AAA Travel Tips / Budget Friendly Austin

Budget Friendly Austin

AAA/Katie McPhee
By AAA Travel Editor Laurie Sterbens
February 26, 2019
Just because you’re on vacation in Austin doesn’t mean every day has to be a splurge. Whether you’re on a tight budget or just want to save for a few special activities, you’re in luck, because this destination is packed with fun things to do that are free or very inexpensive.
Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin Texas
iStockphoto.com/RoschetzkyIstockPhoto

Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge

Congress Ave. & Barton Springs Rd.
(512) 327-9721
While the Congress Avenue Bridge is always free to drive over or walk across—not a bad idea with its excellent views of Lady Bird Lake and the city skyline­—it’s not so much about the bridge as it is when you go that makes this attraction special. A 1980 refurbishing inadvertently made the underside of the bridge a perfect home for migrating Mexican free-tailed bats. Now, each evening at dusk from mid-May to early October, more than a million bats emerge from beneath the bridge and take to the skies in search of insects. Head to the southeast corner of the bridge for the best view and signs with facts about the bats.
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Entrance to Covert Park at Mount Bonnell in Austin, Texas.
AAA/Katie McPhee

Covert Park at Mount Bonnell

3800 Mount Bonnell Rd.
(512) 974-6700
Pack a picnic and head for the highest spot in the city, Covert Park at the top of Mount Bonnell, where scenic lookouts offer breathtaking views of Lake Austin and the mansions along its shores, the downtown skyline and the surrounding hill country. Stone steps lead from the main parking area to the lookouts, but if you’d prefer a longer yet gentler route, head a bit farther north on Mount Bonnell Road. There you’ll find another parking area and the entrance to the Covert Park at Mount Bonnell Trail, which meanders about one-third of a mile along the ridge to the top.
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Hibiscus Flower
AAA/Diana Beyer

Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve

3503 W. 35th St.
(512) 974-6700
Not up for a hilly hike? How about a shady stroll through colorful botanical gardens and a lush nature preserve? Mayfield Park and Nature Preserve is a 23-acre site with an 1870s cottage that was used as a summer home by former Texas Secretary of State and Railroad Commissioner Allison Mayfield. His daughter, Mary, and her husband, Milton Gutsch, moved into the cottage in 1922 and spent nearly 50 years creating the gardens where bright blue peacocks wander amid flower beds, shrubs, native palms and water features. A variety of trails allows you to explore the gardens and the surrounding nature preserve.
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Rotunda at Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas.
AAA/Katie McPhee

Texas State Capitol

1100 Congress Ave.
(512) 463-0063
Don’t miss the opportunity to soak up some Lone Star State history during your Austin vacation. The Texas State Capitol offers free guided tours where you’ll learn about the unique structure’s architecture, artworks and, of course, the state’s history. The beautifully landscaped grounds feature several monuments and sculptures, and you’ll find maps and interactive exhibits in the visitors center.
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AAA/Laurie Sterbens

Zilker Metropolitan Park

2100 Barton Springs Rd.
(512) 974-6700
Zilker Metropolitan Park offers hiking, biking, picnicking and attractions amid 358 acres bordering Lady Bird Lake. There are admission fees to the park—$5 per car—and some of the attractions, but if you time it right, some of them are free. Park admission is free Monday through Friday from Labor Day to mid-March, and the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum is free the first Sunday of each month. Barton Springs Pool is free from late October to early March (the spring-fed pool stays 68-70 degrees year-round) or during limited hours in warmer months. Zilker Botanical Garden is a bargain at $3, and admission to the Austin Nature & Science Center is by donation.
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