10 Amazing Places to RV in February 2024

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in February

The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.

—Eden Phillpotts

English author and poet Eden Phillpotts was known for his prolific output of novels, plays, poetry, and short stories. In 1918 he published A Shadow Passes, a collection of reflections and poetry that capture the author’s keen observations about the world around him. In his contemplation of the buckbean plant (aka Menyanthes), Phillpotts marvels at the beauty of its “ragged petals finer than lace.”

This attention to detail serves as a broader contemplation of the natural world emphasizing the innumerable potential wonders that remain unnoticed and unappreciated until our understanding and awareness deepen. Beauty and magic are always present; we need only to keep our minds and hearts open to the possibilities that lie in wait all around us.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in January. Also check out my recommendations from February 2023 and March 2023.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. A history of cowboys, shootouts, and outlaws in the southwest

The rich and illustrious history of Tombstone is well-known by many Western film buffs but few places are as prepared to tell its story as the Tombstone Courthouse. This Arizona State Historic Park is a wealth of knowledge on everything from the founding of the city of Tombstone to the first-hand accounts of those present at the gunfight at O.K. Corral.

Tombstone as a city was established in 1877 when Edward Schieffelin discovered silver mines in the area. Tombstone Courthouse was the center of Cochise Country from 1882 to 1931 when the city seat was moved to Bisbee.

The courthouse was built in the shape of a Roman cross and is 12,000 square feet. The Tombstone Courthouse is the oldest courthouse still standing in Arizona. During its tenure as the county courthouse seven men were sentenced to hang for various crimes—five of which were hung together after a botched robbery left at least four others dead.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Best national park to visit in February: Saguaro National Park

Located in southern Arizona, Saguaro National Park is one of the warmest parks to visit in February. Temperatures in the park soar from late spring through early fall making the winter months the best time to visit Saguaro. With an average high of 70°F and a very low chance of rain, this is a great park to visit in February.

Saguaro National Park is named for the Saguaro Cactus which only grows in the Sonoran Desert.

This park is split into two different sections, the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District. You can visit both in one very busy day but you’re best to spread them out over two separate days.

Plan your visit:

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Temecula Valley wine region

Nearly 50 wineries populate the Temecula Valley and the rolling-hills region: known for award-winning Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, and Pinot Noir. Think of Temecula as the Napa Valley of southern California being only an hour drive from San Diego and a couple hours from LA.

Just west of the valley wine region, Old Town Temecula is a fantastic place to eat and people watch. However, getting through Old Town involved ten stop signs and ample opportunity for street café onlookers to witness my first gear stall.

Plan your visit:

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. West Texas is mostly flat and desolate, right? Not Quite! 

Big Bend National Park is an exception to people’s commonly-percieved notions that West Texas is flat and desolate. Big Bend National Park is the quintessential hidden gem of the state. At 801,000-plus acres, it’s one of the largest national parks in the United States yet it’s also one of the least-visited parks. The low-visit rate might be because the park is nowhere close to a populated city center.

Big Bend National Park is perhaps most appealing in winter when temperatures stay in the 60s during the daytime. This weather is perfect for hiking and biking the 200 miles of trails that the park offers. Big Bend offers the best of both mountain and desert terrain and with the Rio Grande River bordering the park, you can also take part in water activities.

Plan your visit:

Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. I still dream of Galveston

This exciting old city is located on a barrier island off the Gulf Coast via Highway 45. It’s just 50 miles south of Houston but it leaves the hustle and bustle of the big city behind and slows the pace down to a barefoot beach town.

The Gulf of Mexico laps the sandy beaches that stretch the full length of the island. You can enjoy the relaxing beachfront atmosphere, take a dip in the warm gulf waters, walk along the seawall, or go through the shops in the historic downtown area where cruise ship passengers disembark to get a taste of this historic city that was established in the early 1800s when it was still part of Mexico.

The Spanish influence is evident in much of the old-town architecture. Check out the Bishop’s Palace, historic churches, and the Moody Mansion for examples.

Read more:

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. A place apart

There’s St. Louis, and then there’s Bay St. Louis which dubs itself a place apart. Just 51 miles away from the one-of-a-kind hub that is New Orleans, Bay St. Louis couldn’t feel further from the hustle and bustle. The town’s prime spot on the Mississippi Sound, an embayment of the Gulf of Mexico provides a glorious stretch of white-sanded beach with virtually no crowds. In fact, this strip of shoreline is known as Mississippi’s Secret Coast.

Just off of Beach Boulevard, you’ll find Old Town Bay St. Louis, a walkable area full of local shops and eateries. Spend an afternoon strolling through Old Town, browsing the beach boutiques and art galleries.

Plan your trip to be in town on the second Saturday of each month when Old Town puts on a giant art walk complete with live music, local merchants, and other special events.

Check this out to learn more: Bay St. Louis: A Place Apart

Mardi Gras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Mardi Gras

Mark Twain once wrote that a traveler “… has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans.”

Of the hundreds of Louisiana festivals, none tops Mardi Gras. Spectacular parades, unbelievable costumes, music, dancing, food, drink—take your pick of places to indulge and enjoy.

The biggest celebration occurs in New Orleans but nearly every community in the state has its own version of the annual party. Wherever you go, you can find the style that best suits you including tons of family-friendly celebrations.

Mardi Gras is here and there are so many parades and activities for every member of your family. You’ll find the perfect revelry for every age.

Nothing gets Louisianans together like a good party. And when it comes to Mardi Gras season, you’ll find plenty of ways to celebrate with the kids and grown-ups alike all the way up until Fat Tuesday (February 13, 2024).

Read more:

Mardi Gras King Cake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Birthplace of Mardi Gras

When you think of Mardi Gras you likely think of New Orleans, beads, and the rowdiness of the French Quarter. The Big Easy has a long and illustrious history with Fat Tuesday, but, believe it or not, it’s not the birthplace of the celebration in America. For that, you have to go about 150 miles east to Mobile, Alabama.

On Mardi Gras, clusters of costumed people travel from the banks of Mobile Bay on Government Street, up old and tightly crowded Dauphin Street, and into the center of the city.

The secret societies that dominate the celebration organize themselves on floats just as their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents did before them. Crowds along the street cheer them on and marvel at the costumes catching trinkets and MoonPies thrown from above.

Read more:

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. A dose of southern hospality

Savannah, Georgia, is a charming historic Southern town on the Atlantic coast, just across the Savannah River from South Carolina. The city is known for its beautiful municipal parks, historical features such as antebellum homes, and the horse-drawn carriages that ferry passengers around the cobblestoned streets of the historic district.

Stroll the ancient oak-lined paths of Forsyth Park and then take a walk through the Juliette Gordon Low Historic District followed by comfort food at a Southern cafe and you’ll never want to leave Savannah. February is the end of Savannah’s low season and a great time to beat the crowds as long as you are willing to don a jacket.

Worth Pondering…

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.

―Charles M. Schulz

70 Degree Road Trip #2: The Interior Expedition

Enjoy beautiful weather all year long on this 70 degree road trip through the interior of the United States

In 2015, a clever climatologist routed a 70-degree Road Trip map that steers you through 69-71 degrees Fahrenheit all year long. Brian B.’s map has been shared over 10 million times over various platforms.

He updated the routes in 2023 to make them more interesting. You can now choose a Coastal Route, Interior Route, or United States and Canada Route. 

I’ve already written about the Coastal Route and in this article, I will focus on the Interior Route. Stay tuned for the third route next week.

Route 2: The Interior Expedition

At 7,064 miles, this route is only a few hundred miles shorter than the coastal route but it takes you through the heart of America. It showcases an array of natural wonders, picturesque landscapes, and unique cultural experiences. 

This incredible route starts in Brownsville, Texas, and weaves its way northwards along the country’s interior. You ultimately make your way back down to the same final leg as the Coast Route through Phoenix to San Diego.

Keep in mind you don’t have to drive this entire route. It can serve as a guide to plan trips using segments at different times of the year. But if you have the time and resources, it sure would be an incredible journey to do the entire route.

I will walk you through this epic road trip and link to related articles to help you plan your trip.

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

January

Begin your journey in Brownsville, Texas where you can embrace the vibrant Tex-Mex culture in the Rio Grande Valley before setting out north to Corpus Christi, a coastal city famous for its stunning beaches and enticing attractions.

Mileage: 140 miles

The Strand, Galveston, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

February

Follow the enchanting Texas coastal bend to Galveston and Houston indulging in a thriving urban scene, visiting impressive museums, and sampling diverse culinary delights.

Mileage: 197 miles

Fayette County Court House, La Grande, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

March

Drive northward from Houston stopping by the bustling city of Dallas before continuing to Oklahoma City. Along the way, immerse yourself in the distinctive combination of Texan and Oklahoman lifestyles.

Mileage: 408 miles

April

Venture farther north from Oklahoma City through Kansas and arrive at Kansas City, Missouri. Savor the city’s renowned BBQ culture, see its famous fountains, and enjoy its jazz heritage.

Mileage: 343 miles

May

Continue your northward trek to Des Moines, Iowa, via I-35. Then journey east to Rockford, Illinois, and north through Wisconsin before reaching vibrant Minneapolis, Minnesota. Discover the cultural and culinary treasures that await you at each destination.

Mileage: 765 miles

  • 10 Amazing Places to RV in May 2023
  • The Best National Parks to Visit in May
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

June

Embark on an early June sprint northward to Duluth, Minnesota, and head west through North Dakota towards central Montana. This leg traverses a total of 1,062 miles of awe-inspiring landscapes and remarkable wilderness areas.

Mileage: 1,062 miles

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

July

Explore the winding route from Montana’s picturesque high country to Yellowstone National Park. Continue through Montana, northwestern Colorado, and back into south-central Wyoming. This circuitous route keeps you in the cool temperatures of the high country.

Mileage: 1,255 miles

August

Mosey north through Wyoming and back to extreme southern Montana. Taking this circuitous route since July keeps you in the high country.

Mileage: 384 miles

Custer State Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

September

Head due east until reaching southwestern North Dakota. Then turn south, traveling towards the Nebraska border. Enrich your experience by exploring the region’s natural and historical wonders.

Mileage: 533 miles

Santa Fe, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

October

Continue nearly due south through West Kansas and the Texas panhandle before turning southwest towards Cloudcroft, New Mexico. Revel in the rich culture, landscapes, and outdoor adventures the Southwest has to offer.

Mileage: 1,047 miles

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

November

Make your way from Cloudcroft to Phoenix by navigating nearly due east on state and U.S. highways, immersing yourself in the stark beauty of the desert landscape.

Mileage: 399 miles

Quartzsite, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

December

Complete your 70-degree road trip by driving from Phoenix to Los Angeles and then to San Diego. Relax and unwind on the sun-kissed beaches of Southern California while basking in the accomplishments of your extraordinary journey.

Mileage: 531 miles

Worth Pondering…

Shoot for the moon, Even if you miss it you will land among the stars.

—Les Brown

The 25 Most Breathtaking Places in the U.S. and Canada to Visit in your Lifetime

These are 25 of the most breathtaking for RV travel

What is the most breathtaking place in America? To compile the most breathtaking places in the U.S. and Canada is an inherently subjective and impossible task but we’d like to think that this list at least scratches the surface of some of the extraordinary beauty the continent has to offer.

Focusing largely on national parks, mountains, beaches, deserts, and other natural wonders, my list is sure to inspire your next RV road trip. Join me for a journey to some of the most breathtaking places that you can visit in an RV from mountains that rival the Alps to red rock wonder with colorful layers to glorious underground caverns.

There are so many amazing places to see, I couldn’t possibly include them all in just one list. But, these breathtaking destinations are worth bumping to the top of your travel bucket list—whether you’re looking to relax on a beach, get off the grid, or explore a charming town—these are the most beautiful locations to consider.

Bryce Canyon National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon’s name is rather deceiving. Instead of containing a canyon what it does have are stone pinnacles that were formed naturally over time due to erosion from the stream and weathering during winter’s frost. Multiple points throughout this park offer a stupendous view, but your best bet is Bryce Point in the southern region. From here, you’ll have a prime viewing of all the amazing stone formations known as hoodoos scattered about the area.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bryce Canyon National Park

Jasper National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Jasper National Park, Alberta

Jasper can sometimes be overshadowed by its cousin to the south, Banff, but the park is the definition of wild and scenic. It’s the largest park in the Canadian Rockies as it has one million-plus more acres than Banff. Jasper is also host to a robust population of wildlife including black and grizzly bears, elk and moose, and big horn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats, making it a popular tourist destination for travelers to explore.

Organ Pipe National Monument  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

Right along the U.S.-Mexico border, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has the kind of scenery you’d expect when you picture the desert. The monument’s tall, skinny namesake cacti abound in every direction. Instead of growing with one massive trunk like the saguaro, the many branches of the organ pipe rise from a base at the ground. Take a ride down Ajo Mountain Drive for great views of the forests of Saguaro.

>> Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Tulip fields © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Skagit Valley Tulip Fields, Washington

These farmlands are must-sees in the spring—namely in April which is the absolute best time to take a trip to this Pacific Northwest locale. That’s when all the bright, vibrant tulips are in full bloom and when you can enjoy the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. If you visit at the right time you’ll get to see not just tulips in all sorts of pretty, warm colors but also countless other flowers that add to the gorgeousness of the fields. During the festival, you can taste wine, enjoy strolling through gardens, sample barbecues, and feast your eyes on art exhibits.

Caverns of Senora  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. The Caverns of Senora

The Cavern is over seven and a half miles long but only two miles of trails are developed for tours. Five levels of the cave vary in depth from 20 feet to 180 feet below the surface. The Cavern is known for its stunning array of calcite crystal formations, extremely delicate formations, and the abundance and variety of formations. You’ll find helictites, soda straws stalactites, speleothems, stalagmites, and cave bacon. The cave is a constant 71 degrees with 98 percent humidity which makes it feel about 85 degrees.

>> Get more tips for visiting The Caverns of Sonora

Joshua Tree National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Joshua Tree National Park, California

Step into Joshua Tree National Park and you won’t just feel like you’re in another country, you’ll feel as if you’re walking onto another planet. Filled with bizarrely-shaped plants indigenous to the region like the Joshua tree as well as ginormous boulders that rise hundreds of feet into the sky, the landscape has the appearance of a scene from a sci-fi flick. Joshua Tree National Park is a photographer’s, hiker’s, and climber’s dream while the village of Joshua Tree has a unique charm as an artists’ enclave home to an eclectic mix of nature lovers, artists, and hipsters.

>> Get more tips for visiting Joshua Tree National Park

Bernheim Forest  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky

Are you looking to connect with nature? Bernheim is the place to do it. At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees. Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads or bicycle around the Arboretum. Over 40 miles of trails weave their way through the forest at Bernheim.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bernheim Forest

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah

Home to Lake Powell, The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is a stunning region of blue water with a desert landscape and dramatic stone walls. One of the largest manmade lakes in the United States, this area is known for both land-based and water-based recreational activities. You can enjoy a summer’s day with perfect weather, cool water, amazing scenery, and endless sunshine. This is the perfect place to escape to and rent a houseboat, stay at a campground, or enjoy lodging and hop aboard a guided expedition.

