Put smiles on little faces and save some big money when you visit these off-the-wall Austin attractions that kids are sure to love. Check out everything from dinosaur bones to dirt biking and an amazing 60-ton pile of junk — yep, junk — and walk away with no major dents in your wallet.
What’s more fun for high-energy kids than watching action-packed BMX bike riders jump over dirt mounds in the woods? Not much! Young daredevils on the south side of Austin’s Duncan Park (at 9th Street) spend hours each day working on their skills. Just be sure to remind your kids not to try these tricks at home. When you’re ready for a slower pace, take one of the child-friendly hiking trails, go on a walking tour of historic Shoal Creek, or watch free movies when they’re available on certain nights each week.
Cathedral of Junk
You think you’ve got clutter? In Austin’s southside suburbs, Vince Hanneman turns tossed out clutter into an interesting work of art — in a manner of speaking — in his own back yard. His colorful, quirky, 32-foot-tall Cathedral of Junk includes piles of old plastic toys, signs, furniture, CDs, records, bottles, appliances, tools, bicycle wheels, typewriters — you name it! The crazy mini park has a little of everything. Viewings are only available by appointment, so call ahead to set it up.
Texas Memorial Museum
This museum at the University of Texas in Austin is a dino wonderland for kids. The best things to see are dinosaur teeth, bones, and tracks, but you also get a chance to learn about all kinds of animals, both living and extinct. Discovery drawers have items like rattlesnake rattlers — you’re in Texas, you know — fossils, and crystals for kids to see and touch. In the Dino Pit, kids can dig for cast replicas, while in the Hartman Prehistoric Garden, they get to see some of the plants dinosaurs ate and take selfies in front of a cool bronze statue of a dino called a bird mimic.
Wildlife displays show roadrunners, snakes, pumas, and bison, and the mineral and gem collection has more than 140 rocks, including a 925-carat blue topaz crystal, cinnabar, and leaf gold. There’s a saber-toothed cat sculpture and seats made to look like the back bones from a monosaur, a marine reptile that had a set of super sharp choppers that would have made Jaws jealous. The museum charges for admission, but the price isn’t sky-high.
Museum of Natural and Artificial Ephemerata
The name might be a mouthful, but kids go crazy over this small, in-home, family-run museum in east Austin. You might want to think of it as a temple rather than a museum — a temple to the gross and weird. You can find oddities like a ball of hair from a cow’s stomach, a snow globe collection, a haunted doll, and Patches, the two-headed stuffed calf. Admission is free, but donations are suggested.
Which off-the-wall attractions do you head for in Austin? Share your weirdest favorites with us on Facebook.