2008 Readers Poll
2008 Critics Picks
Best Blackboard Jungle for Budding Auteurs

Austin is a city rich in arts and culture and offers a wide variety of opportunities for up-and-coming visionaries. When it comes to filmmaking – especially for children – there are a number of venues that offer classes here and there, but when you compare variety and quantity, Austin School of Film stands out. Its award-winning youth program, which has been in existence since 1999 as the Center for Youth Cinema, offers small classes for ages 10 to 19 in live-action film, computer animation, and more. Small classes ensure personal attention and encourage group collaboration in all facets of filmmaking, including screenwriting, visualization, developing narrative, and the entire production and postproduction process.

Austin School of Film
2200 Tillery

Best Empowerment for Families

The programs at Any Baby Can aren't just for babies or new mommies. Kids and adults of all ages benefit from the awesome free offerings of this Eastside nonprofit – from literacy classes to teen-parenting workshops to childhood cancer support groups. An especially admirable program called Comprehensive Advocacy and Resources for Empowerment is for families of children up to age 12 who have developmental delays or chronic illness and helps coordinate access to social services for the whole family. We feel CAREd for!

Any Baby Can
6207 Sheridan

Bret Brookshire

Bret Brookshire

Best Johnny- or Janey-on-the-Spot Child Care

At first glance, Tree Tops might seem like your everyday kid-care haven. But what sets it apart from the rest is its glorious drop-in service. You read right: drop-in childcare. Day and night, Monday-Thursday, 6:30am-12mid; Friday, 6:30am-2:30am; and Saturday, 8am-2:30am. So if you have an itch to take your sweetie out for dinner and a show but don't wish to make it a family affair, let your child revel in the company of other kids while enjoying organized activities led by a sweet and caring staff. And you get a night off.

Tree Tops Learning Center
1700 W. 32nd

Best Kid-Friendly Coffeehouse

Jungle Java is Mom and Dad's dream: Grab a triple espresso, and enjoy some much-deserved time to yourself while Junior runs off to play basketball, climb a wall, or fly down one of the five slides. Free Wi-Fi, a decent food menu, a special area just for toddlers — this jungle has it all.

Best Kids Photographer

After losing her home and family photos in Hurricane Katrina, Lindsay Stradtner was driven to capture new memories. Since moving to Austin, Stradtner has been rebuilding her life with her husband and three children – whom she documents beautifully and honestly in her blog – while at the same time building an impressive portfolio as a child photographer. Stradtner has a knack for making photo shoots fun for little ones – and for amazing their parents when they see the results.

Best Kids Water Park

Round Rock's Rock'n River makes the rather mundane municipal pool into an endless playground of water-oriented activities that will keep both kids and their parents joyful and, perhaps more importantly, cool. With crazy slides and water cannons, an aquatic jungle gym, tunnel showers, and floor geysers, parents wistful memories of adolescent summer days at water parks will return. Meanwhile, the gleeful little ones won't know the difference.

Rock'n River Family Aquatic Center
3300 E. Palm Valley Blvd.
Round Rock

Best Place to Walk or Run Outside After Dark

Head to Butler District Park – just west of the Palmer Events Center, between Riverside Drive and Barton Springs Road – when you or the kids need a safe outdoor location to walk, jog, or bike after dark. The broad, paved walkways with scads of bright lighting make it ideal. Enjoy a beautiful park setting, a great night view of the Downtown skyline, and evening colored-light shows at the splash fountain. Restrooms and limited parking are by the Dougherty Arts Center on Barton Springs Road.

Butler Park
1000 Barton Springs Rd.

Best South by Southpark

Where can you order a California roll while your other half noshes on a burger and beer and all the while your tyke plays on a killer playscape? The Grove at Southpark Meadows, of course! Gone are the days of our angsty youth watching Smashing Pumpkins and the like in the sprawling South Austin outdoor music venue. Southpark Meadows, specifically the Grove, is now replaced with a grownup food court (with mostly local serveries), a jumping water-fountain thingy, and – did we mention? – a playscape. And for those of you who are sentimental, it still possesses a handful of large trees and green grassy hills (sans the crushed plastic beer cups and Doc Martens boot prints).

Southpark Meadows
9500 S. I-35

Bret Brookshire

Best Way to Channel Your Inner Child

They're songs for kids! Who doesn't love songs for kids? Commie pinkos, that's who! Okay, it ain't Mr. Waffles, but it is communicative in a way that isn't pandering or condescending, which makes McDermott's kiddie ditties quite satisfying for the chronologically adult set. Skip yoga, put the tunes on the stereo, and posture around your living room the way you did when you were 8 – you remember what that was like, right?

Joe McDermott

Best Way to Guarantee Nap Time

Kids who come to this 9,000-square-foot indoor wonderland don't get bored — they get exhausted. Their parents, on the other hand, get to relax. There's a story stage, slides, a giant purple alligator made of foam, and a volcano with foam lava cubes. It's the perfect place to bring kids 7 years old or younger.

RadiJazz Playnasium
6406 N. I-35 #2200

Bret Brookshire

Best Way to Turn a Kid Vegan

Parents! It's cool! Those peanut-butter cups and chocolate-chip cookies are A-OK! Of course, we can all agree that sweet treats are only acceptable in moderation, especially for hyperactive kiddos, but Celeste's Best treats are made with vegan goodness and without the stuff that gives indulgence a bad reputation. You can find Celeste's Best at local coffee shops and cafes around Austin. Your young ones will never know the difference, but you will.

Celeste's Best

Critics: Food
Critics: Media

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle