The second largest state in America, Texas is positively huge. The landscape changes dramatically throughout the expanses of the Lone Star State, from deserts and scrublands to swamps, pine forests, and mountains. So do the small towns of Texas; from Spanish-influenced former Mexican villages to whole areas founded and settled by German immigrants, the culture of Texas lies in mines, cowboys and a whole lot of nature to explore and conquer. Get ready for some long, beautiful road trips and some big, tasty plates of food: Texas awaits.
Boasting the only town in Texas with its very own lighthouse, Port Isabel is the place to go for warm sea breezes on a charming backdrop. The town dates back to the 1700s when Mexican ranchers settled a small village here which was abandoned and reclaimed by the US.
Lighthouse Square is a quaint area of town to explore, full of quirky shops stocking sea-themed souvenirs, as well as little restaurants. There’s also Pirate’s Landing Fishing Pier, which grabs the title of the longest pier in the state. Pirate’s Landing Restaurant nearby is set on an actual pirate-esque ship and serves up tasty seafood.
Set in Lavaca County, Shiner developed as a town from humble beginnings. Originally, there was just a trading depot here, but things began growing when a post office was set up in 1885. The town originally attracted German and Czech immigrants; this heritage is definitely something that has rubbed off on the town’s cultural landscape.
Sausage and polka aside, most notably that would be in terms of beer. Shiner is famous – maybe just with beer-drinkers – throughout the US; beers carrying the ‘Shiner’ brand are sold in 43 states. Tours of the Spoetzl Brewery, America’s fourth-largest, are a beer lover’s dream.
This central Texan town, founded in the late 19th century, is home to the Blue Bonnet Cafe – famous throughout Texas for serving what are regularly touted as the state’s best pies. But laid back Marble Falls is also well known for being a mecca for adventure sports enthusiasts.
Nearby, there’s the Hidden Falls Adventure Park, where you can get let loose on an ATV or 4X4 to explore the rugged terrain and waterfalls that attract adrenaline junkies and tourists from far and wide. Back in town, there are tons of galleries to explore if getting out into nature doesn’t float your boat.
Way out in west Texas, Alpine is a key hub in the state’s Big Bend region. It’s a relatively large town to explore, packed full of things to do. From nightlife to America’s most remote brewery, and museums like the Museum of the Big Bend and the historic Brewster County Courthouse and Jail (1888), there’s lots to see in town.
For great views, hike up nearby Hancock Hill, or drive west out of town and head through Paisano Pass Volcano. It’s also easy to reach Big Bend National Park from here.
The capital of the eponymous county of Llano, this town is filled with historic buildings. There’s the 1881 Southern Hotel, the Badu Building, and the impressive Llano County Courthouse and Jail. You can also soak up some more history and heritage at the Llano County Museum, which is set inside the vintage fittings and fixtures of a former drugstore.
Just opposite is the Historic Railyard District. If you’ve had your fill of history, head south to explore the Llano Uplift, which is full of eerie rock formations like Enchanted Mountain.
Founded by Polish immigrants, Bandera is home to one of the oldest churches in Texas – St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, built in 1887 and boasting some beautiful artwork. Though other historic buildings like the Bandera County Courthouse dot the town, it’s much more famous as “The Cowboy Capital of the World”. That’s because of the amount of cowboys and ranches that are still active in the area. You can even kit yourself out in cowboy garb at the Bandera General Store. The Frontier Times Museum shows what life was like in 1920s Bandera.
The Presidio County Courthouse in Marfa, dating back to 1886, isn’t just an impressive slice of history – you can actually get to the top of the courthouse itself for an amazing view of the whole town. Really though, Marfa is known for its art, particularly of the minimalist kind. New York artist Donald Judd moved here in 1971, bought a couple of hangars, and the rest is history. Those hangars now make up the Chinati Foundation, where you can head for a slice of kooky art. But for true kookiness, hit up Prada Marfa: a “pop architectural land art project” that looks just like a Prada store.
Rockport is a fun coastal town where you’ll get to fish, go out on a boat, go swimming, waterskiing, and get your fill of seafood, of course. It’s not just the sea that makes this Arkansas County town so attractive, though; Rockport boasts a beautiful heritage district where you can wander around marveling at historic buildings, like the Queen Anne style Hoopes-Smith House and the Fulton Mansion.
For even more ancient history, get yourself over to Goose Island State Park, where you’ll find The Big Tree. At anywhere between 1,000 – 2,000 years old, this is one of the largest living oak trees in the USA.
Nestled in Texas Hill Country, you could be forgiven for thinking that tiny Luckenbach has anything going for it. It really is small. Just under 20 kilometers from the much, much larger Fredericksburg, Luckenbach takes up just over nine acres.
There are some quaint old buildings to admire here, like the Luckenbach Post Office (1850) and the former general store – which doubled as a saloon. Since the early 1970s, Luckenbach has had an affinity with country music and, if you’re a fan, you should definitely catch a show here.
This northern Texas town features an iconic and historic town square, filled with shops, restaurants, and bars – the perfect place to start a day or an evening of fun in Granbury. There’s a lot of history too. The Hood County Courthouse in the square still even has its own hand-wound clock dating all the way back to the 1800s.
Throughout Granbury, there are a number of late 19th century houses to discover, like the Daniel-Harris Home and the Ashton House. It’s said that John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Abraham Lincoln, fled to Granbury and lived under a different name. Apparently, Jesse James is buried in Granbury Cemetery.
The desert town of Terlingua is located close to the Mexican border and is famous for its ghost town. Once a former mining colony, the town’s population dwindled and it was abandoned altogether. You can even stay in the former Perry Mansion, which looks derelict from the outside but is well furnished within!
A local hangout is the Terlingua Trading Company, where you can browse the quirky shop and sip a beer on the porch. Terlingua’s proximity to the Big Bend National Park makes it the perfect jumping off point for exploring all the natural wonders on offer here.
Located in Hays County, Wimberley is a small, chilled-out town that’s great for a remote retreat. There are some good opportunities to soak up the natural environment that this region is blessed with. You can take a drive down the Devil’s Backbone – a scenic slice of highway – get some fantastic views by walking the 218 steps up Prayer Mountain, or simply cool off at the Blue Hole – one of the nicest swimming holes in Texas. The clue is in the name: the water is a mesmerizing shade of blue!
Tourists flock to Jefferson because it’s a beautiful place to visit. First of all, there are a whole lot of historic buildings in town – such the imposing Old Post Office, Excelsior House, and the Jefferson Carnegie Library, as well as almost all the buildings of the downtown area. Secondly, there are also bayous to explore; you can head to Caddo State Park to do just that. Jefferson also holds the title of “The Most Haunted Small Town in Texas” – you should go to The Grove to see why.
For all things old, vintage and antique, you should definitely make your way to Gruene. Much of this town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, making it a definitively historic place to wander around. You can soak up the ambiance at the Gruene Hall – one of the oldest open-air dance halls in Texas – or even stay in a slice of the town’s heritage yourself at the Greune Family Home, an utterly charming Victorian-style building that dates back to 1872. When the tourist crowds get too much, head out of town and watch the Guadalupe River surge by.
The home of German culture in America, Fredericksburg was founded in 1846 by German immigrants and named after Prince Frederick of Prussia. For fans of beer, you’re in luck; there are a few places to enjoy a stein or two of the good stuff in Fredericksburg. These include the Altdorf Biergarten, the Fredericksburg Brewing Company – where you can partake in a tour – and the Auslander, which is also a restaurant where you can dig into pretzels and sausages. Fredericksburg Historic District is a great place to learn about, and admire, the heritage of this interesting Texas town.