- August 21, 2020

Austin Insider Guide To What To Do Downtown When Family Visits

Creating the perfect summer day for you and the kiddos isn’t an easy feat in the most normal of times – and these times are anything but normal. That’s why happyly has partnered with Free Fun in Austin to offer readers a bevy of curated activities for an active family day – an Austin Insider Guide per se. It’s our mission to inspire fun and safe summer outings so you can spend less time planning and more time playing.

Sometimes the best way to enjoy the city you call home is to take advantage of all the sites and scenes we too often take for granted. That’s especially fun to do when you have guests in town! So here’s a plan to travel around downtown as though you’ve never been to Austin before!

Explore Lady Bird Lake

Located in the heart of Austin, Lady Bird Lake is one of the city’s most beloved amenities for obvious reasons. The “lake,” which is actually part of the Colorado River and often referred to by it’s former name “Town Lake,” offers residents and tourists park access, picnic spots, views of wildlife (two swans call the lake home), and miles of trails for hiking, biking, and running. While swimming is not permitted, several spots offer kayak, canoe, and paddleboard rentals. So consider this lake visit a make-your-own adventure that’s fun and largely free for the whole family.

Sitting adjacent to the lake is another famous Austin highlight – Zilker Park, the site of, among many other popular events, the annual Austin City Limits Festival. Stroll – or ride – around the lake, and look for sunbathing turtles lining the water’s banks, before settling down in the grass at Zilker for a picnic and incredible views of the city’s skyline. 

Know before you go:
Visiting – and enjoying – Lady Bird Lake can be as short or as long as you and your family desire. There are several access points to the trails from downtown, but we’re partial to Butler Shores entrance across from Zach Theatre because of the options it offers. There is both free and paid street parking nearby (just make sure you pay close attention to the street signs). Looking to stroll leisurely along the lake loop? This is the perfect entry point. Move west and you can reach Zilker or enter the Barton Creek Greenbelt for more serious hiking (still kid-friendly, but not great for strollers). There are numerous free parking lots in Zilker. Head east and you can visit the boardwalk over the water and numerous other park sites. Park access is 100% free. 

Currently, the trails – and Zilker – are open, but city officials are asking visitors to take social distancing seriously. Like most outdoor areas of the city, Lady Bird Lake is incredibly dog-friendly. The south side of the lake, known as Auditorium Shores, even features a popular dog park, however according to the city website, toxic algae that can be deadly to dogs has been detected in Lady Bird Lake as recently as August 4, so keep your four-legged friends and kids out of the water until the temperature drops and the algae dies off. 

Looking to rent some kayaks or try your hand at stand up paddleboarding? Capital Cruises has all that and more to rent. Plus, according to the website, the rental shop is currently open – though we recommend calling in advance to confirm.

Lady Bird Lake
Location: Butler Shores Entrance, 200 S Lamar Boulevard
Hours: 5 a.m. through 10 p.m.
Price: Free.

Capital Cruises
Location: Hyatt Regency Boat Dock, 208 Barton Springs Road
Hours: 10 a.m. to midnight
Price: Rentals start at $10/hour.

Rent scooters or Bikes for a Self-Guided Tour of Downtown

Locals and tourists alike just can’t get enough of the scooters that have overtaken Downtown Austin. Locating scooters in the downtown area is usually as easy as walking down a block and picking one from the lineup. Bird, Lime, and Lyft scooters are all available to take you and the family zooming through the streets of downtown. 

Not feeling the electronic scooters? Try Austin BCycle instead! Since 2013, the city’s bike-share has made two-wheel mobility accessible to most residents and visitors 24/7/365, and there are roughly a dozen rental stations just off of Lady Bird Lake.

You’ll need an app for scooters and a BCycle pass can be obtained via the website or the app. Costs vary depending on the length of the ride. Both options are BYOH – bring your own helmet. Must-sees on the tour include the Texas Capitol (1100 Congress Avenue), Republic Square Park (422 Guadalupe Street), and Tau Ceti, which is Austin’s tallest public art piece by Josef Kristofoletti. It is a gorgeous rainbow painting on the side of a downtown building that’s great for photo ops and admiring (201 E 2nd Street). If you’re looking for even more street art to admire, check out this massive list.

Need a bathroom break? Be sure to schedule in a pit stop at the open-air trial restrooms that double as sculptures along Lady Bird Lake designed by local architects – find them at 1) the intersection of Rainey and Cummings Streets and 2) Lamar Blvd and Cesar Chavez.

Refuel with Lunch or Snacks at the Driskill

When you tire of touring and crave food, visit the historic, gorgeous, and supposedly haunted (!) Driskill Hotel. While the main restaurant is closed until further notice, the hotel’s 1886 Café is open daily for carryout and dine-in brunch on the weekends. The bar, which is kid-friendly and feels very Texas on the inside is open Friday and Saturday. 

It’s been named one of the 10 Best Hotel Bars in America by USA Today and The Best Bar in Texas by Southern Living. We love their hummus and the burger and, if you’re craving an adult-friendly beverage, try the Blackberry Smash!

The Driskill Bar
Location: 604 Brazos Street
Hours: Friday and Saturday, 4 through 11 p.m.
Price: Varies.

See the Famous Bats at Congress Avenue Bridge 

End the day with a trip to The Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge over Lady Bird Lake at sunset to watch summer’s nightly batty exodus. It is a short walk from Driskill. Austin has the largest population of urban-dwelling bats and many call the underside of the bridge home. During the summer, just before sunset, the roughly 1.5 million bats take flight for neighboring crops, where they feast on insects for dinner. It’s a sight to be seen that somewhat resembles tendrils of smoke. Be warned, it can get crowded, so plan accordingly. 

Congress Avenue Bridge
Location: Congress Avenue
Hours: Just before sunset
Price: Free

Packing list

  • Sunscreen
  • Water and snacks
  • Hand sanitizer and/or Lysol wipes to clean off the scooters
  • Helmets
  • Comfortable footwear

Happyly is the country’s only mobile-first family activity planning app focused on helping families live their best life. 

We are passionate about supporting families in a fulfilling, balanced, and active outdoor lifestyle. How? By developing resources and delivering inspiration to fit your personal needs, whether it be for planning an afternoon or a long journey. With the help of happyly, you will save hours of wasted time planning, as well as the frustration and disappointment your tribe feels when your plans don’t turn out as you hoped.

By doing the leg work and endorsing our favorite activities based on first-hand knowledge, our expert team saves valuable time for our community, empowering parents to be fully present when it matters most. Working parents spend an average of twelve waking hours a week with their children. When you break it all down, it’s not a lot.  So even just one or two hours a week spent searching or planning is just too many. Let us help you spend less time planning and more time experiencing life together.

If you have ideas for our next installment in our Family Fun Day Austin Series, we welcome them at [email protected]. Enjoying our content? Please download the free happyly app for fast access to all of our blog content, favorite activities, and expertly designed curated days, both locally and in many communities and travel destinations across the country.