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What To Do at Thinkery: Austin’s STEAM Children’s Museum

September 25, 2023
Austin Thinkery

The Thinkery museum in Austin offers kids from infants to preteens the opportunity to learn more about STEAM topics through hands-on exploration that’s both fun and educational.

Thinkery is a kids’ museum in Austin’s Mueller District. This two-story museum focuses on bringing STEAM concepts to kids through a variety of exhibits, activities, and hands-on exploration stations. The museum can take anywhere from 45 minutes to a couple of hours to fully explore depending on your kids’ interests and the amount of time you can spend there. 

How the Thinkery museum got started

Thinkery began its days as the Austin Children’s Museum, founded by a group of parents and educators in 1983. It was originally a “museum without walls” as museum creators traveled around Austin with educational exhibits to showcase at schools, parks, libraries, and malls. 

The museum eventually called two downtown Austin locations home before moving to its current location in Mueller in 2013.

What kids can do at Thinkery, Austin’s creative children’s museum

Austin Thinkery
Credit: Laurie Lyons-Makaimoku

Thinkery offers a wide range of STEAM activities that appeal to a lot of interests. In one room you can go from learning about building mechanics to examining bugs under a projected microscope to painting on a plastic wall. There are a variety of rooms to check out, each offering a different opportunity for learning and fun.

“Our Backyard” is Thinkery’s outdoor playscape. It skips the classic metallic surfaces in favor of unique structures featuring braided ropes and other organic textures. There are a few benches and shady spots for parents, too.

Inside, most of the labs and rooms are fairly low-key. However, the second floor can get a bit raucous at times. The Currents room includes water features that teach kids all sorts of fun sciencey stuff — and they definitely get a bit wet, in spite of the smocks that they put on when they enter. Luckily, there are a few hand dryers that the kids can use for minor splashes. 

The Light Lab was definitely our favorite place to spend time — how can you go wrong with a giant Lite-Brite, playing with shadows, and learning about electricity? The dark space also offers a nice reprieve from the bright sun during the summer, giving everyone a chance to wind down a bit and experiment with lights, colors, and patterns. 

Other exhibits you shouldn’t miss include Spark Shop, Train Town, Innovators’ Workshop, and Notion of Motion. It’s worth nothing that some exhibits may be closed during your visit for various reasons, but there’s always plenty to do here.

Tips for visiting Austin’s Thinkery as a family

Don’t put your kids in their Sunday best for this excursion. Between getting sweaty on the playground, getting messy on the art wall, and getting soaked in the Currents water playroom, your kids will likely need a good hosing down when they’re done.

Though kids may be tempted to play at the lovely Mueller Lake Park playground across the street, the one inside of the museum is a much better bet on a hot day. 

You may not expect it, but things can get a little wild in the play kitchen. It’s a great place for kids to learn about sorting, measuring, cooking, and growing, but it can also get somewhat chaotic. The trip up the stairs (or ride up the elevator) is a good time to remind your kids about sharing — and how to react to other kids who may not be good at sharing.

Admission to Thinkery

Austin Thinkery
Credit: Laurie Lyons-Makaimoku

Thinkery opens its doors seven days a week. Hours vary based on the day, but they’re typically open mid-morning to afternoon, with hours extending until 7 p.m. on Tuesday nights. General admission is $18 for everyone 24 months and over and free for children under 2. 

The museum hosts community hours every Tuesday 3-7 p.m. and Sunday 3-5 p.m. A part of their Open Door Initiative, these fee-free hours open up opportunities to explore STEAM concepts to all kids, regardless of their means. Admission is also free for those receiving public benefits under the Museums for All program. If you receive Medicaid, SNAP, or other assistance, bring your card with you to qualify for free admission.

If you’re in Austin or you visit frequently, consider getting a family membership (for families of up to 8) for perks like free admission, discounts on special events, and more.

Is the museum accessible?

Thinkery comes in at a whopping 40,000 square feet spread across two floors, and the entire museum is accessible. There are elevators, accessible parking nearby, and a limited supply of wheelchairs and earmuffs that guests can check out. 

For more questions about accessibility and more information to help pre-plan your trip, visit Thinkery’s accessibility page

For moms: There is also a nursing room available on the lower level. 

What ages do best at Thinkery?

The Thinkery’s target ages are 0-11, but the sweet spot for the exhibits seems to be in the 4-10 age range. Teens and preteens will likely find many of the exhibits interesting, especially if they have an affinity for how things work, but you probably won’t be able to hold their attention for too long. 

For the littlest littles, Thinkery hosts their Baby Bloomers program every Saturday morning from 8-10 a.m. During this time, the museum’s second floor is open for free play and two special Story Times, just so children under 4 and their families can enjoy the museum. Standard admission for Baby Bloomers is $9 for all ages.

How do I get to Thinkery?

Public parking is available nearby in the McBee Street District Garage.

As long as you’re visiting during regular admission hours, Thinkery provides up to three hours of fee-free parking. Just bring your parking ticket to get validated at the front desk. 

There are also paid parking meters on the street in front of the museum, and bike racks are available out front. In addition, Capital Metro bus service has three routes that run near the museum: 37, 135, and 350.

Where to eat nearby

Since food and drinks are strictly prohibited in the museum, you’ll want to fill those bellies and get yourself caffeinated before heading in. 

Just a few steps away from Thinkery’s front door is Halcyon coffee shop (which also makes a nice place to park older teens who might not be interested in the museum). Also just a few steps from the museum are Aviator Pizza & Drafthouse and Veracruz Fonda & Bar, and Lick Ice Cream makes a great last stop. 

You can make a full day of it without ever leaving the Mueller area — between food, shopping, desserts, and a full-service movie theater, there’s plenty to do.

Once you’re ready to head out to try something new, an East Austin Food Tour is a great way to continue to explore the city.

Keep exploring and learning

Whether your kids are really into science, tech, and art, or they’re just looking for a fun, hands-on afternoon, Thinkery is a place that exercises your kids’ left and right brains together. 

It’s mostly a laid-back atmosphere, with a few dashes of chaos thrown in for good measure, where little learners have a good time. 

Looking for more fun with kids in Austin? Check out Zilker Metropolitan Park, basically an outdoor recreational playground both adults and kids will love.