1998 Readers Poll
1998 Critics Picks
Best Big Fun With The Grandparents

Yet another amazing gift from our Parks and Recreation Department, each hole at Butler is about a third as long as a standard one and clubs are available for rent. A real golfer can get on the green with a wedge, then putt into the hole, practicing the critical short game. For a beginner or a kid, this "baby course" offers the opportunity to skip past the boring lessons and hours on the driving range and go straight to the fun. You've got your fairways and roughs, your water hazards, your little joys and frustrations. You get the fresh air, the camaraderie, the suntan. You get triumphs like that sixth hole, where our tee shot hit the edge of the green, and we actually putted in three.

Butler Pitch & Putt
201 Lee Barton

Best Bonus Of Owning A Library Card

Aside from the obvious benefits, library card holders can now check out a free pass to the Austin Children's Museum at their new 201 Colorado location. The passes can be checked out and returned at 10 Austin libraries: Carver, Central, Little Walnut Creek, University Hills, Zaragosa, Oak Springs, South East Branch, Twin Oaks, Terazzas, and Govalle.

Best Cheap Thrills For Kids

Want to go sledding, but can't afford a trip to Colorado? Murchison Jr. High has the next best thing. The gigantic grassy hill behind the school is excellent for sliding down. We recommend taking your own cardboard box, but sometimes old boxes can be found on the hill.

Murchison Middle School
3700 North Hills

Best Cultural Overhaul

The Children's Museum folks took a great thing and made it a whole lot better. They also moved locations. Now, you can enjoy some of the same old favorites (the coin vortex and Stuffee, the oversized doll thingie) and some new (the huge pipe organ at the entrance). And their summer camp programs rock. Not to mention, they still have free admission nights - Wednesdays, 5-8 pm.

1830 Simond

Photo by John Anderson

Best Flashback

Yeah, yeah, radio stations feature programs full of Eighties new wave and downtown clubs have similar nights set aside for dancing like we all did to try to forget Reagan was in office. But there's something about Skate World - something that throws us back to the Seventies and the Eighties like nothing else in this city. While in-line skate rental has recently been added, we still prefer the older option: those liver-colored numbers with four bright orange wheels. There's a disco ball a'spinnin' and tunes like "YMCA" and "Carwash" playing. On any given Saturday or Sunday you can see some amazing footwork, too, as those folks who never did catch onto Rollerblading come out and show off what once was a very cool sport, often times using small, stumbling children as the equivalent of slalom poles. You can even rent the whole place to yourself if you want.

Skate World
9514 Anderson Mill

Best Fundraiser To Benefit Kids

The people at CASA mobilize volunteer advocates for abused and neglected children in Travis County. We can't say enough about all the good things they do for kids. Their big summer fundraiser mimics the importance of "safe houses" for all children. To train and oversee their super volunteers they raise money by raffling miniature masterpiece playhouses designed and built by some of the best teams of local builders and architects. This year's theme was "Backyard Broadway" where little tykes could let their imaginations run wild in a cave from The Lion King or maybe they could serve a mean burger and shake in a diner playhouse (complete with drive-thru!) resembling Grease. Other playhouses included a Greater Tuna replica complete with porch, a diner from American Grafitti, a treehouse from Never Neverland of Peter Pan, and more.

6330 Hwy 290E, #350, 459-2272

Best Innovative Combo-entertainment

Okay, so we are a little concerned that those big electrical projectors are resting - on wheels no less - at the edge of a pool full of kids and water (remember the hot tub scene from Eating Raoul?). But there's no denying the innovative brilliance behind this summer past-time. The place is packed with families waiting for the sun to set and the credits to rise on flicks like Jurassic Park and George of the Jungle. Cheap admission, cheap pizza, and ample space make it accessible to all. And, if ya bring a nanny, you can cruise over to Deep Eddy Cabaret and slurp down a cold one and listen to some groovin' tunes. The kids won't even miss you.

Deep Eddy Pool
401 Deep Eddy Ave.

