With the state’s 10-gallon hats, acres of cattle ranches, and expansive skies, it’s easy to understand why Texans love to exclaim, “Everything is bigger in Texas!” And indeed, Texas is the largest state in the contiguous United States—only Alaska is larger in terms of square mileage—so they’re not wrong!
The Lone Star State possesses a rich history and varied landscapes. Over the course of its history, Texas has been ruled by six different countries. It’s known as the Lone Star State because it was once an independent republic. No other state can make such a claim.
Fully exploring the state will expose you to 10 different climatic regions that range from dry, dusty deserts and sandy beaches to rolling hills.
With so much to see and do, you could easily spend a lifetime in Texas and not experience it all, so be sure to put these 10 things to see and do at least once in Texas at the top of your travel bucket list.
1. Remember the Alamo
Perhaps because of its significance in Texas’s struggle for independence from Mexico, the Alamo is one of Texas’s most-visited attractions. Located in the heart of San Antonio this mission-turned-battlefield shouldn’t be missed.
Today the 300-year-old limestone structure is predominantly a shrine to the lives lost on the site during the famous Battle of the Alamo. You can learn more by watching a brief film and by reading the signs placed throughout the grounds.
While the Alamo is the best known of San Antonio’s Spanish missions, there are four others. You could easily spend an afternoon exploring them all when you’re in San Antonio. For just a few dollars, you can purchase a day pass for the metro bus that will shuttle you between the missions. Otherwise, you could rent a bicycle from a local bike-sharing station and explore the Mission Trail by bike.
2. Stroll along the San Antonio River Walk
Hotels, restaurants, boutiques, and historic sites surround the San Antonio River as it flows through downtown San Antonio below street level. This area, known as the San Antonio River Walk is just a short walk from the Alamo, and exploring the River Walk is a quintessential Texas experience.
If you opt to take the 35-minute narrated cruise down the river, your guide will discuss the city’s history and point out interesting sights along the way. Afterward, enjoy a drink at the Esquire Tavern, the oldest bar on the San Antonio River Walk; it opened the day Prohibition was repealed in December of 1933. Otherwise, enjoy fresh guacamole paired with a prickly pear margarita at Boudro’s.
3. Dig into Texas Barbecue
With 13 million head of cattle, Texas has nearly double the number of any other state so it should be no surprise that the Lone Star State cooks up the delicious barbecue. Whether you prefer thick slices of brisket or a rack of ribs, barbecue is one of those foods you can’t leave Texas without trying.
As you travel through Texas, you’ll likely notice different styles of barbecue from sauce-covered meat in the southern and eastern portions of the state to well-seasoned meat with sauce on the side in the central and western portions. Needless to say, it’s all fantastic.
Lockhart is the Barbecue Capital of Texas. Out-of-towners and locals flock to four smoked-meat emporiums—Black’s Barbecue, Chisholm Trail Barbecue, Kreuz Market, and Smitty’s Market.
4. I Still Dream of Galveston
With a year-round warm climate, a trip to the beach is almost a guaranteed fun time. Many beachgoers head to Galveston virtually any time of the year but the summer months are the most enjoyable bringing more visitors than any other time.
Galveston Island is home to some of the best attractions Texas has to offer including Moody Gardens as well as Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark and the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier amusement park. Galveston also offers numerous unique museums including The Bryan Museum, Texas Seaport Museum, Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum, and Galveston Railroad Museum.
Having one of the largest and well-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the country, Galveston allows visitors to explore the island’s interesting history by touring one of its popular historic mansions.
5. Order up a Scoop of Ice Cream at the Blue Bell Parlor
Founded in 1907 as the Brenham Creamery Company, Blue Bell began operation making butter. In 1911, ice cream for local consumption began production. Ice cream distribution was limited to the small town of Brenham in the Brazos River country of south-central Texas about 70 miles west of Houston. As transportation improved, distribution expanded. The company name was changed to Blue Bell Creameries in honor of a Texas wildflower in 1930. A reproduction of one of the first route trucks, a 1932 Ford, sits outside company headquarters.
Blue Bell offers a wide variety of ice creams, sherbets, and frozen snacks. Ice cream flavors include 25 classic year-round options like cookie two-step, mint chocolate chip, and pistachio almond. As well as rotational limited-time flavors like fudge brownie decadence, spiced pumpkin pecan, and confetti cake. And yes, I’ve tried them all! Honestly, all Blue Bell ice cream is so good. Any other brand could never compare.
