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Fun Things to do in Austin with Kids
Planning a trip to Austin with kids? Like many visitors, I found myself in this lively Texan city for a conference. Instead of leaving everyone behind, I decided to tack on some extra days and have my husband and kids join me for a long weekend of family fun in Austin.
We lucked out with some incredible weather and were even gifted an extra day in the city when our flights were delayed. Not every flight delay is a gift, but since we had a few more things to do with kids in Austin that we would have missed otherwise, it was a win.
So, with no further ado, check out these 10 fun things to do in Austin with kids. Feel free to use the following guide to find what you need, or just read on.
Austin with Kids Video (90 sec.)
10 Things to do in Austin with Kids
1. Zilker Metropolitan Park
Sitting directly across Lady Bird Lake from Austin’s downtown core, Zilker Park has 351 acres of green space to explore. Within it, you will find the Barton Springs Pool (featured next), the Austin Nature and Science Center (with a pit where kids can dig for dinosaur bones), and the Umlauf (100% touchable) Sculpture Garden.
There is quite a large playground in the park (the Zilker Playscape) as well as a kids passenger train that little ones will love (the Zilker Zephyr).
Other family things to do in Austin’s Zilker Park include attending fun events such as the Kite Festival (March), or having a picnic while enjoying the annual summer musical or an outdoor movie.
Learn more at: http://zilkerpark.org.
2. Barton Springs Pool
Often mentioned as one of the coolest places to swim in America, Austin’s Barton Springs outdoor pool is pretty special. Located within Zilker Park, this giant pool is an astounding 3 acres in size and is fed from an underground spring.
Barton Springs holds an average temperature of 68-70 degrees and is open to swimmers year-round (although closed Thursdays for cleaning). Learn more about the Barton Springs Pool or read reviews on TripAdvisor.
Tips: In the summer, this pool gets very busy. If at all possible, avoid the midday crowds. Parking can also be crazy, so it’s best to avoid bringing a car (take Uber, Lyft or ride). Food is not allow inside the pool grounds, but there are picnic tables just outside.
3. Peter Pan Mini Golf
With just enough kitsch to keep Austin a little weird, the family-owned Peter Pan Mini Golf has been welcoming visitors since 1948. With two 18-hole courses to play on, you can enjoy hours of family fun.
If you get a little peckish from all that golf, the nearby Chuy’s Tex Mex restaurant is a top family friendly restaurant pick in Austin. Read reviews of Chuy’s on TripAdvisor.
4. The Thinkery Children’s Museum
The Thinkery hands-on exhibits encourage children to learn about science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM), while also having a ton of fun. Give yourself ample time as the museum has over 40,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor activities.
Permanent exhibits include Currents (water + sound), Let’s Grow (healthy living), the Light Lab and Our Backyard (an outdoor playground). Learn more at: https://thinkeryaustin.org or read reviews on TripAdvisor.
Save Money: On Wednesdays, the museum hosts Community Nights from 4-8pm where entry is by donation.
5. The Austin Zoo
I am always a little cautious about recommending places that keep animals in captivity. That said, we decided to visit the Austin Zoo because of their mandate to provides care for animals that have been retired from display at other facilities due to their age, health or other issues – as well as animals seized in animal cruelty cases.
From our experience, the animals at the Austin Zoo seemed well cared for and it was nice to see that a project was underway to expand the black bear habitat. If you are looking for things to do in Austin with toddlers, the zoo could be a hit. It has a little train for kids to ride as well at the opportunity to feed some of the animals in a farm-like setting.
6. Chicken Shit Bingo
My kids were really looking forward to Chicken Shit Bingo at the Little Longhorn Saloon…but we were late (shit happens)…and it was really busy. That said, if you arrived early (before 4pm on Sundays when they get started), I think this could be really fun.
Now, if you are wondering how to play chicken shit bingo, it works like this. For each round, you line up and buy a $2 ticket. As this is a very family friendly Austin event, kids 13 and under get to line up first, followed by people 91 years and above (and then everyone else). When the tickets are all gone, a chicken is put on the board and the game begins. If the bird does its business on the number matching your ticket, you win the cash.
Learn more at The Little Longhorn Saloon.
Note: Despite being very busy, I will say the people were very respectful (those Texas manners!) in that they let my youngest move right up to the front so that she could get a good view of the chicken. Just to give you an idea of the size of the crowd (on a November Sunday), it looked like this.
7. Congress Avenue Bridge Bats
From March to the end of October, approximately one million bats make their home under the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin. On most evenings, just after sunset, the bats take flight during a short window (about 45 minutes) making a striking visual against the dusk sky.
There are several ways to see the bats. You can watch them from on the bridge, from the lake shoreline at the Statesman Bat Observation Center or from on the water. The latter options can include renting a pedal swan, joining a kayak tour, or taking a bat boat cruise.
For the most accurate and up-to-date information on the bat flights, please check the Austin Bat Refuge Site. They post daily updates including flight times and some other useful information (such as the fact that the bats don’t fly if the winds are too strong or if temperatures drop).
Photo Tip: The bats photograph best against the sky, so you can get better photos from the lakeside or from the water (not from the bridge looking down).
