City Guide / Austin

The 19 Best Museums in Austin, Texas

By Veronica Meewes | Sep 28, 2022
Ellsworth Kelly's Austin at the Blanton Museum of Art, one of the best museums in Austin.

Austin may be known for its vibrant nightlife, delicious food scene, and thriving green spaces, but this city is also home to amazing museums that are worth a visit while you’re living in town. From outdoor sculpture parks and sprawling nature centers to living history experiences and state-of-the-art children’s science museums, there is truly something for everyone in Austin. Plus, on the annual Austin Museum Day, you can check them out for free and enjoy special programming, too!

Use the following guide as a checklist for visiting the best museums in Austin, including:

  • The best art museums in Austin
  • The best history museums in Austin
  • The best cultural museums in Austin
  • “Keep Austin Weird” museums

Let’s get started!

The best art museums in Austin

The Contemporary Jones Center on Congress Avenue, Austin.

1. Blanton Museum of Art

This stunning art museum on the University of Texas at Austin’s campus is one of the largest university museums in the country, with over 189,000 square feet dedicated to permanent exhibits, temporary collections, a print study room, an auditorium, and more.

Highlights from the permanent collection at the Blanton Museum of Art include over 2,000 pieces of Latin American art, like Cildo Meireles’ “Mission/Missions (How to build a Cathedral)” installation made from 2,000 bones, 600,000 coins, and 800 communion wafers. Ellsworth Kelly’s last work of art, entitled “Austin,” is a structure lit by hand-blown colored glass panels and is also a big draw to the Blanton.

Admission to this Austin museum is $12 for adults and free for members, teachers, UT students, and everyone each Thursday for Family Free Day.

2. The Contemporary Austin Jones Center

Austin’s contemporary art center is an eye-catching modern work of architecture on the corner of 7th Street and Congress Avenue in the heart of downtown. The space features two levels and usually runs two simultaneous shows on each one featuring contemporary artists from all over the world.

A recent posthumous retrospective of Austin-raised artist and musician Daniel Johnston and his expansive body of work is now memorialized in a mural on the Jones Center’s south-facing wall, and Jim Hodges’ “With Library and Justice for All” installation wraps around the building.

Visits to The Contemporary Austin Jones Center can be arranged through timed admissions on Wednesday through Sunday, and tickets are $10 for adults and free for members, military, and essential workers.

3. Laguna Gloria Sculpture Park

The Contemporary’s second location is a sculpture park located right on the banks of Lake Austin, just off West 35th Street. Here, you’ll have an opportunity to view modern sculptures in a garden setting, surrounded by flora, fauna, and wooded pathways. End your visit to Laguna Gloria Sculpture Park with a picnic by getting a bottle of wine and a grazing box from the onsite Spread & Co, and don’t forget to peek into the shop boasting artist-designed merchandise.

Also on the property is the Driscoll Villa, an Italian-style mansion used for private events, as well as the Art School at the Contemporary, which has year-round programming for both kids and adults. Laguna Glora is open Wednesday through Sunday, and admission is $10 for adults and free for members, military, and essential workers.

4. Mexic-Arte Museum

The Mexic-Arte Museum is a small but vibrant museum showcasing traditional and contemporary Latino art and culture. The idea for the museum came about in 1984 when a group of artists planned programming for Day of the Dead and obtained nonprofit status.

Located downtown on Congress at 4th Street, the museum opened its current location in 1988, and though its exhibits rotate frequently, Day of the Dead continues to be a very big part of its programming. Each October, detailed ofrendas line the gallery and the museum puts on a parade and a festival called Viva La Vida.

The Mexic-Arte is open Friday through Monday, and admission is $7 for adults and free for museum members.

5. Omlauf Sculpture Garden

This outdoor sculpture garden, located just down the street from Barton Springs, is centered around the works of American sculptor (and former UT art professor) Charles Omlauf. In addition to over 2,000 of the artist’s drawings as well as nearly 300 of his signature stone, marble, and bronze sculptures, the Omlauf Sculpture Garden features rotating temporary solo and group shows.

The space has a robust programming schedule, with regular offerings like storytime, yoga, sound baths, artist talks, and an every-other-month UMLAUF After Dark series. The sculpture garden is open every day but Monday, and admission is $7 for adults and free for veterans, military, and members.

The best history museums in Austin

Texas Star in front of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in downtown Austin, Texas.

1. Bullock Texas State History Museum

A must for any new arrival to town, the Bullock Texas State History Museum documents the story of Texas, starting with its earliest tribal inhabitants to present day. Over 700 artifacts compose this Lone Star orientation, including a French ship excavated from the Gulf of Mexico in the 1600s, clay pots crafted by one of the first Black-owned businesses after emancipation, and a World War II aircraft.

In addition to this permanent collection, there are constantly rotating temporary exhibits, as well as a cafe, museum store, and an IMAX theater, which typically screens a combination of blockbusters and nature-focused educational films.

