What Not to Miss When in Austin, Texas

From famous bats and junk art to museums and performing arts, this popular city offers an eclectic mix of sightseeing adventures.

Austin has a vibrant culture and is alive with energy. Considered one of the best cities in the country to be single, an Austin vacation is rife with opportunities to get out, see new things and meet new people. It’s not just a city for singles, though—there are plenty of things to do in Austin for couples with or without kids to do as well. Following are some of the premier Austin attractions.

Austin Art Museums

The Blanton Museum of Art is home to more than 17,000 works of art and contains everything from modern American art to centuries-old European paintings by the masters. You could spend hours wandering this museum alone, and now that it has a top-notch café on-site, there may be no reason not to. The museum is closed Mondays, and offers free admission on Thursdays (the third Thursday of the month, the museum stays open until 9 p.m.). The first Friday of the month, the museum is open from 6 to 11 p.m., and offers special events and activities such as live music, drinks, yoga and readings (schedule varies; tickets available online or at the museum).

200 E. Martin Luther King Blvd., tel. 512-471-7324. Admission: $7 for adults, $5 for seniors, $3 for students and youths, free for children 12 and under. Hours: Mon. closed, Tue. through Fri. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sun. 1 to 5 p.m. blantonmuseum.org

For contemporary art, the Austin Museum of Art offers rotating exhibitions. The downtown location on Congress Avenue offers tours and hands-on activities, while the Laguna Gloria location is better known for its historic and beautiful 12-acre grounds dotted with sculptures. Another great site for sculptures is the Umlauf Sculpture Garden near Zilker Park.

AMOA-Downtown, 823 Congress Ave., tel. 512-495-9224. Admission: $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and students, free for children 12 and under. Hours: Mon. closed, Tue. and Wed. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thu. 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sun. 12 to 5 p.m. AMOA-Laguna Gloria, 3809 35th St., tel. 512-458-8191. Admission: $3 suggested donation. Villa Hours: Mon. closed, Tue. and Wed. 12 to 4 p.m., Thu. through Sun. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Grounds Hours: Mon. through Sat. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. www.amoa.org

Austin Music & Culture

Any Austin vacation should include music and a taste of some of the attractions that “Keep Austin Weird,” as the city is known for its live music and free-spiritedness. Read our Austin Nightlife article for where to catch some of the city’s best musical acts.

For a more curated taste of local atmosphere, head to the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture. This museum holds pop culture art—mostly posters for music shows—from the 1960s through today. Or check out the Texas Music Museum, a showcase for artifacts, photographs, documents and other items related to Texas music.

South Austin Museum of Popular Culture, 1516 B S. Lamar Blvd., tel. 512-440-8318. Admission: donations suggested. Hours: Thu. through Sun. 1 to 6 p.m. www.samopc.org. Texas Music Museum, 1009 E. 11th St., tel. 512-472-8891. Admission: free. Hours: Mon. through Fri. 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. www.texasmusicmuseum.org

Around sunset, head over to the Congress Avenue Bridge, poised over Ladybird Lake, home to the largest urban bat colony in North America. At dusk, the 1.5 million bats living under the bridge wake up and begin their search for food. The bats follow the river hunting for insects and appear like a black ribbon in the sky. Choose to watch the bats from above along the bridge, or down below on the river bank. If you watch from below, be aware that you may feel like it’s sprinkling lightly as the bats pass by. It isn’t.

Bat-viewing is best during the summer months. The bridge is located in downtown Austin near 200 S. Congress Ave. An information kiosk is on the north bank of Ladybird Lake, east of the bridge.

After a busy day in town and before or after an evening barhopping on Sixth Street, check out one of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas. This fun movie-theater chain takes the concept of “dinner and a movie” and combines it into a single event—a full menu and drinks are served in the theater. The company has four locations in Austin, some of which primarily show new releases, while others focus on obscure older films, locally produced films, or shorts and special events. The downtown Sixth Street location, the Ritz, takes entertainment a step further and frequently offers “Mystery Science Theater 3000”-style events, singalongs and “best of” holiday clip shows.

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema (Alamo Ritz), 320 E. Sixth St., tel. 512-476-1320. Admission: $8.50 for adults, $6.50 for students, seniors and children 6 to 11. All shows before 6 p.m. are $6.50. www.drafthouse.com

For an off-the-beaten-path take on Austin’s funky culture, check out the aptly named Cathedral of Junk. The Cathedral is yard art at its finest: more than 60 tons of junk wired together into towers, spires and sculptures in a South Austin man’s backyard. Hours vary, as this is a private residence, but typically the Cathedral of Junk is open for exploration on weekends. (Call ahead to make sure the owner is around.)

4422 Lareina Drive, tel. 512-299-7413. Admission: free, donations accepted. Hours: Tue. through Sun. 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.  

Austin History and Sights for Learning

For some background on the rich history of the state of Texas, stop by the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. Here, displays are combined with interactive exhibits, the Texas Spirit Theater (a multimedia special effects theater) and an IMAX Theatre to make learning about history fun for kids and adults alike.

1800 N. Congress Ave., tel. 512-936-8746. Admission: $7 for adults; $6 for seniors, college students and military; $4 for youths (5-18); free for children under 4 (discounts available for combination tickets to museum, IMAX and Texas Spirit Theater). Hours: Mon. through Sat. 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. www.thestoryoftexas.com

If you’re traveling with kids, the Austin Children’s Museum can’t be beat for interactive fun. Permanent exhibits include the Funstruction Zone, where kids can try out construction; the Global City, which models aspects of city life; and the Tinkerer’s Workshop, in which children can explore the laws of physics by inventing and testing new creations. The museum is free between 4 and 5 p.m. on Sundays, or asks for a suggested donation of $1 between 5 and 8 p.m. on Wednesdays. Afternoons and the first Tuesday of every month (when the museum is closed to groups) are the least crowded times to visit.

201 Colorado St., tel. 512-472-2499. Admission: $6.50 for adults and children 2 years and above, $4.50 for children 12 to 23 months, free for children under 12 months. Hours: Mon. closed, Tue. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wed. 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Thu. through Sat. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sun. 12 to 5 p.m. www.austinkids.org

Austin Performing Arts

Austin’s Long Center for the Performing Arts is a fairly new facility that unifies Austin’s performing arts scene. Made from almost exclusively recycled materials, the facility contains a grand concert hall, a studio theater and a city terrace. Ballet performances, plays, symphony concerts, rock shows and more are common occurrences at the Long Center.

701 W. Riverside Drive, tel. 512-457-5100. www.thelongcenter.org

In the warmer months, bring a blanket or chair to the Zilker Hillside Theater in Zilker Park. This outdoor theater offers free ballets, plays, musicals and symphony concerts after dark. Bass Concert Hall on the University of Texas campus, Austin Lyric Opera, and the Zachary Scott Theater also offer various types of high-quality performances.

Zilker Hillside Theater, in Zilker Park across from Barton Springs Pool, tel. 512-479-9491. www.zilker.org. Bass Concert Hall, 2350 Robert Dedman Drive, tel. 512-471-1444. www.utpac.org. Austin Lyric Opera, 901 Barton Springs Road, tel. 512-472-5992. austinlyricopera.org. Zachary Scott Theater, 1501 Toomey Road, tel. 512-476-0541 ext. 1. www.zachtheatre.org.

Destinations: Austin

Themes: Art and Museums, Family Travel

Activities: Arts and Entertainment, Museums, Sightseeing