Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- 1. Lady Bird Lake Trail
- 2. Zilker Park
- 3. Zilker Botanical Garden
- 4. Austin Nature & Science Center
- 5. Congress Avenue Bridge
- 6. Thinkery
- 7. Austin Food Trucks
- 8. Texas Radio Live Broadcasts
- 9. Amy’s Ice Creams
- 10. Greetings From Austin Mural
- 11. Texas State Capitol
- 12. BookPeople
- 13. Downtown Farmers’ Market
- 14. Bullock Texas State History Museum
- 15. Barton Creek Greenbelt
- 16. Mayfield Park
- 17. The Contemporary Austin’s Laguna Gloria
- 18. Mount Bonnell
- 19. Central Market North Lamar
- 20. Pinballz
- 21. Mexic-Arte Museum
- 22. Peter Pan Mini Golf
- 23. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
- 24. Austin Zoo
- 25. Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms
- 26. McKinney Falls State Park
- 27. Kalahari Resorts Texas
- 28. Typhoon Texas
- 29. Inner Space Cavern
- 30. The Dinosaur Park
From a lake in the middle of the city perfect for hiking, biking and boating, to a small zoo, a pinball arcade, bats under a bridge and some really scrumptious ice cream, these are our favorite things to do in Austin with kids.
If you’re looking for a family getaway filled with sunshine, live music, and breakfast tacos, boot scoot on over to Austin, Texas. Kids and adults alike love this laid-back city full of outdoor adventures and good eats galore.
TravelingMom Tip: Opening days and hours as well as admission rules (mask wearing, capacity limits, etc.) are subject to change without warning. Always phone ahead or visit the website to get the most recent updates before venturing out for the day.
1. Lady Bird Lake Trail
Start your tour of the capital of Texas on the right foot, with a stroll along downtown Austin’s 10-mile hike-and-bike trail and boardwalk. Walking the trail fronting Lady Bird Lake is a pleasure. Expect to see bikers, runners, dog walkers, and picnickers on the banks and kayaks and stand-up paddleboards on the water. If you have bikes, even better! My kids love to cruise along the trail, looking for turtles and unusual birds.
TravelingMom Tip: You can also rent bikes and helmets from Barton Springs Bike Rentals. The trail is a 10-mile loop, or you can try a shorter ride from Zilker Park to the boardwalk and back.
2. Zilker Park
Where Lady Bird Lake meets Barton Creek, you’ll discover 350 green acres of Austin’s crown jewel, Zilker Park. This is the place to go to get a real feel for Austin. On our visits to the park, my kids and I have seen aerial silks, drum circles, and lightsaber battles.
On weekends, resident DJs fill the park with music while impromptu games of Spikeball and volleyball take over the Zilker Great Lawn. BYO sports equipment and join in the fun.
The stunning spring-fed Barton Springs Pool is the stand-out in Zilker Park, but there is so much more than swimming.
Find a large, shaded playscape, a hillside theater, and information about the springs at the Splash Exhibit. Head over to nearby UMLAUF Sculpture Garden and Museum to enjoy a peaceful afternoon in the park. Or, try my kids’ favorite activity and rent a kayak or canoe from Zilker Park Boat Rentals.
Zilker Park also hosts seasonal activities throughout the year, like Zilker Summer Musical, ABC Kite Fest, Austin City Limits Music Festival and holiday favorite, Trail of Lights.
TravelingMom Tip: Parking is free during the week, but you’ll need to pay to park on the weekends and during special events.
Read More: Turn these things to do in Austin with kids into a weekend visit with our weekend itinerary for visiting Austin with kids.
3. Zilker Botanical Garden
Located at 2220 Barton Springs Rd., across the street from Zilker Park, this botanical garden has rose, herb, and Japanese gardens and is beloved by Austinites. There are 26 acres to explore, with waterfalls, stepping stones, and koi that mesmerize little ones (big ones too!).
Don’t miss the woodland fairy garden or the Hartman Prehistoric Garden, which recreates a dinosaur habitat. Look for a life-size Ornithomimus sculpture on Dino Island. Be sure to pack a stroller and a picnic because you’ll be covering a lot of ground!
