Updated Fri Apr 22, 2022
Here’s all the best immersive experiences and immersive art installations in Austin and surrounding areas as of my latest update. If you have one that you’d like to see included, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
What is an “Immersive Experience”?
I’m generous in my interpretation of what the phrase “immersive experience” means. Typically they surround you on multiple sides with audio, video, live performers or more. It is as if you are immersed in a fictional environment or world.
In some immersive experiences, the experience is passive – you just walk around the world and look at it. So-called “Instagram houses” are of this sort. In other immersive experiences you interact with the environment through physical objects or sensors that know where you are. In others, like VR experiences, it’s a 360-degree interactive video-game environment. The most immersive of all might be “Immersive Theater” where “all the world’s a stage” and actors interact and incorporate audience members into the story.
Some of the best known contemporary immersive experiences in the U.S. are Meow Wolf in Santa Fe / Las Vegas, ARTECHOUSE in D.C. and Sleep No More in New York City.
The Best Immersive Experiences In Austin
1) The Eureka Room
What: A room of light, sound, fun, and absurd interactions.
Where/When: East Austin, reservations required.
Austin’s homegrown “The Eureka Room” is a boutique participatory immersive experience room. It’s fun, weird, and almost certainly like nothing you’ve ever experienced. Various short programs are played in a 100 square foot room with lights and projections and reflections surrounding you. But despite 14,000 LEDs, it’s not about the technology.
Without giving away too many spoilers: this is some weird and fun stuff. It’s sort of like doing absurdist ice-breakers from some really strange parallel universe. There’s an inflatable turkey and a lot of high-fiving.
There are limited showings available on the Eureka Room website. However, you can also email The Eureka Room to find another time. Ideally, You’ll need at least four people in your group, preferably six but it’s worth reaching out even if it’s just you. Bring your most energetic and weirdo friends and they’ll have an awesome time.
What: A large gallery of big art installations
Where/When: Northeast Austin, Open throughout the week.
This museum/space features rotating immersive and large installation artists from around the world. If you went to Hopscotch when it was in Austin, this is a similar experience. Lots of big cool things, including interactive exhibits and a VR experience. They currently have 15 installations plus a snack bar with some alcoholic drinks. I spent over two hours there and thought it was totally worth it.
4) Bruce Munro’s Field of Light
What:Thousands of LED dandelions across 16 acres of
When/Where: Starts September 9th and runs through December at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
This London-based artist takes over the Wildflower center with one of his large-scale light-based artworks. Over 28,000 solar-powered fiber-optic globes on stems will emit colorful light when the sun goes down. Details are few on the website. Tickets are on sale now starting at $41 each.
3) Creek Show
What:Various light-based creations in the park.
When/Where: Late fall in Waller Creek/Waterloo Park
An annual collection of illuminated art in Waller Creek to promote the Waller 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.
4) Bee Cave Buzz Fest
What: Tech-art festival with electronic music and performers surrounded by light and sound art installations.
Where/When: Bee Cave Galleria, usually in November or December.
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.
5) Tiki Tatsu-Ya
What: A Tiki-ish themed restaurant featuring “the deep melding of Hawaiian, Polynesian, and Asian influences”.
Where/When: 1300A South Lamar Blvd. 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 hear to year.
A collection of Austin artists who have a tradition of making elaborate over-the-top immersive experiences for the weeks of the East Austin Studio Tour in November. Previous creations included a giant dome, a mystery house, and a working rollercoaster. Wow!
7) The Surreal Garden
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.
8) Bat City Scaregrounds
What: Haunted houses, Vegas-style shows in an immersive haunted fairground.
Where/When: Near Buda, open weekends in October and other special times of the year.
This 15 acre entertainment complex is dedicated to all things Halloween and horror. Three haunted houses, a drive-in movie screen, live performances, fire dancing, and other treats.
9) LaLa’s Little Nugget
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. The 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, December.
A “multi-room, multi-level, over-the-top interactive Christmas pop-up experience.” (Usually begins sometime in November).
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.
13) The Museum of Ice Cream
What: Instagram-ready sets related to ice cream + soft serve arrives from NYC
Where/When: The Domain, See website for hours
This pop-up first opened in New York and has opened locations in Singapore and now Austin. Visitors will be given to 5 different ice cream treats and According to Houstoniamag.com, “The installations will include a 1960s retro diner, where guests can enjoy coffee, treats, cocktails, and a life-size animal cookie in the well-known Carnival Room.” This is a place for selfies if there ever was one.
14) Museum of the Future Present
What: Music-inspired experiential art.
Where/When: Native Hostel 807 E 4th St
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 has 16 unique installations from artists as varied as comedian Hannibal Buress and the music group The Cinematic Orchestra.
It bills itself as “A VISUAL MIXTAPE OF SPACE, TIME, AND MIND”. Sounds cool. Once I go I’ll update this page with more details and photos.
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/When: 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 (Houston and Dallas and San Antonio. The Austin one has ended).
Hopscotch (San Antonio)
What: A large gallery of big art installations
Where/When: San Antonio. Check 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
What: Learn how to make immersive stuff yourself!
Where/When: See below.
University of Texas’ “Texas Immersive Institute” Program
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.
University of Texas Buckman Center
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
I keep these immersive experiences on here in case you’re wondering “what happened to…”
Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience (Austin)
This has finished its run. It was out at COTA and was for a limited time only. Now it will move on to the next city mid-August. The website doesn’t indicate how big the exhibit is, but I’ve been told it’s in one room and non-interactive projections play on a 40 minute loop. AT $50 a visit, reviews have been mixed.
Mesmerize (Currently Closed and Looking To Relocate.)
A home-grown Austin immersive experience in Native Hostel downtown. Local artists teamed up to create this unique and 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 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.
Looking for more interesting Austin things to do?
Check out my lists of weird things to do in Austin and unique things to do in Austin.