Austin: Family-Friendly Things to Do in ATX (Part 3)

This is my third of four posts about our family's travels to Austin, Texas. Click the links to go to Part 1, Part 2, and Part 4. Because I blog about educational travel, I received free admission tickets, media rates, discounts, and other benefits for some of the attractions we visited throughout the trip, as well as for our hotel. Many of the attractions we toured are free to everyone, and I paid full price for the rest. This has no bearing on my reviews. Everything I'm sharing is something that I recommend whole-heartedly. If you notice any gaps in my narrative, it's because something wasn't worth mentioning.

Tuesday, November 20 began with another delicious breakfast at the 15th Street Cafe. Then we set out to spend the entire day on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin.

We took advantage of the DoubleTree's Suite Ride (their complimentary shuttle) to take us to the far end of campus, where the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library is located.

None of us had been to a presidential library before. I don't know about the rest of them, but this one is fantastic! There are three floors of exhibits that covered not only LBJ's presidency, but the rest of his life, as well as what was going on in the US and in the world at various points during his life.

Trevor has not studied the 1960's yet and thus knew very little about LBJ's presidency. He read everything with great interest and had lots of questions, particularly about the fight for civil rights. In the photo below, you can see Trevor using a rotary phone to listen to recordings of LBJ. He spent quite a while listening and learning. This is exactly why I believe so strongly in educational travel. 

Steve and I have studied the 1960's, of course, so we were familiar with a lot of the information about civil rights and Vietnam. However, neither of us knew anything about LBJ, the man. The library does a great job presenting all facets of this very interesting character. There is even an animatronic LBJ!

I'd never heard of The Johnson Treatment before. This might have been the first time I've felt a poster invading my personal space. I can only imagine how intimidating this would have been in real life. 

The reproduction of Johnson's Oval Office is very interesting. You can't see it in this photo, but there are three television sets lined up next to each other. We were guessing it was so the president could watch ABC, NBC, and CBS at the same time. Trevor had no clue what we were talking about; as far as he knows, there have always been 900+ channels playing 24/7!

There is a whole section nearby about Lady Bird Johnson, as well as information about their daughters that I really enjoyed. 

The special exhibit is about the fight for equality in American sports. It is great.

The LBJ Presidential Library is a massive building, ten stories tall. I mentioned earlier that there are three floors of exhibits. What's on the other seven floors? It's called a library for a reason! There are more than 45 million pages of documents from LBJ's time as a congressman, vice president, and president. There are more than 650,000 photos and over 5000 hours of recordings, as well as 2000 oral history interviews. It's impressive, to say the least.

Trevor was fascinated by the MANY photos of LBJ with a bunch of personalized pens. There are hundreds of pens on display as well. Trevor bought himself a pen in the gift shop as a souvenir of our visit. An inexpensive replica - not one of the actual ones LBJ used, though there are plenty of those for people who have a larger souvenir budget than Trevor.

We left the library and headed to the Student Activity Center to grab lunch at ZEN. The line was huge, but it moved very quickly. We split chicken teriyaki, seaweed salad, and chicken bao bao. The food was fresh, delicious, fast, and inexpensive. I can see why it's popular with students. Definitely eat there!

Our next destination was the Texas Memorial Museum, which was Austin's first science museum. This is the outdoor classroom. Trevor is sitting on a scaled-up model of a mosasaur vertebra.

Inside, we found lots of fossilized plants and animals.

My favorites were these sea stars.

The museum also has meteorites, a paleo lab, taxidermy of many Texas animals, and more. I really enjoyed the mosaic art on display. Do you recognize these famous scientists?

While we liked the Texas Memorial Museum and definitely recommend it, it ended up being our least-favorite stop of the day. Young children would enjoy seeing all the animals and dinosaurs, but we felt that some of the displays weren't that different from what we've seen at other natural history museums. 

We strolled through campus on our way to the UT Tower. I like the way these burnt orange longhorns are part of the design of the bus stop. UT definitely knows their branding. 

There's a glimpse of the UT Tower.

You can take a tour to the top of the tower on weekends for a 360° view of Austin. (There might be weekday tours in other seasons; I'm not sure.) The website states that it is a "non-historical tour," so I would feel comfortable taking a child who is not aware of the horrific incident that happened there in 1966, knowing that the guide will focus instead on the architecture and the views. 

