One of the fun free things to do in Austin is on the last Saturday of every month when the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema on South Lamar screens free kids movies. The free Austin Alamo Drafthouse movies for children are also shown Mondays through Thursdays during the summer months. Free films include 1950s science fiction movies and family classics like Swiss Family Robinson as well as more recent features. These films are sponsored by the Austin Chronicle, Ain't It Cool News and Big Brothers Big Sisters. The Free Kids Club at Alamo Drafthouse was started more than ten years ago at the original downtown location by Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News and he continues to fund the series with a birthday party benefit each year.
An Austin original, Amy's Ice Creams has grown from one store on Guadalupe to twelve in Austin as well as locations in Houston and San Antonio. Luckily, Amy's website has a feature to enter your zip code to find the location nearest you. The friendly and fun staff pound a variety of treats into delicious high butterfat ice cream. Amy's Ice Cream is a perennial winner in the Austin Chronicle Restaurant Poll for “Best Ice Cream.”
Austin Children's Museum, located in downtown Austin, is a museum devoted to helping kids learn to think, using hands-on exhibits. Featuring a rotating feature exhibit area, as well as several permanent exhibits. ACM offers free admission to families 4-5pm Sunday upon request.
Riding from one of their amphibious Hydra Terra vehicles, Austin Duck Adventures offers tours of downtown Austin from a different perspective. You will be treated to a 75 minute sightseeing tour including Historic Sixth Street, the State Capitol Building, Bob Bullock State History Museum, the Governor’s Mansion, and Lake Austin, from both land and lake! Advance reservations are recommended, and they are also available for corporate charter.
The Austin Nature and Science Center is a "living museum," focused on the creative use of specifically planned interpretive exhibits, programs, collections, and trails. It has an animal exhibit, featuring more than 90 native animals that can't be returned to the wild. There is a Dino Pit, where you can dig up actual replicas of fossils found in Texas, follow dinosaur tracks, and view fossils from the 301 Congress construction site. Also featuring a naturalist exhibit, and an educational center. The Austin Nature and Science Center also has camps for both children and adults.
Established in 1926, the City of Austin Public Library system has 20 branches, plus the John Henry Faulk Central Library and the Austin History Center, located adjacent to each other in downtown Austin. The motto of the Austin Public Library is “Lifelong Learning” and the library system offers information and materials in a variety of formats including books, magazines, audio books, CDs, MP3s and DVDs. Public Internet computers and wireless Internet access are available at every location with computer training centers at Faulk Central, Little Walnut Creek, and Ruiz branches. The Austin Public Library also sponsors speakers, programs, book clubs and reading programs including author programs, film screenings, musical performances for adults, teens and children. Free meeting rooms are available at most branches for non-profit organizations. The Austin Public Library catalog, reference assistance and e-books for checkout are available online at the Austin Public Library website.
Boarding in Austin at Saltillo Plaza and in Cedar Park off Highway 183, the Austin Steam Train Association operates a variety of train rides on vintage passenger trains through historic neighborhoods in the heart of Austin and in the Texas Hill Country. Staffed by a dedicated group of volunteers, the trains operate most Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year. Special entertainment excursions include holiday trips, murder mysteries for adults and story book specials for kids. No charge for children under 3 years old, however, each child must ride in the lap of an adult. Advance reservations are recommended.
With more than 300 animals across more than 100 different species, Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary is a private, non-profit zoo rescuing animals and serving the Austin community. Located just outside of town, the Austin Zoo provides a beautiful, relaxed, experience up close with the animals to hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. The Zoo is always having special events or receiving new animals, so no two trips will ever be the same.
Absolutely the heart and soul of Austin, Barton Springs is the largest natural urban swimming pool in the United States with a surface area of three acres and a constant water temperature of 68 degrees. Human visitors have enjoyed Barton Springs for at least eleven thousand years. Wild horses shared the springs with native American tribes such as the Comanche, Apache and Tonkawa and at one time Indian artifacts were plentiful in the area. There is some evidence that the Spanish explorers Cabeza de Vaca and Coronado stopped at Barton Springs during their quests for gold and Franciscan friars later built a mission at Barton Springs. Uncle Billy Barton began charging admission to the Springs in the 1800's despite the occasional scalping by Indians as early Austinites made their way out to what was then the countryside surrounding Austin. The springs were sold to Andrew Jackson Zilker in 1907 and in 1918 Zilker deeded the springs and the surrounding thirty-five acres to the City of Austin. Located close to downtown Austin, Barton Springs is open year round except when the city closes the pool after heavy rains and for cleaning. To find out if the pool is open, call the 24 hour hotline number at 867-3080. Barton Springs Pool charges an admission and the City of Austin charges a fee in the Zilker Park parking lots on weekends and holidays, however free parking is available on the east side of the pool off of Robert E. Lee Road adjacent to the back entrance to the pool. Note: Beginning Wednesday, December 12, 2012, Barton Springs will be closed for approximately three months until repairs to the Barton Springs Pool bypass tunnel are completed sometime in March, 2013.
