The Veloway, located in South Austin, is a 3.1 mile paved pathway that is only available to bikers and roller bladers.  The path is 23 feet wide – about the width of a two lane road.  This makes it absolutely perfect for children who have just learned to ride a bike.  It is also perfect for adults who have just gotten clips for the first time!

My son, who has been riding his bike for awhile, recently was in a nasty bike accident.  He pulled out onto a street without looking and only then noticed a truck barreling down toward him.  I believe it was the grace of God that threw him off his bike.  The bike was run over and destroyed, but he walked away with minor scraps and bruises. 

However, since then he has been very afraid to get back on a bike again. 

The Veloway was the perfect answer.  He could ride the wide trail without any fear of traffic – get his bike legs back, so to speak.  We could go as slow as he wanted.

The morning we went riding, he was full of tears and fears, but was willing to give it a try.  We put him on his new bike, safely strapped his helmet to his head and got him back on the saddle.  I sent my older son ahead, so I could concentrate on working with K.  No more than 50 feet into the Veloway, K looks back at me and says, “Mom, can’t we go any faster???”  and pulled away.  That is the beauty of the veloway :o)

Tips and Thoughts
* Walkers are not allowed on the Veloway.  So if this is your child’s very first time riding a bike, you should probably start elsewhere.  Many people will recommend an empty parking lot, like a school during off hours.  My sister, mother of seven and an amazing font of wisdom, recommended starting on a slight grassy hill.  The hill helps them move forward and the grass breaks the fall.  It worked for both of my boys!  Once your child is able to bike around a parking lot, the Veloway is perfect.

* The Veloway is also used by serious bikers training for races.  Most of the bikers understand that we all started out slow on the bike.  Some, well… you know.  Stick to the right (inside of the track) and you should be okay!

* The path is a 3 mile loop.  Around mile two there is a difficult hill for beginning bikers.  However, there are two turnoffs earlier on the loop that shorten the path to 1 and 2 miles. The one mile loop is perfect for beginners.  There is one slight hill, but it is right when you return to the parking lot.

* Bring lots of water.  There is a water fountain on the premises that usually works.  You can buy a bike water carrier for just a few bucks, and it is a worthwhile investment for anyone thinking about biking in Texas!

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Labels: BikingFree

Austin Zoo

Maybe we are a family that likes small or simple things, but we have always loved the Austin Zoo.  While it is more Animal Sanctuary than zoo, it is still a fun place for a couple of hours of entertainment for any age.

I loved it when my boys were younger, as it was the perfect size to run them around and then head home for a nap.  And I was pleased to see that they enjoyed as well, now that they are older!  Just no nap afterwards ;o)

The zoo has a petting area with goats, llamas and deer.  In the past, there was an area where you could walk amongst the animals.  I’m not sure if that is a permanent change or temprorary, but we couldn’t get into the petting corral today.  But the animals are more than happy to crowd the fence to visit! 

When you purchase your tickets, make sure you buy a bag of food for each child, as feeding the animals is always a lot of fun!

There is a small snake and reptile area and in the main zoo area there are a dozen or so lions and tigers and bears (oh my!), some birds, monkeys, tortoises, and variety of other animals.  There was a new (to us) large play area for the wolves.  And walking around the whole park are a bunch of peacocks, showing off their feathers!

The zoo also has a small train that loops along the length of the zoo.  While we’ve rideen the train many times in the past, the boys felt they were too old for it this year :o)

A mama peacock with her chicks!

Tips and Thoughts
* You can frequently find coupons for half off of zoo admission if you look around.  We found some on Groupon and ad pages from earlier in the year (though none available now)

* There is a small food truck that sells snow cones and hot dogs, but if yuo are coming during the lunch hour, you might want to bring a cooler as the food seelction is very limited

* The zoo has a variety of special event days.  We have attended the Boo at the Zoo, which is the usual animal entertainments, plus a “haunted” train ride that is a lot of fun.  This is a great time to visit the zoo, as the weather is typically cooler!

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Labels: Outdoor Park

Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve

Wild Basin Preserve, located off of 360, was founded in 1974 by seven women interested in saving the area as a natural preserve and a nature laboratory.  Its 227 acres wind through typical Texas Hill Country with trails that cross over Bee Creek.

There are 2.5 miles worth of trail in the preserve that are open from sunrise to sunset.  Bikes and pets are not allowed.

The Easy Access trail has 20 natural highlights to check out.  A trail guide identifies typical Texas foliage and rock formations.  Past the Easy Access Trail is the Waterfall trail.  Less than a mile from the parking lot, the trail leads to a secluded pond with a 15 foot waterfall.
Also along the trails are two scenic overlooks that give a great view of the wooded valley with a glimpse of downtown in the background.

One word of note:  This is not a creek crawl hike.  My boys were disappointed, as they had suited up in bathing suits and had all of their frog catching apparatus… only to find very little actual access to the creek.  Much of the natural area was roped off, and the little that was available was pretty minimal. 

However, as a hike, the views are amazing and the small waterfall charming.  I would highly recommend this hike for a cool fall day, or early spring.  Though in the middle of summer, it was pretty hot!

