Austin Things to Do
The Austin Things to Do page is designed for locals and visitors alike. Whether you’re going to be here for the rest of your life or just the next few days, there is no shortage of things to do in Austin.
Austin Things to Do – Amusements
Austin Zoo – The Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary is definitely not a big-budget zoo. It’s more of an animal rescue shelter. But hey, some of those animals are lions and tigers and bears. And the zoo is kid-friendly, of course (there’s also a small petting zoo). So if you have kids, or love disadvantaged animals, this could be worth considering.
Austin Bat Bridge – Watching the nightly flight of Austin’s massive colony of Mexican Free-Tail Bats from atop, below, or near the Congress Avenue bridge has become one of the more popular Austin tourism activities. And fun for locals, too. The migratory bats typically call Austin home from mid-March through early November.
Grackles – If you’re here for any length of time, chances are this is one Austin attraction you’re going to see whether you want to or not. Grackles are always present in Austin. But during certain times of the year, they’re really present. They aren’t exclusive to Austin, but when you consider the quantity and volume of these birds, you might suspect that they are. See fun photos, entertaining Grackle stories, and even share your own experiences.
Austin Things to Do – Museums, History, and Sightseeing
LBJ Library and Museum – Official Presidential library and museum of Lyndon Baines Johnson, 36th President of the United States and larger-than-life Texas politician. The library contains more than 45 million pages of historical documents along with wide-ranging exhibits related to the tumultuous 1960s period of Johnson’s presidency.
Texas Governor’s Mansion – Built in the mid-1850s, the Texas Governor’s Mansion is the 4th oldest executive residence in the United States. The mansion was closed to the public in 2007 for overdue maintenance renovations. In June 2008, while vacant, the building was heavily damaged by arson and is currently undergoing major restorations. Tours should resume in 2012.
Texas State Capitol – Second in total size only to the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. (but actually a little taller), the Texas Capitol is obviously one of the more popular Austin tourism destinations. An architectural masterpiece is known for its Renaissance Revival style and signature Sunset Red Texas Granite, the Texas State Capitol also features an inspiring and memorable rotunda. Additionally, exploring the lush and monument-rich Capitol Grounds will be one of the highlights of your visit. And be sure to check out the Capitol Visitors Center located on E. 11th ST for full exhibits and updated tour information.
Texas State Cemetery – Visiting cemeteries for recreation may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but the Texas State Cemetery is an exception. Rich with Texas history, the cemetery is also beautifully maintained. Treat yourself to a calm and relaxing visit, and while you’re here, pay your respects to Stephen F. Austin, “Father of Texas” and the namesake of this city.
Austin Things to Do – Tours
Austin Carriage Tours – Tour downtown Austin in style via horse-drawn carriage. Or use the service as a fun transportation alternative to a mundane taxi ride. Austin Carriage services can also be reserved for weddings and other special events.
Austin Duck Adventures – Enjoy a 75-minute amphibious tour of downtown Austin that culminates in a cruise in Lake Austin on board an “unsinkable” Hydra Terra bus/boat. Tour destinations include Austin’s 6th Street entertainment district, the State Capitol, Governor’s Mansion, Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, and, of course, Lake Austin.
Austin Ghost Tours – Entertaining and informative walking tours for those interested in Austin ghost stories and the darker side of Austin history. There are two 90 minute guided tours from which to choose, each exploring a different downtown area. Now featuring walking tours, investigations, and Austin trolley tours.
Austin Overtures – Armed with the slogan Austin in 90 Minutes, a Mercedes Benz Sprinter van, and an itinerary that includes more than 30 points of interest, Austin Overtures is a great way to see (and learn about) a lot of Austin in a short time. Reservations are recommended.
Capital Cruises – One of two Lady Bird Lake cruise ship choices. Why not experience Austin from the waters of Lady Bird Lake? Capital Cruises offers several sightseeing, special event, and chartered packages for all interests and budgets. Their cruise ship fleet runs from the double decker flagship Pride and Joy all the way down to the covered, 8-seat, electric, “gondola-like” Duffy.
Hill Country Flyer – Step back in time and travel the Texas Hill Country by rail. The Austin Steam Train Association offers day shopping trips to the City of Burnet via the popular Hill Country Flyer. A shorter version is also offered along with various special event runs throughout the year. Passengers can choose between three classes of travel.
