If your budget is running on empty, but your kids still have seemingly limitless energy, take them to one of these fun and free Austin spots.
The Dino Pit is the most popular attraction, but the center also has a mini-zoo with animals that are undergoing rehabilitation. Current residents include a bobcat, a skunk, an owl and a hawk. The nature trail includes a pond and plenty of shade.
301 Nature Center Drive
2. Butler Park
Offering a free splash pad in the heart of Austin, Butler Park is an ideal destination for a picnic on a hot summer day. The little ones can splash around in the water while you enjoy a lovely hilltop view of downtown and the surrounding ponds. There’s also plenty of open space for playing Frisbee or just running wild. 1000 Barton Springs Road
3. Central Market
The upscale grocery store has a huge outdoor patio where it hosts free music during the day on weekends. The music is generally not kids' bands, which means the adults can enjoy it too. The musical acts range from jazz to salsa. 4001 North Lamar Boulevard
A good climb up a long staircase is an excellent idea if you’re trying to burn off a little excess youthful energy. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view of the city and Lake Austin. The viewing area at the top has a limited amount of shade to protect the kids from the brutal summer heat.
3800 Mount Bonnell Road
5. Zilker Park
The 350-acre park gives kids plenty of room to roam. The playscape near Barton Springs Pool features slides, tubes, ramps, bridges and monkey bars. Kids can feed ducks along Barton Creek and watch dogs play in the water just outside the pool area. 2201 Barton Springs Road
6. Red Bud Isle
Tucked away on a little island on Lake Austin, Red Bud Isle is primarily a leash-free dog park. But it’s also a nice place to let the kids roam leash-free. It’s surrounded by water on three sides, so they can only go so far. For adults, the park also offers a good view of the mansions of Austin's rich and famous that perched on cliffs over Lake Austin. 3401 Red Bud Trail
In the middle of summer, the Texas Memorial Museum is a great place to escape from the heat. Located on the University of Texas campus, the museum has an extensive fossil collection. The most impressive specimen is the 30-foot Onion Creek Mosasaur, which lived in a shallow sea that covered Austin during the Cretaceous Period. 2400 Trinity Street
8. Duncan Park
This small park in central Austin features a BMX course complete with a series of small but challenging handmade ramps and hills. Even if your child is not a bicycle acrobat, it’s fun to watch the experts jump the hills and do tricks. 900 West 9th Street
Even if you don’t have a dog, the leash-free dog area at Lady Bird Lake is a blast for kids. Fair warning: It's always a good idea to ask the owner before interacting with any dog, but it’s generally a very friendly crowd.
At sunset, the action at the park really picks up, but there are at least a few dogs around all day. If the kids get covered in slobber and grime, you’ll only be a short hike away from the Butler Park splash pad. This area is officially known as Vic Mathias Shores, but most people just refer to it as the dog park at Lady Bird Lake. Adjacent to 305 South Congress Avenue (Austin-American Statesman office)