TravelingMom Tip: There are no bathrooms once you leave the parking lot, so be sure to take a pit stop before trekking down the hill into the gardens. Trust me when I tell you it’s no fun having to race back up that hill with a kid in tow.
4. Austin Nature & Science Center
Located on the edge of Zilker Park in the Zilker Park Nature Preserve, this free nature center offers both indoor and outdoor fun. Dig for dinosaur bones and visit reptiles and birds of prey. Be sure to bring water so you can explore the hiking trails.
Head into the Zilker Nature Preserve and Trails and make the trek to the overlook for great views of the city! With rock walls, steps, and tree stumps, my boys think these trails are the ultimate park playground.
TravelingMom Tip: Bring nature items like fossils and feathers to trade at the indoor Trade Counter (check hours of operation before you go). You can also ask at the front desk to borrow an Eco-Detective Kit to use during your visit.
5. Congress Avenue Bridge
Each spring, more than a million bats move into the South Congress Bridge over Lady Bird Lake. As the unofficial mascot of Austin, the bats fly out each sunset in a dizzying pattern munching on bugs.
Choose your viewing spot carefully since the sleepy bats like to relieve themselves first thing after leaving their roost. Watching from the water is fun if you book a boat tour in advance. Try Lone Star Riverboat or Capital Cruises.
My boys loved the nighttime boat tours and the possibility of getting bat guano on their heads. (Thankfully, that never happened).
TravelingMom Tip: The time bats commence their flight varies greatly by season. Call the Bat Hotline at (512) 327-9721 for a prediction of what time they will emerge.
Austin’s children’s museum, the Thinkery, encourages STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) learning, for babies on up. The fun-filled facility is an interactive science and technology center. Admission is free on Wednesdays from 4-8 p.m. Arrive early to play at the playground across the street, and visit with the ducks in nearby Mueller Lake.
My kids also enjoy cruising around the Mueller neighborhood to check out its unusual public art, including “Nessy” the lake monster, a giant spider sculpture and a humongous purple octopus.
TravelingMom Tip: Bring spare clothes for small children as they’re bound to get soaked in the indoor water exhibit. Thinkery is quite a ways from downtown, so this adventure may take up much of the day.
7. Austin Food Trucks
Austin famously has a huge variety of food trucks. From donuts to tacos to Thai, Austinites enjoy high-quality cuisine from food trucks. Look for food truck lots, with several trucks clustered around outdoor seating, to find something to feed everyone’s taste.
TravelingMom Tip: Park on South Congress to combine street art, live music, and eclectic shopping with your food truck experience! My kids’ favorite SoCo food truck is Hey, Cupcake!
8. Texas Radio Live Broadcasts
Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World, so don’t leave town without seeing a show. Guero’s hosts free Texas Radio Live broadcasts in the Oak Garden on South Congress, Wednesday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m.
You can enjoy delicious TexMex like a Texan with great music and people-watching. I’m a big fan of Guero’s guacamole.
9. Amy’s Ice Creams
Amy’s is an Austin original. The ice cream is so creamy and rich that most adults grab a cone. One popular location is at 1301 S. Congress Ave., conveniently walkable from Guero’s.
TravelingMom Tip: The employees here love to perform. They practice all year for Amy’s Ice Creams Trick Olympics. Ask if they’ll throw your ice cream and see what they can do! My daughter still talks about the tricks they performed with her ice cream when we visited Amy’s for her birthday.
10. Greetings From Austin Mural
Did you even visit Austin if you don’t take a picture here? This giant retro postcard mural is a hot spot for selfies and photographs. Located at 1720 S. 1st St., it’s on the side of the Roadhouse Relics building.
TravelingMom Tip: The mural is located in a high pedestrian and vehicle traffic area so be careful when crossing the street. It’s easiest to find a nearby parking spot if you go early in the morning. For incentive, plan to grab a baked good from La Patisserie next door! My kids recommend the colorful macarons.
11. Texas State Capitol
This is an elegant, impressive building. Take the free guided tour during which you’ll learn that Texas has been part of six different countries—including Spain, France, Mexico—as well as its own country.
You’ll also learn that Texas had Black elected officials after the Civil War, but their numbers dwindled to zero by about 1900. No Black served as a state legislator for years – until Barbara Jordan was elected in the 1960s.
