In both summer and winter, we get weather that makes going outside no fun.
When you’re an outdoor-loving family, staying physically active on the days when it’s either cold and wet or searing hot can be tough. Bowling and roller skating can be fun, especially for adults like me who were once roller rink rats, but with heavy balls and hard and slippery floors, those activities sometimes aren’t so fun for kids on the younger side.
When my 6- and 10-year-old boys get restless, we are much more inclined to go to an activity like Blazer Tag, where we all get to participate at the same time. They love video games, which is why laser tag often wins out, but this winter, we’ve also been hitting the local trampoline parks, bouldering and rock climbing gyms and even the indoor skydiving place to get out our extra energy.
Here are some ideas to inspire your go-getters when the weather isn’t cooperating:
13265 U.S. 183, Suite A, iflyworld.com/austin
I hadn’t thought of indoor skydiving as a kid activity until I heard that children as young as 3 can do it at iFly. At the three-story facility in Northwest Austin (one of nearly 30 the company has around the world), you jump into a giant wind tunnel to simulate skydiving. Sounds crazy, but kids are actually really good at it.
The wind is blowing between 50 and 100 miles an hour, and once you step into the tunnel, you can adjust how high you fly by changing your body position. There’s a big net below you, but the height was too much for my more-cautious 10-year-old. (And I don’t even think he’s seen “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” enough to have the scene with the fizzy lifting drinks and the wind turbine in the back of his mind.)
My 6-year-old, who inherited my thrill-seeking genes, couldn’t get in the tunnel fast enough. We went through a short training session and suited up like astronauts, which was half the fun. When it was our turn for a two-minute fly, I went first, so Avery could watch me get the hang of relaxing into the wind and letting my arms and legs naturally bend backwards.
An instructor is in the tunnel with you, and once you get the feel for it, he or she will adjust both bodies so that you can fly upward in a circle, without going so fast that you get dizzy. The smile on my face when I pulled myself through the door gave him the green light, and Avery practically darted in between my legs.
Even though he was so lightweight, the instructor was able to help him fly with ease and then, with one arm wrapped around his shoulders, they flew up to the same height I’d just experienced. He was having the time of his life, doing an activity that wasn’t available to 6-year-olds when I was a kid. It’s not a cheap thrill, though. Two two-minute flights cost about as much as a ticket to an amusement park ($69.95), but they have deals if you want to buy four, 10 or 24 flight packages.
1701 W. Ben White Blvd., blazertag.com
Another place where you can get your heart rate up (and pretty quickly empty your wallet) is at Blazer Tag, the huge laser tag arena on Ben White Boulevard in South Austin. The laser tag itself isn’t too pricey. At $9 for a 15-minute game, it’s the cost of a movie ticket, but for the much-shorter experience of feeling as if you’re in one.
All three of us play, and we can get pretty competitive. (Ask me about the time I came in first in a round with a gaggle of 13-year-olds.) Blazer Tag recommends the game for children ages 7 or older, but my adventurous young one started playing as my helper when he was 5. After 15 minutes of running around and pinging people with a laser gun, trying not to get hit yourself and exploring the massive, multilevel room, we are always sweaty and ready for another game when we’re done. (That’s when we start to buy tokens to play the arcade games, and the bottoms have been known to fall out of my pockets.)
Like most of these places, Blazer Tag has discounts during various nights of the week and if you buy multiple games. They also have a ropes course with seven elements that you conquer while harnessed with a tether.
Altitude Jump Park
6800 West Gate Blvd., altitudeaustin.com
There are several trampoline parks in Austin, but this is the best we’ve found. In addition to many hundreds of square feet of trampolines, this place has foam pits that will keep kids 5 and younger busy for hours at a time. You can play dodgeball in one area, and there’s another place for toddlers. Parents can participate, too, and everybody has to be wearing the grip socks that you have to buy at the counter. (If you’re not going to jump, bring a book and headphones and try to steal an hour of relaxation.)
Altitude costs about the same as a movie ticket and half a bucket of popcorn — $13 for an hour and $9 for 6 and younger, not including those $2 socks — but you’ll leave with at least 60 minutes of intensity movement under your belt that will give you a similar emotional high for the rest of the day.
Hoppin’ House, Loco-Motion Inflatable Play
4040 S. Lamar Blvd., hoppinhouse.com
9811 Vikki Terrace, locomotionplay.com
Our favorite “bouncy house place,” as we call it, recently moved from the shopping center next to Altitude to 9811 Vikki Terrace off U.S. 290 west of Oak Hill. Loco-Motion Inflatable Play moved all of its cool bounce houses, castles, slides and play equipment to the new space, but if you’re looking for something similar closer to the city center, don’t forget about the Hoppin’ House, which remains a staple on the South Austin birthday party circuit. It’s located next to Hobby Lobby at the end of South Lamar and has a bunch of inflatables, slides and foam pits, and both places are perfect for kids in the 3-to-8 range.
Rock Climbing and Bouldering
979 Springdale Road, Suite 150, austinboulderingproject.com
121 Pickle Road, Suite 100, cruxclimbingcenter.com
8300 N. Lamar Blvd., Suite 102B, austinrockgym.com
My kids got the rock climbing buzz after a summer camp at Life Time Fitness. The free four-week camp was an innovative partnership between the fitness company’s Life Time Foundation and the Austin school district, and it certainly piqued our interest in becoming members of the massive gym facility in Southwest Austin that has a large, kid-friendly rock-climbing area with auto-belay. Ultimately, we decided to stick to the day passes at the other rock climbing hubs in Austin, the Austin Bouldering Project and Crux Climbing Center, the massive rock climbing gym on South Congress that has bouldering and auto-belay walls.
The Austin Bouldering Project specializes in lower walls that don’t require ropes or harnesses, so your grip strength is really tested, but the entire facility feels more like a community space with co-working, yoga classes and a cafe.
Another option for rock climbing is Austin Rock Gym, which has been running rock climbing gyms in Austin since 1998. The company closed its south location over the holidays, but the north location offers both bouldering and rope-and-harness climbing.
When we’re all tuckered out and ready to “ooohhh” and “aaaahhhh” at something beautiful — for free — we have other options:
Austin Aqua-Dome, the aquarium store at 1604 Fortview Road, is so good you’ll wonder why you didn’t have to pay admission at the door. The eye-catching fish come in every color of the rainbow, and you can learn about salt and freshwater habitats by talking with the staff and observing the tanks. On nice days, you can feed the turtles in the back, too.
Another place that always takes our breath away is Art on Fifth, the art gallery at 3005 S. Lamar Blvd. that used to be located downtown. It’s home to a large Dr. Seuss collection, including sculptures and darker pieces you haven’t seen in a children’s book, as well as intricate, stunning pieces from local and international artists that totally captivate my elementary-school-age kids. If you’re lucky, you might catch a visiting artist working on a painting in the front of the gallery.
Wally Workman Gallery is the longtime gallery in the historic home at 1202 W. Sixth St., and it’s a good stop if you’re downtown for the farmers market or a stroll around the Capitol. (In fact, sometimes we’ll just walk around downtown on a weekend day to give the kids an up-close look at the enormous buildings we usually admire from afar.)
So is Women and Their Work, 1710 Lavaca St. If you get in the habit of just popping into these kinds of galleries, you don’t worry so much about planning a visit tied to a specific artist. The exhibits are always thought-provoking, and even if they aren’t, they’ll spark a conversation with the kids, and that’s the whole point.