One of the iconic fun free things to do in Austin is to watch the world's largest urban bat colony fly out from under the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge at dusk. The Congress Avenue bridge is one of three bridges linking the downtown area to South Austin across the Colorado River or what is sometimes referred to as Town Lake or more recently renamed Lake Lady Bird. Each night from mid-March to November, approximately a million or more Mexican free-tail bats emerge from under the bridge at dusk to blanket the sky as they head out to forage for food. The bats generally emerge before dark, but may fly late as the time of year and weather conditions affect bat emergence times. July and August are the best times to see the most dramatic flights when new born pups first begin to forage with their mothers. It is possible to view the bats from the bridge, but the bridge itself is a high traffic throughfare. The best way to see the bats is to bring a blanket or lawn chairs to the free Austin Bat Observation Center located at the Austin American Statesman offices at 305 South Congress Avenue on the southeast side of the bridge where there is a viewing area and an educational kiosk. If parking is not available at the Austin American Statesman, additional parking after 6 PM is located at Texas Department of Transportation offices located around the corner off Riverside Drive. Bat Conservation International Bat Interpreters are present Thursday through Sunday nights in the months of June, July and August. Please remember to look, but DON'T TOUCH THE BATS. Bats are free wild animals and like all free wild animals, they may bite in self-defense if handled.
Situated within an old movie theater, Blazer Tag offers massive laser tag games inside of a three story, ten thousand foot arena. With party rooms, a high tech video arcade, and food, Blazer Tag has been the host of many a child's birthday parties. They also offer occasional all night lock-ins, and are available for corporate or birthday rentals.
Traditional free stuff to do in Austin includes the Blues on the Green free Austin summer concert series presented by KGSR Radio at Zilker Park. KGSR has sponsored this fun free thing to do in Austin TX for over twenty years. KGSR's Blues on the Green has always been a free community event supported by Austin Parks and Recreation and Austin area businesses. The Blues on Green free music concert in Austin on Wednesday Nights at Zilker Park take place from 7:30 PM to 9:30 PM during the months of June through August. Concert goers can bring their own food or purchase food or soft drinks from vendors on site. It is a good idea to bring chairs or blankets. Dogs on leashes are also allowed. Glass containers and alcohol are not permitted in City of Austin parks. Public parking is available either across the street by the Barton Springs pool or the big lot off of Stratford Drive by the Mopac Bridge. In addition, free parking is available at the One Texas Center after 5pm. Bike racks are located at the North and South ends of Zilker Park. Capital Metro buses also serve Zilker Park. The 2012 season of Blues on the Green free music lineup is Charlie Mars with Max Gomez on May 30; Rhett Miller with Wheeler Brothers on June 13; Ben Kweller with Amy Cook on June 27; Marcia Ball with Nakia on July 25; BoDeans with Sahara Smith on August 1; and an ACL Festival preview featuring Quiet Company with The Eastern Sea and Wild Child on August 8.
The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum is named after former Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, who was the driving force behind the establishment of the museum. It tells "The Story of Texas" with three floors of permanent, traveling and special exhibits on the history, traditional culture and popular culture of Texas including sports, business, performing arts and technology. It also features a "Texas Spirit Theater," which showcases movies filmed in Texas and the special effects show, "The Star of Destiny," a multimedia experience of the history of Texas narrated by the character of Sam Houston. It is also home to Austin's only IMAX theater, and plays "Texas: The Big Picture," a large-format film, as well as current commercially released movies. During the summer, there is a annual free concert series called "Music Under the Star" presenting popular Austin performers on the Lone Star Plaza under the 35-foot-tall bronze star. First Saturdays of the month are FREE admission at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum from 2 PM to 6 PM.
Originally a small bookstore opened in 1970 near the University of Texas called Grok Books (after the Robert A. Heinlein book Stranger in a Strange Land) today BookPeople is the largest independent bookstore in Texas. Located adjacent to the Whole Foods flagship store downtown at 6th and Lamar, this multi story 40,000 square feet bookstore sells books, magazines, audio books, cards and stationary, jewelry, gifts and arts and crafts from around the world. Voted “The Best Bookstore in Austin” by readers of the Austin Chronicle every year since 1984, BookPeople has a comfortable atmosphere filled with nooks and crannies where you can curl up in an armchair with an old favorite or a new discovery. BookPeople has frequent booksignings and events that showcase local and national authors. The store also contains BookKids (BookPeople for Kids and Teens) and a schedule of literary camps and events for young people.
