Austin Introduction Walking Tour, Austin

Austin Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Austin

Despite the official status of Texas' capital, Austin never fails to surprise visitors with its unique artsy community and lively atmosphere. The city proudly wears the title of "The Live Music Capital of the World" thanks to the eclectic live-music scene centered around country, blues and rock, established since the 1970s by the likes of Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

The European pioneers began to settle the area of present-day Austin during the 1830s. In 1839, after the Texans won their independence from Mexico, the site was chosen to replace Houston as the capital of the Republic of Texas and was incorporated under the name "Waterloo". Shortly afterwards, it was renamed Austin in honor of Stephen F. Austin, the "Father of Texas" and the republic's first secretary of state.

A period after the American Civil War saw dramatic population and economic growth in the city. Austin gained further prominence during the 1880s as a center for government, following the construction of the Texas State Capitol in 1888. Leading up to its steps, the iconic Congress Avenue serves as a ceremonial boulevard, lined with numerous businesses and entertainment venues. Many Austinites attribute its enduring popularity to the magnificent and unobstructed view of the Capitol building. Another attraction is the Congress Avenue Bridge, housing the world's largest urban population of Mexican free-tailed bats – starting in March, up to 1.5 million bats take up residence here, attracting annually more than 100,000 viewers.

After a severe lull in economic growth from the Great Depression, Austin resumed steady development, and in the second half of the 20th century emerged as one of Texas' major metropolitan centers. Nicknamed "Silicon Hills" during the 1990s for a rapid influx of technology and development companies, it also has adopted the unofficial slogan "Keep Austin Weird", stemming from the desire of locals to protect small, unique, and otherwise peculiar businesses and to promote eccentricity and diversity. The city even has its own Museum of the Weird.

Austin boasts a wealth of historic and modern architecture manifested in the likes of the Driskill Hotel, built in 1886, and the Rainey Street Historic District, consisting mostly of bungalow-style homes from the early 20th century. Lovers of literature may also be interested in visiting the O. Henry Museum – the writer's residence in Austin from 1893 to 1895.

For a more detailed acquaintance with some of Austin's most prominent attractions, take this self-guided introductory walk.
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Austin Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Austin Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Austin (See other walking tours in Austin)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.7 Km or 2.3 Miles
Author: Caroline
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Texas State Capitol
  • Capitol Visitors Center
  • Cathedral of Saint Mary in Austin
  • Lundberg Bakery
  • Norwood Tower
  • Driskill Hotel
  • Museum of the Weird
  • Susanna Dickinson Museum
  • O. Henry Museum
  • Congress Avenue
  • Congress Avenue Bridge /Austin Bats
  • Rainey Street
Texas State Capitol

1) Texas State Capitol (must see)

The Texas State Capitol in Austin is the fourth local building to house Texas state government. Altogether it houses the chambers of the Texas Legislature and the office of the governor of Texas. It was originally designed in 1881 by architect Elijah E. Myers, and was constructed from 1882 to 1888 under the direction of civil engineer Reuben Lindsay Walker. A $75 million underground extension was completed in 1993. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1986. The Texas State Capitol building stands 308 ft (94 m) tall.

The capitol rotunda features portraits of every person who has served as president of the Republic of Texas or governor of the State of Texas. The south foyer features sculptures of Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin made by Elisabeth Ney. The rotunda is also a whispering gallery. The capitol has 360,000 square feet (33,000 square meters) of floor space, more than any other state capitol building, and occupies 2.25 acres of land. The building has nearly 400 rooms and more than 900 windows.

Why You Should Visit:
Once the tallest capitol building in the nation, it shows off many of the natural resources, such as limestone and the landscapes, which are so prevalent in Texas. Lots of statues, memorials, great history and fun architecture to look at.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Capitol Visitors Center

2) Capitol Visitors Center

The Capitol Visitors Center sits in the restored General Land Office building which is located in the southeast corner of the State Capitol grounds. Built in 1856-57, it had initially served as the General Land Office until 1918 and, as such, is the oldest state office facility in Texas. The three-story, castle-like structure was designed by Christoph Conrad Stremme, native of Germany, and combined Classical and Medieval elements reflecting architectural trends in his home country.

