2002 Readers Poll
2002 Critics Picks
Best Middle School Mentors

Officially, Goldbarth teaches journalism and Underwood teaches theatre at Fulmore Middle School. Unofficially, they turn what can be the drone of the 'tween years into The Wonder Years. They've won numerous awards for yearbooks, newspapers, and dramatic productions. More importantly, they've introduced hundreds of young students into the self-discovery and wisdom of writing and drama, engaging their spirits, minds, and hearts -- lending more than a little of themselves to every Fulmore graduate. Go, Falcons!

Morgan Goldbarth
Fulmore Middle School
201 E. Mary

Tammy Underwood
Fulmore Middle School
201 E. Mary

Best One-Stop Entertainment Spot in East Austin

Fifty thousand square feet of pure fun. It’s like every dream kid event in one spot. There’s a movie theatre, arcade, bowling, roller skating, "kid’s kingdom" soft play area, and a food court. Available for private parties, too. Watch for special events, workshops (like last year's CinemaKids), and 99 cent bowling on Tuesdays.

Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex
1156 Hargrave

Best Reason to Wear a Coonskin Cap

The first look at this exhibit is pure nostalgia: a beautifully curated replica of a 1950s child's room decorated with Davy Crockett memorabilia, from wind-up guitars to books to the ubiquitous coonskin cap Fess Parker made famous. The second look is a wonderfully evocative journey through Crockett's colorful career from Tennessee politics to the Battle of the Alamo. Viewing the fiddle he played rendered us speechless; we dare you to leave without singing, "Davy! Davy Crockett! King of the wild frontier!"

Bullock Texas State History Museum
1800 Congress

Best Soggy Movie Viewing

Austin's next generation of cinephiles is getting primed through the movie series that combines the fun of film with the wonder of wet: movies at Deep Eddy. From the cool pool, a veritable flotilla of floaties bob in the water as family movies are shown on a trucked-in screen. All for the same modest price of admission to the pool.

Deep Eddy Pool
401 Deep Eddy Ave.

Best Summer Youth Theater

The Vortex
2307 Manor Rd.

Best Film School for Kids

If you've gotta kid who's gotta make a film -- send him down to Barna Kantor. There, after learning the how-to's in a small class, and then actually doing it (shooting, editing, making the soundtrack, public screening, and all) individually, your little auteur will know whether filmmaking is a possible metier -- and you'll have a better idea of whether to spring for that tres cher Sony she'll be on you for.

Center for Young Cinema
906 E. Fifth #106

Barna Kantor   Kenny Braun

Best Nonviolent Toy Store

Don't let its strip-mall location or the fact that it's a national chain dissuade you -- Zany Brainy is a store that Austin can love. They specialize in nonviolent and non-gender-specific toys and games, the kind that expand kids' minds and creativity. GI Joe and Barbie, make way!

Zany Brainy
9828 Great Hills Trail, 512/343-6844
5400 Brodie Ln., 512/358-0750

Sweetest Bookworms

Being a public librarian can be a thankless job, especially if your library happens to be located next to a major public school. Not that the kids from the nearby Kealing Junior High are a headache, mind you, but often the foot traffic of little feet at this particular Austin branch can get a little busy -- and noisy. Here's to the staff of Carver Library. They are angels. Mind you, they are also firm disciplinarians (when you go in there to read, you'd hardly even suspect you were sharing space with so many seventh-graders,) but their love and care for their "kids" is apparent. And parents, especially, though we don't show it nearly enough, do indeed appreciate it. Special shout-outs to Claudia, Herbie, and Wired for Youth's Michele!

John Carrico

Best Place Where Someone Else's Kid Is Louder Than Yours

We find it hard to overpraise this local eatery's suitability for families. It's well-priced, it's quick. The menu's got most every favorite kid food you can think of, and the other fare is "adult" enough to bring back the parents. The wall of TVs, the searing paint colors, the hopping music, and the crayons seem to distract most kids even when putting food in front of them doesn't. There's always a kid louder and more obnoxious than yours at Hang Town, but when you dig into your Hacked Chicken Salad or Curly Fries with Green Chile Queso, you probably won't even notice.

