If you are planning a family vacation in Austin, Texas, you can look forward to fun-filled days spent both indoors and outdoors. The city has several world-class museums for families to visit including the Bullock Texas State History Museum, Thinkery, the Fire Museum and the Texas Memorial Museum. You can take the children to explore the Austin Nature and Science Center, the Dinosaur Park and the Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms.
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1.Austin Nature and Science Center
© Austin Nature and Science Center
The Austin Nature and Science Center is located in Northwest Zilker Park where it offers a free educational and fun playground for children of all ages. The interesting Visitor’s Center is a good place to start your visit; here children will see a life-size stuffed Black Bear and can have a good poke around the shells, bones and other animal specimens in the Naturalist’s Shop. Outside the Visitor’s Center you will find a variety of orphaned or abandoned wild animals and birds (possibly including bobcat, raccoon, porcupine and owls), and the Small Wonders exhibit filled with reptiles. Younger kids will love the Eco Detective Trail and the Dino Pit where they can dig for fossils.
Austin Nature and Science Center, 2389 Stratford Dr, Austin, TX 78746, Phone: 512-974-3888
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2.Inner Space Cavern
For a totally awesome adventure you can bring the children to see one of the best preserved cave systems in Texas at the Inner Space Cavern. The cavern offers tours for all ages (but you will need to carry little visitors – strollers need to be left outside the cavern). Families with younger children (under 5 years) can go on the beginner’s Adventure Tour which will take you to see most of the larger rooms and decorations along a paved and lit pathway. Older children (from 7 years up) can join the intermediate Hidden Passages Tour, an exciting exploration of newly-opened passages using torchlight. Dare-devils over 13 years of age can sign up for the Wild Cave Tour which takes around four hours while little visitors spend time in the playground and mining area.
Inner Space Cavern, 4200 S. I-35 Frontage Rd, Georgetown, TX 78626, Phone: 512-934-2283
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The Thinkery Children’s Museum is a wonderful place to spend some time with your children, watching as they learn about the world around them and how it works. Here even the youngest children will learn about creative thinking and problem solving as they make their way through science, technology, arts, math and engineering exhibits. A wide variety of fun interactive exhibits await children of all ages who can enjoy water play (bring a change of clothes), inventing and making things in the Innovators Workshop and exploring physics and motion in the Ready, Set, Roll exhibit. In addition the museum offers various fun programs for children as young as twelve months.
Thinkery, Meredith Learning Lab, 1830 Simond Ave, Austin, TX 78723, Phone: 512-469-6200
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4.Bullock Texas State History Museum
At the Bullock Texas State History Museum children and their parents can spend a few interesting hours learning all about the history of the State of Texas. At the heart of the museum you will find the La Belle Exhibit, featuring the hull of a 1686 explorer ship which lay under the seas for over 300 years. Together with the retrieved and restored hull of the ship you can see many artifacts and watch the multi-sensory film Ship Wrecked. Other highlights of the museum (especially for the children) include a 1941 AT-6A airplane, a full-size windmill, the IMAX Theater and a NASA console from the Manned Flight Center. On the first Sunday of each month the museum offers free entrance and special activities for children.
Bullock Texas State History Museum, 1800 Congress Ave, Austin TX 78701, Phone: 512-936-8746
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5.Austin Fire Museum
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The Austin Fire Museum is a small two-room museum attached to the Austin Central Fire Station, which is housed in an interesting historic building dating back to the 1930’s. The museum contains many interesting relics, some of which are over 150 years old. Although this museum does not feature all the modern interactive exhibits that little children enjoy, older children will enjoy having a look around. If you have younger children who are interested in everything to do with fire fighting you can gather together a group of other kids and their parents and schedule a free group visit to the Fire Station, which will include a tour of the facility and the fire apparatus and children will be able to ask their heroes all about being a fireman.
Austin Fire Museum, 401 E 5th St, Austin TX 78701, Phone: 512-974-3835
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6.Barton Springs Pool
The Barton Springs Pool is one of Austin’s hidden gems – the ideal place to spend some family time relaxing in Austin. The pool is located in the enormous 358-acre Zilker Park where it provides a wonderful three-acre swimming pool which is fed by a natural spring and maintains an ideal swimming temperature of around 70 degrees all year round. The pool is open daily from 5am to 10pm (restricted hours on Thursdays when the pool is cleaned). Lifeguards are on duty from 8am to 6pm and there are extensive grassy banks alongside the pool where you can relax and sunbathe. The shallow end of the pool is ideal for families with toddlers and younger children.
