It’s only March. Spring has barely begun, but last week, I came across a Facebook post that asked, “Which summer camps do you send your kids to?” ACK! Summer planning already!
Summers are what memories are made of, and that puts a lot of pressure on vacation and camp decisions. But the excessive options for summer are beyond overwhelming! There is a camp for every possible interest in the world, especially if your budget is limitless. After reading through countless camp lists and trying out a variety of them with my first two kids, I’ve definitely learned something…
I will always say ‘yes’ to at least one VBS each summer, and that’s where my research led me after reading that FB post last week. I’m completely amazed by how much planning, time, and faith is put into vacation bible schools, and I am thrilled that my children get to experience that kind of joy. It moves me to tears every time I hear them singing the songs they learn in VBS, and I love it even more when I hear them relating what they learn in the summer to future Bible lessons throughout the year.
And what makes VBS even better? The price tag (well.. the lack of one)!
If you’re searching for a VBS to send your children to this summer, here is a list of some wonderful options in the Austin area and the Texas Hill Country that are currently open for registration:
Bethany Lutheran Church has VBS for preschool-aged children through 5th grade. Theme: Treasured. Cost: $20, includes T-shirt. Dates: June 21-25
Bannockburn Dripping Springs and South Austin for age 3 through 5th grade. Cost: FREE. Dates: June 28 – July 1. Morning and evening options available.
First Baptist of Dripping Springs will have a 2 week “High Voltage” camp. This year’s theme is “Glow” – July 6,7,8: STEM week & July 13, 14, 15: Creative Arts week. 9am-1pm. $10 registration fee. Space is limited.
In our mission to spend 1000 hours outside this year, we’ve decided to revisit some of our favorite hiking spots and seek out new ones as well. We’ll be sharing one with you every week in our series titled “This Week’s Hike”.
✅ Trails for Children
✅ Swimming (seasonal)
✅ Playground and Sports Fields
✅ Free Admission for Park and Trails
✅ Stroller-friendly Trails
❌ Reservations needed (except for swimming May through Sept)
❌ Free admission for Swimming Hole
Just south of Dripping Springs and about 45 minutes southwest of Austin lies one of the cutest Texas towns and the location of This Week’s Hike! We’re excited to share everything we love about Blue Hole Regional Park!
The Swimming Hole
In the summer, this swimming hole is the perfect spot to cool off. The clear waters flow beneath huge oak trees offering plentiful shade, keeping the spring-fed waters even colder. If you’re looking for a hike and then a swim, Blue Hole is perfect. Details for the swimming hole:
SWIMMING SEASON: Blue Hole is open for swimming starting Weekends in May, everyday Memorial Day – Labor Day, and weekends in September.
RESERVATIONS: Reservations are required. There are 2 time slots for swimming (9 am – 1 pm, 2 pm – 6 pm) but you can reserve both and stay all day. Our reservation system opens March 1st. Everyone must make a reservation online (excluding season pass holders).
ADMISSION: $12 Adults (14-59), $8 Youth (4-13), Seniors (60+), and Military. $8 Wimberley Residents (78676 only). Season Passes are $120 Adults and $80 for Youth, Seniors, & Military.
In the off-season, visitors can enter the swimming area free of charge. Swimming is not allowed, but there is plenty of space for picnicking and opportunities to enjoy the crystal clear water.
The park has 4.5 miles of flat trails meandering around the swimming hole and sports fields. Most of the trails are shaded, and it’s possible to push a jogging or all-terrain stroller on them.
A Story Walk
Currently, there is a story walk on the main trail loop. Getting to the next page in the book was a positive motivator for both of our little ones.
Near the bathrooms and parking lot, there is a playground with climbing options for both older kids and young ones.
The park has public restrooms near the swimming hole and the playground. They’re kept open and clean.
FUN Town Nearby
Blue Hole Regional Park is in the heart of downtown Wimberley, where you can stroll to find unique shops, dozens of restaurants and wineries, cute photo opps with painted boots, live music, and another small trail along Cypress Creek.
Spring Break takes on many different roles as you go through life. As a child, it represents freedom from school and, hopefully, a memorable family vacation. In college, it’s a week of clandestine partying and naïve independence. As a young professional, it means less traffic on your commute and sunset happy hours on a lively patio.
