Brushy Creek Lake Park

Brushy Creek Lake Park in Cedar Park is a wonderful park, with something for just about everyone. 

Where ever you live in Austin, it is well worth the commute for a full summer day.  And one of the best parts is that it is all free!!

The park, acquired in 1987, is 90 acres including a 38 acre lake and has miles of trails for bikers or runners.  The trail winds along Brushy Creek Park and then runs past the lake and goes under Palmer lane for another couple of miles (not sure of the distances).

If you head out on a weekend, there is a canoe/kayak rental place for a chance to get in some paddling!  Bring bathing suits (for the sprinkler pad, not the lake!), bikes, skateboards, fishing rods and hiking shoes!

The park is split into two, divided by Palmer Road (or maybe it is two parks?  Not sure)  On the west side are a large number of sports fields and a really fun playground!

Also on the west side of the park is a neat skate park which you can also use for scooters. Not knowing much about skateboards, all I can say is that the variety of ramps, turns and bowls was pretty amazing!

On the east side is the lake with kayak rental, another nice playground, a labyrinth and what I believe is the most fun sprinkler park in Austin (though it does get crowded during the summer!)

If you have a free day in the summer, this is a great place to come and enjoy a huge variety of outdoor recreations!

Day Trip to Brenham: Bluebell Creameries

We have wanted to check out the ice cream tour at Bluebell Creameries for a long time.  But it is hard to justify a two hour trip for a forty-five minute tour.  This year, D really wanted to go, so I looked around the area to see what else we could find to do, and wham, found the Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park twenty minutes away.  Perfect!

With that in mind, we decided to make a day trip to Brenham.  I intended to get a much earlier start (I alway intend this), but we didn't get out the door until around 9:30am.  Combine that with my poor navigational skills and complete disregard for the google map that I printed, GPS system and smart phone with navigation in the car... we arrived just at noon.

I admit, I had no idea what we were in for.  I feared that they would be on lunch break at noon, and we might have to wait until they returned for our tour.

Not at all.  The factory was packed and the tour process very formalized.  After paying the admission fee, we received our token for the 12:10 tour.  During the summer months, tours seem to leave around every twenty minutes, and include up to 40 people.  Ours was full.

The tour takes about 45 minutes and finishes with a scoop of ice cream of your choice.  And it was really fascinating, from the bare facts (milk from 60,000 cows every day!), to the automation (the only non-automated task is placing the icecream gallons in boxes for shipping).  We decided that we really needed to get a home version of the ice cream sandwich machine, churning out 120 sandwiches per minute!

Combined with our trip to Washinton-on-the-Brazos State Park, we really enjoyed our day trip to Brenham!

Day Trip to Brenham: Washington-on-the-Brazos

Having not grown up in Texas, my local history is somewhat lacking.  I must admit, I didn't even know the significance of this place when we arrived. The Washington on the Brazos state park is devoted to informing visitors about the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence.  And it does a wonderful job.

On site, there are a number of attractions, some are free, some are not.  We purchased the multi-site pass which allowed us to view all, and it was well worth it. 

There is a visitors center, with a large walk-through display of Texas history.  The boys and I probably found this section the least interesting. 

A short walk from the building is a replica of the original building where the Declaration of Independence was signed.  Walking on the wood floors, even the boys fell hushed, as you could almost feel the time past.

Because all we had eaten since breakfast was a scoop of ice cream (see Bluebell creameries post), we first hit the picnic area for some lunch. 

The picnic area is beautiful, with large trees, lots of picnic tables, restrooms and a small playground area. 

Within a short walking distance, you can see the previous location of Robinson's ferry on the Brazos and the location of the old town of Washington, originally capital of Texas.

We then viewed the Star of Republic Museum, which was very helpful, interesting and informative. 

The museum starts with a twenty minute film explaining the significance of this location to the revolution. 

There is then a very nice museum to walk through with a discovery center with activities for children of all ages and lot of interactive displays.  It definitely kept the interest of all ages. 

We would have stayed longer, but the day was getting late, and we still hadn't made it to the Barrington Living History farm.

