With its interactive museums, great outdoors and excellent city parks, the American city of Austin is a hot spot for families.
When my husband and I read about all the family friendly activities there, we booked a trip with our four-year-old son and 19month-old daughter.
Here are our five favourite things to do with kids in the Texan capital:
1. Tinker at Thinkery
Packed with hands-on exhibits that encourage kids to explore how things work, Thinkery children’s museum aims to foster innovation and creative problem solving through play.
The eight galleries each host a variety of activities to engage children of all ages.
Our pre-schooler loved creating colourful works of art at the Spark Shop, which provides tools and materials for children and adults to tinker with and make things together.
The toddler got herself all wet at Currents, a water play area where children can splash and learn about the flow of fluids.
The grown-ups too had a great time in the Light Lab, where guests can fiddle with colour, light and shadows using mini blocks and LED lights.
We could not get the children to leave the museum without stopping by the outdoor play area.
It features a climb structure that may look intimidating but is designed in such a way that even young ones can navigate it.
My son was very proud of himself after scaling the rope structure.
2. Visit Zilker Metropolitan Park
Centrally located in downtown Austin, the 142ha Zilker Metropolitan Park is home to numerous attractions.
We started with a 20-minute ride on the Zilker Zephyr miniature train, which took us around the beautiful park.
We saw people kayaking and canoeing along Barton Creek and Lady Bird Lake and knew we had to take the family on our first boating adventure.
We got into one canoe, and the kids had fun paddling and feeding the swans that swam up to us.
The park is also home to the Austin Nature and Science Center, where the young ones had the chance to see rescued wildlife and dig for dinosaur bones.
3. Hike the family friendly trails
As outdoor enthusiasts, we are always on the hunt for easy hiking trails suitable for our kids.
We explored a few in and around Austin, and our favourite were Mayfield Park and Preserve,
Mount Bonnell and Walnut Creek Trail.
Mayfield Park features a historic country cottage, tranquil gardens with koi ponds and resident peacocks that roam the grounds freely. We were lucky to witness a spectacular plumage show from a strutting peacock — a highlight for the kids.
The walking trails in the neighbouring preserve are short and well-shaded, and our children enjoyed playing in the creek and attempting the creek crossings.
Just a three-minute drive away lies Mount Bonnell, where we took a leisurely climb to the city’s highest point. We were rewarded with a sweeping view of Lake Austin and the lakefront homes. It was an easy ascent, as my daughter was able to climb up the 105 steps by herself in less than 10 minutes.
At Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park, one of the few off-leash dog parks in Austin, we wandered through the shady woodland wonderland with some furry friends.
4. Check out Texas Farmers’ Market at Mueller
There are numerous farmers’ markets in the city; the one at Mueller has been voted the best by the Austin Chronicle’s readers for the past four years.
We sampled artisan foods from local vendors, including the famous Texas-style barbecue pastrami, handcrafted ginger beer and gourmet marshmallows.
Located by Mueller Lake just 5km from downtown Austin, the market on Sundays and Wednesdays is more than just a place where you can buy foodstuff to take home.
The kids got to cuddle adorable animals at the travelling petting zoo and the adults could shop for handmade crafts and souvenirs.
Austin calls itself the live music capital of the world, so of course there was live music even at a market, which helped to create a welcoming and festive atmosphere.
A few people were dancing to country music played by the band and we could not resist joining in.
5. Explore Play for All Abilities Park
We heard about the Play for All Abilities Park from a friend who raved about it.
The 4,740 sq m fenced playground in Round Rock, a city about 30km north of downtown Austin, is designed to provide all children, including those with special needs, with an opportunity to play and develop skills in a safe, outdoor environment.
There are several areas, each with a different developmental focus. They include:
• a village pod with replicas of actual businesses in the community, street signs and functioning traffic lights;
• a sensory pod that provides different sensory experiences;
• a rock band pod to facilitate social interaction and non-verbal communication while making music;
• a retreat pod with play elements that mimic therapy equipment for children who might get over-stimulated.
Play for all Abilities Park is the most amazing park we have been to, and best of all — it is free for all to use.
Our kids loved the roller slide. The wide structure enabled them to slide down together and the individual rollers provided an added tactile experience.
It was also the first time they saw a wheelchair swing, and we took the opportunity to explain to them the meaning of an inclusive playground. We spent five hours in the park and would have stayed even longer if not for naptime.
Austin offers plenty of free or affordable activities to entertain everyone. So pack your cowboy hats and get set for some big Texan fun.
• We flew from Singapore to Austin on United Airlines, with a stopover in San Francisco.
• Spring and autumn are the best times to visit Austin, as the temperature in summer can rise beyond 40 deg C.
• Thinkery (thinkeryaustin.org): The admission price is US$12 (S$16.50) and free for children between 0 and 23 months. On Community Night (Wednesdays from 4pm to 8pm), admission is by donation.
• Play for All Abilities Park in Round Rock: Bring your own bike or scooter to zoom around the speedway and cruise through the village area.
• It is easy to get around downtown Austin using public transportation or bike rentals, but a car is necessary to get to places outside the city limits.
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