Best Disneyfied Snapshot of Texas

Disneyland may have Animatronic Abe Lincoln, but we have Sam Houston and a re-creation of the 1900 Galveston hurricane with wind and rain effects to boot. The Texas Spirit Theater's presentation of The Star of Destiny never fails to excite out-of-town guests with its surprise-filled multimedia whirlwind through Texas history from colonization up through the moon landing. Natives are guaranteed to feel a viscous, awkward lump of Texas pride well up in their craws as Houston's ghost exhorts the audience to strive toward being the Texas heroes of tomorrow. God Bless Texas … and take that, Walt!

Bullock Texas State History Museum
1800 Congress

Best Cheap Frozen Confection

Sandy's is no health spa, but if you've got a hankering for an unpretentious wafer cone piled high with smooth, delicious soft-serve custard for under a buck, it's the only game in town. No waffle cones, no 30-wonderful flavors, and no "crush-ins" … choose from chocolate or vanilla, large or small, and move away from the window, please.

Sandy's Hamburgers
603 Barton Springs Rd.

Best Place to Watch the Sunset

If our kids could choose their perfect sunset, it would be orange, red, and filled with bats. That’s why we head down to Town Lake from April through October to take a cruise with Lone Star Riverboat. We board the Little Star, a 32-foot electric cruiser, and speed on out to the Congress Avenue bridge, where we listen to the water roll underneath us and wait for the sun to set and the sky to fill with flapping wings. Isn’t it romantic?

Lone Star Riverboat
208 Barton Springs Rd.

Best Hope for World Cup 2014

Depending on a number of factors -- your kid's interest and skill level, your financial situation, and your willingness to go to countless practices (or not) -- Austin is a fine town to initiate the young'uns to this favorite international pastime. There's Hancock Recreation (your equal opportunity league), West Austin Youth Association (not cheap, but they do have scholarships), and University Hill's Optimist Club teams. Each has its own fine merits. All build great individual self-respect and excellent team skills.

Hancock Recreation Center
811 E. 41st

West Austin Youth Association
1314 Exposition

University Hill's Optimist Club

Best Place to Befriend a Cockatoo

When the kids clamor for feathered friends, we take them to the Bird Sanctuary at J&M Aviaries. Tours are available, during which we can wander past llamas, goats, emu, donkeys, lemurs, marmosets, and over 85 species of tropical birds. We can even watch baby birds being hand-fed. J&M also has birds for sale, so we?ve got to be careful, or we?ll end up with a house full of canaries, cockatoos, parrots, and macaws. Older kids should be sure to ask about volunteer opportunities.

J&M Aviaries
8647 U.S. 290

Kenny Braun

Photo by John Anderson

Best Way to Make Sure Your Child Is the Next Lyle Lovett (or Toni Price)

Thanks to the Austin Children’s Museum’s Austin Kiddie Limits, your future star can get his or her groove on. Your child will get the chance to hop on a child-sized stage and choose a song by one of 12 Texas artists, including Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Miss Lavelle White, Kelly Willis, Flaco Jimenez, and Toni Price. AKL provides the costumes and a collection of percussion shakers, pretend guitars, and violins. Rock on!

1830 Simond

Best Tennis Teacher

Ward, the beloved kids' coach at Pharr Courts, has a tennis c'est quois; he manages to get the kids to learn while they're having fun. Says one of his students, "He's nice, and he's a good teacher. I sucked before I went there. I'm better now." Says mother of same student, "Lincoln is really encouraging. He emphasizes fun. His kids alway look like they're happy when they're playing, unlike a lot of the kids they're competing against."

Lincoln Ward
Pharr Tennis Center
4201 Brookview

Kenny Braun

Best Store Pet

Ya gotta love a record store that values its pet dog's opinion as highly as it does the employee picks for good listening. Mafesto, the bulgy-eyed, moon-faced Pug often found at the front desk, joins the illustrious list of our "Best of Austin" store pets if only because he's so cute. Owner Jason Shields knows a good thing when he sees it, too. Mafesto appears in the store's ads, recently as "Ernest Pug." All together now – "awwww."