Barrington Living History farm is a reproduction of a Texas cotton farm in the 1850's, complete with the home of Anson Jones, last president o the Republic of Texas. 

The home was, unfortunately, closed the week we visited due to roofing repairs.  But the barn and slave quarters were still open. 

The park provides an 'interpreter' to guide visitors through the farm.  Our guide met us in the hundred degree heat and entertained us for at least forty five minutes. 

If I was amazed at how many people packed the halls of Bluebell Creameries, I was somewhat dismayed at how few people there were in the park.  Our interpreter said we were her only visitors of the day!

Our interpreter was very informative, friendly and kid-friendly.  She let the kids feel the weight of an oxen yoke. 
The boys got to pick cotton from the fields, lift a thirty pound bag of cotton and check out the pig pens, baby turkeys and chickens.

We really enjoyed our visit and learned a lot about Texas history. 

Combined with our trip to Bluebell creameries, this was a perfect day trip from Austin!

Red Bud Isle

Red Bud isle is not just a favorite with my boys, but also for my dogs :o)  It is, to my knowledge, the nicest leash-free area in Austin. 

Red Bud Isle is an Austin Park located on a small island on the west side of Town Lake just south of Tom Miller Dam.

There is a short half-mile hiking loop around the isle that takes you out to the eastern point, than loops around back to the parking lot.

There is also an access ramp for canoes or kayaks to put in.

For dogs, it has a lot of benefits - access to lots of fresh water both to drink and play in, lots of room to roam, lots of friends to play with and no close roads for the wandering dog to get trampled.

For kids, it has almost the same benefits (minus the drinking part!)

Seriously, my boys can spend a whole day here splashing around in the water.

I have seen people bring tubes and floats to hang out in the water, but we generally hop around too much for that.

Throughout the loop around the island are easy access spots to the lake.  You can pick one and hang out, or check them all out.

Tips and Thoughts

Be careful where you park!!

There are very limited parking spots for this park.  Lots of people park in the fire lane, on the grass, or on the road outside.  And lots of people get tickets for parking there.  People are frequently coming and going from this park, so the best thing to do is to just wait until somebody leaves, and take their legal spot. 

This probably goes without saying, but if your children are afraid of dogs, this is probably not a good place to come, as the place is over-run with dogs of all sizes.

Also, if you do bring your dog, there are a couple of different places distributing poop bags.  Please pick up after your pet.  With so many dogs in the area, if everyone doesn't pick up, it starts to smell really bad!

Krause Springs

With words like, "Check this out, Mom. It is so beautiful" and "I am totally Indiana Jones", this place was obviously a huge hit with my boys!

Krause Springs is a small, privately owned slice of heaven just about thirty mintues outside of Austin in the town of Spicewood. Visitors can come for the day to enjoy the cool waters of the spring or camp overnight.

The property is on three levels, with the top-most including the parking lot, main house, camping spots and a beautiful butterfly garden.  

Down about thirty steps is a nice picnic area, with more than enough picnic tables planted beneath huge, shady cypress trees. 

Also on this level is a man-made swimming pool that is fed by spring water.  The pool isn't large, but it is nicely shaded and has an area in the back that is just perfect for jumping off.

With another forty or so steps down, you arrive at the main attraction, a natural pool fed from multiple springs in the area.  Huge cypress trees shade much of the cool pool, with waterfalls, and small streams.

The highlight of the pool is the rope swing - accessible by swimming across the pool and climbing a huge rock.  Not for the faint of heart :o) 

D jumped off immediately, but it took K a few tries to get up the nerve to do the high jump.  But after that, they climbed and jumped for over two hours!

Almost as cool, the springs have two caves to explore, one of which is located behind a water fall and is partially submerged so you can swim into it.  A little creepy, a lot exciting!

This is a place that can keep kids entertained indefinitely. 

If they tire of swimming, they can lounge around in the upper spring and watch the fish.

Or they can explore some of the back area of the pool.

Or just enjoy all of the natural life that seemed as attracted to the pool as we were. 

