Summer is fast approaching, and if you’re like me, you are wondering what you will do with your kids for 2+ months. My kids range in age from four years old to fifteen, so finding activities that will keep them all happy is a challenge. If the thought of staring at your children staring at an electronic device all summer fills you with anxiety, or annoyance, or rage, then don’t fear! We have some ideas for all things frugal in and around Austin during summer break. If you have an expensive summer trip planned, or even more expensive: SUMMER CAMPS, then you might not want to spend tons of money entertaining your sweet children all summer long … (when I was growing up, we had a thing called “outside” that everyone did, but I hear that’s not available anymore or something)
Everything on this list is either free or low cost, so you can easily fit in a few trips or activities a week! Austin is always jammed pack with events, festivals, and cool places for all ages to go, so why not use the downtime in summer to explore more of our awesome city? Here are some frugal summer ideas! Have fun!
- Splash pads are a great way to cool down and have playdates, especially if you have younger kids or babies. Many are next to parks or playgrounds so kids can do some exploring as well. The main danger here is slipping or falling, so water shoes are a great idea. Check out Bartholomew Park in East Austin, Bailey Park in North Central Austin, Ricky Guerrero Splash Pad in South Austin, or the Quarry Splash Pad in Leander.
- AMB fave: Water Playscape at Brushy Creek Park, 3300 Brushy Creek Road, Cedar Park, open daily from May-August from 9:00 am- 7:00 pm.
- Free & low cost pools are a fantastic way to keep the kids cool and entertained without breaking the bank. Remember that some pools change schedules during the summer due to lifeguard shortages and hours can vary, always check online before you go. Check out Murchison Pool in North Austin, Montopolis Pool in Southeast Austin, Dick Nichols Pool in South Austin, or Reed Pool in West Austin.
- AMB fave: Balcones Pool, 12017 Amherst Drive, North Austin, hours vary throughout the summer.
- Neighborhood pools are often hidden gems tucked away throughout Austin. The El Salido Pool in the Anderson Mill neighborhood boasts both a three meter high dive and an excellent toddler area. If you don’t have a pool pass to most neighborhood pools, you can purchase a day-pass as a guest, often for less than $5 a person (kids under three are typically free). Another plus is that these pools tend to be less crowded than free pools. One of my favorite summer activities is “mommy pool dates”, where we go to friends’ pools in different neighborhoods (or host them at our own neighborhood’s pools). Moms can chat, kids are happy, and not as likely to get bored with swimming in the same old pool. Explore the pools in and around your neighborhoods!
- AMB fave: Sendero Springs Pool, 4203 Pasada Lane, Round Rock, open year round. This pool has a super cool inflatable obstacle course during summer that my kids all love. Older kids especially will have a blast!
- Bowling can be free, thanks to Kids Bowl Free, a program designed to give kids a safe place to hang out during the summer. Kids who meet the age requirements can play two free bowling games a day during the summer. Even if your kids have never bowled before, it’s a fun way to keep them cool on the hottest of days! Austin’s Park ’N Pizza in Pflugerville or High 5 Entertainment in Lakeway have partnered with Kids Bowl Free (Register at KidsBowlFree.com) *Remember that shoe rental is not included.
- AMB fave: Mel’s Lonestar Lanes, 1010 N. Austin Ave, Georgetown, summer hours vary for Kids Club games. Mel’s offers its own version of free bowling for kids with Mel’s Kids Club, so check out their website for more information.
- Libraries are fun not just for readers but kids of all ages with all kinds of interests! The local libraries offer a wealth of activities for kids, from babies to teens. We’ve been to story time, naturally, but also Lego classes, arts and crafts events, Anime and Gaming workshops, even a Mario Kart competition. I especially love being able to drop off my middle and high schooler (and their friends!) for an event that will keep them happy, and then hang out in the children’s library with my younger two. Many of the libraries also have cafe style seating areas where you can feed your littles and drink a coffee. Plus, books!!!!!! If you’re looking to nurture a reader this summer, letting them have their own library card and giving them the freedom to check out their own books is a strong motivator! *Be sure to check out the Summer Reading Program, where kids can log their reading hours and earn free books. Check out children’s events in with Austin libraries here.
