Family in town? Austin landmarks and tourist traps even locals love

Austin
Bats emerging from under the South Congress bridge. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Bats emerging from under the South Congress bridge. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — So your family is in town, and you want to give them the full Austin tour.

As we all know already, Austin has lots to offer — from beautiful hikes to amazing food and drinks to historical sites that have made the city what it is today.

Here’s just a few staple Austin landmarks and sites even locals love visiting, if you need a jumping off point for your itinerary.

Outdoors

Zilker Park, Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail

Spanning 351 acres in the heart of Austin is Zilker Park. It’s also the city’s oldest park, according to the city’s website. It was named after Andrew Jackson Zilker, who donated pieces of land to the city on multiple occasions beginning in 1917.

The park is home to Barton Springs Pool, the Zilker Botanical Garden, the Umlauf Sculpture Gardens and the Austin Nature and Science Center, just to name a few.

You can also hop on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail, named after a former mayor and his wife. The trail is 10 miles long.

Barton Creek Greenbelt, Sculpture Falls

Austin has several greenbelts for hiking, but the most famous is the Barton Creek Greenbelt. It’s an ideal spot for swimming as well.

You can start at the trailhead off MoPac — this will give you access to both Twin Falls and Sculpture Falls — or from the trailhead off Camp Craft Road. You can view a full list of access points for the greenbelt online here to figure out which one is best for you.

Mount Bonnell

If you’re looking for an incredible view over Lake Austin, check out Mount Bonnell, located in the western part of the city.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, there are steps leading to the summit, which sits at about 775 feet above sea level. The park on top of Mount Bonnell is called Covert Park and is just over five acres.

As with any public parking setting, be sure to lock your car doors and conceal your valuable items and/or take them with you after you park.

Barton Springs Pool

File Barton Springs Pool downtown view pool Austin
FILE: Austin’s Barton Springs Pool (KXAN Photo)

No matter what time of the year it is, you can count on a swim at Barton Springs Pool, located within Zilker Park in downtown Austin. According to the city of Austin, the pool is about three acres in size and is fed from underground springs, so the average water temperature stays at about 68 to 70 degrees year-round.

Admission to the pool is free through February 2022. You can check out hours online here.

Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge

Bats emerging from under the South Congress bridge. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Bats emerging from under the South Congress Bridge. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge was built in 1910 and rehabilitated in 1980, according to Guide to Austin Architecture. It spans 910 feet, overlooks Lady Bird Lake and has a series of concrete arches.

The bridge is also home to the world’s largest urban bat colony, according to the guide, which is made up of 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats.

Hundreds of spectators line the bridge to watch the bats emerge at sunset during the summer. Guide to Austin Architecture said the bat population increased after the bridge was rehabilitated in 1980, due to joints that were built into the structure that provide deep slots for the bats to hang out in.

Pennybacker Bridge

Pennybacker Bridge, Austin Country Club_117645
FILE: Pennybacker Bridge

One of the most scenic drives in Austin is on the Pennybacker Bridge on Loop 360. Here, you can catch a view of Lake Austin on the steel arched bridge, which spans the width of Lake Austin at 1,150 feet, according to Austin Tenant Advisors.

While it’s also known as the 360 Bridge, it was named after Percy Pennybacker, Jr., who designed bridges for Texas highways in the early 1900s, Austin Tenant Advisors said. The bridge was finished in 1982.

You can either drive across the bridge to enjoy the view or go to the overlook point, which is off Loop 360 near Courtyard Drive.

The Oasis on Lake Travis

The Oasis on Lake Travis (KXAN/Kaitlyn Karmout)
The Oasis on Lake Travis (KXAN/Kaitlyn Karmout)

If you’re willing to venture 30 minutes outside the city, you can soak in a breathtaking view of Lake Travis.

The Oasis on Lake Travis was founded by Beau Theriot and is known for its traditions at sunset, including the Sunset Bell, as well as its Lover’s Locks balcony. The Oasis also offers Tex-Mex cuisine.

If you’re not in the mood for food, you can also enjoy the view of Lake Travis from Oasis Texas Brewing Company.

Lady Bird Lake Boardwalk

View from the Lady Bird Lake Boardwalk after the storm on 07/31/20

Take in the sunset on the Lady Bird Lake Boardwalk. The 7,250 feet boardwalk was completed in June 2014, according to the city of Austin. It features more than 300 piers, 13,000 LED lights and seven viewing areas.

It also contains a public art installation called “Belting It Out” by artist Ken Little — where 36 cast bronze, western-style belts are built into the railings on both sides of the boardwalk. Each belt is embossed with song lyrics from singers and songwriters native to Texas, the city said.

