Deep in the heart of Texas lies a city that calls itself “The Live Music Capital of the World,” where bumper stickers say “Keep Austin Weird,” and more than a million insect-eating bats descend at twilight. University of Texas students thrive on the local music scene, and high-tech companies including Apple, IBM and Samsung provide another nickname, Silicon Hills. In Austin, you'll see well-worn cowboy boots with faded jeans or a business suit.
Glass and steel office buildings back Lady Bird Lake, a reservoir on the Colorado River popular with rowing teams. Another prized natural asset is 351-acre Zilker Metropolitan Park, where man and his best friend can cool off in chilly Barton Springs.
AAA/Photo submitted by Maria White
Austin’s skilled labor pool—along with its 300-plus days of sunny weather, diverse scenery and supportive film commission—has attracted filmmakers, who have made it Texas’s most important movie and television production hub. More than 250 feature films and television series have been filmed here in the past four decades. If you've seen "Office Space," “The Alamo,” “Spy Kids,” "Boyhood," “Dazed and Confused,” “Slacker,” "Tree of Life,” "True Grit," "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," “Sin City,” "Transformers 4," "The Son" or “Friday Night Lights,” you’ve seen a made-in-Austin film.
The city’s economic growth hasn’t been without consequences. Since 1980 the population has more than doubled and with downtown real estate prices soaring and affluence on the upswing, gentrification has made incursions into some of Austin’s most famously offbeat neighborhoods. But the city hasn’t lost its counter-culture credentials thanks to the pride many Austinites take in their hippie past. And with each UT freshman class comes a regular infusion of youthful thinking and innovative ideas that are destined to keep Austin an original and vibrant travel spot for years to come.
UT also played a big role in Austin’s genesis as “Live Music Capital of the World” in the 1960s and ‘70s. Singer Willie Nelson helped popularize Austin’s country music scene, and former UT student Clifford Antone opened Antone’s, his legendary “Home of the Blues,” and one of the first music clubs along now club-crowded 6th Street. In 1975 Austin’s reputation for live music soared when “Austin City Limits” first aired on PBS, recorded live at KLRU on UT’s campus. With more than 250 live venues and major music events like the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival and the Austin City Limits Music Festival, Austin continues to welcome musicians and music lovers alike.
Of course, Austin is literally a capital, and reminders of its long history at the center of Texas politics are everywhere. Strolling down Austin’s Congress Avenue, you can’t miss a bronze statue of a woman heroically poised to light a cannon. Meet Angelina Eberly, a fiery innkeeper who in 1842 helped thwart Sam Houston, president of the Republic of Texas, in his plans to relocate the new nation’s capital from Austin to a site he argued was less vulnerable to Mexican incursions. Houston ordered a detachment of Texas Rangers to remove the government archives from Austin. When Eberly discovered Houston’s men loading wagons with the documents, she fired the town cannon, alerting her fellow citizens. They recovered the documents, entrusted them to Eberly, and the episode known as the Archive War ended without bloodshed. Austin became the capital again in 1844 and has remained so ever since.
One feature of the city that hasn’t remained the same is the Colorado River. Several dams have been built over the years, forming the Highland Lakes, a chain of reservoirs that stretches west 163 miles and includes lakes Austin, Travis, Marble Falls, LBJ, Inks and Buchanan. In 2007, the Austin City Council renamed downtown’s Town Lake to honor Lady Bird Johnson, who had championed restoration of its natural beauty. Dividing Austin in half, Lady Bird Lake features the popular Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail, a 10-mile-long recreation trail lined with lush vegetation, benches, shelters and water fountains.
Sales TaxSales tax in Austin is 8.25 percent. A 15 percent tax is levied on hotel rooms.
Police (non-emergency)311 or (512) 974-2000
HospitalsDell Children’s Medical of Central Texas, (512) 324-0000; St. David’s North Austin Medical Center, (512) 901-1000; St. David’s South Austin Medical Center, (512) 447-2211; Seton Medical Center Austin, (512) 324-1000
Visitor InformationAustin Visitor Center 602 E. 4th St. Austin, TX 78701. Phone:(512)474-5171 or (866)462-8784
Air TravelAustin is served by Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), about 5 miles southeast of Downtown Austin. Minimum fare for taxis leaving the airport is $12.30 for up to 4 passengers.
Rental CarsAustin is served by major car rental agencies. Arrangements should be made before you leave on your trip; your local AAA club can provide this assistance or additional information. Hertz, (512) 247-7250 or (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.
Rail ServiceAmtrak train service is provided out of Austin Station at 250 N. Lamar Blvd.; phone (800) 872-7245. Austin is a stop on Amtrak's route known as “The Texas Eagle,” which connects Chicago with San Antonio.
