LBJ Presidential Library

Visitors will find 55,000 artifacts at the LBJ Presidential Library. (LBJ Presidential Library by Jay Godwin)

The capital of Texas might have you thinking tacos and concerts, but visitors also can soak up history and art by visiting Austin’s eclectic mix of museums. Whether you want to see rare pieces or a place where landmark decisions are made, these are the cultural spots to seek out, according to local experts.

Blanton Museum of Art


Blanton Museum of Art

The Blanton Museum of Art (Courtesy of the Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin)


“I always recommend it, as they consistently have unique exhibits,” says David Scheffke, front office manager at the Hotel Ella. On the University of Texas at Austin campus, the remodeled Blanton Museum of Art displays artifacts ranging from ancient Greek pottery to Andy Warhol’s paintings and prints.

[Read: The Best Hotels in Austin.]

Steven Leigh, chief concierge at the Archer Hotel Austin, says, "Sit, turn your phone off and absorb what the creative masters have done. Lose yourself in the creativity and quietness of being in front of something that’s awe-inspiring.”

The Blanton Museum of Art is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Adult admission is $9, youths 13 to 21 are $5, and children 12 and younger are free.

Texas State Capitol

With half-hour tours departing every 30 to 45 minutes, the Texas State Capitol is one of the best free attractions in downtown Austin. Not only is it the largest state capitol, but it’s a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Inside the Texas limestone building are marble statues of Stephen F. Austin, often referred to as the father of Texas, and Sam Houston, who served as president of the Republic of Texas and governor when it later became a state, plus a painting of the legendary David Crockett. Visitors can also view the rotunda, which features portraits of all the presidents of the Republic and state governors. The most prized sights are the Senate and House of Representatives chambers, where paintings of Texas heroes line walls that surround wood desks.

The Capitol is open for self-guided tours Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on weekends from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The Contemporary Austin

The Contemporary Austin modern art museum has two locations: The Contemporary Austin-Jones Center and The Contemporary Austin-Laguna Gloria. The renovated Jones Center is in a downtown building with rotating exhibitions, while Laguna Gloria sits on 14 acres on Lake Austin and includes the 1916 Italianate-style Driscoll Villa, the art school, and the Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park at Laguna Gloria.

[Read: 7 Austin Parks to See on Vacation.]

Garth Weiser paintings and Mark Lewis’ 2017 film "Galveston" are must-sees at the Jones Center. Laguna Gloria’s outdoor sculpture park features exhibits from Ai Weiwei and Terry Allen, as well as the Driscoll Villa estate, a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark that is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jones Center hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The Driscoll Villa at Laguna Gloria is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., while the grounds are open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adult admission is $5 and includes entry to both locations, and those younger than 18 are free. Tuesdays are also free.

LBJ Presidential Library


LBJ Presidential Library by Jay Godwin

LBJ Presidential Library (LBJ Presidential Library by Jay Godwin)


“Architecturally, it’s stunning, and they just did a multimillion-dollar renovation. It’s a beautiful piece of Austin,” says Angela Ashley, assistant front office manager at the South Congress Hotel. Built on the University of Texas at Austin campus, the LBJ Presidential Library has 55,000 artifacts you can comb through, plus audio from White House telephone conversations, 650,000 photos and 5,000 hours of recordings.

Leigh recommends the Oval Office replica. At seven-eighths the scale of the original, the replica shows what the office looked in the ‘60s, with President Lyndon B. Johnson's desk, books and portrait of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Social Justice Gallery and The Legacy Gallery are other permanent exhibits travelers shouldn’t overlook.

The LBJ Presidential Library is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adult admission is $10, youths cost $3, and kids 12 and younger and active-duty members of the military are free.

Harry Ransom Center

Always rotating showcases, the Harry Ransom Center on the University of Texas at Austin campus houses a range of items, from publications and photography to film and artwork. A few permanent exhibits include the world’s first photograph and the Gutenberg Bible. Frida Kahlo’s self-portrait is also currently on display, and the museum has manuscripts from Albert Einstein in its collection.

[Read: 5 Great Austin Shopping Spots.]

Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Wednesday and Friday; from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday; and from noon to 5 p.m. on the weekends. Admission is free, but visitors are encouraged to make a donation.

