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Austin may be best known for bats, brisket, breakfast tacos and multi-media festivals, but the city is also a wonderful place for a family getaway. It’s the state’s capital, of course, which means it’s replete with iconic landmarks, cool museums and historical sites. There are also dozens of family-friendly restaurants with playscapes, verdant hiking trails and parks, and so much more. Here are the best things to do in Austin if you have kids.

Related: Plan a Trip to Austin — how to get there, when to go and where to stay.

Courtesy of Visit Austin
Courtesy of Visit Austin

Family Fun on the Cheap in Austin

Families who’d prefer to stick to a budget when looking for things to do don’t need to worry. There’s no shortage of fun and free activities for families in Austin.

Attend Storytime at BookPeople

Austin’s biggest and arguably most beloved independent bookstore, BookPeople, is the perfect place to duck into on a rainy afternoon (or, as is often the case in Central Texas, a brutally hot afternoon). Adults and kids alike will love wandering around this book lover’s paradise, and there’s a fantastic children’s section brimming with games, books and toys. Best of all, the BookKids Storytimes always feature a fun storyteller and/or great local guests; held every Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, story time tends to be a popular activity — be sure to get there early to beat the crowd.

Take a Family Hike on the Greenbelt

The Barton Creek Greenbelt is a pristine, 832-acre natural oasis in the heart of the city, with 12 miles of family-friendly trails, swimming spots, waterfalls and lush native plants. There are several access points scattered around town, but one of our faves is the Spyglass entrance (1601 Spyglass Dr.); there’s usually ample street parking here (and, not to mention, a Tacodeli at the trailhead), plus the trail will take you to Campbell’s Hole, which is a scenic, less-trafficked swimming hole than other spots on the Greenbelt.

Courtesy of Visit Austin
Courtesy of Visit Austin

Go for a Dip in Barton Springs

Especially if you’re exploring Austin on a hot day, there’s no better place to be than the cool water of Barton Springs. Many refer to this sprawling, spring-fed pool as the “Soul of Austin” — Austinites have been fishing, swimming and socializing here since the 1800s. Plus, it’s right on the edge of Zilker Park, so you’ll be near some other great family-friendly attractions, including Lady Bird Lake, the Zilker Botanical Garden and the Zilker Zephyr Train. If you’ll be here during the summertime, plan to catch a show at the Zilker Hillside Theatre, an outdoor venue on the banks of Barton Springs that presents free musical performances.

Barton Springs is $4 for non-resident kids ages 1 to 11 years and $9 for adults; note that coolers, ice chests, food and glass are all prohibited. The pool is one of the most popular spots in town on the weekends, so be prepared to wait in line or get there early (trust us, it’s worth it).

Courtesy of Visit Austin
Courtesy of Visit Austin

Take Advantage of Free Museum Days

Austin has its fair share of awesome museums, and fortunately, many of them offer free admission days. The Blanton Museum of Art is free on Thursdays, from 10am to 5pm, the Bullock Texas State History Museum is free the first Sunday of every month, Laguna Gloria has free admission on Tuesdays from 9am to 5pm, and the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum is always free for kids ages 12 and under.

Educational Fun in Austin

When it’s time for some culturally enriching fun, there’s plenty in Austin to keep kids’ brains occupied.

Play Around at the Thinkery

The Thinkery is pretty much the ultimate space in Austin for families with young children. This innovative, hands-on children’s museum features science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) exhibits — whether you’re peering through microscopes, exploring the connections between water and sound at the Currents exhibit, or learning about healthy meal choices and food sources at the Fresh! Farmers’ Market, the whole family is bound to learn something new here.

Courtesy of Visit Austin
Courtesy of Visit Austin

Explore the Texas State Capitol

Take your little ones on a free guided tour of the awe-inspiring Texas State Capitol. Tours are held daily, and kids will love marveling at the life-size statues of Texan politicians and the giant, ornate rotunda. Tip: Stand directly in the center of the rotunda (on the star on the floor) and whisper your name while looking up to the star on the ceiling; you’ll hear your whispered name echoed back to you (the kiddos will love doing this!)