Tips and Thoughts

There are no provisions on site, so bring a cooler with drinks and picnic supplies ( no glass).  There is a bit of a hike down to the pool, so we just left our cooler on the second level and walked up to it at lunch time.

Bring rafts or tubes.  There is really not much more relaxing then floating in the cool waters in the shade of the cypress tree.  Plus, the raft is a good location to throw the rope swing back up to waiting jumpers.

The rocks are very slippery, so go carefully!  We did have a couple of spills, myself included, though nothing serious.

I first came here when my youngest was 4 years old.  At that age, the pool was a little more difficult to manage.  The slippery rocks and somewhat murky water make the parent of a novice swimmer somewhat nervous.  As do all of the nooks and crannies that they can disappear behind.  We had a good time then, but at 9 this place is perfect!

Blazer Tag

When the temperature is 108 degrees, even we have to start looking for entertainment indoors!

One of my boys' favorite indoor entertainment places in Blazer Tag - a game of hide and seek with lasers. 

Every player is given a "laser" gun and a jacket to wear.  The jacket has a collection of lights that blink if they have been hit.  The players run around the indoor arena trying to shoot the other players more often then they are shot. 

Depending on the number of participants, the players are divided into teams or free-for-all.

It is actually a lot of fun... even for adults ;o) 

The games are fifteen minutes, plus a five minute briefing.  If the kids want to play two games, they space them forty minutes apart, so there is about twenty minutes of wandering around time in between games. 

Outside of the playing arena there is an assortment of arcade games that can be played by purchasing tokens.

Blazer Tag recommends players be at least seven years old to play, but as long as your child can hold the pack, they let him play.  My youngest played his first game when he was five!

Tips and Thoughts
The age of the kids differs; in the late morning to early afternoon, most of the kids are younger.  But I think in the evenings, the players tend to get a bit older and more competitive.  

This can get expensive, as two games plus $5 in tokens costs $22 and only keeps the kids entertained for about two hours. 

But there are frequently two for one coupons available in local newspapers, coupon packs or online sites such as  (Though I couldn't find any for August - the last coupon I could find expired July 31st). 

There are also frequently "special" days where games only cost $5. 

This is also a great place for birthday parties - with special package deals. Just be forewarned, if you select the pizza party, they don't serve the pizza until after both games are played.  So plan your event with that in mind so you don't have hungry kids.

The establishment also hosts lock-ins overnight. I assume these are for much older kids than mine, but they do seem like they would be fun for the older kid crowd.

Summer Musical at Zilker Hillside Theater

Every year, the Zilker Hillside Theater puts on a summer musical.  It is hosted, well, on the Zilker Hillside ;o) Right by Barton Springs Pool.  It is completely free, though they do ask for donations during intermission.  There is also a $5 fee to park in Zilker.  Well worth it, in my book!

Seats are on a first-come first-serve basis and a sign requests that you do not reserve your place with an unoccupied blanket until after 6pm. 

Last year, we showed up around 7pm and there were still some spots in front of the stage at the back of the hill.  By 7:30, all the good hill spots were gone, and the blankets were spilling out along the sides.  Much later than 7:30 and I'm not sure what kind of spot you would find. 

We went on a Thursday night and I overheard one of the actors say it was their lowest attendance so far - and the hillside was packed.  So, on a weekend night, you might want to get there even earlier.

With an hour and a half of time to spend, we needed some entertainment. 

We brought along a wiffle ball and bat, and my son was able to encourage some other boys to play with him.  We also saw some frisbees in use.

We also walked down to the Barton Springs Creek bed and the boys spend a good half hour digging in the mud before the show.  

It was really hot, and for future shows, I think I might just bring our bathings suits and dip into Barton Springs after we reserve our spot with our blanket.  It would make the whole night much cooler (literally!)

After the show, the actors and actresses stick around for photos and questions - which is really fun!  And to top the night off, D saw a shooting star while watching the show!

Tips and Thoughts

The show starts right around 8:30 and goes until 10:45, so it is a late night for the little guys. 