>> Get more tips for visiting Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Canadian Rockies

One of the most spectacular and beautiful places you will find anywhere, the Canadian Rockies are huge, pristine wilderness with local gems such as Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Glacier, and Yoho National Parks. All five parks combined with three British Columbia provincial parks have been name as a single UNESCO World Heritage site for the unique mountainscapes found here. Not to mention the world-famous lakes in the region. You’ll have plenty to explore with Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Peyto Lake, and Maligne Lake, all stunning and fed by the glaciers in the area.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Canadian Rockies

Cumberland Island National Seashore  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Cumberland Island National Seashore includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. The park is home to a herd of feral, free-ranging horses. Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history. Built by the Carnegies, the ruins of the opulent 59-room, Queen Anne-style Dungeness are a must-see for visitors.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore

Botany Bay  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve, South Carolina

If you want to see the South Carolina coast the way the original settlers did, take a step back in time at Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve on Edisto Island. The 4,600-acre preserve includes three miles of undeveloped beachfront. This wildlife management area exhibits many characteristics common to sea islands along the southeast coast: pine-hardwood forests, agricultural fields, coastal wetlands, and a barrier island with a beachfront. Only this tract has been left undisturbed.

>> Get more tips for visiting Botany Bay

Mesa Verde National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Located in southwestern Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is one of the most unique national parks in the United States. This park preserves the ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings and archeological sites that are hundreds of years old. Short hikes, scenic drives, and viewpoints make the to-do list but the best way to experience this park is to get up close to the cliff dwellings on a tour.

>> Get more tips for visiting Mesa Verde National Park

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Spanning more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest state park and one of the best places for camping. A diverse desert landscape the park encompasses 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers.

>> Get more tips for visiting Anza-Borrego State Park

Shenandoah National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park preserves a section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. Skyline Drive is the main thoroughfare through the park, a road that twists and turns for 105 miles from north to south. For those who want to explore the park beyond Skyline Drive, 500 miles of hiking trails traverse the park.

 >> Get more tips for visiting Shenandoah National Park

Enchanted Rock in Texas Hill Country  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Texas Hill Country, Texas

The Texas Hill Country boasts scenic landscapes replete with rolling hills, grasslands, rivers, lakes, charming small towns, and fields covered in numerous varieties of wildflowers such as bluebonnets, buttercups, and Indian paintbrushes. There are also over 50 wineries to explore, each with its own terroir and unique approach to winemaking.

 >> Get more tips for visiting the Texas Hill Country

Okanagan Valley  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

The Okanagan is characterized by a dry, sunny climate, beautiful landscapes, and a series of lakes. The region receives less than 12 inches of rain and two inches of snow annually and is the hottest and driest place in Canada. On the horizon are mountains of green foliage, aqua-blue lakes, and, in the distance, rolling vineyards as far as the eye can see. With its mild, dry climate, the region is also popular with golfers, hikers, and bikers.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Okanagan Valley

Painted Churches  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Painted Churches of Fayette County, Texas

As German and Czech immigrants arrived in Central Texas, they established a cluster of small communities that had one thing in common: their painted churches. The term painted comes from the elaborate faux-finished interiors. Gold-leafed, stone, and polished marble columns and ceilings are (upon closer examination) finely-fitted woodwork.

The terrain between the churches is winding and rolling and contains some of the best country views in the state. The Painted Churches are a sight to be seen. Go inside a plain white steeple church and you will find a European-styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors, and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.

>> Get more tips for visiting the Painted Churches

Columbia Icefield  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Icefields Parkway, Alberta

Linking Lake Louise with Jasper is one of the most beautiful journeys on the planet—the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93). Rated as one of the top drives in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, the Icefield Parkway is a 145-mile stretch of highway winding along the Continental Divide through soaring rocky mountain peaks, icefields, and vast sweeping valleys.

The Icefields Parkway is dotted with more than 100 ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls, dramatic rock spires, and emerald lakes set in huge valleys of thick pine and larch forests. Glacier Sky Walk is a unique experience that puts you on a glass-floored observation platform 280 feet over the Sunwapta Valley.

Moody Mansion, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. Galveston, Texas

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 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.

>> Get more tips for visiting Galveston

Mount Robson Provincial Park Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia

Mount Robson Provincial Park, the second oldest park in British Columbia’s park system is truly one of Canada’s crown jewels. The mountain for which the park is named guards the park’s western entrance. At 12,972 feet, Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, towers over the lesser surrounding peaks; this is one of the finest views in the Rocky Mountains. Just as the early trappers, hunters, and explorers felt in awe at the mountain’s magnificence, travelers today experience the same feelings.

Museum of Appalachia  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Museum of Appalachia, Clinton, Tennessee

The Museum of Appalachia is a living history museum, a unique collection of historic pioneer buildings and artifacts assembled for over a half-century. The Museum portrays an authentic mountain farm and pioneer village with some three dozen historic log structures, several exhibit buildings filled with thousands of authentic Appalachian artifacts, multiple gardens, and free-range farm animals, all set in a picturesque venue and surrounded by split-rail fences. Strolling through the village, it’s easy to imagine you’re living in Appalachia of yesteryear cutting firewood, tending livestock, mending a quilt, or simply rocking on the porch, enjoying the glorious views.

>> Get more tips for visiting Museum of Appalachia

Natural Bridges National Monument  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

22. Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Formed by the power of water in a place where water is all but absent, three stone bridges in the Utah desert have been protected as a national monument since 1908. Since natural bridges are formed by running water, they are much rarer than arches which result from a variety of other erosion forces. A nine-mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges.

>> Get more tips for visiting Natural Bridges National Monument

La Connor  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23. La Conner, Washington

La Conner is one of those places that people love to visit—time and time again. The reasons are many but one that stands out is that there are so many things to do in and around La Conner. A waterfront village in northwestern Washington, La Conner is nestled beside the Swinomish Channel near the mouth of the Skagit River. La Conner is a unique combination of a fishing village, an artists’ colony, eclectic shops, historic buildings, and a tourist destination. Relax by the water, enjoy fine restaurants, and browse through unique shops and art galleries.

>> Get more tips for visiting La Conner

Elk Island National Park  Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

24. Elk Island National Park, Alberta

Elk Island National Park played an important part in the conservation of the plains bison. This island of conservation is 30 miles east of Edmonton along the Yellowhead Highway which goes through the park. Watch for wood bison to the south and plains bison to the north.

Explore the park by foot, bike, or car, and be on the lookout for wildlife. Bison and other mammals are most active at dawn and dusk when females travel with their young. Beyond bison be ready to glimpse deer, elk, coyotes, and the countless birds that call Elk Island National Park home. Many animals shelter in the trees during the warmest parts of the day.

Capitol Reef National Park Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

25. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

With beautiful scenic drives, thrilling hikes, historical sites, backcountry roads, slot canyons, and unique desert landscapes, Capitol Reef National Park is an unexpectedly amazing national park to visit. If you love the idea of leaving the crowds behind and exploring a vast, remote area, you have several options. Cathedral Valley with its sandstone monoliths and sweeping desert vistas is a beautiful, unique way to spend one day in Capitol Reef. Or you can Loop the Fold, another remote driving day along the waterpocket fold. There are also slot canyons to explore, low-traffic hiking trails in remote areas of the park, and some of the most dramatic landscapes in Utah which you can see right from your car.

>> Get more tips for visiting Capitol Reef National Park

Worth Pondering…

“Where are we going, man?”

“I don’t know, but we gotta go.”

—Jack Kerouac, in On the Road

Coastal Spine Barrier: Infrastructure Project to Limit Hurricane Devastation along Texas Gulf Coast

The Coastal Spine Barrier is a nearly $30 billion project that could soon be in place along the eastern coast of Texas

In 2008, Hurricane Ike devastated the island town of Galveston with head-high floodwaters and 110-mile-per-hour winds that caused billions of dollars of damage and killed dozens of people.

Protecting Galveston isn’t the only goal of a massive series of infrastructure projects meant to limit the devastation from extreme weather. Scientists have modeled worst-case scenario storms that also make clear the potential for devastation in nearby Houston.

Rockport, Texas following Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Given that the state’s largest city is home to millions of people and the nation’s largest petrochemical complex the region’s vulnerability to deadly storm surges is seen as both a national security and economic issue.

Even though Hurricane Harvey made landfall much farther down the coast in 2017, its torrential rains put large swaths of Houston underwater and drove home the widespread damage a hurricane could inflict on the nation’s fourth-largest city.

