October is here, and for live music lovers from around the world, October in Austin means the Austin City Limits Music Festival. For two weekends our airport is bustling and Zilker Park is overflowing with happy festivalgoers. Some people assume ACL isn’t a place for kids, but over the years the Austin Parks Foundation has worked hard to make the festival an event that your whole family can enjoy. For both weekends one and two, the festival boasts kid-friendly activities, children’s performers and an area deemed “Austin Kiddie Limits.” Each adult with a ticket (wristband) can bring in two kids, eight and under for free. But what do you need to know before you head to Zilker? In order to stay safe and have fun, here are Austin Family’s top 10 tips for taking kids to Austin City Limits Music Festival.
Ear protection is important at any age but especially for little ones. Before you go to the festival, invest in a pair of high-quality noise-canceling headphones for your child. Dr. Michelle Carter, an Austin-based audiologist, says there are plenty of cute options for kids of all ages and they do not need to be bulky or uncomfortable to stay on. Options range from small in-ear foam buds to headphones. Says Dr. Carter. “Last resort, if you forget your hearing protection put a small piece of napkin in your ears. Anything is better than nothing!”
Plan to Hydrate
If you don’t want to lug around your kid’s water bottle all day or buy disposable ones at the festival, consider investing in a hydration backpack. The festival has hydration stations so you can refill your water bottles or backpacks throughout the day.
Leave the Snacks at Home
Unfortunately, ACL does not allow outside food or drinks other than water. Thankfully, there are plenty of food stalls, including many Austin favorites to enjoy. If you’re worried about dietary restrictions the festival does allow outside food for individuals with medical dietary restrictions.
Bring a Blanket
Some families pick one spot at the beginning of the day to set up camping chairs and hang out. However, if you’re not planning to leave someone in charge of your chairs all day, a picnic blanket will be your best friend. A lightweight blanket or sheet is easy to carry in a backpack and spread out when you’re ready to get off your feet.
Sun and Dust Protection
Even though the calendar says “October,” fall in Austin is still hot and mostly dry with the average high over 80. ° Apply sunscreen to yourself and your kids regularly and sit in the shade as often as possible. The park can get dusty with so many festivalgoers trampling the grass, so consider bringing facemasks or scarves for protection against inhaling too much dust.
Make a Plan
Just like any outing with kids, having a plan is important before you head to ACL. Decide beforehand where your family will eat lunch or whether you will go home for a mid-day break. If you are dead set on seeing one of the evening headliners, consider taking your kids home and hiring a babysitter for the evening. Keep in mind the festival allows ticketholders to leave and re-enter only twice during the day.
Charge Your Devices
Charge your smartphones and watches before you leave the house or grab a portable charger on your way out the door. ACL has portable chargers available to rent, but there are a limited number.
Know What is Prohibited
There is nothing worse than getting turned away at the gates or tossing something you love because that item is prohibited. For example, only non-aerosol containers of sunscreen less than 3.4 ounces are allowed. The festival website has a long list of acceptable and prohibited items. We recommend checking the list before you head to the park.
About 75,000 people attend ACL each day. With such a large crowd it is important to talk to your kids about safety and what to do if they get lost. The festival now requires children eight and under to register for a “tag-a-kid” wristband before entry. This free wristband not only serves as your child’s ticket but will help festival staff reunite you and your child if you get separated. Check out the festival website for details about how to register your child prior to the festival.
Check Out Austin Kiddie Limits
The family entrance to the festival is right by Austin Kiddie Limits, so we recommend entering there. At Austin Kiddie Limits you’ll find family-friendly music and other fun programming geared toward kids of all ages. What can you expect from Austin Kiddie Limits in 2023?
Food: This year you’ll find yummy probiotics from Lifeway Kefir and GoodPops frozen treats.
Performers: Your kids can sing and dance along to performers like Q Brothers, Sonia De Los Santos, Ralph’s World and School of Rock. Check the daily schedule to make sure you catch your kid’s favorite bands.
Arts and Crafts: Kids can tap into their creative side with personalized AKL buttons from Café Monet Art and Clay studio and DIY beaded keychains from Leap of Joy.
Activities: There will be no shortage of fun activities at Austin Kiddie Limits this year. Hip-HopHouseParty.com and the Austin Kiddie Limits Drum Zone are offering music lessons and space to jam. At Rock Star Photo Booth, you can get a printed picture of your family as a festival keepsake. Dancin’ Austin is hosting kid’s dance lessons on Saturday and Sunday.
Family Services: Families can take a break from the noise and heat in the Austin Kiddie Limits Lounge with coloring pages and books. For those with babies and toddlers, AustinBorn will provide a space for breastfeeding, pumping, diaper changing and baby-centric activities.
Catherine Michalk is a native Austinite, writer and mom of three. You can follow her family’s adventures at www.catherinemichalk.com