For those that have never visited, Texas can quickly become a caricature of itself thanks to its larger-than-life personality. Yes, everything is bigger in Texas. Yet, what has made it such a fascinating destination is that behind the curtain is a state that is the genuine article.
It was here that the famous cattle drives took place in the second half of the 1800s, solidifying the Lone Star States’ place among ranching lore. Texan border towns share a storied past, offering visitors a taste of history that isn’t watered down, and a local cuisine that stems from home-grown recipes, generations old.
Map of Places to Visit in Texas
Beyond the past, Texas belies its status as a state of open plains thanks to its unheralded nature. Consequently, many of the best places to visit in Texas are its national parks, caverns and rolling hills home to vineyards. It’s a state full of bigger and bigger surprises, one best seen with your own two eyes.
In the plains of northern Texas, Lubbock is a town raised in the Wild West and carries much of its traditions into the 21st century. It’s here that ranches cover land as far as the eye can see. Crops flow in the wind and in town hat shapers and boot makers fit you out in Texas style.
Lubbock is a ranching town that has grown up. It still welcomes a bustling annual rodeo and the must-visit National Ranching Heritage Center, but the arts and live music have become the talk of town.
It was here that Buddy Holly was born. Today, the sound of rock and old-time cowboy blues float out of Blue Light Live and along the local streets. Other highlights include Texas Tech University and the wineries along the High Plains.
15. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Much of Texas is flat, open land with the horizon stretching as far as the eye can see. There are a few regions that test the state’s stereotype. Perhaps the most striking is the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Set in the northwest corner of Texas, the Guadalupe Mountains comprise the state’s four highest peaks. Each soars prominently out of the valley to show the world that yes, Texas has mountains too.
These stunning peaks bring a wide range of wildlife to the region. Along with the views, you can hope to spot golden eagles, elk and even black bears along the national parks 80 miles of hiking trails.
The most popular trek is to the state’s highest point, 8751 feet at the summit of Guadalupe Peak along an 8.5 mile journey.
14. Corpus Christi
On the banks of the Gulf of Mexico, Corpus Christi is famous for its coastal beauty. In fact, Alonzo de Pineda was so enamored when he discovered this region in the 16th century that he named it after the Feast Day of Corpus Christi.
500 years later, the town’s natural beauty continues to attract travelers from around the country. Beyond the local beaches that are fabulous spots to sunbathe and swim, you won’t be far from the memorable Mustang Island State Park and Padre Island National Seashore.
Beyond enjoying nature, dive into the local culture with a visit to the Selena Museum and the SS Lexington, an aircraft carrier from the Second World War. Those with kids in tow should pay a visit to the Texas State Aquarium along with a refreshingly fun day at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark.
Once upon a time, Marfa was established as a water stop along a storied railroad. Today, its humble beginnings have taken a back step to the city’s incredible, illuminating and downright mysterious Marfa lights and head-scratching art.
You may have seen it, a picture of the Prada store in the middle of nowhere. Well, you can find it here in Marfa, a town known for its wide-open spaces and its fearlessness towards public art. Beyond the famed Prada exhibit, the Marfa Lights are a collection of glowing orbs that have caused equal parts confusion and wonder for decades.
Lights aren’t the only illumination that attract travelers to Marfa. Boasting one of the darkest skies in the country, thousands of stargazers come here to visit the Rebecca Gale Telescope Park and wonder at the beauty of the Milky Way.
12. Fort Worth
The second half of Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, Fort Worth commands your attention. There are few things more Texan then cattle ranching, and Fort Worth has been a central figure in this trade for centuries.
If Dallas is about business and art, then Fort Worth is about cowboys and fun. To get to know the city, head along to the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District, where locals continue to embrace the city’s famous heritage. Stick around for the memorable, daily cattle drive, catch a rodeo before learning some Texas Two Step at the largest honky tonk on earth, Billy Bob’s Texas.
Make your way out of the Stockyards, and you’ll discover a well-rounded Fort Worth. Be sure to add the Cultural District, the Kimbell Art Museum and Sundance Square to your itinerary.
Once upon a time, you may have only heard of Waco thanks to the Baylor Bears or the famous HGTV show Fixer Upper. However, there’s always more to the story. In central Texas, Waco is split by the rolling Brazos River and is known for its thriving arts scene, plenty of outdoor fun and being the home of Dr Pepper.
