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Kids

Best Back to Cool
TIE: Fierce & Fab Sunday Funday; Dream Big/Kutz 4 Kidz

Back to school: a time of excitement … or dread?! Everybody wants to make a cute first impression, but not all kids have the time or means to invest when they can barely afford school supplies. This year, OutYouth's Sunday Funday brought together salon stylists, skin care experts, and fashionistas to offer mini makeovers to sexual- and gender-minority youth desiring a bit of a refresh. Up north, brothers Kevin Banks, CEO of Albuquerque nonprofit Dream Big/Kutz 4 Kidz, and Round Rock Police Department Chief Allen Banks banded with local stylists to offer kids free haircuts in a fun fiesta setting (balloon artists, sno-cones, face painting) to ease the challenge of first-day jitters. Kudos to these two groups who understand how "back to cool" can make all the difference when headed back to school.

OutYouth, 909 E. 49 1/2, 512/419-1233, www.outyouth.org

Dream Big, Albuquerque, 505/328-6954, www.kutz4kidz.org

Round Rock Police, 2701 N. Mays, Round Rock, 512/218-5500, www.roundrocktexas.gov/departments/police

Best Bevo Benevolence
Neighborhood Longhorns Program

photo by Jana Birchum

This University of Texas partnership with AISD and UT Athletics reaches out to community kids in grades 2 through 8 that have the hardest time with academics, attendance, and performance. These Neighborhood Longhorns keep at-risk kids in school through tutoring, mentoring, and incentives, ensuring that the kiddos in their own backyard will one day join them as alumni.

Neighborhood Longhorns Program, 2100 San Jacinto #312, 512/232-4650, www.neighborhoodlonghorns.org

Best Children's Free Storytime
Fifth Dimension Books at In.gredients

photo by Bret Brookshire

We admit: It’s pretty bold to say one children’s storytime is better than another, as all are wonderful, but there is something magical about a functioning bookmobile these days. Even more so, a bookmobile that specializes in science fiction and fantasy. Storytime is hosted by the wonderful Sukyi McMahon, a mother to a young child herself, and one-half of the owner-operated Fifth Dimension Books. Every Monday morning you can find Sukyi parked at In.gredients on Manor Road, ready to dazzle the little ones with fun, interactive stories. Bring the kids, and don't forget the refillable coffee mug.

Fifth Dimension Books, 512/872-9329, www.5dbooks.com

Best Creative Outlet Access
E4Youth

Founded by Carl Settles Jr., this visionary nonprofit works hand-in-hand with creative industries to introduce commercial art career paths to young people who otherwise might not have access to such options. E4Youth offers programs such as College Mentors in the Classroom to keep students on course, the Youth Media Bootcamp (in collaboration with the Black Media Council, Movement 50, and SXSW) and in-agency opportunities to shadow creative professionals. With these resources and mentors, promising youths are not only empowered with the vision to see themselves as leaders in creative fields, but bring their own special gifts and perspectives to traditionally under-diversified industries.

E4 Youth, 4302 Airport, 512/323-0550, www.e4youth.org

Best Custom Kids' Rooms Murals
Andrea McArdle Art

The inexhaustible creativity of local artist Andrea McArdle makes rooms come to life via large-scale murals. Though she has bedecked walls of all kinds – garage doors, studio spaces – this mother of two young'uns has a natural knack for working with children and their parents to create a one-of-a-kind bedroom that inspires the imaginations of all who inhabit it.

Andrea McArdle Art, www.andreamcardleart.com

Best Evolution of Teen Empowerment
Off Center Teens

The internationally acclaimed hometown heroes, the Rude Mechs, were early in their evolution when they walked the community outreach walk and founded the summer camp Grrl Action in 1999. The bold and beloved writing and performance program for teen girls to creatively express themselves and develop that expression into artistic presentation has evolved into Off Center Teens. Teens of all genders are now welcome to participate in the camp that is proudly feminist, comprised of uncensored created content, and focused on experimental theatre. The Rudes' walk has evolved, and Austin's youth are the winners.