Bullock Texas State History Museum

The award-winning Bullock Texas State History Museum offers visitors a glimpse of artifacts from more than 13,000 years of the area's history. La Belle, a 17th-century shipwreck, and civil rights movement relics are a few gems on view here.

This downtown spot is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Adult admission is $13, and youths 4 to 17 are $9.

To experience more of what Austin has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.


20 Epic Natual Swimming Holes Across the U.S.


Slideshow

Take a dip in these beautiful natural oases.

Hamilton Pool Inside the Grotto, Texas.

(Getty Images)

During sweltering summer days, nothing beats cooling down by jumping into a pool. But here's the thing: Heading to the pool every day after work can get monotonous, and jockeying for your spot in the water with fellow swimmers yearning to escape the scorching heat can swiftly turn from relaxing to stress-inducing. That’s exactly why you should consider cooling off at a lesser-known swimming hole this summer. If you're ready to soak in cool waters and enjoy captivating scenery, head to these alluring spots.

Barton Springs Pool

Barton Springs Pool

Swimmers at Barton Springs Pool in Austin, Texas.

(Getty Images)

Austin, Texas

An ideal swimming hole for R & R-seekers looking for a cool city retreat, Austin's Barton Springs Pool is a crystal-clear, 3-acre pool that's kept at an ideal 68 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The pool is conveniently located within Zilker Metropolitan Park, making it the perfect place to enjoy swimming along with other outdoor pursuits, such as kayaking and admiring the gorgeous blooms at the Zilker Botanical Garden. Admission to the pool is $4 for adults.

Santa Rosa Blue Hole

Santa Rosa Blue Hole

The Blue Hole tourist attraction on Historic Route 66 in Santa Rosa, New Mexico.

(Getty Images)

Santa Rosa, New Mexico

The deep, clear blue waters of this natural swimming hole attracts road-trippers off of Route 66 in New Mexico. Here, you can explore underwater caves, jump in from the surrounding rocks or simply dip your toes in the water. Best of all, you can scuba dive in pristine waters in the middle of New Mexico without breaking the bank. Dive permits start at $8, and the blue hole is open daily to divers from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Queen's Bath

Queen's Bath

Queen's Bath and Makana ridge at Dawn on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai.

(Getty Images)

Kauai, Hawaii

There’s a reason this swimming hole was once reserved for royals. The pristine waters and remote location in Princeville, along Kauai's North Shore, offers an escape-it-all appeal. Formed by lava, the tidal pool features an ideal place for snorkeling and catching sight of turtles. Best of all, the natural oasis is free of charge. Just be forewarned, rogue waves are present, especially during the winter season, so check the current conditions before heading out and consider going elsewhere if you're traveling with kids in tow.

Paradise Forks

Paradise Forks

Woman standing under waterfall.

(Getty Images)

Williams, Arizona

If you like to rock climb, this free, albeit hard-to-reach area, offers excellent canyon vistas and a scenic swimming hole. Practice scaling the basaltic cliffs around the Paradise Forks and take a dip whenever you need to cool off. To reach the water, you'll need to rappel into the swimming hole inside Sycamore Canyon. Bear in mind this secluded spot is best-suited for expert rock climbers. If you're a novice, or you're in search of a respite that's a little less strenuous, consider checking out another natural spot to cool off.

The Homestead Crater

The Homestead Crater

Samula cenote near Valladolid, Yucatan, Mexico.

(Getty Images)

Midway, Utah

As the only warm swimming hole that’s deep enough for diving in the U.S., the Homestead Crater is a must-see if you live nearby. Bring or rent some scuba gear and kick your way down into mineral-filled waters. Or, if you would rather partake in less extreme recreational pursuits, you can tag along on a yoga or paddleboard lesson. During your visit, make sure to take in the crater's limestone surroundings. Adult admission for a soak costs $16.

Boiling River

Boiling River

People kayaking in Yellowstone River.

