Edited by: Jessica Merritt
& Keri Stooksbury
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Austin is one of the most unique cities in Texas. While some people know it simply as the state’s capital, others appreciate its diversity and rich culture. One of the best ways to see what makes Austin special is to visit the city’s museums. Whether you’re a history buff or an art lover, an exhibit in this corner of Texas is worth visiting while on your Lone Star State trip.
The Austin Nature & Science Center first opened in 1960. Since then, it has become one of the city’s most important STEM-focused educational centers. The museum uses a combination of literature, displays, and hands-on exhibit experiences to create a learning environment for people of all ages.
The museum is currently divided into 10 exhibit spaces ranging from dinosaurs to honeybees. Many of the exhibits are located outside and make use of the local flora and fauna. For example, the “Human Sundial” is an outdoor installation that uses shadows and stones to show the time. The “Forest Trail” is an educational nature walk.
Notably, all of the exhibits are designed to be appropriate for visitors of a variety of ages. It’s a popular site for people visiting with their families. While many of these exhibits are self-guided, events are held periodically, allowing guests to explore with a guide.
Admission is free for all visitors. The museum is open Monday to Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The nearest bus stop is Mopac/Nature Center.
Since it first opened, the Austin Rock & Roll Car Museum has focused on showcasing authentic and replicas of famous cars throughout history.
Specifically, the facility displays race cars and vehicles connected to the music and film industries. That’s either because famous artists owned them or because they were used in popular movies. One of the museum’s prized pieces is the 1959 Cadillac Hearse that was used as the “Ectomobile” in the film “Ghostbusters” in 1985.
While some of the museum’s most important pieces are permanent fixtures in the facility, the collection is ever-changing as cars are acquired, restored, or sold. At any given time, 10 to 15 cars are on the showcase floor.
The museum is generally self-guided. However, the on-site mechanic is occasionally available to give visitors a more personalized experience by answering questions or sharing interesting facts about the site’s vehicles.
Admission is always free. The museum is currently only open on the first and third Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The nearest bus stop is Woodward/Ben White SE Corner.
With over 21,000 pieces housed on the premises, the Blanton Museum of Art (BMA) is one of the largest museums on a U.S. university campus. The facility doesn’t focus on a single art style. Instead, it houses pieces representing modern and historic artists from around the world.
The museum is divided into 7 main collections. These wings help categorize the art pieces by culture, with the first representing the pre-20th-century pieces on view from Europe. The second showcases both modern and contemporary art from domestic and international artists. The third showcases Latin-American pieces, and the fourth has art from the Western U.S. The final 3 wings form collections that have been donated.
Some highlighted pieces are “Memory of a Dream” by Rafael Soriano, “Madonna and Child with Angels” by Giovanni dal Ponte, and “Le Loa Fetro” by Wifredo Lam.
Admission is free for members, children under 6, and elementary through high school teachers, $8 for children 6 to 17 and college students, $12 for seniors 65+, and $15 for adults. The museum is open Tuesday to Friday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The nearest bus stop is 112 Martin Luther King Junior/Congress.
Since opening in 2001, the Bullock Texas State History Museum has served as one of the city’s most important history centers. The museum doesn’t just educate visitors on Texas’ state history but its pre-U.S. history, going back as far as 16,000 years. Its exhibits even showcase artifacts dating back to some of the oldest evidence ever found of humans in North America.
The museum is spread across multiple floors, the first 2 of which are mainly focused on history. The third displays the state’s culture and use of technology. A particularly close look is given to how technological industries have helped the state develop over the years.
Due to the diversity of the museum’s extensive collection, there’s something for everyone, from paintings to clothing. Some artifact highlights are a trench knife from World War I, an air quality tester, and a Guerrero Battalion flag.
General admission is free for children under 4, $9 for children 4 to 17, $11 for students, military personnel, and seniors 65+, and $13 for adults. The museum is open Friday to Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The nearest bus stop is Rosewood/Chestnut.
The Elisabet Ney Museum aims to honor the life and work of its namesake sculptor, Elisabet Ney. Between 1893 and 1907, Ney called the studio home, often referring to it as “Formosa.”
Since becoming a museum in 1907, the facility has undergone a few changes. Initially, it served as a biographical exhibit, showing off Ney’s personal effects. The museum has become a prominent space for contemporary art shows as well.
The studio’s centerpiece is its collection of authentic and replica Ney pieces. Her tools and awards are also on display. The museum also routinely rotates its temporary exhibitions. These galleries often showcase the work of contemporary artists.
