Family Vacations to Austin, Texas

Austin City Limits Festival, Austin, Texas
Austin City Limits Festival (courtesy, ACVB-Andrew Shapter)

Austin Highlights

  • Ride a miniature train and splash in the pools at Zilker Park.
  • Dig for dinosaur fossils at the Austin Nature & Science Center.
  • Mosh like a rock star at the Austin Children's Museum.
  • Watch millions of bats swarm out at sunset from beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge.

Three hundred sunny days a year and a diverse mix of nature trails, parks, and greenbelts make Austin a Texas-Hill-Country oasis. And 351-acre Zilker Metropolitan Park is the beating heart of green Austin. Kids especially like the playscape of slides and swings and the Zilker Zephyr, a miniature train that runs through the park. Ponds, plants, and dino footprints form the dinosaur habitat at Zilker Botanical Gardens. Two spring-fed community pools, Barton Springs and Deep Eddy, draw families looking to cool off from searing Lone Star State summer temps. Deep Eddy offers shallow waters and summertime Saturday evening movies. At the park's Austin Nature & Science Center, which showcases the flora, fauna, and geology of central Texas, kids can dig up replicas of fossils found in Texas and crawl through a Hill Country cave. Fly a kite anytime in the park, but especially in March, when the facility hosts the Annual Zilker Park Kite Festival.

Town Lake, another city haven, bisects downtown Austin. Stroll, skip, ride, or jog on the ten miles of kid-friendly trails interspersed with frequent benches and water fountains that help rejuvenate tired legs and cranky charges.

Austin bills itself as the "Live Music Capital of the World" with more than 150 venues for country, blues, rock, jazz, classical, and many other types of music. Some less traditional spots that welcome kids at performances include the airport's three live stages and the Central Market, a grocery store that hosts musical events. At the September Austin City Limits Music Festival, kids keep busy with special events such as an instrument "petting zoo" and performances by children's singers and storytellers. Kids can also play at a sand "beach" complete with chairs and umbrellas.

The Austin Children's Museum plays up the musical theme by offering budding rock stars a music set where they can choose a costume, mosh on stage, belt out songs, and round out their performance with percussion shakers and pretend violins and guitars.

Explore Texas history at the State Capitol, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, and the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, whose Native Americans exhibit features a walk-in tepee. The 279-acre Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, ten miles south of town, blooms with 16 gardens of native flowers (see the most color in April and May), including an open-air butterfly garden.

No visit to Austin is complete without bats. From April to October, the sunset exodus of millions of Mexican free-tailed bats from under Congress Avenue Bridge creates an "only in Austin" spectacle.

Tips: The free Capital Metro 'Dillos (for armadillos) trolleys stop at many major downtown attractions.

Recommended Side Trips: Johnson City, San Antonio, Waco's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 1 May 2008 | Last Updated: 9 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »