This month, we’ve been taking advantage of fall’s (slightly) cooler weather and exploring all of the seasonal fun that surrounds. Below are three of our favorite recent discoveries that are perfect for enjoying with your whole crew right now.
Check out the new forts at Fortlandia
Earlier this month, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center unveiled the new Fortlandia –– its latest collection of custom-designed, creative forts designed to foster imagination and appreciation for art and nature.
“The Critter Café,” designed by Jodi Bade and built almost entirely from salvaged materials, was our hands-down favorite. I loved standing back and observing the happenings around this child-sized, wooden retro food truck hitched to a tractor trailer, which looks as if it belongs in a magical forest and should be run by furry woodland critters. (Perhaps that’s because an adorable oversized wooden squirl is perched on top of the installation, dutifully observing the entire operation.)
As our younger kids served me mulch in coffee mugs and sticks on plates, our oldest strummed a hand-made banjo nearby that was crafted from recycled wood and an old black bean can. I watched the whole scene, standing back and smiling, as two toddlers took turns “driving” the ride-on tractor and another little girl busily swept debris from the café’s entry ramp.
While there, be sure to check out the “Critter Stack,” by Colospace and TXST Wildlife Society, which is designed to encourage climbing, hiding, crawling and “roosting” while cultivating a social-ecological appreciation of biodiversity among kids with future conservation in mind. “Capillary Action,” designed by Asakura Robinson, invites kids to scramble, run, crawl, scoot and shimmy through the hidden world of tree roots, while “Connect” was born inside the sketchbook of Jack Wilson, a teenager with Down Syndrome, as a place to “chillax” and connect and later brought to life through a collaboration with Reach Architects and StoryBuilt. Fortlandia is open now through Jan. 30 and reservations open seven days in advance (entry is included with regular admission and is free for members). More at https://www.wildflower.org/fortlandia.
Find fall-themed fun at Barton Hill Farms
If you haven’t carved out some time this year for your annual pumpkin-patching, then grab a pumpkin latte, pile the kids in the car and hit the road to Barton Hill Farms. This is one of our very favorite fall festivals because, while there are plenty of pumpkins to be found, there’s also a plethora of old-fashioned fun on the farm to be had.
At Barton Hill Farms’ 10th Annual Fall Festival, Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze, just 30 minutes outside of Austin in Bastrop, you can experience everything from flower-picking and live music to a 5-acre “Hey Elon!” Space X-themed corn maze, giant jumping pillows and around 30 activities on fall weekends through Nov. 7. You must purchase tickets online in advance and adhere to your ticketed time, which helps to limit weekend capacity and allows for a less crowded experience –– plus, most activities are included with your admission. There’s plenty of food to help refuel your hungry crew on site, as well as frozen lemonades for the kids and cold beer and frozen sangria for their parents, too. More at https://bartonhillfarms.com/.
Pose with the Pumpkins at Pumpkin Nights
When the sun goes down and the moon comes out, head to Pumpkin Nights for all the Instagram-worthy pumpkin posing you can handle. We set out on this nighttime Halloween path last week to discover surreal sights like 10-foot tall Jack-o-Lanterns, the world’s largest pumpkin guitar, a flying 40-foot handmade dragon that breaths pumpkin spice “smoke,” a life-size pumpkin pirate ship and handmade pumpkin gnome houses crafted with 80 percent recycled materials.
Founded in 2016 at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds with a mission to showcase local artists and celebrate the most magical time of year without the gore and scares, Pumpkin Nights is running in various cities across the country, including Austin, throughout the month of October. Purchase their tickets in advance at www.PumpkinNights.com (no tickets will be sold at the gate) and head out to Pioneer Farms to set your sights on everything from jumbo 1,500-pound pumpkins, live pumpkin carving demonstrations, fire dancers and 5,000 hand-carved real and synthetic pumpkins on nights through Oct. 31. More at https://www.pumpkinnights.com/austin/