BusesThe Greyhound Lines Inc. bus station, (512) 458-3823 or (800) 231-2222, is at 916 E. Koenig Ln.
TaxisTaxi companies serving Austin include ATX Co Op (512) 333-5555, Austin Cab (512) 478-2222, Lone Star Cab (512) 836-4900 and Yellow Cab (512) 452-9999.
Public TransportationBus and rail service is provided by Capital Metro; phone (512) 474-1200 for information on routes and schedules.
What to Do in AustinYou simply can't take a trip to “The Live Music Capital of the World” without experiencing its diverse music scene. Blues is the mainstay of Antone's, acoustic stylings fill the intimate Cactus Café, and honky-tonk singers round up crowds at the Broken Spoke.
View Austinites in their natural habitat in the SoCo (South Congress Avenue) district. The area is rife with hipsters weaving in and out of coffee shops, funky clothing boutiques, beauty salons, antique emporiums, art galleries, trendy restaurants and other fun places to go.
While you're on South Congress, don't miss the chance to visit the flagship location of Allens Boots, a local landmark that is the one of the best places to go to outfit yourself with a pair of proper Texas boots.
From early March through October, one of the iconic things to do in Austin is to watch the nightly flight of more than a million bats from underneath the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge . The Mexican free-tails do their part to keep Austin weird while keeping the city's insect population to a minimum.
Visitors searching for active things for couples to do can hike to the top of Mount Bonnell in Covert Park at Mount Bonnell for a spectacular view of downtown, Lake Austin and the Hill Country. Legend has it that on a couple's first climb, they'll fall in love.
Snap some selfies on the observation deck of the University of Texas Tower at The University of Texas at Austin , which offers fantastic 360-degree views of the university campus and the surrounding city.
Listen as a life-size, automated figure of Lyndon B. Johnson tells amusing anecdotes at the LBJ Presidential Library (2313 Red River St.). Exhibits include a reproduction of the Oval Office and the president's 1968 limousine.
Spend part of your vacation learning everything you wanted to know about Texas history—and then some—at The Bullock Texas State History Museum (1800 Congress Ave.). Modern technology combines with historic artifacts to tell the story of the Lone Star State.
The Blanton Museum of Art on the University of Texas campus is one of Austin's best places to go for art lovers. One of the largest university art museums in the country, it showcases a collection ranging from ancient Greek pottery to modern works and offers traveling exhibits throughout the year.
The works of American sculptor Charles Umlauf are the focus of the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum (605 Azie Morton Rd.), where you can stroll through a lovely garden and view the diverse creations of this award-winning artist.
Set aside some time during your trip to explore Zilker Botanical Garden (2220 Barton Springs Rd.), known as "the jewel in the heart of Austin." Streams, waterfalls and koi ponds connect themed gardens such a Japanese garden, a rose garden, an herb garden and even a dinosaur habitat.
Austin Travel with Kids
Under 13Hands-on activities make learning fun for kids of all ages at Thinkery , 1830 Simond Ave. Science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) concepts are presented in educational experiences such as “Currents,” where visitors don smocks and Crocs to explore the connections between water and sound. Kids can build and invent in the Innovators’ Workshop, or head outdoors to scale the museum’s climber or splash in a stream.
Explore hands-on exhibits both indoors and outdoors at the Austin Nature & Science Center , located in the Zilker Nature Preserve in Zilker Park. See nature and science exhibits, dig for fossils in the Dino Pit and explore the Nature & Science Center Forest Trail.
Hop aboard the Zilker Zephyr Miniature Train for a 20-minute trip through tunnels, over bridges and along Lady Bird Lake. Little ones will delight in the train ride and a nearby playground, and everyone will enjoy the views of the park, the lake, Barton Creek and downtown Austin.
In mid-August, cool off at the Austin Ice Cream Festival , where local, regional and national ice cream vendors offer samples of their newest flavors of frozen treats. Held at Fiesta Gardens along the shores of Lady Bird Lake, this family- and Fido-friendly festival offers tons of fun options such as a rock-climbing wall, the Bubble Zone, games, contests, canoe and paddleboard rentals, and live entertainment.
TeensGrab a water bottle or pack a picnic and head for Covert Park at Mount Bonnell , where you can climb the steps to what is said to be the highest spot in Austin at 775 feet. At the top, explore a short hiking trail and take in the spectacular views of the city skyline.
What to Do for All Ages
Courtesy of Bullock Texas State History Museum
AAA/Photo submitted by Maria White88328
Shopping in AustinFinding stores that live up to the city’s “Keep Austin Weird” motto means heading downtown where chain stores are the exception and not the rule. You’ll discover some of Austin’s best collection of offbeat shops in the South Congress district, an area along busy Congress Avenue south of Lady Bird Lake between Academy and Oltorf streets.
