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Austin, Texas, offers family fun throughout the year. With lots of outdoor adventure and a funky cultural vibe, Austin is the darling of the Lone Star State. This weekend itinerary for Austin Texas, written by a Texas TravelingMom, includes parks, pools, bikes, hikes, history and more.
Things to Do on a Weekend in Austin Texas
For families that love the outdoors, Austin, Texas, packs in the family fun. Start with Zilker Park then move on to West Austin for the arts and culture. Then finish up exploring history in this 3 day itinerary of Austin Texas that includes stops at:
- Barton Springs Pool
- Zilker Botanical Garden
- Austin Nature Center
- Zilker Botanical Garden
- Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum
- Congress Avenue Bridge
- Laguna Gloria Sculpture Park
- Mayfield Park
- Texas Military Forces Museum
- Mount Bonnell
- South Congress Avenue
- Texas State Capitol
- The Bullock Texas State History Museum
- Elizabeth Ney Museum
Editor’s Note: Always call or check the website before heading out for the day. Opening dates and times and rules for visitors (capacity limits, masks, etc.) are subject to change without warning.
In and Around Zilker Park
Start in Zilker Park, the big park in the center of town, to get a real feel for Austin. The Barton Springs Pool is the stand-out here, but there is so much more than swimming. Find a large, shaded playscape and information about the springs at the Splash Exhibit.
Then continue on to the Zilker Botanical Garden or the Austin Nature Center, across the park. Pack a picnic and a Frisbee for more fun.
Zilker Park hosts seasonal activities throughout the year, like Zilker Kite Festival, Austin City Limits Music Festival and holiday favorite Trail of Lights. Parking is free during the week, though you’ll need to pay to park on the weekends and during special events.
Read More: Best Texas Family Vacation Ideas
Austin with Teens
If you’re visiting with older kids, consider taking a two-hour guided bike tour of Austin to get a feel for the city. TravelingMom and Austin resident Heidi Gollub and her 14-year-old son were guests on the tour and loved every minute. They started at Barton Springs Pool in Zilker Park, then rode along Lady Bird Lake on the 10-mile Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail.
The expert guide, Michael, made frequent stops to point out public art and landmarks, from moon towers to bat bridges. Heidi was surprised by how much of the city they managed to see and how much they learned about their own city.
TravelingMom Tip: This two-hour tour from Get Your Guide is best for older kids. It’s fast-paced and there are no bathroom breaks along the way. The route also takes you on city streets, which could be nerve-wracking with small children. Be sure to arrive early to grab one of the bike rental shop’s four free parking spots, use the restroom, and get fitted for helmets. Don’t forget to bring cash for a tip for your guide!
Barton Springs Pool
2131 William Barton Dr.
Open every day 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., closed Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. for cleaning
Enjoy a sparkling blue oasis in Barton Springs Pool with a year-round constant water temperature of 68 to 70 degrees F. With three acres of spring-fed water, swimmers can jump off the diving board, walk in on the zero-entry rock entrance or swim laps for exercise.
Splash! Into the Edwards Aquifer Exhibit
2100 Barton Springs Rd.
Learn about the springs that feed the Barton Springs Pool in an interactive display.
Zilker Hillside Theatre
2206 William Barton Dr.
Shows Thursday to Sunday evenings during summer season
Across from the Barton Springs Pool, this theater has presented Broadway classics under the stars for more than 60 years. Pack a picnic basket for dinner and throw down the blanket for a show al fresco.
This shaded playscape is the place for the kids to run off some energy. Find lots of play equipment on a large playground.
Zilker Park Boat Rentals
2101 Andrew Zilker Rd.
Open every day 9 a.m. to dusk
Fees charged; cash only
If your kids are too old for playscapes, explore Zilker Park by water. Nestled along the banks of Barton Creek, rent a boat or board. The creek features calm water and lots of birds and turtles to see. It feeds into Lady Bird Lake.
TravelingMom Tip: Turn around at the entrance of Lady Bird Lake with inexperienced paddlers since larger boats navigate Lake Bird Lake.
Zilker Botanical Garden
2220 Barton Springs Road
Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
With a combination of rose, herb and Japanese gardens, this botanical garden is beloved by Austinites. There are 26 acres to explore, including a pond with koi that mesmerizes little ones (big ones too!).
The woodland fairy garden is especially beloved by kids and makes a picturesque backdrop for photos. The Hartman Prehistoric Garden recreates a dinosaur habitat.
