After a three-year hiatus, the family-friendly arm of the Austin City Limits music festival– Austin Kiddie Limits — returns this October. If you’ve got a wristband for either weekend of ACL, there’s no reason the festival can’t be enjoyed by the whole family! Here’s everything you need to know about ACL festival with the offspring (not The Offspring).
Here’s everything you need to know about Austin Kiddie Limits.
GETTING INTO ZILKER PARK
Historically, kids 10 and under could join a parent or guardian with a wristband for free. This year, the free kid age has been lowered to 8, and the limit is two children per ticket-holding adult. The family entrance is conveniently located on Barton Springs Rd. just east of Azie Morton Rd. and is available to all parties including children aged 8 and under (bonus: it also always has the shortest lines). The family entrance features tag-a-kid, where adults can register and get a wristband for their children that can be used in the event they get separated from their parents.
Parents can take strollers and diaper bags into the festival, but wagons and bikes need to stay home. A comprehensive list of allowed and prohibited items can be found here. Although diaper bags do not need to adhere to the general admission bag policy, they are subject to a thorough search (although the degree of thoroughness is reportedly varied). Breast pumps and milk storage supplies are considered medical devices and are therefore also not subject to the general admission bag policy.
INSIDE AUSTIN KIDDIE LIMITS
The Austin Kiddie Limits area of the festival is open from 12-6 PM on Friday and 11 AM – 6 PM on Saturday and Sunday both weekends. There is a great lineup of children’s music artists including Joanie Leeds and Lucy Kalantari & The Jazz Cats and lots of local businesses offering fun activities for kids:
- Family yoga
- Bead craft workshop
- American Indian stories, songs, and dance
- Hip-hop workshop
- Photo booth
- Rock star hair and airbrush tattoos
- Circus performers
- Tiff’s Treats, Goodpop, and Lifeway probiotic snacks
A family-friendly new addition to the festival is the Family Services tent, which is located near the family entrance and Austin Kiddie Limits (as shown on the official festival map). The family services tent includes a diaper changing station, a private breastfeeding or pumping space, and activities for babies, toddlers, and children. Austin Kiddie Limits also has an air-conditioned bathroom with a fully functional sink, so you don’t have to cram in with your kids in a stuffy port-a-potty and resort to hand sanitizer (but if you have to, there are some accessible ones that are big enough for everyone to fit inside).
Older kids who volunteer to walk around the festival with a trash bag to collect empties and keep Zilker Park clean can trade their bags of cans for free festival merch.
SURVIVING THE FEST WITH LITTLES
The concept of bringing your kids to a music festival the size of Austin City Limits can be very intimidating, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible! The first time we took our twins to ACL fest, we were anxious about several aspects of our family trip. They were only 2 1/2, they weren’t yet proficient at the regular potty (let alone a port-a-potty), didn’t understand the concept of not wandering beyond a certain boundary, and wouldn’t be able to walk the 2 miles that felt more like 16 back to our pre-kid parking spot after the fest. But survival and even enjoyment is possible with the bits of advice below.
Arrive early. Zilker Park gets more and more crowded throughout the day, so the best opportunity to take advantage of parking, shuttles, and short lines at everything the festival has to offer is early in the day. The closest public parking option for ACL is on Barton Springs Rd at the Palmer Events Center (a 1.1 mile walk to the family entrance), but parking spots go fast. Similarly for the Republic Square Park shuttle, downtown parking spots will dwindle quickly throughout the day and lines for the shuttle will get longer and longer. Arriving early also means the kids have more space to run around without getting lost in an endless sea of people.
Don’t get married to the idea of any must-see artists. If your purpose for ACL is to get on the front rail for Red Hot Chili Peppers, and you’re bringing your kids, prepare thyself for disappointment. Bringing the kids means you have to be a little more flexible about which bands you can see, and where. Trekking the family back and forth between the Honda and AMEX stages all day will get really old really fast and wear everyone out. Find a general area of the festival grounds where you can stake out and see several stages if you want to see a lot of bands with your kids away from the people ignoring the Zilker Park smoking ban.
When the kids are done, everyone is done. Don’t try to keep the kids out too late to see the headliners (if that’s your goal and your 8-year-old absolutely must see Paramore, then come later). The mid-tier artists will be much more doable with little ones in tow. Adults can leave and re-enter the festival up to 2 times per day, so if the kids are done but you’re not, you can leave and drop them off Grandma’s and then come back.
Plan for protection. Invest in a quality set of ear protection for your kids if you plan on getting even a little close to one of the stages. Note that spray sunscreen is on the no-no list and will get confiscated at the gate, so unless you want to spend $5 on a tiny tube of awful cream sunscreen at the ACL general store, come prepared and bring your own. Identify a meeting place, make a plan for what to do in the event your family gets separated, and talk to everyone about it beforehand. And of course, my number one rule for life also applies to ACL: always bring baby wipes and a book!
Apart from the epic meltdown and fast-following stroller nap on the walk back to the car, we had a great day at the festival with our kids who got glittery neon mohawks, ate all of the free snacks, and danced to First Aid Kit, Janelle Monae, and Lisa Loeb. Now that they’re a bit older, we look forward to bringing them to future ACLs to take advantage of the free admission and maybe get a chance to dance on stage with the Wu Tang Clan (a girl can dream).