Austin Nature and Science Center (512-974-3888, 301 Nature Center Dr., Austin, TX 78746, http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/ansc/)
This center provides a place for visitors of all ages to enjoy nature exhibits and educational programs. In one of the wildlife exhibits, you can even meet a coyote and a red-tailed hawk! Other fun attractions are the Dino Pit, an outdoor paleontology exhibit that allow the experience of a dig site, and the Naturalist Trade Counter, where you can either trade treasures or find something new to add to your own collection. Mon-Sat 9 am-5 pm, Sun from 12-5 pm. Free admission with a small charge for groups.
Zilker Botanical Garden (512-477-8672, 2220 Barton Springs Rd., Austin, TX 78746, http://www.zilkergarden.org/) Zilker Botanical Garden, aka "the jewel in the heart of Austin," allows visitors to enjoy a pleasant walk through numerous theme gardens. The prehistoric garden, the Japanese garden, and the rose garden are only three of the many. Throughout the year, it also serves as host to garden workshops, plant sales, and docent-led tours. Daily 7 am-5:30 pm. Free admission.
Austin Zoo & Animal Sanctuary (512-288-1490, 10808 Rawhide Trail, Austin, TX 78736, http://www.austinzoo.org/)
The Austin Zoo is not your typical city zoo. The animals residing here were either unwanted by their owners or rescued, which supports their mission of rescue and rehabilitation. The animals are both domestic and exotic types, meaning you'll be able to see a great diversity from deer to lions to giant tortoises. Daily 10 am-6 pm. Admission is $9 for adults and $6 for children ages 2-12. Under two are admitted free of charge.
Lake Travis (http://www.laketravis.com/)
Lake Travis covers 18, 929 acres and allows for numerous types of outdoor fun. Aside from the waterparks, Granite Beach Waterpark and Shore Club Volente Beach, and the restaurants that surround the lake, the water itself is perfect for water sports including parasailing, scuba diving, and just good ol' boating. Take a dip and you're sure to enjoy one of Austin's treasures.
Mayfield Park (3505 West 35th St, Austin, TX 78703, http://mayfieldpark.org/)
Mayfield Park is best described as a peaceful preserve with walking trails and beautiful wildlife. When strolling through the cottage-like grounds and around small ponds with water lilies, you are likely to run into few of their gorgeous peacocks amidst the palm trees. Outside the gardens is the nature preserve where visitors are allowed to take a walk. Daily 5 am-10 pm. Free admission.
Mount Bonnell (3800 Mount Bonnell Dr., Austin, TX 78731, http://www.austinparks.org/apfweb/park.php?parkId=287)
After parking on the side of the road and heading up some steps, visitors are able to see one of the best views of Lake Austin, 360 bridge, some of the city skyline and some peeks at the pricey estates down by the water. It is generally considered to be the highest point in Austin and overall, it's a wonderful place to have a picnic or watch the sunset over the hills. Daily 5 am-10 pm. Free admission.
Barton Springs Pool (512-476-9044, 2201 Barton Springs Rd., Austin, TX, 78746, http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/parks/bartonsprings.htm
Barton Springs Pool is one of the more unique attractions in Austin as it is a swimming hole with water fed from underground springs. This results in an average temperature 68 degrees year round and varying depths perfect for swimmers of all levels. It also hosts events that truly embody the mantra 'Keep Austin Weird.' The Polar Bear Plunge, an annual jump into the water on New Year's Day, and Full Moon Swim, a pool party where visitors are encouraged to howl at the moon are just some of these unique events. Admission is $3 for adults and cheaper for seniors and children. When there are no lifeguards on duty in the early morning and an hour before close, it is free. Parking is free except on weekends during peak months when there is a charge of $3. Daily 5 am-10 pm.
Hamilton Pool (512-264-2740, 24300 Hamilton Pool Rd., Dripping Springs, TX 78620, http://www.texasoutside.com/hamiltonpool.htm)
Hamilton Pool is a beautiful swimming spot with a grotto and a 45 foot water fall, formed by thousands of years of water erosion. Visitors can swim, picnic, and hike amidst the limestone outcroppings. Guided tours are available by appointment. Daily 9 am-6 pm. Entrance fee of $10 day use permit per vehicle.
Shoal Creek Greenbelt (2600 Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78705)
This section of the greenbelt leads you all the way to Lady Bird Lake and is great for bicyclists, walkers and dogs. It is also a no-leash trail for dog owners. Those interested in Frisbee and disc golf are in luck as there is a course along the way. Although it need not be mentioned, a plus is that it runs right along Shoal Creek.
