The museum scene in Austin may not be as robust as Dallas or Houston, but what it lacks in numbers it makes up for in diversity. After all, where else can you learn about wacky popular culture, dinosaurs and history of Texas all in one afternoon? From the sprawling, high-tech Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum to the cool Harry Ransom Center, there’s a little something for everyone in Austin. Even better, many of the attractions are free or charge only a nominal fee. Just be sure you check on hours before you go, as they are sometimes subject to change.
Harry Ransom Center
300 West 21st St.; 512-471-8944; www.hrc.utexas.edu.
You could easily get lost in this incredible University of Texas museum, which houses some of the most important documents, literature and historical artifacts in the world. Focused on the arts and humanities, some past center exhibits have included the Woodward and Bernstein Watergate papers, art by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, and the archives of Norman Mailer, David Mamet, Jorge Luis Borges, Penelope Lively and Leon Uris. To visit the Harry Ransom Center is to take a walk through history. The museum is closed on Sunday.
LBJ Library & Museum
2313 Red River St.; 512-721-0200; www.lbjlibrary.org
Lyndon Baines Johnson had strong roots in Central Texas, so it’s only fitting that his presidential library and museum would be nestled in the heart of downtown Austin. Even for non-political types, the museum is a marvel, with exhibits including a recreated Oval Office from Johnson’s time in the White House, artifacts detailing his courtship with wife Lady Bird Johnson, 45 million pages of historical documents related to LBJ and detailed timelines explaining both his personal and political life. Special exhibits are also frequently on display. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. .
419 Congress Ave.; 512-480-9373; www.mexic-artemuseum.org
The official Mexican and Mexican American Fine Art Museum of Texas, the Mexic-Arte Museum delights visitors with rotating collections as well as free lectures by artists, anthropologists and writers and special events such as tequila tastings, galas and art sales. With its focus on contemporary and traditional Mexican, Latino and Latin American art and culture, you can expect to leave this museum with a greater understanding of the Austin community at large.
South Austin Museum of Popular Culture
1516 S. Lamar Blvd.; 512-440-8318; www.samopc.org
This little museum encourages people to come visit Thursday-Sunday between 1 p.m. – 6 p.m. or “by appointment and chance.” That pretty much sums up a visit to the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture: It’s quirky, it’s random and it’s fun. Founded in 2004, the museum was created to pay homage to Austin’s unique culture, particularly the artwork created to promote the music scene over the years. If you love Austin, you have to stop in. Seeing is believing.
Texas Natural Science Center
2400 Trinity St.; 512-471-1604;www.utexas.edu/tmm
One of the greatest things about living in a university town is that the wealth of knowledge within the campus community frequently ends up benefitting the community at large. Such is the case with the Texas Natural Science Center, which is located on the University of Texas campus and features exhibits on topics such as dinosaurs, gems and minerals, Texas wildlife and more. Special tours are also offered by appointment.
Our Top 10 Austin Area Museums
Austin is not only home to the University of Texas and the Texas State Capitol, the city also boasts an impressive number of museums. From state history to natural sciences, an unbelievable amount of information is showcased in an entertaining and informative manner at Austin’s top museums.
- Bob Bullock Story of Texas Museum
Many visitors to Austin, the Texas state capital city, are intrigued by the history of the Lone Star State. Luckily for them, the city is also home to the Bob Bullock Story of Texas Museum, which encapsulates the state’s history and showcases it via a variety of interactive exhibits.
- LBJ Library and Museum
Dedicated to former President Lyndon B. Johnson, the LBJ Library and Museum houses a variety of permanent exhibits – including a White House exhibit – as well as several temporary showcases, making it one of Austin’s best tourist stops.
- Texas Music Museum
The Texas Music Museum in Austin is dedicated to preserving and showcasing the musical history of Texas, as well as the contributions of Texas musicians to the national and world music scene.
- Thinkery – Austin Children’s Museum
The Austin’s Children’s Museum is THE place to take the kids while visiting Austin – the perfect place to learn and have fun.
- Austin Nature and Science Center
The Austin Nature and Science Center provides nature exhibits and educational information for groups and individuals visiting Austin.
- Austin Museum of Art
Located in downtown Austin, the Austin Museum of Art provides over 5,000 square feet of ever-changing visual art exhibits.
- Elisabet Ney Museum
The Austin area home and studio of famed sculptor Elisabet Ney has been preserved as a museum, displaying her works, furnishings and tools.
- Mexic-Arte Museum
Austin’s Mexic-Arte Museum was founded in 1983 to preserve and promote traditional and contemporary Mexican and Latino art.
- Capitol Visitors Center
Located on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol Complex, the Capitol Visitors Center is housed in the 1856-57 General Land Office building. Today, this historic building houses a number of displays showcasing the history of Texas and tells the story of the Capitol building itself.
- Texas Natural Science Center
The Texas Natural Science Center is home to a variety of displays and exhibits showcasing Texas wildlife from pre-historic to modern times. The museum is housed on the University of Texas campus and often hosts well-known speakers and presenters.