Standing tall among the fun places to go such as health food stores, novelty shops, vintage clothing stores, folk art galleries and funky home furnishing emporiums is one of Austin’s venerable institutions, Allen’s Boots. Step beneath the big red boot above the door and come inside if only to breathe in the sweet smell of leather from all the shiny, beautifully crafted cowboy boots. And if you want to dress Western from toe to head while you're on vacation, Allen’s Boots sells an assortment of cowboy hats as well.
Other South Congress landmarks you’ll want to poke your head into during your trip: Mi Casa Gallery, chock-full of high-end Mexican folk art including multiple images of Our Lady of Guadalupe as well as a few pieces by local artists; Tesoros Trading Co., an importer of international arts and crafts; and Monkey See Monkey Do!, which sells diverse novelty items including retro toys, figurines representing obscure Japanese cartoon characters, joke books and scathing political commentary delivered in the form of refrigerator magnets.
Experience one of the unique things to do in Austin on the first Thursday of each month, as stores stay open until 10 p.m. On these nights galleries host art shows, street vendors sell crafts and bands jam out on improvised stages. Just be aware that parking on first Thursday nights can be challenging. Your best bet is to park at the garage at 505 Barton Springs Rd. and ride the Metro bus south to where the stores are.
Among the bohemian businesses, you’ll notice a couple of relatively new shopping plazas with stores offering higher-end merchandise. Such retailers are the rule, not the exception, in the 2nd Street District just on the other side of Lady Bird Lake. Centered around Austin’s low-slung, copper-sheathed city hall, which opened in 2004 at 2nd and Lavaca streets, the district boasts several upscale boutiques, and as more of the planned high-rise developments are completed, that number will no doubt increase.
Along with 2nd Street’s outdoor cafes and fashionable restaurants, you’ll find shops selling all sorts of trendy clothing, pricey knick-knacks and stylish jewelry to Austin’s well-heeled professional class. Look for designer home furnishings, linens and bedding at Blue Dot.
The nearby Market District takes its name from the flagship store of Whole Foods Market, the national natural food supermarket chain established in Austin more than 35 years ago. You’ll find several interesting shopping plazas adjacent to Whole Foods, near the intersection of N. Lamar Boulevard and W. 6th Street. Local landmark Waterloo Records occupies the corner diagonally across from the supermarket. Inside is just about every genre of music you’d care to name along with a comprehensive collection of local recording artists as well as videos, used CDs and even an assortment of vinyl records.
BookPeople, on the same side of Lamar as Whole Foods, is Austin’s answer to the bookstore megachains although it doesn’t have anything close to the local character of its record store counterpart across the street. Whole Foods is a destination in itself, if not for a quick snack then at least to see its outdoor café complete with shade-creating metal sculptures and a brook trickling through a rock-filled channel set in the flagstones at your feet.
Anything but stodgy, the district on the western edge of the University of Texas along Guadalupe Street is affectionately called “The Drag.” Naturally, businesses here sell stuff college undergrads would buy, and foremost among these is the University Co-Op, where students can stock up on T-shirts, mouse pads, beer cozies, key chains, pens, notebooks, etc., all emblazoned with the Texas Longhorns logo. But you don’t have to be in the market for a used textbook to enjoy a stroll along The Drag; there are also sporting goods stores, independent booksellers, vintage clothing shops, local restaurants and retailers boasting all sorts of environmentally friendly goods, including the Whole Earth Provision Co.
Austin NightlifeAustin squeezes a surprising number of bars, lounges and places to eat into its compact and walkable downtown. Most feature live entertainment at some point during the week, while a few never take a night off. Musical styles on tap range from country and western to blues to rock to punk with just about everything in between. Austinites don’t call their hometown the “Live Music Capital of the World” for nothing.
You’ll find the heaviest concentration of clubs, pubs and other fun places to go along 6th Street just east of Congress in the shadow of Austin’s historic Driskill Hotel. The dignified destination with its solemn white-columned porticos and arched windows contrasts starkly with the raucous carnival atmosphere prevailing here. If the 6th Street crowds get too rowdy, The Driskill Bar (604 Brazos St.) inside the hotel is a nice retreat. Leather sofas, Texas décor and live music six nights per week create a cozy vibe.
Outside on 6th Street, amplified music blares from speakers while barkers stationed at each entrance call out to passersby, announcing the night’s drink specials and featured acts. Walls of these 19th-century commercial buildings are typically brick and do nothing to dampen sound, which seems just fine with the throngs of revelers, who are for the most part under 30.
Following 6th Street west across Congress Avenue brings you into the Warehouse District, distinguished by the stairs you’ll have to climb as you navigate its sidewalks. It’s easy to see that the raised entrances here once facilitated the unloading and loading of goods. The crowds here tend to be over 30 in contrast to the 6th Street and Red River districts, and restaurants are both more numerous and more upscale.
