Nestled in the heart of Texas Hill Country, Austin, Texas has a rich history, dating back to long before the arrival of the Spanish colonists. Originally, the land was home to the Tonkawa, Comanche, and Apache tribes, until 1730, when missionaries established three missions in the area. It quickly grew into a thriving city, becoming the state capitol in 1839, and a center of trade and culture. It has since become a booming metropolis – without ever losing that Hill Country charm.
From art to live music to festivals, Austin is a cultural hub in Texas, so it comes as no surprise that the city has produced some world-class talent. Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey not only attended the University of Texas at Austin, but also teaches there. Hip-hop artist Nelly may call Atlanta home, but he was born in Austin. And tennis legend Andy Roddick grew up in Austin!
Things To Do In Austin, Texas
Austin City Limits Music Festival
The Austin City Limits Music Festival (ACL Fest) takes over Zilker Park for two weekends in October. Musicians from all genres, including Metallica, Arctic Monkeys, Robyn, David Ball, and Miley Cyrus, come to perform. In between concerts, you can grab food from a variety of food trucks and booths, see amazing art installations, and meet other music-lovers.
Eeyore’s Birthday Party
Every April, Austin hosts Eeyore’s Birthday Party, a whimsical and offbeat celebration of the Pooh character created by A.A. Milne. With costume parties, live music, and more, it’s a few days of lighthearted fun and a temporary return to your childhood – plus, it absolutely helps “Keep Austin Weird”! While we weren’t in town for it, it’s definitely on my list for the future.
South By Southwest (SXSW)
We actually intentionally left Austin right before South by Southwest. I considered going, but it probably wouldn’t be fun for M, and frankly, we didn’t want to deal with the crowds. However, if you’re interested in technology, film, and music, South by Southwest (SXSW) is a world-class event for directors, actors, musicians, and tech gurus to show off their skills, their ideas, and more.
Did you know Austin is actually called the “live music capital of the world”? Country, rap, rock, and more – Austinites LOVE music. The Austin Lyric Opera and Austin Symphony Orchestra are great places to satisfy your love of classical music, but there’s also hundreds of live music venues across the city, where you can see new talent perform before they make it big – or see superstars drop in for a quick, fun performance. In our nine days in Austin, despite not seeking out live music at all, we still saw three different performances!
History And Museums
Texas Memorial Museum
Located on the University of Texas – Austin campus, the Texas Memorial Museum was fascinating. We enjoyed the paleontology exhibits, but even more fascinating was learning so much about the Native tribes that used to inhabit the area. The Hall of Wildlife and Biodiversity was also fascinating – we didn’t get a chance to go hiking, so we appreciated the chance to learn about the local fauna.
Texas State Capitol
The State Capitol Building was built in 1888, and it is truly amazing. We took a short tour and highly recommend I t – we were even able to see the politicians at work! The rotunda was particularly gorgeous, and worth a trip all on its own, but if you’re in Austin, take an hour or two to visit t he rest of the building and the library.
Thinkery is a children’s museum full of interactive exhibits for a variety of ages, from toddlers to teens. Designed to promote an interest in the STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, art, and math), the center lets kids explore how light works, toy around with the concept of inventing, and run off some energy outside on the playground.
Congress Avenue Bridge
Shortly before sunset, head over to Congress Avenue Bridge, and find a good spot to sit. As the sun goes down, hordes of Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from under the bridge. It’s a truly stunning sight – the bridge is home to the largest urban bat colony on the continent, and…they black out the sky as they fly out to go find food.
Just outside of the city is the Austin Zoo, filled with rescued and rehabilitated animals. Big cats, exotic birds, and an assortment of primates are just a few of the animals you’ll see. There are even options for interaction with some of the animals – only those safe enough to meet, of course! It’s one of the good zoos, focused on keeping the animals healthy and comfortable.
The zoo isn’t the only option for animal lovers. We had a blast at the Austin Aquarium, where they house everything from tiny fish to stingrays to massive sharks. Touch tanks let you get up-close-and-personal with some of the animals, and we enjoyed learning about the ocean creatures. Considering M was homeschooling during our Great RV Journey, it was great to have something fun and educational on our list.
Austin City Tour
One of our favorite activities was taking a bus tour around Austin. In just a few hours, we got an overview of the history of the city, the architecture that makes up the impressive skyline, and the bus even headed out of the city so that we could see the gorgeous landscape. It was also a great way to relax when our feet got tired!
My birthday fell during our time in Austin, and my sister gave me a gift certificate to Upstairs Circus, a quirky DIY arts studio. Blasting pop hits, M and I each chose a craft – I made a stamped leather wallet – and enjoyed a glass of wine (soda for my underaged daughter!) as we worked. If you want to do something hands-on in Austin, we highly recommend Upstairs Circus. It was fun, the staff was kind and helpful, and we both walked away with new souvenirs!