Sunday, August 31, 2014

Austin Summer's End

I posted a blog covering our June summer fun in and around Austin. We ended up repeating some of those activities during July and August, then added a few new activities, including our day trip to San Marcos.

If you're looking for more ways to beat the heat in the sweltering Austin July and August, here are some ways we found and enjoyed:

Omni Barton Creek Resort
Look for a good deal on an overnight stay and enjoy a quick getaway.  If you're fortunate enough to have friends or family visiting town and staying here, you can make a fun day of visiting! Swimming, putt-putt, and a treasure-hunt inside the hotel.
View from the pool.
Peaceful atmosphere.
Barton Springs Pool at Zilker Park
The area surrounding Barton Springs was recently renovated.  Barton is always a good plan on a hot summer day.  The only thing that prevents us from going more often is the rule about kids wearing "floaties."  Floats of any kind, including the wearable vests, are not allowed on the west side.  This means at least one parent has to stay with the littles on the shallow east side. We enjoy the west side for the snorkeling, diving board, and swimming, but we also like to hang out together as a family.  For this reason, we often find ourselves going to Deep Eddy instead of Barton.
New signage
Always a beautiful view
Bartholomew Pool
Recently renovated, Bartholomew Pool is a great place for kids of all ages to swim.  The built-in shade makes it comfortable and bearable in the heat.  The younger kids like the zero-entry pool and splash features while the older kids (must be over 48") have fun on the slides and diving springboard. Free Fun In Austin did a great review of this pool.

Crossing the lily pads is a challenge! You must be tall enough to reach the rope.
Travis enjoyed the shade.
Butler Trail and The Boardwalk at Ladybird Lake
My sister and I did a few early-morning, then later evening bike rides on the Butler Trail, enjoying the new Boardwalk.  One of those mornings, I went home, grabbed the kids, then took them back out before it got too warm.  We parked along South Lakeshore Blvd. where the sidewalks connect to The Boardwalk, then rode to the I-35 bridge.  Since the littles were with us, we didn't venture further down the trail, but the older kids and I plan to go back out when the weather cools.  Again, Free Fun in Austin blogged a thorough review.

Looking down from the trail under Mopac bridge. See the slack line?
Glassy water reflects the bridge.
The dam
The Boardwalk boasts a perfect sunrise Austin skyline. 
Similar view down The Boardwalk at sunset.

Back in the late morning with the kids.
Where the trail began before the boardwalk was added.

Hawaiian Falls
Although I would never, ever, under any circumstances go here paying full price for tickets, it's a fun place to visit if you score some super-cheap tickets like we did on Champion Day.  We loved Hawaiian Falls in The Colony (Dallas area) on homeschool days, so looked forward to visiting the brand new park in Pflugerville.  I was shocked at how packed it was!  We waited in very long lines and the pools were packed by 10:00 am.  (We arrived at 8am for an early entry.)  Just keep that in mind when planning your trip.  My older kids had a blast in the Adventure Park, an extensive ropes course with climbing walls and zip lines.

Hamilton Pool
We've wanted to visit Hamilton ever since we saw this list over a year ago.  I had assumed the pictures made it look more vast, colorful, breathtaking than it really is, but I was wrong.  To celebrate the first day of homeschooling, my sister, niece, older three kids and I drove out to Hamilton Pool, arriving at around 10:00 am.  We parked with ease ($15 per car) and made the short, at times steep, hike down to the pool.  The hike itself was beautiful, with plenty of foliage and escarpments to view. The pool itself is more beautiful that I had imagined.  If you haven't been, get out there!  Keep an eye on the website as it sometimes closes due to high bacteria levels in the water.  It was most relaxing experience to just float on my back and enjoy the view.

The "stairway" down the trail.
The bridge crosses a creek and leads to the pool.

You might not realize the vastness unless
you look back and use the people as a reference.

View looking out from under the cavern.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Day in San Marcos

Recently, we visited the day in San Marcos, Texas.  We were going to visit some of the seniors at La Vista Independent Community.  Since we were driving 45 minutes south and since this was our last week of no-school-freedom, we decided to make a day of it!  We had two challenges:
1. We're on a tight budget.
2. It's stinkin' hot outside.

The boat in the glassy spring.
As much as we swam in the cold, crystal-clear springs in Austin, we figured we would pay homage to the source of all of our cool summer fun. The Groupon for the boat tour made it a perfect option for us. 