Rude Mechanicals, 2211-A Hidalgo, 512/476-7833, www.rudemechs.com

Best Free Indoor Amusement Park
Cabela's

Some kids refer to Cabela's as a "museum" full of guns and tons of stuffed critters. Deer? Check. Moose? Yep. Elephant? Most definitely. And did we mention guns? Drop your quarters in the slot and enjoy "target practice" (no real bullets involved) that beats anything at an actual amusement park. Then wander over to the in-house restaurant to chomp down on your choice of a smoked elk or bison sandwich. Oh, and they have some tasty candy, too.

Cabela's, 15570 S. I-35, Buda, 512/295-1100, www.cabelas.com

Best Kid-Friendly Theatre
Flying Theater Machine

Let the little ones explore their creative side with interactive improv art at the Hideout on Sunday afternoons. The actors guide the imaginary bus, but the audience decides what color it is and where it goes. It’s an hour of creativity and participation just for the fun of it that gets everyone out of their seats.

The Hideout Theatre & Coffeehouse, 617 Congress, 512/443-3688, www.hideouttheatre.com

Best Kiducational Day Trip
Waco Mammoth Site

photo by Larry D. Moore/CC BY-SA 3.0

What better way to excite junior paleontologists than to let them see real animal fossils where they have laid for 65,000 years? Discovered in the bank of Waco's Bosque River in 1978 by two young men, the bones of 23 Columbian mammoths, a camel, and a saber-tooth tiger were uncovered and added to the National Park System as a National Monument in July, 2015.

Waco Mammoth Site, 6220 Steinbeck Bend, Waco, 254/750-7946, www.wacomammoth.com

Best Multicultural Center
Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos

If music is food for the brain, Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos has been keeping San Marcans' mental bellies full since September 2009. Housed in the former Bonham Elementary School, the center offers free art, cultural, and academic camp sessions with names like Camp Olé and Mis Pequeños Ingenieros (My Little Engineers). Their curriculum includes piano, accordion, mariachi, ballet, and visual art, as well as science and math tutoring for local youth. Olé, indeed!

Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos, 211 Lee St., San Marcos, San Marcos, 512/878-0640, www.sanmarcoscentro.org

Best Place for Kids to Get Arty
Cafe Monet

This paint-your-own-pottery studio offers a wide variety of products to let the creative juices flow. As adults paint beer mugs or dinner plates, the kids can paint their own ice cream bowls, cereal bowls, coin banks, or ornaments with popular characters that include Tinkerbell and Roary the Lion. With an extensive range of paint colors, cute stamps, and fun stencils, kids can let their artistic side take control and express their individuality.

Cafe Monet, 145 E. Hopkins, San Marcos, 512/805-2800, www.cafemonet.org

Cafe Monet, 4477 S. Lamar #560, 512/892-3200, www.cafemonet.org

Cafe Monet, 4700 W. Guadalupe #11, 512/906-2200, www.cafemonet.org

Best Place to Hear Austin Bands With Your Kids
Yellow Jacket Social Club

The Yellow Jacket is known as a hipster-filled bar with great food and a dog-friendly patio. But if you're a parent who loves music, it's also a great place to bring your kids to begin their indoctrination into the Austin music scene. Their weekend afternoon shows on the patio don't happen all the time, but when they do, they are perfect for the younger set to bop to bands like Sweet Talk and the Gospel Truth.

Yellow Jacket Social Club, 1704 E. Fifth, 512/480-9572, www.yellowjacketsocialclub.com

Best Place to Seek Out a Friend for the End of the World
Post-Apocalyptic Writing Summer Camp

Austin Bat Cave, a kids' writing nonprofit, operates under the novel idea that young people learn best when they're allowed to use their imaginations. For the past two years, perhaps ABC's most popular program has been its post-apocalyptic fiction summer camp, where budding Katniss Everdeens (and Suzanne Collinses) are encouraged to create their own literary dystopias. This summer, activities included a post-flood tour of Waller Creek, a class visit from an expert on insect-based food products, and a presentation from a local expert on Austin's power grid.

Austin Bat Cave, PO Box 4762, 512/524-1489, www.austinbatcave.org

Best Way to Turn Gamers Into Game Makers
Game Worlds

Those recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics that kids only have 45 seconds of screen time per day, preferably viewed through a crack in one's fingers, fall by the wayside when you pick up your video-game-loving kid from a long day of learning to code, designing a video game, and engaging in communal play with like-minded gamers at the end of a pleasantly long day. Game Worlds is the perfect storm of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) education, and – bonus – it's one of the most affordable.

