Sometimes you want to get outside but can’t do anything too rugged. You’ve got the kids with you, elderly in-laws, or a physically-limited friend. Or maybe you’ve worn yourself out on the trails, even bruised yourself (and ego) with an unexpected face-plant. Whatever the reason, you’re not able to go on a hardcore excursion, but still want to spend time in the Texas outdoors, and maybe bring your children with you. And if you’re in Austin, you’re in one of the best places to be outside year-round.
So what’s one to do if you have the opportunity to get outside with the kids in Austin but need to keep it tame? Following is a sampling of top Austin sites that offer outdoor recreation at a relaxed pace, are kid-friendly, and are absolutely beautiful and fun for everyone.
Austin Nature and Science Center
The Nature and Science Center is the perfect place to take your energy-filled youngster. It’s got a small zoo filled with rescued native animals, a variety of nature-filled walks, a natural history education center, and even a “fossil dig” site where kids can play in sand that’s not only free of cat poo, but educational too! (Hint: The center also offers access to the Zilker Nature Preserve, in case you feel the need to get away on a more rugged hiking trail while grandma takes care of the kiddos in the sand pit.)
Laguna Gloria and Charles Long’s Pet Sounds Exhibit (Limited time)
The Contemporary Austin (formerly Austin Museum of Art) has placed various semi-permanent exhibits on the grounds of its Laguna Gloria art school and estate. But Charles Long’s Pet Sounds, is one that your kids will especially love – and it’s only around through April 2014, so visit it while you can. Too quirky to fully explain here, suffice to say that Pet Sounds is an outdoor walk-through playground filled with surreal blobby shapes that you can and should pet; and when you do, they respond with alien sounds. It’s great fun for all ages, and a great way to spend an hour outside with family.
Umlauf Sculpture Garden
Another cool art-related destination, Umlauf Sculpture Garden brings together human creativity with native Texas flora in a friendly environment. Maybe not as kid-friendly as Toys-R-Us (there are a few opportunities to explain human anatomy, for example), but inviting nonetheless (under-12 gets free admission). Walkways meander through four acres of greenery and pull together a calming atmosphere. It’s a historic site in Austin that was long forgotten and only in the last 20 years became the location for American sculptor Charles Umlauf’s art.
Zilker Botanical Garden and “Faerie Trail”
Zilker Botanical Garden is wonderful in itself, and March 11 through May 26 it offers the Woodland Faerie Trail, which is the perfect diversion for imaginative little ones. The Faerie Trail treats visitors to a “faerie home tour,” complete with miniature mushroom homes, all painstakingly constructed by… well, maybe we’ll never know what creatures created them. You’ll just have to see for yourself this spring.
Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center
President Lyndon Johnson’s wife, known as “Ladybird,” was perhaps Texas’ most ardent naturalist, conservationist and outdoors enthusiast. In 1982, she devoted many acres of Austin land, through The University of Texas, to the study of native plants, and that became the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. Visitors can stroll the paths through the native, non-landscaped grounds, as well as the education center, which offers a wealth of information about local species. There are also children-focused sections and activities. Before you go, you can even find out what’s in bloom for the week. Early spring is, for many, the most visually stunning time to visit, while the Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes are simultaneously blooming, but the acres and acres of wild plants are absolutely beautiful year-round.