Capital of Texas Zoo offers children and families an affordable zoo experience in Cedar Park. They feature things from a nocturnal animal house with over 30 Fruit Bats, a European Boar exhibit, and over 100 Quaker Parrots, families can spend an entire day there learning about various animals and their habitats. They also offer to bring the party to your child's birthday party with a Zoo Show with exotic reptiles, mammals, or just a gentle animals petting zoo. For reservations please call (512) 303-6675.
Located inside Northcross Mall, Chaparral Ice is a family owned business seeking to share their passion of Ice skating with the Central Texas area. Their mission is to promote their passion by offering a fun, safe, service oriented experience to skaters of all levels. If you don't know how to skate, they offer a free 30 minute introductory lesson. Children interested in Hockey or Figure Skating can apply for their off-campus physical education program to receive PE credits.
Recipient of the 2006 National Recreation and Parks Association "Excellence in Aquatics" Award, the City of Austin Aquatic Division operates and schedules forty-eight public pool facilities, which include twenty-seven neighborhood pools, six wading pools, ten splash pads, six municipal pools and Barton Springs Pool. The City of Austin Aquatic Division also offers a wide range of swimming lessons and water aerobics classes for ages six months to adult, including snorkeling at Barton Springs Pool. Many of the public pools in Austin were built by the Public Works Programs during the Great Depression between 1928 and 1937, including Pease, Eastwoods, Shipe, Metz, Rosewood, Palm, Big Stacy, Westenfield and Parque Zaragosa. The neighborhood and wading public pools are generally open from Memorial Day or the first weekend in June until school resumes in the Austin Independent School District. Barton Springs and Big Stacy are the only year round public pools open in Austin. Most of the City of Austin pools are free, but the larger municipal pools charge a fee. Forty visit swim tickets and season passes are available.
Listed as a historic landmark on the National Register of Historic Places, Deep Eddy Pool has one of the best lap swimming pools as well as the largest wading pool in Austin. Deep Eddy Pool is fed by a 35 foot hand dug Artesian well and is the oldest swimming pool in the state of Texas. West of downtown Austin, the water for the pool comes from the Colorado River (or Town Lake as that portion of the Colorado River is locally known in Austin) and filters through sand and limestone to fill the pool with clear water at a temperature of 68 to 72 degrees. Originally built by Works Progress Administration in 1936, the original bathhouse recently reopened after being restored due to the efforts of The Friends of Deep Eddy, a non-profit association of swimmers and other parks advocates. Deep Eddy also features “Splash Party Movie Nights” on most Saturday summer nights starting in mid June. The family oriented movies begin at dusk and the regular pool entrance fee covers the movie and the pool entrance fee.
Dinosaur Park is an educational and fun place, where people can learn about the majestic creatures that ruled our earth millions of years ago. Unlike most museums, Dinosaur Park doesn't just show skeletons, but actual life sized dinosaur replicas, ranging in size from the 6-foot velociraptor to the 40-foot T-Rex, all in their natural habitat. Other activities include a fossil-dig, playground, picnic area, and a wonderful Dinosaur Store stocked with a variety of gifts sure to please any dinosaur fan!
Jourdan-Bachmann Pioneer Farms is a working farm showing what life was like in the 1800s. There are five historic sites spread over 90 acres to explore including an 1840s Tonkawa Encampment, an 1860s German Immigrant Farm, an 1870s Texian Farm, an 1880s Cotton Planters Farm and an 1890s Sprinkle Corner rural village, There are special events on a regular basis including a Halloween hayride.
An oasis of classic days gone by amusement located on five acres in north Austin, Kiddie Acres is geared toward younger children under ten years old. This amusement park is open year-round with free admission and is a long-time favorite for birthday parties. Tickets must be purchases for rides and activities. Family owned and operated since 1979, Kiddie Acres features carousel rides, a ferris wheel and pony rides, as well as an 18 hole miniature golf course. Concessions including popcorn and cotton candy are available.
Millenium Youth Entertainment Complex is a facility with a 154-seat movie theater, a 16-lane bowling alley, video arcade area, a food court, and a 12,500 square foot roller skating rink. Serving as a safe place for east Austin youth to go, the complex hosts special events, job fairs, private receptions, and movie festivals on a regular basis.
