Keep Austin weird: do offbeat things

Jonathan Make
7 min readDec 20, 2023


Visiting Austin is quickly turning out to be one of the best family vacations. When you consider the few days we have been here and the amount of ground we have covered — literally and figuratively — it has certainly been a productive and enjoyable trip.

The idea for this trip came from our son. We gave him the choice of going pretty much anywhere in the United States for four days during this workweek when we were all off. After some thoughtful deliberation, he picked Austin. He then picked about eight things to do here. So far, we have done about half of them. Our trip also benefited from advice on all things Austin I got from several colleagues at work. They had a few awesome hacks and many suggestions for places and restaurants to visit.

We got here late Sunday night, so Monday was our first full day. We are staying downtown at the Marriott, which ended up being a reasonably good choice. A lot of things are within walking distance.

We all scream for Ice Cream

The main tourism event, for the first day at least, was a visit to the wacky, fun, yummy, and not so healthy Museum of Ice Cream.

MOIC is located in a luxury shopping center about 10 miles outside the downtown core. It’s probably easiest to drive there. Fortunately, we got a rental car from Enterprise at the airport.

The building itself is hard to miss. It is pink colored inside and out and it has tour guides standing outside. They were very helpful and sold us three tickets for just under $100. Not cheap, but you can eat almost that much, once you get inside, in samples of many flavors of ice cream.

I think what makes the museum most unique is the way it’s decorated and the explanations they have for various ice cream inventions. I say inventions because the texts on the walls take you through the development of things like the ice cream sundae, sprinkles, and all sorts of other things you probably have not given much thought to. Although the museum is quite educational, it is a for-profit venture. It has other branches in cities like Chicago and New York, and is expanding to Singapore and Boston.

Each room has a theme. And reflecting the theme usually are the different flavors of ice cream you can select from. Although we placed a pretty low limit on the amount of ice cream we had, you apparently can eat as much as you want and go back as many times as your appetite desires to the various ice cream serving stations. Each of them is staffed with a helpful employee who tells you about the flavors and how they are related to the concept of the room. The decorations are decidedly offbeat and retro. One room feature is a couple-hundred plastic bananas, hanging from the ceiling. You could kind of push them around and make shapes in the air.

The two rooms that were most fun centered around the sprinkle pit. It’s essentially a ball pit but with enlarged plastic sprinkles, approximately 10,000 of them. You get to splash around in them and you can dive off of a diving board or a slide into the pit from a slide. I did the slide route.

The room next to it has basketballs, so you can play a little one-on-one or use a hamster wheel fit for humans.

We give this place five stars.


Later Monday to walk off some of the extra calories, we walked around the upscale shopping center, which is called The Domain. If you’re looking for name-brands, this is probably a good place to go. There are lots of places for pedestrians. Parking also seemed plentiful and was certainly easy.

Another recommended attraction is free and parallels downtown next to the Colorado River. It’s a river walk of sorts. You get to see the sites of downtown on one side and the river and recreational boating and even some wildlife on the other side.

Highly recommend this also. Four stars out of five.

The next day, Tuesday, was centered around visiting a cave outside of the city. It’s called Inner Space Cavern and it’s in Georgetown. Not Georgetown in Washington, D.C., mind you. It’s in Georgetown, Texas. It’s maybe 20 miles outside of the city. And in fact, the highway that runs over the cavern, Interstate 35, is why the cavern was discovered in the first place.

When they were building this section of the highway in the 1960s, they discovered this cavern. It’s now a tourist attraction, and it seems to be run by a for-profit business. Lots of interesting tchotchkes and historic information and fossils that they found in the cavern are featured in the gift shop and education area.

The main attraction though is when you walk into the cave on a tour. We took the moderate ability tour. It lasted a little under two hours, and was narrated by a guy who was a longtime biology teacher in the area. Grant, the tour guide, was spectacular. He did a great job discussing the history of the cavern and narrating what was discovered at what time, while also pointing out all of the interesting sites underground.

I think I was into all of the structures too much to really get a good sense of the types of geological objects, fossils and such that are found there. Take my word for it, it’s impressive, and there are varied figures and structures underground. Some of them even glow in the dark.

There are bats underground. They were hibernating for the winter.

Speaking of bats, if you are a fan of them, there is a bridge across the Colorado River downtown where hundreds of thousands of bats roost at some times of year. Unfortunately, at this time of year, there were very few of them. But you can get a great education about the bats by just reading the signs on the walking trail. Our son wanted to see this sight, but they migrate to Mexico during the winter.


Another highlight, at least for me on Tuesday, was going to a random Indian buffet restaurant we found just outside of the center city. It’s called Star of India. Yummy buffet — recommended. Not super cheap, though.

Tuesday night, we wandered into an area thick with small music venues, food trucks, places to drink, and other interesting things. You can see downtown from there, but it doesn’t seem to be in downtown itself. If you’re looking for some inexpensive music or alcohol to consume, this seems like a good neighborhood. (I unfortunately don’t know the name of this area.)

Today, Wednesday, we went to the central library. It is actually facing the Colorado River trail. The place looks cool, and it came highly recommended. It turned out that we couldn’t find anywhere to park, as evidently it is a popular location. So perhaps we will drop by on Thursday morning.


We also checked out one of the local art museums, which in this case is part of the University of Texas at Austin. This of course is the flagship campus for the state university system. We went to the Blanton Museum of Art.

It’s clearly a distinctive museum, as you can see even before you enter the facilities. Interesting architecture of the buildings, in particular something that looks like a chapel and was designed by Ellsworth Kelly. If you plan ahead, the museum is free to visit every Tuesday.

The museum clearly has an extensive permanent collection, some of which was on display in the galleries. And they also had a visiting exhibit on Mayan artifacts from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

I would recommend visiting the Blanton Museum if you have time on a trip to Austin to see some arts and culture. Wouldn’t say it is a must-visit, but more a nice-to-visit.

Like our overall visit here, I’d give the museum four out of five stars.



Jonathan Make

I work at USPTO but my views only here. Buff about good journalism, writing, art & culture. Heart my wife, son & pets.