In the late 1880s, William Sydney Porter, later known as the writer O. Henry, worked here as a draftsman. For three years, he drew county maps for a monthly salary of $100. Porter later used the Land Office Building as a setting for two of his stories, “Bexar Script 2692” and “Georgia's Ruling.”

Over the years, the building underwent series of alterations, including the addition of iron shutters and vaults to aid in the protection of the irreplaceable land records. It received recognition as Texas Historic Landmark in 1962 and became listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. By the 1980s, the building had found itself in a state of disrepair. Due to its architectural and historical significance, the State Preservation Board undertook a restoration of the structure returning it to the appearance circa 1890 when the Capitol was constructed.

In 1994, the building opened as the Visitors Center providing exhibits and programs to educate visitors about the history of Texas, the Capitol and the General Land Office. Over two million people have visited here since.

Why You Should Visit:
To learn about the history and the development of the Texas State, as well as the construction and the everyday activities of the State Capitol.

The Center offers free guided, self-guided and specialty tours. Allow about 1.5 hours for this.

Operation hours:
Mon-Sat 9 am-5 pm; Sun noon-5 pm.
Cathedral of Saint Mary in Austin

3) Cathedral of Saint Mary in Austin (must see)

Saint Mary's is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin. The origins of this temple date back to the 1850s, when the Catholic community in Austin built a small stone church, named St. Patrick's, on the corner of 9th and Brazos streets. In 1866 the church was renamed Saint Mary's, and the parish decided they needed a new building and could afford masonry construction. In 1872, after Austin was made the permanent capital of Texas, the parish laid the cornerstone for a new church, choosing a location one block north of the original building.

The parish had laid out a basilica-shaped foundation and begun raising the walls, which were 5 feet (1.5 m) high when the architect Nicholas J. Clayton began to design their new church.

When the new Diocese of Austin was formed in 1948, this became the cathedral of the newly formed diocese. At that time, the church was remodeled, many of its neo-Gothic decorations were removed, the neo-Gothic altars and altar rail were replaced with 20th century marble and the baldachino with its cactus and bluebonnets, evocative of central Texas.

Why You Should Visit:
If you're an architecture buff, this comfortably welcoming and beautiful classic Cathedral boasts a great deal of historic artwork to observe in detail: gorgeous stained glass windows dedicated to saints from old Europe, and woodwork.
And if you're a devoted Catholic, they do Latin Rite masses here, too.

If you attend a Sunday mass, you'll feel like you are at a prayerful and inspiring concert.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Lundberg Bakery

4) Lundberg Bakery

The Lundberg Bakery, also known as the Old Bakery and Emporium, is a historic sight currently serving as a gift shop in downtown Austin, Texas. The building was completed in 1876. At the time the bakery began operations, bread was not sold wrapped or packaged. People would wait in line with cloth lined baskets to place the bread in after buying it.

The building served as a bakery until its owner, Swedish immigrant Charles Lundberg, died in 1895. It changed hands frequently until being bought and refurbished by the Austin Heritage Society in 1962. It was threatened with demolition in 1970, when a new building was planned for the Texas Department of Transportation, but was saved when excavations next door uncovered the foundations of the previous state capitol building. Following the discovery, the foundations were converted to a historical plaza, and the bakery was spared.

The building is constructed of limestone with a brick facade, and features a large cast-iron eagle at the peak of the gabled roof overlooking Congress Avenue. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 17, 1969.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Norwood Tower

5) Norwood Tower

One of the most dazzling projects in Austin’s history, the Norwood Tower is a 16-story steel-frame building clad with precast concrete panels. The tower remained the highest commercial building in the city and the third tallest structure, after the Texas State Capitol and the Stephen F. Austin Hotel, until 1971. Its design exemplifies the Gothic Revival (or "Commercial Gothic") architectural style common among 1920s-era Texas high-rise buildings, with its vertical lines, rich Gothic tracery – pinnacled roof line and sophisticated elongated roof details, flamboyant arches and gargoyles; the lobby's ceiling is ornamented with golden leaves. The tower remains the only high-riser in Austin built in this style.

