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Best Afterschool Activity
TIE: YMCA; KidsActing

Kids need physical and emotional space to grow and play, and busy parents may not be able to pick their bundles of boogers up from school every day. YMCA Austin's afterschool care program gives kiddos a good dose of each, while helping parents stay on the job. Concentrating on keeping kids healthy (in all aspects of their lives and schooling) is what the YMCA is all about. If your kid has the drama bug, no better place to foster that talent than Austin mainstay KidsActing. Tiny thespians can act, dance, and sing in original KidsActing productions scored by Austin-based musicians or Broadway's best. Or if your daughter or son seems like a budding theatre techie, there are classes for that, too! Enrollment in both programs is limited, so best sign up as early as possible.

YMCA Camps, 2121 E. Sixth, 512/236-9622,

KidsActing, 2826 Real, 512/836-5437,

Best Birthday Cakes
Lucy's Cakes

Bon voyage. Adios. "So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye." Vaya con Dios. Good day, and we love you, Lucy's Cakes. Yes, we hate to be the bearer of bad tidings (Don't shoot the messenger!), but this classic VIP of "Best of Austin" is calling it a day in the cake industry, at least here in Austin. Its sister cake maker is still rocking it in San Antonio, but no more local Best Birthday Cakes, Custom Cakes, Cake Decorators, or other such prestigious nods … unless, of course, you want to make that drive down to Alamo City.

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

Best Bookstore

Mind-boggling selection coupled with innovative programs such as literary camps that re-create fantastical worlds and spectacular book launch parties have made BookPeople's children's section, BookKids, a template for independent bookstores nationwide. Such programming empowers kids to find both the challenges and solace in reading, and as Martha Stewart is wont to say: It's a good thing.

BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar, 512/472-5050,

Best Clothing
Pumpkin Patch Children's Resale

photo by Jana Birchum

It's hard to imagine anyone who goes through clothes faster than a baby does. Clothes, toys, cribs, bedding, and every other possible accessory seem to become outdated as quickly as last week's arugula. They pile up at an exasperating pace while you're spending a fortune keeping up with baby's new needs. Stop. Just stop. Gather your wits, along with all of baby's outgrown but clean, serviceable necessities, and take yourself to the Pumpkin Patch, where you will not only find great deals on used items but can also bring in your own items for credit. Oh, baby!

Pumpkin Patch, 2324 S. Lamar, 512/804-2008,

Pumpkin Patch (Anderson), 2945 W. Anderson, 512/533-9135,

Best DVD Selection
Vulcan Video

photo by Jason Stout

Somewhere near you, a kid is crying out for pre-Kurosawa cinematic sustenance. Sure, cineaste that you are, you could spin Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia on the DVD babysitter, but ask yourself this: Do you really want 10-year-olds on soda jags mainlining Peckinpah and Oates' existential nihilism when they'd much rather be catching a ride on My Neighbor Totoro's cat bus? Or giggling all Seussian with The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T? Nuh-uh. You want – and infinitely more important, they need – the vast library of kidhood awesomeness that Vulcan Video has taken great care to amass. From Harryhausen's Argonauts to The Brave Little Toaster, and from the original, superior Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory to Felix the Cat, Vulcan has whatever your progeny craves mostest. (Just be sure you don't mistakenly snag a copy of Wonder Showzen.)

Vulcan Video, 100-A North Loop, 512/478-5325,

Vulcan Video, 4411 Russell, 512/326-2629,

Best Haircut
Birds Barbershop

Considered by Elle magazine to be among the Top 100 salons in the country, the barbers at Birds can laugh at being the only barbers on that vaunted list of stylists. Perhaps it's been Birds' phenomenal growth, or maybe it's the very reasonable prices, but Birds has landed all over the city and isn't about to let us out of its talons anytime soon. Walk on in – no appointment necessary – and let the birds at Birds show you how to fly right.

Birds Barbershop, 2110 S. Lamar, 512/442-8800,

Birds Barbershop, 6800 Burnet, 512/454-1200,

Birds Barbershop, 1107 E. Sixth, 512/457-0400,

4 more locations

Best Party Place
Pump It Up

photo by John Anderson

Have you ever seen an unhappy child bouncing in an inflatable castle? We thought not. That may be why Pump It Up takes this category. Inflatable forts are its forte! The helpful and friendly staff work to create the party of your kid's dreams. Pizza, goodie bags, and inflatables out the wazoo. Hallelujah! The best part: It's all indoors! Climate-controlled! So you and your little ones won't have to worry about getting burned by hot vinyl. Now take off your shoes and get to jumpin'.

