1. Liz Carpenter Fountain in Butler Park – If there’s one thing you need to know when visiting Austin, it’s where to go to cool off. Liz Carpenter Fountain is the ideal spot for splashing because not only is it centrally located, just south of downtown, it’s also open year-round! If you stay past sunset, you can enjoy the fountain’s colorful light show, which runs each evening from dusk to 9:45 p.m. (Click here for hours of operation.)
Bonus: If you visit during summer months, you can plan your splash pad visit to coincide with free family-friendly events happening at the neighboring Long Center.
2. Zilker Park – Chances are, if you’re visiting Austin, you’ll spend some time in the city’s “Crown Jewel,” Zilker Park. Also located just south of Lady Bird Lake, Zilker Park boasts 351 acres of parkland, trails, water, gardens, and even a hillside theater (this summer you can see the musical Oklahoma! under the stars). From the massive playground to the Austin Nature and Science Center, there is plenty of free fun for littles to enjoy. Also, during the summer of 2014, Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum will not be charging admission.
Bonus: If you don’t mind a spending just a little, don’t miss these budget-friendly options in Zilker Park: ride the miniature locomotive, the Zilker Zephyr, which departs from a depot next to the playground; rent a kayak or canoe from Zilker Park Boat Rentals (coupon here); hop across stepping stones to view koi, admire waterfalls, and navigate a bamboo-lined path in Zilker Botanical Garden. And of course you can’t go wrong with a refreshing swim in spring-fed Barton Springs Pool! (Click here for a handy map of Zilker Park.)
3. Mayfield Park – Get up close and personal with peacocks at this unique Austin park and preserve. The bold birds parade around the grounds, allowing you to admire their radiant plumage as they strut on by.
Bonus: Continue your leisurely stroll next door at Laguna Gloria, a property owned by The Contemporary Austin that resembles an Italian villa. Then, head down the street to climb Mount Bonnell for rewarding views of the city skyline. If you need a respite from the heat, venture over to nearby Camp Mabry and explore tanks and more at the free Texas Military Forces Museum.
4. Whole Foods Market – The Whole Foods Market flagship store in downtown Austin is a delight for kids and adults alike. Children can enjoy free fruit, story time with arts and crafts, and burning off steam on the rooftop plaza playscape. Adults will enjoy the breathtaking array of prepared foods that make throwing together a scrumptious picnic a snap!
Bonus: Austin’s favorite independent bookstore, BookPeople, is located just across the street! Time it right and kids can enjoy a delightful story time (then crawl through the tunnel under the seating area).
5. Bull Creek – For a low-key outdoor adventure, head west and take in the scenery along Bull Creek. Children can take nets to “go fishing” and enjoy wading through the clear, shallow waters. Upper Falls is a popular swimming hole, complete with rope swing. For easy access, park in the lot right off Capital of Texas Highway (360), just south of Spicewood Springs, about a mile north of 2222 (map).
For even more ideas, check out 75 Fun Things to do in Austin This Summer!
Heidi Gollub spends her days exploring Austin and beyond with five kids in tow. She writes about their adventures on her website, Free Fun in Austin.
For more free Texas fun for kids and families, check out:
Five free things to do with kids in Houston, by Jennifer Patrick with Still Living the Dream
Five free things to do with kids in Dallas / Ft. Worth, by Courtney Solstad with My Crazy Savings
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