2004 Readers Poll
2004 Critics Picks
Best Arcade

This Guadalupe institution has all you need to get your pulse pumping - tons of 2-D and 3-D fighting, racing games, first-person shooters, and a thumping sound system. Not to mention the helpful staff, adorned in those oh so clinical white lab coats! Meeeeeee-ow! With Einstein's, no wonder everyone's always looking for change on the Drag.

Einstein's Video Arcade
2310 Guadalupe

Best Birthday Cakes

Baking wedding cakes, grooms’ cakes, kids’ cakes, and even specialty cakes, Lucy’s has been a Texas tradition for almost 30 years. Pop in during business hours Monday through Saturday, and Lucy’s staff will sit down with you and personalize your cake so that it is perfect for whatever your special occasion demands. Especially mouth-watering: the Strawberry Whipped-Cream and Black Forest cakes.

Best Party Place

It’s a classic – the roller-skating birthday party. But Playland has kicked it up a notch with 27,500 feet of newly resurfaced roller-skating heaven, otherwise known as the biggest rink in Austin. Plus hot jams. What more could you want? Batting cages? Mini-golf? Well, slow down, because that’s for the afterparty at Austin’s Park ’n Pizza. This beckoning side-of-the-highway oasis, so full of promise, fully delivers. Open 365 days a year, monitoring the weather on their Web site, these people are serious about fun. They don’t stop at arcade games or billiards. No, with go-karts, bumper boats, and even a climbing wall, this is full-on, scrapbook-making, summer-vacation-caliber fun.

Austin's Park ’n Pizza
16231 N. I-35

Playland Skate Center
8822 McCann

Best Place to Commune With Nature

With botanical gardens, a nature center, countless play areas, and even an annual kite festival, Zilker Park never gets old and neither do her visitors. Children (and adults, for that matter) of any age find a favorite place here, from the Blues on the Green music fest during the summer at Rock Island to soccer tournaments on the vast grassy fields all throughout the year. The Trail of Lights in December brings in people from all over the country, and the Hillside Theater every July and August is always an outstanding family destination. Three hundred and sixty-five days a year, Zilker is as much a cultural as it is a recreational hub.

Zilker Park
2100 Barton Springs Rd.

Best Recreation Center

Hancock Rec offers more than just a great afterschool program and fun club. It has youth sports (inter-rec center soccer, girls volleyball, and co-ed flag football leagues), a convenient nine-hole golf course, a playground, plus some of the area's most lovely and affordable grounds for weddings or parties. There's something for everyone: Club UBU for the teens, Tiny Tots for preschoolers, fitness, dance, music, and drawing, plus the Austin Writers' League Science Fiction and Poetry workshops and Bilingual Toastmasters, and of course a wonderful aftercare program. Kids love the cool, friendly counselors so much, that they often don't want to leave! A Parks & Recreation gem, Hancock is a favorite of Austinites from all over town.

Hancock Recreation Center
811 E. 41st

Best Summer Camp

From curious kittens to wise old owls everyone can learn so much and how!

Painting and drawing photography, too pottery, metals, and dance for you

Animation and drama and so much more students range in age from 3 to 4 ...

... To 40 and 50 and more and then When you finish one class, come back again!

Dougherty Arts Center
1110 Barton Springs Rd.

Best Sports Program

Sometimes you gotta go with the classics. Not only has the YMCA been around since men were wearing those funny full-bodied bathing suits, but it’s been encouraging that whole mind-body-spirit thing all this time, too. The Y promotes respect and friendship as much as the spirit of competition, and we think that’s just plain sportsmanly of them – and sportswomanly, too, because though it was started by some idealistic young male Christians, it now comprises idealists of all creeds, colors, genders, and so forth. So, everybody huddle up and repeat after us: Why does everybody like the YMCA? Because it’s where all the kids get to play.

YMCA Camps
2121 E. Sixth

Best Teen Hangout

Remember what it was like before you were old enough to drink? You hung out in coffeehouses, didn't you? And wouldn't you have hung out at a beautiful, parent-free zone filled with swimming, sunbathing, and guitar-strumming hippies if you had the chance? Well, lucky for them, Austin's teenagers have both these bases covered. With the Spider House's outdoor patio and caffeinated confections and the laid-back summertime vibe of Barton Springs, playing hooky has never been so easy.