Deep Eddy Pool (512-472-8546, 401 Deep Eddy Drive, Austin, TX 78703, http://www.deepeddy.org/)
Deep Eddy is the oldest swimming pool in Texas and is still being enjoyed by visitors, whether they be children or serious swimmers who like to do laps. It is man-made, fed with water from a spring, and is surrounded by grassy areas to lie down and relax. A well known events hosted by the pool is 'Splash Party Movie Nights' where a free movie is shown at dusk every summer Saturday night. Admission times vary during the months and days of the week. It is $3 for adults and $1 for children.
If you're looking to explore the city, why not do so in style on a segway? These tours are a fun way to not only experience Austin but also to get a chance at riding those crazy things you always see mall cops on. Tours offered vary depending on your interests, from taking a ride along Lady Bird Lake, through urban downtown, specifically for bat watching, and haunted tours that tell ghost stories along the way. Various companies offer these tours including Gliding Revolution and SegCity. Tours run periodically throughout the day, daily. Reservations required.
Lady Bird Lake
Lady Bird Lake, known to many locals as Town Lake, is a beautiful stretch of water right next door to downtown Austin. If you prefer to enjoy the view from land there are bridges that cross over the lake including Congress Avenue Bridge, where the bats are known to emerge from, as well as hiking and biking trails along the side. If you prefer to venture into the water you can go kayaking, on a cruise, or even try your hand at stand up paddling. Swimming, however, is not allowed. It is a perfect way to simultaneously enjoy the beautiful landscapes of both nature and city skyline that Austin has to offer.
Emma Long Metropolitan Park (512-346-1831, 1600 City Park Rd, Austin, TX 78730, http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/parks/emmalong.htm)
This park area is one of the largest parks in Austin with a majority of it bordering Lake Austin, making it a truly scenic camping spot. It offers numerous amenities including barbeque pits, a basketball court, volleyball courts, a fishing pier, picnic tables, swimming areas and trails. There is an $8 admission charge per car.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (512-232-0100, 4801 La Crosse Ave., Austin, TX 78739, http://www.wildflower.org/)
Created by Lady Bird Johnson in order to protect native plants, this center strives to show people the beauty of plants, wildflowers, and landscapes. There is much to explore here, including, but not limited to, an observation tower, a visitor's gallery and an aqueduct. Of course the main attractions are the various gardens themselves, which include the meadows, the wetland pond, the mountain collection and many more. Tue-Sat 9 am-5:30 pm, Sun 12-5:30 pm. Admission is $8 for adults with discounts for seniors, students, and children. Tours are available for scheduling.
Inner Space Caverns (512-931-2283 or 877-931-2283, 4200 S. I 35, Georgetown, TX 78626, http://www.myinnerspacecavern.com/)
One of the best preserved caves in Texas is only a 30 minute drive from central Austin. This site is a limestone cavern that houses ancient flowstones, columns and helictites where visitors can learn of the cave's history and discovery. Other attractions include panning for minerals at the mine or enjoying the picnic area with the shade of the Texas Live Oaks. Three different tours are offered. Prices are $17.95 for adults and $9.95 for children. Hours of operation vary with month and day of the week.
McKinney Falls State Park (512-243-1643, 5808 McKinney Falls Parkway, Austin, TX 78744, http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/mckinney_falls/)
This park is great for numerous outdoor activities including camping, hiking, mountain and road biking, picnicking, fishing and wildlife observation. It also includes the ruins of a cabin and homestead of Thomas F. McKinney, who was one of Stephen F. Austin's first 300 colonists in he 1820s. With picturesque water and cliff areas, this park is great for the outdoor enthusiast. The entrance fee is $5 per day and can increase depending on facility fees. The gate is open from 8 am-10 pm.
Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum (512-445-5582, 605 Robert E. Lee Road, Austin, TX, 78704, http://umlaufsculpture.org/)
The Umlauf is a great place to experience the art of sculpture outside the confines of a normal museum. The natural environment has birds, a waterfall, ponds and wooden bridges. Activities provided include Sculpture Safaris for children, workshops on how to make sculptures, yoga classes and even being able to see a sculpture being made right in front of you! Wed-Fri 10 am-4:30 pm, Sat-Sun 1-4:30 pm. Visitors can choose whether to tour the garden by themselves or with a docent.
Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve (512-327-7622, 805 N. Capitol of Texas Hwy, Austin, TX 78746, http://www.wildbasin.org/)
At this preserve, that seeks to protect urban wilderness while educating about the environment, visitors can experience over 3 miles of hiking trails through woodland, grassland and streamside habitats. Another great feature, held at various times throughout the year, is the stargazing event where visitors can look closer at the night skies. Trails are open from sunrise to sunset every day, and there is a suggested donation of $3 for adults and $2 for seniors and children.
Zilker Park (2100 Barton Springs Rd., Austin, TX 78746, http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/zilker/)
Zilker is a 351 acre park that is great for free fun whether for families or athletic individuals. While the Zilker Holiday Tree and the Kite Festival are annual events that occur in the park, year round there are hike and bike trails, sand volleyball courts, a disc golf course and 2 multi-use fields. There is a parking fee of $3 per car from mid March to Labor Day Weekend on weekends and holidays.
French Legation Museum (512-472-8180, 802 San Marcos St., Austin, TX 78702, http://www.frenchlegationmuseum.org/)
Originally built by Alphonse Dubois de Saligny, the French diplomat to the Republic of Texas, the home is now a museum dedicated to sharing the site's rich past as well as the cultural history of Texas. It is the oldest wooden home standing in Austin and the beautiful grounds allow for a great view of the capitol. Tues-Sun 1-5pm. Admission is $5 for adults and cheaper for seniors and students. The last tour begins at 4 p.m.
Texas State Capitol (512-305-8400, 112 E. 11th St., Austin, TX 78701, http://www.tspb.state.tx.us/spb/capitol/texcap.htm)
No visit to Austin is complete without a stop at the state capitol itself. The building's magnificence exemplifies how "Everything's Bigger in Texas," as it is the largest in gross square footage of all state capitols and second in total size only to the National Capitol in Washington D.C. Visitors can observe the legislative process, learn about Texas history, or simply walk the grounds to admire the grand architecture. Self-guided and free guided tours are available. Mon-Fri 7 am-10 pm, Sat-Sun 9 am-8pm.
Texas State Cemetery (512-463-0605, 909 Navasota St., Austin, TX 78702, http://www.cemetery.state.tx.us/)
This cemetery is the burial ground of many famous Texan figures who helped make the Lone Star State what it is today. Visit the final resting place of notables including Stephen F. Austin, General Albert Sidney Johnston and Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock. Access to the gallery and visitor's center is open Mon-Fri 8 am-5 pm, and the cemetery grounds are open daily from 8 am-5 pm. Guided tours are available for booking.
Texas Governor's Mansion (512-474-9960, 201 E. 14th St., Austin, TX 78701, http://www.txfgm.org/)
This mansion, filled with exquisite and richly decorated rooms, has been the official home of every Texas governor since 1856. It is also the oldest executive residence west of Mississippi and the fourth oldest in the nation. Drop by and visit this National Historic Landmark and one of the most historic houses in Texas.
University of Texas Campus (512-471-3434, 2247 Guadalupe Street, Austin, TX 78705, http://www.utexas.edu/)
Founded in 1883, the University of Texas is one of the largest public universities in the U.S. with a 350 acre campus that contains 17 colleges and more than 50,000 students. When visiting, you may see the tower being lit orange or hear the bells chime from the famous main building tower. Aside from touring the campus and the beautiful buildings, stop by the massive football stadium or check out one of the star parties held on campus that allow visitors to view the skies through their telescopes for free.
Neil Cochran House Museum (512-478-2335, 2310 San Gabriel St., Austin, TX 78705, http://www.nchmuseum.org/)
Considered to be one of Austin's three most important historic residences, this building was constructed in 1855 and is decorated with furnishings dating from 1780-1925. The house has survived not just the war but also urban expansion from the University of Texas, preserving the history of many owners and occupants, including the Texas School for the Blind and Federal troops during Reconstruction. It is open for guided tours Tue-Sat 2-5 pm. Admission is $5 per person.
Driskill Hotel (512-474-5911, 604 Brazos St., Austin, TX 78701, http://www.driskillhotel.com/)
Aside from being a stunning and intricately decorated hotel with a columned lobby and stained glass dome, the Driskill also has roots in Austin's history. It is the oldest operating hotel in Austin, created by Jesse Driskill, who wanted to construct "the finest hotel south of St. Louis." From being the site of President Lyndon Johnson and his future wife's first date to the haunted stories that surround the building, visitors are sure to be engrossed in the hotel's history and beauty.