The center also aims to educate and inspire the public to become interested in art. This is done through events and workshops for all ages routinely held on-site.
Admission is free for everyone. The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The nearest bus stop is 45th/Avenue F.
First inaugurated in 1971, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, often shortened to the LBJ Presidential Library, is entirely dedicated to the life and career of the 36th U.S. president.
Over 45 million documents are housed in the library, all related to President Johnson, his family, and his associates. Preserving these papers has allowed the museum to create a comprehensive representation of his time in office.
Notably, the library was constructed with much influence from First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, who gave great design input after seeing other libraries for inspiration.
In addition to the historical texts held within the structure, the museum also displays several genuine and replica effects that belonged to the president. Notably, the building’s top floor is primarily dedicated to creating a perfect and to-scale iteration of the Oval Office in the state it was in when Johnson was in the White House.
Admission is free for UT students and staff, children under 13, active military personnel and their families, members, SNAP, WIC, and MAP recipients, and people named Lyndon (first, middle, or last name). Tickets are $4 for children 13 to 18 and other university students, $7 for veterans, $9 for seniors 62+, and $13 for adults. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The nearest bus stop is 2324 San Jacinto/24th.
“At the LBJ Presidential Library, visitors learn about the life and legacy of our 36th president. Step into a replica of the Oval Office, pick up a telephone and hear LBJ conducting business, learn about Lady Bird Johnson, experience the turbulent 1960s, and don’t miss the animatronic LBJ!”Anne Wheeler, communications director, LBJ Library and Foundation
The Museum of Ice Cream (MOIC) first opened its doors in Austin in 2021, making it one of the city’s newest museum experiences.
Described as an experiential installation and museum, the museum aims to make the experience of eating ice cream more immersive. The site is split up into 12 main exhibits, each showcasing the history of ice cream from its first iterations to the present day.
The facility also hosts events and activities on most days to engage visitors of all ages. The most popular on-site activity is the “Sprinkle Pool,” a large shallow pit filled with fake multi-colored sprinkles that provides guests with a uniquely fun and tactile experience.
In addition to the museum’s educational, visual, and hands-on opportunities, admission also allows visitors to eat unlimited ice cream, making it a great party venue.
General admission costs between $31 and $40, depending on when you reserve your visit. The museum is open Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday and Thursday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., and Friday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The nearest bus stop is Esperanza Crossing/Domain.
“Museum of Ice Cream Austin is a playful wonderland offering a unique array of interactive installations, from a life-size frosted animal cracker carousel to the iconic sprinkle pool, along with all the unlimited ice cream treats you can eat! The museum offers a space for all ages to create connections, provoke wonder, and spark creativity through the universal power of ice cream.”Megan Ho, brand experience manager, Museum of Ice Cream Austin
Described as “America’s Strangest Attraction,” Museum of the Weird is one of Austin’s most unique exhibition spaces. The museum features posters, drawings, models, photos, and art pieces that showcase some of the strangest creatures from real life, urban legends, films, and video games.
Some of the most interesting items in the facility are models of the “Gremlins” from the movie of the same name, a wax sculpture of the “Wolf Man” from an Old Hollywood film, and even several mummified specimens.
The museum casts a wide net to encompass a variety of things that can be considered “weird,” so movie buffs, history lovers, and average curious visitors can all find something interesting in the gallery. Some images and sculptures can be scary to young or sensitive visitors, so keep that in mind if you have children in your travel group.
Admission is $8.99 for children under 8 and $12.99 for visitors 8+. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The nearest bus stop is Lavaca/4th.
The William Sidney Porter House, more notable as the O. Henry Museum after the writer’s pseudonym, was the writer’s home for 2 years between 1893 and 1895. Though Porter only rented the home, the popularity of his O. Henry stories forever associated the house with his legacy.
Since opening as a dedicated museum, the facility displays several of the author’s personal effects, including his furnishings. Other period-accurate pieces supplement the home’s decor to create a realistic Austin home at the end of the 19th century.
Porter’s career is also honored in the museum through texts and documents showing his publications and writing trajectory. One of the most important pieces in the museum is the “As Others See Us” project, which released a previously never-published story to the public. The museum also has a handful of online exhibits for those unable to visit in person.
Admission is free for all visitors. The museum is open Wednesday to Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The nearest bus stop is 411 Trinity St.
