This is what Zilker Park looks like when the Festival starts. The sky (and many trees) are full of kites in the afternoon.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise that a kite festival is a huge hit here in Austin. In fact, Austinites have been flocking in droves to Zilker Park on the first Sunday in March since 1936 to kick off spring, enjoy our amazing weather and engage in a pasttime which triggers nostalgia for kids young and old. This year’s Zilker Kite Festival will be held on Sunday, March 3, 2013, from 10am-5pm. Attendance is expected to reach 20,000, and since the event takes place in Zilker Park, pets and food (leave glass at styrofoam at home, however!) are allowed. In the unlikely case of rain, the Festival will be rescheduled for the following Sunday. As the title sponsor for the event, ABC Home and Commercial Services will distribute 5,000 free kites and other giveaways throughout the day. A $5 festival raffle will benefit local nonprofit Communities in Schools. You’ll see virtually every type of kite imaginable at the Festival and you can even make your own kite there at one of the kite construction booths. CultureMap has this handy map if you want to get a sneak peek at where everything will be taking place.
Competitions (for those with homemade kites) include largest kite, steadiest kite, smallest kite, strongest pulling kite, most unusual kite and highest angle kite. Contests are divided between youth and adult divisions.
Festival organizers plan to incorporate more interactive social media efforts into the event this year, inviting attendees to share their favorite photos from past and present events, workshops and kite sightings on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (#zilkerkitefest). They’ll also keep followers informed on activities, parking, shuttle, and logistic information through their Facebook page and Twitter updates.
Having gone the past few years, here are some general tips:
Go early. The later in the day you head out, the more crowded it will be. And when I say crowded, I’m talking there-isn’t-room-to-fly-a-kite kind of crowded. In fact, the southbound traffic on Mopac that day backs up for miles. We usually plan to arrive at 10am and that affords us have plenty of room to get our kite flying on as people start to arrive. One of the booths my now six-year-old son has always enjoyed is the storytelling at the Theater Action Project (now called Creative Action).
Have a plan for parking. There is onsite parking, but it’s extremely limited. If you can’t make it earlier in the day, as I mentioned, Mopac turns into a parking lot, so avoid it at all costs. Since we always arrive early, we park in the Austin High parking lot north of Lady Bird Lake and walk across the footbridge and along the Hike and Bike Trail to the north side of the Park. Barton Springs Road is closed from 9am-6pm on the day of the Festival, but shuttles are available from these locations:
Downtown at the State parking lots at 1604 Colorado Street
South at the Toney Burger Activity Center at 3200 Jones Road
Although the shuttles are $2 roundtrip per human ages 12 and up, parking is free at these locations. Well-mannered dogs can even board the shuttles! The first shuttle departs at 9:45am and the last shuttle going to the park leaves at 2:30pm. Shuttles will continue taking riders back to the parking lots until 5:30pm.
Special Needs parking is available in the park and is free. Be sure you have the special needs hanging placard (or other special needs parking designation) and ask the police at the road closure to the park to let you in for Special Needs Parking. The Mopac side of the park is the entrance to use. The special needs parking lot is on the south side of Barton Springs Road just across from the Kite Festival. Drive in like you are going to the pool and continue onward to the lots just beyond the play ground.
For those of you heading to Zilker on two wheels, bicycle parking is available. There are bicycle racks next to the Special Needs parking on the south side of Barton Springs Road across from the Great Lawn.
Come prepared. It goes without saying that you should bring all the essentials: water, snacks, sun protection, a blanket or something to sit on and cash for concessions. And of course, don’t forget your kites! All terrain-type strollers are great for when the kids get tired and can help store all your stuff. Keep in mind that there will be 40 food vendors on site (including food trucks), so you can always supplement your food stash with something purchased on site.
Have a Plan B. Maybe your Sunday doesn’t go as planned, maybe your children aren’t down with the crowds or maybe you just can’t swing the Kite Festival this year. So, just like any other big event in Austin, have an alternate plan. One year, we flew kites at a nearby park and had a great time. You could also watch Mary Poppins and show the kids this classic song. If all else fails, there is always next year!
A recovering workaholic, Nicole Basham now spends her time rediscovering Austin through her 6-year-old son’s eyes. A soccer-playing mom, Nicole also enjoys tickling too close to bedtime, making and consuming baked goods, and being silly. You can also find her writing at LiveMom, Savvy Source for Parents and CultureMap.
Heidi Gollub is the founder and editor-in-chief of the award-winning website Free Fun in Austin.com. When not running around on adventures with her five children–ages three to 15–she volunteers for the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau and shares content with the local news. Recently, Heidi was a speaker at Mom 2.0 and the Texas Conference for Women.