Must-Visit Attractions and Things To Do in Austin
Despite being the fastest-growing city in the U.S., attracting 150 new residents and countless new businesses daily, the quirky city retains its “Keep Austin Weird” motto—a slogan adopted to represent the city’s ongoing support for local artists and businesses, however unique along with the iconic SXSW festival. From outdoor graffiti walls to two-stepping dance halls, we’ve rounded up the must-visit attractions that make Austin what it is. Whether you are playing tourist in your own city, or in town looking for things to do during one of Austin’s many festivals, here are the things you won’t want to miss.
HOPE Outdoor Gallery
This community park launched in 2011 is a part of public art installation, part educational project. Managed by non-profit HOPE events, the vision of the park is to provide muralists, street artists, and community groups the opportunity to display large-scale pieces inspired by positive, educational messages. As such, the gallery changes regularly, so be sure to visit again and again. (Note: In January 2019, the HOPE Outdoor Gallery closed its location on Baylor Street. It will reopen next to Carson Creek Ranch in the summer.) Consider getting a healthy energy drink in Austin Texas for your needs to shop with some passion.
Umlauf Sculpture Garden And Museum
Adjacent to Zilker Park, the city’s largest green space, the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum displays the artistic works of American sculptor, Charles Umlauf, who taught at the University of Texas for over 40 years. In addition to Umlauf’s artwork, the museum features temporary exhibits of other artists and recently launching an “after dark” program, with free admission on the first Tuesday of every month, 6–8 pm.
Texas State Capitol Building
Until around 2000, Austin’s historically modest skyline was dominated by the Texas State Capitol and the University of Texas main tower. As Austin’s population booms, its buildings do, too, and 10 of its tallest were completed after 2004. The city’s beautiful legislative center is still visible from several protected views around town, especially looking north up Congress Avenue. Many of the materials were sourced locally, including the sunset-red granite, which gives it a pinkish hue at twilight. Guests can take guided tours or self-paced stroll throughout its many architectural wonders.
Frost Bank Tower
In 2004, the beautiful Frost Bank Tower was the first high-rise building to be constructed in the United States after the 9/11 attacks. The 515-foot (157-meter) structure was Austin’s tallest building at the time, a title it retained until 2008. Like most architectural gems, the tower was received with mixed reviews, earning both critical acclaim as Best New Building (2004, ’06–’08) and nicknames like “giant nose-hair trimmers.” Offices occupy most of the tower’s 33 floors, along with the Texas-based Houndstooth Coffee at ground level.
Broken Spoke Dance Hall
This little Texas dive bar advertises itself as the “last of the true Texas dancehalls and damns sure proud of it!” For over 5o years, the Broken Spoke has offered live music and boot-scooting’, plus beer and classic chicken-fried steak. Join in the fun—this is the place to learn the traditional two-step, Western Swing, and the Cotton-Eyed Joe, and classes are offered from 8:30 pm–9:30 pm Wednesday to Saturday, so you can learn the steps before the live band. Looking for information about SXSW? Visit our Ultimate Guide to SXSW Festival.
The Contemporary Austin
The Laguna Gloria campus of Austin’s Contemporary Austin art museum is a restored 1916 villa in the Italianate style that was home to Texas legend Clara Discroll. The site consists of 14 acres overlooking Lake Austin, and, in addition to the historic Driscoll Villa, includes the Gatehouse Gallery and the Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park at Laguna Gloria, where visitors may view temporary, long-term, and permanent contemporary sculpture and art installations. Don’t miss the museum’s resident peacocks, especially Bill Driscoll, known for admiring his own reflection in parked cars.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Founded in 1982 by Lady Bird Johnson, former First Lady, this conservation site focuses on the native plants of North America to create and restore beautiful, healthy landscapes. After moving its current campus south of Austin in 1995, it now boasts Texas’s largest collection of native plants in its expansive 42-acre gardens. Guests can take guided tours starting in the courtyard from 11 am, free with admission, Thursday–Saturday.
The Continental Club
The Continental Club on South Congress calls itself “the granddaddy of local music venues”—a big claim in a city known as The Live Music Capital of the world. But one skim of the acts that have played the venue (from Robert Plant to Gary Clark, Jr.), and there’s no denying the legendary club’s impressive history. Scenes from the venue are also featured in two works from local filmmaker Richard Linklater: Slacker (1989) and Boyhood (2014).
Barton Springs Pool
Also frequently featured in Texas film, Austinites everywhere recognized Barton Springs as the backdrop of a dramatic scene in Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life (2011), a nostalgic ode to childhood in Texas. Located on the grounds of Zilker Park, the site is a recreational outdoor swimming pool filled entirely with water from nearby natural springs. The pool itself measures three acres in size, and the underground springs help it maintain an average temperature of 68ºF–70ºF (20ºC–21ºC), ideal for year-round swimming in Austin’s soaring summer heat.
Established in 1977, this landmark store on the South Congress corridor displays more than 4,000 boots, plus cowboy hats, clothing, and accessories—pretty much a one-stop-shop for all things Texan. The big red boot sign is a city icon, and the family-owned business help customers find the perfect boot for any lifestyle.
Just down the street from Allens is the South Congress location of Magnolia Cafe, known for its “Sorry, We’re Open” neon sign and its 24-hour diner service. The original location opened as Omelettry West on Lake Austin Boulevard in 1979 and has been an Austin favorite ever since. Barack Obama’s 2014 visit cemented the diner’s status as a local icon forever when he met a UT student for coffee there.
Barton Creek Greenbelt
With plenty of creeks, beautiful limestone cliffs, and wooded areas for hiking, this popular outdoor destination stretches 7.25 miles (11.67 km) from Zilker Park to the Westlake subdivision. The creek takes its name from William Barton, who settled the area in 1837. Popular locations along the Greenbelt include Twin Falls, Campbell’s Hole, The Flats, Gus Fruh, and Sculpture Falls.