As a stay-at-home-mom to two highly energetic young boys, I’ve had to find my share of kid friendly AND mom friendly places close to our home in South Austin just to survive. One day my boys took a longer than usual nap and I compiled this list for all parents in the Austin area wondering where to take their kids when venturing South. So here it is, a list of my favorite South Austin hangouts:
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1. Circle C Metropolitan Park – Located in Circle C off Slaughter and Mopac is this large shady park. There is always a nice breeze and there are playscapes for both older kids and younger kids. You take a narrow drive to the parking lot so the park is set a good distance off from the busy road. Next to the playscapes are soccer fields.
2. Dick Nichols Park – This park is off south Mopac and Davis at 8011 Beckett Rd. While there is not much shade over playscapes here, there are plenty of picnic tables under shade, a button activated seal fountain that squirts water, a pool, basketball courts and about a 1 mile walking trail
3. Garrison Park – Right off Manchaca is this expansive park with lots of shade and trees throughout, some walking trails and picnic tables, 2 playscapes and even a pool. It is also set off from the street by a road to a parking lot. My sons preferred running through the trees to spending much time on the playscapes so if you have an “escapee” you’ll want to keep an eye out.
4. Strange Brew Coffee – This coffee shop and music venue is across the street from Garrison Park and has a small yard out back with tables and benches and free wi-fi (shade and covering is limited out back). Strange Brew has great coffee drinks (including beer and wine), in addition to sandwiches and baked goods.
5. Thrift Town – Located a block south of both Garrison Park and Strange Brew at 5700 Manchaca Rd, Thrift Town is a kid friendly thrift store with lots to browse through. It can be a nice indoor trip for both parents and kids and has a substantial kid clothing section.
6. The Austin Aqua-Dome – Just north of 290 off of Manchaca at 1604 Fortview Road is a really cool fish store in the shape of a dome. You can check out the interesting livestock for sale (freshwater fish downstairs and saltwater fish upstairs) or just observe their amazing in-store reef tank set-ups downstairs. Outside are several ponds with koi fish and turtles which you can feed for just $1 by buying a bag of food inside at the register.
7. Irie Bean coffee – Off of South Lamar in the 2310 shopping center is a neat coffee joint that has great coffee (beer and wine as well) and snacks. Out back there is a mostly enclosed patio with tables, a water fountain, a stage for when they have live music and an interesting structure which I think is an old cement truck drum turned into a sort of walk-through. My boys love to go into it and hear their voice echo or bang on the side (unless there is someone studying nearby of course). They also like to climb on a small hill that is great for sitting on near the stage. Sometimes you can even find a few toy trucks up by the register which can be borrowed for play for the duration of your stay.
8. Phil’s Ice House/Amy’s Ice Creams on South Lamar – This place has an enclosed play structure (and cow statue on which you can sit) that is mostly shaded. The playscape is a bit much for the younger crowd but if it isn’t too crowded, even my 18 month old is able to play on it. Grab a yummy milkshake and sit on the patio while you watch your kids play!
9. Ricky Guerrero Park – This is a park with a large splashing fountain area that is mostly enclosed. It was fairly crowded the day I went in the afternoon on a weekday. There is a play structure that is not shaded. I saw babies as young as 6 months all the way up to kids about 11 years old playing in the splash pad.
10. Butler Park and the Liz Carpenter Fountain – THIS is my favorite splash pad in Austin. I have just as much fun as my kids do. The ground is very hot in the summer so wearing sandals or water shoes is recommended. It is not enclosed and there is minimal shade in the outlying areas around the fountain. My boys also enjoy “climbing” the large hill next to the fountain. You can catch a gorgeous view of downtown Austin at the top of the hill.
11. Whole Foods downtown – I know technically this is not “south” it is more central or downtown, however, its just a drive up south lamar from South Austin and many people don’t know there is a playscape on the plaza. Grab a coffee and a treat downstairs and take the elevator or walk the stairs up to the rooftop plaza where you’ll find a cute little play area and tons of tables and seating. There is some shade, a nice breeze and a great view.