If you prefer to go it alone, take the self-guided tour of the Capitol building, Capitol grounds, and the Trail of Trees. Be sure to follow the sidewalk across the grounds to the Capitol Visitors Center and don’t miss the free interactive exhibits on the second floor.
TravelingMom Tip: Parking in the Capitol Visitors Parking Garage is convenient. I park in this garage whenever visiting downtown because it’s easy and affordable.
If you’re looking to spend a low-key morning in downtown Austin, head to the largest independent bookstore in Texas for storytime.
My kids love the tunnel under the storytime theater, and all the wacky toys and gifts for sale. The entire second floor is fun to explore.
TravelingMom Tip: There is a little playground on the roof of the Whole Foods Market flagship store across the street. Head there next, buy the fixings for a picnic and let the kids play.
13. Downtown Farmers’ Market
Open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. year-round, rain or shine, the Sustainable Food Center’s downtown farmers’ market at Republic Square Park (422 Guadalupe St.) is the place to find farm-fresh foods from local growers, as well as baked goods and arts and crafts from local artisans.
Enjoy treats, live music, and maybe some performance art. Once, I met a poet with a typewriter who was typing original poems for tips.
TravelingMom Tip: Limited free parking is available just south of the market and at City Hall, or at the State Parking Garage at 3rd and San Antonio.
14. Bullock Texas State History Museum
Head to this museum to learn the history of Texas. Admission is free on the first Sunday of each month, from noon to 5 p.m. You may want to pay extra to watch an IMAX movie.
The theater sometimes screens blockbuster films, which can be a lot of fun to watch on the giant screen. My older kids loved seeing Transformers there.
TravelingMom Tip: Blanton Museum of Art is right across the street and is always free for kids 12 and under. It’s worth a visit too if you have the time.
15. Barton Creek Greenbelt
There are so many kid-friendly hikes in the Austin area, but finding the trailheads can be tricky. Search online for information on where to park before heading out.
A fan favorite for locals and tourists alike is the Barton Creek Greenbelt. When my kids were little, we liked the Sculpture Falls trail for an easy outing with kids and the reward is a view of a small waterfall.
TravelingMom Tip: If you’re visiting in early summer, be sure to bring a bathing suit. My kids can’t get enough of the rope swings over the water! But, in the heat of summer, the creek will dry up.
16. Mayfield Park
Peacocks, sculptures, and a beautiful view! Mayfield Park is one of our favorite fun things to do in Austin with kids. It’s like two parks in one. The central area is a formal landscaped water lily garden with a vintage cottage.
The show stopper is the flock of peacocks that roam the property, perching in the trees. Outside the landscaped area, there are another 21 acres of wilderness area to explore.
TravelingMomTip: Plan to picnic with peafowl for some amazing photo ops. Just be careful where you step! My toddler’s misstep into peacock poop ruined one of our visits. I’m still a little traumatized.
17. The Contemporary Austin’s Laguna Gloria
Right next door to Mayfield Park, Laguna Gloria offers more stunning grounds to explore. With 14 acres on the shores of Lake Austin, this outdoor contemporary sculpture garden is a great place to roam while enjoying works of art.
My eldest daughter loves this outdoor art museum. She could spend hours here.
TravelingMom Tip: There is art indoors as well. If you’d like to see that, I recommend requesting a docent tour. We did this once and our docent did an excellent job of making it interesting for the kids.
18. Mount Bonnell
Climb Mount Bonnell’s 106 steps for sweeping views of Austin. You can look down on the Lake Austin section of the Colorado River, watch the sunset and see the downtown Austin skyline. The pavilion area has a fence but the trail back doesn’t so keep an eye on little kids.
I enjoy visiting Mount Bonnell because you get to also get a nice view of the mansions lining the water. It’s fun to imagine who lives there.
TravelingMom Tip: Mayfield Park, Laguna Gloria, and Mount Bonnell make a nice combined outing as they are located close to each other. Visit on a Thursday and admission to Laguna Gloria will be free.
19. Central Market North Lamar
Ever had dinner on a grocery store patio? Give Central Market North Lamar a try! My kids love the playground and I love the live music and food.