“If you think about it, 42 percent of the specialty chemical feedstocks for the entire United States is produced here,” said Bob Mitchell, president at Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership. “Twenty seven percent of the gas, 60 percent of the jet aviation fuel, 80 percent of the military-grade aviation fuel is all produced right in this region that the coastal spine will protect. Not including the 5.5 million people that live in this area.”

A coastal storm barrier has been a topic of discussion and debate for over a decade. Bill Merrell, a marine sciences professor at the Texas A&M University at Galveston began preaching the storm barrier gospel after Ike. In early 2009, just a few months after the storm, he introduced a concept dubbed the Ike Dike which mirrored a Dutch concept of stopping storm surges right at the coast. The Netherlands is a low-lying country that has become the world leader in flood control.

Rockport, Texas following Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After centuries of fighting back water in a low-lying nation, the Dutch have become the world leaders in flood control. And their expertise is helping Texas design what would become the nation’s most ambitious and expensive coastal barrier.

The Delta Works later declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers surrounded a fifth of the country’s population with an ingenious combination of dams, dikes, locks, and first-of-their-kind storm surge barriers. It took decades to finish it all—much longer than expected.

After engineering what they tout as the safest delta in the world the Dutch have ramped up the export of their expertise; they have advised several U.S. states and other coastal areas around the world on protecting lives and property from storms and rising sea levels.

A preliminary design has been approved for a storm suppression system that would run along the Texas coast from Galveston to Corpus Christi but it could ultimately impact the entire country.

Goose Island State Park, Texas following Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The project is the largest civil works project ever taken on by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. Not only could it protect the lives of people on the Gulf Coast, it could also help eliminate supply-chain delays across the country by protecting two large ports during hurricanes.

Galveston Mayor Craig Brown said residents have become annoyed with frequent flooding.

“We have nuisance flooding now which means that that flooding occurs even without a flood or tropical storm or a hurricane here,” Brown said.

While flooding becomes worse with heavy rains or hurricanes, Dr. Kelly Burkes-Copes with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers believes a solution is underway.

“The idea and intent is to combine a series of gated structures—kind of what we consider gray infrastructure; you may think of it as concrete and water with natural and nature-based solutions like beaches and dunes and wetlands to basically improve resilience of the entire Texas coast,” Burkes-Copes said.

Goose Island State Park, Texas following Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Coastal Spine Barrier is a nearly $30 billion project that would allow the Gulf Coast to withstand, endure, and recover from storms quicker and it wouldn’t only protect the locals.

“The intent here is a national issue. For example, if the Houston Port which is the largest port in the nation shuts down as a result of a hurricane, the rest of the country will feel that impact,” Burkes-Copes said.

Rich Byrnes, the Chief Infrastructure Officer at the Port of Houston said the tonnage the port receives is steadily increasing. 

“The Port of Houston area moves about 270 million tons. And, to put that into perspective, that’s more than many large states,” Byrnes said. 

The Port of Houston and Galveston account for 12 percent of the total U.S. crude oil imports as of May 2018, the Energy Information Administration reports and the Port of Houston has seen a 13 percent increase of overall economic value since then.

“After Hurricane Harvey, the price of gas was elevated for six months nationwide because the time it took to start the refineries and so forth,” Byrnes said.

Goose Island State Park, Texas following Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite the backing behind the project, one more obstacle stands in the way of the hurricane barrier or coastal spine project: matching federal funds.

“We have to have a local funding source to not only build the system, but to maintain it,” Brown said. 

One funding option available is adding a tax but officials must consider if Texas residents across the state would be okay with paying taxes for a barrier in Galveston.

Worth Pondering…

The only two good words that can be said for a hurricane are that it gives sufficient warning of its approach and that it blows from one point of the compass at a time.

—Gertrude Atherton

LOOK: These Are the Prettiest Small Towns in Texas for a Road Trip

There’s a world of hidden gems beyond the bustling metropolises of Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio

Ever find yourself staring out the window and wishing you could hop in the RV and just drive away? Here are some ideas of where you might wanna go in Texas.

When you find yourself having moments like this, where do you imagine yourself driving? Do you envision a desert town or a beachfront campground? Or maybe it’s the drive itself you’re most jazzed about.

As John Steinbeck so eloquently put it, Texas is the obsession. And if you’ve traveled in Texas long enough, chances are that you’ve checked off all of the big cities on your Lone Star State bucket list that make you love it so much. But what about the small towns in Texas that are equally—if not more—unique?

By the way, I have a series of posts on RV travel in the Lone Star State:

There are so many beautiful places on this planet to visit. And for many of us, we’d like to visit most of them. At the same time, I’m thankful for the opportunity to travel in a state that offers so many diverse experience opportunities. Whatever you’ve got a hankering for, travel-wise, in many cases, you can find it in small-town Texas.

One of my favorite road trip destinations is traveling to pretty towns that offer a unique experience in a lovely setting without necessarily having to brave a gazillion people once I get there.

If that’s something to which you can relate, I’ve done a little research on some of the prettiest little towns in Texas. Let’s take a quick photographic tour. Cuz hey, even if we can’t head out on the open road immediately, we can at least make some travel plans so we’re ready to launch when we are.

And research shows that even just PLANNING a trip can be a mood booster. Isn’t that an encouraging thought? I think so! And while many others could be added to this list, let’s simply start with these.

OK, here are 23 of the prettiest little Texas towns you ever did see.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Fredericksburg, Texas

Located in the heart of Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg is a heavily German-influenced town. Full of beauty and charm, it has a rich history and has long attracted visitors who are lured in by its popular Texas attractions, wildflower farm, and peach-picking opportunities when in season.

Meander down the historic downtown strip, indulge in wine tastings or appreciate artifacts at the National Museum of the Pacific War. Speaking of museums, the city’s German heritage is highlighted at the Pioneer Museum, as well. And the Marktplatz offers a replica of a 19th-century German church that was once a pillar in this pretty little city.

Speaking of that German culture, while you’re there, be sure and stop into one of the German restaurants. Der Lindenbaum is a perennial favorite but there are also many other food options as well.

Outdoor enthusiasts will find Fredericksburg convenient for exploring the vibrant landscapes at nearby Enchanted Rock State Natural Area where a short hike leads to rewarding views from a pink granite dome.

Rockport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Rockport

A coastal enclave flanked by Copano and Aransas bays, Rockport is a small town that offers the perfect location for a beach getaway. With pedestrian-friendly streets and a bustling downtown area, the popular Austin Street is lined with colorful shops and restaurants serving up fresh seafood to friendly locals.

Wander through the local galleries and shops in this 15-square-mile town as this emerging art town offers plenty of shopping opportunities. Rockport is a great place to relax and unwind, soak in the Texas sunshine, and dig your toes in the sand as you indulge in a day of sunbathing and swimming.

Blue Bell Creameries © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Brenham

About an hour outside of Houston is the pleasantly small Texas town of Brenham. It is the county seat of Washington County and is also home to the famous Blue Bell Creameries, one of the largest (and most delicious) ice cream producers in the country.

If you want a little more space away from the hustle and bustle of big-city life, then the suburban feel of Brenham is a great fit. Here in this part of Texas, you can enjoy Lake Somerville State Park, the fragrant Chappell Hill Lavender Farm, and nearby wineries. A quick jaunt to the Downtown Brenham Historic District will find you among art walks, antique carousels, boutiques, and even live theater.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Schulenburg

Known as the town that’s halfway to everywhere, Schulenberg is a great small town between Houston and San Antonio. This quiet, cozy spot of just over 2,600 people is usually used as a stopover for those long road trips in Texas but it deserves more time on any itinerary.

Schulenberg was founded by Czech, Austrian, and German settlers in the mid-nineteenth century, making it the perfect home for the Texas Polka Museum and a great place to try Czech kolaches or German schnitzel (I recommend Kountry Bakery).

Downtown, you can dance the night away at Sengelmann Hall, a fully restored Texas dance hall that still has its original pinewood floors from 1894!

