Monday, August 29, 2016

Paddle Board, Canoes, Kayaks, Swan Pedal Boats and Water Bikes

Looking to have some family fun on the water in Austin?  Head on down to a Lake.  There are many lakes here in Austin but this review is of Paddle Boarding, Kayaking, Water Biking and Swan Pedal Boating on Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake) in downtown.  We went to Capital Cruises located on Lady Bird Lake at the Hyatt Regency Hotel (208 Barton Springs Rd, Austin, TX).  Austin Water Bikes is next door to Capital Cruises.    There is valet parking at the hotel or a pay to park lot but if you drive around a bit you can find street parking as well but it is hard to find.  The Hyatt has a nice clean restroom and a Starbucks if you need to grab a water on your way to the lake. 


We decided on the Swan Pedal Boat (Mommy and 2 Kids) and Daddy took the Standing Paddle Board.  However there were many options.  All would have been fun.  There were only 2 swans so we had to wait ½ hour for the next swan to come in.   Once the kids got their life vests on we were off on the lake.   From the spot you leave you can paddle up and down the lake past Auditorium Shores, Barton Creek, Zilker Park, and the Congress Avenue Bridge with panoramic views of the Austin skyline.   It was pretty hot so we went back and forth between the bridges to stay in the shade.   You will be in the direct sun the whole time unless under a bridge.  When under the Congress Bridge you can hear the Mexico free-tailed bats sleeping. (More on the bats in another post) You can rent these bikes / boats to see the bats at night however a reservation is recommended.   

For the water bikes the little ones can sit in the front while the adults pedal.   The bike does not tip and you will not get wet.  No need for a swim suit.   My husband enjoyed the Paddle Boarding and older kids can have their own board.   There are lots of other people on the river all the time including small fishing boats.    

RECOMENDATIONS:  Bring Sun Screen, Water, Sun Glasses and a hat.   A swim suit if you are paddle boarding.   Also check for coupons on Groupon, their facebook or websites before going. 

The swan pedal boat is $15.00 per hour.
All canoes are $15.00 per hour.
Single-person kayaks are $10.00 per hour. Two-person kayaks are $15.00 per hour.
Stand up Paddle Board is 15.00 for one hour and $25 for 2 hours. 
Water Bikes are $17.00 per hour


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Tubing in Texas - Texas Tubes - Floating the Comal River

Tubing is a big attraction here in Texas.    

We were invited by some friends to float the Comal River one Saturday morning and happily accepted.    After stopping at Whole Foods for some made to order sandwiches and snacks we headed to New Braunfels, TX. The drive was about an hour.   We met up with our group in the free Texas Tubes parking lot.   We paid for our tubes.  The rate is 18/ per person for 1 float or $25 for all day.  You could float the river several times in a row but once was good for us.  Texas Tubes will hold on to your car keys with an ID, which I recommend because if you flip your tube you don’t want to lose your keys in the river.

We ordered 4 tubes (2 with bottoms and 2 without).  Tubes with bottoms would be recommended for kids and weak swimmers.  Tubes with bottoms were not what I was expecting.  I was imagining sitting in the tube and not getting wet.  This was not the case.   They are regular inner tubes with a bottom attached with a rope.   So once you get into the water there is a gap and water immediately comes in.  You sit in a few inches of river water the entire ride.   They are great for little ones as they can sit in the tube and be in the a little bit of water and not be swimming.   Texas tubes gives you a bracelet that is your ticket for the bus the end of the river to catch a ride back to your car.    

Kids under the age of 3 are not allowed to Tube good thing my youngest is four.    Life Jackets should be worn by small kids and weak swimmers.   They are complimentary at Texas tubes but we brought our own for our little one.   Our older daughter is 8 and a pretty good swimmer.  

Our friends had a tube for each person and 2 tubes with bottoms for coolers to hold lunch, snacks and drinks.    YES, Alcoholic beverages are allowed on the Comal River.   Bring your drink of choice just remember glass and styrofoam are illegal.   You can be fined or arrested for having these on any Texas waterway.  

After applying sunblock, bug spray and loading up the coolers we got into the tubes and tethered up to the cooler tube.   You never want to be too far away from the cooler tube in case you are hungry, thirsty or need more sun screen.   We were off to float the Comal.   There is a bit of a current which keeps the boats moving.   The water was cold on average 72 degrees but comfortable on a hot day.   The float to the end took about 2.5 to 3 hours.   There are several chutes which are fast moving water slides.  Watch small kids on the chutes.  We were tethered so I made sure my little one didn’t flip.   People and coolers flip often but they are fun.   There are lifeguards at the chutes.  The river gets packed.   As some points it is wall to wall people on rafts.   It was fun and relaxing.  Talking to the group you are tethered with having lunch floating down a river.

At the end of the river there is an exit.  It was hard to get all the rafts and people out at the exit because it is deep and there current was strong but we managed to get all the tubes and coolers and kids up the stairs where the Texas Tubes bus was waiting to take us back to our cars.  

