Discover Hidden Gems in Austin Off the Tourist Trail
Austin is known as a weird and wonderful music city — but there’s even more to Austin than meets the eye. If you really want to get a taste for life in this Southern city, you’ll have to dig deep to see where the locals go. From a German-inspired castle to a clothing-optional beach, you’ll be sure to find some hidden gems in Austin you never knew existed.
1. Falkenstein Castle
Flickr: by Bob BohmerFalkenstein Castle was built in 1996 by Texas developers Terry and Kim Young after a trip to Germany and inspiration from the famous Neuschwanstein Castle — the same one that served as idea fodder for Disney’s famous spires. The castle is actually a private residence, so you won’t be able to buy a ticket and take a look inside. However, many people appreciate walking by to check out the unique architecture. It’s also available for weddings and film projects, with visits set up in advance.
2. The Museum of the Weird
Located in the heart of downtown Austin, the Museum of the Weird is home to some of the world’s strangest exhibits. What began as a simple brick-and-mortar shop filled with pet lizards and a collection of unusual items turned into an attraction people travel from around the world to see. Owner Steve Bust used to sell his rare objects, but he eventually realized he would rather not part with them. Now, he enjoys sharing them with the public and seeing customers’ reactions.
3. Emma Long Metropolitan Park
Wikimedia Commons by Larry D. MooreOpen seven days a week, this park is a green oasis hidden in the middle of metropolitan Austin. The entrance fee is just $1 per day for those who walk or bike in and a little more for those who wish to park a car. You can come for a picnic on the shores of Lake Austin, dip your toes in the water, go for a swim and stay overnight in a primitive campsite. This park is the perfect destination for the whole family, with amenities such as boat access, bathrooms, picnic tables and grills.
4. Congress Avenue Bridge
Flickr: by EricIf you want to take part in a summer experience like no other, visit Congress Avenue Bridge at night to witness the world’s largest urban bat colony. Originally built in 1980, developers had no idea the new structure would provide an ideal roosting spot for Austin’s bats. With more than 1 million of them spiraling into the sky on any given summer night, Austin’s Congress Bridge has become known as a weird and fascinating tourist destination.
5. The Cathedral of Junk
Flick: by Jason EppinkHidden on a suburban street in the south side of Austin is one man’s unmissable backyard, referred to locally as the Cathedral of Junk. What started in 1988 as Vince Hannemann’s fun hobby turned into a collection of an estimated 60 tons of junk, including bicycles parts, kitchen utensils, circuit boards, lawn mower wheels and much more. Some visitors like to add to the attraction by bringing a personal piece of junk to donate.
6. The Umlauf Sculpture Garden
Escape into a hidden Eden to discover one of Austin’s most interesting attractions. This museum and outdoor garden features over 168 sculptures created by Charles Umlauf, an American sculptor. Once his home, Charles and his wife Angeline donated the house, studio and sculptures to the city of Austin in 1985. This space also features temporary galleries showcasing the work of other artists.
7. Hamilton Pool Preserve
Flickr: by Jonathan CutrerHamilton Pool Preserve is located just west of Austin, offering a picturesque and secluded spot to swim, hike, bike or have a picnic. The natural swimming pool is a popular spot, sitting in a canyon below a 50-foot waterfall and surrounded by a rocky grotto. The pool is also near large slabs of limestone, making it a great place to catch some sun and work on your tan. If you get bored with the water, you can explore the caves and cliffs near the edge, filled with large stalactites growing from above.
8. Eeyore’s Birthday Party
Every city has its own version of festivals and fun. For Austin, that means celebrating Eeyore’s Birthday Party. This is a highly anticipated annual event — going on 56 years — with free admission. Each celebration features live musical performances, art vendors, hot and cold food, and much more. You can also take part in the event’s annual games, such as the costume contest, with prizes for all ages. As a bonus, any money you spend while having fun is donated to local nonprofits.
9. Hippie Hollow Park
Wikimedia Commons by LoneStarMikeIf you truly want to get off the beaten path, locals in Austin will tell you to head down to Hippie Hollow Park, clothing optional. With a rocky shoreline and access to Lake Travis, this park offers picturesque views for travelers looking to get more in touch with nature. Visitors are encouraged to swim, have a picnic, take a hike and enjoy everything the public park has to offer. If you don’t feel like wearing clothes, you won’t be the only one working on a full-body tan.
10. Weird Wednesday
If you want to enjoy a unique Austin specialty, head on down to the Alamo Drafthouse on a Wednesday night. This has been dubbed Weird Wednesday, the day the theater shows films that are too wacky and outrageous for the typical audience. Nothing is off-limits, so expect oddities such as pimp ghosts, karate fighting nuns, mutant punks and much more. As a bonus, you can grab a brew and a tasty to bite to eat while you watch.
Hidden Attractions in Austin
Whether you’re an experienced local or a first-time visitor, Austin offers a range of great attractions for everyone to enjoy. To understand why this city is described as one of the weirdest in the world, you’ll have to wander beyond the common tourist traps. Instead, check out one of the hidden gems above. You’re sure to find an experience that’ll leave you talking for years.