Rolling hills, a chain of lakes 150 miles long, 300 days of sunshine, and acres of parks all add up to an ideal setting for vacation enjoyment. Austin and the surrounding Texas Hill Country offer hiking and bike trails, swimming, and golf. In addition, there is ballooning, bird watching, canoeing, excellent bass fishing, rock climbing, sailing, scuba diving, spelunking, and tennis.

A good place to begin a visit to Austin is downtown, where the pink granite Texas State Capitol, built in 1888, is the most visible structure. The Colorado River, which slices through Austin, was once an unpredictable waterway, but has been tamed into a series of picturesque lakes, including two within the city limits. 22 mile long Lake Austin, which lies in the western part of the city, flows into Town Lake, a narrow stretch of water that travels for 5 miles through the center of downtown.

Congress Ave Bridge

What’s so special about this downtown bridge? Bats! The bridge’s 1980 reconstruction created crevices beneath the bridge that somehow caught the attention of a homeless colony of Mexican free-tail bats. Each year they fly in from central Mexico, arriving in March and departing in early November. In June, each female gives birth to one pup, and every night at dusk, the families take to the skies in search of food. The spectacle of 1.5 million bats flitting forth at once looks a lot like a fast-moving, black, chittering river. It’s become an Austin tradition to bring along a six-pack and cheer the bats as they head out to feast on an estimated 30,000lbs (13,500kg) of insects per night. Bat Conservation International has volunteers on hand and holds programs throughout the bat season. Congress Ave Bridge crosses the Colorado at the southern end of downtown.

Austin Museum Of Art-Laguna Gloria

3809 W. 35th St.
512/458-8191.
Tues., Wed., Fri, Sat. 10-5, Thurs. 1-5, Sun. 12-5.
Set on a lush Lake Austin peninsula, this 1915 Mediterranean-style villa was once home to Clara Driscoll Servier, the savior of the Alamo. The museum showcases an expanding collection of 20th-century American paintings, sculpture, and photographs and hosts outside exhibits and family-focused art programs. An art school shares the beautiful setting. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Barton Springs Pool

2100 Barton Springs Rd.
512/476-9044.
Admission charged.
Daily 5am-10pm. Lifeguard on duty March-mid-November. Call for hours.
This huge natural spring-fed pool is a favorite summertime attraction. Each day approximately 32 million gallons of water from the underground Edwards aquifer bubble to the surface. At one time the water powered several Austin mills. In the early 1900s when the city dammed Barton Creek, the sides were lined with concrete to form a pool which is more than 1/4 mile long and 125 feet wide. The water is a constant, clear, invigorating 68°F. Part of Zilker Park, it is considered a premier swimming location.

State Capitol

11th St. and Congress Ave., Austin, 512/463-0063.

Bus: Yellow, orange, Red, Blue ‘Dillo lines
Free admission

Mon-Fri. 7am-10pm; Sat., Sun. 9am-8pm; call for dates and times during legislative sessions.
Austin’s downtown is dominated by its Renaissance Revival-style capitol building, constructed in 1888 of Texas pink granite. When the old state capitol building burned in 1881, it cleared the way for a grander structure, reminiscent of the Washington Capitol. Austin’s capitol is taller, of course (it’s the largest state capitol in the country). A restoration process and refurbishing of the grounds was begun in 1990 and completed in 1997. An underground annex was added, and the wrought iron fence topped with gold Lone stars, restored. The original fence was needed in the 1880’s to keep cattle off the grounds.

Like a pink mirage in the city center’s sea of green, the (1888) is certainly Austin’s most distinctive landmark. Constructed of sunset-colored Texas limestone, the capitol is topped with a statue of the Goddess of Liberty and (as its proud staffers are only too happy to tell you) ranks as the seventh largest government building in the world. Someone actually went to the trouble to measure the building from the basement floor to the top of the Liberty statue, and at 311ft (93m), it’s taller than the national capitol in Washington, DC.

The capitol’s rotunda features terrazzo seals of the six nations whose flag has flown over Texas. Inside the building you’ll find the standard assortment of the state’s top brass, including the chambers of the Senate and House of Representatives and the offices of the governor.

The underground addition was built by chiseling away 700,000 tons of rock. The entire structure covers 3 acres of ground. The cornerstone alone weighs 16,000 pounds.

Check to see which legislative sessions are open to the public, so that a visit to view this impressive building can be combined with a sample of Texas government in action.

Charles Moore House

2102 Quarry Rd., Austin; 512/477-4557

Tours by appointment.
Admission charged.