German Free School (512-482-0927, 507 E. 10th street, Austin, TX 78701, http://germantexans.org/)
The school built in 1857 and opened 1858 was the first chartered school in Austin and is now, after experiencing many changes, the site of the German Texan Heritage Society. It seeks to promote awareness and preservation of the Germany heritage of Texas with a library, speaker series, film nights, language classes and various festivals throughout the year. The building is available for tours on Thursdays from 12-4 pm or by appointment.
Susanna Dickinson House (512-472-1903, 409 East 5th Street, Austin, TX 78701, http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/dickinson/)
This site was the home of Susanna Dickinson who is known as the "Messenger of the Alamo" for surviving the Battle of the Alamo and carrying the news of the fall to Sam Houston. The house is the prime example of the type of architecture brought to the hill country by German immigrants in the mid 19th century. Attractions include pioneer quilting classes, a kid's walk through history, and a kid's pioneer cooking adventure. Prices vary depending on event attended. Wed-Sun 12-5 pm.
Bremond Block House District (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ghb02)
This district is one of the of the few remaining Victorian neighborhoods of the middle to late 19th century in Texas with houses that have been preserved in an almost unaltered form. They are located within the block bordered by W. 7th, W. 8th, Guadalupe and San Antonio streets. Take a walk around and enjoy their exquisite architecture.
Treaty Oak (507 Baylor Street, Austin, TX 78703, http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/treatyoak/) Legend has it that this tree is the last surviving member of the Council Oaks, a grove of 14 trees that served as a sacred meeting place for Comanche and Tonkawa tribes as well as the location of the first boundary treaty signed by Stephen F. Austin and the local Native Americans. Proclaimed “the most perfect specimen of a North American tree," it is estimated to be 500 years old and is seen as a symbol of strength and endurance. Daily 5 am-10 pm.
Madison Log Cabin (512-478-0098 Austin Visitor's Center and 512-472-6838, 2300 Rosewood Ave., Austin, TX 78702, http://www.austintexas.org/now_playing/listing_details?id=3650)
Built in 1863, this historical landmark was the former home of Henry Green Madison, the first black man to serve on the Austin City Council. Reconstructed at its new address, the cabin now operates as a museum for historic relics and documents of Austin's black heritage.
Daniel H. Caswell House (512-472-0779, 1404 West Avenue, Austin, Texas 78701, http://www.austinjuniorforum.org/caswell-home.html)
With Daniel Caswell beginning constrution around 1899, this elegant, two-story mansion is a Texas Historic Landmark. An annual event at the building is “Christmas at the Caswell House” which serves as both a fundraiser and another way to enjoy the museum. Mon 5:30-7:30 pm, Wed-Fri 11:30 am-1:30 pm, Sat (in the summer) from 10 am-12 pm.
Littlefield House (W. 24th St & Whitis Ave, Austin, TX 78712)
Built in 1893 for $50,000 by cattle baron, banker and Confederate officer George Littlefield, this house functions as a great example of Victorian style architecture. In the midst of the UT campus, this detailed and stately building also has an aura of mystery surrounding it. These ghost stories generally revolve around Major Littlefield's wife Alice, whether it be her shrieks or piano playing that can still be heard. Whether you're interested in the folklore or just wish to appreciate the intricate design, it is a great place to stop by.
Texas State History Museum (512-936-8746, 1800 Congress Avenue, Austin, TX78701, http://www.thestoryoftexas.com/)
This museum seeks to tell the "Story of Texas" with themed exhibits spanning three floors that illustrate land, identity, and opportunity. It also has the only IMAX Theater in Austin as well as the biggest multimedia effect theater of its kind in Texas, The Texas Spirit Theater, where both big blockbuster hits and movies regarding Texas are shown. Whether visitors decide to watch "Texas: The Big Picture" or amble through the building, it is a perfect place to learn about Texas with the family. Mon-Sat 9 am-6 pm, Sun 12-6 pm. Tickets cost $9 or less for each of the attractions.
Elisabet Ney Museum (512-458-2255, 304 East 44th Street, Austin, TX 78751, http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/elisabetney/)
Viewed as one of the oldest museums in Texas, this building is home to the former portrait collection and studio of 19th century sculptor Elisabet Ney. Here Ney created the sculptures of the “great men” of frontier Texas, which include the life-size statues of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston that are now located in the national and state capitols. Wed-Sun 12-5 pm. Admission is free.
George Washington Carver Museum (512-974-4926, 1165 Angelina Street Austin, TX 78702, http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/carver/)
What was once Austin's first library, and later Austin's first branch library, this museum is the first African-American neighborhood museum in the state of Texas. Promoting African American history and achievement, permanent exhibits include the Juneteenth gallery, the Families gallery and the children's gallery. Mon-Thu 10 am-9 pm, Fri 10 am-5:30 pm, Sat 10 am-4 pm.
