Same rules, different week. Here are five fun things to do with your family in Austin, Texas:
- Park it. If your kid had to describe his dream park, it would probably sound a lot like Zilker Park. Where to begin? Probably at the playground, which is massive and includes a full size-antique fire engine that the kids can climb on and pretend to steer. TJ logged about 50 fake miles our last visit there. Now you're probably saying, "Big deal, every town's got a playground." But does every town's playground also have a miniature working train? The Zilker Zephyr is a 3-mile ride that loops around the playground and other parts of the park. And, if your kids gets overheated in the Texas sun from all that activity, they can always cool off in the Barton Springs pool, a massive 3-acre swimming pool fed by underground springs that keep the water temperature a cool (refreshing?) 68 degrees year-round.
- Go Batty. From about mid-March to early November (with the best time being the summer months) kids of all ages will be amazed by the nightly flight of the million-strong Congress Avenue Bridge bat colony. The bats take off around sunset in search of food. If you're looking for a more specific time, check in at the desks of one of the hotels Near Town Lake and the bridge, like the Embassy Suites or the Four Seasons, or call the bat hotline (no, its not a red phone) at 512-416-5700. For best viewing, try the bat observation area at the bridge's southeast corner.
- Longhorns and Turtles. You'll figure out pretty fast that the University of Texas resides in Austin, as every other item of clothing you'll see is either burnt orange, contains a longhorn, or both. But, that's a good thing, as the campus is a fun place to visit. There's the UT Tower, which, in 1966 was the infamous site to one of the earliest school mass shootings. Between that and subsequent student suicide jumps, the tower was closed for many years. It reopened in 1998 and provides great views of the campus. There's also fun shopping and eating along "The Drag"-- Guadalupe street between 19th and 29th. If you're lucky to go during a football weekend, you'll see the campus at a whole different level. Pre-game tailgates abound, with locals usually welcoming a visitor with a Shiner beer and whatever meat product they're grilling this week. Should you go to the game, you may be more impressed by Memorial Stadium's new "Godzillatron", one of the largest high definition video screens in the world, than by the 2005 national champs. If you're looking for something a little more serene, check out the turtle pond just north of the UT Tower. TJ loved watching the fish and turtles bobbing through the water.
- Dinner at Chuy's . . . Chuy's may only be a Mexican restaurant, but it's a destination unto itself. Chuy's serves fresh, inexpensive tex-mex and great frozen margaritas while doubling as an Elvis shrine. Kids love the tacky decor and laid-back attitude. Chuy's also has a great kids menu, with everything from Mexican offerings to the usual burger and chicken fingers (and even those are really good). There are three Chuy's in Austin, with the original at Barton Springs Road. The one warning-- they don't take reservations and waits can easily exceed an hour or more at peak times.
- . . . Dessert at Amy's. If you miraculously still have room after eating at Chuy's, head to one of the ten Austin locations of Amy's Ice Cream for dessert (if not, go the next day!). Although the 14 percent butter fat ice cream is fantastic (you haven't had vanilla until you've had Amy's Mexican vanilla), it's never too tough to win kids over with ice cream. But, Amy's has an equally impressive floor show to match its flavor. After picking your ice cream, you choose what "crush'ns" you'd like mixed in. Then, the usually eccentric, always entertaining counter help will furiously chop and flip the ingredients together like Benihana chefs, usually throwing in a few aerial tricks for good measure (think Tom Cruise's bartending moves in Cocktail, but not nearly as cheesy). The end result: some entertained, well-fed, and happy patrons.
Last but not least,
Find a Sitter and: Hear some live music. Austin bills itself as the "Live Music Capital of the World." With all the different offerings available every night, I won't argue. Pick up the free weekly Austin Chronicle for show listings.