2015 Readers Poll
2015 Critics Picks
Best Back to Cool

Back to school: a time of excitement … or dread?! Everybody wants to make a cute first impression, but not all kids have the time or means to invest when they can barely afford school supplies. This year, OutYouth's Sunday Funday brought together salon stylists, skin care experts, and fashionistas to offer mini makeovers to sexual- and gender-minority youth desiring a bit of a refresh. Up north, brothers Kevin Banks, CEO of Albuquerque nonprofit Dream Big/Kutz 4 Kidz, and Round Rock Police Department Chief Allen Banks banded with local stylists to offer kids free haircuts in a fun fiesta setting (balloon artists, sno-cones, face painting) to ease the challenge of first-day jitters. Kudos to these two groups who understand how "back to cool" can make all the difference when headed back to school.

Out Youth
909 E. 49th½

Dream Big

Round Rock Police
2701 N. Mays
Round Rock

Best Bevo Benevolence

This University of Texas partnership with AISD and UT Athletics reaches out to community kids in grades 2 through 8 that have the hardest time with academics, attendance, and performance. These Neighborhood Longhorns keep at-risk kids in school through tutoring, mentoring, and incentives, ensuring that the kiddos in their own backyard will one day join them as alumni.

Neighborhood Longhorns Program
2100 San Jacinto #312

Jana Birchum

Bret Brookshire

Best Children's Free Storytime

We admit: It’s pretty bold to say one children’s storytime is better than another, as all are wonderful, but there is something magical about a functioning bookmobile these days. Even more so, a bookmobile that specializes in science fiction and fantasy. Storytime is hosted by the wonderful Sukyi McMahon, a mother to a young child herself, and one-half of the owner-operated Fifth Dimension Books. Every Monday morning you can find Sukyi parked at In.gredients on Manor Road, ready to dazzle the little ones with fun, interactive stories. Bring the kids, and don't forget the refillable coffee mug.

Fifth Dimension Books

Best Creative Outlet Access

Founded by Carl Settles Jr., this visionary nonprofit works hand-in-hand with creative industries to introduce commercial art career paths to young people who otherwise might not have access to such options. E4Youth offers programs such as College Mentors in the Classroom to keep students on course, the Youth Media Bootcamp (in collaboration with the Black Media Council, Movement 50, and SXSW) and in-agency opportunities to shadow creative professionals. With these resources and mentors, promising youths are not only empowered with the vision to see themselves as leaders in creative fields, but bring their own special gifts and perspectives to traditionally under-diversified industries.

E4 Youth
4302 Airport

Best Custom Kids' Rooms Murals

The inexhaustible creativity of local artist Andrea McArdle makes rooms come to life via large-scale murals. Though she has bedecked walls of all kinds – garage doors, studio spaces – this mother of two young'uns has a natural knack for working with children and their parents to create a one-of-a-kind bedroom that inspires the imaginations of all who inhabit it.

Andrea McArdle Art

Best Evolution of Teen Empowerment

The internationally acclaimed hometown heroes, the Rude Mechs, were early in their evolution when they walked the community outreach walk and founded the summer camp Grrl Action in 1999. The bold and beloved writing and performance program for teen girls to creatively express themselves and develop that expression into artistic presentation has evolved into Off Center Teens. Teens of all genders are now welcome to participate in the camp that is proudly feminist, comprised of uncensored created content, and focused on experimental theatre. The Rudes' walk has evolved, and Austin's youth are the winners.

Rude Mechanicals
2211-A Hidalgo

Best Free Indoor Amusement Park

Some kids refer to Cabela's as a "museum" full of guns and tons of stuffed critters. Deer? Check. Moose? Yep. Elephant? Most definitely. And did we mention guns? Drop your quarters in the slot and enjoy "target practice" (no real bullets involved) that beats anything at an actual amusement park. Then wander over to the in-house restaurant to chomp down on your choice of a smoked elk or bison sandwich. Oh, and they have some tasty candy, too.

15570 S. I-35

Best Kid-Friendly Theatre

Let the little ones explore their creative side with interactive improv art at the Hideout on Sunday afternoons. The actors guide the imaginary bus, but the audience decides what color it is and where it goes. It’s an hour of creativity and participation just for the fun of it that gets everyone out of their seats.

Hideout Theatre & Coffeehouse
617 Congress

Larry D. Moore/CC BY-SA 3.0

Best Kiducational Day Trip

What better way to excite junior paleontologists than to let them see real animal fossils where they have laid for 65,000 years? Discovered in the bank of Waco's Bosque River in 1978 by two young men, the bones of 23 Columbian mammoths, a camel, and a saber-tooth tiger were uncovered and added to the National Park System as a National Monument in July, 2015.

Waco Mammoth Site
6220 Steinbeck Bend

Best Multicultural Center

If music is food for the brain, Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos has been keeping San Marcans' mental bellies full since September 2009. Housed in the former Bonham Elementary School, the center offers free art, cultural, and academic camp sessions with names like Camp Olé and Mis Pequeños Ingenieros (My Little Engineers). Their curriculum includes piano, accordion, mariachi, ballet, and visual art, as well as science and math tutoring for local youth. Olé, indeed!

Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos
211 Lee St., San Marcos
San Marcos

Best Place for Kids to Get Arty

This paint-your-own-pottery studio offers a wide variety of products to let the creative juices flow. As adults paint beer mugs or dinner plates, the kids can paint their own ice cream bowls, cereal bowls, coin banks, or ornaments with popular characters that include Tinkerbell and Roary the Lion. With an extensive range of paint colors, cute stamps, and fun stencils, kids can let their artistic side take control and express their individuality.

Cafe Monet
145 E. Hopkins, San Marcos, 512/805-2800
4477 S. Lamar #560, 512/892-3200
4700 W. Guadalupe #11, 512/906-2200

Best Place to Hear Austin Bands With Your Kids

The Yellow Jacket is known as a hipster-filled bar with great food and a dog-friendly patio. But if you're a parent who loves music, it's also a great place to bring your kids to begin their indoctrination into the Austin music scene. Their weekend afternoon shows on the patio don't happen all the time, but when they do, they are perfect for the younger set to bop to bands like Sweet Talk and the Gospel Truth.

Yellow Jacket Social Club
1704 E. Fifth

Best Place to Seek Out a Friend for the End of the World

Austin Bat Cave, a kids' writing nonprofit, operates under the novel idea that young people learn best when they're allowed to use their imaginations. For the past two years, perhaps ABC's most popular program has been its post-apocalyptic fiction summer camp, where budding Katniss Everdeens (and Suzanne Collinses) are encouraged to create their own literary dystopias. This summer, activities included a post-flood tour of Waller Creek, a class visit from an expert on insect-based food products, and a presentation from a local expert on Austin's power grid.

Austin Bat Cave
PO Box 4762, Austin, TX 78765

Best Way to Turn Gamers Into Game Makers

Those recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics that kids only have 45 seconds of screen time per day, preferably viewed through a crack in one's fingers, fall by the wayside when you pick up your video-game-loving kid from a long day of learning to code, designing a video game, and engaging in communal play with like-minded gamers at the end of a pleasantly long day. Game Worlds is the perfect storm of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) education, and – bonus – it's one of the most affordable.

Game Worlds Camps
13166 Humphrey

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Critics: Media

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