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Austin has a lot going on; it’s the capital of Texas, it’s just about in the centre of the state, it’s in the Texas Hill Country, it has the University of Texas, and it is a fairly sophisticated and high-tech city. It usually makes the list of most creative cities and also has natural beauty; if you’re driving across Texas from east to west, it’s the last place you’ll see green grass, beautiful lakes and spectacular wildflowers in the spring.
10 Things To Do In Austin
There’s theatre, ballet, tons of museums, and of course, the hard-to-classify Austin music scene, which combines a bit of country, rock and blues. Here are ten great things to do in Austin, Texas.
State Capitol of Texas
Take a tour of the State Capitol of Texas, a huge pink granite building that is over 300 feet high. Tours are free and leave from the south entrance every 15-30 minutes, seven days a week. The guides will tell you all sorts of interesting details about the history of the lovely building. A Texas tradition is to stand on the star that’s on the rotunda floor, clap your hands or make some noise to hear the incredible echo, and then look at the gold star over your head and spin around until you get really dizzy. If you’re touring behind a group of Texas school kids, you may have to wait your turn to have a spin.
LBJ Library & Museum
The LBJ Library & Museum was built on a grand scale; the building is very spacious and contains a record of Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency. There’s a scale model of the Oval Office at the White House just as it was when LBJ was there, exhibits on Lady Bird Johnson, and lots of interesting things to see. You can see and hear LBJ carrying on and telling stories, see fabulous gifts the president received from other countries and from average Americans, and see his 1968 stretch limo. There are also changing exhibits on various subjects, and admission to the museum is free.
Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum
If you’re interested in authentic Texas history, visit the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. There are three levels of interactive exhibits about Texas history, an IMAX theatre (the only one in Austin) that shows a Texas film plus a couple of other current titles, and another theatre that shows a film about Texas history. You can buy all sorts of things emblazoned with the Lone Star in the museum’s gift shop, and you can eat at The Story of Texas CafĂ© if you get hungry while visiting. The museum is open every day except on major holidays, and there is an admission fee.
Zilker Park is a good place to relax and have fun while you’re in Austin. The park is over 400 acres, and there are many activities to enjoy there. You can walk along the greenbelt, swim in the cool, always 68 degrees water of Barton Springs, ride the Zilker Zephyr miniature train, or stroll through the peaceful landscaping of the Zilker Botanical Gardens. There are frequent musical and theatrical performances at the Zilker Hillside Theater, and the Austin Nature Center has some interesting dinosaur tracks and is a wildlife sanctuary.
6th Street Austin’s nightlife
Seven blocks of 6th Street, between I-35 and Congress, are the centre of Austin’s nightlife. Bars, restaurants, shops, the historic Driskill Hotel, and more line the street in old Victorian-style buildings, and you can hear all kinds of music there, dance, drink, or watch the never-ending stream of unusual people parading by; this area is popular with college students.
There are festivals on Sixth Street just about every weekend; everything from a fine arts festival to ones dedicated to Eeyore’s birthday and keeping Austin weird. SXSW, the increasingly important South by Southwest music and film festival, is held in March for a couple of weeks; it draws top name entertainers and entertainment producers and is becoming a good place to discover new performers.
There’s a bridge on Congress Avenue that has become well-known for the colony of bats that lives underneath. From March until November, people show up around sunset to watch the bats go out en masse. The Austin-American Statesman building is near the bridge and allows visitors to park free in their parking lot. The newspaper also sponsors the Bat Observation Center, which provides information on the bats. If you go to view the bats, take along a blanket and picnic and join the big party; you can also watch the bats from boats or from hotels on the northeast side of the river.
The University of Texas
Everything’s bigger in Texas, and that includes The University of Texas. It’s the biggest public university in the US and has branches in more than 10 Texas cities. Campus tours are available from many different companies, and you will see things like the infamous UT Tower, the Blanton Museum of Art, the LBJ Library, and the UT Communication Building, where the show Austin City Limits is filmed. Go down to the drag and shop at some of the quirky little boutiques, or buy something orange-and-white to wave at a UT Longhorns game.
Tubing on the Guadalupe River
Tubing on the Guadalupe River is practically a ritual in Austin, and the river gets pretty crowded during the summer with rowdy college kids, especially on weekends. For friendlier family times, go on weekdays, before the end of May or after school starts again in September. There are many outfitters who will rent you an inner tube and a cooler to pull behind the tube and sell you some sunscreen and drinks; you aren’t allowed to take glasses or Styrofoam on the river. The river water is clear and cool, and there are plenty of thrills; you actually need to go to New Braunfels to get on the river at the best spots.
At 780 feet, Mount Bonnell is the highest point in Austin; you can get fantastic views of the city from there. There’s a park at the top, and you can climb about a hundred steps to get to the highest point; from there you can see the skyline of Austin and the Colorado River, or Lake Austin. A park is a great place for a picnic, although it can get very hot there in summer. Lots of couples go there on dates since there’s a legend that says the first time a couple climbs the stairs they’ll fall in love, the second time they’ll get engaged, and the third time they’ll get married.
Usually, a grocery store is not a top attraction in a city, but for anyone who is vaguely interested in food, Central Market is a fantastic place to go when visiting Austin. This is a huge store with all sorts of goodies; just looking at the food is an eye-popping experience. There are huge piles of beautiful produce, over 100 different kinds of seafood, mouth-watering meats, a huge selection of wine and beer, and an awesome deli and bakery. If you’re on the run, the Cafe on the Run has great meals for very reasonable prices, and you can also take cooking lessons at Central Market; check their website for details.