Austin is so well known for its live music scene that its nickname, Live Music Capital of the World®, is a registered trademark, but visitors also flock to the city for its many year-round festivals, sporting events, and excellent food scene. While Austin may not be known for its museums in the way that New York City or Chicago are, the state capital of Texas is actually bursting with them, and although lesser-known, they are worth taking time to check out. So if you’re looking for something to pass an afternoon between lunch at Franklin Barbeque and an evening show at the Continental Club or you’re seeking a respite from the SxSW crowds, here’s a sampling of the best museums in Austin for every type of traveler.
- Best children’s museums in Austin
- Art museums in Austin
- History museums in Austin
- A real Tonkawa tribal encampment
- The home of one of the early Texas pioneers
- The farm of a family of German emigrants
- The home of a wealthy family of cotton planters
- A barn used to stable animals and store feed and tools
- A natural area that has changed little since the 1800s
- A re-creation of a rural village on the plains
Best children’s museums in Austin
Thinkery is a children’s museum focused on learning through play. The museum provides both outdoor and indoor spaces for exploration, as well as a variety of hands-on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) activities for children from infancy to eleven. Be sure to check out the Smile Here exhibit where kids can take a selfie and blend, split, interweave or tile it with another person’s photo to create a new image, or the Spark Shop where kids can build and launch a glider.
Address: 1830 Simond Ave, Austin, TX 78723
Hours of operation: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM; Tuesday 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM; Saturday and Sunday 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
Cost: $16 for general admission. Free for children under two. Military and first responders receive a $3 discount for up to five family members (with ID).
Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farm
Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farm is a 90-acre living-history museum. Walking paths lead families to seven different themed areas where they can step back in time to experience Texas as it was in the 19th century. The grounds include:
The museum also offers classes related to life in the 1800s, like blacksmithing a knife, cooking on an open hearth, and square dancing.
Address: 10621 Pioneer Farms Dr, Austin, TX 78754, US
Hours of operation: Thursday through Sunday 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM (last admission at 4:00 PM).
Cost: $8 for adults, $6 for youth (three to 17) and seniors (65 and over). Free for children two and under. Additional fees for classes.
Eat Like a Local: Make a short drive to the Top Notch drive-in for a hamburger (or fried chicken).
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is the botanic garden of Texas, dedicated to conserving Texas’s native plants. The center has over 900 species of native plants from all over the state of Texas, arranged in themed gardens, making this a lovely place for both adults and kids. Specifically for the kids, there’s the Luci and Ian Family Garden, which includes a maze and Fibonacci spiral, giant tree stumps for climbing, a grotto with caves and a waterfall, and a flowing creek with dinosaur footprints.
Address: 4801 La Crosse Ave, Austin, TX 78739, US
Hours of operation: Daily 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
Eat like a local: Grab lunch to-go at the Wildflower Cafe and have a picnic on the grounds.
Art museums in Austin
Blanton Museum of Art
Located on the University of Texas at Austin campus, the Blanton Museum of Art is Austin’s largest art museum. The museum displays artwork from its permanent collection of European, modern and contemporary, and Latin American art, as well as traveling exhibitions. Not to be missed are two works by contemporary artists Teresita Fernández and Elsworth Kelly. Fernández’s Stacked Waters transforms the museum’s atrium into an immersive experience, and Kelly’s Austin, a stone building with colored glass windows, a totemic wood sculpture, and fourteen black and white marble panels. (Austin will be closed temporarily in the fall of 2022 for conservation work.)
Address: 200 E. Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Austin, TX 78712, US
Hours of operation: Wednesday through Saturday 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM; Sunday 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM.
Cost: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors (65 and over), and $5 for youth and college students (ID required). Free for children under 12, UT students, faculty, and staff, and teachers (ID required). Free admission on Thursdays.
Eat Like a Local: Walk to the Clay Pit on Guadalupe Street for contemporary Indian cuisine.
Other places to visit nearby: Landmarks public art installations on the University of Texas at Austin campus (including James Turrell’s The Color Inside).
The Umlauf Sculpture Garden
In 1985, Charles Umlauf, artist and long-time professor at the University of Texas, and his wife Angeline, gifted their home near Zilker Park to the city of Austin. The grounds were then transformed into the Umlauf Sculpture Garden to exhibit dozens of Umlauf’s stone and bronze sculptures, which were also bequeathed to the city. Tree-covered trails wind through the garden with a pond as its central feature.
Address: 605 Azie Morton Rd, Austin, TX 78704, US
Hours of operation: Tuesday through Friday 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM; Saturday and Sunday 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM.
Eat like a local: Make a short drive to the original Chuy’s on Barton Springs Road for Tex-Mex.
History museums in Austin
Bullock Texas State History Museum
The Bullock Texas State History Museum is all about the story of Texas. The permanent exhibits are displayed chronologically, beginning on the first floor and ending on the third. On the first floor, Becoming Texas tells the story of the first inhabitants all the way through to Mexican Independence in 1821. The second floor covers Texas history from 1821 to 1936, and the third floor focuses on the 20th century. Along the way, see the La Belle, the French ship that was part of La Salle’s attempt to colonize the Texas Gulf coast, a life-size statue of Sam Houston by Elizabet Ney, and the ACL Theater, which plays Austin City Limits performances from the past forty years. On the ground floor there is an IMAX theater that shows newly released movies, as well as classics and documentaries.
Address: 1800 Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78701, US
Hours of operation: Wednesday through Sunday 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
Cost: $13 for adults, $11 for students, military, and seniors (65 and over), $9 for youth (four to 17). Free for children three and under. Additional fees for IMAX theater.
Eat like a local: Walk over to the Texas Chili Parlor on Lavaca Street.
Other things to see nearby: The Texas State Capitol is a 10-minute walk from the museum. Take a free guided tour and take a good look at the magnificent cupola.
Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library
The Presidential Library of the 36th President of the United States includes an animatronic LBJ, his post-presidency limousine, and a replica of his Oval Office. One section is dedicated to November 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated and LBJ was sworn in as president.
Address: 2313 Red River St, Austin, TX 78705, US
Hours of operation: Daily 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM (last admission at 4:00 PM).
Cost: $13 for adults, $9 for seniors (62 and over), $7 for veterans, $4 for youth (13 to 18) and college students (with ID). Free for children 12 and under, active military, and UT students, staff, and faculty. Half-price admission on Tuesdays.
Eat like a local: Take a short drive to Hoover’s Cooking on Manor Road for some Southern home-style cooking.
The Harry Ransom Center
The Harry Ransom Center is the humanities research center at the University of Texas at Austin. Their collections include archives of writers and artists in the field of literature, photography, film, art, and the performing arts. Rotating exhibitions of the materials from their collections might include Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait, a Gutenberg Bible, Edgar Allan Poe’s desk, or works from the archives of David O. Selznick, Gloria Swanson, Ernest Lehman, or Robert De Niro.
Address: 300 W 21st St, Austin, TX 78712, US (on the University of Texas at Austin campus)
Hours of operation: Tuesday through Friday 10:00 AM to 5:00. PM; Saturday and Sunday 12 noon to 5:00 PM.
Eat like a local: Walk to Kerbey Lane Cafe on Guadalupe Street.