One of the local highlights is a stunning series of Painted Churches that some say rival the cathedrals of Europe.

Gruene © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Gruene

If you want to feel like you are living in a country song, head to this live music mecca for a day, night, or weekend of good times and tunes. Pronounced green, this dreamy little town is set on the Guadalupe River and is now actually a district within the city limits of New Braunfels. The highlight of the town is Gruene Hall which is known for its live music and the impressive artists that stop in to sing a few songs.

6. Luckenbach

…And everybody is together now. “Let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas with Waylon and Willie and the boys”. Sure, there aren’t exactly many sights to explore in this small community but what it lacks in attractions, it makes up for with charm. This is the quintessential Texas spot to pop open an ice-cold beer and relax while eating a hamburger from the feedlot and listening to some live music.

Interesting fact: A 2006 census tallied the official population of Luckenbach as three people strong.

Black’s Barbecue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Lockhart

This small town in Caldwell County holds a big claim to fame: It’s renowned as the Barbecue Capital of Texas. Famous for its mouthwatering barbecue with several legendary barbecue joints serving up delicious smoked meats, Lockhart also boasts a charming downtown area with historic buildings, boutique shops, and local restaurants. The nearby Lockhart State Park also offers camping, hiking, and swimming.

Moody Mansion, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Galveston

This vibrant coastal city is located on Galveston Island in the Gulf of Mexico. Known for its historic architecture, stunning beaches, and lively entertainment, Galveston offers plenty of things to do: Visitors can explore the Strand Historic District filled with Victorian-era buildings, relax on beautiful beaches, and enjoy attractions such as the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier and Moody Gardens.

Port Lavaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Port Lavaca

Port Lavaca is a coastal Texas town that offers a serene escape with its beautiful beaches and scenic waterfront. The town is especially popular for fishing and water sports but visitors can also relax on the sandy shores of Magnolia Beach or explore the nearby Matagorda Island Wildlife Management Area.

Fort Stockton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Fort Stockton

Fort Stockton is the county seat of Pecos County. This town is somewhat different than the others in that it’s not traditionally beautiful in the opinions of some. But its history is so compelling that it is lovely in its own way. At least, to me!

The town was named after Robert F. Stockton, a U.S. Commodore who aided the capture of California in the Mexican-American War. The town is also built around Comanche Springs, a major spring water source in Texas.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Port Aransas

The community of Port Aransas is small but mighty. Despite heavy damage from Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the coastal town has kept its chin up and continued to bring in thousands of visitors each year. Tourists come for the top-notch fishing and 18 miles of beaches. They stay for the laidback salt life vibes that are evident in everything from Port Aransas’s divey beach bars to its lively arts district.

Goliad State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Goliad

The site of one of the most infamous battles of the Texas Revolution, Goliad, is a top spot for history buffs traveling through Texas. Goliad is the third oldest municipality in Texas and is the County Seat of Goliad County which is one of the oldest counties in all of the state.

The original name for Goliad was Santa Dorotea, noted by the Spaniards in the 16th century. It was then changed to Goliad in 1829 with religious origins. Places to visit include the Goliad State Park and the General Ignacio Zaragoza state park and historic site.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Shiner

Shiner, Texas is home to 2,069 people, Friday’s Fried Chicken, and—most famously—the Spoetzal Brewery where every drop of Shiner beer is brewed. Tours are offered throughout the week where visitors can see how every last drop of their popular brews gets made. 

Tours and samples are available for a small fee. Founded in 1909, the little brewery today sends more than 6 million cases of delicious Shiner beer to states across the country. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”

Sarita © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Sarita

You may have passed this county seat because you were too busy looking at your fuel gauge. It’s on Highway 77 en route to The Valley between Kingsville and Raymondville. Sarita was once part of the Kenedy Ranch and John G. Kenedy named the town after his daughter Sarita Kenedy East when it was established in 1904 as a center for the ranch and the Kenedy Pasture Company. Kenedy Ranch Museum is worth a visit.

Take a picture of the Courthouse as I did, nobody will bother you. Look for gophers in the courthouse lawn. There isn’t much more to do. Population is up from 185 in 1993.

Ibis at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Alamo

Alamo’s claim to fame as the Refuge to the Valley illustrates its symbiotic relationship with the adjacent Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, an internationally renowned birding destination. The subtropical thorn forest along with the resacas draw birds such as tropical green jays, Altamira orioles, great kiskadees, and chachalacas.

After exploring the refuge, check out the Mercadome Flea Market and Alamo Dance Hall which draws thousands of weekend visitors to shop, eat, and move their feet to the sound of accordion-driven conjunto and norteño music.

Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Kerrville

Nestled in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Kerrville stands as a gorgeous getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. From its many public parks to the picturesque Guadalupe River that runs right through downtown, Mother Nature is truly the star here. In short, finding enjoyable things to do in Kerrville is as simple as stepping outside. Visitors also travel to Kerrville for its music festivals, arts and crafts fairs, outdoor sports and activities, shopping, and world-class dining.

Port O’Connor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Port O’Connor

Port O’Connor is a small fishing village on the Texas Coast. It is often known as the Best Kept Secret on the Gulf Coast for its relaxing, laid-back atmosphere and numerous fishing and boating venues. The most common activity in Port O’Connor is fishing followed by recreational boating and coastal sightseeing.

Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Luling

Located on the banks of the San Marcos River about 45 miles south of Austin, Luling has all the elements of the perfect Texan small town—historic buildings, great barbecue, quirky history, viable downtown, lively harvest festival, a noon whistle, vintage stop signs, and eclectic shopping. A friendly, quiet central Texas community, rich in history and Texas pride, Luling is renowned for its barbecue, rich oil history, decorated pump jacks, fresh produce and plants, abundant watermelons, and Texas’ first inland canoe paddling trail on the San Marcos River.

La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

19. La Grange

Discover a fanciful cache of history and culture in the Central Texas community of La Grange, a town steeped in German and Czech culture. Though many of the original buildings in La Grange are more than a century old, a number of them have been renovated and serve as creative outlets, blending history and modern-day function. To taste Czech culture and a delectable kolache—gooey, fruit-filled Czech pastries—and other bakery goods head to Weikel’s Bakery. La Grange Czechs out as a perfect blend of history, culture, and natural beauty.

Aransas Pass © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Aransas Pass

Aransas Pass offers cool breezes and unique, crystal clear waters, beautiful seagrass, and excellent bay fishing. There are many marinas and boat ramps available with the largest at the historic Conn Brown Harbor. This picturesque harbor setting is a favorite spot for photographers and a preferred location to buy fresh seafood right off the boat.

Nearly 500 species of birds pass through Aransas Pass. Some of the best birding is found in the Aransas Pass Nature Park within the 36-acre Aransas Pass Community Park bordering Redfish Bay. This area is a haven for migrating and regional birds. Another favorite site, Newberry Park is a 1.2-acre mall central city park landscaped to attract birds and butterflies.

Caverns of Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

21. Sonora

Locals tout the Caverns of Sonora, their subterranean National Natural Landmark, as the most beautiful show cave in Texas. They aren’t exaggerating. See for yourself on a 1-hour-and-45-minute nearly 2-mile tour of its crystal palace. Or sign up for a cavern tour featuring rappelling, unique underground workshops, or photography. Above ground, explore the little-known, 37-acre Eaton Hill Nature Center & Preserve, a living classroom that studies the flora and fauna of the landscape’s transition from the Hill Country to the Chihuahuan Desert.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

22. Blanco

Blanco calls itself the Lavender Capital of Texas as the home of Hill Country Lavender Farm and the annual Lavender Festival in June, complete with tours of lavender crops, growing tips, and music. If swimming or fishing’s your thing, head to Blanco State Park, where you can hook up your RV or pitch a tent and stretch your legs along the Blanco River. At Real Ale Brewing Company sip an unfiltered beer and toss washers. Each spring the brewery hosts the popular Real Ale Ride with Hill Country routes ranging from 15 to 80 miles and beer at the finish line.

