State Capitol#1 in Best Things To Do in Austin
Standing stoically in the heart of central Austin is Texas's legislative center, the State Capitol. Opened in 1888, this pink-granite landmark stands 14 feet taller than the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Much of the capitol, including the 218-foot rotunda, the chamber of the Hall of Representatives and the governor's receiving room, still look the same as they did when the capitol opened.
The structure underwent a large-scale restoration starting in the 1980s, including replacing the zinc statue of the Goddess of Liberty that sits atop the dome with an aluminum one. The restoration also included a 667,000-square-foot underground extension that was completed in 1993 to accommodate how much the state government had grown. Many visitors say it's the most impressive state legislative building they've ever seen, but they also warn it can be crowded at times. If you want to learn a bit of Texas history without having to pay an entrance fee, you can't beat a visit to the capitol building, according to past travelers. The building is also a featured stop on many of the best tours in Austin.
Visitors to the State Capitol are welcome to explore the building and the grounds on their own using the self-guided tour pamphlets provided by the Capitol Visitors Center (also available to download on the State Preservation Board's website), or they can tag along on a free guided tour, which generally last about 30 minutes. Tours are offered daily; Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; Sunday from noon to 3:30 p.m. The building itself operates on different hours (it's open until 10 p.m. throughout the week and 8 p.m. on the weekends). Travelers can also learn more about Texas's history at the exhibits inside the Capitol Visitors Center located at the southeast corner of the capitol grounds. Parking is free for the first two hours. The Capitol Station bus station sits within walking distance of the capitol, and several routes, including nos. 801 and 803 and the No. 3 make stops there. Hours vary depending on the building and season, so check the State Preservation Board's website to plan your visit.
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#2 Mount Bonnell
For great views, head to Mount Bonnell at Covert Park, which provides sweeping views of the city, Lake Austin and the surrounding hills. The 5.1-acre historic linear park is home to a 775-foot-high outcrop, considered the highest spot in the area. Mount Bonnell is designated a Texas Historic Landmark and is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The point is located alongside the Lake Austin portion of the Colorado River and has proven to be an enduring tourist destination since the 1850s.
Recent visitors said it offers great views, best enjoyed on clear days. The peak of the overlook, which takes 102 steps to get to, is a craggy limestone outcropping and is surrounded by a forested area of live oak, ash juniper, persimmon and mountain laurel. Past travelers described the walk as "scenic and easy."
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