When my then-7-year-old niece, Sofia, got to make her first proper, touristy visit to Austin (in other words, one where she was here long enough to do more than just hang out at our house), she joyously proclaimed amid her adventures, "Austin has everything!" Thanks for the kudos, kiddo! While some little folks might be left fidgeting or yawning through Capitol tours, University of Texas football games, and other things grown-up visitors want to do in Austin, there’s plenty to do for the younger set. I'm willing to bet that their love for Austin will start to bloom the way Sofia's did. (And just think how much they'll love this town when they trade chicken tenders and the Disney channel for tacos and live music!) From the living history park at Pioneer Farms to Thinkery, the latest incarnation of Austin’s Children’s Museum, here are my favorite family-friendly attractions that will keep kids—and adults—entertained.
The exhibits at this living history park will take your kids back to 19th century Texas — they may even get a glimpse of some real Texas Longhorns (and we're not talking football players). Pioneer Farms is open Fridays-Sundays. Keep an eye out for special activities if you're visiting around Halloween or Christmas.
Peter Pan Mini Golf
Generations of Austin children have celebrated their birthdays at this landmark on Barton Springs Road near downtown. Open since 1946, Peter Pan has two, 18-hole mini-golf courses with fancifully-designed and brightly-painted obstacles. The kids will burn off some energy, and you'll enjoy the old-school vibe.
The Thinkery is the new incarnation of the Austin Children's Museum. The 40,000-square-foot facility opened in 2013 in the Mueller neighborhood, about four miles from downtown Austin. A variety of hands-on exhibits let kids explore scientific concepts, do experiments, get messy and make cool things. There's an outdoor play area, too.
Past Austin visitors may remember Toy Joy from its previous location near UT. The store is downtown now, but still has the same mix of toys you won't find at a big-box store, plus plenty of rather offbeat gifts. I dig the Sanrio section, my college-student stepson is into their Adventure Time gear, and my niece likes, well, everything.
Big Top Candy Shop
You know, there's really something to that "kid in an candy store" expression. Kids seem pretty darn delighted at this South Congress Avenue shop, but then, so do adults. More than 2,300 kinds of candy (both bulk and packaged), plus ice cream, shaved ice, and a soda fountain, will do that to you. Treats for everyone!