Friday, July 18, 2014

2014 Formula Sun Grand Prix is tomorrow!!

Looking for something free and fun to do tomorrow?  Check out the Formula Sun Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas!  Our family went last year and had a blast!!

Formula Sun Grand Prix

What: See solar cars compete head-to-head on the race track!
Where: 9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd. Austin, TX, 78617
When: July 19th, 9 AM - 5 PM
Who can come: You! This event is free and open to the public.

23 universities are participating, 22 of which are using solar panels made by SunPower, one of the main event sponsors. Students built and will race the cars.

Join us at Circuit of the Americas and keep an eye out for the SunPower table, where Circular Energy will be sharing information about solar and signing up homeowners for solar assessments with a design consultant.

Click here for more information


Our visit in 2013!!

A really fun event is occurring at the Circuit of the Americas tomorrow: the Formula Sun Grand Prix 2013 and the best part is that public entry is free!

The race - or rayce - as they call it ;o) consists of three 8 hour racing days. The objective is for the teams to complete the most laps within that time period.  The cars charge up their batteries the afternoon before and then run the entire next day on the batteries, as well as any other solar energy they soak up while racing.

Universities and colleges have sponsored teams for the last year to completely design, build and test their prototypes.  And it all culminates in these three days of racing.

According to the webpage, the last two days have been open for public viewing but we had to show the webpage to the security guard and have him talk to his manager before we were allowed in!  They were all very friendly and nice, but we were obviously the first spectators to come!

The cars take around 5 minutes to traverse the entire 3.4 mile track, and there are a maximum of ten cars entered into the race.

Although we went today, the big public viewing day is tomorrow from 9am - 5pm.  

There will be displays and talks about alternative energy as well as a workshop where kids can build a model solar car. 

The teams will be available to answer questions and for autographs!  These are a bunch of college kids, so they are really fun and easy to talk to!

It was really neat to see the various designs of solar cars and to cheer when the UT car went by!  

Here are some of the things we learned:

* An average solar car can run for around 120 miles on just a battery charge, and around 200 miles if it is running in the sun.  

* The maximum speed allowed for the cars is 65 mph, though most cars were going much slower.  The whole project is a balance of energy usage! 

*Teams run from around 15 persons to as large as 100, though most of these teams seemed around the 15-20 person mark.

*Yesterdays winning car completed a total of 66 laps or 224 miles!

Even if you aren't all that into cars, this is a really fun race to see.  

And a great opportunity to see the Circuit of the Americas at its lowest cost: free! 

Although we didn't make it up there, they do offer tower tours for $15 per adult, and $12.50 per child, which sounds like a lot of fun, and a great view!

Check it out!!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Day Trip to Newman's Castle in Belville, TX

We went on what has to be our most fun day trip this year - Newman's Castle in Belville, Texas.  If you have a child who loves castles or the medieval ages, this is a must see!

This is more than just a fun place to go...

This is an inspiring story about a man who followed his dreams. 

The owner, Mike Newman, acquired his property in 1998, and spent some time trying to decide what kind of house to put on it. 

His friend made a comment, "a man's home is his castle", and Mike was hooked.  He spent the next few year's researching castles and the next seven years building his dream and convincing himself he wasn't crazy for doing it ;o)

And we are really glad he did!  He began giving tours a few years ago, and now does weddings, banquets, overnight guests and more!

This is his personal home that we toured - he lives in it!!  

It has a moat with a real working, man-powered drawbridge!

It has a dungeon.  I mean seriously, if you are going to build a castle, it had better have a dungeon to throw people in, right?

It has a large trebuchet, for any marauders who might feel compelled to attach his castle!.  The trebuchet comes complete with ammunition that the owner merrily launches!

It has a 30 person great hall, a small chapel and more!

He is currently in the process of building a bell tower and six more bedrooms. 

We spent a good two to two and half hours exploring the place.

And what makes the trip so much more enjoyable is listening to the man who built his dream.  My son peppered him with questions and comments.  And each one was responded to with patience.  And Mike Newman built it all himself, so he can answer any questions you might have!

And at the very end, he brings out lunch made from Newman's bakery.  It was so good, that my son declared that the sandwich was worth the two hour drive in itself!

Also on his property, he has just started keeping bees.  

My husband has been interested in starting a hive, so my son and I thought we'd check it out. 

As with everything else in the place, he let the kids come up, check it out, ask questions and more!

