Ever wonder where the “Come and Take It” meme started? Want to dive into the LBJ presidency or hang out in a fake Oval Office? How about learning science in a kid-friendly way?
Home to a presidential library, history museums and historic homes, a state-of-the-art children’s museum, and a host of cultural centers celebrating our city’s diverse population, Austin has something for everyone.
Bullock Texas State History Museum
You can’t miss the Bullock Museum, which tells the story of Texas over three floors: just look for the 35-foot-tall bronze star in front. Visitors can follow the history of the Lone Star State from 1821, through its time as a territory of Spain, then Mexico to its independence as a country, and finally the status of state in the United States. The heart of the current exhibits is La Belle, a French ship that was exploring the Gulf of Mexico when it sank in Matagorda Bay in 1686. Its wreckage was discovered in 1995, excavated two years later and brought back inside from the museum in 2015. Daily screenings are held at the Texas Spirit Theater and the Bullock IMAX, the largest IMAX screen in Texas and renovated in 2016 to include laser projection. Texas music fans will want to check out the new exhibit “Pride & Joy: The Texas Blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan,” which will be on display until July 23.
Bullock Texas State History Museum (Photo by John Anderson)
Harry Ransom Center
Come for the rarest rarities in the permanent exhibit – the Gutenberg Bible (one of only six complete copies in the United States, printed circa 1450-1455) and the first (known) photo ever taken by French scientist Joseph Nicéphore Niépce – stay for anything exhibits were drawn from the amazing collection of this University of Texas Humanities Research Library. Its unparalleled collection includes the archives of literary lions (Gabriel García Marquez, David Foster Wallace, Norman Mailer), film legends (David O. Selznick, Robert De Niro, Nicholas Ray), stage giants (Arthur Miller, Samuel Beckett, Tennessee Williams, Tom Stoppard), and major figures in history and photography (Napoleon, Churchill, Woodward & Bernstein, the Magnum collective).
Harry Ransom Center (Photo by John Anderson)
LBJ Presidential Library
A trek through the LBJ is a heady trip back in time – the 60s, to be exact. America’s turbulent period of social change is explored from the perspective of the Oval Office (a mock-up of which is on the 10th floor of the library). In addition to an impressive series of permanent multimedia exhibits charting LBJ’s presidency from the day JFK was assassinated to Johnson’s departure, the museum hosts regular exhibits that seek to shed light on aspects of American history at 20th century, the office of the presidency, or the life and background of Johnson himself. The library also hosts nationally and internationally renowned speakers and major symposia, such as the 2014 Civil Rights Summit, which included four presidents.
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum (Photo by John Anderson)
It’s a chronic parenting conundrum: how to combine learning and fun. If anyone in Austin has the solution, it’s Thinkery. On the burgeoning Mueller Development Area, this children’s museum offers interactive wazoo exhibits and enough special events and classes to keep every child occupied, from toddlers to tweens. For you jealous adults, there’s a monthly drinking-age themed party that mixes a splash of booze with the antics of second childhood. These STEM warriors won’t let you or your offspring down.
Thought (Photo by John Anderson)
Emma S. Barrientos Mexican-American Cultural Center
The result of 30 years of civic lobbying, feasibility studies, task forces and two mandatory elections, the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center is a monument to determination and perseverance as well as a site where Austin’s Mexican-American and Latinx heritage is still on display. Clean, curvaceous and modern, the MACC is one of the city’s most architecturally distinctive cultural spaces: a bold, wide semi-circle of white stone cradling a broad green lawn on the shores of Lady Bird Lake. . Inside the building is an auditorium/black box theater that regularly presents plays from Teatro Vivo and Proyecto Teatro, a performance studio, two art galleries, and numerous classrooms and community spaces.
MACC (Photo by Jana Birchum)
George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center
The Carver Complex is centered around the former Carver Library, the first library for residents of color in Austin. The original 1926 public library building — which was moved east and opened to black people in 1933 — still serves the neighborhood, but since 2005 it has been flanked by the 36,000-square-foot center, which includes four galleries of art, the 134-seat Boyd Vance Theater, a dance studio, photo lab and darkroom, lecture hall, offices, classroom, archive space and museum store. The library itself was expanded to over 15,000 square feet, with computers, meeting and study rooms, a gallery, and a youth library. Hard-earned, deeply earned, and aesthetically lavish, the Carver Complex is the heart of East Austin.
George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center (Photo by John Anderson)
Susanna Dickinson Museum
One of the few survivors of the Battle of the Alamo, Susanna Dickinson was the first to report the defeat to Sam Houston, earning her the nickname “Messenger of the Alamo.” Housed in the actual “rubble stone” house built for her in 1869 by her husband Joseph Hannig, a German immigrant and cabinetmaker, the museum features rare artifacts from the Dickinson family, furniture produced by Hannig, and temporary exhibits.
Susanna Dickinson Museum (Photo by John Anderson)
Texas Music Museum
This volunteer-run nonprofit was established in the early 1980s to give greater attention to Texas’ rich musical heritage, with a particular focus on unsung African-American and Mexican-American artists. It maintains a collection of vintage recordings and photographs, historical posters, oral histories, documents and other artifacts, which it draws on for exhibitions in its Eastside galleries.
Between 1893 and 1895, William Sidney Porter (better known by his pseudonym O. Henry) lived in Austin with his wife and daughter in a small cottage on Pecan (now Fourth Street). In 1930 it was to be demolished to make way for a warehouse, but a coalition of women’s organizations managed to save it and move it to Fifth Street a block east, where it was restored and opened to the public as a museum in 1934. Inside are pieces of Porter’s original furniture and personal effects, including a copy of The rolling stone, the weekly which he published, and a dictionary which he would have read from cover to cover. In May of each year, the beloved O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships take place at nearby Brushy Square Park.
O.Henry Museum (Photo by John Anderson)