A famous slogan states that everything is bigger in Texas, and if one views its capitol building, the age-old phrase rings true. Standing a stately 309 feet (94 meters) and modeled after the United States Capitol in Washington D.C., the Texas State Capitol owns the distinction of being the nation's tallest capitol building. Designed by architect Elijah E. Myers and constructed using lustrous red granite, the capitol took more than seven years to complete. It was finished in the year 1888 at a total cost of more than three million dollars, an extravagant price even by today's standards. The perfectly landscaped grounds reflect the languid pace of life under the central Texan sun, inviting passers-by for a quiet stroll or a lazy day under a tree.
One of the most visited presidential libraries in the nation, Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum is supplied with information regarding one of the most controversial times in United States history. Peeking inside the life of the 36th President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, the LBJ tapes provide listeners the opportunity to learn about former president John F. Kennedy's assassination and the Vietnam War. Along with the famous tapes, visitors can see a to-scale replica of the Oval Office, political memorabilia and more than 39 million pages of historical notes. Plan on a full day at this library and museum, but if you are a real history buff, you will barely scratch the surface of what this fantastic archive has to offer.
The amazing Zilker Botanical Garden overlooks the Zilker Park fields bordering Barton Springs Road. The garden is actually comprised of several different gardens, including the Cactus and Succulent, Xeriscape, Herb and Fragrance, Rose, Azalea, Butterfly and Taniguchi Gardens. Taniguchi is a beautiful Japanese landscape with a waterfall, running stream, lily ponds and wooden bridges. The lush, peaceful grounds are commonly perused by artists and writers searching for inspiration, and by others just looking for solitude amid the city.
A 35-foot (10.7 meters) bronze Lone Star sculpture greets visitors at the entrance of this epic museum. This place narrates the story of Texas, sharing its rich cultural heritage and traditions. The three floors of the impressive building present interactive exhibits, special effects shows and more. On the first floor, you will find a permanent exhibit called Encounters on the Land, which highlights the first meetings between Native Americans and European explorers. The second and third floors have exhibits that showcase the evolution of Texas from the time of its inception. The museum boasts a total of 17 media installations and over 700 artifacts, not to mention Austin's only IMAX Theater.
Charles Umlauf (1911-1994), one of the more famous Austin artists, was a prolific sculptor. This museum displays many of his works in a fantastic garden spot located close to Zilker Park and just minutes from downtown. His sculptures range from realism to abstraction and include families, religious figures, animals and mythological characters.
Enjoy a day at this educational, family friendly wildlife preserve. Austin Zoo, which is located on land that originally housed a goat ranch and started out with only a small selection of animals and has since grown into a full-fledged wild animal sanctuary and zoo. See Bengal tigers, lemurs, a butterfly garden and more! The picnic areas are perfect for a birthday party or company event.
Austin Duck Adventures is a one-of-a-kind tour takes you through the city and on Lake Austin on an authentic amphibious military landing vehicle that carries around 20 passengers. The tour goes through downtown, to the State Capitol, the Governor's Mansion, the LBJ Library, East Sixth Street's music district, historic Congress Avenue and area lakes. Meanwhile, the tour guide gives the history of the city, along with little-known insights. Each tour last for around two hours. Check the website or call ahead for further information.
The Governor's Mansion is one of the most significant landmarks in Austin. It was built in the mid 19th Century, giving it a historical status. The mansion is accentuated with elegant furnishings such as Sam Houston's bed, antiques, famous paintings and more. The Governor's Mansion was built using bricks and wood, thus giving a timeless touch to it. There are regular guided tours conducted here, although reservations are a must.
Built in 1867 as the home of the Texas General Land Office, this building is the oldest standing government building in the state. Along with a listing on the National Register of Historic Places, it has quite a bit of history. From 1887 to 1982, a draftsman named William Sidney Porter, better known today as the short story author O. Henry, rented a space upstairs. Some of the author's greatest short stories were inspired by his experiences here. The second floor of the building houses the O. Henry Nook, where visitors can view his comical land tract maps. The building also houses the State Travel Information Center, which provides guided tours. A Texas-style gift shop is located on the first floor.
Fancy a visit to the historic downtown area of Austin? Austin Historic Walking Tours provides free guided tours of several buildings and areas in Ausitn to anyone who's interested. Tours commence from the Capitol Building, and then take one to Congress Block, Sixth Street and Bremond Block Historic District, where one can marvel at the fine architectural aspects of the buildings, juxtaposed against metal and glass skyscrapers right alongside. Tours must be booked in advance; visit website for timings.
In a town with as much history as Austin, you are destined to find some scary stories and haunted locations. This tour takes you through downtown to experience some of the ghosts of this city's past. Hear stories about famous Austinites who have died, but never seemed to leave town. Learn about serial killers pre-dating Jack the Ripper, murders and mayhem, as well as spooks and haunts of Austin's sordid past. This tour may be a bit too much for small children. But adults will find it a wonderful way to learn about Austin's secret history.