Austin Attractions and Activities
Austin has a strong theater culture, with dozens of itinerant and resident companies producing a variety of work. The Church of the Friendly Ghost is a volunteer-run arts organization supporting creative expression and counter-culture community. The city also has live performance theater venues such as the Zachary Scott Theatre Center, Vortex Repertory Company, Salvage Vanguard Theater, Rude Mechanicals’ the Off Center, Austin Playhouse, Scottish Rite Children’s Theater, Hyde Park Theatre, the Blue Theater, The Hideout Theatre, and Esther’s Follies. The Victory Grill was a renowned venue on the Chitlin’ circuit. Public art and performances in the parks and on bridges are popular. Austin hosts the Fuse Box Festival each April featuring theater artists.
The Paramount Theatre, opened in downtown Austin in 1915, contributes to Austin’s theater and film culture, showing classic films throughout the summer and hosting regional premieres for films such as Miss Congeniality. The Zilker Park Summer Musical is a long-running outdoor musical.
The Long Center for the Performing Arts is a 2,300-seat theater built partly with materials reused from the old Lester E. Palmer Auditorium.
Ballet Austin is the fourth largest ballet academy in the country. Each year Ballet Austin’s 20-member professional company performs ballets from a wide variety of choreographers, including their international award-winning artistic director, Stephen Mills. The city is also home to the Ballet East Dance Company, a modern dance ensemble, and the Tapestry Dance Company which performs a variety of dance genres.
The Austin improvisational theatre scene has several theaters: ColdTowne Theater, The Hideout Theater, The Fallout Theater, and The Institution Theater. Austin also hosts the Out of Bounds Comedy Festival, which draws comedic artists in all disciplines to Austin.
Museums in Austin include the Texas Memorial Museum, the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center, Thinkery, the Blanton Museum of Art (reopened in 2006), the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum across the street (which opened in 2000), The Contemporary Austin, the Elisabet Ney Museum and the galleries at the Harry Ransom Center. The Texas State Capitol itself is also a major tourist attraction.
The Driskill Hotel, built in 1886, once owned by George W. Littlefield, and located at 6th and Brazos streets, was finished just before the construction of the Capitol building. Sixth Street is a musical hub for the city. The Enchanted Forest, a multi-acre outdoor music, art, and performance art space in South Austin hosts events such as fire-dancing and circus-like-acts. Austin is also home to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, which houses documents and artifacts related to the Johnson administration, including LBJ’s limousine and a re-creation of the Oval Office.
Locally produced art is featured at the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture. The Mexic-Arte Museum is a Mexican and Mexican-American art museum founded in 1983. Austin is also home to the O. Henry House Museum, which served as the residence of O. Henry from 1893 to 1895. Farmers’ markets are popular attractions, providing a variety of locally grown and often organic foods.
Austin also has many odd statues and landmarks, such as the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue, the Willie Nelson statue, the Mangia dinosaur, the Loca Maria lady at Taco Xpress, the Hyde Park Gym’s giant flexed arm, and Daniel Johnston’s Hi, How are You? Jeremiah the Innocent frog mural.
The Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge houses the world’s largest urban population of Mexican free-tailed bats. Starting in March, up to 1.5 million bats take up residence inside the bridge’s expansion and contraction zones as well as in long horizontal grooves running the length of the bridge’s underside, an environment ideally suited for raising their young. Every evening around sunset, the bats emerge in search of insects, an exit visible on weather radar. Watching the bat emergence is an event that is popular with locals and tourists, with more than 100,000 viewers per year. The bats migrate to Mexico each winter.
The Austin Zoo, located in unincorporated western Travis County, is a rescue zoo that provides sanctuary to displaced animals from a variety of situations, including those involving neglect.
The HOPE Outdoor Gallery is a public, three-story outdoor street art project located on Baylor Street in the Clarksville neighborhood. The gallery, which consists of the foundations of a failed multifamily development, is a constantly-evolving canvas of graffiti and murals. Also known as “Castle Hill” or simply “Graffiti Park”, the site on Baylor Street has been demolished as of January 2, 2019; the gallery will build a new art park at Carson Creek Ranch in Southeast Austin.