Fort Davis National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

23. Fort Davis

Fort Davis started as a military post on the turbulent Texas frontier but nowadays you’ll find a decidedly laid-back town. Some streets remain unpaved, cell phones tend to fall silent, and folks still wave to each other on the street.

It’s a quiet little town that doesn’t have a lot of tourist infrastructure. It has the essentials, though, and attractions such as the recently made-over Indian Lodge and the nearby McDonald Observatory, which last year overhauled the Hobby-Eberly Telescope and George T. Abell Gallery. Be sure to visit Fort Davis National Historic Site.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Here and there…not quite everywhere yet!

14 Must-See National Historic Landmarks (Must-See + Photos)

From sea to shining sea, I’m sharing America’s best historic landmarks

While there are more than 87,000 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places which is America’s official list of historic properties only about 3 percent of those are National Historic Landmarks. The Alamo, Savannah Historic District, Keeneland Race Track, Historic Williamsburg, Hubbell Trading Post, and more are all National Historic Landmarks.

Each of these Landmarks is an exceptional representation of an important chapter of American history. The town of Telluride joined this preeminent group of America’s most special places in 1961 when it was designated a National Historic Landmark as one of the most important places associated with mining history in the United States. Hall’s Hospital, now the home of the Telluride Historical Museum was built in 1896 and is one of the oldest buildings in Telluride. It is also designated as a National Historic Landmark and is a contributing structure to the Town’s status as a National Historic Landmark District.

From Old Ironsides to the Grand Canyon Depot these 14 landmarks are just some of the must-see sights that help us appreciate America’s beauty and resiliency while reconciling its past and honoring those who lived here before the New World was built. Be sure to stay in a local campground or RV park to get the full local, often historic, experience.

There are over 2,600 National Historic Landmark sites in the United States and the federal government owns fewer than 400 of them. Roughly 85 percent of them are owned by private citizens, organizations, corporations, tribal entities, or state or local governments—or sometimes a combination.

USS Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. USS Alabama

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: January 14, 1986

Location: Mobile, Mobile County, Alabama

Description: Displacing more than 44,500 tons, USS Alabama Battleship measures 680 feet from stem to stern—half as long as the Empire State Building is tall. Armed with nine, 16-inch guns in three turrets and 20, 5-inch, .38-caliber guns in 10 twin mounts, her main batteries could fire shells, as heavy as a small car, accurately for a distance of more than 20 miles.

Her steel side armor was a foot thick above the waterline, tapering to one half inch at the bottom. Her four propellers, each weighing more than 18 tons, could drive her through the seas up to 28 knots (32 mph). Loaded with 7,000 tons of fuel oil, her range was about 15,000 nautical miles. 

Read more: Lucky A: USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

Hubbell Trading Post © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Hubbell Trading Post

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 12, 1960

Location: Ganado, Apache County, Arizona

Description: Hubbell Trading Post is the oldest operating trading post in the Navajo Nation. The Arizona historical site sells basic traveling staples as well as Native American art just as it did during the late 1800s.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Jekyll Island Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: June 2, 1978

Location: Jekyll Island, Glynn County, Georgia

Description: In 1886, Jekyll Island was purchased to become an exclusive winter retreat known as the Jekyll Island Club. It soon became recognized as “the richest, most inaccessible club in the world.” Club members included such notable figures as J.P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, William K. Vanderbilt, and Marshall Field. Today, the former Club grounds comprise a 240-acre site with 34 historic structures. The Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark is one of the largest restoration projects in the southeastern United States.

Read more: Celebrating 75 Years of Jekyll Island State Park: 1947-2022

USS Constitution © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Constitution (Frigate)

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 19, 1960

Location: Charlestown Navy Yard, Suffolk County, Massachusetts

Description: USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned warship still afloat. Naval officers and crew still serve aboard her today. 

The wooden-hulled, three-mast USS Constitution was launched from Hartt’s shipyard in Boston’s North End on October 21, 1797. It was designed to be more heavily armed and better constructed than the standard ships of the period.

The greatest glory for USS Constitution came during the War of 1812. It was during this war in the battle against the HMS Guerriere the ship earned the nickname Old Ironsides when the crew of the British ship noticed their canon shots simply bounced off the ship’s strong oak hull they proclaimed: “Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!”

Read more: The Storied History of Old Ironsides

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Keeneland Race Course

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: September 24, 1986

Location: Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky

Description: Since opening in October 1936, Keeneland has been unique in the Thoroughbred industry. Keeneland is the world’s largest and most prominent Thoroughbred auction house and hosts world-class racing twice annually during its boutique spring and fall meetings. Owners, trainers, riders, and fans from all over the world travel to Lexington each year to participate at Keeneland.

Read more: Keeneland: A Special Place

Grand Canyon Depot © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Grand Canyon Depot

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 28, 1987

Location: South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Coconino County, Arizona

Constructed in 1909-1910, Grand Canyon Depot is part of the Grand Canyon National Park Historic District and is a National Historic Landmark. Designed by architect Francis W. Wilson of Santa Barbara, California, the log and wood-frame structure is two stories high. Originally, the downstairs was designated for station facilities, and the upstairs was for the station agent’s family.

Just beyond the depot is the El Tovar Hotel built in 1905 by the railroad. The El Tovar is the signature hotel along the rim. The railroad built the depot five years after the hotel and placed it conveniently close for the rail passengers.

Read more: Making a Grand Trip Grander

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. The Alamo

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 19, 1960

Location: San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas

Description: In San Antonio, five missions were constructed between 1718 and 1720. Appropriately, the first of these was Mission San Antonio de Valero later to be known as the Alamo. Remember the Alamo! It was the battle cry of Texas freedom fighters during the decisive Battle of San Jacinto led by Sam Houston against Mexico in April 1836. And it was a memorial to the doomed defenders of the Spanish mission turned Texas fort. The Alamo became a bloody battlefield and a hallowed final resting place for those who would never leave these grounds alive.

Read more: Remember the Alamo?

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Williamsburg Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960

Location: Williamsburg (City), Virginia

Description: Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum with 301 acres featuring iconic sites, working trades people, historic taverns, and two world-class art museums. The city was founded as the capital of the Virginia Colony in 1699 and it was here that the basic concepts of the United States of America were formed under the leadership of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and many others.

Read more: Colonial Williamsburg: World’s Largest Living History Museum

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Savannah Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: November 13, 1966

Location: Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia

Description: Walk down the cobblestone streets of Georgia’s first city, a place filled with southern charm. Steeped in history and architectural treasures, Savannah begs to be explored by trolley and on foot. Much of Savannah’s charm lies in meandering through the Historic District’s lovely shaded squares draped in feathery Spanish moss—all 22 of them.

Tumacacori © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Tumacacori Museum

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 28, 1987

Location: Tumacacori, Santa Cruz County, Arizona

Description: The oldest Jesuit mission in Arizona has been preserved in Tumacácori National Historic Park, a picturesque reminder that Southern Arizona was, at one time, the far northern frontier of New Spain. The San Cayetano del Tumacácori Mission was established in 1691 by Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino, 29 miles north of Nogales beside the Santa Cruz River. Jesuit, and later Franciscan, priests ministered to the O’odham Indians and Spanish settlers until 1848.

Read more: Tumacácori National Historic Park: More Than Just Adobe, Plaster & Wood

Mount Washington Hotel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Mount Washington Hotel

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: June 24, 1986

Location: Carroll, Coos County, New Hampshire

Description: While the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods is tucked away from the main drag, it’s almost impossible to miss it with Mount Washington hovering over like a halo. Once you walk into the lobby, you’re transported back to 1902 when the hotel first opened. It’s even rumored that the owner’s wife, Carolyn, still lives in the hotel (don’t worry, a friendly tenant), and ghost aficionados jump at the opportunity to book her old quarters in Room 314.

