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2011ReadersKids

Best Afterschool Activity
Young Guns Running Group

photo by John Anderson

Don’t be alarmed by the pack of youths running toward you; chances are you’re just witnessing the Young Guns Running Group in action. No, not a young guns-running group, silly! Young Guns is an afterschool fitness program designed to help kids in kindergarten through eighth grade develop a love of running with an emphasis on form and fun. Fun, not guns.

Young Guns Running Club, 2210 Enfield Road #9, 512/589-2083, www.younggunsrun.com

Best Birthday Cakes
Sugar Mama's Bakeshop

photo by John Anderson

Before our adult palates gravitated toward truffles and saffron, we were all sugar-loving kids craving the excitement of our very own birthday cake. Sugar Mama’s captures that essence with old-fashioned layer cakes that will vault you back to childhood and have your kids blowing out candles, wishing for another slice of frosted birthday goodness.

Sugar Mama's Bakeshop South, 1905-A S. First, 512/448-3727, www.sugarmamasbakeshop.com

Sugar Mama's Bakeshop East, 2406-B Manor Rd., 512/912-6628, www.sugarmamasbakeshop.com

Best Bookstore
BookPeople

Even kids can appreciate that new book smell, the sounds of a freshly cracked spine, the crisp, organic texture of the unturned page. These are integral parts of the reading experience that are slowly being forgotten, but the savvy staff at this Austin staple work overtime to ensure reading remains an art of all the senses, for all generations.

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

Best Clothing
TIE: Baby Bugaloo; Pumpkin Patch

This year, we've got a tie between two fabulous options for kid-centered – and kid-friendly – shopping. Up first is Baby Bugaloo, a hip spot for hip kids' clothing and accessories – and we mean hip, as in it carries brands like Deux Par Deux, Rabbitmoon, and Beatrix, making this a South Austin must-shop for baby showers and birthday parties. And when kids outgrow that couture, those very items will have chance at a second life at your other fave. Pumpkin Patch resale shop has a bit of everything you're looking for – from cribs to clothes to toys and accessories. Plus, these locals care: They check everything they receive for recent recalls. You know that's big in the baby field.

Baby Bugaloo, 5700 W. Slaughter #220, 512/301-3800, www.babybugaloo.com

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

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

Best Club for Teen Performers
TIE: Red 7; Red Eyed Fly

It’s fitting that the winners here are on or near Red River; the area has been a draw for teens since at least the 1950s, when they flocked to the New Orleans Club. Today, Red Eyed Fly offers U18 performers a friendly, almost wholesome intro to club life, and punk cousin Red 7 captures hearts with its gritty mien, liberal booking policy, and CBGB’s-esque bathrooms. Teenage kicks, indeed.

Red 7 CLOSED, 611 E. Seventh, 512/476-8100, www.red7austin.com

Red Eyed Fly CLOSED, 715 Red River, 512/474-1084, www.redeyedfly.com

Best Drop-In Center
Kid Spa Austin

Once registered, moms or dads can drop off their little ones for some active play (art! Internet! games!) at Kid Spa Austin. Unlike other drop-in child care facilities, there's no minimum time, nor do they round up to the nearest hour. Guardians are charged by the minute, so go on, girl! Get that mani-pedi, buy an ice cream cone with bacon, and sit in your car blasting Hüsker Dü. When you pick up your progeny, they'll be none the wiser.

Kid Spa Austin, 5700 Slaughter #380, 512/301-5772, www.kidspaaustin.com

Best DVD Selection
Vulcan Video

From Alice in Wonderland to Zathura: A Space Adventure, the obsessive-compulsive team of perennial "Best of Austin" winners at Vulcan Video are here to make sure your kid gets the stimuli a growing brain needs. With about 2,000 children's films in stock, they may even help you find something even your pickiest future Kurosawa wouldn't mind watching.

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

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

Best Fun, Educational Field Trip
Austin Children's Museum

photo by John Anderson

Sure, the Austin Children's Museum is for "kids" – but that doesn't mean adults don't love it, too. In fact, it's the inclusiveness and playful attitude of this museum that make it a fun and educational visit for Austinites of all ages: Bring your tinkerers, your designers, your young minds ready to learn! And this season, bring your paleontologists; the current exhibit is "Dinosaurs: Land of Fire & Ice," which runs now through Jan. 16, 2012.

Thinkery, 1830 Simond, 512/469-6200, www.thinkeryaustin.org

Best Haircut
Birds Barbershop

Can you think of anyone better suited to cut your baby bird's hair than the be-tatted, dashing, fun-loving, Mohawked young man or woman that you're likely to get at this haircuttery? Neither can we.

