2013 Readers Poll
2013 Critics Picks

Sandy Carson

Best Afterschool Activity

Life Ki-do doesn’t teach the wax-on, wax-off karate classes of old. They build on martial arts with their own philosophy that encourages movement, resilience, focus, and self-regulation. The days are not spent keeping score, rather they are filled with the exercise, camaraderie, and leadership that result in strong, confident kids. Do you get a belt at the end? Yes, but it comes with a unique, life-affirming path that would make Mr. Miyagi proud.

Life Ki-do
3636 Bee Caves Rd. #212

Best Birthday Cakes

The Butt family business bakes a beautiful birthday cake. From fluorescent mastery of popular cartoons as accessories on tasty chocolate sheet cake to the more refined palate-pleaser of the Sensational Layered Devil’s Food Cake, H-E-B’s cakes are sweet and affordable. Whether wedding, tiered, sheet, round, layered, or towered, cakes are a Capital City Bakery specialty. Plus, everything from this bakery is made 100% vegan, from scratch. Beautiful piping and flavors like Blondie and Raspberry Blackout make any birthday a little sweeter.

Various locations | 1110 E. 12th, 512/666-7437

Jason Stout/Devaki Knowles

Best Bookstore

Since 1970, and for 364 days every year, this Downtown Austin book nook has been the spine of imaginations gone wild. Tending to more books than anyone could read in a lifetime – from international bestsellers to a remarkable showing of local authors, BookKids to MysteryPeople – plus almost daily events and a quirky collection of toys, BookPeople’s wonderful staff are on their toes expanding horizons and making literary dreams come true. Armchairs and authors, coffee and classics, and BookPeople and Austin love each other very much.

603 N. Lamar

Best Clothing

Thinking thrifty no longer means last season’s hand-me-downs for your little ones thanks to SparkleKids Upscale Resale. Looking more toward the Paxes and Suris of the world for inspiration, the racks here are streamlined for Pinterest-worthy photo shoots. Specializing in gently used boutique clothes, kiddos can be just as trendy as their fashion-forward parents, without breaking the school year bank.

4800 Burnet Rd.

photo by John Anderson

Best Club for Teen Performers

This is how you play Ladder to Supah-Stardom, Maria's Taco Xpress (Teen Edition): Start at the bottom, playing your best two songs at an open mic night. Make an impression and get invited back to play a 20-minute set as the featured artist of the next open mic night. Then, get all philanthropic playing at a Proper Nang Night (British slang for "very cool") and support music-centric charities like HAAM or the Austin High School band program. Finally, get your own night, all to your gorgeous self, and invite all your friends – from toddlers to fogeys – because the best thing about Maria's (besides the food: duh!) is that it's for all ages.

Best Haircut

Our readers believe a barbershop that doesn't offer beer with a cut is for the birds. Literally. In an attempt to attract women, Jayson Rapaport and Michael Portman started the rock club-esque party environment that is Birds Barbershop in 2006. Those very women they originally wished to attract, whose hair they wanted to fondle, did, indeed, come to Birds. And after looking fabulous while drinking a Shiner – the barbershop's beer of choice – those same women have since become mothers and are now bringing their children into Birds' five local shops in an effort to keep the hipster gene alive. Just make sure Junior keeps his or her paws out of the fridge, ma.

Various locations

Sandy Carson

Best Party Place

A gaggle of kiddos hopped up on birthday cake might start to resemble the titular games of this North Austin arcade, but at least here, there are 13,000 square feet of gaming goodness to keep them busy. It's not just pinball, either: Skee ball, crane games, and modern first-person shooters ensure kids of all ages are having a ball.

Pinballz Arcade
8940 Research #100, 512/420-8458
Pinballz Kingdom, 15201 S. I-35, Buda, 512/523-4080
Pinballz Arcade Lake Creek, 13729 Research, 512/537-8737

Best Restaurant for Kids

Why do Austin’s parents love Phil’s Icehouse as their family restaurant of choice? 1) Playscapes, 2) Amy’s Ice Creams, and 3) beer. 'Nuff said. (OK, the burgers are pretty tasty, too, and who can say no to those amazing sweet potato fries?)

Phil's Icehouse
2901 S. Lamar, 512/707-8704
5620 Burnet Rd., 512/524-1212
13265 Hwy. 183 N., 512/257-8750

Best Shoes for Kids

It’s no surprise that our readers love this longstanding shoe emporium on the north side of town. Sandy’s stocks an extensive selection of high-quality kids’ shoes, from church shoes to sandals to brightly colored (or sparkly or sensible) kicks. The knowledgeable staff is always helpful and polite, and kids love to explore the jungle of stuffed animals while parents enjoy a relatively painless checkout at the cash register.

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

Best Sports/Rec Program

We all know what happens when kids are left to their own devices under the blazing hot summer sun. Luckily, for parents who want to prevent their sons and daughters from banding together to form savage, primitive tribes every time summer vacation rolls around, there is the YMCA. Kids build independence and self-confidence, make friends, and avoid descending into a terrible chaos of their own creation. Hooray!

Various locations

Best Teen Hangout

No matter what era you're living in, teens, you enjoy cheap people-watching. We feel you. Nothing inspires more gratuitous peacocking than a hot day at this natural spring. Whether sitting on your towel on a hillside or taking a dip in the waters (some of you would never, we realize), you can take in the swarthy swath of Austin's humanity. You're welcome, and we're sorry. And on a full-moon night, you can tap into your ever-ready wellspring of emotions and hormones, and howl openly at the moon like the beasts you truly are. Good. Clean. Fun.

Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District
2201 Barton Springs Rd.

Best Texas Amusement Park

Are you a Schlitt-head? We hope you realize, Austin, that you are utterly spoiled in this category – because nothing, nothing, compares to this German-tinged sprawling waterpark. From the hand-built throughways of some of the park's oldest attractions to the spooky animatronic hilarity of the Congo River Expedition, the place is heavy on nostalgia for us. We still remember when body slides came out of the central castle, and the sun-drenched opening of Surfenburg. It's a different zeit, but the same geist. This is about your kids, kids, and trust that the boogers are gonna make instant memories at this New Braunfels institution.

400 N. Liberty Ave., New Braunfels, 830

Sandy Carson

Best Toys

Imagine walking into your childhood dreams and you have a good idea of what Terra Toys is working with. From floor to ceiling, this place is a wonderland of any and every toy you can imagine. Bring the kids to play with their huge selection whilst you fawn and reminisce over all the vintage goodies. This place is perfect for finding unique gifts and trinkets and a great way to spend a couple of hours in pure bliss.

Terra Toys
2438 W. Anderson Ste. 1-C

Best Video Game Rental/Purchase for Kids

Hey Mega Man and Cloud Strife, your pixelated heinies may be long gone, but they're not forgotten at this roost for retro games. Gamers know that like a good novel, a good game is worth playing again and again – regardless of what newfangled serialized monstrosity is currently on store shelves. Game Over is a business enterprise, but it's also a stroll through video-game history – look, over there, a Commodore 64! And gee whiz, check out Nintendo's red-and-black Virtual Boy looking like it strolled out of 1995 (it did!). If nothing else, just remember two things: The cake is a lie, and up up down down left right left right B A.

Various locations

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