Zilker Metropolitan Park

Zilker Park, located in downtown Austin, is Austin's central park.  This is the location of many of Austin's outdoor events.  In the spring it hosts the Zilker Kite Festival, in the fall is ACL Musicfest, in the winter is the Zilker Trail of Lights (returning this year, whoo hoo!), and the summer hosts Blues on the Green and the Zilker Hillside Theater production (this year playing Sound of Music).

However, even with no event going on, this park is a great place to hang out and have fun.  Nestled between Town Lake to the north and Barton Springs to the south, there is a plethora of things to keep a family busy.

The south side of Zilker Park has large flat fields that are perfect for a pick-up game of soccer or ultimate, or to settle down for a nice picnic. 

My kids just wanted to take their shoes off and run on the soft green grass :o) 

There is also "rock island" located smack dab in the middle that is perfect for climbing on and around! 

On the very north side of the park the Town Lake trail runs through the park; a ten mile long trail that loops around Lady Bird Lake (mostly loops, hopefully with some cash, it will soon completely loop). 

Barton Springs Road traverses the middle of the park.  Across the street is a large playground, with an old style fire engine, lots of playscape to appeal to all ages of kids.  

A newer section contains musical instruments that children can pound on. 

Running through the whole park is the Zilker Zephyr, a miniature train that rides arounds the perimeter of the park and under two tunnels, perfect for the younger crowd.

Of course, the entrance to the famous Barton Springs swimming pool is located in the park - a wonderful experience you can read more about here.

Outside of the Pool is the free Splash Exhibit, an interactive display about the Edwards Aquifer.  If you have the time, a quick duck inside this free display will be both informative and fun!

Nestled between the Zliker Zephyr, Barton Springs and the playground is the "Zilker Cafe" a nice little snack stand, perfect for getting a cool treat on a hot day.  There are outside seats available to enjoy your snack while watching the pool.

They also sell duck and pigeon food here.  I'd have to say, the $1.75 we spent on pigeon food was probably the best entertainment dollars we have spent in a long time! 

Sprinkle a small bit of seed for the lone pigeon flying in your area, and you will suddenly be surrounded by hundreds of birds. 

Two bags kept my boys entertained for at least a half hour!

Also located in the park is the less famous "Barking Springs".  Just downstream of Barton Springs, the fence line ends and the waters from Barton Springs pour out from the pool and return to the river. 

This small area is perfect for those four legged creatures uninvited to the main pool.

It is also perfect for kids who love to play in the cascading water, and adults who want a slightly less "formal" experience than Barton Springs.  There is no signed entrance to this area, but it can be found just southeast of the Zilker playground.

Slightly further downstream from Barking Springs is the Zilker Park Boat Rentals, a great place to rent a kayak or canoe and get a whole different perspective of the lake!

Also located in Zilker Park is a 9 hole disc golf course.  Disc golf is a game very similar to golf, only use use frisbees and throw them into wire baskets, instead of a ball and club.  You can use any frisbeen, but for a few dollars you can pick up true "disc golf dics" that are easier to throw and direct.

Finally, in the most southwestern part of the park is the start of the Barton Spring Greenbelt trail, a 8 mile trail that runs into South Austin.

Regardless of your age, ability or even number of legs, Zilker Park will certainly have something for you!

Volente Beach

Wow!  What a fun day! 

Since it was the first non-rainy day this week, we decided to try Volente Beach.  We'd actually been to Volente years before - when both boys were under 42 inches and too small to go down any of the slides...  And this place is a lot more fun with taller kids! 

Not knowing what to expect, we arrived right when they opened.  I was surprised that there were only 3 other cars in the parking lot.  I wasn't even sure the place was open. 

We basically had the park to ourselves for the first hour.  More people arrived after noon, but for the whole day we never had to wait for more than one or two riders ahead of us, and many times we'd walk up, plunk down our tube (or body) and go!

The main attraction of the place are the four slides:

The sidewinder

This was by far our favorite slide!

This slide takes two people on a tube and drops them down the side of a ramp.  It feels like free falling for the first few seconds!  Then momentum takes you up the other side, and then gravity back down, and then up, until you finally rest at the bottom. 

And we did this again, and again and again.  The boys tried going backwards, sideways, leaning back.  You name it.  Having gone down this slide multiple times myself, I'd have to agree that it was really awesome!

The Texas Twister
This was our second favorite. 
You run down a pretty fast enclosed tube slide until it spits you out in what my son calls 'the whirlpool'. 

I, however, called it the toilet bowl, because you go around and then are flushed out the bottom ;o) 

Very fun!  You must be 48 inches to go down this one.

The Flash Flood and the Roadrunner
These are two slides, one enclosed and one open, that children over 42 inches can go down.  Pretty typical slides, though a bit slow. We only went down these a few times.

In addition to the 4 main slides, there is a pretty fun pool area with an obstacle course crossing and water volleyball.   The kids played water volleyball for over an hour.  It is a great way to beat the heat!

There is also a "beach" area.  This would probably be very nice, were the lake at regular levels.  However, with the drought, the water is at least 100 feet away and totally inaccessible.  So the lake makes for a nice backdrop, but no entertainment.  Maybe if we ever get Lake Travis up to its normal level, we'll go back and try the beach area.  But for now, it is really just a pile of sand sitting in the hot sun.

After we had been there for 5 hours and had gone down every ride many, many times, it started to rain with lightning.  The park shuts down the park for 30 minutes if there is lightning.  

