1995 Readers Poll
1995 Critics Picks
Best All-Ages Music Venue

Sunday afternoons and rambunctious children go together like sleep-overs and pillow fights, and we all know that the best way to soothe those savage little beasts is to calm them with music. Doing just that every Sunday at the Waterloo Ice House on 38th Street are a handful of performers such as Bob Livingston, who specialize in music for shorter attention spans and being able to play a backlog of the old favorites like "Stairway to B-I-N-G-O."

Waterloo Ice House
8600 Burnet Rd., 512/458-6544
6203 Capital of TX Hwy. N., 512/418-9700
9600 Escarpment Blvd., 512/301-1007
9600 S. I-35 Ste. D-100, 512/292-7900

Best Children's Retail Store

The biggest store devoted to one-stop shopping for kids from infants to six years old. They have clothes, shoes, books, furniture, toys, plus a hair salon and portrait studio. Electronic/educational toys and yard toys (cars, rocking fish, swing sets) are set up so the kids (you) can try before you buy. They have a gift registry and wide array of accessories for feeding, baby proofing, and cars.

Best Dmz

Before the advent of this Austin non-profit agency, the exchange of children between unamicably divorced parents could be a terrifying minefield, ready to explode at any time. And the kids were the casualties. The Kids Exchange offers a neutral, non-threatening location for those exchanges, as well as a child-friendly site for supervised or controlled visitation.

Best Dollar Movie House For Kids

Actually, this place is for the whole family. Recent releases, good seats, and great prices bring a family movie outing into the realm of possibility, which, these days, is no mean feat. And, when a whole family walked out of the Goofy movie not long ago, the management cheerfully offered a refund or an alternate film.

Best Educational Curriculum

Teacher Carla Marshall longed for a classroom without walls and so she created the Green Classroom, an organic gardening project at South Austin's Becker Elementary. The presidential award-winning project offers elementary school children a completely integrated learning situation that reinforces all their work in regular classes and builds self-esteem in the process. The kids learn math and science by making a compost cake, write songs and poems about their gardens, and gain marketing experience by selling their organic produce in the Whole Foods Markets. Now, if the cafeteria could just cook the produce grown in the garden, that really would be an accomplishment!

Becker Elementary
906 W. Milton

Best Excuse To Play Dress-Up

No princess ever really needs an excuse to dress-up, but the Elisabet Ney Museum seems to always have one at the ready. Nestled in a tiny, wooded kingdom in Hyde Park, this castle has played host to parties fit for kings and princesses of all ages. Their summer series of children's hours has come to a close, but the Camelot qualities of the building and grounds (not to mention a new exhibit) are still worth a sojourn there.

Slab Shack
11501 Menchaca

Best Free Family Entertainment

We dropped in one early summer evening to hear the Mady Kaye Trio and found the deck and surrounding lawn populated with young families with kids. This is a great idea if you want to eat affordably to the sound of good music, you can't spring for a babysitter, and you need to take your kids someplace relatively indestructible. The shows are early and the music is Austintatious. Our friends with kids are big fans of the Blues on the Green series at the Arboretum for many of these same reasons.

Central Market North
4001 N. Lamar, 512/206-1000
4477 S. Lamar, 512/899-4300

Best Groundbreaking

The kids in this Southeast Austin neighborhood are due for some positive attention and entertainment. This new multi-purpose activity center, begun in July should be ready before summer rolls around again.

Dove Springs Recreation Center
5801 Ainez

Photo by John Anderson

Best Indoor Playscape

A playscape for the mind and the body, the museum is as entertaining as it is challenging. At each visit, children (and their adult pals) can enjoy their favorite ongoing displays, from the grocery store mockup, complete with four food groups of consumables and donnable Whole Foods aprons, to STUFFEE, the room-sized doll whose removable organs teach lessons of anatomy and nutrition. The museum also features exciting temporary exhibits with elaborate interactive themes like electricity, bats, geometry, pets, and music and boasts a darned popular summer camp program.

