Austin Moms Blog has recently heard from quite a few newbie Austinites on our Facebook page. Welcome to town! You will love it here!

With that in mind, and fresh on the heels of our first annual Best Baby Name in Austin contest, I started thinking about “Austin’s Bests.” Many of the categories are debatable (Best pizza . . . Home Slice or East Side Pies?; Best movie theater . . . Alamo Drafthouse or Violet Crown?) but there is one Best that stands uncontested. Best Park: Zilker Metropolitan Park! With 350+ acres, Zilker’s size becomes both a blessing and a curse. The park holds treasures around every bend that make the following list handy not just for the Austin neophytes but to the mothers who have been here for years.

1. Throw your kid in the Bob and lace up your new sneakers from Runtex . . . the trail awaits! Whether taking the full ten mile course around the lake or just making your way to Auditorium Shores, you can get your fitness on in true Austin style!

2. Did we say Auditorium Shores? If your kiddo is canine-crazy, you have to hit this spot with your own Spot or just come to cheer on the latest game of fetch. Dogs from all over Austin congregate on the shores of Town Lake to swim, play, and, most importantly, entertain your child for a few hours.

3. Another prime pup-watching place is at the “Poor Man’s Pool” beside Barton Springs. If you can spare to dish out a few bucks, though, you can get inside the gate for the real Barton Springs pool, a 3 acre oasis of friggin’ frigid spring water. I will forgive it for┬áits cameo in Brad Pitts pseudo-intellectual snoozefest Tree of Life, but only because it saved my life during a sweltering summer pregnancy.

4. If your kiddo is into Chuggington and Thomas, you simply have to ride the Zilker Zephyr, a miniature train that takes visitors on a 25-minute ride around the park. Running every half-hour on weekends and every hour on weekdays from 10-5, the train can be ridden for just a few dollars; bring cash to purchase tickets at the depot by the playscape outside Barton Springs Pool.

5. Playscape? Yep! Complete with large wooden xylophones and an antique firetruck, in fact. It’s usually pretty busy, so to recover you may like to escape to the solitude of a peaceful canoe ride on the lake, IF you trust your kid to stay in the canoe.

6. Perhaps your kiddo is like my five-year-old niece, who calls herself a “nocturnal paleontologist” (don’t ask me!). Nocturnal or diurnal, your little paleontologist will surely love the Dino Pit at the Austin Nature and Science Center. After digging for dinosaur bones, children can examine mammals of the living sort in the wildlife exhibits, as well as reptiles, fish, amphibians, OH MY! ┬áAnd did we mention it’s all FREE?? Oh my, indeed!

7. A sculpture garden may seem a bit sophisticated for children, but in fact, Umlauf houses a collection of more than 200 sculptures, paintings, and drawings that come alive to children through the museum’s partnership with Abrakadoodle. There is something for everyone . . . Sculpture Tales, a five-week session of art classes for ages 3-5; Spring Break and summer camps for ages 5-12; and FREE yoga for adults through February!

8. Zilker is home to more events than just ACL. Got the mommy blues? Bring your little ones along to the Blues on the Green free summer concert series. Here’s an idea for the older kids: screen the 2006 Amanda Bynes flick She’s the Man, then take your teenager to see the original. That’s right, Twelfth Night, this summer’s selection for the (free!) annual Shakespeare in the Park play. More into musicals? The hillsides of Zilker will be alive with The Sound of Music this summer during the 54th Annual Zilker Summer Musical. If you just can’t wait for summer, delight your children when the skies above Zilker fill with color and fun at the Zilker Kite Festival, March 4.

With all of this and more, you can see why Zilker holds the highest ranking in the Austin Chronicle’s Hall of Fame annual best-of poll! ┬á

We’ll see you on March 4 for the kite festival .┬á . . until then, what did we miss at Zilker? What’s YOUR favorite part of the park??

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