Whether you’re just visiting or looking to relocate, there are plenty of fun things to do in Austin, Minnesota, that will keep you happily entertained. From outdoor adventures, and interesting museums to golfing and refreshing craft brews, Austin’s got you covered.
Located about 100 miles south of Minneapolis, on I-90 between Albert Lea and Rochester, is the city of Austin, Minnesota. Since the mid-1850s, this town has grown from a rural settlement for trappers and farmers to a bustling city of 25,000 residents and one of the “Top 10 Affordable Small Towns Where You’d Actually Want to Live“. What makes Austin one of the best small towns? Let’s find out, beginning with our list of fun things to do in Austin, Minnesota.
1. Hormel Historic Home
First on our list of fun things to do in Austin is a trip to Hormel Foods. Founded by George A. Hormel in 1891, Hormel Foods started as a simple provisional market focusing on fresh pork products. The success led to the world’s first canned ham, and in 1927 George retired from the business and his son Jay became acting president.
Although there are many ways to celebrate the history of Hormel in Austin, it all starts with the former home of founder George A. Hormel. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, this Greek revival home was built in 1871. It features stained-glass windows, a honeycomb design ceiling, and Quesnel light fixtures. The property is also home to several old-fashioned flowers in the Peace Garden. Stop in for self-guided tours year-round, or call ahead for an appointment of 10 or more.
Originally an estate in 1927, the city of Austin acquired the property and added land to bring it up to 520 acres of prairie, forests, and wetlands. Now a wildlife refuge, visitors can hike the nine miles of scenic trails and keep an eye out for birds of prey.
During the summer, the Nature Center hosts educational and adventure classes for children. Some of these programs are targeted for the entire family to enjoy learning about conservation, water treatment, wildlife, and the surrounding environment. Start your visit at the Interpretive Center for exhibits featuring live animals, puzzles and games, and a play area. Here, you can learn about the history of the area, its wildlife, and the story behind the Nature Center.
3. The Hormel Institute
When establishing The Hormel Foundation, Jay C. Hormel promised that part of the income would be used for scientific research. As such, The Hormel Institute was founded in 1942 with the Regents of the University of Minnesota. Its aim is to improve the world’s health by completing biological research within the laboratory. Starting with food safety and preservation, the projects shifted to lipid research, and have since become a world leader in cancer prevention by studying food agents and cell functions.
Collaborating with Mayo Clinic and IBM has allowed them to uncover great achievements in biochemistry and research technology, especially as they relate to the basic molecular mechanisms of cancer cells and how to prevent, detect, and treat them. Tours are offered to educational groups and the facility is frequently host to events, seminars, and conferences.
4. SPAM Museum
One of the most recognizable products from Hormel is SPAM. Since Austin, Minnesota, is the home of Hormel, it is also home to the SPAM Museum. The museum used to be part of the Hormel Foods First Century Museum. However, thanks to its popularity, it expanded into its own location in 2001 and now features exhibits, a theater, and a gift shop. It’s free to visit and guided tours start every hour and last for 30 minutes.
Here, you can learn about the history of Hormel and SPAM, see what the original provisional market looked like, discover how military troops used SPAM, and how SPAM has been marketed to consumers through the decades. Don’t forget to pick up a cookbook at the gift shop and explore all the tasty SPAM creations!
More than just your local brewery, Gravity Storm works as a cooperative. They are continually looking to bring in more owners to get a variety of viewpoints and ensure this downtown watering hole reflects the values of the community.
One such initiative is the “Beer It Forward” program. Customers can purchase a card from the bartender and place it on the board for a friend or a stranger. Cards commonly are left for first responders, teachers, and veterans, but you may also find more unusual criteria such as someone wearing pink lipstick or an ’80s metal band concert t-shirt. When someone matching the card’s description shows up, they can pull it off the board and redeem it for a free beer!
