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TO AUSTIN, TEXAS

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The huge Barton Springs pool seems more like a lake.

By Eileen Ogintz
Tribune Media Services

Ryan Libbey, 10, was in vacation heaven.

Lounging poolside at the deluxe Barton Creek Resort and Spa (www.bartoncreek.com), Ryan had a smoothie in one hand and with the other he prepared to dig into a plate of chicken fingers and fries, which the waitress had just delivered to his chair. “Much better than the beach,” declared Ryan, who is from Dallas. “There’s always something to do here.”

In fact, Barton Creek Resort, a short drive from downtown Austin and known for its four golf courses, is working hard to attract families this summer with midweek packages starting at $150 a night (add golf starting at $50), themed camps (it was wacky water week when I visited for a mini-family reunion of my husband’s gang) an arcade, mini-golf and nature trail, spa discounts and ever-attentive staff.

“They’re very accommodating,” said Jeff Thompson, who provided ” daddy day care” for his two daughters, ages 4 and 2, while his wife spent the morning working. The couple, also from the Dallas area, liked that the resort offered a first-rate business center, as well as first-rate amenities for them and the kids. We liked that the pool area was an ideal gathering place for relatives staying at the resort and for those who lived in Austin.A half-hour away at the Hyatt Lost Pines Resort in Bastrop, Texas (www.lostpines.hyatt.com), Hyatt’s newest U.S. resort, Heather Taylor was busy snapping vacation shots of her husband and two young children, as they played in the resort’s “lazy river” pool area. They too had found summer vacation bliss, they said, and they hadn’t gone far for it either: The Taylors live in Austin. “It’s so stressful to travel with the baby,” Heather Taylor said. “You come here and it’s perfect.”

All around Lost Pines were other families determined not to miss one second of vacation fun — floating in the lazy river, watching the kids on the water slide or in the baby pool, saddling up for horseback rides or bike rides around the extensive property (405 acres and an adjoining 1,100-acre nature park!), playing “golf” with preschoolers on the lawn and watching them on the playground nearby.

“A lot of good memories,” said Desiree Wilburn, who is from near San Antonio. Her extended family decided to come here with their young kids instead of taking their traditional beach getaway together. “It’s a lot easier and they never get bored.”

Should parents want to steal away from a round of golf (as my guys did) or a spa treatment (how about a raw sugar body scrub?), there is Camp Hyatt, and by the end of the year a youth spa. But what parents seemed to appreciate more was the roster of free activities conveniently posted on a chalkboard at the pool: Double Dutch on the lawn at 11:30 a.m., kite flying at 2:30, flag football at 3:30, s’mores at 7 p.m., along with outdoor movies. (Deeper discounts are coming for August and there are packages good until late September that include resort credits, 20 percent discounts on spa and golf and a range of other freebies.)

“I could fly to Cancun and end up with the same experience,” said William Morrow, who, after a business trip, tacked on a little family R & R at Lost Pines, which is less than two hours from his home.

(Check out www.austintexas.org You might be able to snare a room for $100 or, if you can afford to go deluxe, try the historic Driskill Hotel (www.driskillhotel.com), which offers a $25 gas credit, 25 percent off rooms and breakfast. North of town in Texas’ famous Hill Country, the Horseshoe Bay Marriott Resort (www.hsbresort.com) presents a summer family fun package with an array of significant discounts, including golf, spa and kids’ club.

If any of these families can coax their kids out of the pool, there’s plenty to see, do and eat in and around Austin. Austin is the kind of place that makes you forget how stressful it can be to travel with kids. Buy some gourmet picnic fixings at Austin’s Central Market (www.centralmarket.com) and sit outside for a free concert or relax while the kids play in the big playground. Chill out at the 250-acre Zilker Park downtown, the huge Barton Springs pool seems more like a lake. Also downtown, rent kayaks or canoes and head out on Lady Bird Lake. The 23-foot-wide Veloway (www.austincycling.org), southwest Austin’s first trail exclusively for bicycles and rollerblading (located in Slaughter Creek Metropolitan Park), is a great place for bikers and roller-bladers.

Watch the bats come out at night at The Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge. There’s even a bat-viewing park on the southeast corner, though you can simply watch from above or from the Lobby Lounge at the Four Seasons. (Sip a “Batini” while you watch.)

Take the teens for a stroll down oh-so-hip Sixth Street, to hear some music — there are 200 different venues and nearly 9,000 musicians living and working here. Take a float trip, as some of my gang did, down the Guadalupe River. (Gruene, Texas, about 45 minutes from Austin, is the unofficial staging area with outfitters (http://www.hill-country-visitor.com/Guadalupe_River_Texas/River_Outfitters) who can provide floats and whatever else you’ll need for less than it would cost to head to a water park.

Kids as young as eight can zip line through 100-foot-tall Cypress Trees (www.cypressvalleycanopytours.com). Don’t forget the museums, including the interactive Texas State History Museum (thestoryoftexas.com) and the Austin Children’s Museum (www.austinkids.org).

Wherever you stay, you’re in for some good eats at places that welcome kids, no matter how noisy. We chowed down on barbecue, homemade bread and ice cream at a family favorite, the County Line Restaurant (www.countyline.com). The kids will love Amy’s homemade ice cream (www.amysicecreams.com) and Hey Cupcake! (www.heycupcake.com), a cupcake stand in an airstream trailer on South Congress Avenue. (The Red Velvet cupcakes sell out especially fast). Guero’s Taco Bar (www.guerostacobar.com) is an Austin institution known for their tacos, fresh corn tortillas and margaritas. One of my favorite Austin eateries is Chuy’s (www.chuys.com). (The kids love the paper mache fish on the ceiling.)

Another Taco, please!

(c) 2008 EILEEN OGINTZ DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC

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