I have been to the Texas Capitol several times for events such as the Texas Book Festival and the Holiday Sing-Along, but I had never taken the time to go on a guided tour, especially not with my my three boys (ages 3, 5, and 7). I was unsure about their ability to stay attentive and quiet. I was unsure that there would be enough to interest kids. But boy, was I surprised by how much fun we all had!
We arrived on Sunday at noon, and we noticed tourists bustling all around, a few girls dressed up in quinciniera gowns staging photo shoots, and tour guides promptly taking crowds around the Capitol interior.
The City of Austin has temporarily banned public gatherings. Please stay home. The Free Fun in Austin calendar is only for live digital events at this time.
We jumped into the back of a tour that had already begun — thankful that there was no registration or tickets needed for the free tour. Our guide, Cat, was a pro. She was full of information and quick and concise with answers to questions. She noted that our red granite Capitol is the largest of all state capitols. It’s “a symbol of the legendary spirit of Texas” and the place where Texans meet to enact laws for the state. She showed us the Sentate Chamber and the House Chamber. She gave notes on architecture and artwork featuring historic battles and portraits of important Texans such as Stephen F. Austin.
But I could tell my little fellas weren’t quite yet old enough to pay attention and stand still for this 45 minute tour. My husband helped usher them in and out without distrubing the tour group. And once the tour was over, I pulled our guide aside and asked, “What would be most appealing to young kids here? What should we be sure to show them before they run out of steam?” Of course, she was quick to throw out 3 ideas:
1. Stand in the very center of the star on the terazzo floor on the first level of the rotunda, and speak in a normal voice. To each person speaking, it sounds as though you are talking through a microphone, but it sounds perfectly normal to those around you. Oooh, fascinating! (The 5-year-old loved this!)
2. Go down to section E1 and stand at the far end of the sky light where you can get a perfect view of the top of the dome and the Goddess of Liberty. (bonus: We got to take an elevator much to the 3-year-old’s delight.)
3. Go out the South Entrance and head to the southeast corner of the grounds to find the Capitol Visitors Center. This castle-like building (the 1856 General Land Office Building) features interactive exhibits that are very kid-friendly. The boys got to learn about the Texas Capitol Preservation and Extension Project and understand a bit about how much maintenance is required on such a massive building from the 1800s as they tinkered with construction tools. We all got a kick out of playing dress-up as Texas pioneers and Texas cowboys. We loved viewing the star atop the Capitol through an antique telescope. And I personally couldn’t resist the photo op of posing as the Goddess of Liberty. Quite truthfully, there was so much to explore in the Capitol Visitors Center, we could have really just made a fun outing exploring that building alone.
While our tour guide only commented on the three items listed above, I have to add a fourth pick of my own….
4. Exploring the grounds and statues was great fun for all of us. The boys LOVED the cannons on the south lawn. And I loved the rose garden and statues on the north grounds. The shady trees were calling us back to picnic there soon (when the weather cools down just a bit.)
201 E. 14th St.
Weekdays 7:00 am – 10:00 pm, Saturday & Sunday 9:00 am – 8:00 pm
Hours are extended during legislative sessions.
Free guided tours are provided by the Capitol Information and Guide Service.
Capitol Visitors Center
112 E. 11th St.
Monday – Saturday 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Sunday Noon – 5:00 pm
Freelance web producer, Heidi Okla is mom to three boys (ages 3, 5, and 7), and can’t pass up any opportunity for fun family adventures. Browse her literacy-focused kids activities on her blog, Read ‘Em and Leap.