Game Worlds Camps, 13166 Humphrey, 512/609-0052, gameworldscamp.com

Best Afterschool Activity
Lions Krav Maga

photo by Bret Brookshire

Krav Maga may have been developed for the Israeli military, but Lions Krav Maga's afterschool program offers comprehensive self-defense and anti-bullying techniques to four age groups (kids, youth, juniors, and teens – ages 4-18). The program imparts everyday life skills such as self-confidence, socialization, teamwork, and respect. Not to mention the classes are an excellent outlet if your child is one with boundless energy.

Lions Krav Maga, 911 W. Anderson #121, 512/524-0746, www.lionskravmaga.com

Best Birthday Cakes
TIE: Capital City Bakery; Sugar Mama's

You get a cake, and you get a cake, and you! Birthday cakes for all, no matter what the dietary restriction! All of Capital City Bakery's sweet stuffs are vegan with some gluten-free treats as well. But if you are looking for the traditional end of things, look no further than Sugar Mama's; their sheet cake is the bomb.com.

Sugar Mama's Bakeshop South, 1905-A S. First, 512/448-3727, www.sugarmamasbakeshop.com

Capital City Bakery, 2211 E. Cesar Chavez, 512/666-7437, www.capitalcitybakery.com

Sugar Mama's Bakeshop East, 2406-B Manor Rd., 512/220-7296, www.sugarmamasbakeshop.com

Best Bookstore for Kids
BookPeople

BookPeople has long been Austin’s premier bookstore, with a homegrown atmosphere to match the selection. Their kids' section is just as welcoming and eclectic. But it doesn't end there. BookPeople also goes deep into the YA genre and has an entire Teen Press Corps at the ready with great recommendations on the website. With engaging storytime programming, a thorough selection of toys and books, author visits and signings geared toward the young, and the tot-sized cave with reading nooks, little readers and their tween and teen counterparts are spoiled for choice.

BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar, 512/472-5050, www.bookpeople.com

Best Club for Teen Performers
The Hideout

photo by Devaki Knowles

Perfectly suited for, how you say, leveraging the spontaneity of youth and led by the indefatigible Jessica Arjet, the Hideout Theatre's program of improv classes for teens provides a sort of high-octane bonding time during which the performers hone improv skills that will not only suit them well onstage but in all aspects of their burgeoning lives. Just the sort of thing – laughter, creative self-expression, physical movement – to make adolescence almost tolerable.

The Hideout Theatre & Coffeehouse, 617 Congress, 512/443-3688, www.hideouttheatre.com

Best Fandom/Nerd Supply Store
Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy

photo by Bret Brookshire

Pop into Dragon's Lair on any given night and you'll see dozens of tables populated by men and women engaged in fantasy role-playing games, Magic the Gathering tournaments, and other esoteric card and board games. Look again and you'll see kids in their midst, too, playing along while also receiving gentle gaming mentorship from their companions and competitors. Hard proof that geeks are far from anti-social. Add to that the deep collection of anime and comic books and a friendly, helpful staff, and you've got fertile ground for the next generation of Comic Con attendees.

Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy, 2438 W. Anderson Ste. 1-B, 512/454-2399, www.dlair.net

Best Gaming Hangout
Pinballz Arcade

Welp, you’ve gone and raised yourself an indoor child with a proclivity toward avatars and power-ups and pixel-based entertainment. What’s a parent of a video-game-loving yet still socially competent child to do come dog days/snow days/general "I'm bored" days that you just can't even right now? Hail, Pinballz! Give that kid $25-30 (factoring in snacks) and s/he will be out of your hair for a good hour, at least. With rooms and rooms full of pinball, arcade, and skeeball at their flipper fingers, any kid, teen, or kid at heart can party like it's 1979 with games like Pac-Man while also enjoying the high-tech wonders of a giant, interactive Fruit Ninja and our personal favorite, Harpoon Lagoon. Kids can hang until 10pm Fridays & Saturdays, after which time it's 18+ only.

Pinballz Arcade, 8940 Research #100, 512/420-8458, www.pinballzarcade.com

Best Party Place
Playland Skate Center

photo by Shelley Hiam

We know the battle to get the family away from the mind-numbing allure of the (TV, cell phone, tablet, video game) screen. We recommend a skate party. Playland's got all sorts of affordable packages and the biggest, baddest, recently installed wooden floor in Central Texas. And if the party crew needs a little practice before the big night, Playland accepts Kids Skate Free passes on Mondays and Wednesdays during the summer months.

