Kids & Family
2021 Readers Poll
2021 Critics Picks

photo by David Brendan Hall

Best New Young Author

Austin fourth grader Ellison Blakes isn’t even a full-time author, but he demonstrates the professionalism of a seasoned scribe. El’s Mirror – the 9-year-old’s debut book, written in tandem with local luminary father, Bavu – describes the challenges of El’s kindergarten year as a marginalized student facing the unexpected challenges of his learning environment. El’s Mirror reflects a style of writing aimed toward younger people, but carries substantive moral weight to influence parents, mentors, and educators as well.

Best Edutainment for Li'l Texans

The Bullock has always been an excellent source of high-quality educational entertainment essential for building youngsters’ Texas pride, and shifting to all-virtual programming during the pandemic can’t have been easy. But they consistently add new content and activities and produce an online wealth of information that’s truly as big as Texas. Notable rabbit holes include the Texas Story Project, a crowdsourced collection of personal tales from across the state, and Campfire Stories, an interactive mosaic users click through to learn about the key groups that made Texas what it is today.

Bullock Texas State History Museum
1800 Congress

Courtesy of Bullock Museum Online

photo by Raoul Hernandez

Best Free-Range Brewery

Moseying up to the Jester King front lawn feels like walking onto a field of dreams. Carved out of 165 acres, the South Texas machine shop that became a homebrewers’ HQ opens onto an expanse as distanced from urban (sur)realities as a W.P. Kinsella novel. Some 17 drafts and nearly as many wines and ciders wash down the breakfast casserole, pizzas (including vegan and build-your-own), Bavarian pretzels, rye sourdough chocolate chip cookies. Sit amongst the fruit trees (fig, persimmon, pomegranate, plum, apricot), a dog-friendly 2-mile hike loop, and the main attraction for the kiddies: goats and goat feeding. Turn the clan loose.

Jester King Brewery
13187 Fitzhugh

Sweetest Relief

Miles and miles of Texas equals acres and acres of farmland. East of Georgetown on Hwy. 29, this sanctuary to “nutrient dense fruit” grows (to quote Jon Dee Graham) a big sweet life seven days a week, 9am-6pm. Strawberry plucking in the spring, corn maze in the fall, compete with farm animals, a petting zoo, pig races, tricycles, pedal carts, zip lines, two huge jumpolines, the tractor tire mountain, and loads more – coming soon, the apple slingshot upgrades to the apple cannon – all come with the price of admission to this "adventure farm," which your kids will repay like an afternoon at the fair, only not one so designed to part you from your billfold. And should the sno-cone machine freeze up at this legit mom-and-pop business, that’s probably the owner fixing it.

Sweet Eats Fruit Farm
14400 Hwy. 29 E.

Getty Images

Best Way to Combine Science and Snacks

Ice cream is science! Hollandaise is science! Chocolate-covered pretzels? Yep, that's science, too. Kate the Chemist, also known as Dr. Kate Biberdorf, is a chemistry professor at UT-Austin and self-described "science entertainer" who broke out at the beginning of the pandemic with a book of at-home chemistry experiments. Follow-up The Awesome Book of Edible Experiments for Kids is a cookbook geared toward children and their parents, featuring 25 recipes/experiments that provide a lively way to learn while creating an edible treat. And with so many kids attending virtual classes for now three semesters, and summer break fast approaching, it’s a no-brainer to put a STEM-friendly kitchen project into your witching hour rotation.

Best Way to Play With Needles

Sure, normally sharp pointy objects and small humans are not a smart combination. But when it’s a structured art project that requires just a few bucks and some patience? Sign us up. Sarah Patterson of Mountains of Thread, a local embroiderist and mom of three young’uns, offers original patterns in her lovely and approachable embroidery kits via Etsy and Instagram. While they’re not specifically designed for kids, the kits – complete with hoops, thread, needle, and printed patterns on fabric – make a uniquely appropriate art project for older kids and teens. From cacti to abstract desert landscape, empowering messages to minimalist linework, there’s art project potential for everyone.

courtesy of Mountains of Thread

courtesy of Brentwood Social Club

Best Piratical Escape for Your Pod

Avast, mateys – who yearns for adventures on the high seas? Well, the pandemic may have put paid to dreams of an ocean life, but this neighborhood coffeehouse is offering something to tide you over. While it's only been open for curbside pickup for the past year, Brentwood Social House kept up with its plan to turn its back patio into a kid-friendly play area, complete with a climbable galleon. It's open now for rentals for you and your pod. So, until the waves break on our bows again, landlubbers can at least set sail in the realm of imagination.

Brentwood Social House
1601 W. Koenig

Best "Dinner for the Kids Too" Brewery

A stellar location in a densely populated drinks desert put the Brewtorium on the map, but its exceptionally creative and approachable beer program kept the yoga moms and lager dads coming back. And with the breeders come the brood, which has to be placated by a celebratory vibe and a thoughtfully curated menu that they can be choosy over. The Brewtorium’s German-forward biergarten theme provides both. Personal hits: the soft baked pretzel with beer cheese and the ground bratwurst dumplings. Plenty of leftover bites for Mom and Dad!

The Brewtorium
6015-A Dillard Cir.

Photo by John Anderson

photo by Raoul Hernandez

Best Steal From the City and Give to the Artisans, Performers, and People

April at Sherwood Forest Faire counteracts T.S. Eliot annually, especially in “The Waste Land” of global pandemic (“April is the cruellest month,” reasoned the poet in 1922). Enchanted from the moment SFF players open the gates to the McDade Shangri-la some 35 miles east of Austin, proclaiming fealty to Robin Hood, a vast array of wonders for the young and old sprawl the shaded woods. Jousting, archery, axe throwing, swordmaking, Nottingham Castle, puppetry, musicals, live bands, a medieval arcade and roller coaster, and a crowning hawk walk and multiple bird-of-prey demonstrations daily populate with families in costume – masked and distanced still, but teeming, thriving. Seldom does Austin’s freak flag fly such a standard worth a bit o’ taxation from King Richard.

Sherwood Forest Faire
1883 Old Hwy. 20

Most Forward-Thinking Trip Back in Time

Preserving the history of 19th century Texas, Pioneer Farms is a step back in time to the days of spinning your own yarn, blacksmithing, candlemaking, basket-weaving … and, facing the disasters of the last year, traditional skills are having a bit of a moment. They offer classes in all the aforementioned and dozens more, and their general store was a unique source for farm-fresh eggs, handmade soaps, and various staples when grocery shelves were bare. But it’s more than an enriching educational experience for the family – it’s also a venue for more modern entertainment. They hosted Griffon Ramsey’s chainsaw pumpkin-carving demo for Halloween and have screened drive-in movies such as Austin Film Society’s imported Sundance Film Festival selections, proving they’re rooted in the past but very much in the now.

Pioneer Farms
10621 Pioneer Farms Dr.

photo by John Anderson

courtesy of Giant Noise

Best Artificial Grass Surrounded by Late Capitalism

Early iterations of the Domain got the high-end shopping right but didn't provide much for families and kids. The Domain NORTHSIDE fixed this. Not only are there multiple options for sweet eats and kids clothing, but there’s a big turf lawn right in the middle of everything. Is it surreal seeing children run and play surrounded by the all-glass Apple Store and an Amazon Books store? Yes. Yes, it is. Welcome to 21st century Austin!

11821 Rock Rose Ave.

Critics: Food & Drink
Critics: Nightlife

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