With the Easter weekend upon us, I figured it would be a good time to post about some of things to see around Austin, especially if you’re bringing your family with you to the meetings. After this, we’ll delve more into the seedy world of bars, bar food, and live music.
Some of these places are easily reached by public transit (capmetro.org) or a (relatively) cheap cab ride, while others will require a car. We’ll start with those closest to downtown Austin, and work our way further afield. Some will require a swim suit, others might call for comfortable walking shoes or hiking boots.
One of the major attractions downtown, and Austin in general, is the Texas State Capitol building. I’m ashamed to admit I have yet to do a tour of the building itself! In addition to the Capitol building itself, the ground are beautiful and there are other government buildings in the area to see and maybe visit, including the Capitol Visitor’s Center, The Governor’s Mansion (tours Tue-Thurs only, from 10am to noon), and the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives Building (which is gorgeous).
Several blocks to the north is the Bullock Texas State History Museum. I won’t go into museum criticism here, other than to say that there’s not much about Texas prehistory here. Texans are proud of their state and their history, and it shows in this museum. And while the full exhibit isn’t ready, you can see hundreds of objects recovered from the shipwreck of The Labelle, one of LaSalle’s ship. Plan on at least 3 hours here. I would also recommend buying tickets for at least one of the presentations at the Texas Spirit Theater, especially if you have kids with you. It’s a little cheesy, but fun and informative. There is also an Imax theatre at the museum.
East of the highway, off of 8th Street, is the French Legation Museum, the oldest standing home in Austin. There are tours (40 minutes long), and the grounds are very nice (a great picnic spot, along with the Capitol grounds).
There are a number of museums and places to visit at the University of Texas Campus (Hook ’em! \m/ ), and the campus is an excellent place to just walk around, look at sculptures and statues, and people watch. The South Lawn features a great view of the UT Tower and the State Capitol and is a lovely place to sit.
The Blanton Museum of Art is the closest Austin has come to a world class museum, and they are currently featuring an exhibit on Arts of the Ancient Andes (which I would love to hear about from my Trafficking Antiquities friends) curated (I’m almost positive) by one of my former classmates, Dr. Kimberly Jones. There will be a presentation by archaeologist Dr. Steve Bourget the afternoon of April 26th.
The Harry Ransom Center is an amazing museum and archive devoted to the arts and humanities, and UT has received the archives of a number of prominent writers and artists (some of whom are pictured on the windows). Among the permanent exhibits are a Gutenberg bible and the world’s first photograph. This is one of my favorite places to visit!
The Texas Memorial Museum seems to still be open, and is now part of the Texas Natural Science Center, which I assume means they’ve taken out all the archaeology and native Texan stuff they used to have. Side note: I had a work study here back in 1994, they had a storeroom full of amazing things. Anyway, this musuem is now focused on geology, wildlife, and dinosaurs, which are all cool things that kids love.
Finally, The LBJ Presidential Library, another one of my favorite places to take people. You learn a lot about LBJ’s life, which provides a fascinating window into early and mid-20th century Texas life (he grew up poor in a tiny town in the Texas Hill Country) as well as US history in the mid-twentieth century.
One last (indoor) place to take the family, at the new Mueller development on the NE edge of the central city, is The Thinkery. Yeah, it’s a bit of a Simpsons-esque name for what was once the Austin Children’s Museum, but my friends with kids LOVE this place. A great hand-on spot for children of all ages.
After all that fun indoors, I hope you save some time and energy to enjoy the amazing outdoor places in and around Austin!
Zilker Park and the Barton Springs pool are a must-visit, especially for families. The weather during the SAAs looks to be in the mid-to-high 80s, perfect for swimming. Barton Springs is ~70 degrees year round, which is a little cool for me but likely warm for Yankees and those who swim in the Pacific! The Zilker Zephyr is a fun train ride that takes you on a small tour of part of the park. There is also the Austin Nature and Science Center, the Zilker Botanical Gardens, and the Umlauf Sculpture Gardens. Outdoor enthusaists can rent canoes or kayaks, or hike the trails (click here for a link to all public trails in Austin).
Another swimming hole, and one that is more toddler-friendly, is Deep Eddy Pool, just west of MoPac and the downtown area. In addition to the historic pool there’s a play area and a hike-and-bike trail. The pool is fed from a well and not chlorinated, with water temperatures between 65-75 degrees. And, to cool down or relax after, pop in to Deep Eddy Cabaret (just north of the park) for a beer (cash only).
A little farther afield, but still within Austin city limits, is McKinney Falls State Park. This little gem is on the southeast edge of town, and would likely need a car or a cab. There are two small falls here (the Upper and Lower Falls), and some areas for swimming and fishing. The ruins of the McKinney homestead are on the property and can be hiked to, along with another historic structure. Unfortunately, a major flood struck McKinney Falls on Halloween 2013, severely damaging the Smith Vistor’s Center (still closed) and the Smith Rockshelter (which may still be closed), but there are several other trails to hike on.
Northwest of town (definitely needing a car) are Hamilton Pool and Reimer’s Ranch, both former private ranches now operated as parks and preserves by Travis County. Hamilton Pool is a sinkhole/collapsed cave into an underground aquifer, which now serves as a swimming hole. Capacity of the park is capped, and depending on the weather (rains) the pool may be closed due to bacteria from runoff, so call ahead if you plan on going. Note that the water is also very cold right now! Reimer’s Ranch is more for hiking, climbing, and birdwatching. There are also a number of other Travis County parks, click here for a list.
Finally, for those with a car and some time, there are a number of State Parks and Natural Areas within an hour or two of Austin, each offering a unique experience. Click here to see a map. Enchanted Rock is probably the most popular, and might best be visited during the week. This is a massive granite dome, over a billion years old. Great for climbing and hiking. Bastrop State Park is one of the many CCC parks in Texas, and is a remnant pineywoods setting. It was severely damaged by wildfires 3 years ago, but is recovering. Please browse the State Parks homepage to see which might offer what you’re looking for.
OK, that’s easily a full long weekend’s worth of activities for you and yours, combining history, nature, and fun!