8. Austin Toy Stores
Toy Joy in downtown Austin gets a lot of press. It delivers, in that it has a good selection and a lot of fun retro toys and collectibles. It is also conveniently located in the heart of the 2nd St. shopping area, next door to their sweets concept, Yummy Joy. They also have an outlet at the Austin airport.
If you don’t mind traveling a little further, however, Terra Toys is fantastic. It is fun, has unique toys (including an impressive selection of Matryoshka dolls) and has a very knowledgeable and dedicated staff. If you find yourself staying for a while (as we did), you may wish to also enjoy something from their espresso bar and cafe.
Just around the corner from Terra Toys is Dragon’s Lair Comics and Fantasy store. Now, I’m not going to lie…this kind of place is a little lost on me. If you are into comics, RPG and obscure board games (my son bought something called Pandemic*) – then this is the place for you. My kids also said that Dragon’s Lair was the best game and comic shop they had ever seen…so there you have it.
*Yes, my son seriously bought the board game Pandemic. I remember saying “That’s a little grim”. The irony was not lost on us as we cancelled trips and went into lockdown only a few months later.
9. The Domain Shopping District
About a 20 minute drive north of Austin proper, is the The Domain entertainment area, with a host of high-end retail (LV, Tiffany, Neiman Marcus), several hotels and a number of restaurant options. If you are visiting Austin with a teen (or a tween), this could be a hit.
My 12 year old daughter loved visiting the Erin Condren flagship store, Sephora, and the fun Sprinkles Cupcakes ATM. My son spent a fair bit of time trying out some fun new technology at the B8ta store.
In the central area of The Domain is a large grassy areas surrounded by restaurants (a great place for little ones to run around). We had a fun lunch at Culinary Dropout which has decent food, a lively atmosphere and games such as pingpong and foosball. They also have a kids’ menu. Read reviews for Culinary Dropout on TripAdvisor.
10. Austin Ice Cream and Sweet Treats
Wondering what to do in Austin with kids when you’ve done everything else? Go for ice cream or gelato, of course! We had so much fun at Amy’s Ice Creams (shown in video) that we ended up going twice. They offer over 350 flavors of ice cream (on rotation) at over a dozen Austin locations.
We also very much enjoyed our scoops at Gelateria Gemelli. If it were up to the kids, however, they would pick Amy’s every time for the fact that you can have topping hand-blended into your ice cream.
The place I really wished we could have made it to was Lick Honest Ice Creams, but sadly, we simply ran out of time (next trip). Hand churned, made from non-GMO milk and cream and farm fresh ingredients – what’s not to love?
Because we pretty much ate our way through Austin, I may as well to confess to the rest of it. We also enjoyed morning donuts from Voodoo (of Portland fame) and mini donuts from Little Lucy’s on Rainey St.
Best Hotels in Austin for Families
Thankfully, there are lots of kid friendly hotels in Austin. This list consists of Austin family hotels that are located close to the downtown core, consistently get rated highly by families, have a pool, and have room for at minimum 4 guests (although some of these Austin hotels sleep 6).
The Fairmont Austin 4★
This beautiful new Austin hotel has lovely rooms (for up to 4 people), a gorgeous pool area (with a sun screen spraying machine!), and several restaurant choices (with kids’ menus). They also often have nice little surprises, such as a complimentary chocolate tasting bar in the lobby during our stay. Check Fairmont Austin rates for deals for families (sometimes 50% off a second room) or read reviews on TripAdvisor.
Four Seasons 5★
My general feeling on the Four Seasons for families is that if you can afford it, you should do it. They always do a superb job of keeping kids (and parents) happy with nice kids’ menus, kid-sized robes, kids bath amenities, games and often, surprise treats.
The location can’t be beat either, right on the downtown side of Ladybird Lake and just a short walk to the South Congress shopping area. The hotel has a beautiful salt water pool, extensive grounds (with lawn games), as well as kayaks and stand up paddle boards for use on the lake. Check Four Seasons rates or read reviews on TripAdvisor.
Hyatt Regency 4★
I really like the Hyatt Regency’s location for families since it is very close to Zilker Park, the South Congress entertainment district, and the Congress Bridge bats – and yet only a short walk to downtown Austin. Rooms sleep up to 4 people but adjoining rooms are also available. While this hotel is a little dated, it get great marks for it service. Check Hyatt Regency rates or read reviews on TripAdvisor.
Residence Inn by Marriott 3.5★
The Residence Inn is popular with families for its central location, updated rooms (that can sleep up to six), included breakfast, and in-room kitchens. It has a small indoor pool as well as an on site restaurant and a Starbucks. Check Residence Inn rates or read reviews on TripAdvisor.
Hyatt Place Downtown 3★
With rooms that can sleep up to 6 and free breakfast (for World Hyatt Members), the Hyatt Place Downtown Austin is also very popular with families.The property is centrally located and very close the the convention center. Families love this hotel because it provide excellent value. It should be noted that the pool is quite small and is indoors. Check Hyatt Place rates or read reviews on TripAdvisor.
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