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A Visitor’s Guide to the Bullock State History Museum

December 19, 2023
Bullock State History Museum

If you’re interested in getting the inside scoop on Austin’s fascinating history, a visit to the Bullock State History Museum is a great place to start.

Located in the heart of the city, just a short walk away from the famous capital building, the museum’s collection is packed with captivating historical ephemera, from Native American artifacts to musical performances from live tapings of Austin City Limits. It’s a captivating glimpse into the unique story of Texas and a must-stop on any comprehensive Austin itinerary.

I’m here to help you make the most of your visit with this insider’s guide to the Bullock State History Museum.

Why visit the Bullock State History Museum?

Bullock Texas History State Museum
Credit: Larry D. Moore / CC BY-SA 4.0

You might not have been to a history museum since you were in elementary school, but the Bullock State History Museum has something to offer for visitors of all ages. And most importantly, it’s a great place for visitors to the city to get a sense of Austin’s (and Texas’) fascinating and complex history.

The museum has been open since 1999. In 2018, it underwent a major renovation that spruced up the building and made the space more accessible and visitor-friendly. It’s right in the heart of downtown Texas, mere blocks from the capitol dome, and is easily accessible from wherever in the city you might be staying. 

Even a short visit can be rewarding, but I recommend dedicating a whole afternoon to the space if possible. You’ll want time to really dig deep into their expansive collections. You’ll get the chance to explore the ancient history of Texas natives and see the ways technology has shaped the Texas experience. You’ll also get great background lessons on the arts, culture, and food you’ll be enjoying for the rest of your visit.

Planning Your Visit

Bullock Texas History State Museum
Credit: Jordan S Hatcher / CC BY 2.0 DEED

The Bullock State History Museum is open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. 

I recommend setting aside at least two or three hours to view the collection, depending on how long you tend to linger in front of artifacts. Add on a few hours if you’d like to catch a movie in the IMAX theater!

Unfortunately, the museum doesn’t offer guided tours, but in my experience, the docents and guards are always friendly and eager to chat.

How to get to the Bullock State History Museum

The Bullock State History Museum’s entrance is tucked away on the new Texas Capitol Mall, a lovely pedestrian green space between the state capitol and MLK Jr Boulevard that makes the perfect location to rest and unwind between destinations. 

If you’re driving, you can get to their on-site parking garage via 18th Street, which is on the south side of the museum. Parking costs $15 for the day, or $25 on a game day for the UT football team, when the lot tends to be swamped with fans.

If you’re taking public transit, bus numbers 1, 3, 19, and 20 as well as the 801 and 803 all stop within easy walking distance of the museum.

Insider tip: Once you’re parked, feel free to explore the museum, UT’s campus, the capitol, and anywhere else you’re interested in spending time downtown. Just make sure you don’t need to drive—reentry isn’t permitted.

How much does it cost to visit the Bullock State History Museum?

Credit: Michael Barera / CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

Museum admission is $13 for adults, $9 for children ages 4-17, and free for anyone under the age of four. Students, military, and seniors can all enjoy a discounted admission rate of $11.

Insider tip: The museum offers all-day free admission on the first Sunday of every month as part of the city’s H-E-B First Free Sundays program. Plan ahead to save some cash.

Collection highlights you won’t want to miss

Ask any Austinite and they’ll tell you that the reason to go to the Bullock State History Museum is “Becoming Texas,” the museum’s signature exhibition. It’s a captivating and comprehensive exploration of Texas history that will give you great insight into the roots of Austin, the city we love.

Starting with one of the earliest known human-made objects found in the state, an arrowhead discovered at the Gault archeological site 10 miles north of Austin, the exhibition covers more than sixteen thousand years of Texas history.

Expect to learn about the early groups of Native Americans who called the area home before the arrival of European settlers, the history of European colonization of Texas, and the influence a complex network of global geopolitical forces had on the state’s early growth.

Later sections of the exhibition include artifacts showcasing the land, technology, and culture of the state. There are sections on civil rights, Texas ranching, science and space exploration, and, of course, oil. 

Some of my personal favorite parts of the exhibit are focused on Texas sports and music history, including the Austin City Limits theater. Here the museum runs old clips of performances from the television series. It’s a great way to learn a little more about the background of a city that calls itself the live music capital of the world.

Film programming and the IMAX theater

Credit: Paul Hudson / CC BY 2.0 DEED

While you’re in the museum, it’s worth paying a visit to one of their theaters—especially on those sunny Austin afternoons when nothing feels better than sitting down in a dark, air-conditioned space for a spell.

The Bullock State History Museum is home to an IMAX theater where they show all kinds of films on history, science, and other educational topics. Tickets range in price from $7-$15 dollars depending on your age, whether you qualify for any discounts and the length of the film.

The museum also hosts the unique Texas Spirit Theater, an immersive three-screened performance space where immersive effects bring you right into the action. 

The museum also produces its own films, including The Star of Destiny, which explores historic hurricanes, oil gushers, and space launches, and Shipwrecked, which tells the story of the 1684 wreck of the La Belle. Tickets are $6 for adults, and $5 for students, military, seniors, and children.

Austin’s best history museum and more

So there you have it — all the details you need to plan the perfect visit to Austin’s best history museum. With so much information on Texas history and culture to dive into, it’s the perfect activity to help you understand this one-of-a-kind city.

You’ll work up an appetite exploring, so why not book an East Austin food tour while you’re downtown? Leave your car in the lot or drive the ten minutes to the east side and bring your new appreciation for Texas history to all those tasty bites.