One of the country’s most unique cities, Austin offers a range of exciting experiences and attractions that you can enjoy with the whole family. You’ll find fascinating science and creativity centers for kids, intriguing historic museums, vast natural spaces, and quirky roadside attractions for souvenir photos. Kids will love all the opportunities to interact with wildlife, explore the outdoors, and play and learn in spaces designed just for them. Discover the top family activities in Austin to make the most of your experience.
1. Cool off at the Barton Springs Municipal Pool
The Barton Springs Municipal Pool is a beautiful pool in Zilker Park that’s fed from underground springs. The pool has consistent temperatures of 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit, making it ideal for year-round swimming. Depths range from 0’ to 18’, so it’s perfect for young ones to swim and play. The park also has the Splash! educational exhibit with displays of the history and biology of Barton Springs and the aquifer that feeds it. Another highlight of visiting the spring is the wildlife. The spring and surrounding areas provide habitat for plenty of native species, including the endangered Barton Springs salamander.
2. Learn about state history at Bullock Texas State History Museum
The Bullock Texas State History Museum is a fascinating historic museum near the Texas State Capitol that’s perfect for a family day out. The museum is named for the 38th Lieutenant Governor of Texas, Bob Bullock, who wanted a museum exhibiting state history. You’ll find many displays showcasing intriguing aspects of the state, including archaeological exhibits from some of the earliest dig sites in the Americas, Native American history in Texas, and the global politics that influenced the growth of the state. You’ll also see exhibits related to civil rights, ranching, oil, and space exploration.
3. Get outdoors at McKinney Falls State Park
If you want to get outside with the kids, McKinney Falls State Park offers a vast outdoor space to explore. The park has several hiking trails that travel along the upper and lower falls of Onion Creek, passing historic sites and diverse flora and fauna. You could see historic sites like the Smith Rock Shelter, a limestone overhang that was used as a shelter for Native Americans, and the McKinney homestead, which includes a gristmill and horse trainer’s cabin. You’ll see plenty of wildlife in the park, such as raccoons, rabbits, white-tailed deer, armadillos, roadrunners, snapping turtles, and snakes.
4. Cast a line at Lake Austin
Lake Austin is a recreational lake on the Colorado River that’s popular for fishing and boating. You can take the kids out on the lake to swim and enjoy watersports like canoeing, kayaking, and sailing. Plenty of outfitters are found near the lake to rent sailboats, canoes, pontoons, motorboats, and party boats. You could also book classes in canoeing, sailing, and kayaking. For fishing, the lake has a stock of catfish, sunfish, and largemouth bass. If you need supplies, you’ll find tackle shops and outfitters nearby.
5. Explore the Zilker Botanical Garden
If you want a low-key day outdoors, the Zilker Botanical Garden offers several gardens with pathways to explore. Some of the gardens include a Cactus and Succulent Garden, the Herb and Fragrance Garden, and the Isamu Taniguchi Oriental Garden. Kids will like the Hartman Prehistoric Garden, which has fossils of tracks made by prehistoric reptiles, the skeleton of an ancient turtle, prehistoric plants, and a life-size sculpture of an Ornithomimus, the animal believed to have made the fossil tracks. Another highlight is the Doug Blachly Butterfly Trail and Garden, a tranquil area that’s home to hundreds of butterflies.
6. See the bat colony at Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge
For a once-in-a-lifetime experience with the kids in Austin, visit the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. One of the unique features of the bridge is that it’s home to the world’s largest urban bat colony. In this maternity colony, the pregnant female bats roost in spring and then raise the pups from summer to fall. At dusk, you can see the massive colony fly out from under the bridge to feed. The bridge crosses over Lady Bird Lake with lanes and sidewalks on both sides, so you’ll have multiple viewing points.
7. Get up close with wildlife at the Austin Zoo
The Austin Zoo is a great place to take the kids to see unique wildlife and learn about conservation. The rescue-focused zoo has over 100 different species of global animals, including Bengal tigers, African lions, monkeys, lemurs, porcupines, and black bears. The zoo features multiple exhibits housing exotic and native animals, including aviaries, big-cat habitats, a dairy barn, a primate enclosure, and a reptile house. There’s also a train depot that provides rides for children to see exhibits like the American alligator habitat and tortoise barnyard.
8. Find thrills at Circuit of the Americas
The Circuit of the Americas is a thrilling motor racing track that’s fun for the whole family. The track hosts the Formula One United States Grand Prix, the IndyCar Classic, and the Motorcycle Grand Prix of the Americas, as well as other major races. You can check the schedule to see what events are taking place during your trip. The track also offers experiences like bike night and COTA karting, which is sure to excite the kids.