Barton Springs Pool, 2201 Barton Springs Rd, Austin, TX 78704, Phone: 512-974-6300
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7.Austin Toy Museum
© Austin Toy Museum
The Austin Toy Museum is a non-profit museum suitable for the whole family – Mums and Dads will enjoy a nostalgic walk down memory lane as they show their children the very different toys that they used to play with. In addition to old favorites like Smurf and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figurines, there are several vintage video arcade games you can introduce your children to including Pac Man, Donkey Kong and many more – free to play with your admission ticket. Girls will be able to see what the original Barbie and Ken looked like (and how they were dressed back in the 60’s). There is also a large comic book collection for comic fans.
Austin Toy Museum, 314 Congress Ave, Austin TX 78701, Phone: 512-220-9582
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8.Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve
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When you feel the need to escape the city and spend some time in a peaceful outdoor space you can make your way to Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve. The park is located next to the Laguna Gloria Museum in Tarrytown and offers a serene environment for walking and nature observation. The preserve covers over 21 acres of natural green space where you can go walking along trails through a wildlife habitat. The park area offers over two acres of cultivated cottage gardens surrounded by towering palm trees and patrolled by a squad of resident peacocks who strut their stuff to the delight of both adults and children.
Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve, 3505 W. 35th St, Austin, TX 78703, Phone: 512-974-6797
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9.Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms
© Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms
For a fun-filled history and culture lesson second to none you can bring the children to have an adventure at the Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms in Northeast Austin. The Pioneer Farms experience includes walking tours through six themed historic areas which will lead children and their parents through the fascinating history of Texas. You will visit an 1841 Tonkawa Encampment, an 1868 German Immigrant Farm and an 1887 Cotton Planter’s Farm, amongst others. Younger children will love the Scarborough Barn where they can meet their favorite farm animals. Several children’s programs and workshops are offered where kids can learn about weaving, black-smithing and tool making. Open to the public on weekends.
Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms, 10621 Pioneer Farms Drive, Austin, TX 78754, Phone: 512-837-1215
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10.Austin Central Library
Many families do not realize what a valuable asset their central library can be. These days, modern libraries are not just places where you can borrow books, they also offer invaluable resources for children and their families. The Austin Central Library has branches dotted all over the city as well as a mobile library service which families can use to ensure they raise a generation of readers and keen learners. You can bring your baby, toddler or older children to attend story time at your local library, or get them singing along at a music and movement program. Most of the branches also offer homework assistance for older children as well as computer club and various other educational programs. Check their website for more details.
Austin Central Library, 710 W Cezar Chavez St, Austin, TX 78701, Phone: 512-974-7400
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11.Congress Avenue Bridge
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For a completely unique family outing during your summer visit to Austin you can bring the whole family to the Congress Avenue Bridge to watch an extraordinary natural phenomenon. It appears that the engineers who built the bridge back in 1980 managed to create the ideal habitat for thousands upon thousands of bats who live in the many crevices under the bridge and emerge at dusk to feed upon millions of air-born insects. Each summer evening (July and August are the best months) you can make your way to the bridge to witness the extraordinary sight as over 1.5 million bats take to the air. There is no need to worry that the bats may harm you or the children – they are harmless and beneficial creatures who help control insect numbers.
Congress Avenue Bridge, Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78704
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You can start getting your children interested in the wonderful world of theatre and the arts by bringing them to the Zach Theatre at an early age. The Zach stages regular shows that children will love as part of their Theatre for Families program. Most of the shows are suitable for children from the age of three, but a few of the productions will suit even younger children. If your child would like to be part of the action you can enroll him/her in one of the Zach Theatre educational programs which include classes, camps, workshops and residencies. If you have a group of young theatre fans, you can request to be taken on a free guided tour of the theatre.
Zach Theatre, 202 South Lamar, Austin, TX 78704, Phone: 512-476-0541
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More than just a bookstore, BookPeople is dedicated to nurturing young minds and turning young visitors into the next generation of bookworms. You can bring your young children to enjoy free Story Time (held three times a week – check their website for times) and to explore their huge and colorful children’s book section called BookKids, where enthusiastic staff are on hand to help you select the perfect age-appropriate books for your child. If you are unable to visit BookPeople in person, you can enroll your kids in the Books by Mail Club. If you already have an avid book fan (or reluctant reader) in the family you can consider enrolling them in Literary Camp or a Summer Reading program.
BookPeople, 603 North Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78703, Phone: 512-472-5050
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14.Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary
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The Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary provides rescue, rehabilitation and a safe place to live for a large variety of injured, orphaned or abandoned animals and relies on public donation and ticket sales to operate. The zoo is home to over 350 animals and your children will love the opportunity to see a wide range of rescued animals including several big cats, three young black bears, several species of monkeys and lemurs. In addition to all these exotic animals the zoo also cares for several domestic animals including pot-bellied pigs, goats, donkeys and llama, which the children can hand-feed – animal feed is available at the gift shop.
Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary, 10808 Rawhide Trail, Austin, TX 78736, Phone: 512-288-1490
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If you and your family enjoy the unusual and eclectic, you are sure to enjoy a visit to Sparky Park, where a disused electricity sub-station’s grounds have been transformed into a quirky little public park adorned with imaginative art installations. Local artist Berthold Haas was commissioned to transform the disused eye-sore into a serene and peaceful place where people can some to relax. Using a collection of bits and pieces, the artist has created a fantasy garden with a brilliant grotto for children to explore. If you visit on a good day you are welcome to bring along a picnic to enjoy in the park.
Sparky Park, 3701 Grooms Street, Austin, TX 78705, Phone: 512-974-6797
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16.Toy Joy Store
© Toy Joy Store
If you are visiting Austin with children you should not miss visiting Austin’s famous Toy Joy Store which has been pleasing local children and the young-at-heart for over 29 years. Offering so much more than a regular toy shop, Toy Joy has a remarkable selection of toys (both modern and vintage) for all ages, from sophisticated board games and models for older children to soft plush toys for babies and a huge collection of educational toys for toddlers and pre-schoolers. You will find a great collection of board games and the store hosts a variety of board game nights on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights and model-building workshops on Sunday nights.
Toy Joy Store, 403 W 2nd Street, Austin, 78701, Phone: 512-320-0090
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17.Yippee Ki Yay Stickwork Sculptures
© Pease Park
Located in Austin’s Pease Park, the Yippee Ki Yay Stickwork Sculptures are the brainchild of local artist Patrick Dougherty, who came up with the brilliant idea of using invasive plant material to create unique, explorable sculptures. The five enormous box-like sculptures were constructed using over 10 tons of saplings collected by volunteers, and draw attention to the need to eradicate alien vegetation. You and your children can have fun exploring the natural forms – inside, outside and all around. You are very welcome to bring a picnic to enjoy at the picnic area in the park and there is also a splash pad and playground where the children can play.
Yippee Ki Yay Stickwork Sculptures, Pease Park, 1100 Kingsbury St, Austin TX 78705, Phone: 512-974-6700
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18.Lady Bird Lake
Lady Bird Lake is actually a reservoir section of the Colorado River which you will find right in the heart of Austin, where it separates downtown Austin from South Austin. The lake is very popular with locals who come to enjoy wonderful views of the city skyline as they kayak, paddle board or enjoy the shaded walking/running/cycling trail which runs around almost half of the large lake. Families can come and spend a few hours enjoying the trails or launching their boats for some water fun. Visitors can rent canoes or kayaks from Texas Rowing Center, Rowing Dock or Zilker Park Boat Rentals and join the locals as they enjoy this beautiful stretch of water.
Lady Bird Lake, 1820 S Lakeshore Blvd, Austin, TX 78741
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19.Mueller SunFlowers - an Electric Garden
Imagine a row of startlingly blue sunflowers turning their faces to the sky and you will have a pretty good idea of what to expect when you come to see the Mueller SunFlowers along Interstate 35. Although the SunFlowers form an innovative public art installation, they are more than just pretty faces; together these solar panels collect enough energy from the sun to power an entire residential and retail complex. Visiting the hiking trail which runs along the base of the towering SunFlowers is a great opportunity to teach your children all about renewable energy and how a little foresight can turn a modern-day necessity into a work of art.
Mueller SunFlowers, 4806 N, Interstate Highway 35, Austin, TX 78751
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Austin locals are fortunate to have many outdoor recreational green spaces including Patterson Park which is a popular attraction for families with children of all ages. Older kids can enjoy the tennis, basket ball and volley-ball courts or play other ball games while younger children can have fun at the kiddies’ playscape, which is located right next to a shaded picnic pavilion which is very popular for children’s birthday parties. There is also a skate-board park, swimming pool, gardens and some walking trails. One of the most pleasant features of Patterson Park is that it offers a shaded play area for younger children and their parents.
Patterson Park, 4200 Brookview Rd, Austin, TX 78722
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21.Texas Memorial Museum
© Texas Memorial Museum
No visit to Austin would be complete without bringing your children to the Texas Memorial Museum to learn all about the natural history and science of the Lone Star State. The museum features several exciting and educational exhibits including dinosaurs, fossils and meteorites in the Hall of Geology and Paleontology, various natural wonders and gemstones in the Great Hall and the Life in a Cave exhibit in the Hall of Biodiversity. The best way to learn all about the fascinating exhibits is to use your cell phone to access information as you make your way through the museum using an audio guide. You are invited to bring along a picnic to enjoy in the shade outdoor area.
