Planning a Family Trip to Austin

Jun 11, 2019

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You’ve heard about the tasty breakfast tacos, the live music on every corner and the barbecue — but have you heard that Austin is a magical place for families to visit? Explore the city’s world-class museums, spring-fed swimming holes, abundant food trucks and picturesque parks. You’ll find there’s something for everyone in the weirdest, coolest city in Texas.

How to Get There

Getting to Austin is a piece of cake. Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) serves most domestic airlines including American Airlines, United, Allegiant Air, Southwest, Delta, Frontier and JetBlue. There are also nonstop flights on British Airways, Air Canada, Aeromexico, WestJet, Sun Country, Norwegian Air and Lufthansa.

Related: Best Airline Credit Cards for Families in 2019

When booking your flight, some “sweet spot” ways to get to Austin include: using British Airways Avios points on American Airlines, jumping on any JetBlue flash sales and keeping an eye out for Frontier Airlines’ “Kids Fly Free” offers.

This could also be an excellent opportunity to use an airline companion certificate. The Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express gives members a companion fare on their card anniversary, or the Southwest Companion Pass allows you to bring along a designated friend or family for free (just pay the taxes on the companion ticket).

Once you’ve touched down, throw on your shades and your Stetson and call for a Lyft, Uber or RideAustin driver. The latter is a local nonprofit ride-share that lets you round up your fare to the nearest dollar with the extra going to a local charity. There are also taxis, of course, though this is often a pricier alternative. And sure, in theory, you could rent a car, but considering Austin’s notoriously hairy traffic and limited parking, a ride-share is a better choice.

When you arrive, depending on where you’re going or the time of day, it should only take between 20 and 30 minutes to get to the heart of the city by car.

Courtesy of Visit Austin
Courtesy of Visit Austin

Family-Friendly Neighborhoods

There are several great family-friendly neighborhoods in Austin, many of which are walkable — though keep in mind that this car-happy city itself isn’t particularly conducive to strolling from area to area.

South Congress Avenue. Trendy, bustling South Congress Avenue (or SoCo, as it’s known to locals), which stretches from about Barton Springs to Elizabeth Street, is terrific for eating, walking around and just getting a feel for Austin’s eclectic, artsy character. Grab an Iced Turbo at Jo’s Coffee Shop and a cone at Amy’s Ice Cream and soak up the atmosphere.

South First Street. Just a block over from South Congress, South First Street feels like a world away, a world that is relatively peaceful but still packed with unique shops, galleries and some of the best eateries in town. South First is a the ideal spot for sampling Austin’s famed foodie culture. Take the family to Fresa’s, a kid-friendly hot spot with a sprawling playscape, and grab dessert at Gourdough’s, a popular food truck that sells delicious doughnuts covered in all kinds of crazy toppings.

Zilker. South of the Colorado River and close to Downtown, Zilker offers tranquility, scenery, ample cafes and restaurants, and access to one of Austin’s best family attractions: Zilker Park. A must-visit for families with kids, Zilker Park spans 350 acres in the middle of the city. There’s enough here to keep you busy for the better part of a day, including Barton Springs Pool (where the daily entry fee is $9 for adults, $5 for kids ages 12-17, $4 for kids ages 1–11, and free for babies under 1 year), kayak and canoe rentals, a miniature train, free outdoor theater, botanical gardens, a sculpture garden and more.

Courtesy of Visit Austin
Photo courtesy of Visit Austin

Downtown. A hub of activity and culture, Downtown Austin is where you’ll find the city’s gleaming skyscrapers, office buildings, newly constructed high-rises and several top tourist attractions. Visiting families can walk to the State Capitol building, delve into Texas history at the Bob Bullock Museum (entrance fees are $13 for adults and $9 for kids ages 4–17), explore the awe-inspiring Central Library, and check out the bats by night at the Congress Avenue Bridge (if you’re visiting between March and August, that is). Just be sure to get to the bridge early; spots fill up quickly.

Austin
Photo courtesy of Visit Austin

East Downtown. Quieter than the busy Downtown area but still close enough to all the action, East Austin offers rustic, art-fueled charm and a high concentration of hipster hangouts. If you came to Austin to hear live music, pop into art galleries and eat savory tacos and barbecue, this is the place to be.

Best Points Hotels in Austin for Families

Austin is one of the most popular cities in the country for visitors, which means that pretty much every major hotel brand has properties in the city.

The JW Marriott (Category 6, from 50k Marriott points per night for a room with two queen beds): Boasting a tough-to-beat downtown location and a wide array of family-friendly amenities, the JW Marriott is a great option for those who want to be near all the action. There are three stellar restaurants on the premises and the rooftop pool offers glittering skyline views. It’s luxury and class all the way, with complimentary beverages and snacks offered throughout the day, plus a fabulous on-site spa for parents who need pampering.