A strap for your sun glasses
Water shoes – you don’t really want to touch the bottom of the river plus need to walk a bit at the end to get the bus.
A mesh bag to hold everything that your tie to your tub
A waterproof bag if you have one.
A waterproof iphone case - invest in one now you will re-use it often in Texas
A water resistant speaker is allowed as well.

We used Texas tubes but I should note there are many other tube rental places in New Braunfels you can use as well:
  • RockinR Tube Rentals
  • Comal Tubes
  • Or even places where you can park and bring your own tubes 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Barton Springs Pool and the Zilker Zephyr

Barton Springs is on most peoples must see list when visiting Austin.  

I have been wanting to go.  And when a friend from out of town came to visit in July we packed up the minivan on a hot Saturday afternoon and headed to Zilker Park to check out Barton Springs. Parking is limited and on a busy Saturday there was a bit of a wait to get into the parking lot in front of the entrance.  But we scored a spot right in front.   Don't be fooled if you don't see a sign or meter. You do have to pay $5 to park and to do so find the meter. The line to get was long, but moving. There was actually 2 lines: one for credit cards in a machine and one cash line at the entrance.  We realized the cash line was the better option because the credit card ticket holders needed to get back into the cash line to get in the park.   At $11 total for 3 adults and 2 kids I thought the price was just right.  NO FOOD is allowed but water is and is a good idea to keep hydrated in the heat.   After finding a spot on the grassy hill, we were off to the water.  By we I mean my kids and their dad.   We had a lot of stuff (wallets & phones) and didn't want to leave it unattended.   A few recommendations if you are thinking of heading out to Barton Springs:
1) Sun screen there is not a lot of shade
2) Bug spray
3) Water shoes the bottom is quite slippery and the cement surrounding the pool gets very hot
4) Goggles
5) Floats / like jackets for small kids
6) A waterproof iPhone case (good for keeping cash dry and photos near the pool as well as let your leave no valuables unattended)  I have this one I should have brought.

I found out after we went that topless sunbathing is permitted at Barton Springs and in the rest of Austin.  But I did not seen any loose tatas when we were there, not that there is anything wrong with that.  Next time I'll be on the lookout.

With a quick google search you can see that Barton Springs is a public pool, but not just any public pool.  It is huge.  It is over three acres in size.  It is also cool year round.  Because it's fed from underground springs, it's average temperature ranges from 68-70 degrees, good on a hot day.  Careful not to slip on the algae and pull your child in to the very cold water! You have been warned.  (don't forget the water shoes)

It's open every day except Thursdays when it is closed for cleaning.  The hours are 5:00am to 10:00pm.  Admission to the pool is free from November through mid-March, from mid-March to October a small fee ($1 to $3) depending on if you are an Austin Resident.  There are lifeguards and there is 1 diving board which had a bit of a wait. The water depth is 0 -18 feet.   At the far end there is a beach entry and shallow section for little ones and non-swimmers.   

NOT ALLOWED:  Food, coolers, glass containers, alcohol, loud speakers, pets other than service animals, bicycles. Flotation devices in the middle of the pool.

Fun Fact: in the 1970s. Robert Redford learned to swim at the pool when he was five years old while visiting family in Austin.
Since no food is allowed I recommend eating before you go or bringing a picnic to have elsewhere in Zilker Park before or after you leave in your car.   Right outside the entrance is a Goodpops popsicle stand that only takes credit card.   It is in front out the now closed food stand that once serviced Barton Springs. They were very refreshing. I enjoyed the watermelon agave while my kids made a mess of the chocolate ones.

Once out of the pool and ready to head home a must see stop is the Zilker Zephyr.    You can see the train station from the entrance of Barton Springs.  The Zephyr is a mini train that goes on a 20-25 minute train ride around the park.  It is CASH ONLY.  Also there is no shade on the train so sun glasses and a hat are a must.  This train was fun and very reasonable.   My other kid train experiences are usually at a mall like Tyson's Corner in VA where the mini mall train is $5 per person and they charge for accompanying adults.  These types of train rides make 2 laps around the food court maybe a five minute ride definitely not worth it but with kids we did it.  This one is legit and I would do it again.  The only thing wrong with the train is that it literally goes through a playground at Zilker so make time to stop there after or set expectations up front.   We were hot and ready to go eat so no time for the playground today but next time in ZIlker we will have to check it out.   The train is $2.00 for kids and $3.00 for adults.  Children under one years old are free.  The train leaves every hour on the hour through the week and departs every 30-40 minutes on the weekends.  


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Taking Children to Restaurants in Austin - 10 playground restaurants

Welcome to my first post as the Austin Mogger.  I have recently relocated to Austin from Northern Virginia/DC after a short stint in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Today's post is about going out to dinner with kids in Austin. 