Texas Memorial Museum, 2400 Trinity Street, Austin, TX 78712, Phone: 512-471-1604
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22.Cathedral of Junk
Austin has a reputation for being a little quirky and eccentric and nowhere is this more evident than in a South Austin backyard where the remarkable Cathedral of Junk is located. Constructed out of more than 60 tons of discarded bicycles, T V’s and other assorted discards, the Cathedral of Junk is a fun attraction for families who enjoy exploring something different. The huge structure is spread out over three levels and has taken the artist/owner over 30 years to construct. If you would like to visit you need to phone ahead to make an appointment and a small donation is requested to help with the upkeep of the structure.
Cathedral of Junk, 4422 Lareina Dr, Austin, TX 78745, Phone: 512-299-7413
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Most children love dinosaurs and will be excited at the prospect of spending a few hours exploring the Dinosaur Park at Cedar Creek. You may already have taken your children to see dinosaur skeletons in the various museums, but this dinosaur park is completely different, populated by life-size realistic dinosaur statues set among trees, rocks and plants to resemble their natural habitats. Children can take a thrilling walk along the nature trail which will lead them through the park and then have fun exploring the fossil-dig area and the comfortable picnic area. The park is a popular venue for children’s birthday parties.
Dinosaur Park, 893 Union Chapel Rd, Cedar Creek, TX 78612, Phone: 512-321-6262
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© Ruslan Gilmanshin/stock.adobe.com
If you happen to have a budding Pin Ball Wizard in the family you should be sure not to miss visiting the original Pinballz Arcade while you are in Austin. The arcade offers older children a huge variety (over 240) of amazing Pinball machines as well as many modern and vintage video games that will keep them busy for hours. If you would like even more family fun you can head to their Lake Creek venue where over 330 machines are available to choose from. In addition, the Lake Creek venue offers Galaxy Wars Laser Tag, the Laser Maze and Highway 63 Mini Bowling (so that younger family members can join in the fun). Parents and older children can also enjoy a thrilling 7D multi-sensory adventure ride.
Pinballz Arcade, 183 & Burnet, 8940 Research Blvd, Austin, TX 78758, Phone: 512-420-8458
Pinballz Lake Creek, 183 & Lake Creek, 13729 Research Blvd, Austin TX 78750, Phone: 512-537-8737
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25.Austin Rock Gym
© Austin Rock Gym
The Austin Rock Gym artfully combines hours of fun with great exercise for all members of the family. Children from the age of four are welcome to come and share an exciting indoor climb with their families or enroll for one of the youth programs on offer. The youngest children will enroll in the four week Monkey Business class which progresses to the Spider Monkey class once they have learned the ropes. During these youth programs parents will receive a free belaying course so that they can enjoy climbing with their children outside the class. The gym offers great children’s birthday parties – you will have the services of a trained staff member to belay and ensure the safety of all the children.
Austin Rock Gym, 8300 N Lamar Blvd #102B, Austin, TX 78753, Phone: 512-416-9299
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25 Best Things to Do in Austin with Kids
- Austin Nature and Science Center, Photo: Austin Nature and Science Center
- Inner Space Cavern, Photo: jollyphoto/stock.adobe.com
- Thinkery, Photo: Thinkery
- Bullock Texas State History Museum, Photo: JJAVA/stock.adobe.com
- Austin Fire Museum, Photo: Igor Batenev/stock.adobe.com
- Barton Springs Pool, Photo: ICW/stock.adobe.com
- Austin Toy Museum, Photo: Austin Toy Museum
- Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve, Photo: Faina Gurevich/stock.adobe.com
- Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms, Photo: Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms
- Austin Central Library, Photo: connel_design/stock.adobe.com
- Congress Avenue Bridge, Photo: Christian Hinkle/stock.adobe.com
- Zach Theatre, Photo: Hanoi Photography/stock.adobe.com
- BookPeople, Photo: BookPeople
- Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary, Photo: Noelle M. Brooks/stock.adobe.com
- Sparky Park, Photo: Pabkov/stock.adobe.com
- Toy Joy Store, Photo: Toy Joy Store
- Yippee Ki Yay Stickwork Sculptures, Photo: Pease Park
- Lady Bird Lake, Photo: jfortner2015/stock.adobe.com
- Mueller SunFlowers - an Electric Garden, Photo: leungchopan/stock.adobe.com
- Patterson Park, Photo: Chee/stock.adobe.com
- Texas Memorial Museum, Photo: Texas Memorial Museum
- Cathedral of Junk, Photo: santafejewelry/stock.adobe.com
- Dinosaur Park, Photo: alexkich/stock.adobe.com
- Pinballz Arcade, Photo: Ruslan Gilmanshin/stock.adobe.com
- Austin Rock Gym, Photo: Austin Rock Gym
- Cover Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/stock.adobe.com