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Mt Playmore
Photograph: Courtesy Mt. Playmore

The 13 best things to do in Austin with kids

Austin’s best family-friendly attractions include a dinosaur park, an ice cream museum and a performing arts center for kids

Written by
James Wong
Contributors
David Brendan Hall
&
Sarah Medina
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Austin’s population is growing in more ways than one. While transplants continue to arrive in droves, existing families are too expanding their broods. As a result, there are more things to do in Austin with kids than ever before—activities designed to keep both little ones and their parents entertained. Let’s start with Boomtown’s great outdoors; the city is peppered with parks full of amenities, hiking trails with scenic wonders, and swimming holes for a day of splash. And when the weather gets too unbearable (i.e. summer and cedar fever in spring), well, the indoor offerings aren’t too shabby either. Choose to cool off at the Museum of Ice Cream, where the samples keep on coming, or connect with your inner bookworm at ATX’s best bookstores and libraries, which carry periodicals for all ages. Whether you’re a local looking to keep your children entertained over the holidays or you’re visiting from afar with the whole clan, these awesome family-friendly things to do in Austin won’t disappoint. 

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Best things to do in Austin with kids

  • Attractions
  • Bouldin

It’s probably safe to say we’ve all visited some pretty lame mini-golf courses, but South Austin’s Peter Pan Mini-Golf hasn’t lost its edge since opening in 1948. For just a few bucks, you and your young’uns can conquer two courses complete with plenty of iconic challenges, including the Giant Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Whale, the Old Mill, the Turtle, and of course good ol’ Pan himself. Party and picnic reservations are available and there's a huge bonus for (responsible) parents/guardians: Peter Pan is BYOB (just no glass, please).

  • Attractions
  • Libraries, archives and foundations
  • Rmma

Thinkery is the ultimate space for families to discover a plethora of 'whys' and 'hows' using fun, scientific and physical experimentation.

The innovative building houses countless hours' worth of activities: Peering through microscopes or learning at the Animation Station in the Innovators’ Workshop; practicing concepts of aerodynamics with the object launcher in the Spark Shop; drawing with light or freezing shadows in the Light Lab; uncovering the link between water and sound in the Currents exhibit; or settling in with a wide variety of picture/story books in the cozy Story Nook.

And if the weather’s right, don’t forget to visit the outdoor area complete with a space-age playground and a stream stocked with buckets and sieves for aquatic antics. 

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Ice cream lovers, of which ATX has many, rejoiced when the Museum of Ice Cream (MOIC) opened at The Domain in 2021, and its since continued to play a reward destination for kiddos who behaved themselves all week long. As you’d expect, the giant pink building is dedicated to the sweet stuff and its history across 12 multi-sensory installations. You can jump in their famous sprinkle pool, ride the animal cookie carousel, and of course, there are ice cream breaks throughout the experience to stop and refuel at (read: unlimited helpings). MOIC also has seasonal specials such as ‘Pinkmas’ in the winter, and if you don’t want to fork out for tickets, you can also visit the cafe and shop anytime for free.

  • Attractions
  • Theme parks

Though it’s technically 12 miles east of Austin, near Bastrop, the local Dinosaur Park is a hotspot you won’t want to neglect if your little peeps are Prehistorically inclined. Unlike a traditional dino museum, this park features full-scale statues on a mile-long trail depicting the creatures as they were when they ruled the Earth, plus a Dino Dig for unearthing some life-size 'fossils'.

On a nice afternoon, it’s an ideal site for a birthday or picnic. And if it’s the right season, the grounds offer up a fantastic lesson in local wildlife; you can often spot lizards, wild rabbits, large stick insects and roadrunners as you traverse the path.

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For young and old detectives alike, The Escape Game Austin will put all those problem-solving skills to the test. You have an hour to race against time with the goal of making it through the back door before the buzzer. Players can choose from themed rooms like a prison break, gold rush, and a heist (and there’s also a playground room, in case the kids miss school over the holidays!), and all come with your own personal games master who will flash clues over the duration of the game. A chance to put teamwork into practice, this group activity is fun for all ages from tween up.

If you’re traveling with a pack of adrenaline-loving tweens and teens then Texas’ longest and fastest zipline will give y’all quite the thrill. Lake Travis Zipline Adventures offers day tours whereby guests take on five different ziplines that progress in speed and height as they work their way through. All the necessary equipment is included, plus transfers from the dock to the lakefront. And for you? There may be a secret bar at the end to reward your efforts. Discounts for kids under 17 are offered on weekdays.

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  • Things to do
  • Playgrounds
  • North Austin

Millennial parents may remember Discovery Zone as the perfect alternative to dirty, hot, outdoor playgrounds (or Pandamonium Playland if you’re Austin born-and-bred), but these days it’s all about North Austin’s Mt. Playmore. As Central Texas’s biggest indoor playscape, it’s an ideal spot for hours of supervised, spatial fun. Better yet, if your underage urchins prove exhausting, there are plenty of comfortable couches in a central seating area where it’s easy enough to keep close watch. There’s also an arcade and restaurant to complete the party package, plus a toddlers-only area if you’re toting tykes on the younger side.

  • Attractions
  • Zoo and aquariums
  • Greater Austin

With its underlying mission to assist animals in need through rescue, rehabilitation and education, the Austin Zoo is a fantastic choice to give the kids an up-close encounter with a wide variety of critters and feel good about it.

Your nominal admission price goes directly to efforts to save endangered species and the care of the zoo’s animals. Check out more than 300 animals of over 100 different species while exploring the 15-acre expanse of beautiful hill country. For the most scenic tour, take the 20-minute train ride and see some longhorns, alpacas and emus along the way.

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  • Shopping
  • Bookstores
  • Market District

With three floors, a cozy café, and plenty of quirky Keep-Austin-Weird decor, it’s no wonder that BookPeople—the largest bookstore in Texas—has been voted the capital city’s best bookstore year after year. One of its most beloved sections is the kid's area, which features a colorful, carpeted mini-amphitheater perfectly suited for weekly story times and summer competitions. No matter what tale they tell, you can count on the store’s staff to send your kids home with a smile—they even occasionally bust out their 'preposterous puppeteers' for special events.

  • Attractions
  • Zoo and aquariums
  • Rollingwood

For kids who like to get their hands dirty, a trip to the Austin Nature & Science Center is educational and hands-on. A few of the areas located in the western corner of Zilker Park are indoors, but most of the center's activities—designed for people of all ages—are outside, with the goal of helping visitors 'increase awareness and appreciation of their natural environment'. Check out all the programs, relating to biology, astronomy and paleontology, among many other subjects.

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Are your kids into song and dance? We’ve got you covered. The ZACH is Austin’s top non-profit, theatrical experience that brings together the best local talent for showstopping musicals, plays, and the like. 2023/24 calendar highlights include awarding winning musical comedy The Prom and the traditional Christmas Carol. During the school holidays the theatre hosts camps to help youngsters find courage connectivity and connection.

  • Things to do
  • Rollingwood

As the home of the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival, the Trail of Lights, the Blues on the Green concert series, and dozens of other outdoor activities, Zilker Park is an Austin institution.

You and your kids can explore the sprawling playground, stroll through the stunning Umlauf Sculpture and Zilker Botanical gardens, and rent a canoe or kayak the tranquil waterways, including Lady Bird Lake. Don’t miss out on a cool-off at Barton Springs Pool during the hotter months.

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  • Attractions
  • Camp Mabry

It's common to witness a plethora of peacocks strolling casually among people at West Austin’s Mayfield Park and Preserve. You and your young ones can picnic or explore the gardens while watching the full mating and life cycles of this fascinating, nonaggressive avian family. whose original descendants were introduced in 1935. Primetime is late winter (February) through Spring (April/May), when the males begin fanning their elaborate plumage to court the females. 

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