12. Whole Foods Arbor Trails – While there is no playscape here, there is a food court area inside with a perfect kid sized table and chairs for enjoying breakfast, lunch or dinner. There is always a buffet to be had. The early weekend mornings are usually fairly empty and kids can walk around the eating area.
13. The Natural Gardener – This is a gorgeous garden supply store and garden you can walk through and enjoy. It is free to just stroll and hang out! There are chickens, goats and a donkey near the back and several different themed gardens throughout. There are red flyer wagons at the front of the store which you can use to pull a kid or two around or for putting plants in to buy. There is a nice bench swing and some seating areas under shade. Inside you can find bottled tea and popsicles.
14. First Evangelical Church/MOCHA (Monterrey Oaks Coffee House Austin) – As a mom of two young kids, I have to say, I LOVE this place. The cafe is open from 7:00-4:00 on weekdays and 8:30-2:00 on Sundays. The cafe fare includes sandwiches, baked goods and a variety of beverages. They even have a PB&J option for the kids! There is one large playground area covered by a wonderful canopy that provides ample shade. The playground is divided into two parts by a gate which you can secure by yourself as needed (exciting for those of us with “escapees”!) One half of the playground is good for the tots (specified ages 2-5) and the other half is for kids 5-12. There is also a gnarly oak tree and a lovely fountain (for looking, not playing) on the grounds in front of the cafe. The tables are all under the shade of oak trees outside of the playground gates and within the cafe is plenty of space to cool off or chill out.
15. Southpark Meadows – It has been many months since I last visited “the grove” at Southpark Meadows, however, I know that many people use this play area as a staple in their park routine. There is a fountain that apparently has no operating schedule and several play structures. It is surrounded by restaurants and places to grab a treat while you supervise your kiddos as they play.
16. The Austin Zoo – DISCLAIMER: I have not been to this zoo yet, but my sister-in-law, who is involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters, has taken her “little sister” here and recommended it to me. The zoo is located west of Oak Hill at 10807 Rawhide Trail. This zoo is a non-profit organization and provides shelter and care for rescued animals. My sister-in-law recommended the tiger exhibit featuring a tiger who had been rescued from a junk yard as well as a large hog who used to be a young girl’s 4H project and now her family continues to pay for his care in the zoo. She also said you can sometimes find a groupon for the zoo that is two admissions for the price of one (regularly $8 per adult and $6 per child 2-12).
17. The Austin Nature and Science Center – Most of us are already familiar with all Zilker Park has to offer the kiddos (namely, the Zilker Zephyr, the Zilker Park playground, Barton Springs, the Lady Bird Lake hike and bike trail) but I wasn’t aware of this treasure until recently. This adventure spot is located under the Mopac bridge off of Stratford Drive (which is where we parked the day we went). A large portion of this center is outdoors so take that into consideration during inclement weather.
This center is free for all who come although there are several areas where you can donate by dropping some cash into a container. I was surprised to discover a mini zoo which included several rehabilitated and rescued birds of prey outdoors and some former pet birds, reptiles and insects indoors. They always welcome donations for care of the animals and you can find a list of things they could use for them inside the reptile and insect area.
In the main building, there are so many things to discover – bones, molted snake skin, skeletons and shells of various small animals, etc. and you are welcome to inspect them with a magnifying glass. My boys enjoyed cooling off after the large sand “dino pit” out back by playing in the simulated cave indoors. In the cave room, we discovered several science themed kid books. When we were there, we found that a summer camp was going on so check out their website for more information on the camp and hours of operation.Get out there and have fun with the kids “keeping it weird” in South Austin!
Elizabeth was a South Austinite before becoming a wife and mom. She moved here as a UT student in 2006 thus beginning a long-term relationship with the city and decided Austin would forever be her first love and permanent home. She received a BS in Nutrition from UT in 2009, a year after marrying her husband, and briefly worked as a nutritionist and community educator before becoming a full-time stay-at-home mom just over a year later. Her boys are 12 months and 3 weeks apart and work to keep her on her toes everyday.