Looking for a central location for a Texas vacation? Consider Austin. Itís only one hour from San Antonio and the surrounding Hill Country, making it a good base for your explorations. We spent two days in Austin at the end of our Texas trip, just enough time to experience several of the cityís family friendly highlights. First on the agenda was a visit to popular Barton Springs Pool. This spring- fed outdoor pool in Zilker Park is open for swimming year- round. Even in October there were still plenty of kids splashing in the shallow end. The grassy areas around the pool are great for soaking up the sun and people watching. An admission fee is charged during the warmer months.
After visiting Barton Springs, we took some time to explore Zilker Park itself. The kids enjoyed playing on the parkís playscape before a ride on the Zilker Zephyr, a miniature train that travels past the creek and lake. There are concession stands in the park, but we ate at nearby Sandyís Hamburgers, a drive-thru with great burgers and thick milkshakes. The seating here is limited, so you might want to bring your lunch elsewhere. Getting up to the Texas State Capitol took some leg work as itís perched on a hill, but the ornate architecture of this massive building was worth the hike. Guided tours are available but we chose to just admire the exterior and the myriad sculptures and monuments around the landscaped grounds.
Our second day started with a few hours at one of Austinís best places for young kids, the Austin Childrenís Museum. The kidsí favorite exhibit was Global City, an exhibit dedicated to exploring the world of work. Thereís a play restaurant (complete with counter seating and menus for parents), a train depot with a working model train (absolutely fascinating for our toddler), and a grocery store where our preschooler enjoyed filling up a basket with wooden food. The museum frequently has special events; we enjoyed a Dr. Seuss story time and made finger puppets from recycled materials. For kids over age four, the museum offers a unique three story slide.
Before packing up for home, we hit The BookPeople, to stock up on some new books for our flight home. Even our antsy toddler enjoyed shopping here; the childrenís department is just wonderful. The last item on our Austin itinerary was dinner with the bats. March through October a large colony of Mexican freetail bats lives under the Congress Avenue Bridge. Each night at dusk, the bats fly out to hunt for insects. Itís a justifiably popular sight. We made an evening of it by bringing along a picnic dinner from the local Whole Foods Market (which has a fantastic take-out selection). The grassy areas along Town Lake near the bridge were a convenient spot to sit and wait for the nightly spectacle to begin.