Saturday, February 20, 2016

Austin, Texas

I was eager to visit Austin to try all the great food that I've heard so much about, but we ended up enjoying the natural attractions that the city has to offer even more. The easygoing vibe in this city makes it a terrific place to visit with kids.

What to Do

The enormous Zilker Park is the perfect place to spend a day with kids. We went for the row boating, which was awesome  spotted lots of turtles and ducks  and stayed for the expansive playground and miniature train ride around the park. The kids didn't want to leave when it was time.

Another neat place to visit is the Austin Zoo, which is more of an animal rescue and rehabilitation center than a true zoo. It's very small, but there's a nice section of animals to feed, and the mealtime demonstrations by the staff were fun to watch, particularly the feeding of the black bears.

For more animals and some light exercise, check out Mayfield Park, a small park that features free-roaming peacocks, art installations and easy hiking trails. And a few minutes down the road is the entrance up Mount Bonnell, a long, stone staircase that'll lead you to the highest point in Austin.

Where to Eat

Franklin may be selling the world's most famous barbecue, but the infamous line around the block was enough to deter this family with small children from going. Maybe next time, when they're older.

Instead, we drove out to Salt Lick in Driftwood, TX, another popular barbecue joint that's set back from the road, up a windy path and behind dusty wooden posts. The place is incredibly atmospheric; it totally screams You're in Texas! Salt Lick's sauce is great  tangy and lighter than most other places  and the kids enjoyed the rustic decor and picnic table setup. Save room for the peach cobbler.

We also checked out two Austin fast-food chains, Torchy's Tacos and P. Terry's Burger Stand. Both are worth a visit and serve foods that the kids won't complain about.

What's Nearby

Our greatest find during this trip was the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, a botanical garden on the outskirts of Austin that totally caters to kids. Pick up an explorer's backpack at the admission kiosk, which is filled with binoculars, magnifying glasses, wildlife charts, and much more. The family garden features giant bird nests for kids to climb in, a child-size grotto, loaner watering cans, a large sand box, and other activities that'll capture your kids' imagination and keep them exploring for hours. It seems this place is well known by locals but doesn't get a lot of tourist traffic, which works in your favor. Not sure it'll always stay that way.