By Saul Schwartz
During our four day stay in Austin, my wife Fern and I were pleased to discover that most of the state capital’s key attractions were located within downtown or a short distance away. Austin combines the youthful vibe of a college town with the economic consequences of a state capital. During an unusual cool October week, we enjoyed a series of indoor sites.
Tour of the Texas State Capitol
The free one-hour tour covered the architecture of the Renaissance Revival style capitol building, Texas state history and the Texas legislature. During the tour, we were able to see the capitol’s impressive rotunda as well as both the House and Senate chambers. In the rotunda on the floor, we saw the decorative mural revealing all of the nations that Texas has been a part of during its history – Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the United States and the Confederate States of America.
The tour guide provided us with extensive information. We learned that the impressive capitol dome is crowned by the Goddess of Liberty, a 16 foot tall statute of a woman holding up a gilded five point star. Completed in 1888, the building is taller than the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. https://tspb.texas.gov/plan/tours/tours.html.
LBJ Presidential Library
On the University of Texas campus, this Presidential Library and Museum was a real gem of an attraction! Dedicated in 1971, the museum’s extensive displays cover President Johnson’s life from his boyhood until his retirement. With many interactive exhibits, we learned a great deal about the many legislative accomplishments during his Presidency. A moving, life-size animatronic LBJ tells stories and jokes. In addition, the museum includes the Presidential 1968 Lincoln limousine and a replica oval office from his Presidential years. The stunning Great Hall showcases four stories of archives enclosed in glass.
Lady Bird Johnson lived for 30 years after the death of LBJ. She spent much of her time in this library and museum. The first lady’s gallery highlights her own accomplishments and includes the very office where she worked during this period of time. Touring is self-guided and costs $10 per adult. A very brief introduction is provided by the staff at the museum entrance. http://www.lbjlibrary.org.
Blanton Museum of Art
Within the University of Texas campus, the Blanton Art Museum features an extensive permanent collection. During our visit, the paintings on display were American and European, as well as prints and drawings. A temporary exhibition focused on contemporary African art.
Blanton is one of the largest university art museums. Adult tickets cost $12. In about one hour, we took in both floors of the exhibits. https://blantonmuseum.org.
South Congress Avenue District
Austin heads offbeat in the vibrant Congress Avenue area south of Lady Bird Lake. Here are the stores that keep Austin hip! We ate authentic New York style pizza at Home Slice by the slice, followed by a tasty dessert at the whimsical Hey Cupcake truck operating out of a trailer nearby. Had the weather been better, we would have enjoyed strolling among the novelty shops.
Lodging at the Hilton
In the heart of downtown, the Hilton is centrally located to all attractions within Austin’s city limits. The hotel is a very short walk from the music venues of 6th Street. This hotel featured a superb fitness center, with a cardio room, a weights room and an outdoor pool. For Hilton Honors members, the executive lounge provided panoramic views of the Austin skyline, as well as a nice variety of food options, especially at breakfast. www3.Hilton.com.
Fern and I enjoyed our stay. We were a little surprised by the volume of traffic going in and out of the city. In addition, tourists must stay aware of the homeless population that frequents the downtown. Nevertheless, Austin is a fun destination and differs greatly from other parts of Texas.
Saul and Fern Schwartz live in Alexandria, VA.