Austin, the capital of Texas, is a wonderful city to visit with the whole family. From theater under the stars to concerts in the park, there is always something happening in the Live Music Capital of the World. And there are so many free things to do in Austin with kids.
Austin is about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Houston and home to more free fun than you could possibly conquer in a weekend. So, you might want to plan to stay awhile. From barbecue and breakfast tacos to swimming holes and scenic views, there are endless choices for an incredible Austin visit that won’t break the bank. Here are just a few of the fun things to do in Austin with kids, for free.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Always check the attraction’s website before you go. Opening hours and dates can change without notice.
1. Zilker Park
If you’re looking for free things to do in Austin, Zilker Park has got you covered. Cool off with a dip in Barton Springs Pool (free swim hours are in the early am and evening hours) and spend some time on the giant playscape. In the spring, enjoy the free Zilker Kite Festival and Austin Shakespeare in the park. In summer months, be sure to catch Austin City Limits Radio’s free live music series Blues on the Green and the annual free Zilker Summer Musical at the Zilker Hillside Theater.
Note: Some areas of the park charge admission fees like the Zilker Botanical Garden and UMLAUF Sculpture Garden and Museum (free for kids 12 and under, military, and veterans). You can also rent canoes, kayaks and stand up paddles boards at Zilker Park Boat Rentals.
Read More: When you’re ready to spend some money, check out this list of 30 fun things to do in Austin with kids, some of which charge admission fees.
2. Austin Nature and Science Center
Located on the edge of Zilker Park in the Zilker Park Nature Preserve, this free nature center offers both indoor and outdoor fun. Dig for dinosaur bones, hike and view reptiles and birds of prey. This nature center will tire out even the most energetic kid!
3. Blanton Museum of Art
The Blanton is one of the largest university art museums in the U.S., and it’s free on Thursdays. Stop by to explore the exhibits, including Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin,” a 2,715-square-foot stone building with luminous colored glass windows.
4. Bullock Texas State History Museum
Next, head across the street from the Blanton to learn the story of Texas at the Bullock Museum. Admission is free on the first Sunday of each month, from noon to 5 p.m. IMAX movie charges still apply if you choose to see a film.
5. Mayfield Park, Laguna Gloria & Mount Bonnell
Peacocks, sculptures and a beautiful view! It’s one of our top things to do in Austin with kids. Plan to picnic with peafowl in Mayfield Park for some amazing photo ops. Then head to the neighboring property, The Contemporary Austin’s Laguna Gloria, for gardens and outdoor art exhibitions. It’s free on Tuesdays all day and on Thursdays from 6-9 p.m. Next, if little legs aren’t overtired, head up around the bend to climb nearby Mount Bonnell’s 106 steps for sweeping views of Austin from up on high.
6. Central Market North
With local live music playing on the sprawling outdoor patio and a large playground just steps away, Central Market is an ideal spot to grab a casual family meal. Plus, kiddos eat free on Tuesday evenings, starting at 5 p.m.
7. Texas State Capitol
Free Capitol tours are conducted daily beginning in the Capitol South Foyer and concluding in the Capitol Extension. The tour features the Capitol, Texas history and the Texas legislature. Or take a self-guided tour of the Capitol building, Capitol grounds, and the Trail of Trees. Be sure to follow the sidewalk across the grounds to the Capitol Visitors Center, which has free interactive exhibits on the second floor.
If you’re looking to spend a low-key morning in Downtown Austin, head to the largest independent bookstore in Texas for story time. Then walk across the street to enjoy a picnic by the playground on the Whole Foods Market rooftop plaza.
9. Liz Carpenter Fountain
Who needs a water park? Stay up past dark to dance in South Austin’s Liz Carpenter Fountain (located in Butler Park). Or, for littles who need to get to bed early, check out another one of Austin’s many other free splash pads.
10. See the Congress Avenue Bats
From April through September, folks gather on the Congress Avenue Bridge and surrounding areas to get a glimpse of the largest urban bat colony of Mexican free-tailed bats emerge nightly on their quest for food.
Austin’s children’s museum, the Thinkery, encourages STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning, for babies on up. The fun-filled facility is an interactive science and technology center that will entertain for hours. Bring a spare outfit for your tot, who is bound to get wet splashing around in the indoor water exhibit, Currents. Admission is free on Wednesdays from 4-8 p.m. Arrive early to play at the playground across the street and visit with the ducks in nearby Mueller Lake!
12. Tour the Governor’s Mansion
Free guided tours of the Texas Governor’s Mansion are available Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Tours will last 20 minutes and are subject to availability. Reservations must be made at least one week in advance and no walk-up tours are available. To schedule a free tour, fill out the reservation request form on The State Preservation Board’s website.
13. Ann & Roy Butler Hike & Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake
With more than 1.5 million visits a year, the 10-mile downtown hike-and-bike trail is Austin’s most recognized and popular recreational area. If you’re looking for free things to do in Austin with kids, walking along Lady Bird Lake is a fan favorite.
