8 Totally Free Things to Do in Austin This Fall
Get out of the house without breaking the bank.
So much of American hangout culture is based around spending money. Want to catch up with a friend? Buy a drink. Going on a date? Split the bill for dinner or pay for a movie. While that’s fine and all, it’s still sometimes nice to be able to spend time with the people you care about without the expectation of burning through some cash. Fortunately, there are plenty of free parks, venues, and activities in Austin that you can plan a day around. Whether you’re an outdoors type or insist on hitting up locations with AC, here are some of our favorite free things to do in Austin.
Old West Austin
The Treehouse is a unique art installation in one of Austin’s oldest and most beloved parks. It’s designed to mimic the appearance of a seed pod that you might find on the ground. It’s a two-story structure designed to let you appreciate the surrounding nature and wildlife. The first story is a cozy hangout area with limestone seating, and the second is basically a giant hammock where you can relax and enjoy the surroundings.
The Austin Public Library is an impressive space. It’s full of public art and is, arguably, one of the coolest libraries that you’ll find in any city. There’s a ton of comfortable seating and rooms to explore, including a scenic rooftop garden terrace that overlooks the river and the south side of downtown. The space comes as a result of years of development and collaboration. It boasts desktops, laptops, tablets, and board games, not to mention countless books you can peruse and read. It’s right next to Shoal Creek Park, and makes for a wonderful spot to kill some time in the AC. If you keep your visit shorter, parking is free for the first hour at the onsite lot, though it is unfortunately paid parking after that.
If you’re looking to up your dancing moves, Esquina Tango hosts free community Tango sessions every Monday at the Halcyon Mueller coffee shop. It’s a fun way to get moving and be around new people. The beginner class starts at 6:30 pm, and the Milonga (social dance) session goes from 7:30 to 10 pm.
Mt. Bonnell Terrace
A popular spot for tourists and residents alike, Mt. Bonnell offers a captivating mountainside view of the Colorado River. Many people make the mistake of preparing for a long hike. But it actually only takes a few minutes to trek from the parking area to the scenic view. It’s the tallest point in Austin city limits, beating out the Independent, a 58-story skyscraper on West Avenue. The well-loved place is ideal for romantic outings, or for anyone who wants to appreciate a beautiful sunset.
Arguably Austin’s best-known museum, The Blanton, is a flagship in the Austin art scene. It features a massive collection of works focusing primarily on contemporary American and Latin American art. Admission is entirely free every single Thursday. It houses beautiful permanent collections and pieces as well as rotating works, making it a great outing for anyone with even a passing interest in the arts.
When people think of the lush nature in Austin, they usually imagine the Barton Creek Greenbelt. It has over twelve miles of trails with options for hiking, biking, bouldering, and swimming. There are many different entry points, each allowing easier access to the various outdoor activities possible there. It can almost be overwhelming to know which is the right starting point you’re looking for on a given day. But to get you started, the Gus Fruh entrance is excellent for swimming while the Main Access Point off of Capital of Texas Highway gives you good access to many of the main hiking trails.
A seasonal affair, watching the bats emerge from under the Congress Avenue bridge is a popular tourist activity. A massive colony of up to 1.5 million Brazilian free-tail bats (sometimes called Mexican-free tail bats) live under the bridge. About a half an hour before sunset, the bats begin their nightly flight, pouring out from under the bridge in massive waves of furry, winged cuteness. There are plenty of online guides you can find to plot out the best spots to view them from, but above all, remember to be a good bat-viewer. Keep your voice low, and avoid shining bright lights as it puts them at risk of capture by predators.
With free admission, the Elizabet Ney Museum is a community staple that injects a lot of life into the local community. It’s a historic house featuring the works of 19th-century German sculptor Elizabet Ney. Located right in the middle of Hyde Park, the space has the largest display of Ney’s marble sculpture works, often featured alongside various contemporary exhibits. The museum has been known to host other free events like their Saturday Drawing Salons, where participants could draw Ney’s statues regardless of skill level with all the materials provided. Check out their programs page to see their current slate of activities.