10 Best Family Activities: Build Memories to Last a Lifetime in Austin, Texas
By Krissy Mayse
Austin Local Expert
Ah....quality time.... Whether it's "Are we there yet?" or "Tommy needs to go to the bathroom AGAIN," you'll find that our family and children's activities are interesting, informative and offer the best of modern conveniences. We've tried to provide you with ideas that are not only fun but that are also friendly to a family's budget.
These days, family time is so much different than 20 or 30 years ago. You once considered a night of monopoly as family 'game night.' Well, these days, game night is just as likely to at the Main Event playing multiple rounds of glow in the dark mini golf or shooting each other with multiple rounds in a fast paced game of laser tag.
Visitors to Austin usually enjoy a visit to the state capitol but they may also enjoy getting around town on bicycles or exploring Austin with a bicycle tour from Texas Bike Tours. Exploring Austin on foot and on bicycles is fun. But did you know you could explore it on a floating bus? Austin Duck Adventures takes you on an amphibious tour of downtown Austin. And, yes, in the event that you are bored with walking, biking, or floating, there is always a train ride. The Austin Steam Train provides fun for the whole family with a train ride through the nearby hill country.
Browse our list or try them all. You're sure to develop memories that will last a lifetime.
10 Austin Nature and Science Center
The Austin Nature and Science Center has a variety of things to do and exhibits to see. Located at the edge of Zilker Park, this family friendly attraction is a favorite with parents, teachers, and homeschool programs. So much to see, so much fun and creative learning opportunities abound! Learn about native Texas animals such as porcupines, coyotes, snakes and owls. The fossils in the Dino Pit exhibit are great fun for kids. They can dig for reproductions of actual specimens found in Texas by scientists and students at The University of Texas at Austin´s Texas Natural Science Center. Young children love to dig in sand boxes as a rule but when they know they will unearth their own fossils, they get very focused! The website and center both offered detailed descriptions of the types of fossils to be 'discovered.' (512-974-3888)
9 Zilker Botanical Garden
How does a beautiful park with free entry and 350 acres to explore sound? If your family loves exploring and sight seeing this is just what you need. Many other recreational fans visit the park as well. The hike and bike trail at Austin's Lady Bird Lake runs right alongside Zilker Botanical Gardens. Zilker Botanical Gardens is home to its fun though. You'll find multiple themed gardens, like their romantic rose garden and even a butterfly garden. Be mesmerized by the koi pond and if the timing is right, attend one of the many free events offered year round such as Blues on the Green, Trail of Lights, and the Zilker Kite Festival. (512-477-8672)
8 Austin Children's Museum
If you have kids, don't miss out on this museum. Exhibits are designed to entertain children and grownups alike! Funstruction Zone encourages problem-solving and hones math skills. The Tinkerer's Workshop encourages one of a kind creations that YOU build and test. Kids learn about forces and energy, how things work and more. Critical thinking skills are needed and encouraged. Global City is made up of eight role playing environments where kids can explore how people work, live, and play together in diverse environments referred to as 'global cities' like Austin, Texas. Children can pretend to be a veterinarian, milk a cow, learn about recycling and even listen to a story in the Global City Libary. Bring your imagination, your curiosity and enjoy learning right alongside your kids. (512-472-2499)
7 Texas Bike Tours
Texas Bike Tours offers a relaxing (mostly downhill) cycling tour that takes you to seven unique cites while you enjoy beautiful views along the Colorado River and throughout some of the more historic parts of Austin. TXBT provides valet service from your vehicle to their arrival and departure points. Ask them about their 'luxe' service and the many types of cycles they provide. You can bring your own or rent one. Taking the luxury bike ride one step further, they also include romantic picnics as part of their 'Romancing Austin' bike tour or evening dinners. Tours are scheduled based on demand and vary depending on individual needs. Costs range from $34-$76 depending on the type of bike that you choose. TXBT also offers custom tours designed to accommodate family and children's needs if you call ahead and discuss first. ((760) 332-8668)
6 Brushy Creek Regional Trail
Brushy Creek Regional Trail encompasses seven miles of either paved or gravel trails. Cyclists cross the top of Brushy Creek Lake Dam and have the opportunity to view several informative markers describing the area's early history. There is even a tiny family cemetery. Sam Champion, a settler who helped settle the area, and his family buried their loved ones here in the late 1800's to early 1900's. The trail is mostly level with a few hills and steep slopes thrown in to keep things interesting. It runs through several parks which include playgrounds for kids, water activities during the summer and even a mock fossil dig and sandbox at Champion Park. Fishing along the creek and in Brushy Creek Lake is also seen regularly. Kayakers put in at Brushy Creek Lake and runners and walkers alike mingle with cyclists along the seven miles of trail. ((512) 943-1920)