14. Downtown Farmers’ Market
Open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. year-round, rain or shine, the Sustainable Food Center’s downtown farmers market at Republic Square Park (422 Guadalupe St.) is the place to find farm fresh foods from local growers, as well as baked goods and arts and crafts from local artisans. The SFC Farmers Market is not only certified by the Texas Department of Agriculture, but also by the more rigorous Texas Certified Farmers Market Corporation. That’s a statewide professional agricultural trade organization that requires farmers markets to have 51% or more farmers at their markets. Limited free parking is available just south of the market and at City Hall or at the State Parking Garage at 3rd and San Antonio.
15. South Congress
Follow Congress Avenue south of the Texas State Capitol to eat, and shop, and then eat some more. You will find quirky antiques, vintage clothing, locally owned restaurants, live music, candy shops, a cupcake trailer, cowboy boots, coffee shops, murals and more. Bring your camera and your appetite. Celebrate finding free things to do in Austin with kids with a cone of Amy’s Ice Cream. It’s worth the splurge! Amy’s is one of the food options at Austin airport if you need a cone before you head home!
16. Take a Hike
When you’ve had your fill of culture and cuisine, head out into nature to see why locals love living in Austin. Follow a trail, cool off in a creek, and keep an eye out for Texas wildlife. Enjoy a stroll along the Barton Creek Greenbelt to Twin Falls or an urban hike in Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve. You can find great kid-friendly hike recommendations here.
17. O. Henry Museum
The free O. Henry Museum on 5th Street offers a look into the life of William Sidney Porter in the Austin years leading up to his controversial prison term, after which he assumed the pen name O. Henry and set about transforming himself into the famed short story writer. You can’t tell from the quaint house in the photo but this house is now surrounded by buildings in Downtown Austin.
18. Austin Boardwalk
Austin’s boardwalk, which completes the city’s Hike and Bike Trail, provides a scenic route for a stroll along Lady Bird Lake. Don’t forget your camera as the boardwalk offers picture-perfect views of the Austin skyline.
19. Explore the Driskill Hotel
Take some time to meander through this historic hotel on Sixth Street, with its opulent architecture and elegant common areas. Built in 1886 and located in the heart of downtown, the Driskill has been restored to its original beauty and is quite a marvel to explore. Listen to live music from local artists at the Driskill Bar most evenings, or stop for a treat at the Driskill’s 1886 Cafe & Bakery.
20. 9th Street BMX
9th Street is an ongoing community cooperative work project where locals have worked to create hundreds of trails and dirt mounts in Duncan Park for BMX riding. Even if you don’t have a bike along, it’s fun to stop and watch the pros perform stunts.
21. People’s Gallery
The People’s Gallery at Austin City Hall showcases the talents of local artists with an extensive annual art exhibition in the atrium and open areas of the first three floors. Approximately 150 contemporary artworks are on display, including paintings, photographs, sculptures and more. You may view the exhibit for free anytime the building is open. Pick up the People’s Gallery brochure in the atrium or second-floor lobby for a self-guided tour and information about each artwork and artist.
22. Mexic-Arte Museum
Since its founding in 1984, the Mexic-Arte Museum has been designated the Official Mexican and Mexican American Fine Art Museum of Texas by the 78th Legislature of the State of Texas. The Museum is free on Sundays.
23. A Skyspace by James Turrell
Make a reservation for a unique nighttime experience at The Color Inside, a Skyspace by artist James Turrell.
24. Harry Ransom Center
Check out the Harry Ransom Center on the University of Texas at Austin campus for current and permanent exhibitions, including the Gutenberg Bible (the first substantial book printed from the movable type on a printing press), the First Photograph (an 8 x 6.5-inch heliograph produced by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in France) and more. Admission is always free.
25. Swimming Holes
Take a dip in natural water! There are swimming areas with waterfalls, diving boards, rope swings, spring-fed pools and more.
Read More: 7 Great Places to Get Your Feet Wet in Texas
26. Austin Symphony Hartman Foundation Concerts in the Park
If you’re visiting during the summer, take in a free Austin Symphony ensemble concert, Sunday evenings at 7:30 p.m. on the Long Center lawn.
27. Texas Military Forces Museum
See tanks, planes and a piece of the Berlin Wall at the free Texas Military Forces Museum in Camp Mabry. Admission to both the base and the museum are free. You will need a photo ID to enter Camp Mabry.
28. Texas Radio Live Broadcasts
Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World, so don’t leave town without seeing a show. Guero’s hosts free Texas Radio Live broadcasts in the Oak Garden on South Congress, Wednesday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m. Plus, you can people watch and dine on delicious TexMex on Congress Avenue.
29. Greetings From Austin Mural
Did you even visit Austin if you don’t take a picture here? This giant colorful postcard is a hot spot for selfies and photographs. Located at 1720 S 1st Street, it’s on the side of the Roadhouse Relics building. It’s in a high pedestrian and vehicle traffic area so be sure to park legally, look both ways when crossing and be kind. It’s quickest to go early in the morning. If you do go, grab a croissant from nearby La Patisserie!
More Things to Do in Austin Texas with Kids
Kid-Friendly Day Trips from Austin
5 Central Texas Resorts that are Worth the Splurge