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15 March . 2019

Top 10 free (or cheap) things to do with kids in Austin

Rancho Sienna’s great location in North Austin and Georgetown makes it easy to enjoy the many free and cheap activities that Austin offers for kids.

As a bonus, many of these activities are healthy and educational, as well as fun. From parks and museums, to bats and wildflowers, here are our Top 10 picks for free Austin activities kids will love.

 Barton Springs Pool. Widely regarded as one of Austin’s natural crown jewels, Barton Springs Pool is a three-acre oasis within Zilker Park, itself a superb Austin attraction. Fed from underground springs, the pool has an average temperature of 68-70 degrees. An educational exhibit near the bathhouse details the history and biology of this unique Austin treasure.

Zilker Park. A 358-acre green space in the heart of Austin, Zilker Park sits across from beautiful Lady Bird Lake and its 10-mile trail. Along with amenities such as boat rentals, gardens and volleyball courts, this metropolitan park hosts some of Austin’s most iconic events, including the Austin City Limits Music Festival and the holiday Trail of Lights.

LBJ Presidential Library & Museum. Some might yawn at the thought of visiting a presidential library, but Austin’s LBJ Presidential Library traces a momentous period of U.S. history, from the triumph of the Civil Rights movement, to the agony of the Vietnam Conflict and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The museum’s vast and fascinating collection also documents the emergence of America’s space program.

Texas State Capitol. Think there’s nothing free anymore? Take a free tour of the Texas State Capitol and learn about the largest state capitol building in the United States. Built out of Sunset Red Texas granite, Texas’ capitol building is 14 feet higher than the U.S. capitol. The beautiful grounds cover 22 acres and include 17 monuments and other historic buildings. The visitor’s center hosts changing exhibits and a great selection of souvenirs. After touring, eat with the politicos at the Capitol Grill, located in the Capitol Extension building.

South Congress Bridge Bats. One of Austin’s most popular activities is watching the 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from the South Congress Bridge. Between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. every day is the optimum time to catch this amazing aerial display, which lasts for about 45 to 60 minutes. These migratory bats make the South Congress Bridge their home from March through November every year. The bats are not only fun to watch; they also help keep Austin’s insect population in check. The colony can eat up to 250 tons of insects each night.

Blanton Museum of Art. A must for budding young artists, the Blanton Museum of Art is nestled on the University of Texas campus, near the State Capitol, making it easy to combine several activities on a trip to downtown Austin. In addition to its permanent collection of 18,000 European, North American and Latin American artworks, the Blanton hosts visiting exhibits throughout the year. One of its newest additions is Ellsworth Kelly’s Austin, a 2,715-square-foot stone building with luminous colored glass windows, a totemic wood sculpture, and 14 black and white marble panels.

Sixth Street. If you think Austin’s iconic Sixth Street is just for college-age students and grownups, you may be surprised to know it actually has many family-friendly establishments. Over the years, Sixth Street has developed into three distinct areas, including Old (or “Dirty”) Sixth Street, the original segment between Congress Avenue and I-35. Sometimes considered the “rowdy” part of the district, Old Sixth Street has bars, along with upscale restaurants and kid-friendly eateries. West Sixth Street, from Congress to Mopac, is an eclectic mix of some of Austin’s most historic dance clubs, icehouses and eateries. East Sixth, located east of I-35, is the most laid-back area, with a growing number of craft breweries, food trucks and live music. Kids will love the Pedicabs, a popular way to enjoy all three areas of Sixth Street. This famous street also hosts some of Austin’s most popular family events, including the Pecan Street Festival.

Wildflower Center. As a community that’s filled with beautiful wildflowers, we have a soft spot for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Designated as the official State Botanic Garden and Arboretum of Texas, the Wildflower Center is located in a transition zone between the Edwards Plateau and the Texas Blackland Prairies ecoregions. It displays more than 800 species of native plants, including more than 50 species of oaks found in Texas. Dedicated to education, the center hosts plant sales, workshops and Wildflower Road Shows. Kids love Fort Landia, an annual exhibition of featuring unique forts designed by architects, artists and students from the UT School of Architecture.

Bullock Museum. Discover the many stories of Texas at the Bullock Museum, located across from the Texas Capitol. The museum hosts an ever-changing display of artifacts, rare documents, photographs and special exhibits. The IMAX Theatre shows blockbuster movies on the biggest screen in Texas, and the Story of Texas Café offers superb views and an eclectic menu. The famous bronze star in Lone Star Plaza is a popular place for photos.

Thinkery. Austin’s children’s museum, Thinkery, offers play-based, inquiry-rich, hands-on learning experiences amid 40,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor activities. Through a variety of hands-on, interactive STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) exhibits and programs, Thinkery encourages physical, emotional and cognitive development for young learners and fosters joyful curiosity for all ages.

Discover more attractions for every member of the family near Rancho Sienna with our Local Flavor guide.