Playland Skate Center, 8822 McCann, 512/452-1901, www.playlandskatecenter.net

Best Restaurant
Phil's Icehouse

Examine the burger menu at Phil's Icehouse, and you'll start to wonder what the correlation is between the geographically specific nom-de-patty and the ingredients contained therein. Why, for example, is the "78704" Burger made with jalapeños, chipotle mayo, and a jalapeño/cheese bun while the Allandale Burger is the most basic burger on the menu? What are you trying to say, Phil's Icehouse? Eh. It doesn't matter, because this is the one place where "Parent's Recess" is a thing – a very happy hour thing.

Phil's Icehouse, 5620 Burnet Rd., 512/524-1212, www.philsicehouse.com

Phil's Icehouse, 2901 S. Lamar, 512/707-8704, www.philsicehouse.com

Phil's Icehouse, 13265 Hwy. 183 N., 512/257-8750, www.philsicehouse.com

Best Shoes
Sandy's Shoes

For kids, it's about the festive sea of neon sneakers. For parents, it's about exact foot measurements, shoes lined up by size and outside of the box so youngsters can quickly judge what they like. For everyone, it's about kind employees who look you in the eye. Sandy's Shoes, tucked away next to the Northcross Mall, is a regular Readers Poll winner for a reason: The shoe-shopping experience is all gain and no pain.

Sandy's Shoes & Toys, 2525 W. Anderson, Bldg. 1, #150, 512/452-8697, www.fb.com/sandysshoes

Best Sports/Rec Program
Soccer Shots

This program meets once a week at day care centers, schools, and parks throughout the greater Austin area to introduce kiddos ages 2-8 to the most popular sport in the world. They not only learn the skills to play, but also develop balance, coordination, and agility while learning concepts such as teamwork, sharing, and respect. Get them started early – you may just be raising a future World Cup star.

Soccer Shots, 5555 N. Lamar Ste. J-103, 512/420-9450, www.soccershots.org/austin

Best Teen Hangout
Pinballz Arcade

Welp, you’ve gone and raised yourself an indoor child with a proclivity toward avatars and power-ups and pixel-based entertainment. What’s a parent of a video-game-loving yet still socially competent child to do come dog days/snow days/general "I'm bored" days that you just can't even right now? Hail, Pinballz! Give that kid $25-30 (factoring in snacks) and s/he will be out of your hair for a good hour, at least. With rooms and rooms full of pinball, arcade, and skeeball at their flipper fingers, any kid, teen, or kid at heart can party like it's 1979 with games like Pac-Man while also enjoying the high-tech wonders of a giant, interactive Fruit Ninja and our personal favorite, Harpoon Lagoon. Kids can hang until 10pm Fridays & Saturdays, after which time it's 18+ only.

Pinballz Arcade, 8940 Research #100, 512/420-8458, www.pinballzarcade.com

Best Texas Amusement Park
Schlitterbahn

We've all been to the knockoffs. You might as well be one of the kids sitting in the kiddie pool from the old commercial, scraping for an inch in substandard wave pools. And why even bother when there's a quartet of Schlitterbahn parks to explore right here in the great state of Texas? Padre holds the beachside luxury title, your kids won't get lost in Galveston's family-friendly free-for-all, and Corpus has that new-car smell. But nothing holds a candle to the original, sprawling Schlitterbahn New Braunfels, which has served Central Texas since 1979. Come play?

Schlitterbahn, 14353 S. Padre Island Dr., Corpus Christi, www.schlitterbahn.com/corpus-christi

Schlitterbahn, 381 E. Austin St., New Braunfels, 830/625-2351, www.schlitterbahn.com

Schlitterbahn, 33261 State Park Road 100, South Padre Island, 956/772-7873, www.schlitterbahn.com/spi

Schlitterbahn, 2026 Lockheed, Galveston, 409/770-9283, www.schlitterbahn.com/gal

Best Toys
Terra Toys

Terra Toys offers up the best curated selection of playthings from all over the world. Gifts and gadgets geared for educational, imaginative play – puppets, Brio trains, games, kiddo-sized musical instruments, Haba toys, and an unbelievably large selection of Playmobil. Bonus: Their brand-new, in-house cafe offers up a caffeine fix, something all parents can attest is a toy-store adventure necessity.