Historic neighborhoods abound in Waco and at the heart of this experience is the Magnolia Market. Featuring two ancient silos, you’ll find an endless array of decor from 19th and 20th century wall decorations to old-time kitchenware. Add on delectable food trucks and you have the perfect afternoon date.
The history-based fun continues at the Dr Pepper Museum and the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame. The former celebrating the famous drink within the original bottling plant from the early 1900s. While the latter traces the story of the famous Texas Rangers through time.
10. Palo Duro Canyon
You’ll uncover the Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle. There may be more famous canyons in the United States, yet this one can claim to be the second biggest. Not far from the charming town of Amarillo, Palo Duro Canyon offers a range of activities, from leisurely strolls to heart-in-mouth experiences.
Through gorgeous landscapes on its way to epic views, the canyon’s 30 miles worth of hiking trails will have you wondering how such a green and barren landscape can co-exist. Yet that’s what you’ll find here, as towering monoliths of burnt rock rise to each side and vegetation battle for what little nutrients lay on the surface.
Beyond hiking, sign up for the zipline ride that takes you hundreds of feet above the ground from one side to the other. Afterwards, reward yourself at The Big Texas, the home of the 72 oz steak challenge!
9. El Paso
In the far western corner of Texas lies El Paso. It may not jump off the map as a must-see destination, yet to truly know Texas, one must spend time here. El Paso is the definition of a hidden gem, tucked away in some far-flung corner. Those that make the journey will uncover an inviting local culture and an intricate history tied to El Paso’s position as a border town.
Just steps away from Mexico, it’s no shock that El Paso has plenty of influence from the country to the south. Within the Downtown Historic District, you’ll discover Mexican markets and age-old architecture that harks back to El Paso’s beginnings as a trading post in the heart of the Wild West.
Modern architecture soon takes over, including the gorgeous El Camino Real Hotel, a national historic landmark that was once known as the spot to watch the Mexican revolution just a few miles away.
This destination is also known as Sun City, and it boasts incredible views as the sun sets nightly over the Franklin Mountains. There are many great attractions in El Paso, just some of which include the Chihuahuan Desert Gardens, the Museum of Archeology at Wilderness Park and the Centennial Museum.
8. Big Bend National Park
In the heart of the Chihuahan Desert is one of the most spectacular national parks, not just in Texas but in the United States. The name Big Bend National Park proves the colloquialism that, yes, everything is bigger in Texas.
Visitors can expect grandiose rock walls that soar up like towers of burnt orange. Crevasses lead to bouts of lush vegetation which stick out, not like a sore thumb, but rather as ornaments to the endless power of Mother Nature.
The rock walls and crevasses have been carved by the might Rio Grande River for untold centuries, acting like a fine brush upon the otherwise harsh landscape. You can appreciate this spellbinding beauty along one of Big Bend’s entrancing hiking trails, with a paddle along the thrilling river, or simply at camp around the fire as the stars sparkle above. Big Bend is an International Dark-Sky Park.
One trek that should be atop your itinerary is the 12.6-mile South Rime Trail that leads to unforgettable vistas.
We’ve taken a look at Fort Worth, now let’s make our way 30 minutes east to Dallas. No Texas experience is truly complete until you’ve stepped foot in the Big D, a nickname that has been synonymous with Dallas since the 1930s. Here, you’ll find one of the top art districts in the United States, arboretums, and plenty of sport.
Covering an incredible 19 blocks, the Dallas Art District is the biggest in the country. Highlights include the beloved Dallas Art Museum, which will take multiple visits to complete. In addition, the city boasts Deep Ellum which is teeming with street art.
Other cities in Texas may be more renowned for their history, but there’s no denying Dallas’ place. It was here the JFK was assassinated, an event you can retrace at the Sixth Floor Museum.
Lastly, there are sports. Dallas is home to America’s Team, the Cowboys, along with the Mavericks of the NBA and the Rangers of the MLB.
The seaside town of Galveston has long attracted Texans in need of a relaxing (and exciting) family-friendly vacation. But word is out, and the town, which is Texas’ answer to Santa Monica, has taken on a life of its own.
With seemingly endless amounts of sun-soaked shorelines along the Gulf of Mexico, Galveston continues to captivate travelers. Days begin and end on the town’s golden sands. But in between you’ll be exploring historic streets that once featured the “Wall Street of the South”, state parks and heart-pumping theme parks.