He told us in the three months since he purchased the hives, the bees have produced 20 gallons of honey!

All in all, this was a really wonderful, interesting and fun day trip!!

Tips and Thoughts
* Everything I read said to make reservations at least a week ahead of time.  Pretty good advice.  But I actually called the day before, and they had room left in the tour, so it never hurts to call and ask!

* This is a great tour for any age. There were toddlers to teens to adults all laughing and enjoying the experience.  My eleven year old had a great time!

* The tour asks you to arrive at the bakery at 10:30am.  They will then give you directions to the actual castle.  So don't be disappointed when you pull up at the first address and just see a small building :o)

*Tickets are $15 a piece and include a really delicious lunch.  Quite a deal, in my book!

* Brenham is right on the path home from Belville, so if you're looking for another fun diversion in the area, try taking a tour through the Blue Bell factory while you are there!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Top Austin hangouts for teens

As a parent of a teen, I find that teenhood is a precarious balance between kid and adult.  Some days I am amazed by my son's responsibility and maturity. But there are times that he still just wants to play.  

It can be hard to find places for teens to go, where they can still play and have fun, but not tower over all the toddlers.  

So I culled some places from my top 50 list that are especially good for teens and pre-teens.  I hope you enjoy them!

1. Hot Lava
We just discovered this place a few weeks ago, and it has moved to our top list.  This is probably a bigger draw for teen boys then girls, but I have seen both having a great time here.  They can run, jump and swing, all while using their imagination. Participants must be over 8 after 2pm. Parents of teens 12 and up can drop their kids off for a good time, parents of younger children must stay.

As with most teen events, a pack is more fun than just one!  So have them bring along a couple of friends.

More details

2.  Playland Skate Center
This was voted as the best teen hang out for two of the last three Austin Chronicle polls.  I must admit, I was surprised by this.  I didn't realize that the hangout choice of my youth would still be popular.  The only difference is they will be skating to Pink instead of Kool & the Gang ;o)

Friday and Saturday the place is open late, which is a perfect time for teens to hang out with their friends.

3. Barton Springs
Also voted as a top hang out for teens, this is a great place for all ages. Cool off in the 64 degree water, hang out with friends, enjoy an ice cream at the snack shack. One of the most fun outdoor places for teens!

More details

4. Jumpstreet / Jumpolene Teen Dodgeball Night
This is a great place to get some exercise and have some fun.  Dodgeball is a huge hit, especially when the crowd is older.

Friday night at both Jump Street (Cedar Park) and Jumpoline (South Austin) is teen night.  Jump Street has middle schoolers for the first two hour session, and high schoolers for the second, while Jumpoline just breaks the night into two sessions. So check out their website to get the details

More details

5. Krause Springs
Located to the west of Austin, this is a great place to spend the day.  We came here when my boys were younger, but as they get older, it becomes more and more fun.  The rope swing is a lot of fun for all ages.  

Last year they discovered the cliff jumping down a bit from the rope swing and had a blast there as well!  Definitely not something for the faint of hear!

More details

6. Quest ATX
There isn't much cooler than wakeboarding, and Austin has a new cable wakeboarding park in South East Austin.  When we went, there were kids and adults of all ages, and lots of teens and young adults.  Try out the morning summer camps, or come and spend an afternoon.

More details

7. Mini Golf at Peter Pan
Mini golf will never go out of style.  And old school Peter Pan has been keeping teens entertained for decades.  Go in the later hours, when the sun has set.  Teens will enjoy it more, and it isn't as hot!

More details

8. Go Karting
What can be more fun that driving a go kart around the tracks at top speed? All drivers must be at least 5 feet so they can reach the pedals.

K1 is located in north Austin and Central Texas Speedway is located south of Austin.

9. Liz Carpenter fountains at Butler Park
Now that your kids are older, they can stay out later.  Take them to check out the night time laser light show that runs every night from dusk until 9:45. You might even find them running around in the fountains a little to get wet (but shush, you don't need to tell anyone!)

Head to Big Top Candy just down the road for a rootbeer float afterwards.

10. Play a round of Disc Golf
Austin currently has 5 disc golf courses (maybe more) sprinkled around Austin. 
Gather up a group of teens, a few discs, and let them go around the course.

11. Blazer Tag

With three stories of ramps and the new elevated Austin Sky Trail (a high ropes course), your teen will be sure to have a good time here.