Let me tell you, I've lived in areas with outstanding cuisine, Northern Virginia / DC area has amazing restaurants.  And the San Francisco Bay area is second to none both in terms of quality and expense. But if you are going to take little ones with you out to dinner, which as all moms know can have its own set of challenges, Austin is the place to do it.  I'm not talking about some "kids eat free on Tuesday nights" thing or just a casual restaurant with loud background noise to drown out screaming toddlers.   No ma'am in Texas they do it bigger.  I'm talking full on, usually separately fenced, playground areas complete with picnic tables and cocktail service for the adults in your party, which will be a perfect playground for your kids.

With two working parents we don’t have a lot of free time to cook those homemade family meals I remember my mom used to make us (a stay at home mom with 4 kids).  Therefore we eat out a lot. When a restaurant has something for everybody in your party it enhances the experience for all - this goes 10X for kids.  Small children don't want to sit still in a booth or at a table for two or so hours chatting or listening to adults chat. They want to socialize with other kids and run and jump and climb on things.  Likewise adults want to be able to socialize with other adults like they used to do before they had kids. 

Once I went to a couple of restaurants like these, I decided playground restaurants were the place when dragging the kids out to dinner.  In my 4 months here I've managed to compile a compendium of playground restaurant destinations perfect for taking my family out on the town.
(To my NOVA friends: you need not totally despair there is always Joe’s Crab Shack in Fair Lakes for the indoor playground!)

  1.  Flores Mexican Restaurant – (South Austin) 4625 W Cannon Dr Austin, TX 78749.   This restaurant has 4 Austin locations but I can only speak the South Austin location.  This place has nice fenced in playground.   There are picnic tables outside by the play set that you can order a full meal and while still keeping an eye on the kids. 

  2.  Phil’s Ice house / Amy’s Ice Cream  (Downtown) - 2901 S Lamar Blvd, Austin TX 78704.   This hamburger joint offers kids corn dogs, hot dogs, chicken tenders, grilled cheese and of course Amy’s Ice cream.  There is a play set and climb on a cows.   This one is on a busy street and not completely fenced in.

  3. Angels Ice house - (Spicewood) 21815 TX-71 Spicewood, TX 78669 Angel's has a kids menu that includes: Fried Chicken Tenders, Nuggets, and Grilled Cheese, Fried Mac n Cheese, Mini Corn Dogs, Cheese Quesadillas and Hot Dogs.   This place has live music on certain nights a playground and giant Legos.  It is also dog friendly and has gluten free hamburger buns.  Angel's playground is not fenced in but in a open space near lots of picnic tables and under shady trees. 

  4. Stubb's Bar-B-Q at Graceland Grocery - (West Austin) 8600 US-290 W Austin, TX 78736 Stubb's has live music some nights and not only one play area but two playgrounds.  The whole restaurant is gated with lots of space for kids to run around. It is sure to keep you kids busy while your BBQ is delivered to your outside dinning location under the trees.   

  5.  North by Northwest – (Southwest Circle C Area)  5701 W Slaughter Ln, Austin, TX 78749  - A craft brewed beer restaurant with a playground and tvs with open outdoor seating.  The kid’s meal includes 2 corn dogs and spaghetti.  There is no fence here. 

  6. Salt Lick – (Driftwood) 18300 FM 1826 Driftwood, TX 78619  - This famous BBQ joint in driftwood TX is CASH ONLY and BYOB.   You can bring your own coolers of wine / beer.  If you forgot there is a wine tasting room onsite that is no children allowed. There is a kid’s ranch that is a fenced in area with multiple playgrounds that you can wait at for your table or eat at if you pick up your BBQ to go or after dinner.  While waiting for your table, which can be a long time as this place is very popular, you can listen to live music and they sell popcorn and fresh squeezed lemonade.  They even have a few kids’ size picnic tables.  

  7. Waterloo Ice house - (Southwest Circle C Area) 9600 Escarpment Blvd  Austin, TX 78749 - This place has breakfast all day.  Kids will love pancakes for dinner.  The playground is shared with the surrounding shops but is fenced and there is an Austin Scoops ice cream shop next door.  

  8.      Doc’s Backyard – (Sunset) 207 Brodie Ln #100 Sunset Valley, TX 78745 - This restaurant has a lot of fried food on the menu but one of the nicest playground I have seen.  It is not fenced in. 

  9. Ski Shores  - (Lake Austin) 2905 Pearce Rd Austin, TX 78730 This super cute restaurant has live music some nights, a fenced in playground, waterfront dinning where you can feed / see fish and turtles, sandy beach area as well as an arcade area. 

  10. Mandola’s Italian restaurant – (South West Austin) 4301 W William Cannon/ So Mopac, Bldg E-1 Austin, TX 78749  Mondola's has pasta and a scoop of gelato for the kids menu as well as a bocce court and an un fenced playground around the corner.  The Bee Cave / 620 / 71 location has a fenced in playground.  12815 Shops Parkway, Suite 400 Bee Cave, TX 78738
William Cannon Location

Bee Cave Location