From now until school starts again, families on summer vacation will be looking for cool, mostly cheap, and sometimes off-the-radar fun that's not too far away from home. Austin is a popular destination for Texans in every corner of the state. Swimming pools, splash pads, and typical tourist attractions aside, we’re digging a little deeper to find family-friendly options for cooling off, keeping little minds active, indulging in frozen treats, and enjoying the summer just a couple hours away from Houston.
Free museum entry
Austin visitors are fortunate to have a wide array of museums to choose from for family fun, offering both an educational day — and a chance to cool off indoors. Plus, if you go when museum admission is free, you’ll leave more room in your summer budget for swimming pool entrance fees and ice cream.
- Blanton Museum of Art — Free admission Thursdays, 10 am to 5 pm with extended hours until 9 pm every third Thursday of the month.
- Bullock Texas State History Museum — Free admission the first Sunday of every month from noon to 5 pm.
- The Contemporary Austin - Laguna Gloria — Free admission Tuesdays, 9 am to 5 pm with free drop-in tours at 1 pm on the first Sunday of every month.
- The Contemporary Austin - Jones Center — Free admission Tuesdays, 9 am to 7 pm with free drop-in tours at 1 pm the first Sunday of every month.
- Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum — Children 12 and under are always free, plus free admission for all on Family Days, the second Sunday of the month, noon to 4 pm.
- Mexic-Arte Museum — Free admission every Sunday, noon to 5 pm.
- Thinkery — Community Nights every Wednesday from 4-8 pm with admission by donation (suggested donation is $1).
Taking kids to the Live Music Capital of the World means you’ve got to start ‘em young. There are so many options for rocking out with the fam all summer long.
Driftwood Nights at Vista Brewing
Every Friday night from 6:30-8:30 pm, enjoy live music at Vista Brewing’s local singer-songwriter music series Driftwood Nights. The series is in partnership with the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, and 10 percent of beer sales from each show is donated to HAAM. There is plenty of space for kiddos to roam as well, including a playscape and tree swings.
Sour Duck Market’s Farmer’s Market
Keep those veggie-eating good habits going on vacation while supporting local farmers with Sour Duck Market’s Farmer’s Market every Wednesday from 4-7 pm with live music from String Theory. Sour Duck Market offers a kids menu, and happy hour runs from 2-6 pm. The market is also pet-friendly.
Oak Garden at Güero's
If your crew loves to dance together, be sure to check out the Oak Garden at Güero's Wednesday through Sunday throughout the summer. Set times vary slightly throughout the week, so be sure to reference its website for the monthly stage lineup.
Black Fret: Summer Sessions
Enjoy the Long Center lawn — and view of the ever-evolving skyline — with your crew while taking in the new Black Fret: Summer Sessions. In partnership with local nonprofit Black Fret, the Long Center presents two free evenings of live music (July 19 and September 6 at 5 pm) featuring both new and established Austin artists. Chairs, blankets, and empty reusable water bottles are welcome, but coolers, food, alcohol, and other drinks are not.
Is it even summer if you don’t rack up hours watching movies? Enjoy flicks with the entire family with these options.
Sound & Cinema on the Long Center
This series features free live and local music combined with movies projected onto the Alamo Drafthouse’s giant inflatable screen. Bring folding chairs, blankets, reusable water bottles, pets, and kids, but leave coolers, glass containers, and alcoholic beverages at home. Event begins at 6 pm.
Sound & Cinema 2019:
- July 10 — Guardians of the Galaxy
- July 31 — Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
- August 14 — 10 Things I Hate About You
Austin Parks Foundation Movies in the Park — multiple dates
Free movies under the Austin night sky — what’s more summer than that? Blankets, lawn chairs, picnics, and dogs on leash are welcome, and every Movie in the Parks screening will be accompanied by local food trucks and opportunities to win APF merchandise. Glass and styrofoam containers are not permitted in any of the parks. Check out the full schedule and rain dates here.
The Bullock Museum Summer Family Fun Series — multiple dates
This year’s Sci-Fi Sidekicks theme includes Lilo & Stitch on July 20 and Wall-E on August 10. Make a day of it and explore exhibitions and a family activity station before the film starting at noon, with film seating beginning at 1:30 pm. Tickets are $5 for members and $8 for general admission.
Find gelato, vegan ice cream, and other frozen creations throughout Austin, but here are some frozen specialties you may not have sampled just yet.
Thai Fresh owner Jam Santichat opened Gati last year, a truck selling her coconut-based ice cream on Holly Street all summer long until the brick-and-mortar Gati location opens in August. Flavors such as golden milk, cookie monster, Thai coffee, strawberry basil, and Thai tea draw a crowd every Tuesday-Sunday from noon to 10 pm.
This Asian food hall and market makes for a sensory rich family outing. The food hall has numerous vendors featuring cuisines from different Asian culinary traditions and colorful Taiwanese Snow Ice from Sno Mo. Or try some mochi ice cream from the grocery.
To elicit giggles after a long, activity filled summer day, take your kids to this vegan scoop shop and treat them to the “Unicorn Poop” flavor, made with a pink vanilla base with Skittles and multi-colored sprinkles mixed in.