Read more: The Uniqueness of the White Mountains

Palace of the Governors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Palace of the Governors

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960

Location: Santa Fe, Santa Fe County, New Mexico

Description: Downtown Santa Fe’s Palace of the Governors on the plaza is one of the most iconic sites in the city. The oldest continuously inhabited building in the United States, it’s perhaps best known for the Native American market beneath its portal. But inside is a historic gem as well—the New Mexico History Museum which covers centuries of life in Santa Fe and hosts exhibitions related to the tri-culture of the Native Americans, Spanish, and Anglo peoples and cultures of New Mexico.

Read more: Santa Fe Never Goes Out of Style

The Strand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Strand Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 11, 1976

Location: Galveston, Galveston County, Texas

Description: Galveston’s Historic Strand District, or The Strand, is the heart of the island and a great place to shop, dine, and be entertained. Fronting Galveston Bay, The Strand is a National Historic Landmark that harkens back to Galveston’s heyday in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many of the buildings here are more than a century old, stunning in their detail and craftsmanship. Storefronts here are a mix of antique shops, art galleries, souvenir shops, and more. The Strand serves as the commercial center of downtown Galveston. Places of interest include the Ocean Star Offshore Energy Center and Museum, Pier 21 Theater, the Texas Seaport Museum, and the tall ship Elissa.

Read more: I Still Dream of Galveston

Yuma Crossing © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Yuma Crossing and Associated Sites

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: November 13, 1966

Location: Yuma, Yuma County, Arizona and Winterhaven, Imperial County, California

Description: The Colorado River State Historic Park (formerly Yuma Crossing State Historic Park) sits on the bank of the Colorado where river captains once sailed from the Gulf of California to unload supplies then kick up their heels in the bustling port of Yuma.

The park is located on a portion of the grounds of the old U.S. Army Quartermaster Depot established in 1864. This site is significant in the history of the Arizona Territory. The purpose of the Park is to protect its historic structures and interpret the diverse history of the site.

Many of the original structures from that time are still standing. 

Read more: The Yuma Crossing

Worth Pondering…

Most people’s historical perspective begins with the day of their birth.

—Rush Limbaugh

8 of the Oldest Cities in America

For history lovers, nothing beats the old-time charm and architectural wonder of America’s oldest towns

The United States officially gained independence in 1776; but, of course, Indigenous populations and colonial settlers were here long before then. That means some cities in the country were founded well before 1776 giving them a long, rich history that predates the country by more than a century. Here are eight of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the United States that you can still visit today.

Historic Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newport, Rhode Island

Aside from being one of the country’s oldest cities, Newport is special because its settlement was led by a woman. Boston resident Anne Hutchinson was driven out of the city because of her Antinomianism religious views and a group of followers accompanied her to resettle on Aquidneck Island—after permission was received by the local Indigenous people—in 1636. The Indigenous population had a thriving community there with sophisticated fishing practices and land management strategies.

The Breakers, Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hutchinson and her followers settled on the north of the island in an area called Pocasett. By 1639, half of Hutchinson’s group left with William Coddington and Nicholas Easton who took their followers to the southern end of the island to found present-day Newport, now known for its Gilded Age mansions, shopping, and seaside views.

Get more tips for visiting Newport

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Williamsburg, Virginia

In 1633, the Virginia Assembly ordered the founding of a town called Middle Plantation in the center of the Virginia Peninsula. Unlike other towns at the time, the settlement was not located along the James River. Nonetheless, the town had a hand in a number of historic events like Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 when Nathaniel Bacon challenged Virginia’s governor. Bacon and his followers had burned down many of the buildings in Jamestown and those displaced settlers relocated to Middle Plantation.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The College of William and Mary (the country’s second-oldest college) opened in 1693 and shortly thereafter, Middle Plantation was renamed Williamsburg, after King William. The country’s first mental health hospital was established in Williamsburg in 1773 and in 1781 George Washington assembled his troops there to siege Yorktown and win the Revolutionary War.

Today, visitors can stop in and explore Colonial Williamsburg, the world’s largest outdoor living history museum, educating guests on what it was like living in colonial America.

Get more tips for visiting Williamsburg

Boston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boston, Massachusetts

Boston was officially founded in 1630 but by the time Puritan colonists arrived on the Shawmut Peninsula where the city started it was already occupied by a recluse named Reverend William Blackstone. Blackstone had left England seven years earlier hunting down his own sense of peace and quiet and found it on the peninsula.

Boston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blackstone welcomed the Puritan colonists and showed them where the natural spring was—and then they took over his land. They then granted him back 50 acres of his own property. Four years later, he sold it back to them and left.

Meanwhile, the colonists had built a church, cemetery, tavern, and inn. In 1635, they opened Boston Latin School, the first American public school. Boston took center stage in the fight against British rule with the infamous Boston Tea Party protest of 1773.

Get more tips for visiting Boston

Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe—the oldest state capital still in existence—was officially founded in 1607 but it has actually been in existence since around 1050 when it was home to the Pueblo Native Americans. The Spanish arrived in 1607 and the Pueblo peoples gathered together and attempted to overthrow them toward the end of the 1600s. Their attempts were unsuccessful and the Spanish took control of the city.

Plaza of Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe remained a Spanish city until 1821 when Mexico declared its independence. Santa Fe was briefly a part of the Texas Republic in 1836 and was eventually conquered from Mexico during the Mexican-American War in 1848 after which it officially became a part of the United States.

Santa Fe residents seemingly embrace all aspects of their long and contentious history and tourists can learn more about it by visiting their fascinating history museums, and art galleries.

Get more tips for visiting Santa Fe

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jamestown, Virginia

The second-oldest European-established city in the U.S. is Jamestown, Virginia, founded on April 26, 1607. The first permanent English colony in North America had many ups, downs, and false starts before it became the city it is today. It was originally called James Fort, named after James I of England but the settlement was abandoned just three years later after the colonists faced starving conditions and conflict with the Indigenous population.

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fourteen years later; however, in 1624, Virginia became an official British colony and more order was brought to the city which had slowly been reinhabited. Its name was changed to Jamestown and the city became the capital of the British colonies. By the mid-19th century, the city was declining and concerned citizens began campaigns to preserve this original U.S. city in the early 1900s. These efforts were successful and the city celebrated its 400th year of existence in 2007.

Today, you can visit the Jamestown Settlement and see what life was like back in the city’s first years.

Get more tips for visiting Jamestown

The Strand, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston, Texas

The first inhabitants in Galveston history were the Karankawa Indians in the 16th century. Galveston Island’s first noted visitor was Cabeza de Vaca, the Spanish explorer who landed in 1528. Its first European settler was French privateer Jean Lafitte. The city was chartered in 1839.

Moody Mansion © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston encompasses more history and stories than cities 20 times its size. At 32 miles long and two-and-a-half miles wide, the island is surrounded with incredible history and unique beauty. Having one of the largest and well-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the country, visitors can tour its popular historic mansions.

Get more tips for visiting Galveston

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile, Alabama

The French established a permanent presence in the Mobile Bay Area in 1702 and by 1706 there were at least four permanently established sites in the area including the current site of the City of Mobile. Mobile is the oldest permanent settlement in the original Colony of French Louisiana and was its first capitol. The first five governors of Louisiana resided in Mobile and governed an area twice the size of the thirteen English colonies extending from Canada to the Gulf and from the Appalachians to the Rockies.

Mobile © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mobile has a rich past spanning centuries. French, Spanish, British, Creole, Catholic, Greek, and African legacies have influenced everything from architecture to cuisine. No matter where you turn, history is right around the corner. Visit the History Museum of Mobile, explore the battlegrounds of Forts Morgan, Gaines, and Condé or simply walk the streets of historic downtown.

Get more tips for visiting Mobile

The Alamo, San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio, Texas

On June 13, 1691, Spanish missionaries named an area of south-central Texas for St. Anthony of Padua, a Portuguese Catholic priest, and friar. San Antonio was officially settled 25 years later. Then, in 1836, Mexican troops initiated a 13-day siege at the Alamo Mission and the settlers were brutally slaughtered. While San Antonio was further decimated by the Mexican-American War, it rebounded as the center of the cattle industry after the Civil War.