Pump It Up, 9330 United #180, 512/832-1110,

Best Restaurant
Phil's Icehouse

With an extensive menu for the young ones, it's no wonder Phil's Icehouse wins the Best Restaurant in the Kids section. The fact that it's right up next to Amy's Ice Creams might help, too. The outdoor playscape is irresistible, and the cowboy motif has enchanted children for centuries. Oh, and the food? Mmmmmm.

Phil's Icehouse, 5620 Burnet Rd., 512/524-1212,

Phil's Icehouse, 2901 S. Lamar, 512/707-8704,

Phil's Icehouse, 13265 Hwy. 183 N., 512/257-8750,

Best Shoes
Sandy's Shoes

The short person in your life won't mind this back-to-school errand, since the great assortment of toys, puzzles, games, watches, and backpacks will make you forget why you came. Snap out of it, and find every conceivable New Balance style, Mary Janes from Nina, and Crocs in every color and wee size.

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

Best Sports/Rec Program

“It’s not whether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.” Living by those words is what has pushed both these institutions past mere gym status and straight to the top of your love list. YMCA is teaming up with Austin’s Active Life to help kids understand what it means to be healthy, while West Austin Youth Association has committed to its goal of positive support for every kid, not just the fastest and strongest. Together, they mean we all win.

Best Summer Camp
Summer Wonders

Dear Mom, Monsters, myths, sculptures, dogs, meteorology, playing with food, music, reading, and green energy! Finally a summer camp that lets me be a kid and honors my intellect. This is everything school should be. Can I stay all year? Pleeeeease, Your smartypants kid P.S. Write back soon!

Summer Wonders, 3901 Shoal Creek Blvd., 512/206-4070,

Best Teen Hangout
Barton Springs

photo by Jana Birchum

Most Central Texas upbringings are largely based on aquatic pastimes. In Wimberley, all the kids hang out at Blue Hole. In San Marcos, it's Sewell Park. And in Austin, the ultimate place to be when underage and not in class is Barton Springs. Yes, they may see a boob or two. They may be inspired by a wild and crazy fashion statement or hear really crappy guitar and hand drums. These are more than acceptable in exchange for a safe place for young adults to keep cool, out of their parents' hair, and in some sweet, wholesome, spring-fed goodness.

Barton Springs Pool, 2201 Barton Springs Rd., 512/867-3080,

Best Texas Amusement Park

photo by Sandy Carson

New Braunfels is best known for three things: Natural Bridge Caverns, the Gristmill, and Schlitterbahn Waterpark. The Comal River's love child, which has won World's Best Waterpark time and again and despite tough competition, comes out clearly in first yet again for 2009. Rides like the Master Blaster and the Der Bahn Speed Slides along with the other endless tube chutes, slides, and pools keep this water lagoon on top. Be prepared for an evening of recuperation after a soggy day at this most amusing park, because the sun and fun will wipe you out harder than Surfenburg!

Schlitterbahn, 381 E. Austin St., New Braunfels, 830/625-2351,

Schlitterbahn, 33261 State Park Road 100, South Padre Island, 956/772-7873,

Schlitterbahn, 2026 Lockheed, Galveston, 409/770-9283,

Schlitterbahn, 14353 S. Padre Island Dr., Corpus Christi,

Best Toys
TIE: Toy Joy; Terra Toys

Sure, you can take the kids, they'll be spellbound for hours, but sneak over to Terra Toys by yourself to stimulate your own cerebellum or to find a silicone likeness. For those near campus, check out the smiles behind the aprons at Toy Joy. It's overrun during the holidays for good reason, so we pace ourselves and go all year 'round for the best in Sanrio (Hello Kitty and beyond), Japanese candy, David Lynch-ian Chinese bird art, and plastic jewelry, followed by sweet vegan brain freeze in the back room.

Toy Joy, 403 W. Second, 512/320-0090,

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

Best Video-Game Rental/Purchase
Game Over Videogames

Owner David Kaelin started as the sole employee of this experiment in gaming nostalgia. And the experiment continues with three locations and a slew of knowledgeable employees. Still have that old Nintendo or TurboGrafx 16? Game Over has a selection that will give you a sore throat from saying, "I remember that game." Its Classic Game Fest earlier this summer made it clear that all we need is a big, outdoor screen and an Atari to have a good time.

Game Over Videogames, 911 W. Anderson #106, 512/454-4263,

Game Over Videogames, 110 N. I-35 Ste. 200-A, Round Rock, 512/246-6837,

Game Over Videogames, 3005 S. Lamar Ste. B-105B, 512/326-4263,

Game Over Videogames, 1504 Aquarena Springs Dr. #110, San Marcos, 512/878-4684,

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