Visitor's Center: 112 East 11th Street
This architecturally stunning building opened in 1888 to much pomp and circumstance and remains one of the great symbols of Texas history and politics. It is also a major Austin attraction and major tourist spot. It is a favorite part of the Austin skyline, and there are actually building restrictions to keep it easily viewable from all parts of town. Come in for a free tour and you just might catch a few politicians roaming the halls.
Once called Town Lake, this beautiful body of water on the south border of downtown was renamed Lady Bird Lake after the former first lady in 2007. Most motorized watercraft are forbidden on the lake, so it is a popular spot for kayaking, canoeing, and rowing. Additionally, the lake is surrounded by the popular Hike and Bike trail, which is around 10 miles long. The surface is mostly crushed granite and is quite flat, so it’s very easy on the legs. Hundreds of locals flock here every day to exercise, many with their dog. Auditorium Shores, the park on the south bank, is expansive and is host to many open-air music festivals and activities. It’s also a very popular spot to bring the dog and play catch.
Each year around March, about 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats migrate to Austin and make their home under the Congress Avenue bridge. From March until September, if you come out at dusk, you can watch the creepy creatures emerge en masse for a feeding of insects. On summer nights, tourists and locals alike line up on the bridge for a look. August is one of the best months for viewing the bats – especially when the nights are hot and dry. Some nearby restaurants, such as Shoreline Grill, offer incredible views of the bridge. Be sure to reserve a table on the patio near sunset!
When most people think of downtown attractions in Austin, 6th Street is the first thing that comes to mind. This long strip of bars, music venues, and restaurants is one of the staples of Austin’s nightlife and is packed Thursday through Sunday nights. The main stretch of bars extends from Sabine to Lavaca Streets and are mainly frequented by the college crowd and can get rowdy. On West 6th Street, just east of Lamar, there is a group of bars that tend to be a little more upscale and attract the young professional crowd, and things are a little calmer. The West 6th Street bars are especially popular during happy hour.
1010 Colorado Street
Built in 1856, this beautiful home is the most historic house in Texas and is the oldest executive home west of the Mississippi River. The residence was once occupied by Sam Houston, who was one of the heroes of the Texas revolution. The home fell victim to arson in June of 2008 and has since been closed for restoration. Public tours will resume once the rebuilding is complete, but you can still drive or walk by and view the home from the outside.
Located in the heart of downtown, the colorful Austin Children's Museum is a fun place for kids. The museum teaches important lessons through play and has regular storytelling time, science demonstrations, workshops, and camps for little ones. If you need to keep the kids entertained for a few hours, this is the place to be!
801 Red River Street
This downtown Austin attraction is half barbecue joint and half live music venue. The tiny restaurant serves delicious and tender barbecue in a warm Texas atmosphere. The live music side has both a small indoor stage and a large outdoor stage. The venue was a major music icon in the 1970s and featured artists such as Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker. It still features internationally-known music acts in genres ranging from electronica to rap. Whether you are in the mood for brisket or want to see a great concert, Stubb’s is a gem of downtown Austin.
525 East 6th Street
This kitschy comedy club has been a downtown staple since 1977, and for a good reason. The ever-changing shows are full of musical-comedy theater, with Vaudville entertainment, satire, magic tricks, improv comedy, and a large window to Sixth Street, whose unique passerbys provide additional humor to the audience. Shannon Sedwick, also known as “the mama of the follies,” is known for her hilarious Patsy Cline routine. If you need some laughs, this is the place to go.
713 Congress Avenue
This nearly century-old theater is the oldest surviving theater in Austin and has quite a history; it was once the location of Sam Houston’s office in addition to the War Department of the Republic of Texas. This official city, state, and national landmark was once home to Vaudeville and variety theater, but now it features everything from children’s shows to comedy performances to film screenings. Major international acts grace the stage, and the old-timey feel is hard to eat.
823 Congress Avenue
This art museum displays primarily twentieth-century and contemporary arts. There are frequently new exhibits in addition to hands-on, public education opportunities. These include performances, lectures about art, guided tours, art response activities, and a hands-on art lab for children.
The 4th Street area, also called the Warehouse District, has gained popularity in recent years for being the classier downtown alternative to 6th Street. The bars are a little nicer, the crowds are a little older, and the drinks are a little more expensive. But if you want to escape the wild coeds and venture into a sleeker establishment, 4th Street is the place to be.
419 Congress Avenue
Called “The Official Mexican and Mexican American Fine Art Museum of Texas” this museum is packed with Mexican culture, both traditional and contemporary. The museum features work from traveling and curated art exhibitions from artists in Mexico and Latin America, in addition to having a gallery that specifically features emerging talent