Terra Toys, 2438 W. Anderson Ste. 1-C, 512/445-4489, www.terratoys.com

Best "It" Girl
Jendayi Bonds

photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Jendayi Bonds was practically a tyke when she took Austin by (quiet) storm. Performing solo or with her band, Charlie Belle (formed with kid brother Gyasi on drums and currently featuring bass talent Zoe Czarnecki as well), Bonds has graced stages from Whip In to the ACL Fest with top-notch originals and sly covers, toured Texas, and released an EP, Get to Know – all while keeping her grades up. She's been on Smart Girls at the Party; she's a Youth Spin regular on KOOP 91.7FM; and she plays benefits and volunteers tirelessly for nonprofits including Girls Rock Austin. Bonds is beautiful, poised, stylish, smart, and talented, of course. She’s also giving and community-minded beyond her years. Yup, she rocks.

Best All-Access Storytime Freeplay
Storytime PlayZone with CJ

photo by Sandy Carson

The Play Zone at All Things Kids is a parent's best friend. The welcoming, enclosed back area of this toy shop is set up for imaginative free play with hand-picked toys from all over the world. Twice a week, kids are entertained by storytime with CJ (costumed as her alter-egos Princess CJ or CJ the Explorer). Engaging the kiddos in story, song, and sign language, CJ’s rapport with the little ones is truly exceptional, garnering her the biggest fan club of the littlest tykes.

All Things Kids, 3220 Feathergrass, 512/490-6770, www.allthingskids.us

Best Queen of the Teen Scene, Emeritus
Margaret Moser

First we ever heard the words "Gary Clark Jr.," they came from the big red lips of Ms. Margaret Moser. Austin’s music oracle since before coyotes were invented, our beloved senior writer retired upon her 60th birthday in May, but not before cementing the soundtrack to this town for generations to come. Mother Falcon, another Moser first. The Peterson Brothers – Mama M. Residual Kid? You guessed it. William Harries Graham – future mayor of this town – she plucked him for our writers' cabal at 13. Decades ago, Moser wrote about the Sexton brothers in their bunk beds. Long live the Queen of Austin A&R!

Margaret Moser, www.austinchronicle.com/authors/margaret-moser

Best Shopping Waystation
Ikea Småland

Just before the forest of perfectly decorated living rooms, bedrooms, and bathrooms of Ikea, lies the wee little Småland. Swedish for “Small Lands,” the magical play center for children at Ikea is a dream come true for errand-running parents. Modeled after a far away village in Sweden, Småland is free, supervised, and filled with faux stone walls and giant clogs. Leave your little ones to explore the hidden lands of Sweden while you admire those affordable and pleasant bedroom suites and kick back with some Swedish meatballs.

IKEA, 1 IKEA Way, Round Rock, 512/828-4532, www.ikea-usa.com

Best South Austin Secret Treasure
Anna's Toy Depot

Ask any veteran parent – the resale toy market is where it’s at, and Anna’s Toy Depot is where you find it. This South Austin classic is chock-full of gently loved cars, trains, tracks, Barbies, dollhouses, musical toys, games, Star Wars, Star Trek, and Lego (seriously, so much Lego). Everything a kid could dream of, along with loads of educational and sensory toys. Bonus? Bring in what the kiddos outgrow on Anna's regular buyback days, and take home a new-to-you toy or keep the cash for a little something for that veteran parent. A true Austin win-win.

Anna's Toy Depot, 2620-B S. Lamar, 512/447-8697, www.annastoydepot.com

Best Turtle Bonding
County Line on the Lake

photo by Bret Brookshire

Kiddie Barbecue Dos & Don'ts: Do bring the kids to this family classic set in an ol' Texas fishing lodge and nestled on the banks of Bull Creek. Don't let the li'l ones fill up on the melt-in-your-mouth mini-bread loaves (instead order a few to-go). Do take a stroll around the place and point out all the kitschy artifacts you remember from your childhood. Don't forget to line your pockets with quarters. After a meal, head out back to the dock, pump a few coins in the turtle-feed dispenser, and sit back and watch the kids delight as the bales and doles of our shell-backed pals swim and wiggle their way to get to the feast. Just like your little ones, they feed, they fuss, and they count on you to take care of them.