Once an immigration port in line with Ellis Island, today visitors can make their choice between learning about the town’s incredible history or simply kicking back with a cocktail as the sun’s rays pour down. To do both at once, explore the Historic Pleasure Pier and let the kids’ experience the 16 fair rides, including a 200ft swing.
5. Texas Hill Country
There are few better places to go with your significant other in the Lone Star State than the Texas Hill Country. In a state that often feels rugged and remote, the lush rolling hills, cute and historic towns plus a collection of vineyards make this region like no other.
Head to Fredericksburg for a dose of German culture, since the area was settled by German settlers in the 19th century. In Fredericksburg, you might visit a winery for a tasting, enjoy bratwurst and sauerkraut at an authentic beer garden or shop for Bavarian souvenirs at an outdoor market.
But it’s not just culture here in Texas Hill Country, its nature is just as memorable. This includes the 140-foot-deep Jacobs Well that leads to a large submerged cave. Then there’s the Natural Bridge Caverns and, of course, Enchanted Rock, great for a picnic hike.
The best time to visit the region is in spring when the Hill Country is ablaze with wildflowers including the Texas State Flower; the Bluebonnet.
4. Padre Island National Seashore
Nowhere on earth could you find a longer, undeveloped seashore than right here on Padre Island. Spanning 70 miles, the Padre Island National Seashore is a birdwatchers dream and one of the world’s vital areas of conservation.
A brief drive from the southern city of Corpus Cristi, the national seashore boasts an impressive collection of untouched beaches that flow into rolling dunes and pristine grassland habitats. Among it all, you can discover an array of species, including Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, which can be found hatching during the summer months.
Enjoying the beach is a big part of the seashore experience. Kids will love building sandcastles and jumping in the Gulf of Mexico. But the shore’s trails will be calling your name. These will help you discover the more than 350 migratory birds that stop along the barrier island on their journey.
Other activities include kayaking the Laguna Madre, or off-road four-wheel driving along the beach.
These days, the Texas state capitol, Austin, may best be known for its music and arts scene. But owing to its position within the Lone Star State, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in this increasingly popular city.
Thanks to the guitars and drums that play into the early hours in the Dirty Six, South Congress and along Rainey Street, Austin has developed a reputation as a leader in live music. Add on some mouthwatering Tex-Mex cuisine and you can keep yourself happy all week long.
However, thanks to its position along the Colorado River, Austin is packed with beautiful parks and on-water experiences. You can explore Lady Bird Lake, on foot or kayak, before walking across the memorable Congress Street Bridge. It’s here from mid-spring to early fall that the largest urban bat colony on earth makes the daily flight at sunset.
Other attractions in Austin include the University of Texas, and their museums along with the capitol building.
Getting to Galveston isn’t the only reason you should touch down in Houston. As the biggest city in Texas, Houston is one of the most popular places to visit in Texas. America’s fourth-largest city is a family-friendly destination with an abundance of attractions for the little rascals.
One that will be at the top of your list is the Space Center Houston. While kid-friendly, the whole traveling party will become enamored with the insightful, hands-on offerings. With a focus on science and technology, you can learn about the exploration of space, check out artifacts from the moon, spot the Saturn V rocket and put on an astronaut suit.
Many of the Houston’s biggest attractions are located in the Warehouse District of Downtown Houston, so head there to see the incredible Downtown Tunnel System, soak in the views from the 60th floor Chase Tower Observatory, explore the Downtown Aquarium and catch an outdoor performance at TUTS, or the Theater Under the Stars.
After spending enough time indoors, check out the city’s sprawling green spaces, including Memorial Park and Buffalo Bayou Park.
1. San Antonio
History, food, and culture collide in San Antonio. Otherwise known as the cultural center of Texas, the southern city continues to be unheralded. This is great news for you, as the delectable food scene, the romantic Riverwalk and the insightful museums wait patiently to be discovered.
For this reason, San Antonio shoots to the top of our list of the best places to experience in Texas. Your time here should begin and end along the Riverwalk, which is teeming with world-class restaurants, a vibrant atmosphere plus great shops and central hotels. Before or after your delicious dinner, sign up for a nighttime river cruise.
Another famous attraction in San Antonio is the Alamo, of course, we wouldn’t forget. It will take just a moment to get between this iconic destination and the Riverwalk. The mission was built in 1744 and, almost three centuries later, remains at the forefront of US history.