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Tips for Austin City Limits with Kids

A Local’s Guide to Austin City Limits with Kids

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The Austin City Limits (ACL) music festival is set to take over Austin literally in a matter of days. Weekend #1 is September 30 to October 2; Weekend #2 is October 7-9. Are you ready for Austin City Limits with kids?

The festival takes place in Zilker Park, which happens to be a quarter-mile from my home near downtown Austin. Now in its 15th year, Austin City Limits is a favorite with many of my neighbors who brave the crowds with kids in tow and still manage to have a fantastic time. With kids under 10 entering the festival for free (with a paid ticket holder), why not give Austin City Limits with kids a try?

I crowd-sourced among my hipster South Austin friends to bring you the best insider tips to enjoying yourself at Austin City Limits with kids. Here are 7 great tips for going to ACL with kids:

1. Getting there (Isn’t) Half the Fun

Most of my neighborhood friends who attend Austin City Limits with kids walk or bicycle down the hill to Zilker Park. If you are coming from out of town and were lucky enough to score a hotel room downtown, do yourself a favor and take the free shuttle that runs to Austin City Limits from downtown (4th and Guadalupe) from 10 am to 11 pm.

Another option to get to Zilker Park from downtown is by bicycle. You can use Austin bcyle, but keep in mind that helmets are not provided. Another fun option that your kids will love is taking a pedicab. Yet another option is arranging for a taxi or car service to take you to one of the designated drop-off spots.

2. The Early Bird Gets the Worm

The festival grounds open at 11 am, and earlier in the day Zilker Park will be a lot less crowded. You can find a nice shaded spot, enjoy the (hopefully) cooler morning temperatures and shorter lines for food at ACL Eats. You can also check out the booths set up by Austin nonprofits like the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, a great local organization that helps Austin’s musicians access health care services.

Early in the day, Austin Kiddie Limits with its family-friendly musical acts will be in full swing, operating from 11 am to 7 pm in its new location at a shady spot in the park. In addition to a full musical line-up (and a quiet place to change or nurse your baby), Austin Kiddie Limits offers kids the chance to get a punk hairdo, learn to beat box, bang on bongo drums or simply play in the sand. One friend suggested using time at Austin Kiddie Limits as a carrot for good behavior…brilliant thinking!

3. Pack the Ultimate Backpack

Unframed backpacks are welcome at Austin City Limits, but be prepared for it to be inspected. Food is technically not allowed, but there’s no harm in strategically packing a few healthy snacks for you and your kids. You are allowed to bring in two sealed bottles of water.

A great way to keep you and your kids hydrated throughout the day is to use a Camelback or Osprey backpack. I recommend the slightly larger versions that have room to store kid-friendly essentials like wet wipes, tissues, non-aerosol sunscreen, ear plugs, rain gear, glow sticks if you plan on staying at night and a bandana or two (too many uses to list!).

If you don’t have a Camelback, bring a refillable water bottle to fill up at the free water stations located throughout Zilker Park. If you are new to Austin, don’t underestimate the lethal combination of heat and the sun. You simply need to drink plenty of water, especially if you are over 21 and drinking alcohol!

4. Tag your Kid…but have a back up plan

Absolutely take advantage of the free “Tag a Kid” service located at Austin Kiddie Limits where the staff will put a wristband on your little one with your cell phone number. However, be aware that the ACL staff may not be able to reach you. One of the hippest moms I know reminded me that cell phones may not always have service because of the huge volume of people who descend on Zilker Park.

Talk to your kids about what to do if they can’t find you and who they should ask for help, such as a uniformed ACL staff member or a police officer. Designate a meeting spot like the “Tag a Kid” booth or the medical tent. Mark your designated meeting spot on a paper map and put it in your child’s pocket. Your best bet is to stay close together and take turns with your spouse, partner or friends on keeping close tabs on your little ones so that you don’t lose them in the crowds.

5. Set up Base Camp

One of my mom friends suggested setting up a base camp (ideally in the shade) away from the main stages. (There are eight stages in all.) If you have older kids and are comfortable letting them roam around on their own, bring a pole with a flag so they will know where to find you. Bring blankets or lightweight foldable chairs.

Another neighbor and friend who goes to Austin City Limits every year with her three kids also recommends taking along a lightweight stroller, even if you think your child has outgrown it. Not only will your little one probably nod off at some point, but your family will also benefit from the extra storage space. (Wagons are not allowed and neither are coolers.)

6. Take a Break…outside the Park

Wristband holders are allowed to exit and enter the festival several times per day. Although you will have plenty of company, head on over to Barton Springs Pool and take a dip in the 68° F waters. Your body temperature will thank you!

Although Austin City Limits has ample food options, the lines can be long. If you are craving Tex-Mex, local favorite Chuy’s will undoubtedly be packed, but at least there’s air conditioning. Another kid-friendly option is The Picnic, a collection of food trucks with shaded outdoor seating and real bathrooms.

7. Make it Home Before Dark

Sure the headliners like Radiohead usually start playing after 8 pm, but the consensus among my friends is that you may want to pack it up and leave before the crowds get even bigger and the hard core partying begins. Another option proposed by a friend is to arrange for a sitter to meet you at a designated spot in the early evening so your kids can get home and you can enjoy the rest of the evening.

If you have teens, I recommend keeping them close after dark, but that’s a personal choice. Smoking of any kind (except e-cigarettes) is technically prohibited at Austin City Limits, but you (and your kids) will no doubt see and smell a lot of marijuana. Taking a teen to Austin City Limits is a good time to have a frank discussion about drinking and drugs since they could very likely be offered both.

Take note: Hotel rooms book up months in advance for ACL weekends. If you are coming to Austin City Limits with kids, try and book a room downtown with easy access to the shuttle service. Hilton Austin at 500 East 4th Street (about six blocks East of the free shuttle to ACL) has newly renovated rooms and a great pool on the 8th floor.

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A self-proclaimed Jersey Girl (with a soft spot for Jon Bon Jovi), Amy currently resides in Austin, Texas with her husband and 11-year old daughter. She picked…

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