Considered one of the best children’s museums in Texas, the Thinkery has been a premier place for education and creativity in Austin since the 1980s.
Split into 11 exhibit spaces, the museum aims to encourage children to learn, interact with, and ask questions about the world around them. Spaces like “Currents” introduce scientific topics like movement and momentum. It’s an immersive exhibit that uses water, so bring a towel or change of clothes.
On the other hand, the “Bloom” room, dedicated to very young children, helps introduce sensory and motor skills in a safe and engaging place that’s different and provides novelty that kids love. Multiple special events are also held on-location here.
The entire museum was designed to be family-friendly. However, some exhibits, posted online and on-site, are better suited to specific age groups. The museum is most enriching for children under 10.
Admission is free for children under 2 and $14 for all other visitors. The museum is open Friday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The nearest bus stop is 1714 Aldrich/Mueller.
The Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum was born from a donation made to Austin in the 1980s that saw the sculptor Charles Umlauf and his wife give their home, Charles’ studio, and over 150 of his sculptures to the city.
Today, the museum is divided into multiple indoor and outdoor sections. The most well-known portion of the facility is the sculpture garden, where multiple statues have been placed among the greenery.
The museum also has indoor spaces. The structure aims to preserve the memory of Charles Umlauf’s career by keeping his studio in pristine condition as he left it. It’s filled with the artist’s personal effects.
There’s also an on-site gallery that rotates its artwork on a seasonal basis. This space isn’t only dedicated to Umlauf’s artistic endeavors but to those of his peers as well. Some of the museum’s highlights are “The Kiss,” “Woman,” and “Torchbearers.”
Admission is free for active and veteran military personnel, children under 13, and members, $1 for children 13 to 17, $3 for students, $5 for seniors 60+, and $7 for adults. The museum is open Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The nearest bus stop is Barton Springs Station (NB).
Since its founding in 1978, Women & Their Work has been a premier exhibition space for female artists from Texas and around the world. In the 45 years since this museum opened, over 2,000 artists have showcased their work in its space. Numerous events have also been held to honor not just the visual arts but performances as well.
The facility is a contemporary art museum, so it spotlights current artists. There’s no permanent collection on-site. Instead, the entire exhibit changes periodically throughout the year as new pieces are displayed.
All types of artwork, from paintings to sculptures, have been displayed in the museum. Each visit offers a different experience. In addition to acting as a gallery, the space sponsors artists so they can work on their craft. Some artists the museum has featured are Virginia L. Montgomery, Elizabeth Chapin, and Monica Martinez.
General admission is free for everyone. The museum is open Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. The nearest bus stop is 1200 Cesar Chavez/Waller.
“When visiting the gallery, you can expect to see exhibitions ranging from painting and drawing to sculpture and immersive installation. Each show invites audiences to discover groundbreaking ideas through contemporary visual art.”Jordan Nelsen, gallery director, Women & Their Work
We’ve indicated with each museum whether or not children, students, or seniors receive free or reduced admission. Several other programs offer similar concessions.
The Museums for All program offers free or reduced admission to museums throughout the U.S. for those receiving food assistance (SNAP benefits). Participating attractions in the greater Austin area include the Bullock Texas State History Museum, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, LBJ Library and Museum, and Thinkery.
Bank of America’s Museums on Us program offers cardholders free general admission to the Bullock Texas State History Museum and Thinkery (at the Meredith Learning Lab) on the first full weekend of every month.
Participation is subject to change; please verify participating museums and entry conditions before your visit.
Austin may be the capital of Texas, but it’s also clearly one of the state’s cultural centers. From its diverse local art scene to the numerous industries that have moved to the area, there’s a museum or exhibit to suit virtually anyone’s interest. With any luck, this list can help you decide which of Austin’s museums deserve a spot on your bucket list.
Austin has a number of museums that offer free admission to all visitors, either on specific days or all the time. Even museums that require an entrance fee occasionally participate in programs or offer opportunities for discounts to make admissions more affordable for all guests.
As the capital of Texas, Austin is home to numerous museums. These facilities range in theme from art to history. There’s a museum in Austin suitable for virtually any type of visitor, no matter their age, interests, or background.
Austin is the capital of Texas, home to the state’s government. However, it’s also recently earned a reputation for being one of the most diverse, industrious, and artsy cities in the U.S.
Austin has nearly 50 museums open within the city’s limits. However, as more artists move to the area, this number is only expected to grow. That doesn’t count all of the smaller galleries or artistic displays that are found in Austin.
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