Austin American-Statesman Bat Hotline (tel. 512/416-5700, category 3636). A lot of people don't know this, but sometimes the bats don't leave all at once. If you can still hear bats chattering from beneath the bridge, sit tight; you may have an encore presentation.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.