The tale of the Austin Children's Museum begins in 1983, when a band of parents and teachers started setting up educational exhibits and children's activities throughout the city. This “museum without walls” stretched into schools, parks, and malls, delighting children and families with a sense of whimsy and a place where play was rewarded. In the years that followed, the museum shed its nomadic beginnings and found a permanent home inside the pleasant green walls of the Dell Discovery Center. Firmly rooted, its exhibits have entertained and enlightened more than 800,000 youngsters and their parents while earning praise from the writers of Little Austinite.
Today, the sprawling 12,500-square-foot facility is a kaleidoscope of color and lights, where whippersnappers play with giant building blocks, cobble recycled materials into crafts, and marvel at golf balls as they soar through loops and shoots. Others explore the miniature Global City, where they take on roles such as veterinarians in the pet clinic, cooks in the diner, or stray raccoons hiding in the grocery store.
Throughout the week, a team of educators leads Discovery Time, guiding lads and lasses through kid-friendly science experiments that launch paper helicopters and make slime. The museum also hosts Storytime, where grownups read playful stories aloud to encourage creativity and instill a love of literature in young readers.
When Archer M. Huntington donated 4,000 acres of land to The University of Texas at Austin, it was no surprise that the husband to renowned sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington stipulated it be used to support an art museum. Today, Blanton Museum of Art—named Best Museum in the Austin Chronicle's 2013 Best of Austin Readers' Poll—honors Archer's request by providing access to more than 17,000 works and a variety of rotating exhibitions. The museum's collection of prints, paintings, and sculptures comprises more than 4,000 pieces from America and 1,800 from Latin America, and it even includes the Suida-Manning Collection—a group of 230 paintings and 400 drawings by Baroque and Renaissance masters that was much sought after by other museums, according to Frommer's. With these pieces as backdrop, the museum hosts Third Thursday events such as artist talks and Yoga in the Galleries, the latter of which finds instructors twisting sculptures into poses that will be easier on their spines.
Every year, more than 75,000 visitors—from schoolchildren to serious art collectors—visit the Mexic-Arte Museum in downtown Austin. They come to see the innovative exhibitions, explore the collections, and soak up the resources that have made the museum a go-to source for educational and cultural programming. Designated as the Official Mexican and Mexican-American Fine Art Museum of Texas, Mexic-Arte was founded by a group of artists in 1984; it's one of the few museums in the United States dedicated to Mexican art. Mexic-Arte showcases the works of both established and emerging artists from Mexico, the United States, and Latin America, allowing them to reach a large audience without having to create extra-large pieces to unravel from the tops of nearby skyscrapers.
To avoid last year's embarrassment of inventing modern art 90 years after the fact, it might do you good to visit an art museum and see what art movements already exist. Marvel and muse among the aesthetically astute with today's Groupon: for $30, you'll get a yearlong household membership to both locations of the Austin Museum of Art. Benefits include:
Steve Busti wasn't like the other children in his classroom. While his peers were playing tag and collecting baseball cards, Steve was poring over books on Bermuda Triangle theories and UFOs. He frequented dime museums and sideshow carnivals, fascinated by the strange creatures and characters therein. As Steve grew older, he began to build a collection of oddities—trinkets he picked up from sideshows, props from movie sets, and curiosities he stumbled upon. So when he realized there was plenty of extra room in the back of the novelty shop he owned with his wife, Steve was inspired to open a museum—a shrine to all things odd, unnatural, and eerie.
Today, the Museum of the Weird is a treasure trove of peculiar exhibits, lauded by reporters from The Austin Chronicle as "a remarkable collision of genre film ephemera." Steve's giant pet lizards scuttle about the space, surprising guests who are busy examining bigfoot exhibits or trying to shake an uncomfortable feeling that they recognize one of the shrunken heads. The entire scene is watched over by lifelike wax figures of Dracula and The Wolf Man, as well as a glowering bust of King Kong. After visits, guests pop into Steve and his wife Veronica's shop—Lucky Lizards Curios & Gifts—to peruse an equally unusual collection of action figures, vintage items, and locally made wares.
When surveyor Washington Hill wanted a home built on his 17.5 acres outside of Austin, only one master builder would suffice: Abner Cook. Responsible for notable Austin spaces like the Governor's Mansion and the First Presbyterian Church, Cook completed Hill's abode in 1856. By that time, however, the Hills could no longer afford the residence, which the State of Texas soon leased and turned into the Texas Asylum for the Blind. So begat a long line of new identities for the building, which went on to house lieutenant governors, colonels, judges, and, for more than two years during Reconstruction, injured Civil War troops.
Under the care of the National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in The State of Texas, Hill's dream home is now the Neill-Cochran House Museum. Emblematic of the structure's Greek Revival style, Doric columns greet visitors before they explore the historic interior on staff- or docent-led tours. These only skim the surface of the museum's activities—frequent happenings range from seminars by leading historians to events for youngsters like the Easter Egg Dye-o-rama. The museum can even be rented for special occasions, including art shows, teas, and weddings.