Austin Nature Center
2389 Strafford Drive
Learn about environmental science in an indoor/outdoor space at the Austin Nature Center. See native animals in rehabilitative care. Take the Forest Trail to see native trees. Then take a hike to the overlook to see the Austin skyline.
Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum
605 Robert E. Lee
Open Tuesday to Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday noon to 4 p.m.
Walk through a landscaped garden seeing bronze sculptures. This sculpture garden offers a nice blend for parents who appreciate art and kids who get bored in indoor museums.
Pack a picnic and some water bottles for a day in Zilker Park.
Congress Avenue Bridge
South Congress Avenue
Dusk from March through November
Free but pay to park in a nearby garage.
Every spring over a million bats move into the South Congress Bridge over Lake 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 pee-pee first thing after leaving their roost. Several bat colonies live in Austin; this is the most famous colony.
Where to Eat Near Zilker Park
Chuy’s Tex Mex
Arts and Parks of West Austin
Head west of Mopac to find a mix of the arts, the parks and the city views. Mopac is the western north-south highway artery in Austin and named after the Missouri-Pacific Railroad line that runs in-between the lanes.
The Contemporary at Laguna Gloria
3809 W. 35th St.
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Visit the outdoor contemporary sculpture garden where kids can roam while adults enjoy art set on a Lake Austin estate. Check in at the desk for backpack filled with art supplies.
3505 W. 35th St.
Open from dawn to dusk
Mayfield Park is 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, find an additional 21-acres of wilderness area to explore. Located next to Laguna Gloria.
Texas Military Forces Museum
3038 W. 35th St.
Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
I didn’t know what to expect, especially when I had to stop at security to get onto Camp Mabry, a Texas military installation. But as soon as we walked through the doors, my sons, 10 and 14, were entranced.
See everything from old uniforms to a fighter jet trainer kids can climb in. Learn how Texans contributed to the military from the Texas Revolution until present.
3800 Mount Bonnell Rd.
Open from dawn to dusk
Head up the rock stairs for some of the best views in Austin. At the top, find a pavilion and look down on the Lake Austin section of the Colorado River. This is the place to watch the sun set.
See the downtown Austin skyline in the opposite direction at this 5-acre park. The pavilion area has a fence but the trail back to the parking lot doesn’t so watch the little kids.
After a good day of the parks and the museums in West Austin, change gears and head to South Congress for the evening. Packed with funky shopping, dining and iconic murals, it’s an easy stroll for families. Watch the kids, though, as South Congress is a busy street.
Shopping on South Congress
Since South Congress offers unique and local shopping, it’s the ideal place for souvenirs. Take a walking tour and do a bit of shopping then look for SoCo’s murals.
Big Top Candy Shop—The kids will see this old-fashioned candy store before the adults. Located at 1706 S. Congress Ave.
Tesoro’s Trading Company—Teens love to poke around the wide assortment of imported goods here. Located at 1500 S. Congress Ave.
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds—It’s a costume shop that offers everything imaginable. Located at 1506 S. Congress Ave.
Allen’s Boots—If you’re looking for cowboy boots, head here. It’s where I bought my Lucchese boots. Or just window shop and breath in the rich leather smell. Located at 1522 S. Congress Ave.
Don’t forget the ART
Check out the Willie for President Mural located at the intersection of Elizabeth and South Congress Ave. And really there’s loads of murals up and down South Congress. So play mural hide-and-seek with the kids.
Scavenger Hunt Fun
If your kids aren’t in to shopping, a Austin scavenger hunt you can do with your cell phone is a way to keep them engaged on this itinerary. Heidi took her 7- and 12-year-olds on a self-guided tour that begins at Austin’s Yeti flagship store. The first challenge was to figure out what was missing from the store’s mural. From there, they crossed the street to answer a series of questions about the Mexican free-tailed bats that live under Congress Avenue Bridge. After each question, the app directed them where to go next.
They learned a few things about Austin through the scavenger hunt, but mostly they enjoyed that it pointed them toward new places to explore. The questions led them to a gazebo, a turtle pond, up a winding path to the top of a hill, over a pedestrian bridge, and under a train bridge. Her kids climbed every tree along the way.
TravelingMom Tip: If you have a child or teen who is into the ciphers, codes, and word scrambles, they will love this hunt. Many of the questions are challenging and take several steps to figure out. Be sure each participant has his or her own phone or device to follow along. If you’re traveling with younger children, consider renting bikes or taking breaks since there is a lot of walking involved.
