Wimberley Trail of Lights

Looking for a great holiday experience?  

Check out Wimberley's Trail of Lights. 

It opens the day after Thanksgiving and is lit through New Year's Eve, so there is plenty of time to catch it.  

My dad was in town visiting and wanted to see the Trail of Lights, but Zilker closed down before he got into town.  So, looking for another option, we stumbled into this gem!

Visit The University of Texas campus

Austin bleeds burnt orange, there is no doubt. If you have time to visit the UT campus, it is well worth the time.   There is so much to do, and much of it is free or low cost

Below are just a few things you can do:

Austin Rock Gym

Looking for a fun way to beat the heat, try something new and get a little exercise?  Austin Rock Gym has two locations, one in North Austin and one in South Austin (note:  now closed).

Austin Paint Ball

My youngest son wanted to play paint ball for his birthday, so the guys spent last weekend shooting each other for fun at Austin Paintball.

Austin Paintball, located in Dripping Springs, has over 30 acres, and nine different playing fields.

We used a groupon that I found online, which gave us half off the price for a day's rental of an airgun, 100 shots and the necessary gear.

My birthday boy had played once before with a friend, and my oldest son and husband had never played before.  When I called to arrange the outing, I had asked if they separated out the younger kids from the older kids/adults, and I was assured that they did.

However, when they arrived and played the first game, they were in an arena with thirty or so other players, many of whom obviously played on a monthly basis.  My boys were still trying to figure out how to shoot their guns when they were already blasted off the field.  All of the kids were ready to quit after game one :o(

But, after the first round, I spoke with the manager and referee, and they both gladly set up a separate round for newbies.  All the guys went off, and came back with grins and smiles.  They had a great time.  They then continued to play many more rounds.

If you are going with younger kiddos or first time players, I would strongly recommend that you ask if they have a 'newbie' arena set up, as you will have a much better time.

Tips and Thoughts

* They do warn you ahead of time that the paintballs can hurt and leave a welt. None of my boys seemed to think this was a big deal, and none of them complained about it at all.

* There is no water on-site, but bottled waters are available for $1.  You are also welcome to bring your own. There is no food on-site, but you can also bring your own.  They also have a standing deal with Dominoes, who will deliver pizza between games.

* Although usage of the fields for the entire day is included in the admission price, I was told that younger boys typically play between two and three hours.  We got there around 10:30am, and left around 12:30, so that seemed pretty accurate. 

* The general admission price of $22 includes 100 rounds of ammo.  We had five players and in the two hours they played, we went through all of the ammo, plus another bag of 500 shots ($25)  Just to give you an idea of the total cost.  

* In addition, it is nice to bring some cash in case you want to tip your referee.

* As mentioned above, if you are a first time player, ask ahead of time to make sure they will have smaller groups available

* If you are a mom and not expecting to play (Welts?!?  Seriously?? No thank you! :o)  ), bring something to entertain yourself.  Sitting on the patio, you will not be able to view the fields.  So your kiddos (big and small) will go off to play, and return fifteen to twenty minutes later.

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!

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.

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.

Hot Lava Obstacle Course

<<Note added January 2015:  Unfortunately, this place is no longer open for business.  Very disappointed, as it was one of our favorites.>>

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

Bartholomew Pool

I've been wanting to visit this new pool since it opened last month.  We finally had a chance today to check it out!

I have to say, this may be my new favorite public pool.  There is something for everyone.

My oldest son loves the diving board, and can jump off of one for hours... and there are not that many pools with diving boards these days.

There are also two large slides.

And a lily pond for the kids to cross.

There is also a zero entry section with a small slide for the smallest of visitors.

There was only one lap lane for those who actually want to swim.  But fortunately, that doesn't seem to be the goal of most visitors, as the lane was empty much of the time.  At one point, there were three of us doing laps, but for the most point, there was only two of us, and the lane was plenty large enough!

And all of this - and for me and four kids it only cost us $8!  

The only downside of this pool is that it was **packed**.  So packed that my youngest son felt somewhat uncomfortable.   Fortunately my boys are old enough that I don't have to keep a constant eye on them.  But for slightly younger children, they might get lost in the crowd!  I'm tempted to try this pool later in the evening, to see if it is still so crowded. 

But in all, we'd definitely check this place out again!

Palmetto State Park

This week, we headed down to Gonzales, TX to drop off my oldest son for a week long camp.  On the way home from dropping him off, my younger son and I decided to spend the day at Palmetto State Park.

Palmetto State Park, located a little over an hour south of Austin, is probably one of the smallest state parks we have been to, but we both still had a great time.

There is a small, 4-acre oxbow lake with canoes, paddleboats and paddle bikes for rent.   

On the lake is a fishing pier with a ladder just perfect for jumping off and swimming! K met some new friends and spent a few hours swimming and exploring the lake!  

There is also a short 3/4 mile trail encircling the lake.  We saw some deer and other wildlife on our short hike.

We also tried our hand at fishing, but didn't catch anything.  We were going to try again at dusk, but I couldn't pull him away from swimming.  

Around mid-day, we left the lake to explore the rest of the park. 

We have slowly been collecting the various Texas State Park geocaches, so we wanted to pick this one up.  
As usual, the geocache led us to some really neat sights that we would have otherwise missed!  

Palmetto State Park is named for the tropical dwarf Palmetto trees that grow abundantly in the swamp like grounds.  

We started our hike on the Palmetto Interpretive Trail and found this amazing water tower built by the CCC in the 1930s and still functioning today!

We continued along the trail to the Ottine Swamp Trail to find our geocache. Who knew there were swamps in Central Texas??   While signing the log, my son found this little guy!

Just down the road from the trails is a low water crossing of the San Marcos river.  K and I hung out in the cool current of the river until it was time for dinner!  The park rents tubes (or you can bring your own).  Since we had the dogs with us, we couldn't take a ride, but if we come back, we are going to definitely try the tubes out!

We had originally planned on spending the night camping.  But after being away from home for the last week on vacation, we decided to pack it up around 8pm and head home to sleep in our own beds.  K decided that this was a perfect park for a day trip!!

Blogging tips