Best Kids Drama Camp

If your 7- to 17- year-old yearns for a life in the theatre - or at least an intense month in the summer - this is the ticket. A dynamic staff of drama professionals, many MFAs; a delicious (to the theatrically inclined child, that is; sports camp this ain't) menu of not-dumbed-down classes like mime, improv, playwriting, directing, and stage combat; a terrific end-of-camp production: We've done lotsa Austin summer camps; this one is the bee's knees.

Austin Theatre for Youth
710 E. 41st

Best Koi, But Not Shy Pond

You might miss Austin Aqua Dome if you're not paying attention, but we guarantee that will only happen the first time. Once you see the grey bulbous wonder, located just off the whiz and whirl of Ben White Boulevard, you'll look for it each time you pass its way. The Aqua Dome is home to the south end's most unusual selection of tropical fish and waterplants - ranging from spiky sea anemones, brilliant rainbow-colored Hap Ishmaeli, and elegant Jumbo Discuses to the common yet intriguing black mystery snails. Behind the big dome is a great place to loggygag with the kids. What first appears to be a fish hatchery is actually a "grove" of waterplants: lilypads, cattails, and the like. Kids can put quarters in the pellet dispenser and feed the koi, who along with comets, guppies, and other swimmingly fabulous creatures (including - we counted - four lumbering tortugas the size of small tires) are kept in the water garden as mosquito control.

1604 Fortview, N. Ben White access, 442-1400

Best Mini County Fair

For the second year now, our annual rodeo featured Kids' Town!, a small-fry county fair of sorts that entertained children of all ages with a cool mix of Texas agriculture, Wild Science, comedy shows, and animals, including a petting zoo, rescued tigers from the Bridgeport Nature Preserve, and even some high-diving pigs. This year's rodeo raised $996,000 out of which $252,000 went to scholarship funds for area high school seniors.

Best Place To Meet Tomorrow's Local Independent Filmmakers

This afterschool enrichment program was the brainchild of Ben Thompson and Jay Lubman, Zavala teachers and ACAC video producers. This hands-on class works on the premise that "kids learn best when they are allowed to tell rather than be told," which means they do it all from concept to finished product: writing, shooting, animating, editing. Look out, Robert Rodriguez, here they come!

AISD Carruth Administration Center
1111 W. Sixth

Best Place To While Away An Afternoon With A Toddler

With peacocks, fish, water flowers, and a maze of lush little pathways, Mayfield Park & Preserve is a paradise for wee ones. And given its ample shade and beautifully soaring palm trees, it's a peaceful park for parents too, a welcome change from the plastic playscapes found elsewhere around town. Take a picnic and admire the handiwork in the tiny community garden plots that add to the atmosphere.

3505 W. 35th, 499-6700

Best Pollywogging

Mud between your toes and slimy creatures in your hands - what could delight a child more? The creek that runs through Reed Park offers a clean, shady, pleasant place to spend summer days hunting the elusive pollywog. With a jar and some plastic cups, your little biologists can entertain themselves for hours, not to mention catch enough critters to build a reputable terrarium. The educational possibilities are endless. Reed Creek has a good supply of minnows, crawdads, water skimmers, and snails throughout the year, but pollywog season is at its peak between May and June. This park has an added bonus to parents-- during the summer Reed Pool is open so your kids can wash the algae off before climbing into the car with their newfound amphibious friends.

Reed Park
Pecos & River Rd.

Best Shady Spot The Whole Family Will Love

Tennis, basketball, swings, swimming, even hopscotch! All under the wonderful umbrella of some colossal old oaks covered with some sturdy swinging vines. Sounds like a posh country club, right? How about a free public park instead? The basketball courts and sidewalks are currently being redone, so we don't know if the hopscotch boards will still be there, but that's nothing a fat piece of sidewalk chalk can't cure. The wading pool is seasonal, but the big pool, right up the pathway, is open year round.