(Getty Images)

Yellowstone National Park

Aptly named Boiling River, this natural oasis near Yellowstone National Park's North Entrance features warm thermal waters. An ideal detour before making your way to Mammoth Hot Springs, this underrated area offers a variety of hydrothermal features. There is no lifeguard on staff and the current can move quickly, so be careful while enjoying a soak. For fewer crowds (and more parking), aim to visit Boiling River earlier or later in the day. The free area is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the summer season.

Warren Falls

Warren Falls

Two boys do synchronized back flips at swimming hole Warren Falls in Warren, Vermont.

(Getty Images)

Warren, Vermont

Once a secret retreat, Warren Falls has emerged as a top swimming hot spot in Vermont. The picturesque swimming holes on the Mad River feature unique aquamarine waters. Plus, if you're feeling adventurous, you can leap from a variety of cliff jumping locations, but exercise caution and check current currents and weather conditions to ensure your safety. If you're feeling less intrepid, there are also plenty of serene and shallow spots along the free swimming holes to relax and dip your toes in the water.

Madison Blue Spring

Madison Blue Spring

Natural hotspring in Phanom Bencha national park, Krabi, Thailand.

(Getty Images)

Madison Blue Spring State Park, Florida

In this popular respite, you can swim across a limestone basin with rustic wood ladders and feel like you’ve stepped back in time. This peaceful state park swimming hole is less than 100 feet wide, yet it boasts crystal-clear waters, scenic hardwood and pine trees and an idyllic setting for wildlife-watching and picnicking. Plus, after taking a dip, you can enjoy other pursuits such as canoeing, kayaking and fishing.

Sliding Rock

Sliding Rock

Woman at sliding rock, Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina.

(Getty Images)

Brevard, North Carolina

Sliding Rock features a 60-foot-long, all-natural waterslide to plunge down during blazing hot summer days. After gliding down the rocky cascade, you'll land in a cool 50- to 60-degree pool that's sure to cool you down. Set in Pisgah National Forest, the area is easily accessible from U.S. Route 276. Even better, during the summer months, lifeguards are on duty. Admission costs $2 per person.

Falling Water Falls

Falling Water Falls

Scenic View Of Waterfall.

(Getty Images)

Hamilton County, Tennessee

The 136-acre area is well-known for its impressive waterfall and the Falling Water Gorge. Aside from its swimming spots, the area offers a variety of fascinating flora and fauna and is surrounded by an oak-hickory forest. Just keep in mind the natural area is hard to reach, so you'll want to bring along sturdy hiking boots.

Juniper Springs

Juniper Springs

A stream in a jungle.

(Getty Images)

Ocala National Forest, Florida

Tucked between Ocala and Ormond Beach, this sprawling swimming and picnic area offers a tranquil summer respite. It also features one of the oldest recreation areas on the East Coast. What's more, this gorgeous spring not only affords postcard-worthy views, but it also offers top-notch amenities for families, including restrooms, a picnic area and a campground.

Fall Creek Falls

Fall Creek Falls

Scenic View Of Fall Creek Falls.

(Getty Images)

Spencer, Tennessee

This waterfall is the largest in Tennessee, reaching a staggering 256 feet. Set in Tennessee's most-visited state park, Fall Creeks also boasts plenty of nearby gorges and waterfalls, including Cane Creek Cascades and Piney Creek Falls. What's more, you can dive into the water off a bridge before immersing yourself in nature.

Slide Rock State Park

Slide Rock State Park

Swimmer in whitewater of Oak Creek at Slide Rock State Park.

(Getty Images)

Arizona

Locals and visitors alike love to come swim in this state park to cool down. You can glide down a natural chute or enjoy cliff jumping. Best of all, there are plenty of campgrounds nearby, and the natural pool is easy to reach from Phoenix and Flagstaff and is just about 7 miles from Sedona, Arizona. Admission from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day costs $20.

Chena Hot Springs

Chena Hot Springs

Tourists enjoy the natural hot springs pool at the Chena Hot Springs Resort, Alaska.

(Getty Images)

Fairbanks, Alaska

Set in Chena Hot Springs Resort, these mineral-filled waters stay warm year-round, so even if you take a winter vacation in Alaska, it's easy to heat up with a soothing soak. The natural springs are designed to restore circulation and relieve ailments such as arthritis and muscle pains. The springs are open from 7 a.m. to midnight, and the average temperature stays at around 106 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year. Admission costs $15 for adults.