In the early 1920s, local financier Ollie Osborn Norwood decided to build a large new office tower to provide professional space for the growing city. He planned a cutting-edge professional complex, with central air conditioning in every office (an Austin first) and an integrated parking garage.

When the garage was completed in January 1928, Norwood demolished a pre-existing residence on the lot and began building an office tower on the site. The latter was completed in the summer of 1929, after which the Norwood Building was occupied by medical, legal and financial offices, as well as retailers and government agencies. Beginning in January 1934, Capital National Bank of Austin occupied the ground floor of the Norwood Building. In 1944 the bank purchased the building and renamed it the "Capital National Bank Building."

During the Segregation Era before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the office of the Norwood Tower's maintenance engineer, African-American Clarence Odie Williams, was the only public restroom in downtown Austin open to "colored" guests, and it was regularly visited by African Americans who had business downtown.

In 1981, CNB moved out to a larger building, upon which the new owners changed the name of the edifice to the "Norwood Tower" and undertook its major renovation between 1982 and 1983. The tower was declared a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 2006, and on February 7, 2011 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Norwood Tower is currently owned by the family of former President Lyndon Johnson.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Driskill Hotel

6) Driskill Hotel (must see)

The Driskill Hotel, a Romanesque style building completed in 1886, is the oldest operating hotel in Austin, and one of the best-known hotels in Texas generally.

The Driskill was conceived and built by Col. Jesse Driskill, a cattleman who spent his fortune constructing "the finest hotel south of St. Louis". The hotel was completed at a cost of $400,000. Its four stories occupied almost half a block, with three arched entryways on the south, east, and north sides. Carved limestone busts of Driskill and his two sons, Bud and Tobe, crowned the hotel on each of these sides. Six million bricks went into the structure, along with limestone features. The hotel's 60 rooms included 12 corner rooms with attached baths, an almost unheard-of feature in any hotel of the region at that time.

The hotel included an open design to encourage airflow throughout the building and keep it cool; its primary feature was an open rotunda at the center that extended from the first to the fourth floors and culminated in a domed skylight.

Why You Should Visit:
Iconic landmark of Southern hospitality rich in historic architecture. One of the joys of visiting Austin, TX, outside its music culture, is a chance to stay at the Driskill Hotel. The historic architectural design of the structure and its interiors provide even more fuel for enthusiasm to return to Austin again and again.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Museum of the Weird

7) Museum of the Weird

One of the last true dime museums in the United States, the Museum of the Weird in Austin is indeed weird. Sitting in its small 6th Street location, the museum was officially opened in 2007. Created by Steve Busti, it is full of all kinds of oddities, such as the Fiji mermaid, the cyclops pig, the Hand of Glory, real mummies, life-size wax figures of historic sideshow celebrities, Frankenstein and other monsters. For those who enjoy spiders, the museum even exhibits live Texas tarantulas. There are also shrunken heads, weird bugs, and many more freak animals and strange things to see and read about.

The Museum as well explores paranormal subject matter like local haunted places and the Texas Bigfoot. They even have a classic movie monster Chamber of Horrors, including a life-sized King Kong you can have a photo taken with!

Once you reach the yellow chain they give you a guided tour of the rest of the "really weird" stuff! To finish off your adventure there is a live show at the end of the tour.
Group discounts of 20 individuals or more are available.
There is a gift shop in the front which is absolutely FREE to enter!

Operation hours:
Monday - Sunday: 10:00 am to Midnight, 7 days a week! May be closed for certain holidays or bad weather, so call ahead to confirm.
Susanna Dickinson Museum

8) Susanna Dickinson Museum

Built in the “rubble-rock” style of architecture, brought to the Texas Hill Country by German immigrants, this 19th century home is a historic landmark and the only remaining residence of Susanna Dickinson who's gone down in history as the "Messenger of the Alamo." Having survived the Battle of the Alamo, she carried the news of its fall to Sam Houston, which ultimately led to Houston's defeat of Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto and won independence for the Republic of Texas.

The house was constructed in 1869 by Joseph Hannig, Susanna's husband. In appreciation for her exploit, Joseph and Susanna Dickinson Hannig's home – deeded to the City of Austin in 2003 – was saved, restored and opened as a museum on March 2, 2010, Texas Independence Day.