9. Marvel at marine life at Austin Aquarium
The Austin Aquarium is a must-visit attraction on your family trip. The aquarium features a variety of cold-water and tropical sea life, including sharks, jellyfish, and coral. You can take the kids to the stingray touch tank to interact with marine life, or you can try a wildlife encounter with lemurs and coatimundis. The aquarium also has an interactive lorikeet and parakeet aviary and a reptile exhibit with a variety of snakes, turtles, and lizards. You can schedule a photo shoot with a mermaid to bring home a unique souvenir of your trip.
10. See masterpieces of art at Mexic-Arte Museum
The Mexic-Arte Museum is a fascinating art museum with exhibits of Mexican, Latino, and Latin American arts and culture. The museum has over 1,500 works of historic and contemporary art and material culture, such as prints, rare books, Mexican dance masks, and lithographs. You’ll also see paintings on stone, wood, glass, paper, and metal, as well as historic camera obscura photographs. Another highlight is the Forgotten Downtown Neighborhood, an exhibit that showcases the culturally significant Mexican American community in downtown Austin dating back to the 1870s.
11. Have a picnic at Emma Long Metropolitan Park
With Austin’s warm, sunny weather, what better way to spend the day with the family than with a picnic in the park? The Emma Long Metropolitan Park offers plenty of open space and picnic table sites for family picnics with views of the lake and trees. The park also has campsites, boat ramps, and swimming areas for outdoor recreation. Depending on the time of year, the Emma Long Metropolitan Park offers events, such as fishing tournaments and outdoor art shows.
12. Find oddities at Museum of the Weird
Austin has always marched to the beat of its own drum and adopted the slogan "Keep Austin Weird" to illustrate its one-of-a-kind culture. One of the best ways to experience the uniqueness of Austin is with a visit to the Museum of the Weird. Located in the Lucky Lizard curio shop, the Museum of the Weird features an array of monsters and oddities, such as a stuffed cyclops pig, a frozen caveman, shrunken heads from the Amazon jungle, and a 3,000-year-old mummy. There’s also a replica skull of a Texan Bigfoot and classic sideshow exhibits.
13. Encourage imagination at Thinkery
Thinkery is an exciting, child-focused museum with interactive exhibits and hands-on learning to encourage curiosity and creativity. The museum’s exhibits are play-based and offer experiences for newborns through 11-year-old children. Each exhibit focuses on a different learning experience, such as the Innovators’ Workshop, the Light Lab, Fresh! Farmers Market, and Earth, Wind, Inspire. Our Backyard, an outdoor exhibit, uses custom-designed obstacles to teach kids to climb and balance, and they can play in a stream with buckets and sieves. Currents is another unique exhibit that uses water and sound displays to teach fluid dynamics.
14. Explore the Mayfield Park Nature Preserve
The Mayfield Park Nature Preserve is a historic cottage, garden, and nature preserve near Lake Austin that offers acres of outdoor exploration. When you visit, you can see the picturesque cottage and wander the botanical garden with the kids. You'll find plenty of open space to explore with walking trails and wildlife, including a flock of free-roaming peacocks that live on the property.
15. Have a learning experience at Austin Nature & Science Center
The Austin Nature & Science Center is a hands-on nature center that promotes learning and exploration in children. Located on the western side of Zilker Park, the center offers programs for preschool through teen children, such as an eco-detective trail with a scavenger hunt, a dinosaur pit exhibit, and a fossil dig. The center also has native Texas wildlife like coyotes, snakes, owls, and porcupines and a science lab where kids can try experiments to learn about the natural world.
16. Take pictures at the 'Greetings from Austin' mural
The "Greetings from Austin" mural is a stunning street-art display in the city that’s the perfect spot for a photo opportunity. You’ll find colorful street art throughout Austin, but this attractive mural is designed with the aesthetic of 1940s postcards and showcases some of the city’s most iconic attractions, including the Texas State Capitol, the Texas flag, and the University of Texas Tower. The mural is on the corner of South First Street and Annie Street, where you can park and walk to the location to take pictures.
17. Tour the Texas Governor’s Mansion
The Texas Governor’s Mansion is a historic home that has been the residence of the governor every year since 1856. A slice of local history, the Texas Governor’s Mansion is a must-visit attraction on your trip. The mansion features Greek revival architecture with trees and gardens, but it’s been renovated over the years to maintain its condition. You can book a tour to see the interior of the mansion and learn about its centuries-old history.
18. See the Cathedral of Junk
The Cathedral of Junk is a unique attraction in Austin that’s sure to delight the whole family. Located in the backyard of a house on a suburban street, the artist has been working on the cathedral art piece since 1988, adding more and more junk over the years. Now a massive art installation, the piece features lawn mower wheels, cables, bottles, car bumpers, bike parts, and other “junk” that’s been wrapped in natural vegetation. It’s illuminated by beer signs, clocks, and other wall signs that cast it in an eerie glow. Some of the pieces used in the cathedral have been given to the artist by visitors, so feel free to bring some of your own bric-a-brac.