It’s no secret that I love getting out on the weekends to explore Austin with my little family. I subscribe to Free Fun in Austin and I have a Pinterest board dedicated to things I’d like to do in Austin. I feel fairly proud of how many fun things we’ve done here and, still, I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface. I love living somewhere with so much to do, especially when so much of it is free and outdoors.
Having a child has added a whole new array of things to do in the city. A couple of weeks ago, we headed out to explore a part of Zilker Park we’d never visited before.
If you’re not familiar with Austin, Zilker Park is our version of Central Park. It’s 351 acres of green space downtown and there are playgrounds, lakes/rivers, kite festivals, a train, Barton Springs (a warm-water natural springs), free theater in the spring and summer, holiday light displays and just about anything else you can imagine. There’s a sculpture garden and a botanical garden. Any time we go down, it’s filled with families, couples and individuals having picnics, running, playing Frisbee, or swimming. It is, simply, amazing.
Our destination was the Austin Nature and Science Center, which many of my friends have raved about, but I’d never actually been to. Like any good outing, it was free.
We parked along the road, just across from the lake, and walked into the park. Despite the perfect weather (not too hot, not too cold, sandals and short sleeves for everyone), the Center was very quiet and peaceful. There is a lot of greenery when you first enter and, even though you are right downtown, it feels extremely secluded.
Once you go through the information/display center (where there are lots of animal furs/bones/teeth/horns to touch and play with), you can go two ways. The first side is the wild animal section. I was under the impression that there were only about five animals, but there were many, many animals. We saw a coyote, a very fat bobcat, fish, turtles, snakes, foxes, raccoons, and then continued into the bird preserve where Ella couldn’t get enough of spotting the owls, vultures and roadrunner. Plus it was mainly shady and there were benches to sit on. What more can you ask?
We circled back and went to the other side, where we walked around the large pond, identified animals on metal plaques (Ella made sure we named every. single. one) and then arrived at the crowning jewel of the Center — the Dino pit! There are three huge sections of sandboxes with native Texas fossil copies buried in each one. The pits are full of shovels, brushes and other tools that you can use to dig them out. Half of it is in the shade, which is wonderful, and Ella had the time of her life digging. We won’t talk about how much sand she had in her hair by the time we left.
Bart and I both commented that the next time someone with small children comes to visit, we will certainly return. It’s closer than the zoo and free and just the right size for kids. And when you’re tired of looking at animals, you can dig for dinosaur bones. How often do you get to say THAT?
When we walked back to the car, we crossed over to the lake side, let Ella dip her hands in the water and watched all the people boating on the water. Ella was so entranced that we determined we need to take her boating sometime soon.
And then, because no outing is complete without some food, we drove a couple of miles up to Hyde Park and had lunch at Dolce Vita. The service was ridiculously slow (we waited over half an hour for our sandwiches) but our food was incredible. Bart had a pesto and roasted turkey panini and I had a fresh mozzarella and pesto baguette with balsamic cream and spinach — and our berry split was delicious. While we waited, we popped into the cheese shop next door (where Ella got a sticker) and we petted every dog within a quarter mile radius. It was delightful to try a new place and also to see all the neighborhood people enjoying their weekend (the two blocks have several restaurants, a laundromat and some stores).
Then we all came home and took naps. Because one has to work off three scoops of gelato somehow.
Also, the first thing Ella wanted to talk about when she woke up after her nap was brushing the dinosaur teeth in the fossil pit. I guess it was a hit!
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