Growing up as teenagers in Austin, my friends and I had only one summertime ritual: a take-your-breath-away plunge into the blue-green abyss at Barton Springs, followed by heaping snow cones, always topped with cream, at Sno-Beach.
Much like burning your feet on the hot Texas pavement or keeping tabs on the number of 100-degree days, going for snow cones remains essential to the Austin summer experience.
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These days, the local snow cone scene has evolved into a choose-your-own sweet adventure with variations that include everything from shave ice to water ice to snowballs.“Snow cones are cool and refreshing and light at the same time,” said Sno-Beach owner Elizabeth Newsom. “While you’re out there sweating and hot, your stomach’s not getting full. You’re cooling down and enjoying it.”
Below are some of our favorite snow cone and shave ice spots to try out this summer. It’s just a sample of the offerings available in the Austin area, so let us know if you have a favorite we’ve missed. And be sure to hit the ATM before you go, as most snow cone stands are cash only.
Where: 3402 Guadalupe Street, 412 Sterzing Street
The scoop: One of the city’s first and longest-standing snow cone stands — it first opened in 1993 — Sno-Beach remains a local favorite thanks to its Austin-first attitude and, as the name implies, snow-like ice. “What we’re known for is our soft, fluffy ice. I guess it’s technically shaved ice,” said owner Newsom. “But we’ve always called it snow cones.” When you see the giant, sunglasses-wearing purple snow cone on top of the truck, you’ll know you’re in the right place.
Popular flavors: Wedding cake with cream; tiger’s blood; strawberry.
Don’t miss: Sweet tea with fresh lime.
Seating and atmosphere: Lots of shaded picnic tables. Just watch out for bees, who are also big fans of the snow cones at the Barton Springs location.
Nearby swimming hole: Barton Springs Pool, 2201 Barton Springs Road.
Info: Open noon to sundown daily. Prices start at $2.50 for a small.
Did you know? When you pay with change, Sno-Beach collects that change and donates it to a different charity each month. “We try to use snow cones to do good in the community and give back to the people who support us and have been supporting us for so long,” Newsom said.
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Casey’s New Orleans Snowballs
Where: 808 E. 51st St.
The scoop: Casey’s, which opened in Austin in 1996, features 60 flavors that are made in house with simple syrup. Mars Chapman, who runs Casey’s with his parents, Cliff Chapman and Pattye Henderson, said the snowballs are made with a New Orleans-style block ice shaving machine that uses a 14-pound block of ice. “Most people, when they think of a snow cone, they think of something that is crunchy ice, something you get and it’s a little bit of a disappointing experience,” said Mars Chapman. “For me, a snowball is really finely shaven, melt-in-your-mouth snow with sweet, true-to-name flavorful syrup. Those are the two key points.”
Popular flavors: Strawberry; coconut; cherry; tiger’s blood; mango; strawberry cheesecake; dreamsicle. Popular toppings include cream, caramel, chamoy and chile con limon powder.
Don’t miss: The Boston Cream Pie, which is made with custard syrup, cream topping and a chocolate syrup drizzle. Even if you’re not typically a fan of chocolate in snow cones, you’ll be surprised by the rich and milkshake-like texture of this treat. “Chocolate is a New Orleans thing, they really like the chocolate,” Mars Chapman said. “We have that to be true to our heritage.”
Seating and atmosphere: There’s seating on the stairs of this stand-alone shack, where fans have been known to drive in from places such as Lake Travis on a weekly basis to get their fix.
Nearby swimming hole: Bartholomew Pool, 1800 E. 51st St.
Info: Open daily from noon to 9 p.m. There’s a second location at 1011 S. Congress Ave. caseys-snowballs.com. Prices start at $1.50 for a flat top (where the snowball is leveled off at the top of the cup to avoid spillage), $2 for an extra small and $2.50 for a small.
Did you know? Casey’s is one of the only places in town that serves its treats in sustainable cups rather than plastic foam.
Sweet Caroline’s Snow Shack
Where: 5700 W. Slaughter Lane, 13497 U.S. 183 North
The scoop: This bright-yellow trailer beckons visitors in search of a New Orleans-style treat. Opened in June 2011, Sweet Caroline’s features fine ice that absorbs syrup as it’s poured and flavors that can be hard to find outside New Orleans.
Popular flavors: First Dance (strawberry, wedding cake and cream); Hawaiian Wedding (blue coconut, pina colada, wedding cake and cream); Keep Austin Weird (banana, orange, peach, pineapple and whipped cream). Toppings include gummy bears, sour spray and Nerds.
Don’t miss: The Incredible Hulk, a refreshing concoction of grape, Granny Smith apple, pineapple and Nerds.
Seating and atmosphere: There are more than a dozen multicolored chairs under a generous, tree-shaded area with lots of parking.
Nearby swimming hole: Hamilton Pool, 24300 Hamilton Pool Road, is about a half-hour’s drive from Sweet Caroline’s South.
Info: Open daily from noon to 8 p.m. Prices start at $2.50 for a small.
Did you know? General manager Jeremy Leo is featuring a special menu highlighting flavors his wife and former business partner, Tara, who died in May, would have loved. The menu, called “Tara’s Sparkle Menu,” includes flavors such as Flutter Butter (toasted marshmallow and peanut butter), Red Velvet Cupcake (red velvet cake, cream and rainbow sprinkles) and Pretty in Pink (pink lemonade and pink sugar sprinkles).
