It's nearly impossible to describe the lone star state in a few words or pictures. Each region offers a different culture, landscape, and experience. Here are some of our favorite areas in the great state of Texas.
Fort Worth Stockyards
SEE: North Texas is a landscape of hidden treasures, and a local favorite is Dinosaur Valley State Park, where visitors can find real dinosaur tracks scattered in the bed of the Paluxy River. tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/dinosaur-valley.
DO: Watch the daily longhorn cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards or get your hands dirty with the Herd Experience. You can help drovers groom and saddle horses, rope and brand cattle, and tell a few chuck wagon stories. fortworthstockyards.org.
EAT: After a day of cattle driving, fill your belly with Tex-Mex at Joe T. Garcia’s. The dinner menu is notoriously limited — just a family style dinner of enchiladas and fajitas. But the parking lot full of Texas plates should tell you this is where the locals dine. joetgarcias.com.
DAY TRIP: Take the short drive east to Dallas for a day of shopping in the fashion center of the Southwest. Find high-end luxury boutiques at NorthPark Center, or spend a day knocking around the more bohemian Bishop Arts District. If home decor is more your jam, head to the Dallas Design District to find hundreds of designer shops and showrooms.
SEE: Stand on the banks of Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin at sunset to see hundreds of thousands of bats take their nightly flight. Congress Avenue Bridge hosts a large colony of Mexican free-tailed bats, which residents have adopted as their favorite mosquito-eating mascot. austintexas.org/things-to-do/outdoors/bat-watching/
DO: Polish your boots and head to Gruene Hall, the oldest dance hall in Texas. Dance halls are a staple of Hill Country culture, and just about every great musician in the Lone Star State has performed in Gruene (pronounced green), from Willie Nelson to Lyle Lovett. The hall, built in 1878, features live music daily. gruenehall.com
EAT: Sample the barbecue of Central Texas and join one of the state’s favorite debates: Who makes the best brisket? Line up early for local favorite Franklin Barbecue in Austin, take a drive outside of town to the Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, or discover your own favorite pitmaster. The one constant for Texas BBQ is to show up early, because closing time is when the meats are sold out. snowsbbq.com franklinbbq.com.
STAY: Ever dream of going back to summer camp? Camp Lucy is a luxury resort for campers of all ages, offering the activities you remember — archery, swimming, fishing, hiking. Plus, camp activities for adults: a vineyard tour, olive tasting, and mixology classes. Fortunately, the private rooms decorated with a modern Western flair are nothing like the bunks at summer camp. camplucy.com.
DAY TRIP: A clutch of craft distilleries popped up around the Hill Country over the past couple of decades, offering award-winning bourbon, whiskey and rye. Head to Blanco to tour the Milam & Greene whiskey operations, or down the road to Hye for the Garrison Brothers tour and tasting experience. Or, follow the Texas Whiskey Trail and check them all off the list. texaswhiskeytrail.com.
Big Bend National Park
SEE: The stars at night look especially bright through the lens of a McDonald Observatory telescope. Reserve a spot at a special viewing to use a large telescope, or join a star party for a tour of the constellations at the observatory’s outdoor amphitheater. The University of Texas research center is in the heart of the Davis Mountains, which offer some of the darkest night skies in the U.S. mcdonaldobservatory.org.
DO: Cool off at the Balmorhea State Park desert oasis, which boasts the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool. Bring snorkeling and scuba gear to explore the depths, or lounge on the shady banks of the park, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/balmorhea.
EAT: Chef Emiliano Marentes at Elemi in El Paso is serious about his tacos. For the James Beard semifinalist, it starts with an excellent corn tortilla, an art he has studied since working at tortillerias around town as a teenager. He tops his Mexico-style tortillas with unexpected delights, including rabbit, grapefruit and cashew cream. elemirestaurant.com.
STAY: Wake up to breathtaking views of the Chisos Mountains just outside Big Bend National Park at the stunning Willow House casitas. This is full desert luxury, where modern décor frames mountain views. The resort is designed for a balance of privacy and socializing, with individual cottages near the communal kitchen and fire pits. willowhouse.co.
DAY TRIP: Float the Rio Grande on a river tour through the dramatic canyons of Big Bend. Outfitters offer a variety of tours, with multi-day adventures for experienced canoers and day trips for families and people of all skill levels. visitbigbend.com/river-trips.
San Antonio River Walk
SEE: Situated on the migratory path for much the hemisphere’s bird population, South Texas is a birder’s paradise. Can’t tell a chachalaca from a groove-billed ani? Head to one of the state parks or birding centers that offer information and guides. Two bird centers of note: Quinta Mazatlan nature hacienda in McAllen and the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center. theworldbirdingcenter.com.
DO: The Alamo is the most famous mission in Texas, but it’s only one of five missions in San Antonio that make up the state’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mission San José is the largest of the missions, with a massive domed church and extensive grounds that make for a good nature walk and a nice contrast to the urban neighborhood of the Alamo. visitsanantonio.com/missions.
EAT: There is hardly a more joyful place in the West to eat a taco or lick an ice cream cone than the San Antonio River Walk. Casa Rio opened in 1946, the first restaurant along the pedestrian walkway along the river, and a prime spot to watch the people and river boat tours pass by while munching on San Antonio-style chili con carne. casario.com.
STAY: Step into the foyer of the Grand Galvez and breathe in the decades of glamour and history in this century-old Galveston hotel. A modern renovation puts it on the list of dream destinations in Texas. grandgalvez.com.
DAY TRIP: The Houston museum district hosts world-class museums that aren’t to be missed. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston has burnished a global reputation and will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2024. The art museum anchors a set of 19 museums, including museums dedicated to Buffalo Soldiers, Czech heritage, natural sciences, and the famous Rothko Chapel, all in four walkable zones in the heart of Houston. houmuse.org.