Austin, Texas has enough live music, breakfast tacos, and barbecue joints to keep its visitors’ toes tapping and bellies full for days on end. It’s a vacation plan I heartily endorse: eat, dance, eat, sleep, repeat. You can’t go wrong. These are the best things to do in Austin with kids.
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Things to do in Austin TX with kids
1. Learn about STEAM at The Thinkery
Austin new children’s museum, The Thinkery, takes hands-on exploration to the next level. The museum’s exhibits revolve around STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math).
There’s a Kitchen Lab where food meets chemistry, a Light Lab where children can explore color, light, and shadows, and Spark Shop where families discover aerodynamics. It’s the perfect spot for children to learn through play.
2. Explore Zilker Park
Zilker Park is a must visit destination for families. The park covers over 350 acres in the middle of the city and offers endless outdoor adventures. There’s a hiking/biking trail, an outdoor pool fed by a natural spring (Barton Springs Pool), kayaks and canoes for rent, and even a miniature train (the Zilker Zephyr).
Zilker is also home to a botanical garden, Austin Nature and Science Center, a sculpture garden, and theatre. Plan on spending half a day at the park.
If you are looking for fun things to do in Austin with kids, no trip is complete without a swim in the icy cold water of Zilker Park’s Barton Springs! A three-acre recreational pool created by floodgates along Barton Creek, this natural water pool remains a chilly 68 degrees year-round.
3. See the bats under Congress Avenue bridge
Austin boasts the largest urban bat colony in the world. On summer evenings, tourists and locals alike line the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge to watch an estimated 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge in search of food.
Bats usually emerge from under the bridge most evenings and create quite a scene (this is weather and time of year dependent).
If you choose to base yourself near the bridge near nightfall, bring something to protect yourselves from falling guano. Other options are a kayak tour on Lady Bird Lake, riding a Segway, or taking a boat ride to see the bats from a different point of view.
4. Learn about government at the Texas Capitol
The Texas State Capitol is a sight to behold as it is the sixth tallest state capitol in the U.S. and larger than the capitol in Washington, D.C.. Inside is just as stunning and free tours are offered daily, departing every 30 to 45 minutes.
It’s the perfect way to introduce older children to the legal system as they have an opportunity to view the Supreme Court and the Senate and House chambers. Bring your camera to take in the beautiful architectural details inside and out!
5. Soak up the local culture with a South Congress Avenue stroll
South Congress is perfect for strolling, eating, and getting a taste of Austin character. Kids will love the Big Top Candy Shop with treats from floor to ceiling, playing outdoor games at TOMS shoe and coffee shop, and playing dress up at Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds (a costume shop).
Of course there are plenty of fun spots for mom and dad too, like Allen Boots (a chance to grab the perfect Texas souvenir) and Jo’s Coffee Shop with its delicious coffee and prime location for people watching.
6. Hit all the best Austin food spots
Of course I need to mention South Congress has some of the most amazing food options in the city. Kids will love Home Slice for its massive pizza slices, Torchy’s Tacos (an Austin staple), and Hopdoddy Burger Bar (where the lines always seem out the door and down the street).
For sweet treats, there’s a food trailer park just down the street from Home Slice called Hey Cupcake! and the other direction is Amy’s Ice Cream where everyone makes their own ice cream creations.
Food trucks are quite popular in Austin, so don’t miss the ones on South First, including Mellizoz Tacos, Little Thai Food, and Gourdoughs (doughnuts).
If you want traditional Texas staples try Franklin Barbecue (frequently voted one of the best BBQ in Austin), Terry Black’s BBQ, or Lamberts Barbecue. For Mexican food head to Chuy’s, Fonda San Miguel, or Licha’s Cantina.
7. Try a street art scavenger hunt
If you or your kids love street art, Austin is the place to be. From the “Greetings from Austin” mural to the “Before I Die” wall where kids can write about their hopes and dreams, it’s a fun place to get a map and go searching for all the spots! My friend Rebecca at R We There Yet Mom, has a wonderful post that shares exactly where the popular murals can be found. Check it out here!
8. Head up to Mount Bonnell for sunset views
Mount Bonnell is the perfect spot for a panoramic view of Austin and the surrounding area. It takes about 10 minutes to climb to the top, but seeing the city from this perspective is stunning. Head over close to sunset before heading out for a bite to eat. The entire experience shouldn’t take more than 10 to 15 minutes.
