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In February 2019, Milana and I took a trip to Austin. I have been before before she was born and she loved San Antonio a lot so I figured Austin would be a great destination. Being February, I wanted a destination that had similar weather to SoCal and since the majority of the country was frozen, Austin was a great choice with a short flight from our home airport. We flew in on a Thursday evening and left Monday morning, leaving us 3 days to explore.
Since we travel with carry ons only most of the time, Milana is responsible for her own luggage. She uses this Amazon Basics Carry On which is really great quality and brings her Osprey Jet 12 Backpack filled with in-flight entertainment, including her iPad and these awesome kid headphones that she’s used for over 6 years and is still on the same pair, they are the best! We also recently discovered one of her new favorite in flight toys, the Playfoam Pals. These are the best and never dry out! They don’t make a mess and you can store them in a ziplock bag to save space. The tray cover you see is the Trayblecloth.
Since our first night we arrived late, I used Priceline to get a hotel and we ended up with the Hilton for super cheap. I had zero expectations since Hilton isn’t my favorite brand in the US. However when we arrived and I gave my Hilton Amex for check in, the guy looked up my info, gave me credit for the stay (which is unheard of with 3rd party bookings) and then upgrades us to a concierge level with lounge access which was great! As of right now, the Hilton Amex is still offering a 150k sign up bonus, which is unheard of! If you’re considering a hotel card, I would add this one to your wallet.
The second hotel we stayed at was Element, a Marriott property. We loved the location, one of the best places to stay in Austin, and the hotel and would stay here again without hesitation!
THINGS TO DO
Austin has lots of attractions for families with young kids. The city is super spread out, so you will definitely need to rent a car. Since I didn’t want to pay overnight parking fees at our downtown hotel, we rented a car 2 days of our stay, picking it up in the morning and returning it at night (they have a key drop). Enterprise was 2 blocks away, making it super convenient for picking up and dropping off rentals.
A short walk from our hotel was the Texas State Capitol. I was surprised at how much Milana enjoyed this! She had lots of questions and the employees inside happily answered them. We are homeschoolers, so this was a nice educational experience.
While we normally aren’t zoo fans, a friend who lives in the area told us about the Austin Zoo. Their animals are all rescued and it’s unlike any other zoo we have been to. Now some people will say that the zoo has some negative publicity, however I will urge you to do some research because one angry employee seems to have the power to ruin an entire organization! Milana loved wandering the grounds and you can even buy species appropriate food to feed to the goats, llamas and deer.
We also found out that there was an aquarium however I would personally skip this. I had no idea that more than 80% wasn’t actually sea life but other animals, where you were able to interact with things like kangaroos, sloths, and lemurs. Milana really wanted to see the lemurs so I allowed her to do just that one.
On a day when it was in the 70s, we visited the Austin Nature & Science Center. This place is free and a great learning opportunity for kids! They even had a dino dig area for kids to play in.
I always check out Groupon when traveling, to see what local deals might be available. I saw they had a cheap option for the Toy Museum in downtown, and when I mentioned it to Milana, she really wanted to go. It was super close to our hotel so I bought it and we walked over one afternoon. It’s a small place filled with nostalgic toys that you will probably understand more than your child! Either way, she loved seeing “old fashioned toys” as she called them and it was a fun way to spend a little bit of time.
Austin also has a children’s museum, the Thinkery, which is free if you have a membership to your local ASTC science center. Now this wasn’t our favorite children’s museum. It’s pretty small and the rooms where they had activities like art and other things had staff members that weren’t interested at all in explaining what they were doing. But she still had fun and there is a playground across the street, however it was drizzling the day we went and everything was wet so we didn’t get to explore it.
One afternoon, we went to an indoor playground called Mt. Playmore. This place is awesome! Huge climbing structure for kids and an awesome seating area for parents, with massage chairs, couches and recliners. Milana is super social and quickly made a few friends so we ended up staying for 2 hours while she played with her new buddies. This is one of the best things about having an only child. While siblings tend to stick together and not talk to other kids, she is forced to come out of her shell to make friends and as a result has made them easily and quickly all over the world!
A great park to explore is Central Park near the Central Market. Lots of areas to explore, a stream and awesome climbing trees.
We also walked around downtown, since that’s where our hotels were based.
Austin also has lots of murals and signs with the city name all over the city. I really wanted to see the huge Greetings From Austin mural, so I looked up the location and we drove there one morning.
In front of the flagship Whole Foods, we found this sign:
Ah, food. One of the main reasons we travel! Milana is a little foodie, eating pretty much anything and everything, so traveling with her is awesome and we aren’t tied to places with kid menus and chicken nuggets. On our first night, she really wanted some ramen. After doing some research, I came to the conclusion that Ramen Tatsu-Ya is popular. I was hoping the wait wouldn’t be as bad as some reviewers said, but at nearly 8pm on a Thursday, there were maybe 6 parties in front of us. I wouldn’t say this was the best ramen we’ve ever had, but it was really good! Milana loves miso ramen so we got that.
Her in SoCal we have more traditional Mexican so we wanted to try some Tex Mex. Near the Science and Nature Center is Chuy’s. We came on a Sunday afternoon and there was a wait, but we were seated within 15 minutes. The food was good though neither of us was a fan of the famous queso! Thankfully I told the waitress we didn’t want the full portion and asked if we can just get a small one, and she said of course and brought us out a tiny bowl of the stuff. Milana loves tacos and enjoyed her meal here.
While we didn’t try them after just having had a meal at Chuy’s, right next to them were food trucks, which were packed with lots of people!
Another taco place we tried was Torchy’s in SoCo. They have a ton of different food taco options, ones you won’t see anywhere else! They were really good here, Milana especially like the bean and cheese one.
SoCo is a really cute area to wander around with lots of shops and restaurants and a really great candy store, just 2 blocks from Torchy’s.
Of course, what is a visit to Texas without some bbq? We have tried many of the recommended ones on our last trip and were not fans of Cooper’s at all on our last trip and opted to skip it this time, even though we walked past it many times as it was near our hotel! I did some research and found Stiles Switch BBQ. It was good and the wait was minimal. I’d come here again! I know there are others that are recommended with super long waits, however when we went to Dallas, we went to the most recommended local bbq joint and ended up throwing an entire tray of food in the trash, it was by far the worst bbq we have ever had! So I didn’t want to risk a long wait only to be disappointed again.
Just like in San Antonio, Austin has a ton of restaurants with play areas. Milana really loved Hat Creek. The playground was super cute and just steps from the tables so you can relax and eat while the kids play.
Near the children’s museum, is an ice cream place called Lick Honest Ice Cream. The flavors here are unique so if you have a picky kid, it’s probably not the place for you. Milana chose the beets and mint ice cream and loved it!
Central Market was another great place. It’s a massive supermarket with some great food options. Outside, you can eat at the picnic tables while the kids play on the playground.
The Whole Foods in Austin is their flagship store. It’s amazing and massive, our favorite Whole Foods in the country! We grabbed some cheese, bread and fruit and headed upstairs to eat by the playground. Yes, another place with a playground!
If you like acai, Blenders & Bowls in downtown is really good! This is one of Milana’s favorite treats so I had to find one in Austin.
We were able to do all these things in 3 days, so imagine what you can accomplish with more time! I’m sure we will return to Austin as it’s one of our favorite places to visit in Texas with kids.