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12 Things to Do in Downtown Austin

Exploring the best Austin attractions in the heart of the city.

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The possibilities of things to do in downtown Austin are endless. Use this list of our top picks to learn more about some of the most popular and interesting Austin attractions in the city center.

1. The Capitol Building

Things to do in Austin: The Texas Capitol Building
Emily Starbuck Gerson

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 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.

2. Lady Bird Lake and Hike and Bike Trail

Things to do in Austin: Lady Bird Lake
Emily Starbuck Gerson

Once called Town Lake, this beautiful body of water on the south border of downtown was renamed Lady Bird Lake in 2007, after the former first lady, Lady Bird Johnson. Most motorized watercrafts 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 and welcomes visitors to bring their dog along. Auditorium Shores, the park on the south bank, is expansive and hosts many open-air music festivals and activities. It is also a very popular spot to bring the dog and play catch.

3. Congress Avenue Bats

Every 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, including Trio Restaurant, offer incredible views of the bridge. Be sure to reserve a table on the patio near sunset!

4. Sixth Street

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, from Sabine to Lavaca Streets, 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, so things are a little calmer. The West 6th Street bars are especially popular during happy hour.

5. The Governor's Mansion

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 2008 and was closed for restoration until the spring of 2013. You can visit the Texas Governor's Mansion for free guided tours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

6. Austin Children's Museum

Things to do in Austin: Austin Children's Museum
Emily Starbuck Gerson

201 Colorado
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!

7. Stubb’s Bar-B-Q

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 original Stubb's Restaurant in Lubbock was a major music icon in the 1970s and featured artists such as Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker. The Austin restaurant now features internationally-known music acts in genres ranging from electronica to rap. Whether you are in the mood for brisket or beats, Stubb's is a gem of downtown Austin.

8. Esther's Follies

Things to do in Austin: Esther's Follies
Emily Starbuck Gerson

525 East 6th Street
This kitschy comedy club has been a downtown staple since 1977, and for good reason. The ever-changing shows are full of musical-comedy theater, with parodies, satire, magic tricks, improv comedy, and a large window to Sixth Street, where unique passersby (or drunken denizens) provide additional humor for the audience. Shannon Sedwick, or "the mama of the follies," is known for her hilarious Patsy Cline routine.

9. Paramount Theatre

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 also 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 beat.

10. The Contemporary Austin

700 Congress Avenue
This art museum displays primarily twentieth-century and contemporary art. 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.

11. Fourth Street

The Fourth Street area, also called the Warehouse District, has gained popularity in recent years for being the classier downtown alternative to Sixth 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, make your way down to Fourth Street.

12. Mexic-Arte Museum

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.

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