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What to See in Only 48 Hours in Austin, Texas
Austin has activities for people of any interest
Austin is the state capitol of Texas, the home of the University of Texas, and one of the most vibrant, exciting cities in the state. There's a wealth of attractions to choose from, no matter what your interests. However, if you are only going to be in town for a weekend, you may have to choose which particular places you wish to visit carefully. Are you interested in...
- Exploring the historical heritage of the city?
- Exploring the natural beauty of the Austin area?
- Finding out why people want to Keep Austin Weird?
Read on for suggestions of places to visit that will satisfy each of these sets of interests. Austin offers an incredibly array of things to do - what you choose is up to you!
Itinerary One: Investigate Historic Austin
Where to Find Historic Austin
For history buffs who are interested in the past and present government of this state, Austin is an ideal place to visit. No trip to Austin would be complete without a stop at the Texas State Capitol, (pictured above.) Built in 1888, this building is the state capitol building in the United States, second in size only to the National Capitol building it closely resembles. If you plan ahead and visit Austin on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, you may be able to take a tour of the Governor's Mansion, near the state capitol. Reservations are required in advance.
While you are taking in the sights in the Congress Avenue area, try one of the historic walking tours offered by the Austin Visitor's Center. This printable online brochure gives an overview of the Capitol, the Governor's Mansion and 52 other buildings of note.
After lunch on the first day, check out some of the attractions on Austin's Cultural Campus, a collection of destinations clustered within easy walking distance of each other. If you've got kids in tow, try the Bob Bullock State History Museum, which offers three floors of interactive exhibits celebrating the land, identity and opportunity of Texas. Special attractions include Austin's only IMAX theater and spectacular 4-D theatrical presentations in the Texas Spirit Theater.After that, step into a replica of the Presidential Oval Office at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, located on the campus of the University of Texas. Featured exhibits focus on the Kennedy assassination, the civil rights movement, the Presidential limousine and the White House Years. If you have any time left before the museums close, check out the Harry Ransom Center and its enormous collection of artifacts, including the first photograph and a copy of the Gutenburg Bible.
On Day Two, head on over to the Texas State Cemetery, final resting place of Stephen F. Austin, "Ma" and "Pa" Ferguston, Ann Richards and other outstanding Texans through the years. Monuments dotted throughout the cemetery include a Vietnam memorial, the Black Legislators Monument, the Purple Heart Monument, and others. Guided group tours are available by appointment. Other attractions of historical significance in the area include Treaty Oak, a southern oak tree that was once part of a sacred meeting place for Comanche and Tonkawa tribes. Majestic in its beauty until it was poisoned in 1989, the tree still stands as a testimony to the diplomatic events that once took place under its branches. Avid researchers can pore over the archives available at the Austin History Center, while literature fans may prefer to check out the O. Henry Museum, The George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center offers outstanding exhibits and programs reflecting the African-American heritage of Texas while the Joseph and Susanna Dickinson Hannig Museum celebrates the life of the Alamo's most famous survivor.
Itinerary Two: Explore Nature in Austin
If you aren't a history buff and the idea of trekking through a bunch of museums isn't for you, maybe you would enjoy checking out some of the beautiful natural landmarks and nature centers in Austin. Begin your first day at Zilker Park, a 351-acre recreation area with some of the best outside activities in Austin. Wander through ten different special natural displays at the Zilker Botanical Gardens, including:
- Taniguchi Japanese Garden
- Rose Garden
- Floral Display Garden
- Hartman Prehistoric Garden
- Herb Garden
- Butterfly Trail and Garden
- Green Garden
- Cactus Garden
- Seasonal Displays
- Escarpment Trail
Next stop is the Austin Nature and Science Center, featuring wildlife exhibits, the Dino Pit, and the Beverly S. Sheffield Education Center, home of "SPLASH! Into the Edwards Aquifer." Visitors can learn how th Edwards Aquifer provides water for the area from deep inside a simulated cave. Another spectacular place to visit inside Zilker Park is the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, with over 200 sculptures, paintings and drawings by Charles Umlauf.
