Families visiting Austin have no shortage of fabulous and fun things to do. In fact, it’s going to be difficult to narrow down your itinerary. Pack your three-day itinerary with excellent outdoor adventures, cool interactive museums and play spaces, kid-friendly restaurants and bars, and lots of ice cream (for the kids and parents).
If you’ve been cooped up in the car (or a plane) all day, head to Alliance Children’s Garden to get the wiggles out. This 2-acre play heaven is an adventure for kids of all ages. Climbing walls, slides, interactive musical elements, mounds to run on and under, an intricate and enormous ropes net, and a super splash pad that lights up at night. If you’re rollin’ with teens, rent a paddleboard or a kayak at Ladybird Lake, hike the trails, grab a snack at Alta’s Cafe, or admire all the excited doggos. From these locations, you can easily walk to the Congress Bridge to witness the thrilling nighttime flight of Austin’s Mexican free-tailed bats (late spring-fall).
For dinner, Easy Tiger’s south location has a play area for kids and craft brews and cocktails plus their famous soft pretzels and sandwiches. If you’re headed even further south, Meanwhile Brewing also has a patio and a play area but also boasts a soccer field and frequent live music so make sure to check the calendar. For something a bit more lowkey (and inside!) pancakes for dinner is something both parents and kids can enjoy at Magnolia Cafe. Along with their creative pancake menu (Gingerbread Banana Pecan, Chocolate Chip, Buttermilk Blueberry!) Magnolia serves American diner classics. Don’t forget to stop at Amy’s Ice Cream on South Congress. Amy’s is famous for their Mexican Vanilla but they are always innovating new flavors. Definitely get two scoops.
Start your day off with coffee at community favorite Brentwood Social House where they serve lovely pastries, excellent coffee and tea, and activities for little ones like a train table, books, toys, and games. After your breakfast, treat your kids (and yourself!) to an morning at Thinkery Austin, an amazing children’s museum focused on STEAM learning. The entire museum is interactive and play-based so kids get their brain working and expend some energy. Plan to spend a couple of hours here with the exhibits — shopping at the faux farmers market, learning simple machines, splashing boats, playing with colors, and making stuff. Colleen’s is a nice, walkable spot for lunch with a kids menu. Locally owned, this southern spot has a delectable menu with staples like biscuits, deviled eggs, fried chicken, and pork chops. Just a short drive away, Homeslice is also a crowd-pleaser. Not only because of their incredible pies, garlic knots, and kids playground but also because they give kids a dough ball to occupy their time before the pizzas arrive.
If the weather is reasonable, check out Mount Bonnell, Austin’s highest point. It’s not super strenuous and the views are killer. Right around the corner is Mayfield Park. Open to the public, this park has gorgeous peacocks who are more than happy to strut and show off their vibrant fan of feathers. Nearby Laguna Gloria is one of Austin’s most beautiful spots. The Visitor Center at the Moody Pavilion offers free backpacks with art supplies, games, and puzzles for your little ones. Also check their site for scheduled family activities. Summers in Austin might be less than conducive to all this outside activity so consider the short jaunt to do something wholly unexpected… ice skating! Chaparral Ice is a giant ice skating rink for all ages. Playland Skate Center also offers skating, except it’s the roller kind. Get your full dose of nostalgia with the funky lights, great tunes, and a giant skate-shaped disco ball lighting up the rink. Kids 3 and under skate free. For dinner and/or drinks, stop into Culinary Dropout in The Domain. Your youngins can play yard games, ping pong, giant jenga while you have adult beverages and steak frites. Pinthouse Pizza, with locations on Burnet Road and south Austin, has craft beer, solid pizza pies, and vintage arcade games. Absolutely try their award winning Electric Jellyfish if you’re a craft beer lover.
Brunch dreams do come true at Sour Duck Market where there’s a fantastic gourmet brunch menu for you and some brunchy items for your little ones. This counter-service spot has converted a trailer into a play space with giant connect four game and chalkboard walls on an expansive patio. For a quick breakfast, try the Tacodeli at Spyglass. This location specifically is the most desirable because it’s right at the entrance to the greenbelt. Grab a taco made with locally sourced ingredients and have a picnic on the trail. For your final hours in Austin, it’s really a choose-your-own-adventure.
If you brought bathing suits, take a dip in Barton Springs Pool, a magnificent natural-fed pool with a diving board and water that’s a cold 67 degrees year ‘round. The pool also has little fish and turtles so it’s basically educational as well. Zilker Park also is home to the Austin Science and Nature Center. It’s chock full of hands-on nature exhibits that range from a dinosaur excavation pit to butterfly education. For something the whole family can get into, play a around at the always colorful Peter Pan Mini Golf. This vintage course opened in 1948 and its quirky charm holds up. If the air-conditioning beckons, Cidercade is kid-friendly before 9 pm. They have snacks! They have drinks! They have all you can play free arcade games! Before you leave, grab a quick snap in front of Jo’s Coffee’s famous “I love you so much” mural and load up on sweets at Big Top Candy Shop where they have hand-crafted sodas and giant candy wall.
Ready to book your getaway? Check out our guide to family-friendly hotels in Austin.
Contributed by Alisha McDarris.
Alisha McDarris is an Austin-based writer who specializes in writing about the outdoors, vegan food, and sustainable travel. She is the co-founder of sustainable travel and adventure blog Terradrift.com and accompanying YouTube channel (youtube.com/terradrift) and her outdoorsy tips and tricks, plus vibrant photos of wild spaces and places, can be found on Instagram (instagram.com/terradrift).