Next on our list of fun and tasty things to do in Austin, is a trip to Sweet Reads Books. Many people enjoy a cup of coffee or tea while they read. However, at Sweet Reads Books, you’re encouraged to treat yourself with a little something sweet while diving into your next book. Part bookstore and part candy store, Sweet Reads is an adventure in itself.
New and used books are offered next to displays of nostalgic candy, Minnesota-made sweets, unique favorites, and a large assortment of bacon-flavored treats to honor the local industry. Kids love the train and forest areas, which also make for great photo opportunities! Check the store’s online schedule to see when local authors are visiting, and support local artisans by purchasing one-of-a-kind handmade cards, soaps, jams, and more.
7. Mower County Historical Society
With 170 years of history, there’s a lot to learn about Austin, Minnesota, at the Mower County Historical Society. The property features several buildings that showcase various moments in Austin’s history. A one-room schoolhouse named Excelsior School was built in 1870 and used until 1956 when the school district consolidated with others.
One of the original Hormel buildings is on the property, as well as the headquarters which features displays for various military branches as they relate to the area. You can also view the Christ Episcopal Church, learn about Austin’s first courthouse, and step inside the 80-foot-long Milwaukee Railroad passenger car. The Society frequently hosts special events and fundraisers so there’s always more to learn!
8. Paramount Theatre
As with many old buildings, the Paramount Theatre has had many lives since it was first built. It started as the first place in Austin to show movies in 1929. When television and mall cinemas took over, the venue was turned into a non-alcoholic club for teens, a disco, and a comedy club. It was renovated in 1992 and now hosts over 30 shows and concerts each year. Classic movies are still shown on the big screen each week in front of the 620 stadium-style seats. You can also take a self-guided or group tour of this historic building.
9. Austin ArtWorks Center
Spanning three floors on the corner of 2nd Avenue and Main Street in downtown Austin, you’ll find the Austin ArtWorks Center. This building is the headquarters for many artistic things to do in Austin. On the main floor is a retail store featuring handmade goods from local artists. You can find unique gifts like jewelry, pottery, mugs, and more.
On the second floor is the gallery exhibits. There are two collections on display year-round, and each changes six times per year. This gives you plenty of opportunities to return and find something new. If you’re interested in being creative yourself, there is open studio time held in the basement level or 2nd floor. Bring your own art supplies and grab an open space to create something that’s all your own!
10. Meadow Greens Golf Course
A wildlife habitat at the heart of the Meadow Greens Golf Course gives it unique hazards and obstacles which make for a challenging, yet fun, round. For over 25 years, Meadow Greens has been delighting golfers from Austin and beyond. These decades have earned it the reputation of “a round of golf that is always worth the challenge”.
Even the Austin Daily Herald thinks so since they named Meadow Greens as the best golf course in Mower County. The course features three layouts with nine holes each for a total of 27 holes of golf. Historic trees and water hazards keep the game interesting every round. A fully stocked golf shop is on-site, as well as a driving range and practice facility if you’re new to the sport or just looking to warm up before hitting the links.
11. Rydjor Bike Shop
Pedal on over to Rydjor Bike Shop to experience one of the best things to do in Austin. Since 1973, Rydjor Bike Shop has been serving cyclists across Minnesota, Northern Iowa, and Western Wisconsin. The store offers bikes, apparel, and accessories including shirts, gloves, socks, bottle holders, baskets, tire pumps, and so much more! Shopping is available online or in-store. They also carry a variety of fitness equipment including treadmills, ellipticals, and stationary bikes.
What truly makes Rydjor Bike Shop unique is the vintage bicycle collection on display. Models range from an 1868 Boneshaker to a 2004 Haro Master Freestyler. The shop also offers financing and bike service to get you on the road faster and keep you on the road longer.
Looking for More Fun Things to Do in Austin?
Our list is just the beginning. From restaurants and shopping to live music and more, get out and discover all that Austin, Minnesota has to offer; there’s something fun for everyone. Let us know which adventure you liked the most. We’d love to hear from you.