If you happen to visit Zilker Park in the summertime, don't forget to check out Barton Springs Pool, a natural pool fed by underground springs that is 68 degrees year-round.
Leave the Zilker area after lunch and head on to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on the UT campus. Hike through miles of nature trails and experience twenty different distinct natural areas featuring native Texas flora in season. There is an audio tour for the gardens available both onsite and online. Close out the first day's adventures with a trip to the Texas Memorial Museum, which houses over five million pieces of natural history - prehistoric fossils, dinosaur replicas, minerals, gems and mounted animal specimens. Check out also the interactive evolution exhibits.
Begin day two with an invigorating hike up to the highest peak in Austin - the top of Mount Bonnell, approximately 775 feet above sea level. Take a picnic lunch and enjoy the view. When you come back down, head out to the Wild Basin Preserve, which features 227 miles of trails through the hill country wilderness, where you can see the best of Austin's natural habitat up close. If you have any time left, take in the sights of McKinney Falls State Park, which features exhilarating waterfalls and "Old Baldy", one of the oldest cypress trees in Texas.
Itinerary Three: Experience Weird Austin
Austin has a reputation for being weird. It's a treasured reputation that the citizens bear with great pride. If you want to see some of the things that have helped Austin earn the reputation as the weirdest city in the Lone Star State, check out some of the following activities and sights:
Some people are hoarders, but Vince Hanneman puts them all to shame. He's got one of the weirdest back yards in the world, an area devoted entirely to The Cathedral of Junk. It's a series of trusses in Hanneman's back yard piled to the sky with mountains of magnificent cast-offs - bicycle wheels, hubcaps, tools, utensils, dolls, machine parts, you name it, he's incorporated it into this evolving sculpture, a memorial to conspicuous consumerism. Hanneman has been building this cathedral since 1989. City inspectors attempted to have it closed down in 2010 for violating building codes, but Hanneman got a reprieve and was allowed to rebuild. It's available for tours and it's free, but do call in advance - after, all, this is a guy's home, and he does have a conventional day job.
Cathedral of Junk
If you just want to let it all hang out, then Hippie Hollow, Austin's only clothing-optional swimming hole, might be just the right place for you. Or you can keep your clothes on and head to Austin's own version of a dime-show museum, the Museum of the Weird. This inexpensive museum features stuff like real mummies, reptiles to pet, and sideshow performers showing off their skills in stomach-turning tricks. You can even bundle your Museum of the Weird tickets in as part of a combination ticket with the most unusual tour in Austin - the Austin Haunted Limo Tour. Available for groups of two to six people, this limo tour (in a converted hearse, of course), takes you to 15 Austin landmarks believed to be haunted, with spooky tour guides on hand to make the mood merrily morbid. These tours are available nightly at 8:00 and 10:00 p.m.
Of course, if you would rather face the ghosts during the day, you can always try the Austin Ghost Tours. They come in three flavors: walking tours, three-hour "investigations" into certain haunted spots, and trolley tours available for large groups. Once you are done stirring up the ghosts, head on down to the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge and check out the bats. During March and April of every year thousands of Mexican bats travel to the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge to raise their young. If you happen to be at the bridge at sunset, you will have the opportunity to see 700,000 bats swarm the skies in search of their evening meal. If you like, you can even book a seat at sunset on the Lonestar Riverboat Cruises for a unique view of the nightly spectacle.
Of course, for some folks, Austin's weirdness is just part of its flamboyant creativity, and there are many places in town to see Austin artists exploring their creative weirdness. The Art House at Laguna Gloria is a haven for artists, with classes for all ages and exhibits that change periodically through the course of the year. Check out also the Texas Music Museum, dedicated to the musicians who helped make Austin the "Live Music Capitol of the World." If you can, try to get tickets to a taping of Austin City Limits,, a PBS TV show that covers the best in live music at the Moody Theater.
For the best of Weird Austin, don't forget to check out the nightlife, especially Esther's Follies, Austin's vaudeville revue which features magic, mirth and scathing political parodies nightly.
And there you have it; whether you like your Austin as a place of historical significance, natural beauty or dazzling eccentricity, there's something there to keep you occupied for 48 hours.