Kawaii Shaved Ice
Where: 113 N. Mays St. in Round Rock
The scoop: Located just off Main Street, this shave ice shack immediately grabs your attention thanks to the gigantic shark busting through the wall just above the menu. But it’s the variety of flavors and the fine, powdery ice that will ultimately keep your attention.
Popular flavors: Monster’s Inc. (green apple with blue Hawaiian); tiger’s blood; peach.
Don’t miss: The Maui-Wowie, a refreshing swirl of mango and Mai Tai.
Seating and atmosphere: As you can guess from the name, Kawaii channels a Hawaiian vibe, which is reflected in its outdoor space, where several tables are shaded with tiki-style umbrellas and signs advise that visitors are “now entering a flip-flop zone.” There’s plenty of parking as well as a drive-thru for those craving a cone on the run.
Nearby swimming hole: Rock ‘N River Family Aquatic Center, 3300 E. Palm Valley Blvd. in Round Rock
Info: Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. 512-388-3050. Prices start at $2.50 for a small.
Did you know? If you want something other than shave ice, Kawaii also offers shakes — you can create your own using any of the shave ice syrups — sundaes, smoothies and ice cream cones.
Bahama Freeze Shaved Ice
Where: 8213 Brodie Lane
The scoop: Boasting 155 flavors, this trailer next to a Shipley’s Do-Nuts features treats with an excellent shave-ice/syrup balance in a friendly atmosphere.
Popular flavors: Tiger’s blood; strawberry; watermelon; coconut; chamoy; picadilly (a layered cone featuring your choice of syrup — I recommend strawberry — pickle pieces and Kool-Aid).
Don’t miss: The bubble gum, topped with a gumball.
Seating and atmosphere: It’s in a parking lot, but there are two benches available as well as colorful umbrellas to keep you shaded while you wait.
Nearby swimming hole: Dick Nichols Pool, 8011 Beckett Road
Info: Open 1 to 8 p.m. Monday-Friday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. bahamafreeze.com. Prices start at $2.50 for a small.
Did you know? Bahama Freeze employees make up a new “flavor of the day” every day. When we visited, it was the Piglet, a blend of pink lemonade, pink grapefruit and mango.
Jim-Jim’s Water Ice
Where: 615 E. Sixth St.
The scoop: Jim-Jim’s has been an Austin staple since 1994 and offers more than 35 flavors of water ice, a velvety frozen treat created with a blend of real fruit or fruit puree, water and sugar.
Popular flavors: Peach; mango; horchata.
Don’t miss: The strawberry lemonade.
Seating and atmosphere: The walk-up window is busy during hot summer days. Grab your water ice, then take a stroll down ever-entertaining Sixth Street.
Nearby swimming hole: Jim-Jim’s is available at Deep Eddy Pool, 401 Deep Eddy Ave., daily from 1 to 6 p.m. May-September, weather permitting.
Info: Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. jimjimswaterice.com. Prices start at $1.50 for a tiny.
Did you know? You can also find Jim-Jim’s on Saturdays at the SFC Downtown and Sunset Valley farmers markets.
Where: 1309 W. 45th St.
The scoop: This ocean-blue trailer may be in an Exxon parking lot, but the big flavors served are worth the stop.
Popular flavors: Rosedale Rainbow (blue raspberry, banana and strawberry); the Shuggie (apple pie a la mode); the Longhorn (orange, vanilla and cream).
Don’t miss: The margarita, topped with pickle chunks.
Seating and atmosphere: You’ll find several picnic tables shaded with tropical-style umbrellas. They also have bubbles and chalk out for the kids.
Nearby swimming hole: Northwest Municipal Pool, 7000 Ardath St.
Info: Open daily from noon to 8 p.m. facebook.com/512SNO. Prices start at $2 for a tiny, $2.50 for a small.
Did you know? The trailer serves various extras including cookies, Ghirardelli caramel, maraschino cherries, Skittles and Sour Patch Kids.
Let the cones come to you
Many snow cone trucks offer mobile service for special events. Perhaps the best known in the Austin area is Kona Ice, a shave ice company that allows customers to pour and customize their own flavors through taps on the sides of the trucks (this is a big hit with kids). Find more information at kona-ice.com.
What kind of icy treat is it?
Raspa: A raspa can be either a snow cone or a shave ice treat. The name is derived from the Spanish word “raspar,” which means to scrape. Frequently, raspa stands feature a variety of unique flavors.
Shave ice: To create shave ice, an actual block of ice is shaved, resulting in a fine, fluffy, snow-like texture that is able to absorb the flavor of the syrup.
Snowball: Snowballs, popular in New Orleans and Baltimore, are made of finely shaved and packed ice topped with syrup and, frequently, cream.
Snow cone: Traditionally, the ice used to make snow cones is crushed, resulting in a crunchier, more granular texture. These days, though, you’ll find a range of varieties — even some that could also be considered shave ice — sold under the generic name of “snow cone.”
Water ice: Water ice is a smooth frozen treat popular in Philadelphia created by blending real fruit or fruit puree with water, sugar and sometimes other ingredients.