Rainey Street—a mixed-use historic district sandwiched between I-35 and Lady Bird Lake on downtown's southeastern edge—has emerged as a favorite nightborhood for in-the-know Austinites. Dilapidated bungalows have been renovated into cozy, come-as-you-are bars with backyards, porches and a whole lot of character. Best-loved spots include Lucille Patio Lounge (77 Rainey St.), a dog-friendly bar with outdoor hammocks and games; Container Bar (90 Rainey St.), where patrons sip drinks in any of seven stacked shipping containers; and Clive Bar (609 Davis St.), whose dark wood paneling and white vinyl chairs help create a vintage vibe. Phone (512) 322-9270 for Lucille Patio Lounge, (512) 320-0820 for Container Bar and (512) 524-1623 for Clive Bar.
On the south side of Lady Bird Lake is the offbeat enclave centered around South Congress called, appropriately enough, SoCo. Better known for consignment shops, health food stores, local restaurants and folk art galleries, SoCo is where you’ll also find The Continental Club , 1315 S. Congress Ave., another bright star in Austin’s constellation of live music locales. This intimate establishment opened as a supper club in 1957, but since the 1970s its red-velvet curtained stage has seen all manner of country, rock, rockabilly and swing bands; phone (512) 441-2444.
The 1970s also happens to have been the heyday of the Armadillo World Headquarters, one of Austin’s most important music clubs, where an “Austin sound” emerged that was somewhere between country and rock ‘n’ roll and where performers as diverse as Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Frank Zappa, B.B. King, Bruce Springsteen, The Charlie Daniels Band and hundreds of others played. The “’Dillo” was torn down in 1981, but Threadgill’s sits next door to the storied music hall’s former site, serving down-home Southern cooking and hosting bands in its beer garden most nights of the week. It also houses memorabilia from the '70's, including a piano that Jerry Lee Lewis and other performers played that's now suspended from the ceiling; phone (512) 472-9304.
Edgy live music can be found at Emo's Austin , 2015 E. Riverside Dr., which is open to all ages. Since the club has a reputation for cheap beer and the latest and greatest punk and alternative bands, the average age at Emo's skews toward the early 20s. Recently, Emo's has hosted such acts as The Airborne Toxic Event, ZZ Ward and Ani DiFranco; phone (888) 512-7469.
Courtesy of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation
You could easily miss the Broken Spoke at 3201 S. Lamar Blvd., which looks more like a rural grocery and feed store than one of Austin’s—and indeed Texas’s—best-known country music dance halls. A gravel parking lot, an old oil pump jack and a rusty vintage streamline bus advertising Lone Star beer greet visitors to this decidedly unpretentious honky-tonk. Yet despite the humble setting, a sign at the entrance proudly declares, “Through this door pass the best country music dancers in the world.” You can even learn to two-step and do the cotton-eyed joe on Wednesday through Saturday nights. If you're wondering what to eat, the restaurant in front serves diner fare, including deliciously juicy hamburgers, and a couple of small rooms have been given over to mementos—concert posters, signed photos, album covers and sundry other items—representing the Broken Spoke’s 40-plus years as a music venue. Of course, the country music tradition continues with bands scheduled every Tuesday through Saturday nights; phone (512) 442-6189.
Austin Performing ArtsAustin bills itself as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” and with musicians playing everywhere from the airport to coffeehouses, as well as at festivals and hundreds of live music venues, you can believe it. But there's much more than music here; performing arts of all kinds are well represented.
Tapestry Dance Company & Academy, 1600 S. Pleasant Valley Rd., (512) 474-9846, is a professional repertory tap dance company that performs a variety of works each season at the Long Center for the Performing Arts.
Violet Crown Cinema, 434 W. 2nd. St., (512) 495-9600, offers four screens showing independent, documentary and international films, as well as studio films. A full bar and café offer your favorite libations and a variety of small plates to nibble on during the show.
South by Southwest (SXSW)
The weeklong Austin Film Festival , (512) 478-4795, held at various locations in October, showcases more than 180 films including animation, documentaries, narratives and shorts, along with four days of panels and workshops.
MusicBlues, country, jazz, rock—whatever music suits your mood can be found among more than 250 live music venues throughout Austin.
South by Southwest (SXSW/Robert Santos
Courtesy of Bass Concert Hall
Austin Sports and RecreationFans of sports and the outdoors will find lots of fun things to do in the Austin area. Lakes and recreation areas offer water sports, hiking and horseback riding. The University of Texas Longhorns baseball, basketball and football teams call Austin home, as do minor league sports teams. If you’d like to squeeze a few sets of tennis or a round of golf into your trip, there are plenty of facilities available.
