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Capital City Cool

From the live music venues to the unpretentious, yet amazing food scene, Austin is typically known for its bustling nightlife, but the capital city offers a host of family-friendly attractions and activities that keep it fun for kids too. Strategically plan a getaway that doesn’t fall during festival season — Austin City Limits in October and South by Southwest in March — and explore Texas’ weirdest city without the crowds and chaos this February.

Getting there:
From Dallas, head south on Interstate 35 for about 200 miles or three hours. Exit when you smell tacos and barbecue.

What to do:
Build, tinker and play in a haven of STEAM exhibits and activities at the Thinkery. The children’s museum has eight permanent exhibits and many events, including Family Nights (with a cash bar and kid snacks). Pro travel tip: Bring a change of dry clothes for your littles if you plan on letting them splash in the indoor Currents water exhibit.

If weather permits, spend a couple hours at the green space, volleyball courts and playground at Zilker Park. The Zilker Zephyr miniature train offers rides around the park every 30 to 40 minutes from 10am−5pm daily. Adults, $3; kids $2. Cash only.

Jam to kid-centric live music featuring puppets, lullabies with a rap twist and dancing at the sustainable brew house and deli Strange Brew Austin Coffee on Saturdays from 10−11am.

Catch the family-friendly performance of Tomás and the Library Lady based on the children’s book by Pat Mora (until February 14) or Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach (February 19−April 20) at the Zach Theatre. Tickets start at $13 for kids and $16 for adults.

Let school-age kids explore Texas history at the Bullock Texas State History Museum with three floors of historic galleries, artifacts and an IMAX theater. Visit during Free First Sundays on February 7 for art projects, performances and hands-on activities for kids — plus free admission — from 12−3pm. Open 9am−5pm Monday−Saturday and 12−5pm on Sundays. Adults, $12; kids 4−17, $8; kids under 3, free.

Tour the city like royalty with a horse-drawn carriage ride. Find carriages outside the capitol or the Driskill Hotel on most evenings. Or make a reservation with companies such as Angeli Carriages, Austin Carriage or Die Gelbe Rose Carriage.

Stay at the recently-opened posh 83-room South Congress Hotel or the bungalow-style Hotel San José, both on iconic South Congress Avenue. The new pet-friendly boutique Hotel Van Zandt offers bike rentals, social hours and live music (obviously) in the quirky Rainey Street district. (Insider tip: Schedule a babysitter through the concierge, then explore the nightlife at a swanky bar nearby such as Lucille or Clive.)

Don’t miss:
You can’t make a trip to Austin without letting your palate explore some of the city’s tastiest food options. For finger-licking ‘cue with lots of side and dessert options (and without the lines of other well-known spots), pig out at Stiles Switch BBQ. The South Austin Trailer Park & Eatery hosts a few food trucks — including the delectable Holy Cacao chocolate truck and Torchy’s Tacos — and a heated pavilion for chilly days, located just north of brunch hot spot Elizabeth Street Café. Phil’s Icehouse on Burnet Road has great burgers and shares a playground with its delicious neighbor, Amy’s Ice Creams. Get a Tex-Mex (and Mexican martini) fix at the Maudie’s location on Guadalupe Street while the kids climb on the adjacent play structure. Indulge in obscure ice cream flavors such as roasted beats and fresh mint or goat cheese, thyme and honey at one of two Lick Ice Creams locations. Or drink guilt-free at JuiceLand with juices, smoothies and small nibbles.