5 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Founded by former first lady, Lady Bird Johnson, and actress Helen Hayes, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center was organized to protect and preserve North America's native plants and natural landscapes. The center offers educational programs for children and adults. These programs are known for teaching people about their natural surroundings and how to grow native plants at home. Visitors can take part in tours through a meadow, trails and inspiring gardens. Enjoy lunch at the Wildflower Café or listen to an informative lecture by internationally known authors and scientists in the auditorium. The center is family friendly and welcomes large groups (by reservation) as well. Be prepared to be amazed at the wealth of information and educational opportunities here. Programs for pre-schoolers and go on up in age. ((512) 232-0100)
4 Austin Duck Adventures Inc
Feeling a little amphibious? Austin Duck Adventures offers one of the most unique ways to see Austin's most interesting and historic sites. This fun take on touring has you boarding a bus that actually turns into a boat. You'll drive right into Town Lake. Don't worry about getting wet, the sides of the bus are tall enough and since it's a bus as well as a boat, there is a 'roof' so you won't have to worry about getting sun-burnt during the summer. A common theme found in reviews about Austin Duck Adventures is that even the locals learn new things about their city on the tour. Both kids and adults laugh at the 'duck whistles' which are similar to kazoos. ((512) 477-5274)
3 Austin Steam Train
Kids and adults love the Austin Steam Train! It's a great way to spend a few hours and enjoy the excitement of children as they take a ride back in time. Passengers ride in vintage passenger cars from Cedar Park into the Hill Country. The train departs on weekends out of Cedar Park which is about 20 miles north of downtown Austin. The train, called the Hill Country Flyer, takes you on a full day excursion to Burnet, Texas. There is a lunch time layover. You can choose to dine at one of the local restaurants (there are a few within walking distance) or bring your own picnic lunch. Although you can purchase snacks and drinks on board, you may be interested to know that bringing your own food (excluding alcohol) is allowed on board the train. Shopping is available and often the city of Burnet has events to entertain the whole family that take place within walking distance of the train station. Children under the age of three ride for free. Prices range from $11-$42 depending on the type of car you ride in and whether or not it is a 'themed' event. Reservations are recommended. (512.477.8468)
2 Austin Historic Walking Tours
Austin is perfect for walking tours. The capitol city of Texas features decades upon decades of colorful history, noteworthy buildings and enjoys sunny skies almost year round. A knowledgable guide from the Austin Vistor's Center (Historic Walking Tours in Austin) can make the city come to life for you and your family. Even the starting point is rich in history. You'll meet at the south entrance of the state capitol as it serves the departure point for the two free guided walking tours in the area. The tour stops at the Driskill Hotel. Built in 1866, this grand hotel features limestone busts of cattle baron, Jesse Driskill and his sons. Your tour guide may point out that Driskill's likeness faces south because he supported the Confederacy. All in all, the tour is about 10 blocks on Congress Avenue and another nine blocks on Sixth Street. You'll see modern buildings mixed in with 19th century structures as well as two historic churches (St. Mary's Cathedral built in 1874 and St. David's Church built in 1854). The best part? Tours are free! Reservations are required so be sure to call first. (866-GO-AUSTIN)
1 Austin Zoo
Officially named the "Austin Zoo & Animal Sanctuary," this zoo is known by locals as simply the 'Austin Zoo.' It states its mission very simply: to assist animals in need through rescue, rehabilitation and education. It's a very simple place without a lot of fancy exhibits or exotic breeds from all over the world. The focus is on genuinely helping the animals and encouraging humans to interact sensibly and enjoyably. The Austin Zoo is a non-profit business and features over 300 animals and more than 100 species. Most of the animals here were either rescued or surrendered by owners who couldn't take care of them. You'll want to check their website for current visiting hours. Their Facebook page also offers announcements and photos of current events. (512-288-1490)
About Krissy Mayse
Krissy is a native Texan who loves the warmth and sunshine that living in Texas brings almost year-round. She enjoys listening to Texas music outdoors, and in the summer, she enjoys floating down the Guadalupe and Frio Rivers. When she’s not writing, she mentors entrepreneurs and helps account executives take their careers and income to the next level. In her ‘down time,’ Krissy loves reading on her Kindle or hanging out with her family. She is also a home school mom and home schools her oldest son.
Read more about Krissy Mayse here.