In October, drivers compete in a 20-turn, 3.4-mile circuit in the Formula One United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas, 9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd., (512) 301-6600.
The Round Rock Express, a Pacific Coast League AAA baseball team, plays at Dell Diamond, 3400 E. Palm Valley Blvd., Round Rock, (512) 255-2255. The University of Texas Longhorns baseball team plays at UFCU Disch-Falk Field, 300 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., (512) 471-6708.
Local football fans root for the University of Texas Longhorns at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, 2129 San Jacinto Blvd., (512) 471-3333.
The H-E-B Center at Cedar Park is also home to Austin’s American Hockey League team, the Texas Stars.
For bicycling in the city, Austin’s downtown features dedicated bike paths and marked shoulders. The Southern Walnut Creek Trail in East Austin, (512) 974-6700, features more than 7 miles of paved, 10-foot-wide paths with scenic nature views.
Popular for jogging and walking, the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail, (855) 448-7245, is a 10-mile path around the shores of Lady Bird Lake, offering a scenic escape into nature in the heart of the city.
Playland Skate Center, 8822 McCann Dr., (512) 452-1901, is a 27,000-square-foot indoor skating facility with inline skates available for rental. The Veloway at Circle C Ranch Metropolitan Park, 6301 W. Slaughter Ln., (512) 477-1566, is a 3.1-mile paved track for bicycling and inline skating only.
On Jan. 1, the Austin Yacht Club celebrates the new year on Lake Travis with the Red-Eye Regatta , Lake Travis Drive and Hudson Bend Road, (512) 266-1336.
Self-guiding toursBrochures outlining historic areas are available from the Austin Visitor Center.
Austin in 3 DaysThree days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your trip to Austin.
Day 1: MorningGet an early start and beat the crowd to the university location of Kerbey Lane Café-UT (2606 Guadalupe St.). Choose from a variety of pancake flavors including gingerbread, blueberry and apple whole wheat, or start the day Southwestern-style with migas—eggs scrambled with pico de gallo, tortilla chips and cheddar jack cheese.
University of Texas at Austin/University of Texas at Austin
Courtesy of Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau
Day 1: Afternoon
iStockphoto.com / HHLtDave5
Four blocks south of the University of Texas campus is the Texas State Capitol , the largest of the state capitols. The Renaissance Revival structure is covered in “sunset red” granite and is nearly 15 feet taller the National Capitol in Washington, D.C. Learn about the history of the structure through exhibits in the Capitol Visitors Center and take a self-guiding tour of the grounds, which feature 20 monuments, and don’t forget to stop by the Capitol Gift Shop to find the perfect souvenir from your Texas vacation.
Check out the trendy furniture shops, alternative bookstores and offbeat clothing vendors along “The Drag.” This busy section of Guadalupe Street between 21st and 25th streets abuts the western edge of the University of Texas at Austin. Get your own “Keep Austin Weird” souvenirs from Tyler's, a locally owned sporting goods and clothing chain, then pore over the wide array of gear sold at the University Co-Op. Here, you'll find much of the merchandise stamped with a silhouette of a Texas longhorn known as Bevo, UT's mascot since 1916.
Cross over Lady Bird Lake and continue souvenir shopping in the South Congress District—on South Congress between Academy and Oltorf streets. Here you’ll find vintage clothing stores, folk art galleries and funky home furnishings, along with the flagship location of Allens Boots, an Austin landmark that’s the place to go for proper Texas footwear; phone (512) 447-1413.
Day 1: Evening
After a full day of museums and shopping, cold beer and traditional Texas barbecue are in order. Head to Stubb's Bar-B-Q (801 Red River St.), where the tender brisket, pork spare ribs and other meats are smoked fresh daily.
Day 2: MorningGrab brunch at Dai Due Butcher Shop and Supper Club (2406 Manor Blvd.), where you can spice up your morning with tallow coffee with chile and cinnamon, then dig into the Dai Due Breakfast: brown rice, sautéed vegetables, house-made kimchi and an egg. The menu also includes traditional breakfast fare such as eggs, roasted potatoes, grits, breakfast meats and toast or biscuits, or you can skip ahead to lunch and try the grilled quail cobb salad.
LBJ Library and Museum
The Texas Memorial Museum (2400 Trinity St.) highlights the natural history of Texas with exhibits including fossils, minerals, meteorites and native wildlife. Don’t miss the giant Texas Pterosaur, the fossilized skeleton of a flying reptile found in west Texas that has a wingspan of 36 feet.
