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2007ReadersKids

Best Afterschool Activity
KidsActing

Thumbing through the alumni of KidsActing, one finds mentions of Broadway and your favorite CSI. So, think of their classes as an afterschool investment toward that big house or shiny Porsche you'll get to buy, all silver-haired, and selling old pictures to the paparazzi down the line. Babysitter begone, because you'll be out catching your offspring in a real production. Latch-key kids turned thespians, what a novel idea!

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

Best All-Ages Music Venue
Emo's

Home to what has been called the best-positioned stage pillar in Texas, with its circus/motorcycle decor, Emo's is still the mainstay for fans of all ages or 18 and over. Yeah, it looks like a barn, but for both the post-Hannah Montana and the pre-Manilow crowds, it's sweet salvation. With many chill areas, outdoor cop-a-squats, and a good view of the stage from nearly every corner (minus from behind that pillar), we wouldn't change a thing. The Octopus Project, Ghostland Observatory, Explosions in the Sky, and every headlining act that swings through this Lone Star standard is sure to have a crowd of fist-in-the-air younguns singing along.

Emo's, 2015 E. Riverside, 888/512-7469, www.emosaustin.com

Best Arcade
Main Event

Best Party Place, Best Arcade, and Best Teen Hangout make Main Event a popular destination for many people and many reasons. A safe, well-maintained, and well-staffed environment offering bowling; billiards; laser tag; giant arcades with more than 100 video, virtual, interactive, and redemption games (including a secured "mature" section for those of appropriate age); glow golf; rock climbing; and the Main Street Cafe, the Main Event is the kind of place you want your teens to hang out at. It's family friendly, all ages until 10pm, then 10 years and older until 2am. And you have the option of putting your fiesta in the capable hands of their excellent party planners: All you do is show up.

Main Event, 13301 Hwy. 183 N., 512/401-0000, www.maineventusa.net

Best Birthday Cakes
Lucy's Cakes

photo by Todd V. Wolfson

For more than 15 years, Lucy's has taken "Best of Austin" awards for their legendary cakes. Three generations of the Majors-Gothard family have crafted this business into a beloved Austin icon, due in no small part to their extraordinary service … not to mention the sinfully delicious confections they produce. From the cake for Willie Nelson's 62nd birthday to your own kids' soirées, Lucy's knows exactly how to make any birthday incredibly and indescribably delicious.

Lucy's Cakes, 5320 Bee Caves Rd., 512/347-8585

Best Bookstore
BookPeople

Since 1970, BookPeople has grown from a Grok-y hole-in-the-wall literary hangout to a world-class book superstore – all without franchising. And they know how to grow loyal customers from the start: by taking them seriously. Sure, they have the requisite puppet shows and story times, but BookKids, BookPeople's youth-centric store within a store, goes deeper with special events like the upcoming Teen Voices tour featuring young authors Jake Wizner, Amber Kizer, and Lisa Shanahan. One of a kind, BookPeople is amazingly still Austin's personal phenomenon. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, we get the great selection of books, kitsch, world-famous speakers, fanciful events, and dedicated staff all to ourselves.

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

Best Clothing
Bright Beginnings

Bright Beginnings is a smorgasbord of baby and youth couture. Started in 1984, this Austin-based company has everything to pamper your pint-sized princess/prince from cotton T's to designer blazers. The owners and employees are experts at making your child the envy of the rest of the crib.

Bright Beginnings, 701 Capital of TX Hwy. S., 512/328-8989

Bright Beginnings, 1006 W. 38th, 512/454-5437

Best Haircut
Birds Barbershop

Unleash the future rock star in your little bundle of joy with the coolest kids cuts from $15 to $25. And they trim more than kids: Mayor Will Wynn was the shop's inaugural customer. Birds is not just a barbershop but a venue for assorted hipster gatherings. With foosball, DJs, and plenty of visuals, everyone's a star at this new Austin favorite.

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 Nature Day Trip
Austin Zoo

Compact enough to see without melting from exhaustion, the Austin Zoo shelters all the animals kiddies want to see. Stare down the Galapagos tortoise that keeps his eye on you, watch the Bengal tiger play with his ball, or try to decipher the mysterious message of the Moluccan cockatoo. Goats roam the petting zoo, just right for the hands-on tykes. With all the fun, you do get some learning – each habitat has a sign describing the animal’s wilderness home and the circumstances that brought it to this rescue and rehabilitation zoo.

Austin Zoo & Animal Sanctuary, 10808 Rawhide Trl, 512/288-1490, www.austinzoo.org

Best Party Place
Main Event

Best Party Place, Best Arcade, and Best Teen Hangout make Main Event a popular destination for many people and many reasons. A safe, well-maintained, and well-staffed environment offering bowling; billiards; laser tag; giant arcades with more than 100 video, virtual, interactive, and redemption games (including a secured "mature" section for those of appropriate age); glow golf; rock climbing; and the Main Street Cafe, the Main Event is the kind of place you want your teens to hang out at. It's family-friendly, all ages until 10pm, then 10 years and older until 2am. And you have the option of putting your fiesta in the capable hands of their excellent party planners: All you do is show up.

Main Event, 13301 Hwy. 183 N., 512/401-0000, www.maineventusa.net

Best Recreation Center
Hancock Recreation Center

photo by Todd V. Wolfson

This is not the first time that Chronicle readers have singled out Hancock Recreation Center as a great place to play. Tucked away on a shaded hill at the corner of Red River and East 41st, the center is surrounded by one of the oldest golf courses in Austin. But if you and your kiddies do not golf, never fear: The center hosts art classes, karate lessons, afterschool programs, a playground, dance classes, photography classes, and youth soccer – offerings for kids of all ages.

