The 10 Best Free Things to Do in Austin When Your Kids Say, ‘I’m Bored’
Discover the best free things to do with kiddos in the Austin area to banish boredom instantly!
You’ve likely heard that Austin’s live music scene is unrivaled, the city’s breakfast tacos are off-the-charts-good, and Matthew McConaughey may or may not be living in a trailer on South First Street.
But, did you know that Austin is also one of the best cities in the country for free family activities? There’s seemingly no shortage to the awesome supply of affordable good times in the Lone Star State’s capital. So, whether you're a parent, a babysitter, or a nanny, you have plenty of options at your disposal when the kiddos start to pull the “I’m bored!” card. And the good news is that a whole lot of these activities are free!
First, Austin’s urban greenery is a marvel. If you and your family are into hiking and the outdoors, you’ll fall in love with the city’s abundance of trails, parks, and glorious swimming holes. From the boardwalk at Lady Bird Lake to the Barton Creek Greenbelt (a stretch of hidden-away hiking trails in the heart of the city), Austin is well-known for its outdoorsy vibes.
Not exactly a nature freak? No problem! Head to one of the city’s many farmers markets with your little ones in tow, check out a children’s story hour, or go play for free during Community Night at the Thinkery -- a science-centric wonderland of games and interactive exhibits that kids of all ages are bound to love.
It’s tough to narrow things down, but here are our 10 favorite free activities to do with kids in Austin.
Address: 630 N. Lamar Blvd., Austin, TX 78703
Storytime Hours: Tuesday & Wednesday, 10:30 a.m. | Saturday, 11:30 a.m.
Texas’s biggest and most beloved independent bookstore is also a fantastic place to take your kids. Not only does BookPeople have an incredible children’s selection brimming with books, games, and toys, but it also offers free storytimes that are loved by both parents and kids alike. Held three times per week, BookKids storytimes always feature a fun storyteller and/or great local guests that are sure to please the crowds -- such as the Tiny Tails Petting Zoo.
Good luck getting the kiddos to leave the tunnel that snakes through the children’s section.
Address: 2100 Barton Springs Road, Austin, TX 78746
Park Hours: Sunday – Saturday, 5 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Zilker Park is hands-down one of the best places to take your family on a budget. Centrally located and spanning over 300 acres, this swath of greenery in the heart of Downtown Austin is the picture-perfect place to spend an afternoon. Not only are there frequent family-friendly concerts and plays, but Zilker is also home to a miniature train (a favorite among kids of any age!), the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, a free nature center, and more.
We highly recommend hitting up the Zilker Hillside Theater during the summer to catch a musical on the lawn. (Last year’s musical was “Shrek”; this year, it’s “The Wizard of Oz”!) Of course, you could always simply bring a picnic and hang out in the grass. There’s a little something for everyone at Zilker Park.
- Barton Creek Greenbelt
- Barton Hills Access: 2010 Homedale Dr., Austin, TX 78704
- Gaines/Twin Falls Access: 3918 S. Mopac Expy., Austin, TX 78746
- Gus Fruh Access: 2642 Barton Hills Dr., Austin, TX 78704
- Loop 360 Access: 3755-B Capital of Texas Hwy., Austin, TX 78704
- Spyglass Drive Access: 1601 Spyglass Dr., Austin, TX 78746
- Trail Head Access: 2201 Barton Springs Rd., Austin, TX 78746
- Trails End Access: 1710 Camp Craft Rd., Austin, TX 78746
- Emma Long Metropolitan Park: 1600 City Park Rd., Austin, TX 78730
- Bull Creek Greenbelt Trail
- Barton Creek Greenbelt: Open daily
- Emma Long Metropolitan Park: Open daily, 7 a.m. - 10 p.m.
- Bull Creek Greenbelt Upper and Lower Trails: Open daily, 8 a.m. - 8 p.m.
As I mentioned before, Austin is home to some of the best urban hiking in the country. So, grab your loved ones -- as well as plenty of sunscreen and water (Austin’s a sunny place!) -- and hit the trails.
The Barton Creek Greenbelt is a nature oasis smack-dab in the middle of the city, with miles of trails and gorgeous scenery. Pets are allowed, and swimsuits are a must. There’s nothing like diving into the crystal-clear waters here after a hike.
(Pro tip: There are several access points to the greenbelt, but we like the Spyglass Drive entrance – both because it’s super pretty, and because it’s next to a Tacodeli!)
If you've already been there, done that, Emma Long Metropolitan Park and the Bull Creek Greenbelt Trails (both Upper and Lower) are other great places to hike around with the kiddos, too.
Address: 1100 Congress Ave., Austin, TX 78701
Hours: Sunday – Saturday, 7 a.m. - 10 p.m.