However, when you become a parent of school-age kids, as the end of winter approaches, Spring Break equates PLANNING! There are just too many options. Do we play hometown tourists? Blow our budget and go skiing? Road-trip and camp in the great outdoors? Rent a house on the beach? Or do we visit family or friends? It can be pretty daunting.
BUT… the planning, pressure, and patience it takes to celebrate Spring Break is so worth it. After surviving those grueling winter months (spoken as a true Texan), Spring Break is a turning point from one season to the next. It represents the promise of less illness, sunny days, and plenty of opportunities to get out of your house. It’s a rite of passage throughout life, but it’s also the perfect pivot from too much screen time to too much sunscreen.
If you’re still stuck in a planning rut, you’re in luck because I love to plan! Read on for some amazing, last-minute options that can be perfect for day trips or short stays in the Texas Hill Country. You can even have a completely FREE staycation!
Whether your family is into history, the rustic outdoors, chilling by the water’s edge, or window-shopping, there’s something fun for all in this small town. Check it out….
McKinney Falls State Park: hiking, biking, fishing (rental equipment available), swimming, cabin and campsite rental, waterfalls, Junior Ranger program. (Book a day pass in advance.)
*Downtown Bastrop: nestled along the Colorado River, this historic downtown has art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, breweries, a museum and visitor center, live music, and theater performances at the old Opera House.
*Fisherman’s Park: riverside park with basketball court, playground, splash pad, and boat rentals – Enjoy a walk along the river trail and a yummy lunch at Neighbor’s Kitchen.
With no shortage of family activities and so much natural beauty in this part of Texas, it has become one of my family’s favorite areas to visit. Check it out….
*Historic Gruene: Visit Gruene Hall for live music, shop the boutiques, stroll along the river, and eat at the Gristmill.
Nestled between Dripping Springs and Fredericksburg, Johnson City features so much of what the Texas Hill Country is known for: rolling hills, stunning views, delicious home-cooking, rich history, and local wine! There’s something for everyone in this tiny town.
I’ve always known Hunt as the location of my childhood friends’ favorite summer camps. As you drive into Hunt, it’s easy to see why it was chosen for their location. The wide open spaces and winding Guadalupe River take you far away from home with their beauty.
Garner State Park: one of our fave state parks, offering challenging to easy hiking trails, tubing, paddle-boarding, overnight camping, evening activities, and mini golf.
*Schumaker’s Crossing: Swim, kayak, or float in the crystal clear waters just east of downtown Hunt. Paddle about 30 min to Ingram Dam to try out a natural water slide, then make your way back to relax and enjoy a picnic at the tables under the beautiful Cypress trees.
YO Ranch: Go on a private exotic wildlife tour. Book in advance for a spot.
Bridget’s Basket: Book a table in this old farmhouse and enjoy farm-to-table goodies
*Explore Kerrville: You can fill the day visiting meaningful tourist attractions, shopping in the historic downtown, floating the river, and playground-hopping.
Still one of our favorite places to visit as a family, we’re always finding new-to-us things to do there. This Road Trip Edition highlights our faves.
* FREE activities
I hope Spring Break planning goes smoothly and that your family is able to enjoy the best the Texas Hill Country has to offer!
A violent storm in the middle of tennis practice that we walked to…
A vomiting episode while on the way to a birthday party…
A car seat covered in urine…
A random invitation to a friend’s pool while out running errands (with no swimsuits on hand)…
An extended play date at a shade-less playground in 95 degree heat…
A swarm of mosquitos on a hiking trail…
After years of summer surprises hitting me like a ton of bricks, I finally smarted up and decided that my car needs to be well-stocked for summer! I always keep a duffel bag in the back of my mommy-van full of these essentials for the entirety of summer, which in Texas lasts from March through October.
This kit has saved me more times than I can count and allowed us to have uninterrupted summer fun. We’ve been able to linger longer at an activity or park. I’ve been able to say ‘yes’ to random splash pad stops. We’ve added on state park visits to an otherwise boring morning. I’ve been able to clean up disgusting messes while on the go, tame countless snack cravings without resorting to fast food, and wait out unexpected downpours.
