Kids
2012 Readers Poll
2012 Critics Picks
Best Afterschool Activity

Maybe the youth of today don’t break into song when they hear YMCA on the oldies station, but they sure do break into smiles at the door. For years now, the Y has been lauded for its exceptional after-school care program that’s loaded with activities for both the body and the brain – everything to make a good transition from school time to family time, whether it’s exercise or homework help. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the award-winning sports and recreation kids programming, with all of the skills and training the little ones need to stretch their fitness goals and explore their outdoorsy, non-Game Boy selves.

Various locations

Best Birthday Cakes

H-E-B is Texas' choice for quality groceries, and the grocery chain's birthday cakes are no exception. Need theme cakes and cupcakes awash in brightly colored icing, featuring favorite kids' characters like SpongeBob SquarePants? Swing by the bakery section, because cakes can also be made to order and totally customized to reflect your true nature. So, about that Baphomet cake?

Various locations

Best Bookstore for Kids

Here are some reasons to be jealous of the kids in your life: They don't have a car payment, mortgage worries, or have to answer the incessant "What's for dinner?" question. Well here's one more huge reason to be jelly of the spawn from your belly: They get to participate in the awesome kids programs at BookPeople. These release parties, kids camps, reading clubs, and summer programs are inspired gems of literary programming. Story times and author signings round out the full pitch. From littles to YAs, BookKids have got it good.

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

Best Clothes

This franchise is the Buffalo Exchange of kid stuff. Buy and sell gently used clothing and costumes for kids and babies, plus gear and furniture for infants. Want to be a green Mom or Dad and still indulge in adorable stuff? Shop guilt- and cooties-free at two Austin locations.

Once Upon a Child
13945 U.S. Hwy. 183
512/291-3336
onceuponachild.com

Best Club For Teen Performers

Parent approved, yet far beyond the feel of a church lock-in, Whip In boasts two stages: an intimate cafe-style indoor space, and a beer garden outside. With marching bands, jazz trios, punk, orchestra, and bluegrass, the music selection is as much a mash-up as this quirky convenience store, Indian restaurant, bar, and music venue. Perfect for the teen who would rather their 'rents listen from inside with a drop of red, or one of the 72 craft beers on tap.

Whip In
1950 S. I-35
512/442-5337
www.whipin.com

Best Drop-in Center

There’s very little that is more stressful to parents than finding good child care — it must be safe, qualified, and caring. To take all that, and make it fun by pairing it with interactive gaming, play kitchens, dress up, crafts, and homework help, catapults this drop-in child-care facility to a whole other level. Not to be outdone by the tots and bigger kids, the wee babes have an extra special nursery, too. Two locations, one goal: the best care for Austin’s kiddos.

Wanna Play Playcare
14010 Hwy 183 N. #535, 512/258-0902
4500 E Palm Valley #100, Round Rock, 512/341-7533
www.wannaplayplaycare.com

Best DVD Selection

Foreign. Cult. Classic. Kids? That’s right, Vulcan has what it takes not only to cater to your most obscure tastes, but to your inner child – or your little cinephile in the making. Rediscover your favorite TV series, do a Muppet marathon, or browse the aisles at both locations to choose from over 2,100 titles.

Best Fun, Educational Field Trip

Whether your favorite is a Triceratops or a Brontosaurus, there's nothing like seeing dinosaurs in their natural habitat. Cruise east of Austin about 12 miles and you're in Dino country. Shockingly lifelike and life-size dinosaur replica statues are scattered on a half-mile nature walk that includes a scavenger hunt and a fossil dig. Both an outdoor museum and a playground, this park is a hit for anyone who wants to climb inside the jaws of a prehistoric beast or plant her Chuck Taylors in the footprint of a T-Rex. It's not learning, it's an adventure. And remember: If you don't move, the T-Rex can't see you.

Dinosaur Park
893 Union Chapel Rd.
Cedar Creek
512/321-6262
www.thedinopark.com

Bret Brookshire

Best Haircut

We are pretty convinced that if we’d had our hair cut at Birds Barbershop as children, we would have turned out a hundred times cooler, and probably better looking. Parents of Austin, take heed.

Various locations

Best Party Place

Stacks of bunkers, ramps, and obstacles climb to a towering total of three stories. Student discounts, annual memberships, and bundled pizza deals make this labyrinthine hide-and-seek spot a pulse-racing done-deal for students and families alike. The arcade of over 60 games, and the recently added Austin SkyTrail high-tech indoor ropes course, help to pass the time quickly between games.

