The Texas State Capitol building opened to the public in 1888, following six years of construction. The building is the largest state capitol by size and the second tallest in the United States. With its impressive Renaissance Revival architecture, red granite exterior, majestic rotunda, and 20+ acres of park-like surrounding grounds, the Capitol Complex has been one of the top Austin Attractions for generations.
Housing both the Texas State Legislature as well as the Governor’s Office, the Capitol Building underwent a major underground expansion in the early 1990s to accommodate the need for additional administrative support without threatening the historical integrity of the building.
Visiting the Capitol is free – as are brochures and maps (in multiple languages) for self-guided tours. Visitor resources are available at the Capitol Visitors Center.
The Texas State Capitol is, understandably, one of the most popular of all Austin attractions. Free and open to the public every day (including weekends) with the exception of major holidays, the Texas Capitol Building is more than simply the seat of political power for the 2nd largest and 3rd most populous state in the union.
It’s also an architectural masterpiece and a larger-than-life monument of beauty and magnificence. More than 300 feet tall (and nearly 15 feet taller than the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.), the Texas State Capitol is noted for its Renaissance Revival architecture, its distinct Sunset Red Texas Granite, and its Goddess of Liberty statue standing atop the Capitol Dome.
Within the Texas Capitol Building itself, the immediate point of interest is the large ground floor Rotunda area.
The terrazzo floor features the Great Seal (Republic of Texas) in the very center of the rotunda surrounded, in turn, by seals representing the five other countries that Texas has been part of in its unique history – the seals of Spain, France, Mexico, the Confederacy, and the United States adorn and orbit a much larger seal of the Republic of Texas in the center of the display.
The terrazzo flooring was installed in 1936 to commemorate the state’s Centennial.
As impressive as the floor of the rotunda is, what quickly commands the attention of visitors, is the dizzying view above. 218 feet directly above, to be precise, where a large (8 feet in diameter) bronze star is installed at the base of the dome.
There are three additional levels of the rotunda, overlooking the ground floor from above – perfect for those with a fear of heights and a desire to confront their acrophobia.
There are even higher levels of the rotunda, but those are (thankfully) inaccessible to the public. Near the very top is the striking White Spiral Staircase (not that you can make it out from the ground floor without a telescope) leading into the Dome of the Texas Capitol itself.
OK – a slight exaggeration, perhaps. But you probably won’t see it if you’re not looking for it. It is clearly visible, however, in the picture below, at approximately the 4 o’clock position.
Texas Capitol Visitors Center
If this is your first visit to the Texas State Capitol, you’ll definitely want to stop by the Capitol Visitors Center first.
Like the Capitol Building itself, admission to the Visitors Center is free. Housed in the original 1856 State Land Office building, it functions as a full museum as well as containing a wealth of information regarding the Capitol building, the Capitol grounds, tours, maps, etc.
Weekdays – 7:00am – 10:00pm
Weekends – 9:00am – 8:00pm
Closed – New Years Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas
Admission – Free
Texas Capitol Grounds
An attraction in its own right, the Texas Capitol Grounds is essentially a 20+ acre lush park with a huge variety of native Texas trees, a number of which are quite mature.
The grounds are also home to numerous monuments on all sides of the Capitol building, including monuments commemorating the Heroes of the Alamo, Confederate Soldiers, and Terry’s Texas Rangers.
A Capitol Grounds self-guided tour brochure is available at the Capitol Visitors Center.
Texas Capitol Parking
You’ve got a couple of options regarding Texas Capitol Parking.
Limited street-side metered parking is available along the south entrance to the Capitol grounds on 11th ST (parallel parking) as well as on the west side of the grounds on Colorado ST (pull-in parking spots).
Note: At this time (summer/fall 2010), metered parking in downtown Austin is free on evenings and weekends, although the city is considering expanding the paid hours in the near future.
Also, something else to think about – no matter how adept you are at parallel parking, if you want your vehicle to leaving the Capitol in the same condition in which it arrived, it’s necessary that other visitors to the Capitol have a similar skill set.
And from personal experience . . . not all of them do.
Overall, your best choice for parking at the Texas State Capitol is to just use the official Capitol Visitors Parking Garage.
The Capitol Visitors Parking Garage (see map/info below) is located just east of the Capitol Grounds at 1201 San Jacinto BLVD. Can’t miss it – it’s between E. 12th ST and E. 13th ST, and between San Jacinto BLVD and Trinity ST.
It’s conveniently located just a block or so from the Capitol Grounds, and very near the Capitol Visitors Center.
And the best news – the first two hours are free.
Maps – Texas State Capitol, Visitors Center, Parking
Map – Texas Capitol Building
1100 San Jacinto BLVD
Austin, Texas 78701
(Zoom in and scroll around if necessary.)
- Parking: Limited metered parking is available at the south entrance to the Capitol grounds on 11th ST for those adept at parallel parking; very limited pull-in metered parking is available on the western side of the grounds on Colorado ST; Capitol Visitors Parking Garage has located just east of the grounds 1201 San Jacinto BLVD – no charge for the first two hours.
- Texas Capitol Visitors Center is located on the southwest portion of the grounds in the historic Texas General Land Office building – Recommended – Full museum and lots of information re the Capitol, maps, and guided/self-guided tours.