Day 2: AfternoonSavor a bowl of authentic Japanese ramen at Ramen Tatsu-ya (1234 S. Lamar Blvd.). The menu features a variety of flavorful ramen bowls that you can kick up a notch with “bombs” including a five-chili blend, Thai chili and habanero paste or butter and honey. For dessert, try the “Yuzupioca,” Japanese citrus tapioca with strawberry, basic and pink peppercorn crumble.
Terry Swartz/Terry Swartz
Day 2: Evening
Day 3: Morning
Day 3: AfternoonJoin the lively lunch crowd at Hopdoddy Burger Bar and bite into one of their juicy burgers featuring freshly baked breads, meats ground daily and house-made sauces. Shakes here aren’t your average chocolate and vanilla; flavors include bananas Foster, vanilla birthday cake and malted root beer.
Day 3: Evening
Best Attractions in AustinIn a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
The University of Texas at Austin started with a single Victorian Gothic-style building in 1883. Today, it's one of the country's largest public universities, with more than 52,000 students regularly navigating its 430-acre campus. Walking tours take visitors past graceful live oaks and limestone buildings with red tile roofs. Following a 23-year closure, the observation deck of the school's landmark tower also is accessible via guided tour and can give you a birds-eye view of the city to help decide what to do on your trip.
Several museums foster the analytical ideals of the university. Exhibits at the Texas Memorial Museum focus on biology, geology and paleontology and include mounted wildlife specimens, a 925-carat blue topaz crystal and the bones of a 30-foot-long prehistoric seagoing lizard.
Also on campus is the LBJ Presidential Library . Its extensive collection of exhibits and historical documents depict the life of the nation's 36th president. This AAA GEM attraction showcases an animatronic version of LBJ, more than 4,000 original editorial cartoons related to Johnson's political career, a photographic overview of the White House interior and a 7/8-scale replica of the Oval Office. The First Lady's Gallery pays tribute to Lady Bird Johnson, an alumna of the university.
European Old Master paintings, American and Latin American art, and prints and drawings are displayed at The Blanton Museum of Art , a AAA GEM attraction. Discover the technique favored by Peter Paul Rubens and other 17th-century painters; investigate Uruguayan artist Julio Alpuy's Universal Constructivism style; and survey Richard Long's “Summer Circle,” a 29.5-foot-wide sculpture formed out of Delabole slate.
If you're looking for educational things to do in Austin, The Bullock Texas State History Museum houses interactive exhibits and more than 700 artifacts beneath its copper dome. Such displays as a wooden oil rig, salvage from a 17th-century shipwreck and a lunar lander model are offered at this AAA GEM attraction. From a special effects-laden show highlighting local stories of perseverance to a presentation about the Texas Revolution, a range of multimedia illustrates the region's sweeping past.
Referencing the pen name of writer William Sydney Porter, the O. Henry Museum commemorates “the master of the short story.” From 1893 to 1895, the author known for his signature twist endings lived in this Queen Anne-style cottage, which now houses O. Henry memorabilia. Porter, an Austin resident for more than a decade, likely used his experiences in Texas as fodder for his prose.
Sursum, a Latin word meaning “uplift your heart,” conveys the artistic impact of the 19th-century sculptor recognized at the Elisabet Ney Museum . After emigrating from Germany, Ney built this building, where she carved life-size figures and portrait busts of Texas' most distinguished individuals. Her husband, philosopher Edmund Montgomery, wrote: “Her studio was a shrine to which people from all parts of Texas came to admire her works of art.”
Ney also created monuments found in the Texas State Cemetery . The state's honored dead are interred there, including Stephen F. Austin, the “Father of Texas,” and Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, a hero in the Texas War for Independence. A limestone visitor center presents the history of the burial ground. The meticulously maintained facility also features striking memorials to Texan Medal of Honor recipients and the victims of Sept. 11.
“Sunset red” granite, round decorative skylights and original wainscoting distinguish the Renaissance Revival-style Texas State Capitol , a AAA GEM attraction. Atop the domed, 19th-century edifice, a goddess keeps watch over the city—the statue represents Athena, the Greek deity of wisdom and warfare. Seventeen other figures, including a miniature Statue of Liberty and a bronze monument honoring Texas' pioneer women, grace the nearly 22-acres of shady, landscaped grounds at this must-see destination.
Focusing on modern and contemporary works, The Contemporary Austin—Laguna Gloria presents changing displays in a natural setting overlooking Lake Austin. This historic 12-acre estate consists of a 1916 Italianate-style villa, a sculpture garden and an art school.
Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum displays drawings, paintings and carvings by Charles Umlauf, a University of Texas professor emeritus whose work appeared in both the Smithsonian Institution and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Crisscrossed by gravel paths, the garden contains 56 statues, including a smaller version of the artist's “Spirit of Flight”; the actual 17-foot-tall monument marks the entrance to the Dallas Love Field airport.
