March is shaping up to be a big month in Austin. Cirque du Soleil, SXSW Music Festival and one of America’s top-ten pro rodeos are all coming to town. But on any given Monday through Sunday, the Lone Star State capitol offers loads of family friendly fun. Here are just a few top picks:
Austin Aquarium: Over 8,000 animals from all over the world—and all walks (or swims) of life—call the Austin Aquarium home! Check out all 35 exhibits to experience the vast array of creatures—from sharks, toucans, macaws and tropical fish to rainforest reptiles and other amphibians who live in the tropical rainforest habitat. Kids can touch the soft skin of a shark or ray, hand-feed birds, fish and even play with the resident Giant Pacific Octopus during the 45-minute “octo encounters” ($39.95 for nonmembers) on offer. You might even catch a rare glimpse of a mermaid—performers sporting body glitter and tails—cavorting with the stingrays if you time your visit right. Admission for children 2-11 is $8.95, and adults 12 and up is $13.95, plan a weekday visit and save $2 per ticket!
The Thinkery: Young engineers get their start at the Thinkery, where interactive STEAM—science, technology, engineering, art and math—exhibits make creative problem solving fun. Two of our faves: the Spark Shop, where kids play to learn about aerodynamics, and the 2,500 sq. ft. Innovators’ Workshop, featuring a Stop Animation Station, Little Learners’ Lab, and Simple Machines Wall. After a few hours of mental gymnastics, the kids can blow off some literal steam at the Thinkery playground, equipped with a universally-accessible enclosed custom-designed climber and a stream specially engineered (of course!) for water play.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: Amidst the beauty of over 8,000 native plants, kids can get plenty tired. The Center’s suggested itineraries will help adults make the most of their visit, depending on whether they are looking for landscaping tips or how to attract native pollinators. But for kids, the 45 acre family garden is the big draw. Clambering into the giant birds’ nest, playing in three different water features, and looking out from a kiddie-sized wildlife blind will renew their appreciation for the great outdoors. After a snack on the garden’s picnic lawn, walk over to the 16-acre Mollie Steves Zachry Texas Arboretum, a ride on the rope swings hanging from the Lone Star State’s historic Cathedral Oaks are a perfect way to end the visit.
Austin Rock Gym: One of Texas’ top hiking trails, Barton Creek Greenbelt runs right through south-central Austin, where miles of biking trails, several swimming holes and limestone bluffs will make you forget you’re in the state’s 4th largest city. Get your family ready to experience the more rugged stretches of the nearly 13-mile trail, at the Austin Rock Gym. Offering a variety of youth programs, this indoor climbing gym is suitable for kids of all ages and abilities. Walk-ins are welcome to purchase day passes—$10 – $15 each—and rent all the gear they’ll need for under $20. Once the family’s ready to hit the Greenbelt, the gym can hook you up with the White Star Mountain Guides & Climbing School, which offers a range of outdoor adventures.
Dinosaur Park: An outdoor dinosaur museum, with life-size dino replicas — i.e. giant: the Spinosaurus is 55-foot long — kids can size up and learn more about. What’s not to love? The whole family will have fun tracking the dino footprints to find all 29 — kids can preview all the animals and wildlife on the i-Spy-A-Saurus list before you visit — and going on a Dino Dig to uncover “fossils” in the sand. Once you and your budding archaeologists are satisfied with the day’s finds, spread out a blanket and have lunch then head over the park playground for more fun.
Austin Playgrounds: No family friendly guide is complete without a list of fun playgrounds. For the best intell on which parks are enclosed and have the best play structures or where to go to play basketball, go climbing, and walk a mini tightrope, check out Do512family, for its Best-Of playgrounds list and many more helpful guides to what’s new and fun.