Tips and Thoughts

* Bring lots of water as there is no water available on site

* The preserve has many organized activities including full moon hikes, astronomy nights and guided tour hikes.  Check out their calendar for more details

* There are notes in the parking area recommending you not leave any valuables.  We have visited this place multiple times and never had any problem, but you might want to clear your car of any valuables before you head here for the day

* While the preserve is free, donations are suggested in the amount of $3 per person

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Labels: FreeHikeOutdoor Park

Volunteer – at the Capital Area Food Bank

Summer is more than half way over, you’ve hit all of the regular places, and the kids are so bored they fight with each other just to make some entertainment. 

It’s one hundred degrees outside and even the swimming pools seem too hot.

Now is the perfect time to teach your family the value of volunteering!  Let’s face it, we all want to teach our kids the value of helping others. But during the year, this can be difficult, as schedules are so much tighter.  Summer is the perfect time to take advantage of excess time!  So make some time during this summer to help out with a local volunteer organization. 

We have helped out numerous times at the Capital Are Food Bank.  With a group of friends it can be a surprising amount of fun!  Slots are available in three hour increments. You can drop in on one of their open volunteer days or schedule ahead if you have a group.  Their calendar has a list of available times.  In the past, we have sorted bread and bakery product, canned goods and a variety of other tasks that help the Food Bank to collect and distribute food. 

At the end of our session, we told the boys that many other kids were home playing video games.  We were then going to explain that while sorting cans may not be as fun as video games, it helped a lot of people in need.  Instead, the boys all said that Yep, this was more fun than video games… Oh well, there goes that speech ;o)  Not only did they learn the value of volunteering, they learned that it can also be a lot of fun!

Tips and Thoughts
* All volunteers must be 8 years or older

* Volunteers must wear closed toe shoes

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Labels: FreeIndoor fun

Camp Ben McCulloch

Camp Ben McCulloch, located in Driftwood, was established in 1896 as a reunion camp for Confederate Soldiers. It hosted the last reunion in 1946. 

These days, it is probably best known for hosting the Old Settler’s Music Festival in April. 

However, it is also a great way to spend a morning or afternoon for any child that loves to creek crawl!

This campground is open to the public and free for day use.  Tent camping is $15 per night and RVs are slightly more.

While the grounds are not the most up to date, they do include gorgeous old trees, a playground and a very nice pavilion for large groups (available for rent).

But the highlight of the place runs through the back of the camp – a beautiful section of Onion Creek.

We have been here many times throughout the years.  During times of high drought, the river is completely dry, but most of the time, there is at least some water running.  Maybe not enough to swim in, but enough to collect frogs and tad poles and definitely get your feet wet. 

During a wet season, there has been enough water to tube the entire length of the river! 

This year, coming out of high draught, there was enough water to swim in areas and wade in others.  In the deepest section of the river, there is a rope swing.  Both boys decided to give it a try, though it probably would be safer in slightly deeper water.

The boys spent a wonderful couple of hours exploring the river!  They captured frogs and chased lizards.  They used the containers we brought along to collect fish.

And at multiple points down the river, they used all the available rocks to divert the water flow with dams and waterfalls!

Tips and Thoughts

* Defintely suit up for this one.  Although only parts of the river are deep enough to swim, almost any child who comes here is going to get very wet!

* Bring water shoes as you will spend a lot of time climbing over rocks

* There are restrooms on site, but no vendors.  Bring a picnic lunch and some extra water… or head across the street to the Salt Lick for a yummy barbecue lunch!

* My boys loved having their goggles so they could spy on the fish and get close up looks in every crook and cranny!

* During times of heavy rain, bring a tube and float down the river!

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Labels: FreeOutdoor ParkSwimming

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!

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Labels: FreeOutdoor ParkSwimming

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.

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Labels: Outdoor ParkSwimming

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.

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Labels: Indoor fun

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

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Labels: Outdoor ParkSwimming

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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Labels: Dog FriendlyHike


Pinballz is an arcade in North Austin that claims to have over 200 games, mostly pinball, but also some video games.  These games range in age from those designed in the 1950’s to current. 

Since Dave was in town this week, we decided to bring him along so he could enjoy some of the games of his youth!

All the boys played Galaga; Dave got a high schore on Tempest (his old favorite) and earned a free game on the new Pirates of the Caribbean pinball machine and the boys got to play the original Donkey Kong.  Not being a huge videogame fan, I just watched!

It was a fun hour and a half and a great way to beat the heat!

Tips and Thoughts
* Plan for about $15 per hour per person for the games. 

* There are infrequently deals on Morgan’s pages, and sometime they have ‘specials’.  On Way Back Wednesdays they pick 4 machines and revert them to 80s pricings ($0.25 per game).  If you pay in cash, you can get an extra $2 per every $20. So look around and plan ahead, and you might be able to save a little money!

* The arcade has a small cafe.  They also allow you to bring your own liquor, but there were rules to how much you could bring in.  I assume this is more of an issue with the 9pm crowd then my 2pm bunch ;o)