2010 Readers Poll
2010 Critics Picks
Best Afterschool Activity

Here's a theatre company that inspires and promotes the whimsical creativity that only a child can dream up. Erin Byrne's focus on encouraging the inventive spirit of a child immersed in an artistic environment has sparked national acclaim. Parents love watching their children in the driver's seat, creating and performing plays and music. Let the curtain calls roll!


Best Birthday Cakes

In the almost 20 years since Russell Milner founded his original bakery, trends in baked goods have come and gone, and Russell's is still top-tier. If you crave the fluffy crumb of this bakery's cupcakes, then treat yourself to a Russell's birthday cake at the very next opportunity. You'll love it so much you'll be having birthday parties for everyone you know.

Russell's Bakery & Coffee Bar
3339 Hancock

Sandy Carson

Best Bookstore

If you want to instill a lifelong love of the literary in a youngster, you've got a friend in Texas' largest independent bookstore. Here, kids get not just a room of their own but a whole store within the store, one with its own savvy, youth-attuned staff; play area and storytime stage for the prereading set; and a cozy labyrinth of liberally stocked shelves in which young bookworms just love to get lost. As if that weren't enough, BookKids hosts author events and book clubs for young readers just like the ones for their grownup counterparts, plus, for kids only, a plethora of storytimes throughout the week and literary camps where kids can delve even deeper into those imaginative worlds they've discovered on the page. Before you can say "Percy Jackson," BookPeople will leave you with a budding bibliophile.

603 N. Lamar

Best Clothing

How is Baby Bugaloo stocked with the hip and trendy wee-sized clothes that can make any Austin baby outshine the latest celeb spawn? It's all in the eye of buyer Kinnison Bryan. This boutique is a must for stocking up on baby shower gifts, and the kiddie events and atmosphere have made it a neighborhood favorite.

Baby Bugaloo
5700 W. Slaughter #220

Sandy Carson

Best Club for Teen Performers

A dedicated South Congress knoll, Ruta Maya fairly sprawls. From Roky Erickson and homegrown hoot nights (e.g. Zeppelin, the Summer of Love, and the Rolling Stones) to the kiddie corner and family-friendly living room, Ruta Maya's built quite the clubhouse for musical teens. And here comes tomorrow's teen: one blond tot at a recent Flying Balalaika Brothers Euro whirl doing an over/under on the coffee table/couch combo in front of the soundboard to rival Nadia Comaneci.

Best DVD Selection

Sony's PlayStation3 streams Netflix – dozens and dozens of films and TV series to choose from. Multiply that by Library of Congress numbers and titles, and you've got the Godzilla and King Kong of homegrown visionary outlets in Vulcan Video and I Luv Video – south, central, and campus, two stores apiece. I Luv is the kind of place that happily recommends Ponyo and Spongebob as cool in their own ways, while Vulcan's nearly 2,000 kid-friendly titles go from The Absent-Minded Professor to Zoom. Educate your mini cineaste now!

I Luv Video
4803 Airport

Sandy Carson

Best Haircut

Now we're not saying we're won over just because when we bring our kids in for a haircut, we can also get beer. But anywhere with stylists who can handle the mutton chops of our teen wolf with as much panache and professionalism as they have for a short back and sides and keep the Lone Star chilled for moms and pops, well, we'll let them loose on our pack's locks any day.

Various locations

Best Party Place

The bipolar soul of Austin cheers for our tied winners in the Party Place category. West Lake Beach provides the chill kicked-back fiesta by the water, with water volleyball, swimming, picnic tables, barbecue pits, and a horseshoe pit. When it gets too hot to even think about going outside, Main Event is a party madhouse of entertaining overstimulation: bowling, Skee-Ball, arcade, mini golf, rock-climbing, and pizza (and beer for the grownups).

Main Event
13301 Hwy. 183 N.

West Lake Beach
2509 Westlake Dr.

Best Restaurant

They say the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. Actually, these days it seems like the cradled rule the world. The cradled (aka children) have spoken, and the icehouses have it. Gone from the list are Chuck E. Cheese's and McDonald's playscapes, replaced by true Austin originals, Waterloo Ice House (an Austin institution since 1976) and Phil's Icehouse (owned by Amy's Ice Creams founders Amy and Steve Simmons). Serving up some of the very best burgers, fries, and shakes to your kids (as well as ice-cold beer for Mommy and Daddy), Waterloo and Phil's are low-maintenance dreams for taking your kids out to eat.

Waterloo Ice House, various locations; Phil's Icehouse, 5620 Burnet Rd., 524-1212

Best Shoes

When we were little, we hated shoe shopping with a passion that was otherwise reserved for our brother on long family car trips. Until our parents started taking us to Sandy's Shoes, we were devil-children lost in an eternal wilderness of kiddie FootLockers and the like. Our beloved Sandy's may have moved to a new, bigger space, but not much has changed in all these years; the staff is still overly knowledgeable about children's foot development, and they approach kids on bended knee, ensuring kids see them as equals.

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

Sandy Carson

Best Sports/Rec Program

Though football reigns supreme in Austin, it’s the baseball and softball programs of Balcones that win with kids. With today’s ticket costs for movies, a family of five could spend $80 on a two-hour blockbuster. For no more than $95, you can treat your child to four months of America’s pastime. Play ball!

Balcones Youth Sports
3106 Adelphi

Best Summer Camp

This tie for best summer camp makes us want to age backwards. Magic, juggling, puppetry, and clowning are four skills that will rocket a kid's creativity and chutzpah sky high once school starts up again, and the Kent Cummins Magic Camp is the place to learn them. For the supersmart smarty-pants'd young'uns, Summer Wonders offers two sessions of hands-on academic courses taught in creative, fun, wacky, inspiring ways.

Summer Wonders
3901 Shoal Creek Blvd.

Kent Cummins Magic Camp

David Brendan Hall

Best Teen Hangout

This cold splash of delicious fun has long been a steady eddy for Austin's youth culture. Here is where young folks of all stripes exchange their teenage angst for good clean fun – in a humongous spring-fed pool smack dab in the center of the city. Beats hanging out at the mall any day of the week.

Barton Springs Pool
2131 William Barton Dr.

Best Texas Amusement Park

When New Braunfels flooded (again) earlier this summer, Schlitterbahn reopened the very next day. That's a testament to the world-class resolve of this Central Texas treasure. Since 1979, the original Schlitterbahn has mastered the art of what loosely translates to "slippery roads." With more than 65 acres of entertainment options, there's literally something for everyone, and the allowance of free picnics makes for a relatively affordable experience.

400 N. Liberty Ave., New Braunfels, 830/625-2351

Sandy Carson

Best Toys

This longtime local purveyor of playtime pleasures is stuffed with enough goodies to fill a dozen childhoods – and not just the toy tie-ins to the latest Tinseltown blockbusters or TV toons, either. Terra Toys trades in playthings that have delighted kids for generations: Playmobil sets, Breyer horses, Brio wooden trains, Papo knights (and dragons!), Gund bears (and other just-as-plush critters), Madame Alexander dolls, Hello Kitty everything, tin robots, dollhouse furniture, board games, puzzles, science kits, and books, books, books. With toys like these and special events such as the annual Fairy Tea Party, Terra connects with kids on their level: with a childlike sense of wonder and imagination.

Terra Toys
2438 W. Anderson Ste. 1-C

Best Video-Game Rental/Purchase

It may be a megachain store, but the employees know their way around a controller, and the used-game section is unbeatable. And when you're stuck in the mall, what's better than a well-placed gaming station?

Various locations

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