Blazer Tag Adventure Center
1701 W. Ben White #1
512/462-0202
www.blazertag.com

Sandy Carson

Todd V. Wolfson

Best Restaurant for Kids

Hubcaps and embedded mirrored balls are only a few of the visual wonders that make this place a frenzy for the eyes (and palates) of kiddos. And this is one of those places that magically works for both wee ones and teens. Oh, how many nachos did we consume as we skipped class in high school? How many burritos bigger than our torso did we attempt to swallow? And how many virgin margaritas did the waitstaff at Chuy's patiently make us so we could hang with our slightly drunken parents? Salt on the rim and errrything. Now with stock options.

Various locations

Best Shoes for Kids

The expert staff at Sandy's takes your kids' tender, growing tootsies to the next size, and kiddie footwear to the next level. They are educated and knowledgeable, and their service is unbeatable. An Anderson Lane staple since 1979, Sandy's huge selection of shoes and toys makes for a surprisingly fun adventure for both you and mini-you.

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

John Anderson

Best Sports/Rec Program

Maybe the youth of today don’t break into song when they hear YMCA on the oldies station, but they sure do break into smiles at the door. For years now, the Y has been lauded for its exceptional after-school care program that’s loaded with activities for both the body and the brain – everything to make a good transition from school time to family time, whether it’s exercise or homework help. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the award-winning sports and recreation kids programming, with all of the skills and training the little ones need to stretch their fitness goals and explore their outdoorsy, non-Game Boy selves.

Various locations

Best Summer Camp

Wonderous exploration, they're at it again! Gifted and curious kids pre-K to 6th grade love the interactive, hands-on approach of this camp. They get to explore different cultures, times, and species through a varied curriculum that requires them to become explorers, not just students. Themes range from "Amazon Adventures" to "Improv to the Max." Put on your critical-thinking caps for a full or half day, enjoy the small class sizes, and strengthen your summer brain!

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

Best Teen Hangout

The rink is packed, and Bieber is blasting. Disco balls and laser lights set the mood. Besties stop and chat mid-skate, talking about you know who. If this were a middle school popularity contest, Playland would be the Queen Bee.

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

Best Texas Amusement Park

Like the limbs of the gorgeous live oaks that drape the original park, all three Texas locations of Schlitterbahn have rolled out new features this year. Galveston's indoor waterpark gussied up her outdoors with the expansion of the cabanas, and South Padre Island's Schlitterbahn is expanding its luxury accommodations with a new seaside hotel. Closer to home, our neighboring New Braunfels launched the Falls, the longest water park ride on the planet ever, stretching over 3,600 feet in a 25-minute ride loop. The western U-turn of the Falls arcs under the balcony of the new Treehaus luxury resort. Soon, Austinites will have to decide whether to head north or south for their summer "schlittering" with the exciting news of a groundbreaking in Cedar Park, slated to be one of the largest private investments in the town’s history.

381 E. Austin St., New Braunfels, 830

Best Toys

The selection at Terra Toys is an encyclopedic wonderland of childhood: action figures, books, candy, Playmobil, yo-yos, magic wands, pirate maps, stuffed animals, vintage toys, games, dolls, puzzles, toddler blocks – the list goes on and on. If you get lost in the toy jungle, the elves at the store have a top ten list to steer you in the right direction. And let's be real: Kids come here to play. So set a firm spending ceiling, light your sparklers, and invite Madame Alexander to the tea party.

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

Best Video Game Rental/Purchase for Kids

Despite an industry shift toward downloadable content, GameStop continues to be our readers' go-to place to actually, physically purchase new or used copies of the latest titles. Plus, if things get tight financially, you can keep your blood and off-load some of those dust-covered games you have sitting around. Sure beats waiting for your allowance.

GameStop
6001 Airport, 512/467-9902
500 E. Ben White, 512/326-1833
2901 Capital of TX Hwy., 512/329-5851
4477 S. Lamar, 512/892-6905
5601 Brodie, 512/892-3995
9300 S. I-35, 512/292-6613
10000 Research, 512/346-6437
9911 Brodie, 512/292-6529
12901 N. I-35, 512/989-6170
www.gamestop.com

 
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