The Mexic-Arte Museum features contemporary and traditional works by Mexican, Latin American and U.S.-born Latino artists. Changing exhibits offering photography, paintings and sculpture highlight both established and emerging artists.
A wide range of fun things to do is available at Zilker Metropolitan Park , from leisurely strolls and picnics to more intense pastimes. Spirited yells abound on the sandy volleyball court, while giggles are constant passengers aboard the park's miniature train. Daring leaps into the natural, spring-fed pool stir sun-kissed waters, and dirt-splotched legs regularly sweep down soccer fields in pursuit of checkered spheres. As night falls, diverse singers croon at an amphitheater surrounded by pecan trees, providing a romantic setting if you're looking for things for couples to do.
Travel to the western edge of the park, where visitors to the Austin Nature & Science Center gaze at the large, spotted owl perched above; the creature's round, puffy head twists casually as its dark brown eyes scan the fascinated crowd. More than 90 native animals are exhibited at the center, while hands-on activities convey information about amphibians, birds, mammals, minerals, plants, reptiles and rocks.
The centerpiece of the park is Zilker Botanical Garden , harboring native, hybrid and exotic vegetation. On site are butterfly, herb and rose gardens as well as a center with educational displays. A 2-acre plot features re-creations of plants that existed during the time of the dinosaurs. Serene ponds in the Isamu Taniguchi Oriental Garden spell out “AUSTIN,” and a Japanese teahouse provides breathtaking views of the city and a peaceful place to unwind during your vacation.
The goal of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is to protect and preserve North America's native plants and natural terrain through landscape restoration, plant conservation, and educational and horticultural programs. Sixteen gardens shelter such flora as evening primrose, purple coneflowers and Lindheimer daisies. Several walking trails invite exploration, including a 1-mile interpretive path educating visitors about land management.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.
Best Restaurants in AustinOur favorites include some of this travel destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
Critics and patrons agree Eddie V's is near the top of the list of where to eat seafood and steak in Texas. There are two locations, Eddie V's Prime Seafood , 301 E. 5th St. downtown, and the northwest enclave at Eddie V's Prime Seafood , 9400 Arboretum Blvd. Lemon sole, sea bass and tuna entrées are expertly prepared, and aged center cuts are shipped in from a prestigious Chicago-based beef supplier. Comprising colossal shrimp, oysters and New England Jonah crab claws, the chilled shellfish tower is perfect for sharing, as are jumbo sides of sugar snap peas, sautéed steak mushrooms and scalloped potatoes au gratin.
A stained glass ceiling, marble floors and three-story columns distinguish The Driskill , rivaling the hotel's architectural splendor is the sophisticated cuisine served at its renowned eatery. Utterly elegant, The Driskill Grill is often touted as Austin's finest destination. A first-class waitstaff presents such items as pan-roasted veal, quail with orange curd and pistachio-crusted sea scallops. The culinary brilliance continues well beyond the third course; five- and seven-dish tasting menus are available, as are exquisite desserts.
There's no need to leave town if you're looking for places to eat fresh Florida stone crab. Truluck's operates its own Sunshine State fisheries, transporting the meaty, black-tipped claws (when in season) to Austin in less than 24 hours. Red king crab is delivered from the icy Barents Sea year-round; other recipes emphasizing oceanic flavors include tuna tartare, baked Caribbean lobster tail and salmon drizzled with a jalapeño béarnaise sauce. The restaurant's noted parmesan mashed potatoes go well with a selection of aged Midwestern beef and a bottle from the extensive wine list.
Nestled among the trendy SoCo restaurants just south of downtown, Vespaio imparts a casual ambiance accented by upscale amenities. From the mixed seafood grill to delicate veal medallions, the café's meticulously prepared foods yield robust flavors. Wait times are long at this brick-and-glass storefront trattoria, with diners frequently returning for oak-fired pizzas, handmade pastas and fine Italian wines. Reservations are scarce, and on Fridays and Saturdays, seating is first-come, first-served only.
Traditional Texan flavors merge with decades-old family recipes at Hoover's Cooking in northern Austin. The heaping platters of comfort food are reasonably priced, so you won't break your vacation budget when you're in the mood for a Cajun ham po'boy or fried chicken smothered in creamy homemade gravy. Choose from such sides as black-eyed peas, Caribbean rice, jalapeño creamed spinach and fried okra. The popular restaurant also offers a huge breakfast menu, freshly-squeezed lemonade and made-from-scratch desserts.
At Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa , the decorous atmosphere of the Hill Country Dining Room complements refined recipes for parsnip bisque, almond-crusted turbot and bourbon molasses-glazed quail. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, the restaurant sets the scene for your trip with views of the Fazio Foothills Golf Course and northwest Austin's lush, rolling landscape. On Sundays, brunch is available, and on Friday and Saturday evenings, a piano player provides light entertainment.
