Sometimes I wish that life was more like the carefree “olden” days my mom describes, when she could walk down the street at any time and find a mom to chat with and neighbor kids for us to play with. Instead, I spend my Sunday nights planning out multiple playdates for the week (an exhausting task for an introvert), and wondering how my son’s social calendar got to be so much fuller than my own.
Consequently, I’ve learned some of the best spots in town for playdates. For me, the places that make the list have enough going on to keep the kids busy, but aren’t so crowded or spread out that you can’t keep track of them. If the parents can sit down and catch up while the kiddos play within eyesight, that’s the ideal setup. Bonus points if there are good food options and a fully enclosed space to discourage the escape artists.
If you need some ideas for your next outing, here are my favorite spots in Austin for a playdate.
1. Crux Climbing Center / Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden
These two spots combined make for an awesome playdate. You can fuel up before climbing with a muffin or pastry from Cosmic (they open at 7 a.m.), and let the kids check out the koi pond and chicken coop. Then walk across the parking lot to Crux, where kiddos as young as 2 (and as old as 12) can go wild in the Panda-monium Room, which has a slide, firefighter’s pole, and climbing wall. Afterwards, head back to Cosmic and grab lunch from one of the three food trucks on site.
2. Austin Central Library
710 W Cesar Chavez Street (Downtown)
The children’s section is fully enclosed, with an area where kids can build with Legos and other blocks, and another area stocked with cool toys to keep toddlers occupied. You can also explore the children’s reading porch right off the kids’ section or the roof garden on the top floor. End your playdate with a lovely meal from the Cookbook Cafe located in the library, which has a kids’ menu and light, flavorful fare for adults.
3. Austin Nature & Science Center
2389 Stratford Drive (Zilker Park)
Located inside Zilker Park, the Nature and Science Center is a nice, manageable size, and it’s usually easy to keep the kids congregated in the Dino Pit, the water area, the animal enclosures, or the indoor exhibits. If you bring lunch, there are many picnic tables near the entrance to sit at. Best of all, admission is free.
4. Mueller Lake Park
4550 Mueller Blvd. (Mueller)
I love the playground here because it’s one of the few in Austin that is completely fenced in. You can also go for a nice stroller walk around the lake, and then grab lunch at Kerbey Lane or Colleen’s Kitchen. Of course, the Thinkery is right next to the playground, but it’s not my favorite playdate spot because it’s hard to stick together due to the crowds and the many separate exhibits on multiple floors.
5. Hat Creek Burger Company
I love the setup at Hat Creek because you can sit and eat while the kids play in full view at the enclosed playground right next to you. It’s perfect for a playdate where you actually want to have a full conversation with the other parent(s). They open at 7 a.m. if you want to do a breakfast date.
6. Circle C Metropolitan Park
6301 W. Slaughter Lane (Southwest)
The playground at Circle C Park isn’t technically enclosed, but for some reason the trees and the layout trick my son into thinking it is, because he never tries to run off into the parking lot or fields. It’s also one of the only playgrounds that’s completely shaded at all times, a huge plus in the summer. There’s a volleyball court that doubles as a sand pit, and if there’s water you can splash around in Slaughter Creek.
7. Sour Duck Market
1814 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (East)
Perfect for a breakfast or lunch playdate (they open at 9 a.m.), this East Austin restaurant has an enclosed outdoor eating area, with tables that are right next to a trailer that’s been converted to a play space. It keeps my son occupied for a while so I can enjoy conversation with a friend and delicious food. (The burger is amazing.)
8. Westbank Library
1309 Westbank Drive (Westlake)
I don’t live in the neighborhood so technically I can’t even check out books from this library (it is separate from the Austin Public Library system), but we still visit because it has such a great setup for kids. The indoor kids’ area is always bustling, and you don’t have to be super quiet. The best part is the garden just off the kids’ section, which has play structures, a sandpit with toys, and a big Connect Four game.
9. The Hive
10415 Old Manchaca Road #C (South)
The Hive is a cool spot that offers on-site childcare for $10/hour while you work or just relax with a coffee. They also have a huge outdoor area with a playscape and tons of toys that you can use if you keep your kids with you. So if you want to spend some true quality time with a friend (without being interrupted 5 million times), you can drop the kids in the childcare room for an hour while you catch up over coffee, and then move everyone outside for lunch and more playtime. (Food is available from the cafe.)
10. BookPeople / Whole Foods
This beloved local bookstore always has fun events for kids on their calendar, like storytime, concerts, music classes, and visits from the Tiny Tails petting zoo. Kids also love crawling through and around the mini amphitheater. Afterwards, walk the short distance to Whole Foods for lunch and playtime on the rooftop playground.
11. Brentwood Social House
1601 W. Koenig Lane (Brentwood)
This neighborhood coffee house has a separate kid-friendly room with a couple play kitchens, train table, and toys, so you and a friend can enjoy a beverage while the littles ones are entertained. There’s also a fully fenced-in playscape in the backyard (with a shaded patio) if the kids get stir crazy and need room to run.
12. Central Market
4001 N. Lamar Blvd (Hyde Park)
The north location of the grocery store has a great deck and playground, and it also backs up to a scenic trail that loops around a big pond. You can spend the morning exploring the playground, walking around the trail, crossing the bridge and observing all the turtles, and playing under the huge tree. Then get lunch from the cafe, which has a great menu for both kids and adults.
13. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
4801 La Crosse Ave. (Southwest)
There’s a lot to keep kids occupied here, especially in the Family Garden, which has a cave, water area, sandpit, and climbing area with logs and forts. The Arboretum Trail also a lot of open spaces, swings, and picnic tables. Fortlandia returns on Oct. 5 and will feature 10 new custom designed forts. If they are anything like last year’s forts, you won’t be able to tear your kids away. End your playdate with a picnic lunch or a visit to the Wildflower Cafe.
14. Play Gyms
Little Land, The Coop, and Almost Grown Play Cafe are all good options for playdates because they’re clean, they won’t induce a migraine, and they have all put thought into creating spaces that are comfortable for adults and kids alike. Little Land is especially good for a mixed-age group. Almost Grown has tables where you can sit with coffee in full view of the play area.
What is your favorite play date spot in Austin?