County Line on the Lake, 5204 FM 2222, 512/346-3664, www.countyline.com

Best Whooooosh!
Raleigh Hager

Raleigh Hager makes riding waves look easy, and in a city without an ocean, that's no small feat. A pioneer on Austin's wakesurfing scene, this local teen takes home first place like the rest of us take home dinner. And by "teen," we're talking junior high, and by "first place," we mean world championships. Gone to her head, it hasn't. This lady is as grounded on land as she is on water.

Raleigh Hager, www.ralsurfs.com

Cutest Li'l Cute Cutes
Tiny Tails to You Petting Zoo

photo by www.tinytailstoyou.com

Is it the sweet, teeny, tiny well-cared-for animals that make Tiny Tails to You such a hit with the kids? Or is it enjoying denizens of the outdoors in air-conditioned comfort that keeps the families so endeared? The petting zoo birthday parties? Perhaps it’s the can’t-be-beat customer service provided by a team that even giant toddler tantrums won't faze that does the trick. The combination of all these things (okay, especially those adorable bunnies … and baby chicks … and bearded dragons …) make Tiny Tails to You a unique Austin enterprise that has earned its stellar reputation.

Tiny Tails to You Petting Zoo, 512/423-5577, www.tinytailstoyou.com

In Remembrance
Phillip Adams

It is with heavy hearts that we share the news of the sudden passing of Phillip Adams, a member of our "Best of Austin" family ("Best Imagination Hour," 2013). Phillip was recognized for his weekly kiddo-centric storytime adventure at Whole Foods. Phillip was also an esteemed member of the Capital City Men’s Chorus, finding a second family both in voice and veracity of song. He was a Whole Foods team member, and could always be found among the aisles by beacon of his boisterous laughter. Through WF, he volunteered with Pride Week and the Out Youth Prom, always the first to pitch in and last to leave. All in, wherever Phillip went, he was surrounded by family. We mourn his departure and celebrate his spirit.

Phillip Adams, WFM Deep Roots Garden, 717 Henderson, www.shoalcreekconservancy.org/deep_roots_garden

Most Rosey Mama Rose
Ginger Morris

photo by Todd V. Wolfson

When 250 teen thespians took the Dell Hall stage to perform at the inaugural Greater Austin High School Musical Theatre Awards, Ginger Morris wasn't standing in the aisle yelling, "Sing out, Louise!" The domineering pushiness that defines Gypsy's thorny Rose can't be found in this generous and sweet-tempered director/choreographer. What she does share with that mother of all stage mothers is an eye for young talent, and the passion and drive to develop it. Through her work in schools across the region, the musical theatre training programs she's established (Summer Stock Austin, which she started with Michael McKelvey 10 years ago, and her own Texas Arts Project), and the GAHSMTAs, which she organized and directed, Morris has helped hundreds of aspiring performers realize their dream in the spotlight and receive the applause they so richly deserve. With Mama Ginger backing these musical stars of tomorrow, everything is comin' up roses.

Texas Arts Project, St. Stephen's School, 6500 St. Stephen's Dr., 512/553-6276, www.texasartsproject.com

Best Afterschool Activity
KidsActing

KidsActing Studio has honed its teaching craft for 33 years in Austin, making it the Grande Dame of local theatre for the junior set. Offering afterschool classes for kids ages 3-18, with 11 locations in the area, the opportunities to inspire your little star are seemingly endless. For this "Best of Austin" repeat winner, it’s a wrap!

KidsActing, 2826 Real, 512/836-5437, www.kidsactingstudio.com

Best Birthday Cakes
Sugar Mama's

photo by John Leach

Julia Child once said, "A party without cake is just a meeting." And a kid party without cake is just a time-out. The good people at Sugar Mama's couldn't agree more. Their menu features old-fashioned four-layered birthday cakes, just like the ones mommy/momma/mama used to make. And fear not Eastside and Central Austinites – if the original South First location is a tad out of reach, they now have one on Manor Road, just for you.