9. Take a swim in the natural pools of Hamilton Pool Preserve and other outdoor spots
About 45 minutes from the city is this beautiful natural lagoon that has become quite popular. You have to make a reservation to visit Hamilton Pool and wear the right shoes because it’s a 10-15 minute walk to reach it.
An easy hike to the collapsed grotto and waterfall at Hamilton Pool Preserve is sure to delight the entire family. Small children enjoy wading along the pebble beach, and braver big kids can venture further into the depths of natural water for a swim.
Just be advised that there are no lifeguards and swimming is at your own risk. Reservations are now required during the busy season, May through September, due to the preserve’s immense popularity.
Also west of Austin, Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center offers guided weekend tours of the preserve’s lush canyon. Be sure to arrive early as tours fill quickly. You won’t want to miss exploring a small cave and seeing a 40-foot waterfall!
Other natural swimming spots to consider are Krause Springs in Hill Country with 32 springs and two swimming pools and Blue Hole at Wimberley, a section of Cypress Creek perfect for swimming, located in the Hill Country as well.
10. Visit the essential museum of Texas history, The Bullock Texas State History Museum
The Bullock Museum tells the history of Texas through its collection of artifacts, photos, and hands-on experiences. Kids will love the IMAX movie theatre, the La Belle shipwreck exhibition, and ability to trace the state’s history through interactive exhibits. The museum also features rotating exhibits on the history of other subjects such as computer gaming and a collectors’ gallery.
11. Inner Space Cavern
If you’re looking for a unique excursion that will make a lasting impression, take a guided tour of Inner Space Cavern in Georgetown. Explore caverns and natural wonders underground, then head up to the Inner Space Mine and pan for gemstones.
12. Head to the Austin waterparks
Austin has two awesome waterparks close by, both of which are worth the drive. Head south to Schlitterbahn New Braunfels, a 70-acre outdoor water park along the banks of the Comal River which boasts 40 attractions for all ages and heights. Parking and coolers are free, so pack a picnic and plan to stay for the day.
Or, head north to Typhoon Texas in Pflugerville, and enjoy a day of play at the combined water and adventure parks. You’ll be glad you did!
If you’re bringing kids to visit The Lone Star State capital, and are feeling adventurous, strike out and explore beyond downtown Austin. You will be amazed at the beauty of the Texas Hill Country, and your kids will love it too!
Where to Stay in Austin with Kids
Hopefully, you’ve found more than enough ideas to entertain everyone during a weekend in Austin with kids, but don’t miss these other things to do in San Antonio, San Antonio at Christmas, and the best weekend getaways from Dallas.
Book Your Flights
You can find discounted fares using sites like Momondo or Skyscanner. If you want to keep an eye on discount fares, we suggest signing up for Scott’s Cheap Flights, a daily newsletter with flight sales around the world.
If you travel frequently, consider investing in a Priority Pass for airport lounge access. It’s nice to have a space where you can relax before your flight.
Book Your Accommodation
We regularly use Hotels.com and Expedia.com to find lodging when we travel. It’s a great way to compare vacation rentals, hotels, and resorts.
If your family knows they want to stay in a vacation rental, we recommend looking at VRBO and Plum Guide.
Book Your Transportation
For rental car agencies, try Rentalcars.com. We tend to use Hertz simply for the quality of service.
Book Your Tours and Travel Photos
We regularly used companies like Viator and GetYourGuide to book tours when we travel. Both have great communication and a large variety of activities that work for all ages.
If you’re visiting a city with multiple attractions, be sure to check out a discount pass, such as CityPASS or Go City. Tiqets is another place to purchase tickets for attractions.
Context Travel is another option and they offer more educational based activities. The former teacher in me loves their tours.
One of our favorite things to do annually is take photos with Flytographer. They have photographers around the world and we’ve used them on four separate occasions. This is our favorite travel souvenir.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
With the state of travel these days, it’s important to have some type of travel insurance to cover any unforeseen accidents, illnesses, threat or cancellations. We always travel with insurance and would recommend SquareMouth, Travelex, or Medjet as good options. And if you want to compare different insurance options, use Travel Insurance Master to find the best policy for your group.