Incidentally, we had perfect weather for our UT day. Blue skies and cool but comfortable temperatures all day. The previous day we wore our heavy jackets and the following day we had some rain, but 11/20/18 couldn't have been better weather-wise.

Next on our agenda: the Harry Ransom Center. All of the museums on campus are free to UT students, but this one is free to everyone. Woo hoo! And wow, was it cool! This is one of 21 Gutenberg Bibles in existence. It's on display in the lobby. 

We also saw the very first known photograph ever taken. The quality was terrible, as you'd imagine, but it is so neat. Other highlights from the Ransom include Edgar Allan Poe's desk, Jack Kerouac's notebook, early editions of Shakespeare, and hundreds of other treasures. 

Trevor's favorite thing at the Ransom Center was the temporary exhibit of the work of Ed Ruscha. It's hard to describe Ruscha's work. He photographs the ordinary, but in a very unexpected way. See that long skinny table in the photo below? It holds one very accordion-fold book of photographs of both sides of a street in Hollywood in the 1960's. The walls in the gallery have photos of swimming pools, gas stations, palm trees, and apartments, to name a few. One of the neatest works was a set of photographs of the same locations taken 40+ years apart. Trevor loved Ruscha's books, particularly Various Small Fires and Milk.  

After the Ransom, we had a short walk to the Blanton Museum of Art

Our family has been a lot of art museums and we've learned that you never know what you'll find. It's important to keep an open mind and to know that not every piece of art will appeal to every visitor. We tend to speed through certain galleries a lot faster than others and that's OK. That gives us more time to stop and appreciate the art that speaks to us. 

When I saw this huge portrait from a distance, I was intrigued. I couldn't figure out what medium the artist used. Can you guess?

Did you guess combs? I sure didn't! What a neat idea. I love how creative people are. 

Trevor was very interested in this piece of artwork. It's hard to tell from the photo, but it's a bunch of colored cords coming out through evenly-spaced holes in the wooden background. They're cut to different lengths and knotted. The colors are in a pattern, but your eye loses the pattern as you try to follow it. It is mesmerizing. For us, anyway. Others walked by it as quickly as I walk by paintings of Renaissance cherubs. To each their own. 

This is neat. The artist stopped randomly selected people on the UT campus and painted a square to match their skin tone. We each found the square that best matched our skin, then read about the person who shares our skin tone.

If you judge art by the amount of time spent interacting with it, this was unquestionably our favorite. 

When you pass through the cloth, you reach a copper sea of 600,000 pennies.

I've never played with a lake of pennies before, and they behaved differently than I expected. You could smooth them out to a shimmery flat surface, pile them up to make towers, or shape them into whatever you want.

I needed to wash my hands afterward. The exhibit opened with mint-condition pennies, but thousands of grubby hands have dirtied them over time. This is a good reminder about why we wash our hands after any museum visit - lots of hands touching doors, stair rails, exhibits, etc. 

More photos from the Blanton:

We had an amazing day exploring the UT campus.

But it wasn't over quite yet. We ate dinner at the 4-star Carillon Restaurant on campus. 

Everything we ate was amazing. And the plating is absolutely stunning. I didn't get great photos, but this gives you an idea. That's bacon-wrapped pork loin. 

The Carillon has an open kitchen and we were seated near it, so we watched all the dishes being prepared. Each was more gorgeous and interesting than the last. We shared a cheese board, an appetizer, a soup, this entree, and a dessert and everything was to die for. What a wonderful place for a special occasion! 

The Carillon is on the southern edge of the campus is just 0.3 miles from the DoubleTree, so we had an easy walk back to our hotel. Another fantastic day in Austin!


  1. I am actually surprised when you said that was the first Presidential museum you have visited! I would have thought you would have made it to the Ronald Reagan one in Simi Valley! That one is pretty awesome too! I loveeeeeeeee all the photos!! That comb art piece is pretty AMAZING!!! I love that!!!

    1. Nope, we've never made it to the Reagan Library, nor the Nixon Library that's also in California. We really haven't done a good job with seeing educational places in Southern California. Too busy visiting other states to see what's in our own (admittedly massive) state!


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