Cheapo Discs
914 N. Lamar

Best Foam for Fake Mustaches

Got root beer? You only got root beer if you got a root beer mustache, bucko, and some of these newfangled, adult-niche-marketed-and-caffeinated-to-boot beers just don't cut it. If you are looking for a root beer made with the kiddies in mind, one free of that devil crack of childhood (caffeine), one full of cold icy flavor to savor, then check out the new A&W on Airport on the Eastside. Just be sure to order it in a frosty glass mug. Deeeeeee-lish!

A&W Root Beer
1145 Airport

Best Place to Frolic With Ducks

After swinging, sliding, and lots of make-believe on the Zilker playground, head down the steps to the dog pool and take a left. Follow the stream until you get to lots of ducks. Wiggle your toes in the cool water as the children splash with the ducks. (Be careful! The rocks are slippery.) Everyone will get a kick out of watching these comedians of the Springs stick their tail feathers in the air as they they dunk their heads – some say in search for food, but we think maybe they do it just to make people giggle. After an afternoon of this, you and your little ones will probably smell like duck poo. Not to worry, buy them a rubber ducky; they'll be so excited about making their ducks imitate the ones at Barton Springs, they won't even mind taking a bath.

On Barton Creek, between Barton Springs and Town Lake

Best Smoke-Free Glow Bowling

Health-conscious parents: If your offspring are craving glow bowling, but you don't want to deal with the hazards of second-hand smoke, there is no better place to go than the Union Underground. The black lights and fun music will wow them. And if that doesn't, there are also pool tables, an arcade, and snacks. Don't forget to bring socks and to wear white.

Union Underground
Texas Union, 24th & Guadalupe

Best Inner City Jurassic Park

Thanks to Steven Spielberg, Discovery, and PBS, the allure of fossil finding is deeply ingrained in all American youth. Thanks to the Dino Pits at the Texas Memorial Museum and the Austin Nature Center, junior archaeologists can dig locally for fossils (replicated from ones housed at the TMM), and cries of Eureka! ring out when a tiny pterosaur tidbit is uncovered.

Texas Memorial Museum
2400 Trinity

Austin Nature & Science Center
301 Nature Center Dr.

Best Mom's Best Friend

The "Customers With Children" area in the parking lots of these local grocers is a life-saver if you're lucky enough to be doing the marketing with crumbcatchers in tow. Shopping carts are parked in a little covered shed, right where you've put the car. No negotiating loose children across a busy parking lot into the store -- handy! Not to mention that it's wise traffic engineering, as well. We bet more than one harried parent has patronized these stores for this convenience alone.

7015 Village Center Dr.

Central Market North
4001 N. Lamar

Kenny Braun

Most Fun While Learning

UT Explorers is a fun-filled day of hands-on activities including making play dough, playing "judge" in a courtroom, painting, sculpting, treasure hunts, and storytelling. This kid college happens once a year, every March on the UT campus. And it's totally free!

University Events, 471-7753

Best Bygone Boon to Breeders

The General Cinema at Barton Creek Square allowed families to watch first-run movies, once a month, in the company of their own. No scrounging for a sitter; no smuggling an infant inside and praying for quiet. No more banishment at home with Me, Myself, and Irene on cable. Sadly, when General Cinemas moved out, so did Baby Night. Most film-savvy cities, like Toronto and Oakland, offer parents nights out. Even Houston and Dallas have "Cry Baby Matinees." Perhaps AMC, the new residents of the Barton theatre, could be convinced that this is still a great idea.

Barton Creek Square
2901 Capital of TX Hwy. S.

Best Educational Day Camp

Despite a potentially intimidating name, MasterSchool ensures development and fun somewhere in between catching grasshoppers, building model rockets, riding horses, and swimming -- all on a healthy, low-sugar diet. MasterSchool has run a spring and summer day camp for gifted children since 1982 and recently expanded its operation to offer an overnight camp. Not to worry, astonishing IQ test results are not required of enthusiastic campers, though creativity, thinking abilities, leadership tendencies, and a teacher's recommendation do help.

Old Mare Ranch
8400 Burleson-Manor

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