This little bit of preparation has helped us truly enjoy summer’s spontaneous moments.
I love a challenge! I often assign myself nearly impossible challenges to stay motivated in my savings journey, and the budget I set for a trip to Boston was no exception. I challenged my husband and myself to take in as much of the city as possible on a budget of only $500, which required finding several free things to do in Boston. Read on to see how we managed in this challenge and to find out how you can see Boston on a budget too.
Boston is wicked cool; it offers the best of almost every type of vacation. If you prefer to learn about history, Boston has you covered. If you’re a foodie and want to taste unique cuisines, Boston will satisfy your palette. If you want nightlife and the excitement of a big city, that can be found in Boston too. With so much to do and see, it’s actually quite difficult to do it all in 3 days, and it’s even more difficult to stay on a budget.
Airfare – Thankfully, we had reward miles, so airfare wasn’t a factor in our budget. However, even if it was, I love using the Google Airfare search tool to find great fares. All you have to do is type in “flight from _______________ to Boston” in the Google search bar, and you will be provided a calendar of fare prices for multiple airlines. We used rewards, but it would have only cost us $116 each to fly round-trip from Austin to Boston. Sidenote: Airfare to Boston is a tad bit higher (not outrageous) between April and November, as these are reportedly the best months to travel to New England; in doing a quick google flight search, I just found American Airlines flights in the peak of summer from Austin to Boston for $157 round trip.
*Additional Savings Tip: If you want 3 full days for your trip, book an outbound flight first thing in the morning and a return flight late in the evening. The airfare is usually cheaper at these times, and you get 3 full days while only paying for 2 nights of hotel.
Getting Around the City – Downtown Boston is very walkable, and most tourist attractions, restaurants, parks, and hotels are close to each other. Book a hotel close to Faneuil Hall, and you can walk to most places on your list. The subway and the trolley are also available for distances a little further away or for tired legs. To travel from the airport to your hotel, both Lyft and Uber are available, so you can go on the apps and find the best deal. It cost us less than $18 each way.
As mentioned, there are several hotels in the downtown Boston area that are close to most attractions. Because of all this competition, you can find a deal! Here’s my hotel booking trick… after booking airfare, I check sites like hotels.com and kayak to find a good value. I always use the map function to make sure I understand where a hotel is located before clicking to find out more info. I look for a hotel that is at least 3 stars, has a very high review rating, and is in a safe and convenient location. I also search for additional amenities that will save us money, such as free breakfast, free wifi, and/or free airport shuttle. When I find a great option at a decent price, I book… but only at the free-cancellation rate. Then, I set an alert/reminder in my phone to go back and check hotels again just before the final cancellation date. I usually re-do my hotel search about 3-4 days before we depart.
For this trip to Boston, I ended up cancelling the original hotel I had booked, which was priced at $319 for the trip, and booking one right in the heart of downtown. The location couldn’t be beat, and the last-minute price for 2 nights was $187.16! (I’ve decided not to disclose the name of this hotel because it is undergoing renovations and has a few kinks to work out, but feel free to message me for more details.) There were several additional hotels nearby that would have been less than $200 for the 2-night stay. There are also motel, small apartment, and hostel options in the downtown area that are very affordable. (Sidenote: Traveling during summer will probably double these prices.)
Once these basics are sorted out, then comes the fun stuff! What will you do and eat while there? Based on the money my husband and I had already committed to hotel and transportation, we had $276.84 leftover in the $500 budget for food and entertainment. The options in the Boston area are endless, and we stumbled across many free or low cost ones!
Clam chowder, lobster rolls, wood-fired pizza, Italian meatballs, fresh sushi, colorful gelato, oysters on the half-shell … the delicious offerings on every single block of Boston are incredibly tempting. The food is pricey even if it’s not your top priority, but here are a few ways we tasted the local fare yet kept some costs down.
Peruse the markets – Boston has several indoor markets with enough food options to satisfy every unique taste bud for an entire week. We strolled through Quincy Market and Boston Public Market, both in the financial district/waterfront area of town. These markets offered everything imaginable, from seafood to protein bowls to soup and chowders to sweet treats to Chinese food to made-to-order pasta and so on. We ate at the markets a couple times and spent around $10 each for a meal. Another friend highly recommends Eataly, on the west side of downtown, which seems to be the perfect stop for a foodie with its huge selection of foreign cheeses and specialty wines.