Dome of the state capital building of Texas in Austin (Photo by ajansen / Getty Images)
Dome of the state capital building of Texas in Austin (Photo by ajansen / Getty Images)

Visit the Central Library

Austin’s newest library is one of the most impressive structures in the country. In fact, it was recently named one of Time’s “World’s Greatest Places,” and it’s certainly not hard to see why: The Central Library is an architecturally beautiful, inviting space featuring six gleaming floors of natural sunlight and a rooftop overlooking Lady Bird Lake and Shoal Creek. There’s a fantastic children’s section here, with several cozy reading nooks and a big screened-in porch, and an activity room for art projects, toys that encourage interactive play and rows of educational computer games. Plus, kids can even check out binoculars from the Children’s Information Desk to use to look out over the city from the roof.

Photo courtesy of the Austin Public Library
Photo courtesy of the Austin Public Library

Splurges in Austin

If you don’t mind spending a pretty penny on an activity or two, catching a movie or live theater performance is always a great idea.

See a Movie at Alamo Drafthouse

For a fun indoor activity when you need to beat the heat, take the kids to a movie screening at one of Austin’s several Alamo Drafthouse locations. Alamo has notoriously excellent children’s programming and events, including the Alamo Kids Club Prize Book, the “My First Movie Certificate,” Kids Camp (special screenings for families) and more.

Go to a Show

Taking the kids to see live theatre is always such a fun experience, and Austin has plenty of kid-friendly shows. Check out Austin Theater for up-to-date info on upcoming performances in venues around the city. (Just to give you an idea, some current shows include Aladdin at Bass Concert Hall, Peppa Pig Live at Cedar Park Center and The Wiggles at ACL Live At Moody Theater.)

Courtesy of Visit Austin
Courtesy of Visit Austin

Restaurants Kids Will Love

Austin isn’t exactly short on kid-friendly restaurants, but there are a few places that stand out.

Fresa’s

Fresa’s on South First is known for its famous rotisserie-style chicken al carbon that’s served with charro beans, chargrilled onions, rice with carrots and peas, and corn tortillas. Yes, the food is mighty tasty, and the South First location has a lovely, tree-shaded patio and an excellent kid’s menu, complete with crispy chicken-and-cheese quesadillas. We also love that Fresa’s supports local teachers by offering a 15% discount to faculty and staff all day, every day.

Ski Shores Café

Ski Shores boasts a prime location on Lake Austin — you’ll undoubtedly want to hang out here for at least a couple hours, and the kids won’t mind since there’s a playscape, an area for feeding the turtles and fish, and arcade games. We recommend coming here for Family Movie Night (held every Friday); kids can roast free s’mores around the fire pit to snack on during the film.

Phil’s Icehouse

All three Phil’s locations share a playground with Austin’s most famous ice cream shop, Amy’s Ice Cream — need we say more? Sip your beer and wait on your burgers in the shade while the kids run around on the playground, then, end your meal with an Amy’s cone. Pure bliss!

Jester King Brewery

Technically on the city outskirts (it’s roughly a 30-minute drive from Austin), Jester King Brewery is well-worth mentioning here for three reasons. First, this is a fantastic place to bring the whole family; there’s plenty of outdoor space, yard games and a sand area to keep kids busy for hours on end. Second, the on-site pizza place makes some of the most delectable pies in the city. Plus, Jester King is a truly idyllic spot the Hill Country scenery here is just as good as the brews and pizza.

Bottom Line

Austin is definitely worth a place on your family’s must-visit list. There is plenty to do to keep you busy for days, the restaurants are kid-friendly and there are a bevy of points hotels from which to choose. If you haven’t already, read TPG‘s guide to planning a trip to Austin, with tips for how to get there, when to go and where to stay. See you in there!

Interested in other Texas getaways? Here are a few ideas:

Featured image by Cody Ash/Getty Images

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