What to do in Austin, Texas
When it comes to family vacations, the old phrase "You can't be everything to everyone" certainly doesn't apply to the capital of Texas. Austin sports its multiple personalities gracefully: It's a fun, authentic destination to explore the Lone Star cowboy legacy; a dynamic city packed with kid-friendly attractions; a college town hub for live music and art; and an outdoorsy oasis for hiking and swimming.
Where to go in Austin, Texas
Barton Springs Pool is a swimming hole that's fed by a natural hot spring, with temperatures around 70 degrees year-round. It's part of Zilker Park, which also has the famous Lady Bird Lake (for kayaking, canoeing and stand up paddling), a botanic garden, the Austin Nature & Science Center and the Zilker Zephyr train, which offers 25-minute rides around the grounds. Between March and August, about 1.5 million bats fly out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge, usually departing about 20 minutes before sundown. Check a sunset timetable before you go, park at the Statesman, and for the best views, stand on the bridge's east side walkway. If you've got impatient kiddos, spread a blanket on the grass below, or Lone Star Riverboats runs bat-watching cruises.
Where to stay in Austin, Texas
The Austin Motel on trendy South Congress has a kidney-shaped pool and a retro, mid-century sensibility. Rooms mix bright white with sunny citrus accent hues and if your kids need their own bed, be sure to book a suite or double queen. There's no restaurant, but locally loved Jo's is just across the street for breakfast tacos and the sweet, creamy coffee drink known as an Iced Turbo. The Fairmont Austin opened in 2018 in a sleek skyscraper in the central business district. With more than than 1,000 rooms, it's one of Austin's biggest hotels, and there's a heated outdoor pool on the 7th floor. If you're indecisive on where to go for dinner, try the hotel's Revue food hall, which has four different options in one stylish space: Pan-Asian, Italian, seafood and a pastry shop. Kids will love sitting on the front porch of the charming white clapboard house facade; behind it is Garrison, the grill restaurant.
Where to eat in Austin, Texas
The house specialties at Shady Grove, a Tex-Mex joint named for the pecan trees you can sit under, include green chile grilled chicken, tortilla fried queso catfish and Tejas tacos, plus kid-friendly options like corn dogs and grilled cheese. There are five tempting margaritas, but the Ladybird Lemonade (jujed up with vodka, lavender bitters and mint) might become your new go-to. To fully settle into vacation mode, head to Ski Shores Cafe on Lake Austin, a relaxed waterside spot with an arcade room and playground. They show family movies on Friday evenings, and kids get free S'mores. The menu is big on beach-bar staples like burgers, fried seafood baskets and strong cocktails, both frozen and not.