See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.
Austin EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your trip.
For one of the unique things to do in Austin, start the New Year with a Bloody Mary breakfast, followed by a friendly sailing competition. Presented by The Austin Yacht Club, the Red-Eye Regatta takes place on Lake Travis, where dramatic limestone bluffs surround emerald waters.
Several varieties of native trees are on sale at Tree Talk and Winter Walk , with experts relaying planting tips and basic care techniques. The January event at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center also offers organized walks and children's activities if you're wondering what to do outside during the winter.
In early February, the pulsing drum beats of Brazilian dance music fill the Palmer Events Center during Carnaval Brasileiro . Swathed in masks, glitter, colorful feathers, beads and body paint, partygoers come to be seen, to samba and to abandon all inhibition.
Homemade kites take flight at the Zilker Park Kite Festival , vying for such titles as highest flying and most unusual. This March celebration began in the 1920s and features stunt demonstrations by a professional kite team, workshops and a mass launching.
Musicians, independent filmmakers and technology entrepreneurs travel from all over the globe to showcase their work at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. The event attracts nearly 340,000 attendees in March with concerts, movie screenings, trade shows and seminars at venues throughout downtown Austin. By contrast, the Austin City Limits Music Festival takes place in one location and features more world-renowned bands. The festival spans 6 days over two weekends (Fri.-Sun.) in October and brings more than 225,000 rocking music lovers each year, which turns Zilker Metropolitan Park into a vacation destination.
During the Statesman Capitol 10K in late April, more than 22,000 people participate in a 6.2-mile run/walk from Barton Springs Road to Riverside Drive. The event includes a timed run and a wheelchair race, while creatively costumed participants enter the Fun Run & Walk.
More than 200,000 people enjoy fun things to do such as enjoying arts and crafts displays, multicultural performances, plays and live music at the Old Pecan Street Spring Arts Festival . The May fair takes place on 6th Street, originally called Pecan Street when east-west streets were named after trees.
Held at Fiesta Gardens, the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival provides an extra dose of heat amid sizzling August temperatures and spicy food from local restaurants. Along with celebrity chef judges, about 15,000 attendees decide the winners of this zesty contest.
Aspiring directors and writers mingle with industry professionals at October's Austin Film Festival . Movie screenings, creative competitions and interactive panels focus on the importance of narrative storytelling in film and television.
In late October, the more than 6,000 participants at the LIVESTRONG Challenge Ride for the Roses represent all experience levels and bike in a series of races ranging from 20 to 100 miles.
With first lady Laura Bush serving as its honorary chairperson, the Texas Book Festival includes readings, talks and panels with some of the nation's most distinguished authors. The November event promotes literacy and benefits the state's public library system.
During Chuy's Christmas Parade , crowds line Congress and 6th streets for glimpses of Santa Claus, festive floats, huge inflatable balloons, cartoon characters, marching bands and classic cars. Held in late November, the pageant amasses holiday gifts for needy children.
Shop for fine art and distinctive gifts at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar in December. Inside the Palmer Events Center, artists and craftspeople sell everything from herbal soaps to metal sculptures, while bands keep more than 35,000 patrons entertained.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
Lights, Camera, Action!Austin's artistic spirit is reflected in its thriving movie industry. Film crews capture the essence of the city: resonating guitars and wailing saxophones, lush landscapes crowned by cerulean skies and passionate citizens with boundless imaginations. Diverse characters are brought to life here, from the cultural heroes of “The Alamo” to dejected “Office Space” employees. On the big screen, the region's varied backdrops—rolling hills, town squares, deserts, farmland, forests, lakes and prairies—double for such far-flung destinations as Morocco, Chicago, New York and Vietnam. Austin provides filmmakers with all the essentials, enabling them to craft fantasy lands, re-create history and examine American culture without a hefty travel budget.
Heralded as a top U.S. destination to live and make motion pictures, this burgeoning creative paradise attracts a loyal following. Actors associated with Austin include Ethan Hawke, Renée Zellweger and Owen Wilson. Sandra Bullock, who owns one of the restaurants on 6th Street, shot “Hope Floats,” “Miss Congeniality” and “Infamous” in the city. An active member of the community, she assisted Hurricane Katrina evacuees sheltered at the Austin Convention Center and helped fund a girls' school named after former governor Ann Richards.
While permanent indoor sets are appealing, a semi-arid climate and mild winters allow for year-round shoots in a region offering an abundance of natural environs within a short trip. In addition, few permits or fees are required for public shoots in Austin. The film commission provides information about city ordinances and assists with location scouting. It also distributes a comprehensive neighborhood guide listing everything from costume shops to aerial cinematographers to exotic reptile wranglers.
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