Best Afterschool Activity

KidsActing Studio has honed its teaching craft for 33 years in Austin, making it the Grande Dame of local theatre for the junior set. Offering afterschool classes for kids ages 3-18, with 11 locations in the area, the opportunities to inspire your little star are seemingly endless. For this "Best of Austin" repeat winner, it’s a wrap!

KidsActing, 2826 Real, 512/836-5437,

Best Birthday Cakes
Sugar Mama's

Julia Child once said, "A party without cake is just a meeting." And a kid party without cake is just a time-out. The good people at Sugar Mama's couldn't agree more. Their menu features old-fashioned four-layered birthday cakes, just like the ones mommy/momma/mama used to make. And fear not Eastside and Central Austinites – if the original South First location is a tad out of reach, they now have one on Manor Road, just for you.

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

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

Best Bookstore for Kids

Independent bookstores have become the unicorns of retail, as these enchanted spaces are nearly impossible to find. Which is why BookPeople continues to stand out as Austin's horn o'plenty. Open 14 hours each day of the week, it’s home away from home, but with the added bonus of YA author readings and signings (What up, Lindsey Lane!) and storytimes and author visits for the little ones (Hey, Divya Srinivasan!). Between their three stories, a cafe, and enough nooks and crannies to get lost in, this proud Austin landmark reminds us why it's so important to show kids that writers are cool, illustrators can makes worlds with their pens, and books are so much more romantic than anything found on a desktop or handheld screen.

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

Best Club for Teen Performers
Grrl Action at Rude Mechs

The Rude Mechanicals have had our attention since the Nineties, and for good reason: They're creative, spunky, and always original. Grrl Action is a nonprofit offshoot of the Rude Mechs that now has its own workshop space (called, naturally, the Off Shoot). Grrl Action brings together girls age 13-16 from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds to stage their own original work, with coaching from the Rude Mechs. Giving teen girls the opportunity to step into Austin's brassiest performance workshop must be like the theft of fire from Mount Olympus.

Grrl Action, The Off Center, 2211-A Hidalgo, 512/476-7833,

Best Gamer Hangout
TIE: Dragon's Lair; Pinballz Arcade

Depends on how you define gamer: Are you flashing-lights-whizzbang? Or vast-internal-realms-of-the-mind? Sometimes the audience can be one and the same. Our fair city covers all options and plays host to a magical venue (Dragon's Lair) that more than dabbles in mainstay fantasy league play such as Pokemon, D&D, and Magic: The Gathering. But that doesn't mean there's not room for a massive blipping, blooping arcade of Tron-like proportions (Pinballz), replete with vintage multiballers and joystick jollies to keep pretty much every generation locked in a quarter-pumpin' nostalgia coma. Then again, maybe there isn't room. Pinballz is expanding south to Buda, where they are opening Pinballz Kingdom and making noble use of the old Dorsett 221 Truck Stop castle. This is Texas. There's room for everyone. Liberté! Égalité! Role-plé! Hooray!

Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy, 2438 W. Anderson Ste. 1-B, 512/454-2399,

Pinballz Arcade, 8940 Research #100, 512/420-8458,

Pinballz Kingdom, 15201 I-35 S., Buda,

Best Haircut
Birds Barbershop

It's all about foundations. Mumsie or Dadsie may find the most intriguing thing about Birds is that they offer of-age patrons a beer upon arrival. For those dealing with anxious kids who fear the shears, this can be a welcome tonic – to the parent. But essentially that's a novelty of this biz. Remember, foundations. Happily, the be-tatted boys n' girls of Birds snip a mean, clean ’do. And while beer's not an option, they sure know how to put kids at ease, too.

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

Relocated from Downtown to a spiffy new spot in the Mueller development, Austin’s next-gen children’s museum combines fun with forward-thinking. This sun-bright, bilingual museum nourishes the mind with inventive exhibits, classes exploring culture and science (kids will love getting hands-on with water currents, and parents will appreciate the installed blowdryers), and reasonably priced party packages with themes like dinos, makers, robots, rockets, and more. The body gets a boost at the Thinkery, as well: A healthy lifestyle is subtly promoted throughout, from the second-floor “farmers’ market” to the on-site Snap Kitchen nibbles, and the outdoor playscape is so cool, you’ll wish you were still pint-sized, too.

Thinkery, 1830 Simond, 512/469-6200,

Best Restaurant
Phil's Icehouse

Take a trip back to the Wild West at this kid- (and beer-) friendly Austin favorite. Sidle up to the trough, and relax with a delicious burger and ice-cold beer as your li'l cowpokes horse around like Wild Bill, Calamity Jane, or Deputy Dawg, and romp atop the colorful cattle in the playground corral. This family gem is the perfect excuse to steer clear of the big fast-food chains; keep it local, pardner, Phil's has Amy’s ice cream! Also, teach your buckaroos an essential Texas lesson early on: Cows ain't for tippin', your server is.

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

Year after year, Sandy’s Shoes remains Austin’s most beloved childhood shopping trip. Stacked from floor to ceiling with fun-sized UGGs, Mary Janes, and light-up sneakers, Sandy's got what your little one’s feet need to be dressed for every occasion. So move aside, Suri Cruise, Sandy’s expert staff is hooking up Austin’s youngest with the most fabulous, perfectly fitting footwear around.

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

Best Sports/Recreational Activity
Soccer Shots

With football, ahem, “soccer” fever still hot post-World Cup, there’s no better way to indoctrinate today’s youth in the game than weekly clinics that not only get those little bodies moving, but teach teamwork, sportsmanship, and skills to boot. Soccer Shots has been Austin’s premier school of kicks for ages 2-8 since 2007, with locations virtually all over Austin’s parks. And our readers howl, "GOAAAAAALLLL!"

Soccer Shots, 5555 N. Lamar Ste. J-103, 512/420-9450,

Best Teen Hangout
Blazer Tag Adventure Center

Heart pounding: You've just been trounced by enemy forces. Your team members keep getting hit, and the old guy who's playing for the first time isn't helping matters much. You've got to be lithe – float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Back against the wall and scoping a corner, you only have one shot at this. "We didn't see her there!" they'll think for days afterward. They will rue. the. day.

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

Best Texas Amusement Park

On the subject of pure Central Texas realness, the only thing missing from Rick Linklater's 2014 opus, Boyhood, was a hat tip to every good Lone Star State family's annual ritual pilgrimage to Schlitterbahn: Wayward dad makes good with a day at the New Braunfels' water park and comforts kid after too many indulgent dips in the Dippin' Dots. Or single mom organizes a group of fellow moms to rock an 11th birthday for kid and five pals at that resort suite with the swimming hot tub. Much tween flirting with the locals ensues and a first kiss is shared in Han's Hideout, out of sight from the ‘rents. Or single mom remarries and new blended family gets whisked to the coast for a visit to the Padre ’Bahn and witnesses stepdad's penchant for spending days at the swim-up bar. Or first high school job: lifeguard, of course. Cut to kid in business casual helping cut the ribbon at the new park in Corpus for college internship. Epic, right? And a lot more realistic.

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

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,

Best Toys
Terra Toys

What to get your favorite science-princess-horse-obsessed-future-veterinarian nephew or truck-wielding-book-learnin'-future-Pulitzer-prize-winner niece? Terra Toys is obviously a good place to find the perfect prez for these two tykes – but what you may not have considered is that it's also the place to find a gift for vegetarian-and-curmudgeon-of-Scrooge-like-proportions dad and introverted-beachcomber-former-bar-owner Aunt Millie.

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

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