Everything you need to know about taking a family trip to Austin

Dive into a natural springs pool, dance to a different beat and discover something unusual in Austin. The eclectic capital of Texas is bursting with natural beauty, mouth-watering barbecue and music around every corner. With nearly 300 days of sunshine annually, an average temperature of 70 degrees and a goal to “Keep Austin Weird,” there’s plenty of fun for your family.

Outdoor oasis

Austin is greener and more gorgeous than you might imagine. Zilker Park (2100 Barton Springs Road), an expansive 350-acre metropolitan park, borders the beautiful Lady Bird Lake. Run, bike, fly a kite or simply enjoy a picnic with the Austin skyline as your backdrop. Kayaks, canoes and stand up paddleboards can be rented from Zilker Park Boat Rentals. Kids will love the Zilker Zephyr, a miniature train that offers 25-minute rides around the park. Take a refreshing dip into the 68-70 degree Barton Springs Pool, a three-acre natural spring-fed pool open for swimming year-round. Deep Eddy is a shallower (and warmer) natural watering hole. Zero-depth entry is great for tots or lounging parents.

Live music everywhere

As the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World, Austin jams from the minute you land in Bergstrom International Airport to when you go grocery shopping. The Texas-sized flagship of Whole Foods (525 N. Lamar Blvd.), along with more than 250 other Austin establishments, showcases live music. From blues to jazz, country to indie rock, you’re sure to find your beat.

The laidback outdoor atmosphere of Austin’s casual restaurants is perfect for families. Many feature playgrounds, backyard games and free concerts.

Enjoy the pecan tree-shaded patio of The Shady Grove (1624 Barton Springs Road), whose free Unplugged music series runs Thursday nights April-September. The lit-up, eclectic décor gets as many favorable reviews as the queso catfish and Hippie veggie sandwich.

Evangeline’s (8106 Brodie Lane) is a great spot for Cajun (fried pickles anyone?) and live bands. Craving Mexican? El Mercado (1302 S. 1st St.) is a winner for tunes and dinner.

BBQ, food trucks and more

Franklin Barbecue (900 E. 11th St.) might be the most famous BBQ place in Austin, but it plays hard to get. Since it’s only open for lunch Tuesdays through Sundays and available from 11 a.m. to whenever it’s sold out, you can wait in line for hours and still not score a bite. County Line (two locations: On the Hill and On the Lake) and The Salt Lick (18300 Farm to Market Road 1826, Driftwood) are more family-friendly options.

County Line’s all-you-can-eat barbecue is a great value. And, as their menu states, the famous homemade bread is worth the dough. The On the Hill location offers great views, while families enjoy feeding the ducks and turtles On the Lake. The Salt Lick is a short, scenic drive into the Texas Hill Country for sensational sunset views, savory sauce and a swing in a hammock.

Austin also offers hot and spicy chicken, breakfast 24/7 and creative ice cream flavors. You’ll love every bite of Gus’s Fried Chicken (117 San Jacinto Blvd.). Magnolia Café (2304 Lake Austin Blvd. and 1920 S. Congress Ave.) serves Tex Mex and breakfast night and day. Peruse the playful gift shop next door to the Congress Boulevard location while you wait for your table. Amy’s Ice Creams boasts many Austin locations and 350 unique rotating flavors, like Apple Jacks and Grasshopper.

Food trucks galore! You’ll notice these tasty trailers on countless corners. The Midway (1905 S. Capital of Texas Highway) is a circle of food trucks on the west side of Austin with a playground and live music in the middle. Thai Kitchen and Korean Komfort don’t disappoint.

Festivals, museums and batty creatures

Fun festivals featuring ice cream, bacon and beer, free yoga, barbecue and more are offered throughout the year. Check austintexas.org for details. Austin Kiddie Limits is the free festival for kids 10 and under within the famous Austin City Limits (Oct. 2-4 and 9-11). Kids can play the drums, learn to beatbox, paint a mural and punk out their hair.

Austin Zoo (10808 Rawhide Trail) is a rehab zoo, which offers close-up experiences with rescued animals. Feeding and reading about how each animal was rescued makes it feel more personal. Looking for a children’s museum that’s fun for kids up to 12? Explore science hands on with mom or dad or climb the robust playground outside The Thinkery.

Hundreds of people line up across Congress Avenue Bridge and picnic in the park below to see an unusual and fascinating attraction. The largest urban bat colony in North America swirls into the sky at dusk to capture their insect dinner. Just another funky reason your family will go batty over Austin.

Cortney Fries
Cortney Fries
An award-winning travel journalist, Cortney Fries (pronounced "freeze") has been writing about family travel for over a decade. She knows that parents planning trips are looking for all members to have fun and make lasting memories. Cortney believes that you should definitely try anything that makes you slightly nervous.
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