I’ve lived in Austin, TX on and off since for 16 years! I love this city. Here’s a list of 21 fun, free things to do in Austin, Texas including best hiking trails, favorite outdoor museums, best playgrounds and where to see peacocks.
22 Free Things To Do in Austin, TX
This list of Austin adventures includes museums, hiking, and swimming holes. Not everything on the list is 100% free, but it is 100% fun. Austin locals and visitors are sure to find something fun and new to do in Austin on this list.
1. Austin murals
Here are a few of our favorite Austin murals:
- I love you so much (1300 S Congress)
- Willie Nelson for president (1415 S Congress Ave)
- You’re My Butter Half (2000 E MLK Jr Blvd)
- Smile! Even if you don’t want to (S Congress & Elizabeth)
- Hi, How are you? (21st & Guadalupe)
- Don’t Hate (1415 S Congress)
- Greetings from Austin (W. 21st Street and Guadalupe Street)
- Love from Austin (Magnolia Cafe, 1920 S Congress Ave)
- Flamingo mosaic (Patterson Park, 4200 Brookview)
Hike up the 106 stone steps stair for beautiful views of downtown Austin and Lake Austin! This is a picture I took from the top of Mount Bonnell and I loved it so much I turned into a canvas that still hangs in our house today. Bring snacks and beverages and enjoy a sunset at Mount Bonnell. Here’s a 15 second video of my kids exploring Mount Bonnell.
3. Zilker Park
Bring a picnic and blanket and explore the park! There are lots of things to do here including a playground, fly a kite, have a picnic, throw a frisbee, kayak, and stand up paddle boarding. My kids love to climb the boulders in the middle of the park. In December, be sure and check out the Trail of Lights!
Umlauf Sculpture Garden is a fun one hour or less adventure for kids. Its $7 per adult and kids 12 & under are free. Kids get a sculpture scavenger hunt complete with a pencil and the trail is shaded. Pro tip: It’s right next door to Zilker Park so consider pairing this adventure with a picnic in the park! Umlauf is closed on Mondays. Here’s a 15 second video of my kids exploring Umlauf Sculpture Garden.
The museum is located right next door to Mayfield Park, so consider visiting both on the same day. This museum is 100% outdoors. We like to bring notebooks and let the kids draw their favorite sculptures. My 6 year old loves the 33 foot tall “Tin Foil Man”. Currently, advanced tickets are required to see Laguna Gloria. It’s open Wednesday- Sunday from 9-3pm, and it’s always free on Thursdays! If it’s not Thursday, kids 18 and under are free and adults are $10. Here’s a 15 second video of my kids exploring Laguna Gloria.
Mayfield Park is right next door to Laguna Gloria and always free. The park has free roaming beautiful peacocks, koi ponds, and nature trails. Mayfield Park is the perfect spot for a family hike and picnic. My kids favorite trail is a loop with multiple creek crossings and a giant tee pee to play inside. No reservations needed and the park is open 7 days a week. Here’s a 15 second video of my kids enjoying Mayfield Park.
There are 10 gorgeous miles of paved and unpaved trails bordering Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin. There are also multiple spots to rent canoes, kayaks, or stand up paddle boards on the trail. Here’s a 15 second video of my kids exploring the trail.
The boardwalk at Lady Bird Lake was completed in 2014, and is part of the Ann and Roy Butler hike and bike trail. It’s my favorite section for walking with kids. There is 7,250 feet of boardwalk with 300 piers, 2,200 pre-cast concrete deck planks, and 7 viewing areas.
9. Explore The University of Texas
Bring scooters or roller skates and enjoy the paved paths and gorgeous architecture of the University of Texas campus or Forty Acres as some people call it. Here’s a 15 second video of my kids exploring campus.
Don’t miss our favorite spots on campus:
- Feeding the turtles and the turtle pond located behind the clock tower
- Clark Field
- Hunting for fossils on the walls of clock tower
Austin Nature Science Center is a must do with the younger crowd. Plus, it’s free! There is a huge dinosaur pit complete with shovels and buckets for digging up dino bones. There are also wildlife exhibits including a fox, raccoon, owls, snakes, fish, and lizards. One of Maxwell’s favorite things to do at the science center is take off his shoes and play in the stream! Bring water, sunscreen, and snacks. The Nature Science Center is open Monday-Saturday 9-5pm and Sunday from 12-5pm.
Pro tip: The Zilker Botanical Garden is right next door and also a great place to explore with families.
Note: The Hope Outdoor Gallery is in the process of moving to a new location.
