At Duke’s, we’re all about conserving resources, and that includes saving money. We also love Austin, Texas, and we’re lucky there are so many fun things to do here. Bonus – many of them are free! Here are ten of our favorite free activities that are perfect for families in Austin!
1 – Austin Nature and Science Center
Zilker Metropolitan Park could be its own post, so we’ll focus on one great part — the Austin Nature and Science Center! This wonderful children’s museum has enough to keep your family busy all day. It’s the type of free family resource you can enjoy again and again!
The Naturalist Workshop lets young scientists explore a variety of real animal specimens. The center also hosts live animals, from bobcats and foxes to turtles and snakes. There’s even a special Birds of Prey exhibit with owls and hawks. The Eco-Detective Trail leads to what is probably most visitor’s favorite part, the Dino Pit, where budding paleontologists can dig for fossils.
Be sure to ask at the Visitor Pavilion about an Eco-Detective Kits. You can borrow these kits for free by leaving your driver’s license. These handy fanny packs include all the tools young scientists need to get the most out of this wonderful children’s museum.
Location: 2389 Stratford Drive, Austin, TX 78746
Cost: Free (even the parking)!
2 – John Gaines Park
Austin has no shortage of amazing parks and playgrounds, from the dinosaur digs at Champion Park to the newly rebuilt Western town at Creative Playscape. But our favorite pick is John Gaines Park.
Named for Austin’s first African-American police officer, John Gaines Park features a large play area with a climbing net and an attractive community pool with extremely reasonable admission. Our favorite part is the community garden, which opened in 2015. All of the plots are currently full, and you can take a look at what everyone is growing!
Location: 2708 Sorin St, Austin, TX, 78723
3 – The Texas Capitol in Austin
This list would feel incomplete without including the Texas Capitol! This historic area features some of the most well-preserved and beautiful architecture in the entire state. It provides a valuable look into the workings and traditions of our state legislature.
Guided and self-guided tours are available for the Capitol Building, and self-guided tour materials are available for the Capitol Grounds. There are small museums to visit, artworks to admire, and history to experience! Make sure to see the Senate and House chambers to see where votes take place and visit the Medal of Honor Exhibit to learn about Texas heroes.
Location: 1100 Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78701
4 – Austin Fire Museum
The Austin Fire Museum Hook & Ladder Society operates this modest museum in downtown Austin. Part of Central Fire Station No. 1, you can see uniforms, equipment, and photographs of Austin’s fire department from the 1800s to today. You can visit for free on weekends from 12 to 3 and weekdays by appointment.
If you have small children who don’t last for a full museum experience, this hidden gem might be perfect! You could probably see everything on display in half an hour. And if you’re the type who loves these hole-in-the-wall museums, there are two more in spitting distance! You can visit the O. Henry Museum, celebrating the beloved short story writer, and the Susanna Dickinson Hannig Museum, dedicated to a survivor of the Alamo.
Location: 401 E 5th St, Austin, TX 78701
5 – Brushy Creek Regional Trail
From the beautiful Hamilton Pool Preserve to the scenic Lady Bird Lake, Austinites have their pick of amazing hikes. Whether you stay in town or travel nearby, there are plenty of great trails where you can stretch your legs.
There are many options for families, as well. We recommend Brushy Creek Regional Trail. It connects six local parks, so there are plenty of exciting activities to kick off or end your journey. There’s a dam and plenty of bridges, including a historic railroad trestle. And at 6.75 miles long, the full length can provide an all-day hike. Whether you hike the full trail or pick and choose fun places to stop along the way, you’re sure to have a great time!
- Twin Lakes Park – 204 E Little Elm Trail
- Champion Park – 3830 Brushy Creek Road
- Brushy Creek Lake Park – 3300 Brushy Creek Road
- All Abilities Park – 151 North A.W. Grimes Boulevard
6 – Blanton Museum of Art
On the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, the Blanton Museum house one of the best art collections in the state. You can enjoy the “Austin” installation by Ellsworth Kelly and countless other pieces, from ancient history to contemporary works of art.
Visitors praise not only the art but the museum itself, which is beautifully designed and features a wonderful atmosphere. It’s the perfect place to experience art from all over the world in one fantastic place. If you’re an art lover in Austin, the Blanton Museum of Art is a must-see!
Location: 200 E Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Austin, TX 78712
Cost: Free for everyone on Thursdays, always free for children 12 and under!
7 – Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center
Emma S. Barrientos was a community leader and political activist, as well as the wife of the first Mexican-American state representative from the Austin area. This community center honors her by celebrating Mexican-American and Latino culture.
This beautiful venue features Rotating art and cultural exhibits. They host multiple activities every week, many of which are also free to attend. It’s a great family destination you can visit again and again, because there’s always something new to experience!
Location: 600 River St. Austin, TX 78701
8 – The Contemporary Art Museum of Austin
Focusing on contemporary art, this cutting edge museum features works in fantastic indoor and outdoor settings. Check their calendar for a steady stream of exhibitions and events, and they even offer paid art classes for artists of all ages.
The Contemporary is made up of two facilities, the Jones Center on Congress Avenue and the Laguna Gloria. Both areas are free on Tuesdays, and the Laguna Gloria at Lake Austin is also free on Thursday nights from 6 – 9pm.
Location: 700 Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78701
Cost: Free on Tuesdays, always free for everyone under 18 years of age!
9 – Elisabet Ney Museum
Looking for a mix of art and local history? The Elisabet Ney Museum allows you to experience the studio and art of the famed 19th century sculptor. Elisabet Ney moved to Austin in 1882 and built the first art studio in the state of Texas.
This out-of-the-way isn’t an all-day affair, but it’s a fun historical home to explore. Along with the incredible sculpture collection, keep an eye out for the beautiful spiral staircase and the secret door on the second floor. This community staple features numerous events and educational opportunities, so check back often!
Location: 304 East 44th Street, Austin, TX 78751
10 – Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum
This elegant museum features the sculptures of Charles Umlauf, the legendary Life Drawing and Sculpture professor of the University of Texas. The museum includes an indoor area to display the artwork of Umlauf as well as rotating exhibitions from other artists. The sculpture garden features his beautiful brass sculptures, making for a wonderful place to walk and explore.
While the museum generally charges for admission, they set aside a Family Day nearly every month to welcome visitors for free. These special events offer fun activities for parents and children to enjoy together. It’s definitely worth checking out!
Location: 605 Azie Morton Road, Austin, TX 78704
Cost: Free on Family Day, the second Sunday of the month!