Updated: April 30, 2023
If you’re looking for the best immersive experiences and art installations in Austin and the surrounding areas, you’ve come to the right place! I’ve personally curated a list of the most captivating and engaging experiences that will take you on a journey to another world. And if you have a suggestion for an experience that should be added to the list, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. As an avid explorer of Austin’s bustling culture, I’m always on the lookout for new and exciting ways to immerse myself in the city’s art and interactive experiences.
What is an “Immersive Experience”?
The term “immersive experience” can be interpreted in various ways, and I’m quite generous in my definition of it. Typically, these experiences envelop you from multiple sides, engaging your senses through audio, video, live performers, and more. It’s like being completely absorbed in a fictional environment or an alternate world.
In some cases, immersive experiences are passive, where you can simply explore and observe the world around you. Examples of this include the popular “Instagram houses” designed for capturing visually stunning photos. On the other hand, there are immersive experiences that encourage active engagement through interactions with physical objects or sensors that respond to your presence. In virtual reality (VR) experiences, for instance, you can engage in a 360-degree interactive video-game environment.
One of the most captivating forms of immersive experiences is “Immersive Theater,” which takes the concept of “all the world’s a stage” to a whole new level. In Immersive Theater, actors interact with the audience and seamlessly incorporate them into the unfolding story, blurring the line between fiction and reality.
The Best Immersive Experiences In Austin
What: A room of light, sound, fun, and absurd interactions.
Where/When: East Austin. Open every day from 11:30am-9:30pm (except Tuesdays). Reservations required!
Experience the extraordinary at Austin’s own boutique immersive sensation, The Eureka Room. This one-of-a-kind interactive venture fuses elements of enjoyment, peculiarity, and unparalleled encounters. Step into a 100-square-foot room filled with captivating lights, projections, and reflections as various short programs are played. Despite the presence of 14,000 LEDs, the true magic lies beyond the technology.
Without revealing too much, The Eureka Room is a delightful blend of weirdness and fun. It feels as though you’re engaging in absurdist ice-breakers from a parallel universe. Brace yourself for unexpected surprises like an inflatable turkey and plenty of high-fiving. Limited showings are available on The Eureka Room’s website, but don’t fret if the scheduled times don’t align with your plans. Simply reach out to them via email, and they’ll do their best to accommodate your preferred time.
What: A large gallery of big art installations.
Where/When: Northeast Austin. Open throughout the week.
Discover a captivating museum/space showcasing rotating immersive art installations by artists from around the globe. If you loved the experience at Hopscotch in Austin, you’ll find a similar enchantment here. Prepare to be amazed by a plethora of impressive, interactive exhibits, including a thrilling VR experience. With 15 installations to explore, plus a snack bar offering alcoholic beverages, this destination offers an immersive journey like no other. During my visit, I spent over two hours immersed in this incredible space, and I can confidently say it was absolutely worthwhile!
3) Creek Show
What: Various light-based creations in the park.
When/Where: November 10-18, 2023. Waller Creek.
An annual collection of illuminated art in Waller Creek to promote the Waterloo Greenway conservancy. Usually about 10 artists. Usually very crowded – because it’s FREE. In 2021 it is moving from the smells-like-pee area of the creek to the new fantastic Waterloo Park.
What: Tech-art festival with electronic music and performers surrounded by light and sound art installations.
Where/When: Hill Country Galleria. November 9-11, 2023.
Buzzfest is an annual outdoor light festival that brings together many types of artists to show their work and create a fun exploratory environment over a three-day weekend.
What: A Tiki-ish themed restaurant featuring “the deep melding of Hawaiian, Polynesian, and Asian influences”.
Where: 1300A South Lamar Boulevard. Good luck getting a reservation!
This over-the-top immersive restaurant by the Tatsy-Ya folks has loads of tropical island detail and ambiance. More details to come once I get a reservation.
6) Vision Gland
What: An Austin art collective puts their heart and soul into whimsical immersive worlds.
When/Where: Seasonal and location changes from year to year.
A collection of Austin artists who have a tradition of making elaborate over-the-top immersive experiences for the weeks of the Austin Studio Tour in November. Previous creations included a giant dome, a mystery house, and a working rollercoaster. Wow!
What: Neon art in a garden at night.
Where/When: In the Zilker Botanical Garden. Two weekends in April.
Evening fundraiser parties in the Zilker Botanical Garden, with botanical-themed neon surrealism, interactive art sculptures, local-favorite foods, craft cocktails, live music, costumes, dancing, and more.
What: Haunted houses and Vegas-style shows in an immersive haunted fairground.
Where/When: Near Buda. Open weekends in October and other special times of the year.