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 Party Place
Main Event

In the magical world of kids, Main Event is Valhalla. In the magical world of adults charged with the task of entertaining those kids' overstimulated butts, Main Event is also Valhalla. And it has mead. Mead produced from the udders of the goat Heiðrún. OK, we're totally joking about the last part, but it does have booze and a pool hall that's as big … well, as big any that Odin could conjure, we bet. So if you or your spawn wish to challenge your own Hunding to a showdown of billiards, bowling, Skee-Ball, laser tag, or by the gods' own decree, glow golf, then we say: No need to draw the broadsword, hero, just load up your funcard and get to swipin'. Just don't keep Sigrún waiting.

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

Best Restaurant
Phil's Icehouse

While some kid-centric joints scrimp on the side of the parents – the folks who, you know, chauffeured those tykes to the establishment – that's not the case at Phil's Icehouse. While exciting playscapes and an adjoining Amy's Ice Creams locale are the things of wee dreams, Phil's delicious, infinitely customizable burgers, famous sweet-potato fries, and beer and wine selections make playdates enjoyable for the older set, also.

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

Our readers have crowed about Sandy's for almost every year of the last decade (WTH, 2005?) that this tot shoe-porium is a great place for kids to get those fresh zapatos everyone seems to be wearing, yadda yadda yadda …. But we've got a tip for you adult Austinites with little feet: If you fit into children's shoe sizes, you can make out like a bandit while your amigos are paying double or triple at Nordstrom. Can we get an amen up in here?

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

Best Sports/Rec Program
YMCA

Counselor (to camper): "So you know that you're attending one of the most creative, active, and well-run camps in Austin, with options for 4- through 14-year-olds that engage both body and mind. Right?" Camper (to counselor): "B'duh!"

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

Best Summer Camp
Summer Wonders

Is it any wonder that once again Summer Wonders takes the Best Summer Camp award? It's been recognized year after year for its ability to create engaging academic curricula that manage to excite the often easily bored and distracted brain of a pre-K through sixth-grade gifted kid. Well, "gifted" doesn't stop at grade school. Its new Mind Games program cranks the mental stimulation up a notch for students entering grades six through 10, with college-level challenges and, most importantly, fun.

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

Best Teen Hangout
TIE: Barton Springs Pool; Playland Skate Center

Playland Skate Center   photo by Todd V. Wolfson

We met our first crush in the parking lot of Playland in the eighth grade. We were hanging around in front, waiting for all the moms to drive off so that we could commence with smoking cigarettes and wandering around North Austin construction sites. She had long ringlets and too much makeup, and we loved her instantly. Some things never change. Teens are still navigating their exploding hormones in clusters of 10 or fewer at Playland and at Barton Springs, where at least they have a nice 68-degree bath to cool it down. Watching them live the same teenage dance we once performed is uncomfortable and exciting all at once – just like being a teenager.

Barton Springs Pool, 2201 Barton Springs Rd., 512/867-3080, www.austintexas.gov/department/barton-springs-pool

Playland Skate Center, 8822 McCann, 512/452-1901, www.playlandskatecenter.net

Best Texas Amusement Park
Schlitterbahn

Water babies are spoiled by the sheer scope of dope Central Texas swimming holes, but sometimes we crave something bigger. Something badder. Something hotter, cooler. We need a water park as epic as its name. That's when we bust out the bikinis and board shorts and migrate south to what is advertised as "the hottest coolest time in Texas" and what we call "oh, hell yeah!" Seriously fresh water from the adjacent Comal River supplies the power for the most ridiculously fun and harrowing water rides in the state. Even after they electrified and Auto-Tuned the jingle for 2011, after a day in the sun at our readers' favorite amusement park, you won't be able to get "Schliiiitterbahn (bahn bahn)" out of your waterlogged head (head head).

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

Best Toys
TIE: Terra Toys; Toy Joy

Terra Toys and Toy Joy have their subtle differences. Terra is more classic and cerebral, where Toy Joy is nearly seizure-inducing in its modern, DayGlo craziness, yet both of these wonder emporiums strike the balance between fads and infinitely fun, affordable and uppity, new school and Playskool, pink and blue. Though people get old and gross, these stores' youthful spirits will endure, and they’ll still have what we like and welcome us.

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

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

Best Video-Game Rental/Purchase
GameStop

We're all aware that this is a national chain, but not only did our readers choose it, you also have to give it credit for being one of the last game stores standing as physical game discs slowly go the way of the CD. Not to mention that we cheapskates can't find a better selection of used games to satisfy our need for play.

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

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

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

6 more locations

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