1830 Simond

Best Interactive City Park

We were saddened to learn that budget cuts may mean the end for one of our favorite kid-friendly parks at Sprinkle Cutoff Road. Check out this little oasis of living history that illustrates farm life in 1880s Central Texas while you still can.

Pioneer Farms
10621 Pioneer Farms Dr.

Best Interactive Experience

The Austin Zoo, formerly Good Day Ranch, gives kids a chance to see and touch those furry little animals they read about in books. It used to be that children grew up with more opportunities to learn first-hand about animals, but as society becomes more urban, places like the Austin Zoo are about their only chance to ride a pony, feed a goat, or pet a pig.

Austin Zoo
10808 Rawhide Trl.

Best Kids' Radio Show

Nearly all media is adult-oriented. With the exception of a few magazines and Disney movies, the vast majority of reading and programming out there is produced by adults for adults. But Austin's newest radio station, KOOP-FM 91.7, has opened the airwaves to kids, creating a call-in radio talk show produced and hosted by kids. Marsha Kearns, the adult who coordinates the program, says there are four middle schoolers - ages 11 and 12 - involved regularly, choosing to delve into such topics as power, television, music, movies, violence, parents, and boy-girl relationships. "We encourage anyone to participate in any way," says Kearns. "They can do their own show or call in on a show. It's a community radio station."

3823-B Airport

Best Of Times For Tots & Young-at-hearts

It's a quiet kind of summer giddy that contents both child and adult alike as the Zilker Eagle rounds the bend and pulls into the station. The lemonade is perfect, the crossing bell chimes, and the conductor issues the "All Aboard" to signal that it's time to take the tickets! The old Amtrak replica we love so well is off on another perfect day in our favorite park, in the best damn city in the whole wide world.

Best Place To Go Fossil-hunting

While many places in Austin provide rich deposits of fossils (near the Shoal Creek bed area, or the roadsides of Loop 360 where they've carved away enough rock to unearth many treasures), a relatively unmined area behind The County Line on Bee Caves Road offers a triple whammy: fruitful fossil hunting; a sensational sunset; and a dynamite dinner.

County Line
County Line on the Lake, 5204 FM 2222, 512/346-3664
The County Line Bar-B-Q, 6500 Bee Caves Rd., 512/327-1742

Best Playground

There's no bigger place for a kid to play than inside his or her own imagination, and theatre is a great way to get there. Playfest, the Coalition for Children's Theatre's annual showcase of works for young people, offers all kinds of plays - musicals, marionettes, storytelling, melodrama - presented by different area companies in week-long runs. The shows approach theatre from different angles, but all lead the child to romp inside that great playscape of the mind.

Best Playscape Renovation

The old playscape had an impressive air of 1960s NASA "can-do" in its space-themed labyrinth of tall spires, cages, narrow slides and fireman's poles. Just imagine sending your kid up in that thing, however, and not only would you be hepped to how John Glenn's mom must've felt, but also to the reason for the extensive Zilker modernization. Well, it's the Nineties and it's Safety First in these parts, and adults can now take their hearts out of their throats when tikes navigate the intricate maze of challenges in the now very modern and very safe playscape. Plus, the old fire engine's all gussied up and integrated into the scene for an added vocational effect.

Zilker Park
2100 Barton Springs Rd.

Best Rainy Day Hideaway

Our favorite antidote to the 1990s, the Memorial Museum is almost a museum piece itself: dim, cool, hushed, a proper dowager in a world of upstart interactives. The small scale is a plus; even a toddler can do all four floors with aplomb, from basement dinosaurs to glowing gem room. It's free, or would be if we could make it past the siren gift shop.

Texas Memorial Museum
2400 Trinity

Best Winter Birthday Party

When faced with one of the deafening, frenzied, franchised play parks for an indoor birthday party, consider instead a dead-of-winter swim party. The YMCA Southwest Family Branch will rent out a party room and their big, indoor swimming pool complete with lifeguard. Bring in your own cake, decorations, and other party paraphernalia. Your hair will frizz but your nerves will not frazzle.

YMCA TownLake Branch
1100 W. Cesar Chavez

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