- AMB fave: Cedar Park library has a huge and fun kid’s library and hosts so many events for kids and teens that we could probably be there five days a week if we wanted! 550 Discovery Blvd, Cedar Park, hours are 9 am- 9 pm Monday-Thursday, 9 am-5 pm Friday and Saturday, and 1-6 pm on Sunday.
- Museums are fun AND educational, and also air conditioned!! There are so many museums in Austin which are free, and a handful that offer free admission on certain days or times. Exposing your kids to some history, science, or art will definitely make you feel better about the amount of YouTube they are consuming! With so many museums to choose from, there’s no reason you can’t fit at least one in this summer. Check out the Austin Science and Nature Center, (always free), the Blanton Museum of Art (free admission on Thursdays, 12 and under always free), the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum (free Family Days on the first Sunday of the month, 12 and under always free), or The Contemporary Austin (free admission on Tuesdays).
- AMB fave: Thinkery, in the Mueller area, 1830 Simond Ave, Austin. Thinkery offers Community Night every Wednesday from 4-8 pm. Admission for Community Night is donation based, with a suggested donation of $1 per person. Lines for the door can be long, so we always bring a picnic and play at the fantastic Mueller Lake Park first while the line dies down, then head into Thinkery. I have as much fun as the kids, the exhibits are so cool and their outdoor playscape can’t be beat!
- Beaches are within reach here in Austin, by way of river and lakefront spots. If you want to see some sand but not drive to the coast, bring your kids to one of these spots for a day trip. Remember to pack the sunscreen! Prices vary, but most charge a fee per car for admission. Check out Emma Long Park in West Austin, Bob Wentz Park at Windy Point in the Hill Country, Lake Pflugerville in Pflugerville, or Sandy Creek Park in Leander.
- AMB fave: Pace Bend Park , 2805 Pace Bend Road North, Spicewood. Pace Bend Park offers limestone cliffs, rocky coves, and beautiful views of Lake Travis. The north and east side of the park have shallow beaches. Admission is $10 per car.
- Parks and playscapes are one of my favorite ways to let the kids expend some energy during the summer, but I learned that we have to go either early or late in the day. Being at a playground midday, in Austin, in the SUMMER, is not for the faint of heart, or small children, or those who are prone to complaining…”Mo-om, it’s too HOT!” The parks in this area are some of the coolest I’ve ever seen, and there’s no shortage of them! Check out Joanne Land Playground in Round Rock, Zilker Park in Central Austin, Mueller Lake Park in East Austin, or Odom School Park in South Austin.
- AMB fave: Elizabeth Milburn Community Park , 1901 Sun Chase Boulevard, Cedar Park. This park has 42.4 acres of awesome playscapes, picnic shelters, trails, basketball and tennis courts, soccer fields, a BMX track and our favorite- a real rock wall! We even hosted our son’s birthday party here and rented the large pavilion. Plenty of things for everyone to do!
- Hikes and trails are one of the best things about living in Austin, but they are best left for early summer fun (before the temperatures are soaring), cloudy or cooler days, or early morning trips (if you have teenagers, you might think “yeah right…no way are we going somewhere at 8 am in the summer.”….but trust me, it is possible. Bribe them with donuts or Starbucks.) If you’re adventurous or crazy enough to go hiking in the summer, check out Bull Creek District Trail , McKinney Falls State Park , Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve , and River Place Fern Trail .
- AMB fave: Mayfield Nature Preserve , 3505 W 35th Street, Austin. Mayfield is a free nature preserve with rugged and shady trails, famous for its peacocks, ponds, and wildlife. Bring a picnic and a camera to capture those beautiful birds interacting with your kiddos!
These are just a few of the frugal summer options you can find in and around Austin. Hopefully, this list will get your gears turning and your calendar somewhat booked for summer fun- after all, there’s only so much sleeping in, web surfing, and slime making your kids can do before they start clamoring to “do SOMEthing!!”
Get creative! Let each kid pick an activity they want to do, or have them complete a chart to earn a super fun (and cheap!) event as a prize. Make a checklist of summer fun, and let the kids check them off week by week. Repeat after me: “This summer will NOT be like last summer. There is more to life than Surprise Egg videos and failed attempts at DIY bath bombs.”
You can do it! Get those kids off their tushies and devices, out the door, and explore this wonderful city in which we are lucky enough to live!