Austin City Limits With Kids: A Ten Point Plan

Austin City Limits Music FestivalHere at Growing Up Austin, we talk about grown-up live music in kid-friendly venues year-round at But I have never tried Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL) with my kids and I don’t even especially recommend it as a kid-friendly festival. This might be due to my hazy memories of near heat stroke when the festival was in 100 degree weather for several years in a row, when I would drink gallons of water and never need to pee because by body was sweating so much. But, I have nearly fully recovered now and the festival has since moved to October, so it is time to reconsider.

Sparkles and I are going to ACL next Saturday. Here is our plan. Maybe these ideas will help, if you are going with your kids too.

(Ticket Info: Kids 10 and under are free with a paying adult. If you don’t have a ticket yet, tickets are available on Craig’s List or StubHub. Check out the ACL website for details.)

1. Bring One Kid Per Adult, Each Kid Preferably At Least Five-Years-Old, In Sneakers. I’m the only adult, so I’m bringing only one kid. For me, a One Kid Per Adult ratio is more fun and less work. Also, I’m bringing the 5-year-old, not the toddler.  Babies are immobile and manageable and five-year-olds have a reasonable attention span and ability to reason. I’m not ready to try ACL with a toddler. The festival grounds are 46 acres big, so there is lot of walking and we’ll need practical shoes.

2. Pack Light. I’m bringing a backpack with sunscreen, 2 unopened water bottles (unopened is a festival rule), wipes, camera, wallet (you need cash for many vendors) and a cell phone. I’m also bringing a blanket instead of chairs or a stroller (wagons are not allowed), so we’ll be more mobile.

3. Arrive Early. My kids don’t let me sleep late anyway, so we’ll head out early and beat the crowds for parking and shuttle buses.

4. Tag Your Kid. We’ll do this first, so if we get separated later, festival staff can help us get reconnected.

5. Ditch the Schedule. If you were a big music fan when you were young and childless, then this might be difficult. But it I try to get Sparkles to follow a specific schedule of bands she might not like, it won’t go very well.

That sounds like all work, when is the fun going to start? Here it is…

6. Check Out Austin Kiddie Limits. This is a space built with kids in mind. There is the music stage with kids’ bands, but there is so much more: a sandy beach, video kareoke, drum workshops, action painting, a theater project, hair coloring and temporary tattoos.

7. Check Out Grown-up Music. This is our non-schedule approach – we are going to walk around and stay when something sounds good. It isn’t completely random, we’ll spend more time walking around the stages that are more kid-friendly. The Zilker Stage has gospel music, seating and shade and the BMI stage is small enough so you can see the bands up close without fighting crowds. We’ll avoid the largest stages, AMD and Bud Light, because people tend to stand and kids can’t see, unless you are far away from the stage.

8. Eat Something Fun. ACL does a great job of having local, interesting, tasty food vendors. They are more adult-friendly (crispy artichokes, spinach and mushroom pie, jalapeno brisket tacos) than kid-friendly sometimes, but they have pizza, hamburgers and lemonade too. I’m going to see if Sparkles will try something new, she probably will, if she can have Amy’s Ice Cream for dessert.

9. Dance. Sparkles dances in circles with her arms wide open, mixing in jumping, gymnastics and ballet moves. She is really fun to watch. I’ll dance with her too, in that way that is crazy fun but I hope doesn’t show up on YouTube.

10. Leave Early. Leaving early will not be easy. I will have gotten the ticket and arrived at the venue, then left on purpose, before seeing Jack White. You should hear me singing in my car to Jack White’s Love Interrupted, even though I’m happily married and this is quite possibly the most disturbing love song ever written. But Sparkles doesn’t have the stamina for an all-day music festival and the huge crowds in the dark would be hard to navigate. That is how it is with families some times. You can have it all, but not all at the same time and leaving early is better than not going at all.  The good news is that we will get to avoid the super long lines for shuttle buses at the end of the day and we’ll get some much-needed sleep.

Please share or tweet this post if you found it fun or helpful! Stay tuned for my post next week about Austin City Limits WITHOUT Kids and a five point plan for grown-up fun.

2 Responses

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  1. Martha

    tagging your kid is a great idea! I’ve seen people use wristbands for that, and also just a phone number written on their forearm with a sharpie.


    Carol Reply:

    The phone number on the forearm is a simple idea. I like it!


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