The family who loves to play outdoors together will find heaven in Austin, but those who are less fresh-air inclined will also find plenty to do.
Let’s start in the historic downtown.
1. Bullock Texas State History Museum
Your kids might come away from the Bullock Texas State History Museum thinking that Texas is the center of the universe—that’s pretty much the goal of this big, bold, appealing institution. Interactive exhibitions include historical artifacts from La Belle, a shipwrecked French boat dating back to 1684, and the original Goddess of Liberty that stood on top of the Texas State Capitol. The two multi-sensory films shown in the Spirit Theater are loads of fun and an on-site IMAX theater plays the latest box office hits.
2. West 6th Street and North Lamar Boulevard
Southwest of downtown, all ages will find something to like at the three stores that share this intersection. There’s a large section for kids at BookPeople (p. ###); teenagers will especially love Waterloo Records if you hold back on the nostalgic tales about the music you grew up on. The vast Whole Foods (p. ###) is a perfect spot for lunch or takeaway; even picky eaters are bound to find something to suit their taste. (Little known fact: For the last several years, there’s been an ice skating rink atop this Whole Foods from late November to late January. The price ($10) includes skate rentals.)
3. Zilker Metropolitan Park
Head south a couple of blocks on Lamar Boulevard to reach Zilker Park, which is a great place to spend the entire afternoon. If the weather’s warm enough, you can splash in the Barton Springs Pool; its former bathroom is now a kid-friendly attraction, Splash! Into the Edwards Aquifer, which simulates entering a sinkhole in the ecosystem that created the natural swimming pool. At the 80-acre Austin Nature and Science Center, exhibits range from dinosaur tracks to a wildlife rehabilitation facility, with rescued birds of prey, mammals, and more. Not far from Barton Springs Pool, the narrow-gauge Zilker Zephyr Miniature Train departs on a 25-minute journey through the park every hour on the hour during the week, every half hour on the weekend, weather permitting. If you time things right, your family can be on Lady Bird Lake at dusk for the next activity.
4. Bat Viewing
Watching the 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from under the Congress Avenue Bridge from a vantage point on the lake—a Capital Cruise is a good option—is great fun.
A perfect place for a post-bat watching meal for the family, Tex-Mex favorite Güero’s, on South Congress Avenue, has a separate children’s menu and a fun atmosphere.
Two top sights for kids are in the southwest part of town, so it makes sense for you to start your day in this area. The rest of Day 2 has you heading back to the center of town.
1. Austin Zoo
The concept of keeping animals in enclosures of any kind is controversial, so it’s no surprise that this ethically oriented city’s nonprofit Austin Zoo exists as a sanctuary for creatures that can’t survive in the wild. More than 800 different species from all over the world are gathered here, from domestic goats, sheep, and deer to exotics like tigers and giant Galapagos tortoises.
2. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
The Luci and Ian Family Garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has several natural playscapes for kids, including a shallow creek to wade through, tree stumps to sit on, and caves to crawl through.
3. Austin Central Library ★★★
Return to downtown to check out the spacious new (2017) Austin Central Library, which has something for all ages, including teens who want to spend time online—visitors are given free access to computers with an ID card from an adult—or small kids who want to play or yell or touch things. If you spend the afternoon here, you can have dinner at the library’s Cookbook Café, which offers menu items from kids’ cookbooks, and cocktails for adults who might need “A Midsummer Night’s Dram” at the end of a long day.
If you’re visiting from late April to mid-September, consider heading out of town to visit the large Schlitterbahn Waterpark in New Braunfels, about 50 miles from Austin. Like any theme park, this one has lots of thrill rides, but it’s also in a natural setting on the Comal River so you don’t feel like you’re in an entirely artificial environment. Tubing, surfing, and every other way you can think of to get wet are the order of the day.
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.