Charles Moore, had a great effect on post-modernism in the architectural field. He designed this one with Arthur Andersson. The house has been favorably compared to such architectural treasures as Monticello and Wright’s Taliesin. The house was preserved following Moore’s death by the Charles W. Moore Foundation. which arranges with the present owners for tours and fund-raisers. The rooms are alive with vivid colors, and contain folk art from around the world.

Driskill Hotel

604 Brazos St., Austin; 512/474-5911.

Bus: Red and blue ‘Dillos

A monument to Richardsonian Romanesque style, this delightful – and some say haunted – grande dame is embellished with stone busts of its original owner, cattle baron Jesse Driskill, and his sons. Two-story porches with Romanesque Revival columns surround the arched entrances. Over the years, countless legislators, lobbyists, and social leaders have held court behind its limestone walls

Duck Tours

200 W. 26th St., Austin; 512/477-5274.

Fee Charged
Tours depart from the Austin Convention & Visitors Bureau Visitor Center

Austin Duck Adventures operates authentic amphibious military landing vehicles, also known as “ducks,” that take visitors around the land-based sights, then splash into Lake Austin for a relaxing cruise. You’ll see the State Capitol, Governor’s Mansion, University of Texas-Austin campus and, of course, Lake Austin from a duck’s perspective.

Elisabet Ney Museum

304 E. 44th St; 512/458-2255

Wed-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun noon-5pm
Bus: nos. 1 or 5
Free admission

This was the home and studio of German-born sculptor Elisabet Ney in the late 19th century. In the former loft and working area, visitors can view plaster replicas of many of her pieces. Ney created busts of Schopenhauer, Garibaldi, and Bismarck before she was commissioned to make models of Texas heroes Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston for an 1893 Chicago exposition. The studio also contains many of her marble portrait sculptures. William Jennings Bryan, Enrico Caruso, Jan Paderewski, and four Texas governors were among the many visitors to her Austin studio.

French Legation Museum

802 San Marcos; 512/472-8180

Tours Tues-Sun 1-5pm
Go east on Seventh St., then turn left on San Marcos St.; the parking lot is behind the museum on Embassy and Ninth.
Bus: 4 stops nearby (at San Marcos and 7th.)
Admission charged. 5 and under free

The oldest residence still standing in Austin was built in 1841 for Count Alphonse Dubois de Saligny, France’s representative to the newly formed Republic of Texas.
In the back of the house, considered the best example of French colonial-style architecture outside Louisiana, is a re-creation of the only known authentic Creole(early French) kitchen in the United States. A shop focuses on Texas history from the time of the republic to the present.

General Land Office

The only surviving government building from Austin’s first 30 years was designed and built in Gothic style by its German-born and -trained architect, Conrad Stremme. This 21/2 story structure of stuccoed stone and brick was opened for business in the spring of 1858 as the first home of the Land Office.

Writer O. Henry worked as a draftsman here and used the building as the setting for two of his short stories. In 1989 the legislature approved a $4.5 million renovation project to restore the building to its 1890s appearance. The structure now houses a permanent exhibit on the history of the Capitol and has space on the second floor for traveling exhibits. E. 11th and Brazos Sts., Austin.

George Washington Carver Museum

1165 Angelina St; 512/472-4089

Tues-Thurs 10am-6pm, Fri-Sat noon-5pm
Bus: 2 and 120
Free admission

The many contributions of Austin’s African-American community are highlighted at this museum, the first one in Texas to be devoted to black history. Rotating exhibits of contemporary artwork share the space with photographs, videos, oral histories, and other artifacts from the community’s past. Cultural events are often held here, too. The museum’s collection is housed in the city’s first public library building, opened in 1926 and moved to this site in 1933. The newer George Washington Carver branch of the public library is next door.

Governor’s Mansion

The lovely Greek Revival structure (1856) is a few blocks west of the Capitol. Under Texas law, the governor is required to reside here when in Austin. It’s open for tours daily except during state holidays, official functions and whenever the governor’s feeling private.

In an 1856 letter to his wife, the mansion’s first resident, Governor Elisha M. Pease, described the view from the balcony, writing that all he saw were the recently constructed Capitol (which later burned), the Baptist church, open prairie all the way to the Colorado River, and a few head of cattle grazing on Congress Avenue. Every sitting governor since then has lived on the second floor, witnesses to the ever-changing views. The beautiful mansion is in the Greek Revival style, with keyhole molding and fluted Ionic columns in front. Free public tours are given every 20 minutes, 10-11:40 AM, weekdays, except state and federal holidays. 1010 Colorado St., 512/463-5516. Free. Weekdays 10-5.