As with most of these places, the later you go, the older the kids get.

12. Austin Rock Gym
This is a great place for kids to hang out and get some exercise.  Kids must be at least 14 in order to become belayed certified - otherwise they will need an adult along to access the higher rocks.

13. Austin BMX Shoal Creek Skate Park
Have your kids bring their bikes or skateboards, and let them try out the ramps and hills.  Or, if they don't skate, they can just come and check out all the fun!

14. Austin Public Library Program
The Austin public library has a few programs directed for teens (12 - 17). Two items that caught our eye:

Cursed!  Dastardly Scavenger Hunt is on August 14th from 6 - 8pm at the Hampton Branch Library and it looks like a lot of fun.  Go on a quest to defeat the witch at her wicked game! A mix between a scavenger hunt and a mystery game--teams will search for clues to lift the terrible curse that’s been cast upon the library

Warning! Loud Noises: Rock Band Battle of the Bands! on Sunday, July 27, 3-5 PM at the Ruiz Branch. Come solo or with your own band.

15. Pinballz
With over 200 pinball and other video games, there is sure to be something that interests your teen here.  

16. Zilker Hillside Theater - Oklahoma
We have gone as a family for the last couple of years, but last year I noticed that, in addition to blankets of families,  there were a number of teen groups hanging out here. 

17. Blue Starlite Mini urban Drive in
We haven't been here yet, but it seems like a bunch of fun.  Gather up a bunch of your kids' friends, pile them into the car, and introduce them to an old school movie in an old school way!  Located downtown.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Enter to win four free guest passes to West Lake Beach!

This contest has ended.  Congratulations to our winner: Jena G.

Photo courtesy of West Lake Beach
Enjoy a slice of Austin history!  In operation for over 50 years, West Lake Beach is a privately owned park located on the shores of scenic Lake Austin.  
From playing water or land volleyball to tossing horseshoes or fishing, West Lake beach has something for everyone!

Contest Details

·         Giveaway ends July 17th at 11:59 PM EST. Open to Residents of the US only.  Prizes cannot be shipped to PO Boxes.  Winner will be selected by and be notified by email. Winner has 24 hours to respond with a mailing address before a new winner is selected. Please note that Austin Top 50 is not responsible for sponsors that do not fulfill their prizes.  I have represented each sponsor with the expectation they will fulfill their prize and in a timely manner. Guest passes will be mailed to you directly and I cannot be responsible for undelivered mail.  I will make every effort to assist you obtaining your prize. If there is an issue with a sponsor, please notify the blog you won a prize from within 30 days for assistance, after that we may be unable to assist you.  The product provided for the review was free of charge from the company. The product offered for the giveaway is free of charge, no purchase necessary. My opinions are my own and were not influenced by any form of compensation.  Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are in no way associated with this giveaway.  By providing your information in this form, you are providing your information to me and me alone.  I do not share or sell information and will use any information only for the purpose of contacting the winner.  Must be 18 years old and a U.S. resident to enter. Austin Top 50 is not liable in the event that the prize or sweepstakes in some way negatively impacts the winner.  Void where prohibited by law.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Wakeboarding at Quest ATX

Austin now has its first ever cable wakeboarding park!  If you haven't been, you really need to try it out!  It is a great experience for every skill level, from beginner to expert.

Quest ATX opened its doors in September of last year and has been fully up and running this summer, including morning day camps every week from 9am - 1pm.

Located in Southeast Austin, sort of near Circuit of the Americas, this 130 acre park is a great place to spend the day!

Quest ATX invited us out to try their facility and we finally got out there this week.

We had never been wakeboarding before; in fact the kids had never been water skiing, snowboarding or even snow skiing before.  What can I say, we are a family of scuba divers and tend to spend a lot more time under the water than on it ;o)

So this was a totally new experience for us!

In addition to their wakeboarding cable park, they have a nice area for picnics, or just sitting in the shade of an umbrella and enjoying watching the other skiers

My youngest son tried wakeboarding a couple of times.  And then later in the day he also tried kneeboarding.
After awhile, he decided he preferred just hanging out in the water and watching the other skiers go by. 

My older son, however, was a lot more determined.  He tried non-stop for a good two hours.  Finally on his second to last run, he was able to get up for a short run! 

Unfortunately, I was so busy cheering that I forgot to take a photo :o)

Now that he's got the knack of it, he is dying to go back and try it again!

