New York City has Central Park; Austin, Texas has Zilker Metropolitan Park. Conveniently located just south and west of downtown Austin on about 350 acres, Zilker Park boasts numerous popular attractions. It also serves as a host for various annual events and festivals as well as special events (this is where the Rolling Stones played when they came to town back in 2006).
Zilker Park – At 350+ acres, it’s not the largest park in Austin, and it may not be the most beautiful, but its proximity to downtown and its numerous and versatile attractions and uses make Zilker Metropolitan Park a local favorite.
Zilker-specific Austin attractions include the beloved Barton Springs Pool, the Zilker Botanical Gardens, the Austin Nature and Science Center, the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, and the Beverly Sheffield Hillside Theater offering free outdoor drama and musical performances during the summer.
The park also hosts numerous annual events and festivals including the annual Holiday Trail of Lights and the city’s longest-running festival, the Austin Kite Festival.
Everyday Things to Do in Zilker Park
With this much acreage, there are ample opportunities for an old-fashioned picnic or birthday party.
For the kids, there’s a large and awesome playscape that, among other things, incorporates an old fire truck. There’s also the highly popular Zilker Zephyr kiddie train with tracks that navigate the park and include both a tunnel and two trips beneath the bridge at Barton Springs Road.
Additionally, the Zilker Cafe snack bar provides quick treats, snacks, and drinks.
There are soccer fields on the north side of the park and softball fields on the east side, all used in conjunction with city league play. And there’s also a frisbee golf course on the west side of the park.
Zilker Park – Special Attractions
There are other larger attractions associated with the park.
Spring fed and a constant 68 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, Barton Springs Pool is an Austin landmark. Daily, seasonal, individual, and family passes are available. The pool is closed for cleaning on Thursdays (9am-7pm).
The 31 acre and highly photogenic Zilker Botanical Gardens is always a rejuvenating way to spend an hour or two. It’s also the site of various recurring garden-related festivals and events such as the Zilker Garden Festival, the Green Garden Festival, and the twice-yearly Austin Cactus and Succulent Society Show and Sale.
The Austin Nature and Science Center, located on the western side of the park, offers fun and hands-on educational resources related to the natural environment of central Texas. The exhibits and resources are geared toward kids, but adults will also be engaged and entertained. ANSC is a popular field trip destination, and special classes for home-schooled children are also available throughout the year. And, of course, unscheduled personal visits are always welcome.
Although the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum are located on the east side of Robert E. Lee RD, it’s still officially part of Zilker. The garden and museum celebrate the sculpture of Charles Umlauf (1911-1994) and features more than 120 pieces of art.
The Zilker Hillside Theater is an important aspect of Austin Theater with its free Zilker Summer Musical program and Austin Shakespeare in the Park productions. The outdoor stage is also the site of various special event concerts throughout the year.
Zilker is also home to a number of recurring events and festivals. These include the Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL), the popular Blues on the Green free summer concert series, the Zilker Park Kite Festival, and the Trail of Lights (now known as the Zilker Tree Holiday Festival) as well as the Trail of Lights 5k (now known as the Zilker Tree Holiday Festival Fun Run).
Map – Zilker Park
Map – Zilker Metropolitan Park
2201 Barton Springs RD
Austin, Texas 78746