The museum scene in Austin may not be as robust as Dallas or Houston, but what it lacks in numbers it makes up for in diversity. After all, where else can you learn about wacky popular culture, dinosaurs and history of Texas all in one afternoon? From the sprawling, high-tech Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum to the cool Harry Ransom Center, there’s a little something for everyone in Austin. Even better, many of the attractions are free or charge only a nominal fee. Just be sure you check on hours before you go, as they are sometimes subject to change.
Harry Ransom Center: You could easily get lost in this incredible University of Texas museum, which houses some of the most important documents, literature and historical artifacts in the world. Focused on the arts and humanities, some past center exhibits have included the Woodward and Bernstein Watergate papers, art by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, and the archives of Norman Mailer, David Mamet, Jorge Luis Borges, Penelope Lively and Leon Uris. To visit the Harry Ransom Center is to take a walk through history. The museum is closed on Sunday. 300 West 21st St.; 512-471-8944; www.hrc.utexas.edu.
LBJ Library & Museum: Lyndon Baines Johnson had strong roots in Central Texas, so it’s only fitting that his presidential library and museum would be nestled in the heart of downtown Austin. Even for non-political types, the museum is a marvel, with exhibits including a recreated Oval Office from Johnson’s time in the White House, artifacts detailing his courtship with wife Lady Bird Johnson, 45 million pages of historical documents related to LBJ and detailed timelines explaining both his personal and political life. Special exhibits are also frequently on display. The museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 2313 Red River St.; 512-721-0200; www.lbjlibrary.org.
Mexic-Arte Museum: The official Mexican and Mexican American Fine Art Museum of Texas, the Mexic-Arte Museum delights visitors with rotating collections as well as free lectures by artists, anthropologists and writers and special events such as tequila tastings, galas and art sales. With its focus on contemporary and traditional Mexican, Latino and Latin American art and culture, you can expect to leave this museum with a greater understanding of the Austin community at large. 419 Congress Ave.; 512-480-9373; www.mexic-artemuseum.org
South Austin Museum of Popular Culture: This little museum encourages people to come visit Thursday-Sunday between 1 p.m. - 6 p.m. or “by appointment and chance.” That pretty much sums up a visit to the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture: It’s quirky, it’s random and it’s fun. Founded in 2004, the museum was created to pay homage to Austin’s unique culture, particularly the artwork created to promote the music scene over the years. If you love Austin, you have to stop in. Seeing is believing. 1516 S. Lamar Blvd.; 512-440-8318; www.samopc.org.
Texas Natural Science Center: One of the greatest things about living in a university town is that the wealth of knowledge within the campus community frequently ends up benefitting the community at large. Such is the case with the Texas Natural Science Center, which is located on the University of Texas campus and features exhibits on topics such as dinosaurs, gems and minerals, Texas wildlife and more. Special tours are also offered by appointment. 2400 Trinity St.; 512-471-1604;www.utexas.edu/tmm