Austin might have an international reputation for adult-focused or singles events and a hip music scene—think SXSW or the Austin City Limits Music Festival—but it’s also an excellent city for families. Mild weather year-round, a plethora of outdoor activities including “swimming holes,” and a thriving arts community mean that you can always find something to do with your little ones in tow.
We live in Milwaukee and were looking for a quick getaway before school started up last fall and I came across some killer nonstop tickets on Hopper in late August. I bought them immediately! It turns out this was the first day of school for kids in Austin so it was officially the low season — perfect!.
We rented an Airbnb: funky house near Zilker Park and the famous Barton Springs. The three of us — my husband, son and I — packed everything into one suitcase (to save on baggage fees) and took off on our Texan adventure.
Here’s what we did for 4 days in Austin as a family of three:
Day 1: Mid Day Breakfast Tacos, Local Fountains & Barton Springs
We arrived on an early morning flight and walked into a virtual sauna also known as “Austin in August.” I knew it would be hot, but it’s really, really hot in Austin in August! At 9:30 AM temperatures were already at 90 degrees and climbing. We changed into our swimsuits (knowing we would be finding a place to cool off after brunch) and headed out for breakfast tacos from a local food truck called Vera Cruz All Natural. Our family loves a good food truck! I got the mouth-watering Migas taco and my son got cheese quesadillas. Thank goodness for the supersized aqua frescas because even though it was still before noon us northerners were already melting outside.
After Brunch – We found one of the many free splash pads in the city where my son (& I) quickly cooled off and had a blast.
After, we drove just a few miles away into Zilker Park to a “swimming hole” as they call it in the south! Barton Springs was our first experience in a Texan swimming hole. Since we were in Austin late in the season…we wanted to make sure we hit one that was not “dried up”. No reservations were needed but there was a modest upcharge for the admission fee for visitors. The water is spring fed and so refreshing in the Texas heat. Even though it looks like a pool, there are slippery rocks — so keep an eye on your littles.
Day 2: Great Vegetarian Breakfast, Street Art & Bats
Austin is known for great BBQ but it also caters to the herbivores in your clan. My son doesn’t generally eat much meat (aside from chicken nuggets, but that barely counts, ha). Our Airbnb host recommended a wonderful cafe called the Bouldin Creek Cafe. We went 3 times! The cafe has a hipster vibe and is a very laid-back place with indoor and outdoor seating. The kids’ menu is great. Portions are well-priced and generous. We often shared a plate which was more than enough.
After breakfast, we drove around to capture some photos at some of the many great street art murals around the city.
We grabbed lunch at Torchy’s Tacos a famous taco chain and with full bellies headed to a place we had previously spotted while driving around to rent a canoe. With the 4-year-old in the middle, we paddled around Lady Bird Lake. It was an easy-going ride with views of the city towers and bridges. Along the way, we jumped in the water to cool off. It was an awesome 2 hours.
Later, we grabbed an ice cream and then secured our tickets to an unusual attraction in Austin: watching the bats at sunset. Austin is home to the largest urban bat colony in North America, estimated at 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats. From Mid March to early November, the bats leave the bridge to hunt for food. August is the high season and my son was particularly excited to witness this. We got on a pontoon boat and took a short ride over to the Congress Bridge. The tour guide had lots of fun information. She was sure to remind us that these are wild animals and it wasn’t a guarantee we would see them… but they slowly started to fill the sky and it was pretty cool to see them fill the air. Thankfully, we didn’t get pooped on either.
Day 3: Day Trip to Swimming Holes
At breakfast (again at Bouldin Creek!) we started searching for other “swimming holes” to visit. Apparently, in late August, many of the swimming holes are dried up but we found out that Blue Hole and Jacobs Well are pretty much swimmable the whole year and then we discovered they were only 15 minutes apart. We secured a reservation at Blue Hole but Jacobs Well was booked, however, we called and found out we could still hike around it at no cost.
We drove just under an hour — outside of Austin — winding through a lovely little town called Wimberley and went to Jacob’s Well first. After a short walk, we came to a clearing where the swimming hole is located. This one is better for older kids as it is deeper and kids can jump off a big rock. We dipped our toes in and had some snacks and explored a little more. Then, we jumped back in the car and headed to Blue Hole. Blue Hole is great for all ages! It is shallow in some spots and also has deeper sections. There are a couple of rope swings in the deeper section too. With a life vest, my 4-year-old was brave enough to do this and he loved it!
When we started getting hungry we got a recommendation for a great lunch spot in Wimberley called The Back Porch — which also has a swimming hole! For a small fee the kids can swim and you can relax and watch them from a picnic table before the food comes.
Tips before going to swimming holes:
- Use a life vest or floaties for little ones who are not 100% swimmers — the springs are natural and there are high and low depths which are sometimes unexpected.
- Wear Water shoes — it is very rocky and slippery in these natural pools.
- Bring Insects repellent — the ants and mosquitos can be annoying.
Day 4: A Day Out of the Sun
After multiple days in 100+ Degrees on our last day, we looked for things to do anywhere with AIR CONDITIONING! Our first stop was the Museum of Weird. This place is fun, odd and goofy. It is ideal for older kids but we found it to be entertaining and funny with our 4-year-old and it has a great gift shop.
Next, The Thinkery children’s museum is fantastic! This kid-friendly museum is good for all ages with multiple levels, lots of interactive installations and an outside play area (outside is better in the fall or spring due to hot temps in summer).
After lunch, we stopped at the Austin Library and read a few books. It was perfect to have some quiet indoor time.
Finally, we went to Home Slice on South Congress. Home Slice has great pizza and they let the kids play with the dough while they wait — Brilliant & so much fun!
After pizza, we were completely satisfied with full tummies and our 4 days of Texan adventures. We packed our bag, headed to bed early and flew home the next morning. It was a short trip but perfect for us and we felt like we saw a ton of Austin with our little guy. We had 2 full days to decompress and cool off when we returned home before the start of school that Monday! We LOVE Austin and we will be back!
For more Family-Friendly Austin Activities go to Austin with Kids!