The Texas State Capitol is a fabulous place to take the family! Free guided tours are available Monday to Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 3:30 p.m. You can walk around the capitol’s lush grounds, enjoy a picnic under the shade of the giant live oaks, and don’t miss the interactive, exhibit-filled visitors' center.
Address: 1830 Simond Avenue, Austin, TX 78723
Community Night Hours: Wednesday, 4 p.m. - 8 p.m.
While there are many awesome museums in Austin, the Thinkery certainly tops the list. And what makes this place extra-special is that they host a weekly "Community Nights," where the only price of admission is a donation to the museum. (They suggest a $1 donation.)
The whole family is guaranteed to have fun at this fabulous science and children’s museum, which encourages an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Your toddler will love “Currents,” the indoor water exhibit, and the older kids will adore the “Innovators’ Workshop.”
Address: 525 N Lamar Blvd., Austin, TX 78703
Hours: Sunday – Saturday, 7 a.m. - 10 p.m.
The Whole Foods Market flagship store in downtown Austin is a treat for all ages (plus, you can get some serious grocery shopping done here!), and there’s always a fun event or class to attend with the little ones. We recommend checking out the events calendar before visiting. Whole Foods offers everything from Kids’ Club cooking classes, to group art activities, to other educational and fun workshops for the whole family.
Address: 3800 Mt. Bonnell Drive, Austin, TX 78731
Hours: Sunday – Saturday, 5 a.m. - 10 p.m.
The views from atop Austin landmark Mount Bonnell are a true treat. The “hike” (OK, just a flight of stairs) to the top is well worth it. From here, you’ll catch a stunning glimpse of the downtown area, as well as of Lake Austin. Bring a snack to enjoy at one of the picnic tables, and check out nearby Mayfield Park to get your nature fix.
- HOPE Farmers' Market: 412 Comal Street, Austin, TX 78702
- Barton Creek Farmers' Market: 2901 S. Capital of Texas Highway, Austin, TX 78746
- Texas Farmers' Market at Mueller: 4209 Airport Blvd., Austin, TX 78722
- HOPE Farmers' Market: Sunday, 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.
- Barton Creek Farmers' Market: Saturday, 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.
- Texas Farmers’ Market at Mueller: Sunday, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Austin’s farmers' markets are legendary -- for good reason. And despite popular belief, you don't have to spend money to have a great time at farmers' markets! Walk down each aisle at a leisurely pace and take in the sights and sounds of the marketplace. (Maybe even do a little people-watching!)
You may not realize it, but farmers' markets are also perfect opportunities to help your kiddos continue their learning outside of the classroom. Try having them count the number of items in a particular basket, or have them name the shapes they see in one of the crafts stalls. Not only will they learn something new from this experience, but they'll also see how the concepts they learn in class can be applied in the real world.
It’s hard to pick just three, but our favorite local markets are HOPE Farmers' Market, Barton Creek Farmers' Market, and the Texas Farmers’ Market at Mueller. The Mueller market is a particularly good family-friendly option, thanks to its proximity to a great park, duck pond, and the Thinkery. If you decide to spend a little cash, consider bringing your tote bags and buying a farm-fresh lunch from vendors. Make a day of it!
Location: First Street Bridge at Lady Bird Lake, Austin, TX 78701
Hours: Open daily
Regardless of whether your family is into hiking, canoeing, biking, or kayaking, Lady Bird Lake is the place to do it! Known to locals as “Town Lake,” this beautiful body of water is the perfect spot to soak up the sun with the fam. There's also the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail nearby, which is over 10 miles long. You can pick a section of the trail to walk on, or rent kayaks from one of the many vendors on the lake. (Texas Rowing Center and Congress Avenue Kayaks are great.)
If you’re in Austin between March and November, keep in mind that it’s bat season! Head to the South Congress Bridge from the Hike-and-Bike Trail at sunset. The kids will undoubtedly love watching thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats emerge into the night sky.
Address: 2201 Barton Springs Road, Austin, TX 78746
Hours: Monday – Wednesday and Friday – Sunday, 5 a.m. - 10 p.m. | Thursday, 5 a.m. - 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. - 10 p.m.
If you and your family are visiting Austin during the summertime, checking out the city’s natural swimming holes is a must! Our favorite, by far, is Barton Springs. Your kiddos will love this picturesque, spring-fed swimming pool (located in Zilker Park), otherwise known as the “soul” of Austin.
Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments below!
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Justine Harrington is a freelance writer and editor based in Austin, Texas. Her favorite free thing to do in Austin almost always involves a picnic on the grass in Zilker Park and a good book.