Apps and Drinks with a Side of Tourism – We decided to combine sightseeing with dining. The bar that the favorite 90’s TV show, Cheers, was modeled after is located in the beautiful, historic Beacon Hill neighborhood and right across from the Frog Pond and Duck Crossing at the Boston Common Park. On the walk to the pub/restaurant, you’ll take in unique architecture, people watching, park beauty, and historic sites. Then, once you descend the stairs from the street to the iconic bar, just like in the TV show, you’ll hear the theme song and realize you’re entering the bar “where everybody knows your name”. To save a little money on your tab, present this coupon to your server or bartender.
Another must-see pub is the Bell in Hand Tavern; it claims to be the oldest tavern in the country. While sipping on a beer, wander both sides of the tavern and check out the paintings and other artifacts on the wall. Also, the bartenders are happy to answer questions about the history of the bar. They have yummy craft beers on tap, a full restaurant menu, and live music most evenings.
One more option for dining and sightseeing while also saving money is lunch at the Chipotle in the location of the Old Corner Bookstore on the Freedom Trail.
Ravioli e Tiramisu Por favore – What’s a visit to Boston without a trip to Little Italy? Officially called the North End, it is the oldest neighborhood in the city, and it’s right on the waterfront. With over 80 restaurant options, you can walk and check out menus in the windows to compare prices and choose something within your budget. (Find a list of food and attractions in advance at https://boston.cbslocal.com/guide/a-guide-to-bostons-little-italy-the-north-end/)
Keep snacks on hand – We stopped at a grocery store to stock up on a few munchies to have for late night and mid-morning to save us from eating out more often than our main meals. We also skipped the temptation to buy a coffee or snacks while at the airport and just waited until we got on the plane.
Total amount of money we spent on food, coffee, and delicious craft beers was $215.25. Subtracting this from the $276.84 we had remaining, we were left with only $61.59 for entertainment and activities. We had to kick our resourcefulness into full gear and managed to spend absolutely nothing on visiting historic sites and touring the city.
FREE Things to Do:
Here is a list of my top FREE things to do in Boston (based on our visit).
Freedom Trail – This is a 3-mile walk through the city with 16 historic sites to visit. Some of these sites have admission fees. Here are a few you can enter for free:
USS Constitution Ship and Visitor Center: You can board the ship for free with a sailor as a guide, which is pretty darn cool, and you can also peruse the visitor center for free. If you venture over to the official USS Constitution Museum, you’ll need to pay (technically a donation) to enter.
Old North Church: This church is a must-see! Its steeple is the location of the hanging lanterns that prompted Paul Revere’s famous ride, and there is much more history to take in. There is a fee for admission, BUT if you attend service on Sunday morning, which I definitely recommend, you can enter for free, worship in an historic sanctuary, and will be invited to stick around and explore the chapel.
Faneuil Hall – Multi-story museum, gift shop, and national park visitor info center
Boston Common Park – America’s oldest city park with walking trails, dozens of historical plaques and memorials, a visitor center, Frog pond (with ice skating in winter), and a very rich history. Follow up this visit with a drink at Cheers right across the street.
Massachussets State House – Schedule a free tour on a weekday.
There are several other sites along the trail that are worth passing by or walking through. A few have admission charges, and some may totally be worth the fee based on your interests. Next time we go, we decided that we’ll visit the Paul Revere House, which has a $5 admission fee.
Book Shops and Libraries – If you love rare finds, first editions, and that quintessential old bookstore vibe, check out Commonwealth Books. Another unique and historic bookstore is Brattle Book Shop, known for its large selection and great prices. If a cool library appeals to you more, check out Boston Public Library’s Central Library in Copley Square. In addition to thousands of books and an interesting history, this library offers free art and architecture tours, an adorable children’s library, Saturday afternoon concerts, and three cozy cafes.
Holocaust Memorial – Don’t miss out on your opportunity to walk through this incredibly emotional and moving memorial. It includes quotes and historic accounts shared by survivors of the Holocaust.