Sugar Mama's Bakeshop South, 1905-A S. First, 512/448-3727, www.sugarmamasbakeshop.com

Sugar Mama's Bakeshop East, 2406-B Manor Rd., 512/220-7296, www.sugarmamasbakeshop.com

Best Bookstore for Kids
BookPeople

Independent bookstores have become the unicorns of retail, as these enchanted spaces are nearly impossible to find. Which is why BookPeople continues to stand out as Austin's horn o'plenty. Open 14 hours each day of the week, it’s home away from home, but with the added bonus of YA author readings and signings (What up, Lindsey Lane!) and storytimes and author visits for the little ones (Hey, Divya Srinivasan!). Between their three stories, a cafe, and enough nooks and crannies to get lost in, this proud Austin landmark reminds us why it's so important to show kids that writers are cool, illustrators can makes worlds with their pens, and books are so much more romantic than anything found on a desktop or handheld screen.

BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar, 512/472-5050, www.bookpeople.com

Best Club for Teen Performers
Grrl Action at Rude Mechs

The Rude Mechanicals have had our attention since the Nineties, and for good reason: They're creative, spunky, and always original. Grrl Action is a nonprofit offshoot of the Rude Mechs that now has its own workshop space (called, naturally, the Off Shoot). Grrl Action brings together girls age 13-16 from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds to stage their own original work, with coaching from the Rude Mechs. Giving teen girls the opportunity to step into Austin's brassiest performance workshop must be like the theft of fire from Mount Olympus.

Grrl Action, The Off Center, 2211-A Hidalgo, 512/476-7833, www.grrlaction.org

Best Gamer Hangout
TIE: Dragon's Lair; Pinballz Arcade

photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Depends on how you define gamer: Are you flashing-lights-whizzbang? Or vast-internal-realms-of-the-mind? Sometimes the audience can be one and the same. Our fair city covers all options and plays host to a magical venue (Dragon's Lair) that more than dabbles in mainstay fantasy league play such as Pokemon, D&D, and Magic: The Gathering. But that doesn't mean there's not room for a massive blipping, blooping arcade of Tron-like proportions (Pinballz), replete with vintage multiballers and joystick jollies to keep pretty much every generation locked in a quarter-pumpin' nostalgia coma. Then again, maybe there isn't room. Pinballz is expanding south to Buda, where they are opening Pinballz Kingdom and making noble use of the old Dorsett 221 Truck Stop castle. This is Texas. There's room for everyone. Liberté! Égalité! Role-plé! Hooray!

Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy, 2438 W. Anderson Ste. 1-B, 512/454-2399, www.dlair.net

Pinballz Arcade, 8940 Research #100, 512/420-8458, www.pinballzarcade.com

Pinballz Kingdom, 15201 I-35 S., Buda, www.pinballzkingdom.com

Best Haircut
Birds Barbershop

It's all about foundations. Mumsie or Dadsie may find the most intriguing thing about Birds is that they offer of-age patrons a beer upon arrival. For those dealing with anxious kids who fear the shears, this can be a welcome tonic – to the parent. But essentially that's a novelty of this biz. Remember, foundations. Happily, the be-tatted boys n' girls of Birds snip a mean, clean ’do. And while beer's not an option, they sure know how to put kids at ease, too.

Birds Barbershop, 2110 S. Lamar, 512/442-8800, www.birdsbarbershop.com

Birds Barbershop, 6800 Burnet, 512/454-1200, www.birdsbarbershop.com

Birds Barbershop, 1107 E. Sixth, 512/457-0400, www.birdsbarbershop.com

4 more locations

Best Party Place
Thinkery

photo by John Leach

Relocated from Downtown to a spiffy new spot in the Mueller development, Austin’s next-gen children’s museum combines fun with forward-thinking. This sun-bright, bilingual museum nourishes the mind with inventive exhibits, classes exploring culture and science (kids will love getting hands-on with water currents, and parents will appreciate the installed blowdryers), and reasonably priced party packages with themes like dinos, makers, robots, rockets, and more. The body gets a boost at the Thinkery, as well: A healthy lifestyle is subtly promoted throughout, from the second-floor “farmers’ market” to the on-site Snap Kitchen nibbles, and the outdoor playscape is so cool, you’ll wish you were still pint-sized, too.

