Sure, Austin has been at the center of a cultural movement for decades now, but this town has more to offer than just keepin’ it weird (we’re still doing that too, though). As you might expect from the Texas state capital and the home of the University of Texas, the Austin museum scene is strong.
Next time you’re in the mood for some art, history, and culture (or just a summer activity that includes plenty of AC), head to one of the best museums in Austin. Here are our 10 favorite places to soak up some culture in the capital.
The 10 Best Museums in Austin, Texas
1. The Bullock Texas State History Museum
1800 Congress Ave.
Located in the Museum District, the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum aims to collect artifacts and create exhibits that tell the story of Texas. Texas has a rich history that includes population by Native American tribes and colonization by the Spanish and Mexican governments before it became part of the United States.
As the official history museum for the state of Texas, all the displays are focused on teaching visitors about Texas’s past — both good and bad. The exhibition space includes rotating special exhibits, artifacts, films and lectures, and a Texas artists series.
2. Blanton Museum of Art
200 E Martin Luther King Jr Blvd.
With the largest collection of art in Central Texas, The Blanton has over 19,000 pieces in its permanent collection. The artwork spans thousands of years with some pieces going back to ancient Greece and others coming from more modern art movements.
The museum is part of the University of Texas at Austin and is lauded as one of the best university art museums in the country. While UT classes sometimes arrange tours as part of their curriculum, you don’t have to be a student to visit.
The museum is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday, and you can take a guided tour of the art gallery on Thursdays at 12:30 or Sundays at 3:00. And because The Blanton is right across the street from the Bullock Texas State History Museum, you can easily do both in one day.
3. Harry Ransom Center
300 W 31st St.
Located on the University of Texas Campus, the Harry Ransom Center contains rare books, manuscripts, and photos. This impressive collection includes the first photograph and a complete copy of the Gutenberg Bible (it’s one of only 20 in the world!).
One of the goals of the collection is to document the creative process of some of histories greatest writers. The center has drafts and notebooks from Jack Kerouac, Albert Einstein, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. They also offer guided tours and host events throughout the year.
4. The Contemporary Austin
3809 W 35th St.
The Contemporary is unique in that it’s spread across two locations. There’s an outdoor sculpture park at Laguna Gloria on Lake Austin, and there’s an indoor location in Downtown Austin at the Jones Center on 700 Congress Ave.
The outdoor sculpture garden is an ideal way to introduce children to contemporary art. Admission is free for anyone under 18, and the outdoor setting allows them to move about more freely, breathe some fresh air, and not worry too much about using their indoor voices.
At the Jones Center, you can see rotating exhibits by contemporary artists. And since you’ll be downtown, you’ll be able to enjoy some of Austin‘s best restaurants after your museum visit.
1830 Simond Ave.
Austin‘s children’s museum, the Thinkery was initially created by parents and educators who wanted to offer hands-on learning opportunities to Austin‘s littlest culture buffs. Unlike traditional museums, Thinkery hosts interactive exhibits, so you won’t see, “Please, do not touch” signs here.
The exhibits focus on STEAM curriculum — Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics — and the museum also offers one of Austin‘s best preschools, plus summer camp programs and private children’s birthday parties.
6. LBJ Presidential Library
2313 Red River St.
Austin is home to the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, which houses important documents and artifacts from LBJ’s time as president. Among the museum’s permanent exhibits is one dedicated to November 22, 1962, the day President John F. Kennedy was shot and President Johnson took office.
There are also exhibits on civil rights and social justice. LBJ’s presidential limousine is on display in the lobby, and there’s a recreation of his oval office. This museum is a can’t-miss for presidential history buffs.
7. The Mexic-Arte Museum
419 Congress Ave.
Located in Downtown Austin, The Mexic-Arte Museum displays Mexican, Latino, and Latin-American art. It was founded by a group of Mexican-American artists living in Austin, Texas, and is one of only a few Mexican art museums in the U.S.
The museum hosts various special exhibits throughout the year. Among its community events, The Mexic-Arte has hosted a Day of the Dead celebration every year since the museum opened in 1984. If you’re able to attend this annual event, you’ll see community altars, which are an essential part of the Mexican holiday.
8. UMLAUF Sculpture Garden & Museum
605 Azie Morton Rd.
Located in the Zilker neighborhood overlooking Barton Springs Road, the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden & Museum displays the work of Charles Umlauf, an artist and former professor at the University of Texas. The museum is housed in Umlauf’s former home — with pieces on display both inside the home and outside in the gardens.
In addition to museum events and tours, the UMLAUF organizes excursions where museum curators plan group tours around Austin and other cities in the U.S. Some of these excursions are multi-day events that make great vacations for anyone who loves the arts and travel.
9. Elisabet Ney Museum
304 E 44th St.
Something about Austin has inspired generations of sculptors — the Elisabet Ney Museum is dedicated to the work of another Austin artist. Ney moved to Austin in 1882, and in addition to displays on her art and life, the museum itself has historic designations and is part of the Hyde Park National Register Historic Neighborhood.
The city of Austin runs the Elisabet Ney Museum and admission is free, making this one of the great free and cheap things to do in Austin.
10. Texas Military Forces Museum
2200 W 35th St.
Texas has served as the backdrop for many historic battles. (We all remember the Alamo!) And Texas Military Forces contributed not only to battles fought on their own soil, but also to the United States Military. This museum preserves that history with a collection of uniforms, weapons, tanks, artillery, and more.
This museum is also free and should be a first stop for war-history buffs.
Musing About Museums
Thanks to its position as the capital of Texas and home of the University of Texas, Austin has some incredible museums. Some of these museums are free, but even the museums with paid admission are some of the cheaper things to do in the city.