This Austin museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, and admission is $13 for adults and $11 for kids—except for the first Sunday of every month, which is free thanks to an H-E-B sponsorship.

2. LBJ Presidential Library and Museum

This library and museum, located on the University of Texas at Austin campus, is dedicated to Lyndon B. Johnson, the Texas-born 36th president of the United States. The permanent collection at the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum includes replicas of the Oval Office and Lady Bird Johnson’s office, as well as LBJ’s presidential limousine and a Great Hall featuring four floors of glass-enclosed archives. There are also rotating temporary exhibits that honor the life of and legacy of the former president and first lady. The library houses more than 45 million pages, over 650,000 photos, 5,000 hours of recordings, and more than 2,000 oral history interviews.

Both the museum and the library reading room are open seven days a week, except for holidays. General admission is $13, but interestingly enough, if your first, middle, or last name is “Lyndon,” you may enter for free!

3. Texas Military Forces Museum

This 45,000-square-foot museum in Camp Mabry details the Lone Star State’s militia history, starting in 1823 with Stephen F. Austin’s colony to present day. Permanent exhibits at the Texas Military Forces Museum use uniforms, weapons, equipment, film, music, photographs, battle dioramas, and full-scale reproductions to tell the story of the Texas Army, Navy, Air National Guard, and Texas State Guard in times of both peace and war.

Throughout the year, the museum hosts living history programs, battle reenactments, and other types of special programming. It is open from Tuesday through Sunday, and admission is always free.

4. Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms Museum

This living history museum in Northeast Austin preserves the histories and cultures of Central Texas during the 19th century. Across 90 wooded acres, you’ll find various historically reproduced areas to explore, including an 1844 Tonkawa Native American encampment, the 1866 Kruger Farm, the 1873 Jolly Cabin, a section of the Chisholm Trail, and an 1899 rural village. In each setting, you’ll relive Texas history as actors bring it to life.

A wide variety of classes are offered for both adults and children—from weaving and candlemaking to archery and blacksmithing—and you can visit farm animals at the Scarborough Barn.

The Jourdan-Bachman Pioneer Farms Museum is open Thursday through Sunday, and general admission is $8 for adults and $6 for kids—do note that the cost can go up for holidays and special events.

The best science museums in Austin

Bluebonnets at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center near Austin

1. Thinkery

Austin’s premier children’s museum, cleverly named Thinkery, is tucked inside the Mueller neighborhood and filled with hands-on STEM exhibits that teach through play. The Innovators’ Workshop blends art and science with stations offering activities including stop animation, painting on glass, having fun with shadows, and building LED structures in the Light Lab. Kids can learn about the forces at work around us in the Notion of Motion’s exhibit, while the “Smile Here” photobooth lets you become a part of the museum. The Move Studio lets little ones practice their coordination and challenge themselves on obstacle courses, and the Story Nook provides a comfy chill zone for solo reading and pop-up storytimes.

The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, and kids under 24 months are always free, while admission is $16 for everyone 2 years and up. Though the museum is catered toward kids, it can be fun for adults, too— especially on “After Dark” fundraiser nights, when they open the museum after hours for adults to enjoy special demos and activities while enjoying nibbles and cocktails or mocktails.

2. Austin Nature & Science Center

This 80-acre nature center, located in the heart of Zilker Park, has been in operation since 1960 and features hands-on nature exhibits and educational programming for nature lovers of all ages. Here, you can see a wildlife exhibit featuring animals found within 100 miles of Austin, experience a honey bee observation hive, dig for fossils, walk the Forest Trail, a self-guided exhibit of 45 native trees, and explore and trade fur, rocks, bones, plants, insects, and more at the Naturalist Workshop and Trade Counter.

Best of all, the Austin Nature & Science Center is open daily, and admission is free.

3. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

More than 900 species of native Texas plants await discovery at this South Austin center, named after the wildflower-loving former first lady to President Lyndon B. Johnson. You’ll find cultivated gardens, an arboretum featuring a wide diversity of Texas trees, managed natural areas, and wildlands and trails across its sprawling 284 acres, along with a library, indoor and outdoor classrooms, and a Wildflower Café peddling snacks and refreshments.

The Wildflower Center is open daily, with $12 admission for adults, $6 for youth 5–17, and free for children under 5, as well as UT students and faculty.

4. Austin Aquarium

Just because Austin is landlocked doesn’t mean you can’t experience and learn about marine life without a long drive to the coast. The Austin Aquarium provides access to thousands of different species, including a wide variety of tropical fish, reptiles, and amphibians, along with a parakeet aviary and a rainforest vivarium filled with ring-tailed lemurs and capybara.

Guests are encouraged to hand-feed sharks, rays, birds, and fish and can purchase extra tokens to feed an octopus or meet sloths, kinkajous, and lemurs in person. The aquarium also offers special programming like mermaid birthday parties and sleepover opportunities for kids to “sleep with the sharks.”

