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#Austin parks

A Day at Mueller, Austin’s newest urban park

If you’re in town with kids, one of Austin’s best locales is the Mueller Neighborhood, home to food trucks, several amazing parks, the Austin Thinkery Museum, the Alamo Drafthouse, and restaurants galore. Centrally located, Mueller draws Austinites (and tourists) from all corners of our city. You will see families, hipsters, soccer games, ice cream vendors, food trucks, and ducks. Lots of ducks.

First Stop: The Thinkery

A first stop for visiting with kids is the Thinkery–Austin’s children and science museum which was the original development within Mueller for the surrounding restaurants that followed. The 40,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space boasts several perennial favorites including the Cooking Lab, the Light Lab and The Backyard climbing area, along with rotating exhibits every few months. There are several water features so if you have small children, bring a change of clothes.

The Light Lab exhibit is always a favorite where children can draw pictures with lasers and view them on a television screen. Other features include a “shadow” machine where you can freeze your shadow on a wall. Very creative, very fun. Browse the current and permanent Thinkery exhibit spaces here.

Top Trip Tip: Eat lunch before going to the Thinkery, or take lots of snacks. There is a snack area with vending machines but unfortunately, no restaurant within the museum. Not a bad idea to take a change of clothes for water exhibits.

Photo Credit: Sandra Castro

Second Stop: J.T. Youngblood’s

To fill up after a trip to the museum, walk next door to J.T. Youngblood’s, a reimagined version of the classic Texas family restaurant. Check your diet at the door, because the fried chicken is the real deal here. For a full Southern experience, order the greens (well spiced) and the mashed potatoes as sides. There are chicken nuggets for kids and cocktails for weary parents. It’s a great spot to unwind following what will most likely be an exhausting trip to the sensory overload of the Thinkery. Check out the menu to get your taste buds going.

Top Trip Tip: Visit during Happy Hour for drink and snack deals Tuesday-Friday 3-6 p.m.

Final Stop: Mueller Park and Lick Honest Ice Creams

Photo Credit: Cara Thibodeaux

Run off some of that food before finishing your action-packed day by visiting the Mueller Lake Park across the street from the Thinkery. A giant mosaic dragon sculpture, “Nessy,” guards the gate. This park has plenty of climbing fun, swings, spinning platforms and is fenced in with benches to give parents a place to sit and watch kids go crazy. Take a breather, you’ve earned it.

Before you head back to the Thinkery parking garage, walk by Lick Honest Ice Cream for a final treat. The delicious handmade confections are an Austin favorite because of their inventive flavor options (try their “Dark Chocolate, Olive Oil & Seasalt” or their “Goat Cheese, Thyme & Honey) and locally-sourced ingredients.

Why you should go: To get a sense of the soul of Austin, check off all the boxes at Mueller Park. Food Trucks, check. Great new restaurant and bar district, check. Plenty of greenspace, check. A great science museum for kids, check.

Rainy Day Plan: If it’s raining on your day to Mueller, you can always substitute a matinee movie at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in lieu of the trip to the park. Alamo Drafthouse is an Austin original with locations now across the country showing first run movies as well as special screenings of classic and obscure movies. There is special programming for families with children.

Top Trip Tip: Stay close to all that Mueller has to offer by reserving our 4-bedroom home in University Hills just moments away by car. To plan your family getaway to Austin, check our website for availability.

September 20, 2018

A far out hike, close into Austin

So close, yet so far out…a gorgeous family-friendly hike near to downtown

When most visitors think of Austin, they think bars, music, nightlife. But just as crucial to Austin’s attractiveness as a tourist haven, is its natural setting and opportunities for being immersed in nature while still within the city limits. A great spot for getting away from it all close to town is the Lower Bull Creek Greenbelt in Northwest Austin.

Less than a 20-minute drive from downtown Austin is the trailhead to “Inga’s Trail” at the Inga VanNynatten Memorial Trail & Bull Creek District Park. You will want a car to get here from downtown. Near the intersection of Spicewood Springs Road and 360 on Lakeland Drive is a gravel lot (when you are near the Marquis Apartments entrance, you’re close) where hikers park. Across from this lot is the trailhead marker that will lead you into the greenbelt.

Seasonal waterfalls on Lower Bull Creek Greenbelt.

Along the trails…

After meandering down and over the first creek crossing, you will begin hiking on a rocky incline that will lead you above the creek and offer views on your right. These are sheer drops of 30 feet or so, so watch your footing, but there are great sightings of the creek from this vantage.

After about 15 minutes of climbing up the rocky path (there is the occasional bench for resting), you will pop out into an open field where the distant hills rise up to look slightly like you’re in a different setting, like a hike in a meadow in Colorado. If you are hiking this in summer, it won’t feel like Colorado but the views of the hills are still lovely. If you’re hiking in spring, lucky you, as the wildflowers will be in full bloom.

After about 10 minutes of this landscape, you descend down and to the right to begin meeting back up with the creek. Watch carefully, particularly in summer for poison ivy lunging at you from the wall of foliage. You’re in nature, in Texas (snakes live here), so, watch where you’re going.

At this point, you can hear the water roaring again, and the ground gets muddier as you are nearing the side trail off to the right, leading straight down to the water. You can see it as you walk. Or if it’s summer and overgrown, you can hear it. Follow the sound. You are looking for a muddy side trail to take you down to the creek. If it’s a weekend day, just follow the dogs and their owners. All dogs love the falls.

The Big Reveal…

After hiking for about 20-25 minutes or so, you’ve found the lower falls at Bull Creek Greenbelt. What’s great about this spot, is that you can swim, wade and play in this shallow rock ledge of a water expanse in almost every season. Cold winter days, no. It’s much too cold. But, on warm winter days, you can hike down here to see the change in grasses and trees. In summer, it’s fun to swim and rest in the shallow water. On a hot summer day, by the time you walk back to the car, you’ll have dried off.

Now that you’ve reached the falls…you’ve earned a rest. Have a seat on the rock overhang, enjoy whatever food or small picnic you’ve packed in (and will pack out), lay on a towel, or watch the dogs play. (This is not an official off-leash park but most dogs are roaming).

When you’re soaking in the sights at the falls, you can see why so many hippies set up base camp in Central Texas in the 1960s/70s after visiting the city’s many greenbelt trails. The real reason that Austin is “hip” now is that it was “hippie” then. So, get out there and take a hike.

Planning ahead…

Most of Bull Creek is fairly primitive and used primarily for hiking, so:

  • Make sure to bring plenty of water and wear sunscreen. Hats and towels during the summer are advisable. You can wear a swimsuit as well if you plan to swim.
  • You are hiking in a city park, but there are no facilities along this trailhead.
  • This trail is not recommended for young children as this is hiking and the terrain is uneven.
  • This is, however, a great trail for dogs. There are plastic bags at the Inga’s Trail marker and be polite and pack out any “donations” your dog may leave behind!
  • Try to hike this trail in spring or before noon in the summer.

August 10, 2018