Hancock Recreation Center, 811 E. 41st, 512/453-7765, www.cityofaustin.org/parks/hancock.htm

Best Restaurant
Phil's Icehouse

photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Eating at Phil's Icehouse on a summer evening can make anyone wish they were a kid. It's a bubble of family comfort with an outdoor play area, ice-cream bribes, good beer, and gourmet burgers. This partner restaurant of the beloved Amy's Ice Creams is a whole-family crowd pleaser.

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

A longtime Austin favorite, Sandy's offers Ecco, Skechers, Doc Martens, Hush Puppy, and Vans, among so many other brands. A revolutionary sign-in service assures personal attention in an atmosphere of fun that makes shopping for kids' shoes a breeze. From casual to dressy, this cavernous store will have exactly what you want for the younger ones – and maybe exactly what you want for yourself.

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

Best Sports Program
WAYA

Are the kids driving you crazy at home? Or maybe they're driving the librarians up the bookshelves. (They’re not babysitters; you realize this?) Here’s an idea: WAYA. As in the West Austin Youth Association. Cheap memberships and more than 30 different sports and activities for every age group. Sign up the whole family for a season on the softball fields; maybe even volunteer yourself. Why not? We can’t promise the kids will be too tired to raise Cain, but they will be out of the house long enough for you to take an afternoon nap.

West Austin Youth Association, 1314 Exposition, 512/473-2528, www.waya.org

Best Summer Distraction
Swimming

The Austin summer is one big, sweaty armpit. It's three-showers-a-day and still smelling like a cab seat. Where can you go when your air conditioner's just not getting it done? What can any sane person be doing when every movement outside feels like exhaustion? Get wet! Go swimming. We've got Barton Springs, blessed by Buddhist monks, and it's knock-the-wind-outta-ya cold, even in woo-doggy hot; we've got Lake Travis and the greenbelt, speckled with coolers and sun-tanning hippies; we've got public pools like Deep Eddy and Big Stacy, private pools, natural pools, and little trickles everywhere. Go ahead, dive in.

Best Teen Hangout
Main Event

Best Party Place, Best Arcade, and Best Teen Hangout make Main Event a popular destination for many people and many reasons. A safe, well-maintained, and well-staffed environment offering bowling; billiards; laser tag; giant arcades with more than 100 video, virtual, interactive, and redemption games (including a secured "mature" section for those of appropriate age); glow golf; rock climbing; and the Main Street Cafe, the Main Event is the kind of place you want your teens to hang out at. It's family-friendly, all ages until 10pm, then 10 years and older until 2am. And you have the option of putting your fiesta in the capable hands of their excellent party planners: All you do is show up.

Main Event, 13301 Hwy. 183 N., 512/401-0000, www.maineventusa.net

Best Texas Amusement Park
Schlitterbahn

photo by Sandy Carson

A quick trip to any of the three wet-and-wild Schlitterbahns that dot our fair state is just a click away: The Travel Channel consistently rates them tops and always seems to have them featured. Much of the technology that whooshes throughout so many of the country's waterslide attractions was developed by Schlitterbahn tenders, the Henry family, right here in Texas. Why not head out this spring and see what all the gush is about? No matter if you're headed south to South Padre, over to Galveston Island, or just down the road a bit to the original in nearby New Braunfels, all slippery roads lead to Schlitterbahn!

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

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

Best Toys
Terra Toys

Caution! This Terra is an endless and exciting toy amusement park, where persons big or small may lose hours (or their minds!) checking out the various themed areas: the doll section, the Hello Kitty section, puzzle section, board-game section, boy section, girl section, baby section, etc. Phew! We overstimulated ourselves so much we had to put ourselves in time out!

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

Best Video Game Rental/Purchase
TIE: GameStop, Game Crazy

Need an excuse to not study? The staffers at both Game Crazy and GameStop can help. Might we recommend Halo 3 at a very reasonable price or last year's John Madden experience for less cash than you’ll find in the couch of your parents’ basement? These gamer greats have been swapping this award for the past three years now. So whadaya go and do? Vote them both in, apparently. Good decision.

GameStop, 6001 Airport, 512/467-9902, www.gamestop.com

Game Crazy, 1000 E. 41st #200, 512/459-1533, www.gamecrazy.com

GameStop, 500 E. Ben White, 512/326-1833, www.gamestop.com

GameStop, 2901 Capital of TX Hwy., 512/329-5851, www.gamestop.com

GameStop, 4477 S. Lamar, 512/892-6905, www.gamestop.com

GameStop, 5601 Brodie, 512/892-3995, www.gamestop.com

GameStop, 9300 S. I-35, 512/292-6613, www.gamestop.com

GameStop, 10000 Research, 512/346-6437, www.gamestop.com

GameStop, 9911 Brodie, 512/292-6529, www.gamestop.com

GameStop, 12901 N. I-35, 512/989-6170, www.gamestop.com

Game Crazy, 5770 N. Mopac, 512/323-2244, www.gamecrazy.com

Game Crazy, 9411 N. Lamar, 512/228-3933, www.gamecrazy.com

Game Crazy, 6525 S. IH-35, 512/440-1030, www.gamecrazy.com

Game Crazy, 3707 W. William Cannon, 512/358-0430, www.gamecrazy.com

Best Video/DVD Selection
Vulcan Video

Again. And with good reason. Vulcan rules the family-friendly video/DVD scene with one of the most eclectic yet comprehensive libraries in this part of the world. It's not just for the budding cineaste among your brood who got into Kurosawa in the cradle. There's a selection of kids classics for new junior viewers and your inner kid alike. So settle down with the family and stick in a copy of The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again.

Vulcan Video, 100-A North Loop, 512/478-5325, www.vulcanvideo.com

Vulcan Video, 4411 Russell, 512/326-2629, www.vulcanvideo.com

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