Austin, Texas, is known as a great outdoor destination, the live music capital of Texas and the center for all things ‘weird’ in the Lone Star State. Although it may not be renowned for being a family-friendly destination, the reality is that families with kids of all ages will discover that the capital of Texas is an exciting and enjoyable place.
Dive into our list of Austin’s top kid-friendly sites, including everything from museums to tours and animal encounters.
1. Play and explore at Zilker Park
You’d be hard-pressed to do everything in one day at Zilker Park. In addition to a disc-golf course and volleyball courts, the 351-acre park is home to Barton Springs Pool and the Zilker Hillside Theater, which hosts live concerts and shows, like a summer musical and Shakespeare in the Park.
Take the kids to the Austin Nature & Science Center for hands-on nature experiences that will teach children about the natural world around them. Zilker Botanical Garden covers 28 acres and has a lovely array of koi-filled ponds and waterfalls, as well as beautiful gardens with different themes – the Hartman Prehistoric Garden features the same plants that covered the Earth during the time of the dinosaurs.
2. Get a mental workout at Thinkery
As the name implies, Thinkery is a children’s museum that inspires kids to think. The 40,000-sq-ft museum has indoor and outdoor exhibits that cater to children between 0 and 11 years of age.
In the Light Lab, kids learn about the impact of light and how to manipulate color with circuits. The Currents exhibit teaches about the dynamics of water and sound, while the Innovators’ Workshop focuses on making and invention as a means for creative problem-solving. By providing hands-on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) programs and exhibits, Thinkery engages the minds and hearts of your little ones.
3. See swarms of bats at Congress Avenue Bridge
Located right next to downtown, Congress Ave Bridge is home to a colony of Mexican free-tailed bats. It's become the largest urban bat population in North America since the creatures settled under the bridge in the 1980s, and they've amassed a following of curious onlookers who arrive in the late evening to see them fly away in search of food.
You might be able to see them at other times of the year, but prime viewing is between late March and early fall. The bats exit the bridge anytime between 7:30 and 9:45 pm, so you should arrive early to get a good spot on the grassy hill of the Statesman Bat Observation or on the Congress Avenue Bridge.
Planning tip: Austin Bat Refuge has suggestions and predictions for the best times and places to catch the show each night, given the weather conditions. Make it an even more unique experience by renting kayaks or canoes and paddling onto Lady Bird Lake to watch the bat show.
4. Tour the caves at Inner Space Cavern
To see one of the best-preserved cave systems in the US, visit Inner Space Cavern. It’s located right outside of Austin, in the college town of Georgetown.
There's a variety of cave tours available – some of which are easier than others – but no matter which one you take, you’ll see a range of magnificent geological formations and even some prehistoric animal bones!
Planning tip: Once you’ve taken your Inner Space Cavern tour, go above ground and pan for gemstones and fossils, or take a ride on the Saber Tooth zip line.
5. Take a dip at Barton Springs Pool
Located within Zilker Park, Barton Springs Pool is the perfect spot to have a family swim day in Austin. the 3-acre pool is fed from an underground spring. The pool is as deep as 18ft in some spots and maintains an average temperature of 68°F to 70°F, so you can swim here year-round.
Although access to Barton Springs Pool comes at a price from roughly mid-March to the end of October ($9 for non-resident adults and $4 to $5 for kids), it's free every day between November and Austin public schools' spring break. Pack the swimsuits, a cooler for lunch and drinks and make a day of it for the whole family.
Planning tip: Barton Springs is open daily, but lifeguards are only on duty at certain times – currently 8am to 6pm, each day but Thursday. All other times, it's swim at your own risk. Check the official website to confirm the details before you head out.
6. Practice your putting at Peter Pan Mini Golf
Take the kids for a round of Putt-Putt in Austin at Peter Pan Mini Golf. This landmark has been around since 1948 and offers two 18-hole mini-golf courses full of quirky old-fashioned statues, like a gigantic T-Rex, Captain Hook and a larger-than-life blue-colored Converse shoe.
Planning tip: You can purchase tickets online in advance, or pay with cash or contactless credit card on-site. You're welcome to bring your own food and drink, as long as you leave any glass at home.
7. See the sights with Austin Duck Adventures
Get ready for the most interesting and fun-filled tour in Austin with Austin Duck Adventures. Once you and the kids pile into Austin Duck Adventures' US Coast Guard–tested Hydra-Terra vehicle, it will take off on a 75-minute tour of Austin’s best sites – on both land and water.
The tour will inform the whole family about the state capitol, historic Sixth St and the Bullock Texas State History Museum, and even take you for a "dip" in Lake Austin. Kids and adults will be equally delighted on this unique city tour.