Austin, Texas on a Budget: Free and Cheap Family Attractions

Barton Springs

The cost of getting to Texas from Wisconsin was expensive. Lucky for us, we were able to fill our Austin itinerary with low-cost (but fun) things to do once we got there. Here’s what we did:

Zilker Metropolitan Park

Zilker Metropolitan Park is to Austin what Central Park is to Manhattan. A 351-acre spot for recreation and relaxation, family attractions include a large playground, picnic spots, hiking, biking, open fields, canoe/kayak rentals, and the Zilker Zephyr miniature train shown in the photo to the left. Extremely popular in summer months (basically half the year), is Barton Springs Pool, a natural spring-fed pool with a year-round average temperature of 68 degrees. Park admission is free, but entrance to the pool will cost between $1-$3/person. Train rides last approximately 1/2 hour and costs $2 (kids) and $3 (adults).


State Capitol Building

Leaving space for a bit of time for social studies, it only seemed fitting to visit the Texas state capitol building at some point during our trip. Consulting the building hours on the main visitor website, we walked on a self-guided tour up, around, and under the rotunda and into a senate room (not in session). Packed with visitors on a Saturday afternoon, had we planned ahead we could have attended a guided tour (groups of ten or more can arrange for a private  guide). Tours are free and last 45 minutes, covering the Capitol building, Texas history, and Texas legislature.

State Capitol

Tour the Capitol Building

Where to Stay

Find family-friendly accommodations in Austin, Texas from traditional hotels to private Air B&B homes through

The most pleasant surprise on our Austin itinerary was Umlauf Sculpture Garden (look for the signs that point left on Robert E. Lee Road on the way in to Zilker Park). Home to statues and sculptures of 20th century American sculptor Charles Umlauf, the xeriscape garden is home to Umlauf’s varied creations. Winding paths make their way through the shaded grounds and a small scream bubbles down a waterfall and between two ponds. Children can request a marker and laminated photo-scavenger hunt at the front desk (crossing out photos of whole or partial sculptures), a sticker souvenir is the reward for a completed card. General admission is $3.50 (kids 6 and under are free and students can visit for $1).

Umlauf Sculpture Garden

Umlauf Sculpture Garden

Check out our story on Where to Eat in Austin

Congress Avenue Bridge

Ahead of their migratory pattern, our trip to Texas was unfortunately incomplete in that we missed seeing famous bats emerge from under the Congress Avenue Bridge. A sight to behold, the bats hunt en masse and look like a black cloud over Lady Bird Lake. Bat watching is free, but you may want to arrive early and scope out a parking spot.

AustinHappy Trails!

About the Author

Julie Henning
Julie Henning is a freelance writer and journalist based out of Eugene, Oregon. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and owner of the family-travel website She is a recent past member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association and the Association for Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. Julie is the Oregon Coast destination specialist for Bindu Media, an itinerary-focused website launching in Spring 2016 and featuring the work of 200+ professional, indie travel writers. Julie has been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Illinois), the Rochester Post Bulletin, Wisconsin Natural Resources (DNR) Magazine, Sustainable Chicago Magazine, Group Tour Magazine, Student Group Tour Magazine, Silent Sports Magazine, Intercom Magazine,, and FTF Geocacher Magazine. Julie has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Ohio Public Radio, and KCBX FM Central Coast Radio and is an affiliate producer with the Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, a National Public Radio travel podcast. She has blogged for, Travel Oregon, and VISIT Milwaukee. Julie travels with her three kids and black lab as much as possible and lives by the motto, "Not all who wander are lost." Check out some of her best work at