Abigail’s Tea Room at the Boston Tea Party Museum – Do you want to visit the site and learn the story of the Boston Tea Party without paying the museum admission price? Here’s a little secret… you can enter the gift shop and check out the interesting selection of souvenirs and collectibles, then cross a bridge right over the Tea Party ships to Abigail’s Tea Room in the back. There are costumed employees willing to answer any question you have, plus 17th and 18th century table games you can play as you sit in the cafe on the water. For a mere $3.50, you can purchase a mug and sip on unlimited amounts of tea, all of which are flavors that were dumped in the Tea Party in 1773, including George Washington’s favorite.
Awesome City Parks and Playgrounds – Believe it or not, kids live in Boston too. And they have incredible parks in which to play carelessly while enjoying the cityscape in the background. Boston Common and the Boston Public Garden are a part of the Freedom Train mentioned above. We also stumbled upon Martin’s Park, which was constructed as a memorial to the youngest victim in the Boston Marathon bombing. This playground is so much fun for the young (and the young-at-heart) with fast slides, plenty of climbing opportunities, and a life-size pirate ship to play make-believe. Local kids like to search for the bunny that calls this park home and hangs out mostly in the garden area. Another unique park is the Lawn on D, an urban escape with architectural play structures and lawn games for all ages. There are daily events, as well as food and drink available on site too.
Boston Harbor Walk – Take a peaceful walk along the waterfront and watch ships sail in and out of the bay. There are also several places to stop along the way for a snack, to read about the city’s history, to take an epic selfie, and even to soar 14 stories up an elevator for a stunning view at Independence Wharf. You can also sneak a peek at the New England Aquarium Harbor Seals right behind the ticket booth and even see the sea lion show through a large window in the back of the aquarium along the harbor walk.
Worth the Splurge:
Car and Coast – We opted to rent a car and drive up the coast for stops in witchy Salem, the fishing town of Gloucester, a cool brewery in New Hampshire, and a lighthouse viewing on the southern coast of Maine. We spent $41 for car rental for a day, $18.11 for gas, $2.65 on parking in Salem for a quick lunch break, and $3.50 on tolls. You could also choose to go south to visit Providence, RI and then continue on to relax on the beach in Cape Cod.
Ferry Ride– Most of the ferries were taking a break for the winter, but when they fire back up again, you can hitch a boat ride to several cool places, including Provincetown/Cape Cod, the Harbor Islands, the USS Constitution, Salem, or just to do some whale watching.
Whew! That was a lot! Have you been keeping track of our spending? Did we win our budget challenge? If you don’t feel like going back to do the math, I’ll do the hard work for you …
After splurging on the rental car for a trip up the coast, plus spending $10.23 on a souvenir Christmas ornament and a small bag of lobster-shaped gummy candies for the kids, the total amount we spent on 3 days in the Boston area was $514. So, it wasn’t quite under $500, but it was close enough, right? I am really looking forward to visiting wicked cool Beantown sometime in the near future with kids in tow next time, and I’ll be sure to take on yet another budget challenge then too. I hope you get a chance to explore Boston on a budget soon. Happy Savings!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this question after revealing the destination of a recurring road trip for our family.
Is there an amusement park for children? Nope. Is there a nice resort to stay at? Not that I know of. Is there a beach? Definitely not. (But read on to find out how you can ride the waves in the center of Texas.) Is there anything more to do than following the Gaines family on their latest venture? Surprisingly, YES.
There’s something about the many small towns of Texas that really piques my family’s interests. Each town in this great state has such a unique history, culture, and vibe, and Waco is no exception. It has a long and intriguing history rooted in Native American culture and early American settlers. It’s also the site of one of the largest mammoth excavations in the world and the location of the first bridge over the Brazos River, which connected east and west Texas, forever changing the population and economy of the future republic. Waco has also had a negative and notorious reputation for murder, including the lynching incident deemed the Waco Horror, David Koresh’s Branch Davidian cult massacre and fire, and the biker gang shoot out in 2015. These stories made Waco less than popular among tourists, yet this town has a thriving university, multiple museums, beautiful natural landscapes, cultural diversity, and a story to tell. Chip and Joanna decided that Waco wasn’t worth giving up on, and my family tends to agree. One weekend just isn’t enough to take all of it in, but here’s our version of how to make the best of those few days and entertain the entire crew in the infamous town of Waco…
Where to Stay:
We found a great house in the nearby town of Riesel. It’s off the beaten path, and there’s no grocery store or special attractions, but it’s just a 15-20 min drive from Waco and offers a relaxing country setting, as well as opportunities to enjoy quiet quality time with family and friends. Check out this house: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/22227878
If you want to stay right in town, there are plenty of options through Airbnb, but we’ve also stayed at a hotel (Springhill Suites) that had rooms big enough for our family of 6 and included a full kitchen and free breakfast. Highly recommend!
