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Here are some free summertime activities for kids in Austin

People sit on rocks near a small waterfall and river
Ilana Panich-Linsman
/
KUT
McKinney Falls State Park is free for kids 12 and under.

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Summertime is supposed to be relaxing — but that’s not what a lot of parents feel when those free, full-day learning, lunch and recess centers (aka public schools) close for a few months.

Summer activities can get expensive fast. Even if you skip vacations and summer camps, the cost of little outings add up. For example, letting my two kids bounce around for an hour at an indoor trampoline park costs $30. A matinee movie for the three of us also costs $30 — and that’s before you add popcorn.

But there are a lot of free, kid-friendly activities around Austin. Here are a few ideas:

Pools and splash pads

All city-operated splash pads are open. Most city pools will open by early June. You can find opening dates, hours and locations for all facilities here.

Note: Year-round pools (except Big Stacy) charge entry fees.

State parks

McKinney Falls State Park hosts events for kids all year, including spear-throwing, hiking, watercoloring and checking out bugs.

There are more than 10 miles of trails for biking and two waterfalls for swimming. You can also fish without a license in state parks. There are picnic benches and grills in the day-use area.

The park is free for kids 12 and under. Others pay $6. If the park reaches capacity (typically by running out of parking), it will close until there's space for newcomers. Park operators strongly encourage buying a day pass in advance to save your spot.

You can find events at other state parks around Austin by visiting Texas Parks & Wildlife.

Fishing

If you want to fish in Texas public waters, you will need a fishing license, but kids 16 and under can fish year round without one.

If you want to join your kids, there are free opportunities for adults, too. You can try your hand as an angler on Free Fishing Day, which is June 3.

Also, you don't need a license to fish from a bank or pier (as opposed to a boat) in state parks.

Outdoor movies and musicals

The city is hosting Movies Under the Stars at Metz Park this summer. Five movies will be screened on five evenings after it gets dark. You can bring a blanket, lawn chairs and food (no glass), and get a free drink and popcorn. The movies in this year's lineup are: Minions: The Rise of Gru; Pokemon The First Movie; Thor: Love & Thunder; The Lion King; and Luca.

Zilker Theatre Productions is performing Roald Dahl’sMatilda The Musical at the Zilker Hillside Theatre from July 7 through Aug. 12.

Drop-off kids' programs

Austin’s Parks & Recreation Department runs Summer Playgrounds and Boredom Busters programs. Caregivers can drop off their kids to certain city parks for guided activities. Slots are limited and on a first-come, first-served basis. Free lunch is provided.

Austin Public Library

Austin Public Library hosts free events for kids all year round. This summer the library is hosting chess clubs, family board game nights, LEGO labs, STEM projects and storytimes. You can find a list of summer programs here.

Museums

Thinkery, a hands-on learning children's museum, offers free admission Sundays from 3 to 5 p.m. and Tuesdays from 3 to 7 p.m.

The Bullock Museum is free for everyone the first Sunday of every month. It's also free on the second Sunday in July in honor of former Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock’s birthday.

The Blanton Museum offers free admission every Tuesday.

The LBJ Presidential Library is always free for children 12 and under.

The Umlauf Sculpture Garden is free for children 12 and under.

As part of the Museums for All initiative, families receiving SNAP benefits can get free admission to certain venues if they present their EBT card. The program includes Thinkery, the Bullock Museum, the LBJ Library and Museum, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Sangita Menon is a general assignment reporter for KUT. Got a tip? Email her at smenon@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @sangitamenon.
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