Barton Springs Pool
2131 William Barton Dr.

Spider House Patio Bar & Cafe
2908 Fruth

David Brendan Hall

Best Restaurant

Somehow, our summer swimming outings just weren't complete unless they ended in a trip to EZ's, a fast-food type restaurant that started in San Antonio. Besides serviceable kids fare and better-than-usual burgers and curly fries, EZ's prepares an oven-roasted rosemary chicken that many home cooks would love to emulate, a nice grilled trout, and has recently added a very satisfying chopped Cobb salad to the menu. When you're blowing off eating healthy or just low-carbing it, try EZ's chili – it's the best. (Aw, go ahead, make it a Frito pie.) Milkshakes made with good old Blue Bell ice cream are worth the trip to EZ's alone. All that, and an atmosphere that's stimulating for kids, makes EZ's a readers' favorite.

Best Bookstore

Rather than just a section, BookPeople's kids department is more like a store all its own. Adults and kids alike can have a blast here. All the seating in Book Kids is pint-sized, and the selection of both gifts and reads is diverse, extensive, and thoughtfully selected. They also have frequent story times and children’s activities led by BookPeople’s original and quirky staff. It’s truly a playground for the mind.

603 N. Lamar

Best Clothing

Where else can you buy those hard-to-find little girls' size 4 sky-blue leggings? The recently relocated Dragonsnaps features handmade original clothes and accessories sure to catapult your kid to the head of the class, or at least to the head of the fashion-forward. Sadly, the big old beloved dragon planted on the front of the building at the old location on SoCo has been relegated to storage-status for the time being, though we have been assured there are resurrection plans in the making.

2438 W. Anderson

Best Shoes

Sandy's keeps shifting around from space to space in the same West Anderson Lane shopping center, and apparently with each move there is a bit of a retooling. We were glad to see they'd done away with selling toys. (Like there isn't enough tension when you're buying shoes for kids!) The ladies shoe selection seems greatly pared down, as well. Sometimes doing one thing really well is the best strategy, and Sandy's sells high-quality children's shoes — and in a time when cheaper goods are easier to get hold of, that's really saying something.

Sandy's Shoes & Toys
2525 W. Anderson, Bldg. 1, #150

Best Toys

Don't go to Toy Joy unless you have several hours to spare. You don't have to be 9 to appreciate tiny plastic dinosaurs, masks, stickers, or Coke-bottle glasses. The store's inventory is not limited to fascinating toys; purses, clocks, candy, and jewelry are scattered throughout the entire store. If you don't walk out of Toy Joy with a pig catapult, a pack of Sour Patch Kids, and a grin on your face, you should have at least picked up a clock made of ramen and some fake facial hair.

Toy Joy
403 W. Second, 512/320-0090
4631 Airport, 512/904-0209

Best Video/DVD Selection

We all know the responsible thing to do is to monitor what the kids are watching. And we also all know that cable's just too damn expensive. So, what's a loving parent to do? It's Vulcan Video to the rescue! This Readers fave offers a wide variety of educational and fun movies for your little runt, from obscure live-action Disney (So Dear to My Heart!) to Saturday-morning faves old and new (Pee-wee's Playhouse! Bob the Builder!) to kid-friendly nature documentaries (A Little Duck Tale! The Leopard Son!). Both central locations boast kickin' kids sections, and the new all-DVD location up north is happy to order per your specification.

Best Video Game Rental/Purchase

Their stock is on the rise and they're part-owned by Barnes & Noble. Face it, this Grapevine, Texas, native is a corporate giant. Its customers are gamers – mostly kids and shut-ins – wadda they know? Well, they know that it's the nation's largest video game and entertainment software retailer, with more than 1,500 locations in the U.S. alone. These kids and shut-ins account for the majority of the store's in-house mag's (Game Informer) 1,500,000 subscribers. And they know that in Austin, one of GameStop's seven locations is the place to pitch a tent and get in line when a new hot title is hitting the shelves.

Various locations, including 6001 Airport Blvd., 476-9902

Readers: Food
Readers: Media

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