Guadalupe Street. Known locally as “the Drag,” this bustling area bordering the west side of the University of Texas campus is lined with record stores, trendy boutiques, and restaurants. It’s a great place for window-shopping or people-watching.

Jack S. Blanton Museum Of Art

A fragment of this museum’s stellar collection is housed in two campus locations. The original Huntington space houses more than 12,000 drawings, etchings, and engravings, a mere fraction of which are displayed on the attic-like second floor. The main downstairs gallery features rotating exhibits of large sculptures, canvases and installations. The rest of the museum, in the August Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, showcases a world-class collection of Latin American art and antiquities as well as Renaissance and Baroque paintings and sculptures. The Old Masters collection includes works from Ricci, Passeri, and del Piombo; the 20th Century collection includes works from Thomas Hart Benton, Franz Kline, and Marsden Hartley. 23rd and San Jacinto Sts., 512/471-7324. free. Mon., Tues, Wed., Fri. 9-5, Thurs. 9-9, weekends 1-5.

Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library And Museum

The largest presidential library in the nation is on the grounds of The University of Texas. The building is the repository for all 45 million documents produced during the LBJ administration and contains many exhibits on Johnson’s life, family, and presidential years, as well as information on the assassination of JFK. There’s also an art gallery with changing exhibitions. 2313 Red River Rd., 512/916-5136. free. Daily 9-5.

MEXIC-ARTE Museum

419 Congress Ave; 512/480-9373

Mon-Sat 10am-6pm; Sat 10am-5pm
Bus: Red ‘Dillo
Admission charged.

The first organization in Austin to promote multicultural contemporary art when it was formed in 1983, MEXIC-ARTE has a small permanent collection of 20th-century Mexican art, including photographs from the Mexican revolution and a fascinating array of masks from the state of Guerrero. It’s supplemented by visiting shows, including some from Mexico, such as a major retrospective of muralist Diego Rivera. The museum also programs an average of two music, theater, and performing arts events each month and runs mural tours to Mexico.

Neill-Cochran Museum House

2310 San Gabriel St.; 512/478-2335

Wed-Sun 2-5pm; free 20-min. tours given
Bus: Yellow ‘Dillo, UT shuttle
Admission charged., children under 10 free

Abner Cook, the architect-contractor responsible for the governor’s mansion and many of Austin’s other gracious Greek revival mansions, built this home in 1855. It bears his trademark portico with six Doric columns and a balustrade designed with crossed sheaves of wheat. Almost all its doors, windows, shutters, and hinges are original:which is rather astonishing when you consider that the house was used as the city’s first Blind Institute in 1856 and then as a hospital for Union prisoners near the end of the Civil War. The beautifully maintained 18th- and 19th-century furnishings are interesting, but many people come just to see the painting of bluebonnets that helped convince legislators to designate these native blooms the state flower.

Old Bakery and Emporium

1006 Congress Ave; 512/477-5961

Mon-Fri 9am-4pm; first 3 Sat in Dec 10am-2pm
Bus: Red ‘Dillo
Free admission

On the National Register of Historic Landmarks, the Old Bakery was built in 1876 by Charles Lundberg, a Swedish master baker, and continuously operated until 1936. You can still see the giant oven and wooden baker’s spade inside. Rescued from demolition by the Austin Heritage Society, and now owned and operated by Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department, the brick-and-limestone building is one of the few unaltered structures on Congress Avenue. It houses a gift shop, selling crafts handmade by seniors, a reasonably priced lunchroom, and a hospitality desk with visitors’ brochures.

Paramount Theatre

713 Congress Ave; 512/472-5470 (box office) 512/472-5411

Bus: Red and Orange ‘Dillo lines

The Marx Brothers, Sarah Bernhardt, Helen Hayes, and Katharine Hepburn all entertained at this former vaudeville house, which opened as the Majestic Theatre in 1915 and functioned as a movie palace for 50 years. Restored to its original opulence, the Paramount now hosts Broadway shows, visiting celebrity performers, local theatrical productions, including an impressive Kids Classic series, and, in the summer, old-time films. There are no formal tours.