It’s a nice, relaxed place to grab a good meal and listen to a band while the kids make instant friends on the playscape.
TravelingMom Tip: Kids eat free on Tuesdays after 5 p.m. Check the live music calendar online before you go.
Show kids something even better than video games: pinball machines! Visit the largest pinball collection in Central Texas at the Original Pinballz Arcade. Adults can BYOB and kids can play at a classic arcade.
TravelingMom Tip: If you’re traveling with older kids, they may prefer the Cidercade. This arcade bar is family-friendly during the day. It’s my 20-year-old daughter’s favorite and has the added benefit of being right next to the boardwalk, overlooking Lady Bird Lake.
21. Mexic-Arte Museum
Founded in 1984, the Mexic-Arte Museum has been designated the Official Mexican and Mexican American Fine Art Museum of Texas by the 78th Legislature of the State of Texas. The Museum is free on Sundays.
22. Peter Pan Mini Golf
An Austin tradition since 1948, Peter Pan Mini Golf offers a retro Austin experience. Look for Peter Pan himself, then pick one of two courses to play.
23. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
If you’re in Austin in the spring, don’t miss the Texas bluebonnets at the Wildflower Center. It makes the perfect Texas Hill Country photo op.
But, that’s not all there is to see at this outdoor center, which is owned by the University of Texas at Austin. My kids love the interactive play areas in the Family Garden and climbing all over the Fortlandia exhibits, which change each year. The Wildflower Center is always a hit with my active kids!
24. Austin Zoo
The Austin Zoo is an animal sanctuary and petting zoo located south of the city. It’s on the small side, which is actually nice with small children.
I recently took my eight-year-old and we saw all of the animals in less than two hours. Her favorite part was feeding the goats and alpacas, so be sure to buy some animal food at the kiosk across from the petting zoo.
TravelingMom Tip: Plan to ride the miniature train for an additional fee. It’s worth it for the hill country views.
25. Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms
Another place to see animals is Pioneer Farms, home to donkeys, horses, and longhorn cows. The farm is an outdoor living history museum. Plan to meander through the grounds and pretend you are in Texas in the 1800s.
Check the website to plan your visit because the farm hosts a lot of special events. We especially love exploring the grounds at night in the fall during the spooky Halloween festivities.
26. McKinney Falls State Park
Located near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, McKinney Falls is a lovely spot for an easy hike. Check out the upper or lower falls—you can’t go wrong! This is one of my kids’ favorite spots to swim in natural water.
TravelingMom Tip: Swimming in the falls is allowed, but the water can get deep quite quickly, so proceed with caution.
27. Kalahari Resorts Texas
New in 2020, Kalahari Texas is a kid’s dream come true with indoor and outdoor water parks, laser tag, arcade, and ropes course. It’s located north of Austin in Round Rock.
My kids couldn’t get enough of Kalahari’s huge indoor water park. The water attractions are wild, thrilling, and open late. They can’t wait to go back.
TravelingMom Tip: It’s about the same price to stay at the hotel (which includes water park passes) as it is to buy day passes for the water park. Just note that a $29.99 resort fee will be added to your hotel bill upon arrival.
28. Typhoon Texas
Another summer favorite for families is this outdoor-only water park, located north of Austin in Pflugerville. It’s a great place to cool off and has attractions suitable for all ages.
My 8-year-old loves Typhoon Texas so much, we get season passes. She likes to go at night for the swim-in movie screenings at the wave pool.
29. Inner Space Cavern
This is getting more into day trip territory, but Inner Space Cavern in Georgetown is definitely worth the 30-mile drive. Plus, the cavern offers a cool respite from the summer heat!
Allow extra time during your visit to try gem mining. My kids never let me leave with buying them a bag of Pay Dirt to mine outside.
30. The Dinosaur Park
Also a bit of a hike from the city center, this “outdoor sculpture museum” is a blast if you have dino-loving kids. It’s about 22 miles southeast in Cedar Creek.
The life-size dinosaur statues have to be seen to be believed. They are huge and colorful.
My kids loved tracking them all down in the woods, following tree-lined trails with the park’s free scavenger hunt challenge card in hand.