- Kristin Finan American-Statesman Staff
There may be no place like home for the holidays, but even the tightest-knit clan can start getting a little stir-crazy after numerous days inside baking cookies, drinking cocoa and watching Christmas movies.
Sometimes the best cure for too much togetherness is to get out and see the sights, a particularly easy task in Austin, which is brimming with fun-filled activities and big-name attractions for all ages.
During the holidays and beyond, if you’re looking for some ideas that will offer entertainment for the various ages in your party, from your 85-year-old great-aunt to your 2-year-old niece, we’ve got you covered. Here are some suggestions for where to find multigenerational fun around the city.
The family that plays together stays together. This is especially true at Graceland Grocery, a convenience store/Stubb’s barbecue location/playground/live music venue located off U.S. 290 toward Dripping Springs.
Opened a little over a year ago, this large complex with a sprawling outdoor space perfectly channels the Hill Country’s laid-back vibe.
“The gentleman who built the building, he had a good eye for retail,” said C.B. Demiralp, a Graceland Grocery partner. “He faced the building into the intersection, so you can see it basically from three fronts. We’re at the intersection of three roads, to and from Austin, Dripping Springs and Bee Cave. I don’t think there could have been a better location for us.”
At the convenience store, which opens daily at 6 a.m., you’ll find everything from a Cuvee Coffee bar to craft beer to pastries and gas. At 11 a.m., Stubb’s Bar-B-Q opens, serving up favorites such as brisket, pulled pork and sausage by the pound and sides including mac and cheese, mashed sweet potatoes, collard greens and serrano cheese spinach. Place an order, then place yourself at one of the many outside picnic tables dotting the property.
“There’s so many things to do here. Grandparents, if they’re not feeling like being outside, can come inside (the convenience store) and sit down. The kids can play outside, and, for adults, we’ve got a bar out there. We’ve got food, and we’ve got a volleyball court if you’ve got teenagers,” Demiralp said, adding that there’s also live music on weekends. “We don’t mind when people bring out board games, or pets. That’s another thing — we welcome pets outside. You can run around with the family dog. Everybody in the family is welcome.”
Info: 8600 W. U.S. 290. 512-301-8552, gracelandgrocery.com.
While you’re there: The Austin Zoo is located just 2 miles past Graceland Grocery — hit both for a fun-filled winter afternoon. Learn more at austinzoo.org.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
You might think the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is best visited in spring, but it can also be really magical in winter, when visitors can have its winding trails, educational exhibits and interactive displays largely to themselves.
Founded in 1982 by Lady Bird Johnson and Helen Hayes, this 284-acre native plant botanic garden in Southwest Austin has a mission of “conserving, restoring and creating healthy landscapes.” You’ll find 100 species of native Texas trees in the 16-acre Texas Arboretum, 650 species of Texas native plants growing in the gardens and 100,000 plants growing annually in the nursery.
Kids will love ducking through caves, traipsing across giant birds’ nests and following dinosaur footprints in the Luci and Ian Family Garden, and adults and children alike will appreciate a stroll through the bigtooth maples and Texas madrones on the 1-mile looping Texas Arboretum trail. While you’re on the trail, keep an eye out for a group of a dozen swings in various shapes and sizes — it’s one of my favorite things about the center.
If it’s cold, warm your hands with a hot chocolate or a sandwich in the Wildflower Cafe, or head to the Little House, a one-room structure designed specifically for children filled with puzzles, art supplies and activities. You can also get that last-minute Christmas shopping done at the Wildflower Center Store.
The center also hosts special activities throughout the year — upcoming events include an Amazing Family Garden Race (Jan. 14) and Winter Tree Fest (Jan. 28).
Info: 4801 La Crosse Ave. 512-232-0100, wildflower.org. Note: The Wildflower Center will be closed Dec. 24-Jan. 2.
While you’re there: Active families won’t want to miss a spin around the Veloway, a 3.1-mile paved loop perfect for a leisurely bike ride with loved ones located next to the Wildflower Center. Learn more at austinparks.org/parks/veloway.
The Mueller complex
My family’s new favorite tradition is to get up early on a Sunday morning and go fishing at Mueller Lake Park, located in the heart of Austin and surrounded by other things to do when the kids inevitably get bored by not catching anything.
The 6.5-acre lake is easy to access with ample lot and street parking and paved sidewalks conducive to strollers, wheelchairs and unsteady walkers. We usually cast our lines on the top of the steps leading down to the water — this is also an excellent place for little ones to feed the ducks. Once hunger strikes, we take a break for a picnic on a bench near the adjacent grassy lawn.
Don’t have time to pack a picnic? No worries — there’s a farmers market from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays at the Browning Hangar at Mueller. (Note: The market will be closed on Christmas but will be open the following Sunday on New Year’s.) The park also features a large playground and wide meadow conducive to kite flying, games of tag or other random events — the last time we were there, we spent a half-hour watching a game of Austin Bubble Soccer, where participants play soccer while inside giant inflatable balls because, well, Austin. Oh, and if you’re craving something sweet, Bribery Bakery is just steps away.
Info: 4550 Mueller Blvd. muelleraustin.com/thinking-green/parks.
While you’re there: The Thinkery is a must-visit museum from kids of any age, and it’s located across the street from Mueller Lake Park. Learn more at thinkeryaustin.org.
If you’ve got foodies in your life, take them to Central Market, where you never know what you might find, from just-made hand-stretched mozzarella to purple cauliflower to grill-ready octopus. Buy the strangest ingredients you can find, then have fun coming up with a meal to make out of them. Added bonus: The North Lamar location has a playground.
Another great facet of Central Market is its Cooking School, where you can select a class and spend an afternoon or evening learning to create new dishes with a loved one. My mom is wonderful cook, and we have always enjoyed cooking together, so this year for Christmas I decided to get cooking classes here for us as her gift — last-minute shoppers, feel free to steal this idea. Upcoming class topics at the North Lamar location include Champagne (Dec. 30), cast-iron cooking (Jan. 10), artisan bread (Jan. 12) and potatoes (Jan. 28).
Info: 4001 N. Lamar Blvd. (Cooking School location) and 4477 S. Lamar Blvd. centralmarket.com.
While you’re there: Take in the offerings at Blue Elephant Boutique, which is located in the same shopping center as the North Lamar location and specializes in designer apparel, trendy accessories and statement jewelry. Learn more at shopblueelephant.com.
The Bullock Texas State History Museum
You want to go see “Rogue One.” Your Aunt Jenny does not. Here’s your compromise: the Bullock Texas State History Museum.
The Bullock has welcomed more than 7.5 million visitors since it opened in 2001, and there’s good reason for that — it’s filled with fascinating exhibits that may cover anything from the life of Texas music royalty Stevie Ray Vaughan to the history of Woodstock.
One current exhibition that might interest the whole family is “La Belle: The Ship that Changed History,” about the “voyage, consequences, and groundbreaking successes that changed the course of Texas history,” according to the museum. You can even check out the ship’s preserved hull and watch a 26-minute multisensory film about it in the Texas Spirit Theater.
Other exhibitions include “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda,” which looks at the impact of Nazi propaganda on Germany and runs through Jan. 8, and “American Flags,” which includes a collection of 25 historic American flags and runs through Jan. 16.
Oh, and “Rogue One” is here, too, screening multiple times daily in the Bullock Museum Imax Theatre. It’ll be showing through Jan. 19.
Info: 1800 Congress Ave. 512-936-8746, thestoryoftexas.com. Note: The Bullock museum will be closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
While you’re there: Stop by the Texas Capitol for a tour. Learn more at tspb.state.tx.us/plan/tours/tours.html.