Holders of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card can earn an annual up to 50k-point free-night certificate, which can be used at Category 6 or lower properties.

Courtesy of Visit Austin
Photo courtesy of Visit Austin

Hilton Austin: Enjoy lovely views of Lady Bird Lake, a super-convenient location and plenty of amenities at the Hilton Austin. This hotel is a prime pick for families, with cribs available for guest rooms and a children’s menu at the on-site restaurant (the delectable Cannon & Belle). The hotel also has a lap pool, whirlpool and a sun deck overlooking the city.

This Hilton costs a minimum of 28,000 points per night (can go as high as 60k). With the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, you can receive annual complimentary Diamond status, a $250 Hilton resort statement credit and a Weekend Night Reward (at card anniversary).

Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa (from 20k World of Hyatt points per night for a room with two queen beds and balcony): For families who’d prefer peace and quiet in nature as opposed to the bustle of the city, a stay at the family-friendly Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa is in order. Nestled in the scenic Hill Country about 25 miles from downtown Austin, this spacious resort has everything: s’mores-making, horseback riding, a 1,000-foot lazy river, a children’s pool with a huge waterslide and much more.

With the World of Hyatt Credit Card, you can earn one free night at any Category 1–4 hotel or resort after the card member anniversary, plus an additional free night after spending $15k during your anniversary year. Also, junior suites are available using Diamond Confirmed Upgrades; these suites are sizable, with a full bedroom, bathroom and separate living area.

Photo courtesy of Hyatt Lost Pines Resort
Photo courtesy of Hyatt Lost Pines Resort

Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt (from 60k IHG Rewards Club points for a room with two queen beds): Named after Austin’s legendary singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt, the sleek Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt is decked out with music-inspired flourishes. Families will love being near the vibrant culture of downtown and getting all the Kimpton brand perks: welcome gifts for kids; complimentary margaritas, beer and wine, and fresh chocolate chip cookies and milk for the kids if you are lucky.

Image by Summer Hull / TPG.
Image by Summer Hull / TPG.

You can get automatic IHG Platinum Elite Status by having the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, which can net you a $10 “raid the minibar” credit and a fourth night free when booking an award stay.

Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt. (Image by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Trip-Planning Tips

Do grab a bite from a food truck. Whether you need breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert or just a snack, and regardless of what type of food you’re craving, chances are that there’s a food truck selling what you want. Austin’s food truck scene is legendary; don’t skip it.

Courtesy of Visit Austin
Photo courtesy of Visit Austin

Don’t eat breakfast at your hotel. Why waste time on a generic continental breakfast at your hotel when you could be tucking into breakfast tacos from a food truck down the street? It’d be a crime to leave Austin without at least trying breakfast tacos here. Veracruz All Natural, Tamale House East, Mi Madre and Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ are all great options.

Do take the Zilker Zephyr. If you’ll be spending time in Zilker (and families with children absolutely should), the Zilker Zephyr, aka Zilker Park’s miniature train, is the perfect way to get the lay of the land — plus, the kids will love it. The train is cash only; it’s $3 for adults, $2 for kids, and free for babies under one year old.

Don’t forget sun protection. The sunshine is no joke here. Now’s the time to stock up on your SPF 50 and sun hats if you’ll be out and about.

Do see live music. No, you don’t have to go to a rowdy bar or nighttime venue to see awesome live music in Austin. For families, check out Radio Coffee & Beer for bluegrass, Cherrywood Coffeehouse for local kids’ entertainers, The Austin Beer Garden Brewing Company (ABGB) for lively bands and local brews, or Guero’s Taco Bar on SoCo which has an outdoor performance area next door with live music several nights a week (and plenty of picnic tables).

Courtesy of Visit Austin
Photo courtesy of Visit Austin

Don’t visit during festivals. Unless you’re specifically in town for ACL (Austin City Limits Music Festival) or SXSW (South By Southwest), Austin’s two biggest, we recommend avoiding festival times since hotel prices tend to skyrocket and there are always long lines and chaotic crowds everywhere you go. SXSW is held over two weeks in March and ACL usually takes place in early October; plan accordingly.

Do say hi to people. Austinites are very friendly! Expect lots of smiles and warm “Howdy, y’all” greetings from strangers as you make your way around town.

Don’t wear fancy clothes. Dallas this ain’t — in Austin people dress down, regardless of the activity or place. Fancy restaurant, park, upscale shopping area or casual cafe, it’s all the same: T-shirts, jeans, sandals, cowboy boots, jeans and more jeans.

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Bottom Line

There’s no shortage of kid-friendly attractions in Austin, whether you want to explore the outdoors, indulge in delicious Tex-Mex or barbecue, or beat the heat by visiting the many museums and cultural sites. There’s simply not enough time to see everything in one visit — y’all come back now, ya hear?

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