The boardwalk is open from 5 a.m. to midnight daily. There’s a few ways you can get to the boardwalk:

  1. From the northwest corner of the American-Statesman parking lot
  2. Off the Riverside Drive sidewalk at Blunn Creek
  3. From the northeast corner of the Riverside and Interstate 35 intersection
  4. From International Shores Park, located at 1820 S. Lakeshore Boulevard

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

If you’re in Austin during the spring, you know how important wildflowers are to Texas. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center was founded by Lady Bird Johnson and Helen Hayes in 1982, according to its website, and works to “inspire the conservation of native plants.”

Not only is the center focused on wildflowers and native plants, it also has an arboretum that shows off more than 50 species of oaks found in the state. The landscapes are able to support a wide variety of birds, mammals and insects, the center said, and there’s different plants to view during every season.

Right now, you can visit the center by reserving a spot online; there are admission fees.

Indoors

Paramount Theatre

FILE PHOTO – Paramount Theater

This theatre has existed for more than a century in downtown Austin. According to the theatre’s website, it was established in 1915 and has seen many films and iconic performers including Miles Davis and Harry Houdini. Its opening night was October 11, 1915.

For the 2021 holiday season, the theatre is planning more than two dozen holiday shows including classic holiday films and live performances. View the Paramount’s show calendar online here.

Bullock Texas State History Museum

Austin Rodeo at the Bob Bullock Museum_262689
FILE: Bullock Texas State History Museum

This museum opened in 2001 as the “official history museum of the State of Texas.” It’s named after former Texas Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, who helped establish it. Unfortunately, he died before the museum was completed, according to the museum’s website.

The museum has three floors of gallery space and two theaters. Documentaries are often shown in the IMAX theater as well as feature films.

The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit the website to learn about admission costs.

Texas State Capitol

Texas State Capitol_110148
FILE: Texas State Capitol

In addition to being the “Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin is at the center of Texas politics as the capital of the state. The building that stands was dedicated in May 1888, but the original capitol building started out as a log cabin with two large rooms and additional, smaller meeting rooms, according to the State Preservation Board’s website.

You can see the capitol building either through a guided tour or by taking yourself. Check out tour hours online here. There’s also additional information about parking near the capitol grounds online here.

Alamo Drafthouse

Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar
FILE: Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar

Going to the movies is a classic family activity, and now, you can support a cinema chain that was homegrown right here in Austin while doing it.

Alamo Drafthouse has been around since 1997 and takes pride in giving movie-goers an all encompassing cinema experience — complete with good food and drinks. The first theater was established on Colorado Street, but the chain has grown to have dozens of locations not just in Austin but throughout the U.S.

While showing fresh movie releases, Alamo Drafthouse also pays tribute to classic films with special showings.

LBJ Presidential Library

FILE: The LBJ Presidential Library, located on the University of Texas at Austin campus (KXAN Photo)
FILE: The LBJ Presidential Library, located on the University of Texas at Austin campus (KXAN Photo)

Located on 30 acres on the University of Texas at Austin campus, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum was dedicated in May 1971. The library aims to make records from the 36th president’s administration available to the public. LBJ was a native Texan.

According to the its website, the library is home to “45 million pages of historical documents, 650,000 photos, and 5,000 hours of recordings from President Johnson’s political career, including about 643 hours of his recorded telephone conversations.”

Learn about the library’s hours and how to purchase tickets online here.

Waterloo Records

Waterloo Records (Courtesy: Compass Communications)
Waterloo Records (Courtesy: Compass Communications)

You can’t visit the “Live Music Capital of the World” without taking a step inside a record store that’s been around since the 1980s. Waterloo Records opened its doors in April 1982 and puts an emphasis on customer service, according to its website.

The record store says, “instead of catering to the music consumer, Waterloo catered to the music lover, if only because we were music lovers too.”

Driskill Hotel

The Driskill was listed as the most haunted spot in Texas. (KXAN Photo/Kelsey Thompson)
The Driskill was listed as the most haunted spot in Texas. (KXAN Photo/Kelsey Thompson)

This historic hotel opened in the heart of downtown in 1886. It was envisioned by cattle businessman Jesse Driskill, who was originally born in Tennessee but migrated to Austin in 1869, according to the hotel’s website.

The hotel has been the site of several inaugural balls for Texas governors, and it’s hard to believe it was set to be torn down in 1969 before it was declared a national historic landmark. The hotel has passed through many owners’ hands since it was built.

The hotel is home to a bar as well as 1886 Café & Bakery, which serves up traditional Texas comfort foods.

Using the interactive map below, you can explore the sites on this list and learn how to navigate to them.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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