Where to Eat on South Congress
I love to eat and I suggest the following local places.
Guero’s Mexican Food
Lots of tables and Tex-Mex staples, located at 1412 S. Congress Ave.
Home Slice Pizza
home-grown Austin chain baking up thin crust pizza. Located at 1415 S. Congress Ave.
Austin original with inventive tacos sold individually. Located at 1822 S. Congress Ave.
Treats on South Congress
The kids have been good, so it’s time for a treat.
Hey Cupcake + Smile Mural —Located in the vintage Airstream trailer. You’ll find an assortment of cupcakes piled high with buttercream. Located at 1511 S. Congress Ave.
Amy’s Ice Cream + Amy’s Cartoon People Mural—Another ATX original with ice cream so creamy and rich most adults grab a cone. Located at 1301 S. Congress Ave.
Jo’s Coffee and the I Love You So Much street art—Mom needs a pick-me-up so stop at Jo’s then snap a selfie at the street art on the side of the building.
Where to Eat in West Austin
Take in the views at Hula Hut on Lake Austin, an ATX institution that offers boat parking. Try the Tubular Tacos for a Hawaiian take on a burrito. Located at 3825 Lake Austin Blvd. Open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
For a quick snack, head to Mozart’s Coffee Roasters, located next to Hula Hut. Find desserts, coffee drinks and ice cream. Open 7 a.m. to midnight, most days.
Learn some Texas History
If it’s your first trip to Austin, learn more about Texas. A trip to the capitol is a must. It’s the only state that was a independent country before becoming a U.S. state. And native Texans will tell you all about it along with the story of the Alamo.
Texas State Capitol
1100 Congress Ave.
Tours are suspended temporarily
For Texans and tourists alike, a trip to the capitol is a must. Built from 1882 to 1888, it’s actually taller than the U.S. Capitol. The capitol grounds offer shaded walking paths and the interior features the sculptures of Sam Houston and Stephen Austin, by local artist Elizabeth Ney.
Stop by the Capitol Visitors Center for more information. The Texas Travel Center is also located at this building. Located at 112 East 11th St. and it’s not required to visit the visitor center before heading to the Capitol Tour. Open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday noon to 5 p.m.
Visitors to the Texas State Capitol have to pass through airport-style security. Parking is located at the Capitol Visitors Parking Garage, located at 1201 San Jacinto Blvd.
The Bullock Texas State History Museum
1800 Congress Ave.
Open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday noon to 5 p.m.
Learn more about Texas history and catch an IMAX movie at this popular museum for families. Check out the artifacts area for unique objects from Texas history. Located just north of the capitol.
Elisabeth Ney Museum
304 E. 44th St.
Open Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday
When you visited the Texas State Capitol, you saw Elizabeth Ney’s sculptures of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston. Born and educated in Germany, Ney immigrated to Texas in 1882.
This is her former studio where she lived and worked. See lots of examples of her sculpture then continue outside to see the gardens around the museum. Located in Hyde Park, an historic neighborhood, north of the University of Texas.
Take a Ghost Tour
A unique way to learn more about Austin’s storied past is to join a Haunted History Ghost Tour. These 60- to 90-minute guided walking tours explore historic sites where paranormal activity has been reported.
Heidi and her 12- and 14-year-old sons were guests of a ghost tour one Sunday after dark. Their ghost guide, Gloria, led them through the downtown streets, spinning tales about the many spirits who continue to haunt Austin’s historic hotels, bars, theaters, and museums today.
The tours are, of course, history light. But, Heidi’s boys delighted in the spooky stories, taking photo after photo of windows to see if ghost faces would later appear.
TravelingMom Tips: The ghost tour is best for older children because it includes dark stories of suicide and child death. Also, some of the streets on the tour can feel a bit sketchy after dark, which may make parents apprehensive. However, if you’re taking the tour with children who are ready for a fright, ask your guide to bring an EMF meter, to detect if there has been a supernatural presence in an area!
Where to Eat Near the University of Texas
Head past the University of Texas to find “the drag” as the locals call it. On Guadalupe Street, find an iconic burger joint. Dirty Martin’s Kum Bak Place has been grilling up burgers since 1926. The front entrance looks like a dive though head to the back room for a picnic table with the kids.
Along with the burgers served in baskets I recommend the shakes. Located at 2808 Guadalupe and open every day from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.