Chairs under 30 inches (the squat ones for sitting at the beach) are allowed up front, but they request any larger chairs sit at the very back to keep the view unblocked.  Blankets are the preferred seating method.

You can bring along a cooler of anything you want.  There are also concessions available for snacks (water, chips, candy, frozen custard, etc.)

Currently, the only bathrooms are port-a-potties beside the stage.  But you can also walk the short distance to the Barton Springs bathhouse for some real plumbing.

Nature Nights at the Wildflower Center

Thursday evenings from 6 to 9 p.m. starting June 19, 2016

For the last five or so years, the Wildflower Center has been teaming up with HEB to provide Nature Nights, a fun explorations of plants, animals, and the ecology of Central Texas.

 Each evening features interactive presentations, hikes with experts in their fields, and nature crafting for kids of all ages.

Summer 2016 Schedule

June 9 - Harnessing Fire
June 16 - Grow!  What do Plants and Animals need to Grow?
June 23 - Pollinate
June 30 - Predators

Admission is free!

The Wildflower Center, founded by Lady Bird Johnson, is devoted to preserving and protecting flowers and plants native to Central Texas.  In its 279 acres, there are trails, gardens, ponds, and an education building for young children.  The center also sponsors many annual events and exhibits.

Our Visit in 2011
We had been wanting to go to wildflower nights for a while, but this was our first time to actually get there!  The theme for this evening was focused on Birds of Prey.  Past nights featured reptiles, bees and wildlife tracking.  

Inside the education building, tables were set up with a variety of activites for children.  There was a booth that taught the sounds of differing owl calls, another that had a large collection of feathers and a third table where you could make your own owl mask.

At 7pm, the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center gave an hour long discussion of birds of prey, and brought along five birds for the spectators to enjoy!

Throughout the night, volunteers from the Audobon society gave tours through the center, with a focus on the habitat of Birds of Prey. 

And of course, the grounds were open for exploration and enjoyment.  While, with the heat and draught, this isn't the prettiest time at the Center, there are still lots of flowers to enjoy!

Longhorn Caverns

A great way to beat the heat during the dog days of summer is to go underground!  Longhorn Caverns State Park is a little over an hour away from Austin in Marble Falls. 

Longhorn Caverns is one of the few caves made from a rushing underground river.  Most caves in the area are made from dripping water from above. 

The result is that this cave has some different formations than those found in other caverns in the area: domed holes from whirlpools, architecture that is more flowing and fewer stalagmites.

The cave also has a very colorful history, having been used as a tavern, chapel, Indian burial ground, weapons locker and bomb shelter!

We have been twice this year, and both times found the tour guide friendly, entertaining and informative.  Strangely enough, with different tour guides, the tour differed enough that we didn't feel like we were repeating the experience.

We took the Daily tour - an entertaining hour-and-a-half, three-quarter mile underground hike out and back. 

However, the caverns offer some speciality tours that I would love to return and take. For children over 11, it has the Wild Cave Tour which goes into less accessible places and requires helmet, knee pads and flashlight.  There is also an evening paranormal tour once a month.  Supposedly the cavern is haunted, and the evening tours occur at night and sound pretty fun and spooky!

After we left, we headed back through Marble Falls and stopped at Bluebonnet Cafe for lunch.  This was our first time eating there, and it was a treat.  We enjoyed the Hot Roast Beef sandwich, but the highlight was the huge selection of pies!

Tips and Thoughts

The tours seem to run every hour.  You can call ahead and make reservations, or you can just show up. 

We arrived at 11:30 and were assigned to the noon tour.  With a little extra time to spend, we explored the observation tower on the premises.  There is also an interactive museum next door that details the works of the CCC.  We did not make it into the museum, as the kids were totally enarmored with the magnets in the gift shop!

The tour fee is $12.99 for adults and $7.99 for children.  In addition to the tour, the tour leaders do accept tips, so bring a few spare dollars to thank your tour guide when you leave.

No food or drink is allowed in the cavern, but you may bring in a water bottle.

If you are looking to make a whole day of it, Inks Lake is just a mile or so down the road, and a fun place to spend the rest of the afternoon!
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