The Top Austin, Texas Attractions

By on December 24, 2015

Welcome to the city of Austin, Texas, a high-tech enclave that also boasts rich cultural heritage as the “Live Music Capital of the World.” More than 12 million people travel to Austin each year to experience its unique blend of natural beauty, progressive industry, and world-class live entertainment.

It’s little wonder that the city of Austin was selected as the capital of Texas, seizing the seat of the state government from Houston in 1839. Somewhat ironically, the city of Austin is also home to a boisterous class of liberals and environmentalists, drawn to this artsy boontown alongside left-wing musicians with dreams of stardom. Tourists who travel to Austin will note the ever-present spirit of artistic expression here, from the hundreds of live venues to the South By Southwest Conference, which showcases starry-eyed bands to equally hopeful record executives each March.

Unlike Dallas and Houston, its fast-paced siblings to the north, the city of Austin Texas maintains a laid-back, small-town ambience. Today, the city of Austin ranks as the fourth largest in Texas, consisting of more than a half-million people spread out over 218 square miles. To the delight of modern professionals and outdoorsy types, the city of Austin happily supports both cultures. Often referred to as the Texas version of Silicon Valley, the city of Austin hosts many of the largest players in the high-tech industry. Yet tourists also travel to Austin in droves each year to savor the natural limestone pool at Barton Springs, exotic gardens of Zilker Park, and numerous hiking and biking trails.

Use this guide to begin planning your travel to Austin. Discover the natural wonders and cultural thrills that draw vacationers by the millions to the city of Austin, Texas.

Barton Springs Pool

Barton Springs Pool

If the University of Texas is the seat of Austin’s intellect, and the state capitol is its political pulse, Barton Springs is the city’s soul. The Native Americans who settled near here believed these waters had spiritual powers, and today’s residents still place their faith in the abilities of the spring-fed pool to soothe and cool.

Each day, approximately 32 million gallons of water from the underground Edwards Aquifer bubble to the surface here; at one time, this force powered several Austin mills. Although the original limestone bottom remains, concrete was added to the banks to form uniform sides to what is now a swimming pool of about 1,000 feet by 125 feet. Maintaining a constant 68° temperature, the amazingly clear water is bracing in summer and warming in winter, when many hearty souls brave the cold for a dip. Lifeguards are on duty for most of the day, and a large bathhouse operated by the Parks and Recreation Department offers changing facilities and a gift shop. For details about the new Splash! Environmental information center (tel. 512/481-1466).

Zilker Park | 512/867-3080 | | Admission $2.50 Mon-Fri, $3 Sat-Sun adults; $2 ages 12-17; $1 children 11 and under | Daily 5am-10pm except during pool maintenance (Thurs 8am-7pm). Lifeguard on duty Apr-Sept 8am-10pm; Oct to early Nov 8am-8pm; mid-Nov to Mar 9am-6pm. Gift shop and Splash!, Tues-Fri noon-6pm; Sat-Sun 10am-6pm | Bus: no. 30 (Barton Creek Square)

LBJ Library and Museum

LBJ Library and Museum

Set on a hilltop commanding an impressive campus view, the LBJ Library contains some 45 million documents relating to the colorful 36th president, along with gifts, memorabilia, and other historical objects. Johnson himself kept an office here from 1971, when the building was dedicated, until his death in 1973. Photos trace his long political career, starting with his early successes as a state representative and continuing through to the Kennedy assassination and the Civil Rights Movement. LBJ’s success in enacting social programs is depicted in an Alfred Leslie painting of the Great Society. Johnson loved political cartoons, even when he was their target; examples from his large collection are among the museum’s most interesting rotating exhibits. Adults and kids alike are riveted by the animatronic version of LBJ. Dressed in his clothes and speaking with a tape recording of his voice, the life-size, gesticulating figure seems eerily alive from afar.

University of Texas | 512/916-5136 | | Free admission | Closed Christmas | Daily 9am-5pm | Bus: Blue and Orange ‘Dillos, UT Shuttle

State Capitol

State Capitol

Begun in 1990 and completed in time for the 1995 legislative session, a massive renovation and expansion–to the tune of $187.6 million–restored Texas’s capitol building to its former glory and added a striking new underground annex. A refurbishing of the capitol grounds was finished in 1997. Among other things, the old wrought-iron perimeter fence, topped with gold Lone Stars, was reconstructed (part of it was in storage) and reinstalled–but this time, the gates don’t have to be shut to keep the cattle out.

The current 1888 capitol replaced an 1852 limestone statehouse that burned down in 1881; a land-rich but otherwise impecunious Texas government traded 3 million acres of public lands to contractors to finance its construction. Gleaming pink granite was donated to the cause, but a railroad had to be built to transport the material some 75 miles from Granite Mountain, near Marble Falls, to Austin. Texas convicts labored on the project alongside 62 stonecutters brought in from Scotland.

The result was the largest state capitol in the country, second only in size to the U.S. Capitol–but measuring 7 feet taller. The building covers 3 acres of ground; the cornerstone alone weighs 16,000 pounds, and the total length of the wooden wainscoting runs approximately 7 miles. A splendid rotunda and dome lie at the intersection of the main corridors; the House and Senate chambers are located at opposite ends of the second level. The legislative sessions are open to the public; go up to the third-floor visitors’ balcony if you want see how politics are conducted Texas-style.

Almost 700,000 tons of rock were chiseled from the ground to make way for the new extension, connected to the capitol and four other state buildings by tunnels. Skylights provide natural illumination and afford spectacular views of the capitol dome. To complement the 1888 building, the annex was constructed with similar materials and incorporates many of the capitol’s symbols and styles. The design of what has been called the “inside-out, upside-down capitol” is extremely clever; the large brass star on the outdoor rotunda, for example, also functions as a water drain.

512/463-0063 | Free admission | Mon-Fri 7am-10pm; Sat-Sun 9am-8pm; 24 hours a day during legislative sessions (held in odd years, starting in Jan, for 140 straight days; 30-day special sessions are also sometimes called). Free 45-min. guided tours every 15 min. Mon-Fri 8:30am-4:30pm; Sat-Sun 9:30am-4:30pm | Bus: Yellow, Orange, Red, and Blue ‘Dillo lines

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Talk about fieldwork: The researchers at this lovely, colorful complex have 178 acres of wildflowers for their personal laboratory. Founded by Lady Bird Johnson in 1982, the center is dedicated to the study and preservation of native plants–and where better to survey them than in the Texas Hill Country, famous for its glorious spring blossoms?

The main attractions are naturally the display gardens–among them, one designed to attract butterflies–and the wildflower-filled meadow, but the native stone architecture of the visitors center and observation tower is attention grabbing, too. Included among the interesting indoor displays is one of Lady Bird’s wide-brimmed gardening hats and a talking lawnmower with a British accent. There are usually free lectures and guided walks on the weekends; phone or check the Web site for current programs. The facility’s research library is the largest in the United States for the study of native plants. The excellent gift shop sells packets of information about the species that are indigenous to your home state, as well as plant books and many creative botanical-related items. The admission and gift shop proceeds help fund the nonprofit organization. | Admission $10 adults, $8 students and seniors 60 and older; 4 youth 5 -17 and younger free | Tues-Sat 9am-4pm; Sun 1-4pm (grounds open Tues-Sun 9am-5:30pm) | Take Loop 1 (Mo-Pac) south to Slaughter Lane; drive eight-tenths of a mile to La Crosse Ave.

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