Thinkery, 1830 Simond, 512/469-6200, www.thinkeryaustin.org

Best Restaurant
Phil's Icehouse

Take a trip back to the Wild West at this kid- (and beer-) friendly Austin favorite. Sidle up to the trough, and relax with a delicious burger and ice-cold beer as your li'l cowpokes horse around like Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, or Deputy Dawg, and romp atop the colorful cattle in the playground corral. This family gem is the perfect excuse to steer clear of the big fast-food chains; keep it local, pardner, Phil's has Amy’s ice cream! Also, teach your buckaroos an essential Texas lesson early on: Cows ain't for tippin', your server is.

Phil's Icehouse, 5620 Burnet Rd., 512/524-1212, www.philsicehouse.com

Phil's Icehouse, 2901 S. Lamar, 512/707-8704, www.philsicehouse.com

Phil's Icehouse, 13265 Hwy. 183 N., 512/257-8750, www.philsicehouse.com

Best Shoes
Sandy's

Year after year, Sandy’s Shoes remains Austin’s most beloved childhood shopping trip. Stacked from floor to ceiling with fun-sized UGGs, Mary Janes, and light-up sneakers, Sandy's got what your little one’s feet need to be dressed for every occasion. So move aside, Suri Cruise, Sandy’s expert staff is hooking up Austin’s youngest with the most fabulous, perfectly fitting footwear around.

Sandy's Shoes & Toys, 2525 W. Anderson, Bldg. 1, #150, 512/452-8697, www.fb.com/sandysshoes

Best Sports/Recreational Activity
Soccer Shots

With football, ahem, “soccer” fever still hot post-World Cup, there’s no better way to indoctrinate today’s youth in the game than weekly clinics that not only get those little bodies moving, but teach teamwork, sportsmanship, and skills to boot. Soccer Shots has been Austin’s premier school of kicks for ages 2-8 since 2007, with locations virtually all over Austin’s parks. And our readers howl, "GOAAAAAALLLL!"

Soccer Shots, 5555 N. Lamar Ste. J-103, 512/420-9450, www.soccershots.org/austin

Best Teen Hangout
Blazer Tag Adventure Center

Heart pounding: You've just been trounced by enemy forces. Your team members keep getting hit, and the old guy who's playing for the first time isn't helping matters much. You've got to be lithe – float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Back against the wall and scoping a corner, you only have one shot at this. "We didn't see her there!" they'll think for days afterward. They will rue. the. day.

Blazer Tag Adventure Center, 1701 W. Ben White #1, 512/462-0202, www.blazertag.com

Best Texas Amusement Park
Schlitterbahn

photo by Kate X Messer

On the subject of pure Central Texas realness, the only thing missing from Rick Linklater's 2014 opus, Boyhood, was a hat tip to every good Lone Star State family's annual ritual pilgrimage to Schlitterbahn: Wayward dad makes good with a day at the New Braunfels' water park and comforts kid after too many indulgent dips in the Dippin' Dots. Or single mom organizes a group of fellow moms to rock an 11th birthday for kid and five pals at that resort suite with the swimming hot tub. Much tween flirting with the locals ensues and a first kiss is shared in Han's Hideout, out of sight from the ‘rents. Or single mom remarries and new blended family gets whisked to the coast for a visit to the Padre ’Bahn and witnesses stepdad's penchant for spending days at the swim-up bar. Or first high school job: lifeguard, of course. Cut to kid in business casual helping cut the ribbon at the new park in Corpus for college internship. Epic, right? And a lot more realistic.

Schlitterbahn, 14353 S. Padre Island Dr., Corpus Christi, www.schlitterbahn.com/corpus-christi

Schlitterbahn, 381 E. Austin St., New Braunfels, 830/625-2351, www.schlitterbahn.com

Schlitterbahn, 33261 State Park Road 100, South Padre Island, 956/772-7873, www.schlitterbahn.com/spi

Schlitterbahn, 2026 Lockheed, Galveston, 409/770-9283, www.schlitterbahn.com/gal

Best Toys
Terra Toys

What to get your favorite science-princess-horse-obsessed-future-veterinarian nephew or truck-wielding-book-learnin'-future-Pulitzer-prize-winner niece? Terra Toys is obviously a good place to find the perfect prez for these two tykes – but what you may not have considered is that it's also the place to find a gift for vegetarian-and-curmudgeon-of-Scrooge-like-proportions dad and introverted-beachcomber-former-bar-owner Aunt Millie.

Terra Toys, 2438 W. Anderson Ste. 1-C, 512/445-4489, www.terratoys.com

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