The kids are back to school, leaving many of the outdoor attractions in Austin to the adults. However, the temperatures remain so high that enjoying the great outdoors can turn into a sweat feast – unless it’s planned properly. Enjoy smaller crowds and near-outdoor experiences at these locations in and around Austin.
Austin Nature and Science Center
This sprawling facility in Zilker Park is aimed at children, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun for everyone. Adults can also enjoy hands-on educational exhibits and recreational activities to increase awareness and appreciation for the natural environment. Sure, there are live animals, a pond, and a dinosaur outside, but there’s plenty to do inside too. The Naturalist Workshop shows tables of fur, stone, bones, plants, and insects that visitors are allowed to touch (they know you want to). Also check out the temporary nano-exhibition, an interactive experience that lets visitors interact with things that are invisible to the naked eye.
Bob Bullock IMAX
The IMAX movie format makes things feel almost real, which means that with the right movie, the next best thing is to be outside. Grab some popcorn and sit back in air-conditioned comfort on a virtual journey into the hot and steamy Amazon rainforest in the 1850s, or watch a panda company in captivity outside of the protected habitat it grew up in. Both films will show through August 31st.
Central Austin Library
Although technically not inside, the reading area on the roof garden is covered, and an adjoining interior offers air-conditioned relief if necessary. Read through guidebooks or magazines and plan future outdoor adventures (temperatures must drop at some point). This location also has a seed library of heirlooms, locally adapted and indigenous fruits and vegetables, and other plants from central Texas. Search the collection and plan what to plant when it cools. Users can check out or donate seeds up to four seed packages per visit. The library also borrows utility meters to see how much water your hot and thirsty garden is currently holding. And at the Cookbook Bar and Cafe, you can enjoy a cool drink by the windows overlooking Shoal Creek and the local countryside, pretending you’re outside.
Longhorn Caverns State Park
Walks through the caves last about 90 minutes and cover a variety of spaces and formations. The best thing is that the underground temperature is 68 degrees even in the August heat. Tours cover the geology of the cave system and its fairly checkered history, including stories of prehistoric visitors and legends of treasures hidden by outlaws. In the 1920s, one of the rooms even functioned as a dance hall.
McKinney Roughs Natural Park
This park is known for hiking, biking, ziplining, and other outdoor activities covering over 1,000 acres. It also features an indoor visitor center exhibit hall featuring native wildlife, including a tiger salamander, three-toed box turtle, king snake, and baby alligator. Catfish, largemouth bass, spotted gar, and Rio Grande cichlid swim in a 1,000-gallon aquarium. Terrariums in which the land animals live are built into an artificial rock wall. In another area there is a large artificial tree that brings nature inside. A built-in touch table contains fossils and artifacts for visitors to deal with. This is not always possible (or useful) outdoors.
Located in an 1880s feed mill in Johnson City, this facility uses technology-based exhibits, games, and programs to help people learn and appreciate science. The paludarium in the lobby is a closed ecosystem made up of living elements such as mosses, plants, crabs and fish as well as non-living elements from water, air and rock. And an aquaponics greenhouse combines aquaculture or growing fish and hydroponics or growing plants in water without soil.
Meadow center for water and the environment
Part of Texas State University at San Marcos, the Meadows Center includes Spring Lake, a collection of springs that fill an impounded lake and form the headwaters of the San Marcos River. Glass bottom boat tours are a cool way to see the springs at the bottom of the lake, as well as the plants, fish, and other creatures that live in the eerily clear water. Relax at Discovery Hall, which features a 1,000-gallon aquarium of native fish, as well as an endangered species exhibit featuring Texas Blind Salamanders, San Marcos Salamanders, and Fountain Darters, plus a Baby Turtle Aquarium and an interactive exhibit about the Edwards Aquifer.