I have also heard it called Castle Hill Graffiti Park. You can actually buy spray paint and graffiti the walls of this park. It’s a fun to place to explore and you never know what kind of graffiti you’ll find! We did Max’s one year photo shoot here. There are no stairs, so be prepared to hike up steep hills. I wouldn’t wear flip flops. Bring a blanket and a picnic and hang out awhile. The views of downtown Austin are pretty incredible too.
The Cathedral of Junk is worth the hassle! To see the backyard Cathedral, call Vince and set up an appointment at 512-299-7413. The suggested donation is $10 per group. It’s a three story recycled masterpiece in a quiet, residential neighborhood… you don’t want to miss this one! For more details, check out my Cathedral of Junk reel.
13. The Thinkery
This is a kid favorite! Wednesday from 4-8pm is community night and admission is free! A few of Maxwell’s favorite exhibits are the giant lite brite room, rainbow maze, the water room, the market, and the outdoor playground and water feature. Max’s favorite thing changes weekly, but he is currently really into the wind room where you can fly airplanes and watch balls zoom through the wind maze in the exhibit below. Check out this 15 second video for an insiders view of the Thinkery.
Barton Springs is free to swim at your own risk from 5-8am. Otherwise this Austin gem is $2-$9 depending on age and Austin residency. Kids under the age of 1 and Veterans are always free. Life jackets and floaties are allowed at either end of Barton Springs. One end of Barton Springs is “zero entry” but it’s a natural surface so it is uneven and rocky. (See picture below.)
For younger kids, Deep Eddy Pool is our favorite spring fed pool. It’s open from 11-8pm everyday and has the same entrance fees as Barton Springs. It’s also fun to note that Deep Eddy is the oldest pool in Texas and the water for the pool comes from 3 on site wells. Austin also has 11 free splash pads that are always a hit with kids!
You can wander around the beautiful, shady grounds of the Texas State Capitol that was completed in 1888. Self guided tours are open daily from 9:30-3:30pm.
16. Hiking in Austin
There are so many fun hiking spots in Austin! If you’re looking for a stroller friendly hike, I’d recommend the boardwalk at Lady Bird Lake that I mentioned above. Many of the ones below are rocky and not great for a stroller.
Here are the best hiking spots for families in Austin, TX:
- Boardwalk at Lady Bird Lake
- Mayfield Park
- River Place Trail
- Barton Creek Greenbelt
- Emma Long Park
- Bull Creek Greenbelt (Seen below)
17. Alliance Childrens Garden
The Alliance Childrens Garden is a brand new park in the heart of downtown Austin. It’s a 2 acre play area complete with rock walls, slides galore, a sand pit, swings with gorgeous views, giant ants to climb, and an incredible climbing tower! Here’s a 15 second video of our new favorite park.
Pro Tip: Next door is the Liz Carpenter splash pad… bring swim suits and towels.
Keep Austin Weird Activities
(Excuse my French, but that’s the official name!) Every Sunday from 4-8pm at The Little Longhorn Salon, folks gather around to play a friendly game of bingo… with chickens! You can hang out in the backyard, watch the action from inside of the saloon, listen to a live band, or buy a ticket for $2 and join in on the Bingo playing fun. Ginny unleashes the chicken do their thing and the winner goes home with cold hard cash! Definitely an authentic Austin experience!
Seasonal fun, free things to do in Austin
I also love the Kite Festival, but that only happens one day, once a year so I’m not going to officially add to the list!
This year from July 7- August 12, they are performing Matilda every Thursday- Sunday evenings at around 8:15pm. It’s free and you can bring a picnic basket and cooler. You are allowed to start laying blankets down at 6pm, no earlier.
Every summer night (May-September), 1.5 million Mexican Free-Tailed Bats fly out from underneath the Congress Avenue Bridge at dusk. The best bat viewing month is August when the young pups join their mamas for a night fly. I like the view from under the bridge especially with little ones since you don’t have to worry about them running into the street on top of the bridge.
21. Tuneful Tales
Tuneful tales was formally called Children’s Day Art Park. This happens every Wednesday morning in June and July form 10-noon at The Austin Central Library. The picture below is when the event used to happen at Symphony Square Amphitheater. It’s free and there are usually musicians, story tellers, an “instrument zoo” and magicians to entertain the kids.
Everyone has heard of ACL and it’s worth the hype! It’s one of the best music festivals in the country, and it happens over 2 weekends , usually in October. We love to bring our kids on a Friday of the festival. Kids 8 and under are free!
If you’re thinking about visiting Austin, the live music capitol of the world, here are a few other don’t miss toursity things to do:
- Visit Sixth Street, Austin’s entertainment district
- Stroll down South Congress Avenue and explore shops, local food trucks, and eat all the tacos
- See a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse
Have you ever been to Austin? What did you think? Did I miss any other really awesome fun things to do? I’d love to hear…