Austin Parks Foundation is a non-profit organization committed to building partnerships, advocacy and action for parks. In conjunction with Alamo Draft House, the Austin Parks Foundation sponsors a fun free thing to do in downtown Austin with free outdoor movies at Republic Square Park. Dogs, picnics and lawn chairs are welcome. Alcoholic beverages are not permitted in the park. Republic Square Park is located at 5th Street and Guadalupe Street. There is free parking on surrounding streets. There is also parking in the State Garage at San Antonio and 4th Streets for $5. Movies begin at dusk which is usually around 8:30 and there is pre-show entertainment starting at 7 PM. Check the Movies in the Park website for a schedule of upcoming movies.
Nestled under the trees at the top of a hill close to Zilker Park, family owned and operated Peter Pan Mini Golf has been the scene of birthday parties, teen outings and family fun for generation after generation of Austinites. Peter Pan's 36 holes are divided up into two courses and though the 15 foot Peter Pan and the 20-foot T-Rex are hard to miss, every hole features some kind of obstacle or character to put around or through. Many of these fiberglass and concrete characters have been on the course since it was originally built in 1948 by the Dismukes family. Often open till midnight, Peter Pan Mini Golf is also a great date destination.
Schlitterbahn Water Park in New Braunfels began as a camping resort on the Comal River in the early 1970s where campers floated down the river in large rubber inner tubes. That original campsite has grown to a 65 acre water theme park featuring miles of tube chutes, winding rivers, uphill water coasters, wave pools and kid-friendly water playgrounds. Food is available for purchase, but picnic coolers are also allowed in the park (no alcohol or glass). One day and two day admission tickets are available as well as season passes.
Texas Memorial Museum is part of the Texas Natural Science Center at the University of Texas and admission is always free. Texas Memorial Museum has exhibits featuring dinosaurs and fossils, Texas wildlife and gems and minerals. Texas Memorial Museum also has a working Paleontology Lab where visitors can observe and ask questions as scientists work with real fossils. Exhibits of dinosaur fossils found in Texas include the largest flying creature ever found, the Texas Pterosaur, with a wingspan of nearly 40 feet, and the 30-foot Mosasaur that swam the shallow sea that once covered most of the state. The Texas Memorial Museum also has a gift shop with lots of fun and interesting gifts for kids.
For over fifty years, the Zilker Botanical Garden has hosted the Zilker Garden Festival every spring as a fundraising event featuring plants and garden themed accessories for sale as well as educational displays and fun activities for kids.
A traditional free thing to do in Austin every summer is to take the family out to the Zilker Hillside Theatre summer musical. The Zilker Hillside Theatre is located in Zilker Park across the parking lot from Barton Springs swimming pool. The stage is located in a natural amphitheater under a stand of 100 year old pecan trees and in addition to the summer musical features numerous locally produced musical and dance oriented events including the Austin Symphony and Shakespeare in the Park. Admission to events at the Zilker Hillside Theatre is always free but there is a $3.00 fee to park in the Zilker Park parking lots. Most events start at 8 PM and blankets can be placed on the hillside after 6 PM. Theatre goers may bring a picnic or other refreshments, but alcohol is not permitted in the park. The 2011 Zilker Theatre Production Summer Musical is "Footloose." The free summer musical will open on Friday, July 8 and will be presented on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Saturday, August 13. Performances of the free Zilker summer musical start at 8 PM.
Located at 2100 Barton Springs Road, Zilker Metropolitan Park is considered "Austin's most loved park." This 351 acre park is home to a variety of recreation opportunities and special events for the individual or the whole family. The Hike and Bike Trail snakes through it, Barton Springs Pool, Austin's oldest, is open daily, Zephyr train rides for the family, soccer fields, multi-age playgrounds, picnic areas are all offered. Special events are held there on a regular basis. It is located in the heart of central Austin.
Hundreds of kites fill the sky the first Sunday in March at the Zilker Park Kite Festival. This annual event is free to enter and categories include the smallest kite, the largest kite, the highest flying kite and the most creative kite with both adult and children's divisions. Only homebuilt kites are eligible for competition, however you don't have to enter the competition to fly a kite during the festival. Admission is free. Free parking and shuttle rides are available from the state parking garage at 17th and Colorado. Sponsored by the Exchange Club of Austin, concessions are available and proceeds are donated to local children's charities. The Zilker Park Kite Festival always takes place the first Sunday in March. The date for the 2013 Zilker Park Kite Festival is Sunday, March 3, 2013.