Located in North Austin, the aquarium is open Thursday through Sunday, and admission for kids aged 12 and up (including adults) is $21.95, while kids under 12 are $16.95. Educators and foster children are always free.

The best cultural museums in Austin

Emancipation Bell closeup at the Juneteenth Memorial Monuments in the Freedom Plaza at the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural, and Genealogy Center in Austin, Texas.

1. Carver Museum, Cultural and Geneology Center

This museum and cultural center is housed inside the George Washington Carver Library in central East Austin, just off East 11th Street. The Carver Museum, Cultural and Geneology Center features four permanent and two rotating galleries dedicated to celebrating the global contributions of Black artists, makers, and innovators.

The permanent exhibit honors 10 families who have contributed greatly to Central Texas and features L.C. Anderson High, the school attended by African-Americans in segregated Austin. There is also a children’s gallery dedicated to Black scientists and inventors, and Freedom Plaza celebrates the Emancipation Proclamation and Juneteenth with five bronze sculptures.

Entry to both the museum and its frequent cultural and arts-based programming is free for all.

2. Emma S. Barrientos Mexican-American Cultural Center

This museum and cultural center, tucked at the end of Rainey Street, is dedicated to the preservation, creation, and promotion of the cultural arts of Mexican Americans and Latino cultures. The upstairs Main Gallery at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican-American Cultural Center features an exhibit of local Chicano art, and you can learn about the museum’s Phase 2 expansion plan in the downstairs Community Gallery. You can also virtually enjoy exhibits online. The center features some incredible murals and often hosts community events, especially surrounding Dia de Los Muertos in late October and early November.

The MACC is open every day but Sunday, and admission is free for all.

3. Texas Music Museum

This museum, located on historic East 11th Street, is a unique historical collection that tells the story of the musicians who made Austin the Live Music Capital of the World. The Texas Music Pioneers exhibit features over 60 Texas musicians in 14 musical genres, from blues and gospel to country and conjunto.

In addition to information and biographical displays, you’ll get to see one-of-a-kind artist memorabilia, antique recording cylinders, and phonographs, plus Texas’ earliest radios and sheet music. Another Texas Music Museum exhibit focuses on the multi-genre contributions of East Austin’s African-American music history, featuring rare photographs, historic posters, exclusive recordings, and live music videos. This living exhibit has been on display since 2012 and grows more each year.

The Texas Music Museum is a nonprofit, volunteer-run museum, and admission is free for all.

Want to explore more of Austin’s music scene? Check out our blog, “The 20 Best Live Music Venues to Visit in Austin.”

“Keep Austin Weird” museums

1. Museum of the Weird

Created in the tradition of P.T. Barnum, the Museum of the Weird is one of the last true “dime museums” still open. Located right smack in the middle of Sixth Street, in the same building as Lucky Lizard Curios (their gift shop). In addition to a small wax exhibit, there’s Hollywood memorabilia dedicated to cult favorites like Bigfoot and King Kong, plus various curios and oddities like shrunken heads and other allegedly found artifacts.

The museum is open daily, and tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for kids under eight.

2. Cathedral of Junk

Though not a traditional museum—but certainly a museum in its own right—the Cathedral of Junk is a multi-level collection of over 60 tons of used furniture, appliances, home goods, signs, dolls, toys, car parts, mannequins, and other found objects. Located in South Austin in the backyard of the artist who created it, this living sculpture embodies the quirkiness of old-school Austin— and provides one photo op after another.

Since this a private residence, be sure to call ahead of time (512-299-7413). The owner, Vince Hannemann, will give you instructions on parking. Admission is by donation.

3. Casa Neverlandia

This three-story home, tucked away in the Bouldin Creek neighborhood, was built by artist James Edward Talbot. The structure, which is covered in a facade of decorative stone and mosaic, was inspired by the children’s playscapes he used to design and music centers (in fact, a series of xylophones and bells replaces a doorbell!).

A tower in the Casa Neverlandia backyard—not for the faint of heart—is accessed by a ladder or a narrow suspension bridge. This colorful wonderland is a multi-decade labor of love you must see to believe.

Admission is typically $15 a person, and Talbot opens his home for tours throughout the year, but if you message him in advance on Facebook, he’ll typically arrange private tours, too.

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Veronica Meewes

Veronica lives in Austin, Texas, where she writes about food, beverage, travel and lifestyle for a number of media outlets and brands. She's currently working on her fourth book project, a drinks guide to Austin, and her work has appeared in Forbes Travel Guide, Food & Wine, Texas Monthly, Tasting Table, GOOD, PUNCH, The Today Show, The Local Palate, Cosmopolitan, Vera, Serious Eats, EatingWell, Austin Monthly, Fodor's, Vinepair, Texas Highways and more. When she's not seeking out the best food and drink around the globe, you can find her hiking, swimming, doing yoga, enjoying all the live music Austin has to offer, and exploring with her pup Banjo. Follow her on Instagram @wellfedlife and visit