LBJ Library and Museum (512-721-0200, 2313 Red River St., Austin, TX 78705, http://www.lbjlibrary.org/)
Located on the UT campus, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum is one of thirteen presidential libraries. It houses forty five million pages of historical documents, including the papers from the public career of LBJ himself. The museum also presents changing exhibits related to American history. Daily 9 am-5 pm. Free admission.
Blanton Museum (512-471-7324, East Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard, Austin, TX 78701, http://blantonmuseum.org/)
Collections at this diverse art museum include European, American and Latin American paintings, prints and drawings. The Blanton also hosts other fun activities such as yoga, live music, and the bi-monthly B scene art party. Admission is $9 for adults and discounted for seniors, students, and children. Tue-Sun 10 am-5 pm, Sat 11 am-5 pm, Sun 1-5 pm.
Harry Ransom Center (512-471-8944, 300 West 21st Street, Austin, TX 78712, http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/)
For those interested in the study of arts and humanities, the Harry Ransom Center is a great resource with art, books, film, and manuscripts. While the exhibits are ever-changing, the HRC has permanent treasures including the first photograph and one of five copies of the first printed book, the Gutenburg Bible. Tues, Wed, and Fri from 10 am-5 pm, Thu 10 am-7 pm, Sat-Sun 12-5 pm. Admission is free.
Mexic-Arte Museum (512-480-9373, 419 Congress Avenue, Austin, TX 78701, http://www.mexic-artemuseum.org/)
This museum focuses on traditional and contemporary Mexican, Latino and Latin American art and culture with education programs and exhibitions. It is also designated as the Official Mexican and Mexican American Fine Art Museum of Texas. Mon-Thu 9 am-6 pm, Fri 9 am-5 pm, Sat 10 am-5 pm, Sun 12-5 pm.
O. Henry Museum (512-472-1903, 409 East 5th Street Austin, TX 78701, http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/ohenry/)
Located in the Queen Anne-style cottage which O. Henry and his family rented from 1893 to 1895, this museum strives to collect and preserve artifacts and materials related to the author William Sydney Porter, who is famous for his "Gifts of the Magi" among other works. Wed-Sun 12-5:00 pm. Admission is free. Tours are also available for free.
Texas Memorial Museum of Science and History (512-471-1604, 2400 Trinity Street, Austin, TX 78705, http://www.utexas.edu/tmm/)
Located on the UT campus, exhibits spotlight dinosaurs, fossils, wildlife and rocks based on the 5.7 million collected specimens from research conducted at the Texas Natural Science Center. There is also a Paleontology Lab open for enjoyment. Mon-Thu 9 am-5 pm, Fri 9 am-4:45 pm, Sat 10 am-4:45 pm, Sun 1-4:45 pm. Admission is free.
Austin's Children Museum (512-472-2499, 201 Colorado Street, Austin, TX 78701, http://www.austinkids.org/)
Looking for a place to take the kids while making sure they learn a bit along the way? This children's museum is perfect as it is designed to teach as well as entertain. Some of the playful education areas include the funstruction zone and the tinkerer's workshop. Mon 9 am-12 pm for children under 3 years only, Tue-Sat 10 am-5 pm, Wed 5-8 pm, Sun 12-5 pm.with free admission the last hour. Admission costs $6.50 for adults and children prices varying depending on the age.
Austin Museum of Art Laguna Gloria (512-458-8191, 3809 West 35th Street, Austin, TX 78703, http://www.amoa.org/)
At this museum, visitors can view art exhibitions that focus on 20th century and contemporary art, attend discussions focusing on art and nature, or participate in one of many art classes. Stephen F. Austin once owned the property, and before him, Native Americans visited the site for the natural spring. Housed in a1916 Italianate-style villa, the outside of Laguna Gloria serves as a work of art. Tue-Wed 12-4 pm, Thu-Sun 10 am-4 pm. There is a suggested donation of $3.
Texas Military Forces Museum (512-782-5659, 2200 W 35th St, Austin, TX 78703, http://www.texasmilitaryforcesmuseum.org/)
The museum's exhibits display the story of Texas Military Forces from 1823 and the first militia in Stephen F. Austin's Colony to the present day. Exhibits include the World War II Pacific Theater Exhibit, the air guard gallery, and the lost battalion gallery to name a few. Wed-Sun 10 am-4 pm. There is free admission.
**You may also be interested in my blog post: Top 10 Best Parks to Visit Near Austin