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On a Shoestring: Free Things To Do in Austin

Submitted by Shelley Seale on July 26, 2010 10 Comments

Austin draws visitors and residents with many popular attractions, from the SXSW and ACL festivals to hill country spots such as Barton Springs and The Oasis. But did you know that Austin offers many fun things to do that are completely free–especially good to know during an economic funk. Here are our picks for the top free things to do in Austin.

Outdoors: Watch the sun set from Mount Bonnell

Mount Bonnell provides a spectacular view of Lake Austin, surrounding bluffs and multi-million dollar homes, the 360 bridge and downtown skyline. Climb the stairs or path to reach the highest point in the city (775 feet), and you can even take a picnic; tables and grills are available. With the mostly mild winters in Central Texas, this sunset is nice to watch almost year-round. From MoPac Expressway in Central Austin, take the 35th Street exit and head west. Proceed past Camp Mabry on the right and veer left in the fork on the road onto Old Bull Creek Road. Turn right onto Mount Bonnell Road and lumber up the hill and look for parking on the left when reaching the crest.

Movies: Catch a flick at several cool venues

On the last Saturday of every month, Alamo Drafthouse features free kids’ movies; they also often have special screenings and other events offered for free. Nueva Onda Mexican restaurant shows free indie movies on their patio once per month. At the north Central Market location on Lamar, free outdoor summer movies are shown every Wednesday night at 8:30 pm. The Regal Free Family Film Festival series plays at three cinemas around town this summer with a variety of G and PG films on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10 am. And the Austin Parks Foundation offers free movies at Republic Square Park downtown, beginning September 1.

Historic: Stroll through Texas History at the Capitol

This architecturally-stunning building opened in 1888 to much pomp and circumstance and remains one of the great symbols of Texas history and politics. It is also a major Austin attraction and top tourist spot. It is a favorite part of the Austin skyline, and there are actually building restrictions to keep it easily viewable from all parts of town. Come in for a free tour and you just might catch a few politicians roaming the halls.

Arts: Laguna Gloria

This gorgeous restored 1916 Italianate-style villa was once the home of Texas legend Clara Driscoll. Today, it’s the second location of the Austin Museum of Art, and offers art classes, exhibits and private meeting or party spaces. Visitors can stroll the lush 12-acre grounds overlooking Lake Austin and enjoy sculpture and the revitalized historic gardens with no admission fee, although there is a requested donation box. There is also an art school that offers more than 400 classes annually (for a fee), and many community gatherings are held here.

Health: Practice yoga at Ruta Maya Coffee House

This fun and funky South Austin coffee house honors the old tradition of the coffee shop as a “Penny University,” where for the price of a cup of coffee one could participate in community education. Yoga classes are held here from Monday through Saturday, at no cost as long as you make any purchase from Ruta Maya. Work out and then enjoy a fresh smoothie or coffee drink. Other classes include latin tutorials, salsa lessons, permaculture, and tai chi with Austin musician Guy Forsyth. There’s also a free kid’s show every Sunday at 10:30 am that’s sure to please.

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Photo 1 – Enjoying free outdoor movies at Republic Square Park
Photo courtesy of Austin Parks Foundation
Photo 2 – The State Capitol of Texas
Photo by Stuseeger
Photo 3 – Relaxation at the end of yoga class at Ruta Maya
Photo courtesy of Ruta Maya Coffeehouse
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