I asked the boys if they wanted to wait out the rain, or go home.  They all agreed they were pretty tired and ready to go home.  Success!!

I think we would have stayed longer had it not rained, but as it was, it was a really fun day!!

Tips and Thoughts
* This is one of the more expensive outings in our Top 50.  However, there are usually lots of coupons.  Right now, Ad Pages has a buy two tickets for $20 - and for $10 a person, this place is a steal!  If that deal isn't available, you can purchase your tickets at Randalls for $5 off.  I have also seen a nice deal on Groupon.  So, with a little work, you can always find some kind of deal

* For those under 42 inches, there is only a small pirate ship to play on and the regular pool.  A little more fun for the 42 - 48 inch crowd, but this place is clearly for the over 48 inchers

* The sidewinder requires two people to go down on the slide, so if you have an odd number of kids, you might want to pick up an extra -- or plan on going down yourself (which I highly recommend!)

* The park has a bar and grill restaurant and also some pizza, but it also allows you to bring in a cooler, as long as it doesn't have any glass.  There are lots of nice picnic tables in the shade!

* In the whole park, the only fresh water I found was a cooler at the bar. They were very kind to allow me to refill out water bottles, but I was suprised there were no water fountains.

Austin Children's Museum

The Austin Children's Museum is a great way to spend a hot afternoon - out of the sun :o)  We have been going there since my boys were very young.  There are many sorts of interactive exhibits and lots of ways for curious minds to explore. 

The main hall has a rotating exhibit that changes every couple of months.  You can go online to their web page to see which one is currently in house.  The rest of the museum is static. 

There is the building room, with blocks and bolts.  There is the creating room, that has many different recycled items the children can use to "invent" things.  The train room includes a small train that runs around the perimeter and the cafe area has a pretend playfood area, a milk factory, bat station and more. 

There is a large slide to go down and a crane that can be used to collect balls.

The most recent change was the downstairs back room.  It had been a rather boring room about the history of Austin music, but recently they have made it into a more kinetic room, with lots of interative exhibits.

This museum seems to focus mainly on younger children, with fewer displays and exhibits geared toward older children.  My boys still had a fun time going with a friend, but I would say the majority of exhibits are geared for the 9 and under crowd.

Tips and Thoughts
* At times, two for one tickets can be found online, so a quick query beforehand might save you a few dollars!

* Parking is never fun.  There is a parking garage on 2nd street that is very accessible to the museum, and probably the easiest place to park

* The museum does not offer a cafeteria or any food for purchase (though I did notice a vending machine that wasn't there before)  So plan on bringing a lunch or picking up something before or after your trip downtown.

* I have found that the early morning tends to bring the under 5 crowd.  If you have a slightly older child, you might do well to bring them after lunch.

Emma Long Metropolitan Park

Emma Long Metropolitan Park, named after the first woman to sit on the Austin City Council, is one of Austin's largest city parks.  It is located near 360 and 2222 along the banks of Lake Austin.  Follow the long and windy City Park road until it ends and you'll find yourself in the park!

The park has large grassy fields with huge trees shading the banks of the river.  Several sand volleyball courts were available (though none in use during the heat of the day!) And plenty of picnic tables and barbecue pits.

There is a nice roped off swimming area with two docks perfect for jumping off! 

On the day we visited, families were playing water baseball in the shallow water, boys were catching balls as they jumped of the dock, and young children were splashing in the shallow water!  Something for everyone!

After hiking the Turkey Creek trail, K and I decided to cool off with a swim in the park.  We found a shaded picnic table to enjoy our picnic lunch and then cooled off while floating in tubes.  For most of the afternoon, the park was full from a bus load of camp kids, but after they left, the park was mostly empty!

Tips and Thoughts
* The shallow waters of the swimming area are perfect for young children, with areas roped off according to depth

* Bring along some buckets and shovels.  While there isn't a real 'beach' area, there is a section in front of the swim area that is pefect for digging in!

* A nice tube or float makes the afternoon perfect!

* If you want to try camping within the city, the park allows primitive camping for a small fee

* Dogs are required to be on leash for this section of the park

Turkey Creek Nature Trail

K and I decided to spend the day exploring Emma Long Metropolitan Park and the Turkey Creek Nature trail. 

The Turkey Creek Trail begins within the park, but before the paid admission ranger's station, so entrance is free.  

The trailhead is located in a small parking lot marked "Nature Trail" on the right hand side after you enter the park.

The trail is a fairly easy and flat 2.7 mile hike, 1.35 out and back, that winds back and forth over Turkey Creek.  This is a great place for dogs to run (the entire trail is off-leash) and for kids to catch frogs and pollywogs, dig with rocks, and do all the things kids do! 

The path is very well maintained, with mile markers, carved steps and clear markings. Parts of the creek are off limits for vegetation restoration, but there are many accesible spots along the creek.   The whole path is nicely shaded, making it a delightful hike, even in the heat of the day.

Stepping stones cross the creek at various points, and around the three-quarter mile marker there is a deep spot where dogs and boys can get really wet!  Bring a ball to throw and your swim suit to cool off!

When we visited in July, there was water for most of the trail.  However, after the mile mark, the creek went completely dry.  We would love to return during the rainy season, as I think the hike would be even more beautiful!

Tips and thoughts

* This is not the trail to hike if you do not really like dogs.  Even in the middle of the day there were a large number of hikers with doggy companions.

* If you do bring your furred friend, the last third mile of the hike is now dry.  Bring some water along for your pooch, so he doesn't overheat if you plan to walk all the way to the end!

Our very tired but happy whippet!
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