Many people pay more attention to the largest cities in Texas, such as Houston and Dallas, than to the state’s capital city, but there are so many reasons to visit Austin. Aside from its unique culture and incredible outdoors activities, Austin has emerged as one of the major cultural centers in Texas. This fact is perhaps most evident in the many museums and galleries worth a visit in Austin. These institutions celebrate everything from Texas history to street art. Some of the must-visit museums in Austin include:
1. Blanton Museum of Art
Located on the University of Texas campus in Austin, the Blanton Museum of Art boasts an impressive collection. The main building has two floors with sections dedicated to Latin American and modern American art, as well as European paintings, with a specific focus on Renaissance and Baroque pieces. Perhaps the most memorable part of the museum is the entrance, which features gorgeous classical architecture that carries through to the interior of the building. The atrium on the first floor transports people to a new world as soon as they step inside with a permanent wall installation called “Stacked Waters” by Teresita Fernández that combines massive strips of shimmering shades of blue.
2. Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum
Just a few blocks away from the impressive State Capitol, the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum does a great job of retelling the state’s story in an engaging and exciting manner. The museum is particularly exciting for children, but adults will also enjoy the exhibits about the people and characters who put Texas on the map: cowboys, Indians, ranchers, and oil barons. In addition, the museum explores some of the stories in Texas history that have received less attention, such as the role that black soldiers played in the decades after the Civil War. Visitors will also find two theaters, one of which is a six-story IMAX.
3. Mexic-Arte Museum
Visitors to the Mexic-Arte Museum are treated to stunning works of art even before they enter the building, which boasts exterior murals depicting a range of Latin-inspired iconography and important historical figures. The museum focuses on both traditional and contemporary Latino art, with an emphasis on Mexican artists. Emerging talent is featured in a rotating exhibition that exposes visitors to important new names. In addition, the back gallery space is devoted to local community projects. Of course, visitors will also find wonderful older pieces characteristic of the rich heritage of Mexican art.
4. Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum
Visitors who want to experience some culture while enjoying Austin’s perfect weather should look no further than the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum. The tranquil space has almost a secret garden feel, even though it is located only a short walk from both Barton Springs Pool and Zilker Park. The garden features a wide range of different works by Charles Umlauf, an Austin resident and important 20th-century sculptor. The curators have found truly inspiring ways to incorporate the art into nature. Visitors can explore the space on their own or book a guided tour. In addition, the garden hosts yoga sessions two mornings each week.
5. Mondo Gallery
The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, often named one of the best theaters in the country, has opened a gallery in Hyde Park that lives up to the theater’s famed name. When looking for the gallery, visitors should note that it is marked on the outside only by its distinctive serpentine insignia. Inside, guests will find a small gallery that celebrates pop culture with an archive of movie posters and limited-edition screen prints. Mondo also commissions one-sheets that are displayed in their larger artistic context. Some of the celebrated artists behind these one-sheets include Tim Doyle and Olly Moss.
6. Elisabet Ney Museum
Famous sculptor Elisabet Ney moved to Austin in the 1890s, and this museum fills her former home. The building itself is part of the experience—it’s reminiscent of the ornate castles in Ney’s homeland of Germany. Guests will get to see many of the busts and life-sized statues she made celebrating Texan figures like Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston, as well as prominent German individuals. Perhaps the best part of the museum is the way it allows visitors to delve into her process and see exactly how she carried out projects from concept to completion.
7. LBJ Presidential Library & Museum
History buffs and fans of President Lyndon Baines Johnson should not miss this museum, which offers a unique view on his life and career. The museum provides a balanced look at his achievements through a variety of short films and exhibits. A large focus of the museum is LBJ’s work passing the Civil Rights Act and his unsuccessful attempts to end the Vietnam War. However, visitors will also learn about his lesser-known deeds, such as his support of Medicare and his efforts to combat poverty. Visitors should not miss the chance to listen to actual recordings of his phone calls with both staffers and world leaders. These calls show the human side of a larger-than-life American figure.