So your parents are coming to Austin. They want to see this town you have told them so much about. But where do you take them? You want to show them the essence of Austin; however, you don’t want to scare them with too much weirdness.
You also don’t want their weekend visit to break the bank. You can drop some serious coin entertaining yourself in Austin, but that isn’t necessary. Austin has plenty of things to do that only cost a few dollars or are absolutely free.
Free Fun In Austin continues to highlight Austin area locations and activities that may not be available at this time. We encourage you to take all safety measures to keep yourself and your neighbors safe. It is our hope that the stories and features on this site will help inform your plans in the future.
Here are 10 free and cheap places to take your parents when they visit.
1. Zilker Botanical Garden
Nearly half a million people visit Zilker Botanical Garden each year. The Austin Area Garden Society maintains this oasis in the middle of the city and exemplifies the garden’s mission to “promote the education and love of gardening among people of all ages.”
One walk through here, and you’ll begin planning your next home landscaping project. But will your mom’s new favorite flower grow where your parents live? You’ll have to ask a volunteer to find out.
The garden is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $1 for children (ages 3-12), $2 for Austin resident adults (ages 13-61), $3 for non-resident adults(ages 13-61),and $1 for seniors (age 62 & over).
2. Bats at the Congress Avenue Bridge
Each year from about March to October, 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats take up residence on the underside of the Congress Avenue Bridge over Lady Bird Lake. Around dusk, these winged mammals take flight in search of food. They eat 20,000 pounds of bugs each night.
The best viewing is from on top of the bridge on the eastern side. This keeps the bats in view for as long as possible as they fly away for the night.
Many people choose to watch from the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail below. This spot is more kid-friendly because you can spread out a blanket. On the flip side, you risk getting hit by a little bit of bat guano, and the bats disappear quickly from view. Learn more about the bats and viewing tips before heading out.
3. Elisabet Ney Museum
Austin was weird long before the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan was coined. The Elisabet Ney Museum showcases the work and home of iconoclastic German sculptor Elisabet Ney who moved to Austin in 1882. Her works from the 1850s to her death in 1907 are on display along with her home furnishings and other belongings.
The museum is open from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is free.
4. P. Terry’s Burger Stand
There are tons of Austin burger restaurants, but P. Terry’s Burger Stand makes this list because it offers up great food at reasonable prices. For about what you’d pay at a fast food chain, you get freshness you won’t find at national brand outlets. Their thick milkshake is a perfect way to top off your P. Terry’s experience.
They have 14 locations throughout the Austin area. Three of them are drive-thru only.
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5. Texas State Capitol
Texans take pride in knowing the Texas State Capitol is just a little bit taller than the US Capitol. That pink granite building hasn’t been the tallest in Austin for some time, but it is certainly the most iconic.
You can roam the halls by yourself, or you can take a free tour departing every 30 minutes. You can spend hours looking closely at every architectural detail from doorknobs and bannisters to giant paintings and the rotunda.
6. Bullock Museum
Just three blocks north of the Texas State Capitol grounds sits the Bullock Museum, the state’s official history museum. From prehistoric Native American tribes to the influential Texans still alive today, you’ll see how their stories weave into the broader story of Texas.
Admission is $13 for adults; $11 for students, military service members, and seniors; and $9 for children and youth ages 4 to 17. The first Sunday of the month is free courtesy of H-E-B.
When going for tacos, you have one major fork in the road. Do you go with the big name places, or do you go for a hole in the wall? You can’t go wrong either way. Take your parents to Torchy’s, Tacodeli, or Taco Shack, and you’ll all be satisfied. Or you can find the nearest food truck or tiny Mexican restaurant and get your fill.
8. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a completely native Texas botanical garden. That means any plant you see there is as much a native Texan as Matthew McConaughey. And that’s alright, alright, alright.
Admission is up to $10 for adults with discounts for seniors, students, and youth. Children under 4 and UT-Austin students, faculty, and staff get in free with their university ID cards.
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“Am I blue?” Well, yes and no! This pink wildflower is still a bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis) just like all the others, but with blushing petals. It’s a genetic mutation that can occur naturally in wildflowers (see our white mountain laurel from last week). Color makes no difference — all wildflowers are awesome! 💗=💙=💗 #thinkpink #bluebonnets #txwildflowers2018 #allthesame #wildflowerlove
9. The Drag
A walk down The Drag is something out-of-towners never forget. You can find some of the best people watching Austin has to offer. This bustling stretch of Guadalupe Street on the western edge of the UT-Austin campus teems with all manner of Austinites. The ever changing landscape of shops and interesting characters makes each visit to The Drag unique.
10. Barton Springs Pool
The cold spring water of Barton Springs Pool is one of the best weapons against Austin summer heat. It’s the only way you can shiver in August around here.
Admission tops out at $8 for non-residents, and there are cheaper rates for children, seniors, and veterans. The pool is open daily but closed on Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. for cleaning designed to protect the endangered Barton Springs salamander that calls the pool home.
Featured photo: Flickr user MarkScottAustinTX, Creative Commons licensed.