We arrived at the sweeping property of The Meadows Center and pulled up to the building advertising the glass-bottom boat.  We were able to hop on the very next boat with a 10:00 launch time.  It was breezy and cool enough at 10:00 that we were very comfortable throughout the 30-minute tour.  My kids, ages 5 to 14, totally enjoyed it as much as I did.

View from the water.

Tian is checking out the spring floor.

Travis kept his eye out for turtles.

We could see the water springing up from under the sand.

College students guide the tours with lots of interesting info!

Specially-certified SCUBA divers keeping the springs clean.

Touring the wetlands. A small exhibit is set up inside the screened room.

After the boat tour and walk, it was getting very hot out, so we headed inside to the (free!) aquarium.  It's small, but has plenty of creatures, ice-cold water fountains, restrooms and air conditioning.

In the aquarium, we met a blind salamander.

Next stop: McDonald's! (What?!)
It was just before noon when we had spent enough time touring The Meadows Center. Our plan had been to play at Children's Park, but the outdoor temps were not comfortable, so we went to the McDonald's indoor playground and each got a dollar drink.  After playing and cooling off, we ate our picnic lunch in the SUV, then drove to check out the fish hatchery.  There is no information about days and times of tours online, but upon arriving at the hatchery, we saw a hand-written sign posted announcing that tours were only given during a certain hour on Tuesdays and Fridays.  What we were able to see from our SUV looked interesting enough that we will call ahead (phone number in link above) and plan a tour this fall.  

Next stop: San Marcos Library
After lunch, we still had sometime to kill, so we went to San Marcos library.  Surrounding the library is a sculpture garden (we only found one sculpture) and a nice skate park.  This is another spot on our list to visit during a cooler month.  The library was colorful, open, and most importantly, cool!

Searching for hidden objects within the illustrations.
Next stop: La Vista
San Marcos is home to a unique retirement community for Deaf and hard-of-hearing seniors.  We have been wanting to visit for well over a year, but never got down there.  Thanks to our friends inviting us out, we finally made it!  What a beautiful sight to behold!  After visiting a few Deaf seniors living isolated in various living centers, it was such a nice treat to see these Deaf people living in community, enjoying each other, communicating effortlessly. The residents and staff are all Deaf and/or fluent in ASL.  It reminded me a lot of where my hearing grandma lived, except the people are Deaf.  One resident informed me that Travis was the first Deaf Chinese person she had ever met! We'll brush up on our card games and Mexican Train and go back next week.
Our friend Shelly, a visitor who invited us out, helping Travis play a sneaky card!

Final stop: Rio Vista Falls, San Marcos River
Jumping into icy-cold water never felt so good!
See Kenzie?
You could easily make an entire day visiting this one (free!) spot.  With lots of shade, a nearby playground area, chilly, clear water, swift waters in some places and nice, calm waters in others, it's the perfect place for all ages in our family.  If you go with your littles, make sure they wear their "floaties" or a life vest in the falls area, even if they can swim.  The current picks up suddenly and moves fast!  We didn't have tubes, but after visiting this spot and the Comal River in New Braunfels, we plan to invest in some for next summer.   Even without tubes, the older Brownies had a blast jumping from the bridges and floating sans tube down the falls. The boys and I stuck to calmer waters and appreciated the drop in temperature.
Technically, our last stop was our "splurge," picking up mini Blizzards on the way home.  The boys fell right to sleep on the drive and we finally crashed at the house at 6:00!

$$ Breakdown of our day $$
-Glass-bottom boat Groupon for 6: $33;
-Aquarium and Wetlands Walk: free;
-McDonald's Playground: $6.50 for our drinks;
-Library: free;
-Visiting LaVista: priceless;
-San Marcos River: free;
-Ice cream splurge: $15.
TOTAL: $54.50 plus gas and a packed lunch isn't too bad for such a fun-filled day. I can't think of anyone I'd rather be with than my Brownies. It only could have been better if Ken had come.  We will snag him for next time!
We can't wait to do more exploring here-and-there between Austin and San Marcos when we go to visit La Vista.  If you live around Austin or San Antonio, it would be worth your drive to visit San Marcos. I know we only scratched the surface.

A sweeping view of the falls. There are three you follow downstream. The Brownies went over and over and over again.