Texas Memorial Museum

2400 Trinity St University of Texas; 512/471-1604

Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 1-5pm
Bus: no. 27
Free admission (donations appreciated)

During a whistle-stop visit to Austin in 1936, Franklin Roosevelt broke the ground for this museum, built to commemorate the centennial of Texas independence. Whatever your age, you’ll probably remember going on a class trip to a place like this, with dioramas, stuffed animals, and other displays detailing the geology, anthropology, and natural history of your home state.

In addition to the requisite child-pleasing dinosaur displays (including footprints outside the building), three things make this museum well worth a visit: an intriguing exhibit on the history of firearms; the original zinc goddess of liberty that once sat on top of the capitol; and a good gift shop, with lots of ethnic crafts and educational toys.

Treaty Oak

503 Baylor St Between W. Fifth and Sixth Sts; 512/440-5194

Bus: Silver ‘Dillo

Legend has it that Stephen F. Austin signed the first boundary treaty with the Comanches under the spreading branches of this 500-year-old live oak, which once served as the symbolic border between Anglo and Indian territory. Whatever the case, this is the sole remaining tree in what was once a grove of Council Oaks:which made the well-publicized attempt on its life in 1989 especially shocking. But almost as dramatic as the story of the tree’s deliberate poisoning by an attention-seeking Austinite is the tale of its rescue by an international team of foresters. The dried wood from major limbs that they removed has been allocated to local artists, who are creating public artworks celebrating the tree. You can also buy items such as pen sets, gavels, clocks, and wooden boxes made out of the tree’s severed limbs, as well as less expensive mementos. The proceeds go to the forestry unit of the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department.

Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum

605 Robert E. Lee Rd; 512/445-5582

Wed-Fri 10am-4:30pm; Sat-Sun 1-4:30pm (Sat 10am-4:30pm June-Aug)
Bus: nos. 29 or 30
Admission charged, children 6 and under free

This is a very user-friendly museum, one for people who don’t enjoy being cooped up in a stuffy, hushed space. An art instructor at the University of Texas for 40 years, Charles Umlauf donated his home, studio, and more than 250 pieces of artwork to the city of Austin, which maintains the lovely native garden where much of the sculpture is displayed. Umlauf, whose pieces reside in such places as the Smithsonian Institution and New York’s Metropolitan Museum, worked in many media and styles. He also used a variety of models; you’ll probably recognize the portrait of Umlauf’s most famous UT student, Farrah Fawcett. With advance notice, the museum can arrange American Sign Language tours for the deaf and “touch tours” for the blind.

University of Texas Museums & Galleries

The grand University of Texas, one of the largest universities in the United States, flanks the capitol’s north end. Austin has its own professional symphony, ballet and opera companies; dozens of theaters which combine old favorites with ground-breaking new drama; dance companies, vocal ensembles, and orchestras. Art museums, galleries and beautiful gardens of sculptures further enhance the rich cultural mix.

The LBJ Library on the University of Texas (UT) campus is a highlight of a visit to Austin. Lyndon Baines Johnson was the 36th president of the USA. A jovial native Texan, LBJ balanced the John F Kennedy campaign ticket with a southern political presence. Supported by Lady Bird Johnson, the former first lady, the museum contains information on the JFK presidency and assassination, the Bay of Pigs, Krushchev, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy, and the Vietnam War. Upstairs, a new exhibit on Mexican Texans details pre-republic Texas life.

The Texas Memorial Museum

A building filled with displays of Texas’ natural and social history. Exhibits focus on geology, paleontology, anthropology and natural history. There is even a pterodactyl skeleton.

The Archer M Huntington Gallery at UT

This is one art museum in two buildings: the Harry Ransom Center (HRC) on the West Campus and the Art Building on the East. The collection focuses on 20th century North American and Latin American art and on drawings from the 15th century forward.

Women & Their Work Gallery

1710 Lavaca St 512/477-1064

Mon-Fri 9am-5pm; Sat noon-4pm
Bus: Red ‘Dillo Free admission

Founded in 1978, this gallery is devoted to more than visual art. It promotes and showcases women in dance, music, theater, film, and literature. The gift shop has a great selection of unusual crafts and jewelry created by female artists.

Zilker Park

2100 Barton Springs Rd., 512/499-6700.

April-October

The city’s largest public park connects to Town Lake’s popular hike and bike trail. Free rides are offered on the miniature Amtrak train that circles the park’s perimeter.

Zilker Botanical Garden

2220 Barton Springs Rd.; 512/477-8672.

Admission Free.

Across from Zilker Park, this 26-acre garden of horticultural delights includes butterfly trails and Xeriscape (a water-conserving method of landscaping) gardens with native plants that thrive in the arid southwestern climate.