The Texas State Capitol is a must see in Austin, Texas. I may be a bit biased, but I think Texas has the most beautiful Capitol building in the country. Built almost entirely out of Texas Hill Country red granite and sitting taller than the U.S. Capitol building, it is both a place of beauty and of history. If you find yourself in Austin, Texas, take the time to visit this gorgeous Capitol.
History of the Texas State Capitol
Austin became the capital of Texas in 1839. The capital was moved to Houston in 1842, then Washington-on-the-Brazos before returning to Austin in 1845. The builders of our capitol building accepted 3 million acres of land in the Texas Panhandle as payment for the building. This land became the famous XIT Ranch (which has a story of its own).
Originally, the building was to be built with Texas Limestone, but concerns were raised about the uniformity of it. Good thing they didn’t go with it – it would not be nearly as beautiful as it is. The owners of Granite Mountain in Marble Falls (about one hour west of Austin) offered building stone for free to the state. And our capitol was built using the beautiful Sunset Red Texas Granite. At the time of it’s completion, in May 1888, it was the seventh-largest building in the world, proving that yes, we build everything bigger here in Texas. And we are all very proud that our capitol is taller than the Capitol in Washington, D. C.
Visiting the Texas State Capitol
The Texas State Capitol is FREE to visit. The Capitol does offer tours that feature the Capitol, Texas history, and the Texas legislature. This free tour begins in the Capitol South Foyer (30 minute tour) and is offered seven days a week. Tours take visitors to key areas of the Capitol and offer information on the building, Texas history and the Texas legislature. You can also roam about on a self-guided tour (ask about the audio tour) and take in the pubic access areas, including the House Chamber. I just loved the historical look to it all – the wooden desks were magnificent.
The Capitol rotunda is a beautiful site to see as well. It is a whispering gallery – a really fun thing to do with your kids! And if you can look up without getting too dizzy, the ceiling of the dome is breathtaking. Don’t miss the portraits of all the Governors of Texas when in the Whispering Gallery too.
The Capitol Visitors Center is a wonderful museum on the southeast corner of the Capitol grounds. It is located in the restored 1856-57 General Land Office building, which is the oldest state office building in Texas. Free to the public, it’s 2 stories provide excellent, hands-on exhibits for every age. We enjoyed dressing up like a Texan and creating our own “ranch brand”. There is also a fascinating Capitol Dome Model and this is a great time to learn more about the XIT Ranch deal that made this capitol happen. The Visitors Center also offers a wonderful gift shop as well. The Capitol Visitors Center is open Monday thru Saturday from 9AM to 5PM and Saturday from 12PM to 5PM.
The Grounds of the Texas State Capitol
On the 22 acres surrounding the Texas State Capitol, visitors will find 17 monuments that surround the building. Every war that America has participated in is recognized here, as well as police offices, women, and children. A full afternoon can be dedicated to observing these monuments. You can pick up a brochure in the Capitol that will give you information on each of the monuments.
Also look for the elaborate drinking fountain that was constructed at the site of an artesian well on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol in 1904. Located on those south side of the building, this fountain still works and still gives thirsty visitors cold water.
The grounds are covered in tall oak trees and lush green grasses. On any given day, you will find people strolling along the paths or picnicking on the grounds. Even though it is located in Downtown Austin, it never really seems to be noisy. It’s a lovely place to relax outdoors and let the children run.
The Texas State Capitol is only one of many fun things to do in Austin. Check out our article on the 7 Fun Things to Do in Austin with Kids. Some other Austin favorites are the Thinkery – Austin’s Childrens Museum, the Cathedral of Junk, and don’t forget to try some of the best BBQ in Texas at the Salt Lick BBQ.