Inside the museum there are rare Dickinson family artifacts, as well as furniture produced by Hannig. The couple had lived in this house for six years, until 1875, upon which they moved into the part of town known as Hyde Park.

The museum forms part of Brush Square Museums, along with the O. Henry Museum and the Austin Fire Museum. If you are a history buff, you may want to stop by this lovely museum to let yourself showed around the property and recount the vivid stories of the survivors of the Battle of the Alamo.

Opening Hours: Mon: closed; Tue-Sat: 10:00 - 17:00; Sun: 12:00 - 17:00.
O. Henry Museum

9) O. Henry Museum

This historic, little Victorian cottage in Downtown Austin is the former home of famous American writer William Sydney Porter, better known by his pen-name O. Henry. The cottage is a simplified version of the Eastlake Style of architecture and was built in 1886. Porter rented it between 1893 and 1895 together with his wife, Athol, and daughter, Margaret, before they moved to Houston, where Porter began writing full-time for the Houston Post. Though primarily associated with his home state of North Carolina, O. Henry set 42 of his stories in Texas.

The residence remained a rental property until 1930 when it was to be demolished to construct a warehouse. In January 1934, a committee representing the Colonial Dames, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Daughters of 1812, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and the Daughters of the Confederacy submitted a proposal to the Austin City Council, that if the city would accept the house as a donation from the Austin Rotary Club and relocate it, the women's organizations would work to restore the house and open it as a "shrine."

The City of Austin had the house moved from its original location at 308 East 4th Street to its current address at Brush Square, 409 East 5th Street, following which it was restored and opened as a museum in 1934. The many period pieces on display here include some of the Porter's furniture and personal belongings, books, manuscripts and photographs of his life in Austin. The structure underwent further restoration in 1994–95 with a renewed roof and the replacement of four brick chimneys lost in 1934.

The Porter house was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 18, 1973. Presently known as the O. Henry Museum, it houses the annual O. Henry Pun-Off, a spoken pun competition, traditionally held the first weekend in May.

Operation hours:
Wednesday - Sunday: 12:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Congress Avenue

10) Congress Avenue (must see)

Congress Avenue is a major thoroughfare in Austin, Texas. The street is a six-lane, tree-lined avenue that cuts through the middle of the city from far south and goes over Lady Bird Lake leading to the Texas State Capitol in the heart of Downtown. The avenue was designed by the first mayor of Austin, Edwin Waller.

Early structures along Congress Avenue included government buildings, hotels, saloons, retail stores and restaurants. By the late 1840s "The Avenue" formed a well-established business district. The mid-1870s introduced gaslight illumination and mule-driven streetcars, as well as construction of a new Travis County courthouse at Eleventh Street. The present Texas Capitol at the north end of Congress Avenue was built in 1888. The original dirt street was bricked in 1910. Trolley cars operated on the avenue until 1940.

Before Interstate 35 was completed in the 1960s, Congress Avenue was the primary road to reach Austin from the south. Certain landmarks, such as the Austin Motel, identify the road as a major thoroughfare for travelers through the mid-20th century.

Congress Avenue south of Lady Bird Lake is known as South Congress, often abbreviated to SoCo, and is an increasingly popular shopping and rental district. It passes the historic Travis Heights neighborhood, the Texas School for the Deaf, and St. Edward's University as it extends south out of town.

In recognition of its architectural and historical significance, Congress Avenue from Cesar Chavez Street (formerly First Street) to the Capitol was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The Capitol forms a terminating vista at the north end of Congress; this view became one of the Capitol View Corridors protected under state and local law from obstruction by tall buildings in 1983.

Why You Should Visit:
A must-stroll for visitors and a popular hangout for locals. South Congress oozes homespun character and boasts the story of Austin’s yesteryear in its boutiques, eateries, galleries and music venues.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Congress Avenue Bridge /Austin Bats

11) Congress Avenue Bridge /Austin Bats (must see)

The Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge (formerly known simply as the Congress Avenue Bridge) crosses over Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas. Before construction of the Longhorn Dam was completed in 1960, the bridge crossed the Colorado River from which Lady Bird Lake is impounded. The bridge was known as the Congress Avenue Bridge from the construction of the first span across the Colorado River at that location in the late 19th century until November 16, 2006, when the Austin City Council renamed the current bridge in honor of Ann W. Richards, the 45th Governor of Texas and a long-term resident of Austin. The bridge is a concrete arch structure with three southbound and three northbound vehicle lanes and sidewalks on both sides of it.

Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge is home to the world's largest urban bat colony, which is composed of Mexican free-tailed bats. The bats reside beneath the road deck in gaps between the concrete component structures. They are migratory, spending their summers in Austin and the winters in Mexico.

The nightly emergence of the bats from underneath the bridge at dusk, and their flight across Lady Bird Lake primarily to the east, to feed themselves, attract as many as 100,000 tourists annually. Tourists can see the bats from the bridge, from the sides of the river and from boats.

The Austin Ice Bats minor-league hockey team was named after the bridge's bats.

The song "Bats" by Kimya Dawson and rapper Aesop Rock was inspired by the immense number of bats that reside under the bridge.[
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Rainey Street

12) Rainey Street (must see)

The Rainey Street Historic District is a street of historic homes, many of the bungalow style, positioned near Lady Bird Lake and Interstate 35 in the southeast corner of Downtown. Though 21 buildings are specifically identified as a part of the historic district, the stretch of Rainey between River and Driskill includes 31 buildings constructed before 1934, giving the neighborhood a historic character relative to other areas of the city.

The Rainey Street neighborhood was first developed in 1884 by cattle baron Jesse Driskill and Frank Rainey, who subdivided 16 acres of land between the Colorado River and Water Street (now known as Cesar Chavez Blvd.) The neighborhood was initially populated by white, middle class tradesman, though by the 1920s the area began to see a larger influx of working class families and ethnic minorities. Many of the original homes in the neighborhood were lost to a flood in 1935. The construction of Interstate 35 left the Rainey Street neighborhood "isolated" from the remainder of Austin's residential areas; by 1978, a report estimated that more than half of the structures on Rainey Street were "dilapidated". In 1985, amid fears of high-density commercial and residential redevelopment, the neighborhood was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Since the early 2010s, this formerly sleepy, tucked-away residential street has turned into an increasingly popular nightlife district. The majority of historic bungalows here have been renovated into bars and restaurants, many of which feature large porches and outdoor yards for patrons.

Why You Should Visit:
Austin's diverse culture is not just contained in a museum but sprinkled throughout the entire city.
This residential-turned-commercial row offers a good chance to appreciate the city's lively scene manifested in the wealth of upscale bars, eateries and food trucks galore.
Staying true to Austin's roots, this strip of bars often features live, local bands.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

Walking Tours in Austin, Texas

Create Your Own Walk in Austin

Create Your Own Walk in Austin

Creating your own self-guided walk in Austin is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Congress Avenue Walking Tour

Congress Avenue Walking Tour

Congress Avenue is the main street in Austin and historically the first one. Since the city's establishment, the street has evolved, and now bears the mark of Austin’s historical and cultural development from the 19th century to today. From the State Capitol grounds to Lady Bird Lake, modern skyscrapers stand next to the old two- and three story buildings, making for an interesting...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.5 Km or 0.9 Miles
Downtown Historical Buildings Walking Tour

Downtown Historical Buildings Walking Tour

Northwest downtown Austin boasts an impressive collection of historic residences of notable styles, ranging from classic Victorian to Georgian to Greek Revival. Carefully preserved and restored, these constructions – from nationally listed historic sites to the significant local elements of the built environment – form a major part of Austin’s cultural heritage and indelible chapter of its...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.4 Km or 2.1 Miles
Austin Street Art Walk

Austin Street Art Walk

Austin, Texas may be famed as the “Live Music Capital of the World,” but its street art is as vibrant, funky and diverse as its plentiful music venues. Texas’s capital is peppered with dozens of murals, sometimes in the most unexpected places, among which are several truly iconic pieces like the Historic 6th Street, “Hi, How Are You?” and Austintatious, that illustrate the quirky side of...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.4 Km or 2.1 Miles