A trip to Blue Bell isn’t complete without exploring the beautiful surrounding communities.
6. Tour the Texas Hill Country
Imagine hills, soft and scrubby, green valleys, and limestone cliffs. Conjure up ranches and communities of German heritage, wineries, fields of wildflowers, and sparkling rivers lined with cypress and oak. Ah, the Texas Hill Country. To some, it is the state’s greatest natural resource.
No big cities, no hustle and bustle—just cafes with country cooking, water for fishing and inner tubing, and old places with timeworn comfort. Yes, it’s easy to feel at home in the Texas Hill Country.
The Hill Country offers many getaway options. Fredericksburg, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. The towns of Boerne and Comfort, New Braunfels and Gruene, Dripping Springs and Marble Falls, Kerrville and Blanco, and Bandera, the “Cowboy Capital of the World”.
Oh yes, and Luckenbach. When Waylon Jennings first sang about Luckenbach, the town in the Hill Country where folks “ain’t feelin’ no pain,” it instantly put this otherwise non-place on the map. The population is about 10, and all that’s here is the old General Store, a town hall, and a dance hall.
7. A Toast to Texas History
In Texas, the mere mention of the word “Shiner” immediately brings to mind thoughts of a cold longneck and the distinctive brew within. However, before the beer, there was the town. Not surprisingly, the best way to learn the history of Shiner is to learn the history of Shiner Beer as the two have been intertwined for more than a hundred years. So, head to Spoetzl Brewery and join a tour. The tour provides a firsthand look into the brewing process and, of course, a firsthand sampling of the final product, from flagstaff Shiner Bock to the Extra Pale Ale, Haymaker. A day trip to Shiner goes down as smooth as the namesake beverage. As they say when toasting in Shiner, “Prosit!” That’s what ought to come out of your mouth before the refreshing goodness that is a free beer goes into it. It’s a toast that means “good health.”
8. Best Little Day Trip in Texas
This might just be the “Best Little Day Trip in Texas.” I’m sure Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton would agree as it was the events of La Grange’s famous “Chicken Ranch” that inspired the classic musical “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” While the brothel is no longer around there’s still plenty to do in this town.
For starters, “Czech” out the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center. This museum gives visitors a feel for the culture and early days of Fayette County when thousands of Czech immigrants populated the area. Another must-see stop is the Monument Hill & Kreische Brewery State Historic Site. The settlers also introduced a town favorite treat—the kolache! One of the best spots to grab a kolache is Weikel’s Bakery.
9. Charm of the Texas Coast
The quaint fishing village of Rockport-Fulton has been a favorite coastal hideaway and Winter Texan roost for years. You’ll find a sandy beach, a birder’s paradise, a thriving arts community, unique shopping, delectable seafood, unlimited outdoor recreation, historical sites, and great fishing. The town’s recovery since Hurricane Harvey three years ago counts among the great feel-good stories in Texas history. Rebounding in stunning ways, this little art colony beloved by visitors since the 1950s for its fishing, bay setting, and festivals feels fresh again.
Envision the life of an affluent Victorian family while exploring Fulton Mansion, built-in 1877 with comforts not easily found: gas lights, central heat, and running water. At Goose Island State Park you’ll find the wintering grounds for whooping cranes and other migratory birds. It’s also home to the 1,000-year-old Big Tree, one of Texas’ largest live oak.
10. Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park has it all—vast amounts of open space, rivers, canyons, pictographs, and hot springs. Located in southwest Texas, the park can be wonderfully warm in the winter and unbearably hot in the summer offering year-round access to some of the most beautiful terrain in the state. Big Bend National Park is where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Chisos Mountains and it’s where you’ll find the Santa Elena Canyon, a limestone cliff canyon carved by the Rio Grande.
Big Bend is among the largest national parks in the United States. With numerous trails, mountains, canyons, and nearby villages to explore; each point of interest could easily yield itself to days of exploration. For the best experience resist making a set plan—allow yourself plenty of time to explore and discover each desert sanctuary at your own pace.
While the paved roads make it possible to explore much of the park’s natural beauty, many of the more obscure sights are hidden deep within the park’s interior on rough, dirt roads. To explore this rugged area bring a vehicle with four-wheel drive, plenty of ground clearance, and good tires.
Texas Spoken Friendly
Texas is a state mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.
—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America