For families with kids, there’s one thing that makes Austin bearable in the sweltering summer months, when school is out, the days are long and it’s unbelievably hot — and I don’t mean hiring a babysitter so you can go see a movie or sip a frozen ‘rita. I’m talking free fun…family fun… That’s right — I’m talking about swimming! All day, every day! Splash pad, neighborhood pool, sprinklers in the back yard, it doesn’t matter — when it’s summer in Austin, all is well as long as you get wet at some point during the day, and reset your internal temperature just enough to bear the heat for another sunrise.
Here’s the not-so-good news: Almost all of Austin’s public pools are set to close after August 24, 2014, which is right around the corner. And then school starts up again. School! Go ahead and have a good cry about that fact (or do a happy dance, depending on your perspective); I’ll wait.
You’re back? Oh, good! So, the fact is, there’s less than a month left for swimming and splashing fun in the sun. If you’re willing to drive all over town, there are probably enough free pools and splash pads in Austin to visit a different one every single day for the rest of the summer. If you’re a Southie, like me, and you like staying south, you already know there’s a dearth of splash pads on our side of the river. In fact, there are only a handful that I know of:
- Dick Nichols District Park at 8011 Beckett Rd., 78749, has a kids’ waterscape with a dolphin that spits water. Kids can press a button for about a minute of water play. (More on Dick Nichols Park below.)
- The Hill Country Galleria at 12700 Hill Country Blvd., 78738, has an interactive fountain that operates seven days a week during shopping hours, from 10 AM – 9 PM, but it’s turned off when the weather is bad or when there is another event scheduled to take place in the Amphitheater. Call Guest Services at 512-263-0001 to confirm that the fountain is turned on.
- The Liz Carpenter Fountain at Butler Park (1000 Barton Springs Rd., 78704) is open year-round from 12 PM – 9:45 PM Mondays and 8 AM – 9:45 PM Tuesdays through Sundays (closed for cleaning on Monday mornings till noon). Be sure to check out the Free Fun in Austin review of this splash pad.
- The Ricky Guerrero splash pad at 1100 Brodie St. (not to be confused with Brodie Lane, which is farther southwest), open from 9 AM – 8 PM through September 7, 2014. Closed Wednesdays for maintenance.
I took Pearl to the Ricky Guerrero splash pad in the early evening on a sunny Tuesday, and there weren’t too many other kids there — just enough to make it fun, but not so many that it felt too crowded. This splash pad is tucked away in a cute little neighborhood off W. Mary Street, just east of S. Lamar. The splash pad area is wonderfully shady, perfect for the heat of summer.
There is also a playground near the splash pad that has, of all things, a metal cannon!! The playground was not shaded at all, and the cannon was too hot for Pearl to climb on when I took her — plus, you know, she’s not really into cannons especially; but I can imagine there must be lots of little kids who would love to scramble all over that thing.
So, those are the only splash pads and fountains I know of that are south of the river. However, South Austin also has a scattering of great public pools. Pearl and I also visited the pool at Dick Nichols Park, near our ‘hood. We loved the cool fishy murals that greeted us at the pool’s entrance as well as the ones painted on the walls inside.
Man, that pool is enormous! (See photo at the top of this post.) There are lap lanes on the far side, plus a large area that is 3.5 feet deep for recreational swimming. There is also a circular kiddie pool, which is where Pearl and I spent most of our time. It’s only 1.5 feet deep, perfect for my toddler, and is mostly enclosed by an iron fence, so Pearl could get out and trot around a bit without her mama worrying too much about her running off to the bigger pool.
The water in both the kiddie pool and the main pool was warm like a bath. It wasn’t the most refreshing temperature, until we got out — then we were actually a little chilly in the breeze! We definitely enjoyed the pool at Dick Nichols Park, but here are a handful of caveats:
- I recommend wearing flip-flops or water shoes, especially if you’re going to use the restrooms, which are kind of, well…as Pearl put it, when we walked through — “Dirty, mama, dirty!”
- There is not much shade anywhere inside the pool area, so be sure to bring your sunscreen and sun hat.
- There isn’t really anyplace to put your things besides on the concrete or the grass, so leave your valuables at home, and don’t bring anything you don’t want to get splashed. You might also want to bring a chair in a bag if you want a place to sit other than on the ground or in the water.
- There is one picnic table inside next to the kiddie pool, and it is shaded. But just the one.
Along with the pool and the waterscape, Dick Nichols Park also has an awesome playground — but like the pool, most of it isn’t shady — and some amazing trails for hiking and biking.
Most likely, the above caveats about the pool at Dick Nichols would apply to most of the public pools around town. Following is a list of all the neighborhood pools in Austin that are south of the river. All the city pools listed below are FREE and open daily for recreational swimming from 11 AM – 8 PM through August 24, 2014. (Most pools also have dedicated hours for lap swimming and swim lessons; check out the full city pools schedule for more information.)
- Big Stacy Pool, 800 E. Live Oak St.
- Dick Nichols Pool, 8011 Beckett Rd.
- Dittmar Pool, 1009 W. Dittmar Rd.
- Dove Springs Pool, 5701 Ainez Dr.
- Gillis Pool, 2504 Durwood St.
- Little Stacy Wading Pool, 2000 Alameda Dr. (Review)
Do you know of any other free, fun places to get wet in South Austin? If you do, please leave a comment and tell us about it!