This expansive 15-acre entertainment complex is a haven for Halloween and horror enthusiasts. It features three captivating haunted houses, a drive-in movie screen, live performances, mesmerizing fire dancing, and a plethora of other thrilling attractions.
What: An Austin bar has been celebrating Christmas every day for decades. A classic.
Where/When: 2207 Justin Lane. All year long!
This place is in a category by itself. It’s Christmas all-year round at this famous bar off of Burnet Rd. (PSA: “Burnet” is pronounced BURNit, dernnit!)
10) Nickel City as Moe’s Bar
What: A bar gets dressed up like a famous cartoon bar.
Where/When: Nickel City is located on east 12th. They decorate for a few weeks in October.
This eastside bar has dressed up for the last few Halloweens as Moe’s Bar from The Simpsons.
11) Miracle on 5th
What: Christmas holiday explosion of decorations in a bar.
Where/When: 307 W 5th Street. November 16th, 2023
A “multi-room, multi-level, over-the-top interactive Christmas pop-up experience.”
12) Dadageek Events
What: A school that teachers maker stuff throws parties to show off their work.
Where/When: East Austin. Check website for events.
Dadageek offers project-focused classes in immersive art and electronic music. They have regular shows of their students’ and teachers’ work.
What: Instagram-ready sets related to ice cream + soft serve arrives from NYC.
Where/When: Century Oaks Terrace. See website for hours.
This pop-up first opened in New York and has opened locations in Singapore and now Austin. Visitors can savor up to five different varieties of ice cream delights, alongside captivating installations like a nostalgic 1960s-themed eatery. Within this retro diner, visitors have the opportunity to relish coffee, treats, cocktails, and even encounter a life-sized animal cookie within the renowned Carnival Room. This is a place for selfies if there ever was one.
Immersive Elsewhere In Texas
This is by no means a complete list of all immersive things in Texas. If you have some to add, please email me at email@example.com and let me know!
Immersive Van Gogh (Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio)
What: Huge rooms with animated projections of Van Gogh’s work on the walls and floors.
Where: Various locations (Austin’s run has ended).
500,000 square feet of projections of the painter’s masterworks. That’s a lot of Van Gogh! Apparently there are many, many, many, many different companies doing “Van Gogh Immersive” shows across the country. The one currently in Texas is the Van Gogh Expo (Cities: Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio)
Hopscotch (San Antonio)
What: A large gallery of big art installations
Where/When: San Antonio. See website for hours.
Originating in Austin and then moving down I-35 to San Antonio, this immersive experience features many Austin artists and is located in a 20,000 square foot space within walking distance of the Riverwalk. Also features a full bar and lounge.
Immersive Frida Kahlo (Dallas and Houston)
Riding the wave of popularity and mixed-reviews of the many companies doing Immersive Van Gogh (see above), is the new Frida Kahlo immersive. Looks to be about the same deal the Van Gogh exhibit. Projections of the art on the walls and floor, some of them animated.
Programs For Makers of Immersive Experiences
The Texas Immersive Institute “provides access to emerging technology, research, and design experiences for artists, scientists, and humanists who use storytelling to share solutions to big problems.”. They host a monthly immersive meetup, open to the public.
This center, announced in April 2022, by the Depart of Arts and Entertainment Technologies, will be used “as a staging area to create semi-permanent installations that can remain up for a semester or longer as students experiment with projects such as an immersive audio installation, a full room-size virtual reality experience or an interactive escape room.”
I don’t know what that will mean for non-students, but I look forward to seeing what comes out of it!
Dadageek offers project-focused classes in immersive art and electronic music as well as a creative community of like-minded techies and tech wannabes.
Closed / Moved Immersive Attractions in Austin
I keep these immersive experiences on here in case you’re wondering “what happened to…”
Bruce Munro’s Field of Light (Moved)
Bruce Munro, a London-based artist, set up one of his large-scale light-based artworks at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Over 28,000 solar-powered fiber-optic globes on stems emitted colorful light when the sun went down. It was up and running all throughout April 2023.
Museum of the Future Present (closed)
Housed in the space that temporary immersive experience Mesmerize (see lower) was in, The Museum of Future Present centers around the theme of music and had 16 art installations from artists as varied as comedian Hannibal Buress and the music group The Cinematic Orchestra.
Mesmerize (Currently Closed and Looking To Relocate.)
A home-grown Austin immersive experience in Native Hostel downtown. Local artists teamed up to create this Instagram-ready space in the back room of the coolest and hippest bar-venue-hostel in town. Projections, strange rooms, and interactivity. Plus a bar.
The Art of Ice Cream Experience (Closed)
Not to be confused with the Museum of Ice Cream (above), this was located in the Red River district in downtown Austin, but it closed down during the pandemic.
The FOMO Factory (Closed)
The FOMO Factory used to have a location in Austin but currently the only location is in Houston.