Things to Do:
Cameron Park Zoo – One of our fave zoos! The zoo has plenty of shade, a fun playground, and interactive exhibits; plus, it’s easy to walk through the whole zoo in half a day. Highlights include the slide through the otter exhibit, feeding the giraffes, bridges over animal habitats, several cute photo ops, the nocturnal animals barn, and the extensive reptile house. Tip: Feed yourself and the kiddos in advance. There are two cafes, but they are spread out. There aren’t many snack options in between the two.
Cameron Park – This Park has it all… multiple playgrounds, a splash pad, picnic areas, scenic views, and hike and bike trails. It is one of the largest municipal parks in Texas, and the Brazos River runs alongside it. Tip: Explore the website and map in advance to determine where to park your car based on trail heads or playgrounds you want to visit. https://www.waco-texas.com/cms-parksandrecreation/page.aspx?id=310
Magnolia Market at the Silos – The Gaines family ventures aren’t completely avoidable. With lawn games for the kids, shopping for Mom, and food trucks for Dad, there’s plenty to do here to keep everyone happy. (BONUS: Joanna Gaines has re-opened her original store on Bosque as a liquidation shop. If you make a purchase at Magnolia Market at the Silos, you can bring your receipt to the Bosque location and get an additional 10% off the already reduced prices.)
Mayborn Museum – It’s a history museum and children’s museum in one… win-win for the whole family! Highlights include the mini mammoth site, kinetic music hallway, outdoor pioneer village, and dozens of interactive children’s exhibits, including a toddler play area. Also, the museum is on the Baylor campus, which is really pretty to walk or drive through. Tips: Allow a lot of time for this visit. Your kids will want to stay put in specific rooms, and you will want to have plenty of time leftover to explore the outdoor village. Outside food and drinks are not allowed.
The Dr. Pepper Museum – Do you love the sweet, sugary concoction and want to know all about its history? Then, this museum is for you. There are some nostalgic components worth reminiscing over and some fun photo ops, but if you are with small children with little patience, save this museum for another visit when they’re a bit older and/or when the grandparents want to relive their early years with the soda jerk. (Sorry, Mom.)
On the bucket list for a future visit:
Waco Mammoth National Monument – This paleontological site represents the nation’s only recorded discovery of a nursery herd of Columbian mammoths. Visitors can view “in situ” fossils including female mammoths, a bull mammoth, and a camel that lived approximately 67,000 years ago. https://www.nps.gov/waco/index.htm
Homestead Heritage – Homestead Heritage is an agrarian- and craft-based intentional Christian community. Its literature stresses simplicity, sustainability, self-sufficiency, cooperation, service and quality craftsmanship. It also strives to live in peaceful coexistence with the land, other people and other faiths. You can visit the craft village Mon-Sat. https://www.homesteadheritage.com/overview/
BSR Cable Park – This surf resort boasts the longest lazy river in Texas, plus opportunities to learn how to ride the waves and satisfy your dreams of becoming a pro surfer. This adventure is meant for older children and adults, but it offers cabins to rent and picnic spots for the whole family. https://www.bsrcablepark.com/
Texas Ranger Museum – Yes, it’s a history museum… about law enforcement. It’s probably not for everyone, but it’s still on our list for the history nerd in our family. (I’m pretty sure you’ve already guessed who that is.) https://www.texasranger.org/
Texas Sports Hall of Fame – This one’s for the guys in our household. It’s supposed to be a really cool place to visit with lots of sports photos, memorabilia, and statistics that are necessary for the male brain to memorize. http://www.tshof.org/visit/info/