Lone Star Riverboat – One of two Lady Bird Lake cruise ship choices. Family-owned and operated since 1987, Lone Star Riverboat offers narrated cruises and Austin bat-watching excursions. The company also offers special seasonal cruises and private charters.
Segway Tours – SegCity – SegCity is Austin’s original Segway tour company (and Segway Authorized). SegCity offers various tour packages and times, including a ghost tour in the evening. Tours begin with a brief instructional demonstration on how to operate a Segway so that even a beginner can master navigation after only a few minutes.
Segway Tours – Gliding Revolution – Gliding Revolution also offers several popular daily tours and tour routes of Austin. Team building exercise sessions for Austin businesses are also available. Free on-site parking at the Holiday Inn along Lady Bird Lake. Bike and kayak rentals available, too.
UT Campus Tours – Whether you’re a prospective student or just interested in seeing and learning more about the University of Texas at Austin, you’ve got a few choices. Each spring UT hosts an open house for the general public (but with a special emphasis on K-12 students) called Explore UT. The UT Tower Tour is a popular guided tour of the famous UT Tower with spectacular views of Austin from atop the Tower observation deck. And for a different twist, try the Moonlight Prowl nighttime tour of the campus. The University also offers virtual tours and resources for self-directed tours.
Austin Things to Do – Outdoors & Activities
Lady Bird Wildflower Center – The Wildflower Center, founded in 1982 by Lady Bird Johnson and the actress Helen Hayes, is an educational facility that promotes the use of native Texas plants and flowers. But it’s also a picturesque retreat. At 279 acres, the center is nearly the size of Zilker Park and features 16 separate gardens, including the popular Butterfly Garden, extensive hiking trails, kids activities, and special event facility rentals.
Mount Bonnell – Another popular Austin attraction, Mt. Bonnell is easily accessible and offers terrific panoramic views of Lake Austin below, the Hwy 360 Pennybacker Bridge in one direction, and the skyline of Austin in the other. A popular hangout for tourists and locals alike, often used for special event photography and has that rare distinction of being both dog-friendly and romantic at the same time.
Stevie Ray Vaughan Statue – One of the more familiar images of Austin, the SRV Statue is a friendly musical beacon on the southern shores of Lady Bird Lake right along Austin’s heavily trafficked hike and bike trail with the Austin skyline as a backdrop.
It’s always a good time to pay your respects and to reflect on some of the greatness this city has produced.
Umlauf Sculpture Garden – Located at the eastern edge of Zilker Park, the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, and Museum features the sculpture of the late artist Charles Umlauf in a picturesque and relaxing outdoor setting.
Other garden highlights include an extensive pond and waterfall system, two footbridges, Texas native wildflowers, and even a sculpture scavenger hunt for the kids.
Zilker Park – Austin’s workhorse park and my personal favorite.
At 350+ acres, the park isn’t technically the largest in Austin, but it borders downtown Austin and it’s still plenty big enough to host numerous special and recurring Austin events and annual festivals while featuring other great Austin attractions such as the Zilker Botanical Gardens, Barton Springs Pool, the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, the Austin Nature and Science Center, and the outdoor Beverly Sheffield Hillside Theater.
Zilker Botanical Gardens – Located on 31 acres in the midst of Zilker Metropolitan Park, the Botanical Gardens are popular without being crowded. This is not your typical Austin tourism hotspot, but it’s a gem for both visitors and locals alike. Conveniently located, serene, and guaranteed to give you many memorable photographs, the Zilker Botanical Gardens allow you to enjoy some quiet time in a place of beauty.
Austin Things to Do – Children & Families
Austin Bowling – The Austin metro area features a number of clean and friendly bowling alleys.
You can see a complete list of public bowling alleys in the Austin area along with a fun video of my son bowling at his 5th birthday party.
Austin Children’s Museum – Featuring numerous hands-on exhibits, educational programs, and week-long half-day and full-day summer camps, the Austin Children’s Museum is an invaluable resource for Austin families with children under the age of 12. It’s also a popular field trip choice and vacation destination. The museum attracts more than 200,000 visitors a year.
Austin Things to Do – Day Trips
Central Texas Hill Country – Bordering Austin to the west and south, and comprised of 20+ counties, the famous Central Texas Hill Country, with its rugged and scenic limestone hills, offers endless opportunities for great day trips from Austin. Attractions include wildflowers, lakes, dance halls, shopping and antiquing, picturesque B&Bs;, acclaimed vineyards, and much more.