6 Must-See Austin Museums
Get cultural and educational inspiration at these Austin museums.
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
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.
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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.
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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(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.
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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.
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