Little Stacy Pool & Park
1400 Alameda

photograph by Jana Birchum   Jana Birchum

Best Theme Store

Here it is.The whole ball of yarn! The entire kitten kaboodle! The cat's meow! But this is not a pet store. In fact, save for Angel and Tiger, the store's affectionate mascats, customers are spared actual encounters with aloof felines. Kids-N-Cats is a themed gift and party shop, loaded with trinkets, tchotckes, and yes, even cat toys for the most finicky. There are cat calendars, stuffed cats, cat pens, Beware-of-Attack-Cat signs, cat jewelry, cat mousepads, and the ever-popular kitty figurines. And that's not all. There are other themes as well: dinosaurs, aliens, horsies, ballerinas, wildlife, pirates, space travelers, Superman, Star Wars, phew! - something for just about every kid's top ten. Items are thematically organized, making a search for the perfect present or party theme a snap. Plus there's a whole selection of squirting, spinning, and sticking things way under $1 to fill many a party bag. The staff seems to know every lovin' inch of their cram-packed stock, too, and never hesitate to offer suggestions. We must caution allergy sufferers, however: The mere sight of so much cat stuff in one space might set off an attack!

5732 Burnet Rd.

Best Wait For Food With Hungry Kids

When the kids are hungry, any wait for food is interminable, unpleasant, and potentially embarrassing. Hence the proliferation of juvenile fast food joints. But when you forget to make a reservation and still want to go out for good food, grab the kids and head for East Side Cafe. The wait could be a while at this popular eatery, but the longer, the better. It gives kids, big and little, a chance to explore the cool, leafy teepees, chase butterflies (nets are for sale in the Cafe's shop, Pitchforks and Tablespoons), and generally stop to smell the flowers and herbs in the very garden that provides the makings for East Side's fabulous food.

photo by John Anderson

Best Way To Introduce Children To The Joys Of Theatre

When the world gets too virtual for you, when you wonder if Game Boy and South Park can irreparably damage a child's capacity to appreciate old-fashioned live entertainment, when it's 100 degrees in the shade and you forget why you live here, try this. Pack a big cooler full of food and drink and spread out a blanket at the Beverly S. Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theatre for an evening of free outdoor musical comedy from Zilker Theatre Productions. Year after year, this deluxe and generous event wows even jaded Mortal Kombatants.

Zilker Theatre Productions
2201 Barton Springs Rd.

Best Way To Say "CIPs Are For Kids!"

When video games just won't cut it and the kids areclimbing the walls and furniture for some old-fashioned rough and tumble play, what's a parent to do? The City of Austin Parks & Recreation Department has seen to it that they can climb the snazzy new playscapes at Shipe playground and the Alamo Recreation Center playground. The new pea gravel and cool spongy turf make to cush the tush of your little whippersnapper in a spill. Other playgrounds scheduled for renovation in the near future are at Franklin and Balcones District Parks. That's what we like to see. Now, let's all do the hokey pokey! That's what it's all a-bout.

Best, Coolest Afternoon Diversion For Kids

When its 100º in the shade, sending the kids outside to play could bring on allegations of child abuse. A cool (in more than one way) alternative is to take them to Laser Quest. A heart-pumping, air-conditioned game of super-charged hide & seek, laser tag is the modern, high-tech version of our favorite childhood games - Cowboys & Indians, Cops & Robbers, and Master Spy. We don't advocate the banishment of those time-honored and cost-free pastimes, but a game of Laser Quest on a sweltering afternoon can help tame house-bound wild beasts.

Laser Quest

Fastest Kid's Birthday Present In The West

The party starts in less than an hour, you are on a budget, you are clueless about what kids really like, and you want to make sure you come up with a gift that won't offend parents' sensibilities. Somewhere "Over the Rainbow" is your connection, my friend. Tell one of the Rainbow's always-helpful employees how much you want to spend, the age and sex of the child you're buying for, and you will be on your way in 15 minutes or less. Gift wrapped, too. And somehow, your gift will be the one that the birthday kid has "always wanted."

2727 Exposition, #123, 477-2954

photograph by John Carrico   John Carrico

Most Hearty Survivors

Situated along a peaceful plot next to shady Walnut Creek, this real Texas farmstead stands frozen in time. With the steely fortitude of the real pioneers of the 1880s, our local jewel-in-the- rough attraction continues to thrive despite a funding crisis a few years back. We think that's great, because kids love to learn about animals, and plants, and history in a way that is real to them - and there's nothing realer than touching, feeling, smelling, hearing, and seeing the way life was lived back in the day.

Pioneer Farms
10621 Pioneer Farms Dr.

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