Aztec Falls Swimming Hole

Aztec Falls Swimming Hole

Man jumping into Togitogiga Waterfall swimming hole.

(Getty Images)

San Bernardino National Forest, California

Sandy beaches and craggy cliffs line this deep swimming pool set in California's San Bernardino Mountains. To reach the falls, you'll need to hike along a 6-mile route, but your efforts are rewarded with few crowds and free admission to the spectacular waters. If you're feeling adventurous, you can plunge into the water from a 40-foot platform.

Hali'i Falls

Hali'i Falls

Close-up of man coming downhill on zip line.

(Getty Images)

Kauai, Hawaii

These falls on Kauai are not only fantastic for swimming, but they're also perfect for zip lining. You can soar above streams and verdant valleys to take in staggering views of the falls before relaxing in swimming pools and enjoying a picnic. A variety of adventure tour operators offer excursions that cross through Lihue Plantation along with the falls.

Mooney Falls

Mooney Falls

Mooney Falls, Havasupai, Grand Canyon, Arizona.

(Getty Images)

Supai, Arizona

Beyond Arizona's legendary (and worthwhile) Havasupai Falls, you'll find other magnificent falls, including Mooney Falls, which cascades 200 feet into a dreamy swimming pool. Make a point this summer to swim in its emerald waters surrounded by ocher-tinted rocks. Afterward, explore other natural wonders in Supai Village within the Havasu Canyon, or make your way to other top attractions within the Grand Canyon. Just bear in mind a fee and permit are required to visit the Havasupai Reservation; a $50 per person fee (plus tax) is required to enter or cross any part of the reservation and additional camping fees apply.

Wekiwa Springs

Wekiwa Springs

Casa Cenote limestone mangrove, Mexico, Tulum.

(Getty Images)

Apopka, Florida

Once you get to this Florida spring, situated at the headwaters of the Wekiva River, you may never want to leave. Because it's shallow, Wekiwa Springs offers perfect conditions for a leisurely dip or relaxing swim. What's more, the state park offers plenty of recreational diversions, from horseback riding to hiking to cycling. If you can't get there this summer, don't worry – it's open year-round and free to the public.

Blanchard Springs Caverns

Blanchard Springs Caverns

Inside Blanchard Springs Cavern.

(Getty Images)

Stone County, Arkansas

If you're itching to go swimming to beat the heat, why not visit a cavern that takes you out of the sun? For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, swim in crystal clear streams in Blanchard Springs Caverns. Conveniently located off state Highway 14, the caverns offer a variety of natural wonders, including flowstones and stalactites. Plus, you can enjoy activities such as canoeing, hiking or fishing during your visit. There are a variety of scenic trails to explore. Don't miss checking out the splendors on Discovery Trail. Discovery Tours cost $10 for adults and $5 for visitors ages 6 to 15.

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls

Waterfalls Along The Tallulah River At Tallulah Gorge In North Georgia.

(Getty Images)

Tallulah Gorge State Park, Georgia

If you want to plunge down cascading white waters, set your sights on Bridal Veil Falls in Tallulah Gorge. The swimming pool uniquely features falls along its sides. If you want to join a ranger-led whitewater rafting expedition to the falls, you can register for $15. Other enticing summer activities in the park include a twilight paddle, a sunset hike and a solar eclipse festival on Aug. 21.

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Tags: Austin, travel, vacations


Mandy Ellis is an Austin-based freelance writer who has contributed to the real estate, travel and loans sections of U.S. News since 2016. She has lent her expertise to publications including AFAR, The Costco Connection, Realtor Magazine Online, FSR, QSR, Restaurant Business, Restaurant Hospitality, Pizza Today, Tasting Table, Yahoo Finance and CultureMap Austin and for the brands eBay, LendingHome, Brit + Co, SolarStory and Hey Cupcake.

Ellis graduated cum laude with a bachelor's in English from Virginia Tech (Go Hokies!) and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Texas Freelance Association, Freelance Austin, and Women Communicators of Austin. You can find her on LinkedIn and her website, or email her at mandy@mandyellis.com.

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