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 began 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.
Five Things to Know About Thinkery
Formerly known as Austin Children’s Museum, the Thinkery takes a fun, hands-on approach to teaching kids about science, technology, engineering, art, and math. They can construct and launch gliders in the Spark Shop, work with edible materials in the Kitchen Lab, or check out native rocks while wading in the outdoor creek. Check out more about this interactive museum and learn why it’s not just for kids:
Every visit is different. While the museum stresses hands-on learning, many of the activities you and your kids can take part in depend on the educational staff running things that day. Visit one day, and you could make stills come to life with stop animation; visit another day, and you’ll workshop with microscopes.
You don’t need a kid to visit. During the museum’s adults-only Thinkery21 events, big kids can explore, learn, and play, all while enjoying drinks from a cash bar and eats from Austin food trucks.
Plan on getting messy. Whether kids are playing in the Thinkery’s futuristic-looking outdoor playground or learning about fluid dynamics in the museum’s Current exhibit, they’re bound to get some drips and stains on their clothes. The museum provides smocks and Crocs at some exhibits, but make sure kids wear something that’ll stand up to water and dirt.
Keep an eye out for workshops. These special programs let kids and adults dive into complex processes while working with specialized staff members. Programs range from woodworking to cooking with unusual foods to 3D printing.
You can bring your own food, but you don’t have to. Guests are welcome to bring along snacks and lunches, but the Snap Pod—an offshoot of Snap Kitchen—offers healthy options from a seasonal menu. The Snap Pod is open Tuesday–Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Mondays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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.
The Dinosaur Park was sparked by the passion of two tiny dinosaur enthusiasts. One 3-year-old boy’s interest in dinosaurs evolved into a passion so strong that it also took hold of his younger sister, leading their parents to hatch the plans for what would soon become The Dinosaur Park. In an outdoor museum setting, a path leads the way through exhibits that include life-size dinosaur replications donning skin and color variations that give a better idea of how these prehistoric giants lived and survived their awkward teen years. More than 20 replicas inhabit the woods, including a 28-foot triceratops, a 6-foot velociraptor, and a 40-foot T. rex. The displays also include Texas-native dinos such as the iguanodon and the coelophysis. Other activities such as a playground, a fossil dig, and a gift store await visitors after they walk the trail.
Elisabet Ney Museum
Who: Noted European sculptor Elisabet Ney moved to Austin in 1892 and opened a studio called Formosa, which became a gathering place for politicians, artists, and influential Texan thinkers.
What: Ney’s friends preserved her studio after her death in 1907, and it’s now on The National Register of Historic Places. Today, it holds portraits and personal memorabilia from the Elisabet Ney Collection of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin.
When: It’s open Wednesday–Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
Where: The 3-acre Gothic building is located in the Hyde Park neighborhood
Why: Ney was a well known artist when she moved to Texas, where she directed her formidable talents toward creating busts of local notables such as Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston.