A convergence of politics, music and the arts: that’s Austin. Individual-minded and upstart, you feel cool just being here. Like an island, in the middle of Texas sits Austin, the state capital and a place that oozes funky. It houses an abundance of amazing eateries (think: Tex-Mex, BBQ…), plus has great family shopping and outside to-dos. A renowned music hub and university town, Austin’s lively downtown and highly regarded restos are all a short walk from Four Seasons Hotel Austin. What’s not to like about a place with the unofficial motto “Keep Austin Weird”?
*Historic landmarks + an active outside lifestyle (cycling, strolling on the extensive urban hiking paths, rowing, golf) = ample family fun opps.
*The music scene. Live music in the grocery store and at city council meetings. You can’t miss it.
*The hotel’s central location and setting on Lady Bird Lake with views of the city skyline.
*The weather. In January, while other parts of the U.S. are freezing, it might be a balmy 75 degrees F in Austin. An annual average of 300 days of sunshine. (No mosquitoes, either.)
Other families give Austin the thumbs-up.
*Swimming in the hotel’s saltwater pool or nearby hot springs (Barton Springs is a 68-degree F swimming hole).
*Being outside: miles of walking paths, kayaking, cycling, great parks…
*The Austin Ice Cream Festival (August)—or just licking a double-scoop while strolling around town. No need for a festival to indulge. Tour the Blue Bell Creameries factory to learn how the frozen dessert is created and packaged; in Brenham, an hour-and-a-half from Austin.
*The Four Seasons Scavenger Hunt—a fun way to learn about the hotel, city and state. Kids who complete the list win a prize.
*Hotel pool and lawn games, a diving ring competition, beach ball bonanza, corn hole and ladder toss. S’mores for kids.
*The squirrels scampering around the property.
*Bringing a piece of the Wild West back in your suitcase. Take home a pair of hand-stitched, custom-mades at Allen’s Boots.
*The food. French-Vietnamese? Sweetbreads, BBQ, Tex-Mex, pecan-wood smoked Angus rib eye? Yes! And don’t pass by a street-food truck stop for lunch.
*For Mom: Spa Happy Hour (Sunday to Thursday, 4 to 8 pm) at Four Seasons Hotel Austin. Includes a complimentary glass of sparkling wine and light spa bites.
*Hotel adult swim pool party (Fridays, 10 pm to midnight). Book a sitter (ask the concierge) and dip into the candlelit poolside scene and signature cocktails.
*A nap in the hotel’s large hammock (fits for two) overlooking Lady Bird Lake.
Bats. At sunset (May to October), gazillions of these creatures zoom out from their home under the Congress Avenue Bridge near Four Seasons in search of dinner. Amazing! These are Mexican-free-tailed bats, America’s largest colony. Grab a front-row seat on the hotel lawn 15 minutes before the sundown.
Dine in—We recommend TRIO for its lake views and great steak-and-seafood menu. Our son loved his pick of two different kids’ menus, plus the complimentary finger food appetizer. The Lobby Lounge is good for sandwiches and other light fare, including an afternoon tea and “Texas Tea.” Also, creative cocktails, a nice wine list and live music.
In-room dining is easy, especially since the menu includes more than just chicken nuggets and burgers. I appreciated that there were healthier dishes to choose from: grilled fish or petite filet, salad and fresh fruit cubes.
Dine out—Just next door to Four Seasons, The Coffee Stop is good for a quick bite, coffee drinks of course, plus banana bread, yogurt with granola and juice.
When you’re in the mood for something more substantial, try the Chicken and Waffles and other comfort food staples at 24 Diner. The Whole Foods Market headquarters is across the street, which is quite a sight to see.
For gourmet casual down-home cookin’, try Moonshine, walkable from the hotel. We recommend the Corn Dog Shrimp appetizer and Skillet Apple Pie. It’s all about BBQ at The Salt Lick (a 20-minute drive), hands-down the best in state, or County Line on the Lake, where the kids can feed the ducks.
Honestly? The biggest don’t-miss: noshing at Austin’s popular food trucks on South Congress (SoCo).
If you visit in summer, read our Top 10 Summer Family Must-Dos in Four Seasons Magazine.
1. Take in a few water activities on Lady Bird Lake: Canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding. You can rent by the hour (behind the hotel).
2. Cosmic Cowboy Tour: A bus tour of Austin, but the bus that morphs into a boat and then continues the sightseeing along Lake Austin.
3. Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum: Learn a little about Texas history on your vacation. This large museum has a 3-D Imax theater, too.
4. Inner Space Cavern: Kids and caves? A no-brainer. And this natural underground cavern features enormous stalagmites and stalactites, giant columns and animal fossils dating back to the Ice Age. The hour-long tour is by foot or cable car. Construction workers building the I-35 freeway first discovered the underground network.
5. Segway Tour: A downtown tour of Austin, but on 100 percent electronic vehicles; guided or unguided. The guides outfit you and the kids with safety gear and give lessons on how to drive. (A great option for pre-teens and up.) The company also rents bikes.
*Babies: Pool time. Swing in a hammock with mom. Squirrel watching on the hotel’s back lawn. Just stroll through town and take in all the action. Book a sitter for mom and dad time.
*Toddlers: Scottish Rite Children’s Theater puts on family-friendly productions year round. The original plays are clever, interactive adaptations of well-known fairytales and often include positive lessons. Children are encouraged to help out the hero and thwart the villains from their theater seats.
*Kids 5-10: All the interactive exhibits at the Austin Children’s Museum to spark the imagination. From the “Funstruction Zone” to a “Tinkerer’s Workshop,” the museum encourages kids to get creative and use their motor skills for an educational—and fun—experience.
In summer time, Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas screens free Summer Kids’ Camp movies Monday through Thursday. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill multiplex blockbusters; they’re classic, timeless children’s films: from 50s sci-fi, Harryhausen favorites, swashbucklers, pirates, King Kong and Swiss Family Robinson. Fun for the whole family.
*Tweens & teens: It can actually be fun to learn about Austin and its history. Sign up for a downtown Walking Ghost Tour. Your personal guide will enlighten you on the history of Austin, its many undead residents and the spooky events that go on from 6th Street to the Capitol itself.
Wooldridge Square Park is one of Austin’s four original parks, and it has one thing you probably won’t find everywhere: a Life-Size Chess game that you and your kids can play. The knee-high chess events take place every Saturday morning. Don’t worry about skill level—good for beginners and experts.
Read more about on Texas in Four Seasons Magazine.
Read about what’s within walking distance from Austin.
Lori Lange is the founder of RecipeGirl.com, where she houses over 2,500 original and adapted recipes, and writes about travel and fitness. She works for top food brands and is a featured speaker at conferences. Lori cooks from her kitchen in Southern California, where she lives with her husband and son. She is currently at work on her first cookbook: The Recipe Girl Cookbook (Wiley & Sons), due out in spring 2013.
View all posts from Lori
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