Tips and Thoughts
* They have a beginner hour everyday from 12pm - 1pm (M-F) or Saturday 10-11am .  During beginner hour they slow the cable down which makes it easier to get up. If you have not been cable wakeboarding before, I would highly suggest trying to arrive at the earlier hour.

* There are still some spots available for the week long youth (6 - 16) camps that look like a lot of fun. They run from 9am - 1pm Monday thru Friday and will teach your child to wakerboard, water ski, stand up paddleboarding and kayaking!

* There are some snacks and cold drinks on site, but if you plan to spend the day, pack a picnic lunch to bring with you!

* Their rates are very reasonable.  $30 for two hours or $35 for four hours, plus a $5 helmet rental fee.  Children under 17 are half off.  There is also currently a groupon available for $45 for four hours for two people.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Hot Lava Obstacle Course

We added Hot Lava to our Top 50 list this spring and finally made it out to the place this week.  I have to say, this may just be our new favorite indoor place!!

Hot Lava describes themselves as: 

"more than 1500 square feet of obstacle course and parkour gymnasium."

I have to admit, I wasn't sure exactly what that meant, but it sounded perfect for my teen and pre-teen boys. A great way to get them some exercise in the 100 degree heat.

When we showed up and glanced through the windows, we were somewhat surprised by the small size of the place.  It is located in essentially two store fronts.  

I briefly wondered if the place would keep them occupied for a full hour... 

How wrong I was!!

Two and a half hours later of non-stop movement, they were fully climbed, jumped, swung and crawled out!  We might have stayed even longer had I remembered to bring snacks.

The really awesome thing about this place is how free-form it is.  It really allows the kids to be creative.  At one point, our smallest friend pulled one of the half balance balls into the lava pit, which then gave him the additional height he needed to climb into the overhead cargo net.  Ingenuity at its best!

There are pads on the floor and obstacles and ramps that can be moved around to meet anyone's needs - whatever they dream up.  

In the two hours, I saw them jump through hoops doing a double roll, climb the walls, swing from ropes to rings to the lava pit and so much more. 

The lava pit is great for jumping into.  But the lava blocks are also great ammunition in tribal wars, or they can be stacked and covered with a mat to make a fort, or they can make a wall to slam into.  It was really fun to see all the different uses the kids found for these blocks!

I wasn't really sure of the purpose of the "Silos of Death".  But the boys climbed on them for hours.  And when they were tired and needed a break, they climbed to the top to rest.  I guess they served their purpose :o)

This is a great place to get the wigglies out, while allowing kids to be creative!  It is also a great place for adults to get some exercise while having a great time.

Tips and Thoughts
* This is a great place for all ages.  We saw children as young as three as well as adults

* Children under 8 can only be in the building until 2pm. Parents of young children are required to be on the floor with their kids (which makes perfect sense - as they really will need an adult's support). Parents of children 8 - 12 just need to be present in the building.

* Teens and pre-teens will probably be happiest coming after 2pm, as they won't have to navigate around wee ones... but mine seemed to have a good time both before and after 2pm.  

* We did see some adults in there as well - and this would be great exercise. I'm kind of bummed I didn't play along with them!  I'm guessing that the after 5pm crowd is mostly adults.

* Shoes are not allowed on the floor, so most go barefoot

* Food is allowed, but not on the floor (again, makes sense)

* The place recommends you bring workout gloves if you have them, and all the boys said at the end that they wished they had some.  Not having any didn't seem to slow them done any, though ;o)

* Cost is $10 per person for the entire day.  $40 for a month pass

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Check out The Who's Tommy at Zach Scott Theater

Starting tonight through August 24th.

"The Who’s legendary rock opera explodes with hit songs like “Pinball Wizard,” “See Me” and “I’m Free” in this critically acclaimed smash hit. Tommy falls down the rabbit hole into a ZACH-inspired rock-n-roll landscape where the “deaf, dumb and blind kid” encounters Uncle Ernie the Mad Hatter, his mother the White Queen, Cousin Kevin the Cheshire Cat and the Acid Red Queen in a must-see theatrical journey where the entire theatre becomes a giant pinball machine!"

Perfect for a date night.  

The Zach Scott Theater always has top notch performances, and this one includes my all-time favorite Austin actor as the young Tommy!

In addition, Pinballz Arcade is providing free pinball games for pre and post show entertainment!

Seriously, how fun is that!

Appropriate for ages 12 and up

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