Riverwalk, San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a population of around 1.3 million people, San Antonio is now the second-largest city in Texas. Visitors flock to the Alamo historic site and the popular River Walk which is lined with shops, restaurants, and public art.

Get more tips for visiting San Antonio

Worth Pondering…

History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.

—Mark Yost

6 Most Haunted Cities in America and the Ghosts That Call Them Home

Are you brave enough to visit the most haunted cities in America?

Strange sounds, ghost apparitions, and whispers—these are just some of the accounts told by visitors of haunted cities around the U.S.

Tales of the supernatural world are fascinating at any time of year but the Halloween season kicks the ghostly atmosphere into high gear in many places across the U.S. One of the best ways to celebrate the spooky season is on a bone-chilling ghost tour. Here are six cities with some of the coolest, spookiest, and most illuminating ghost tours you can take in America.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: The Blood of the Battlefield

Areas, where historic tragedies took place, are often considered paranormal hot spots, and the site of the Civil War’s bloodiest battle is regarded as one of the world’s most haunted places. Some report seeing the ghosts of soldiers on the battlefield and inns and a farm in the area are haunted, too.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the day, visitors can take a self-guided audio tour around the battlefield—an excellent way to get one’s bearings and visit such ominously named locations as Devil’s Den which feels spooky even in broad daylight. After dark, choose from the many walking tours that visit paranormal spots around town and share tales of the epic Civil War battle. The Farnsworth House Inn hosts several guided ghost walks which include a presentation in its haunted cellar a tour of the Confederate Hospital and a visit to the old Union Cemetery. For a more family-friendly tour, try the Gettysburg History and Haunts Tour which is also wheelchair-accessible and pet-friendly.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah, Georgia: Southern Goth

Southern gentility has a ghostly past in Savannah. The Mercer House was the home of Jim Williams, a voodoo-practicing antique dealer and the main character in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The home is said to be haunted by the man he allegedly killed in a heated argument though he was acquitted in three separate trials.

Related article: Ghostly Experiences

Old Sorrel Weed House, Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Orb Tours feature frequently on lists of best ghost tours in both the U.S. and around the world. Suitable for all ages, their 90-minute Savannah Shadows walk combines local history, Gullah folktales, and haunted sightings in the city’s otherwise charming downtown. The company also offers a two-hour Zombie Tour for adults only. Visitors to Savannah shouldn’t miss the Old Sorrel-Weed House (see photo above), a local landmark known for its paranormal past. Now a museum, it offers a popular Ghosts of Sorrel Weed Tour.

Louisiana cemetery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Orleans, Louisiana: The Most Haunted and Haunting

They say that on Halloween, the line between the dead and the living gets thinner than ever. In New Orleans, you’re not that far from the dead as the city’s cemeteries hang above ground year-round. After colonial times, slavery, voodoo, many wars, and most recently, Hurricane Katrina, the city counts its ghosts as regular residents.

Louisiana cemetery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With dozens of reportedly haunted places, New Orleans is one of the country’s most haunted cities. By paranormal standards, New Orleans has it all: churches haunted by the spirits of former priests, former hospitals visited by soldiers who died but never truly passed on, and homes filled with ghosts of residents who died on the premises—not to mention all the vampire stories.

Related article: A Haunting Good Time: Your Guide to 5 Ghostly Cities Across America

The city also has its share of notable ghosts including author William Faulkner whose spirit is sometimes spotted at his former home-turned-bookstore Faulkner House Books. Old Absinthe House, open since the early 1800s, is supposedly haunted by Voodoo practitioner Marie Laveau, Andrew Jackson, and pirate Jean Lafitte, among others. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is another paranormal hot spot, said to be haunted by hundreds of ghosts.

Louisiana cemetery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the evenings, the streets of the historic French Quarter are filled with guided ghost tours. French Quarter Phantoms have several options available—after visiting the grave of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau during their daytime tour of the cemetery join one of their evening rambles themed around “Saints and Sinners,” “Ghosts and Vampires,” or “French Quarter Voodoo.” Witches Brew also features several themed walks from vampires to ghosts or you can always join a haunted pub crawl—this is New Orleans, after all.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio, Texas: Angry Wraiths of the Past

San Antonio is considered one of the most haunted places in Texas because of the city’s history. Remember the Alamo? The ghosts of the Alamo will make sure you do. The Battle of the Alamo led to thousands of casualties and Alamo visitors and employees have reported seeing the ghosts of soldiers and hearing mysterious rally cries. The nearby Emily Morgan Hotel is one of the country’s most haunted hotels, too. The property was once a hospital and some guests now report seeing the apparition of a woman in white in the halls.

Mission San Juan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many buildings along the riverwalk are said to be haunted including the Alamo Street Restaurant and theater. Former actress Margaret Gething is said to watch performances from the balcony in a long flowing dress. A young boy named Eddie is said to bang around the kitchen and enjoys playing pranks.
A section of railroad tracks near the San Juan Mission is said to be haunted by the ghosts of children who were killed more than 50 years ago when their bus stalled on the tracks. It is said that any car that stops near the tracks will be pushed by unseen hands across the tracks—to avoid a similar fate.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Charleston, South Carolina: Hauntings in the Holy City

Charleston is one of those good ’ole Southern cities where there’s so much history—from the Civil War to pirates and voodoo—the ghosts never want to leave. Plus, two rivers run through it providing liquid fuel for a ghostly fire.

Related article: A Creepy, Spooky, Ghostly, Haunted Road Trip

The downtown area known as The Battery was an artillery installation during the Civil War. Guests at the Battery Carriage House Inn may find their room already taken—some male guests have reported waking to see a man standing by their bed while some female guests have reported a male ghost, ahem, in their bed.

The Dock Street Theatre is also said to have two eerie visitors from the past—the ghost of actor Junius Brutus Booth, the father of Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, and the ghost of a prostitute the locals call “Nettie.”

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In all, there are more than 20 places thought to be haunted and sure to send a tingle up your spine. With a tumultuous three centuries under its belt, Charleston has seen its fair share of paranormal activity. Combining ghost stories that are firmly rooted in local lore with more recent sightings, the Ghosts of the South tour is a wildly popular guided stroll through old Charleston. The tour delves into the city’s history, stopping at haunted hotels, houses, and graveyards throughout a mile circuit. It’s not recommended for children under 10. 

Ashton Villa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston, Texas: A Port of Unfortunate Souls

Galveston has had pirates, hurricanes, murders, and more in its long history. The paranormal activity is off the charts in several spots around the city. The Bishop’s Palace survived the deadly 1900 hurricane, a source of many of the city’s ghosts, and now the building is haunted by its worried owner. The Ashton Villa Mansion has several ghosts-in-residence thanks to its Civil Era hospital roots.

Bishop’s Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This small island off the coast of Houston has not just one, but three ghost tour operators. The oldest and largest is The Ghost Tours of Galveston run by Dash Beardsley, “The Ghost Man of Galveston.” Beardsley runs four tours, the most popular of which explores the historic ghost stories of the Strand where Confederate soldiers are rumored to appear on rooftops.

Related article: Explore Arizona’s Spooky, Haunted Ghost Towns

The Strand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But ghosts are plentiful throughout Galveston—given the port city’s checkered history. Six thousand residents were killed here in the Great Storm of 1900 and during the Civil War wounded soldiers were treated in the buildings lining downtown. Add to that the odd unlucky gambler haunting the Tremont Hotel or the tragic (and dead) bride-to-be walking the halls of Hotel Galvez and you’ve got a bona fide haunted town. And head to the Haunted Mayfield Manor for a lighter Halloween-themed attraction.

Worth Pondering…

I’m just a ghost in this house
I’m shadow upon these walls,
As quietly as a mouse
I haunt these halls.

—Allison Krauss, Ghost in This House

Barrier Islands Hopping

These islands are like the Florida Keys…but with more hee-haw

When most folks think of Texas in the summertime, visions of barbecue, Lone Star-shaped swimming pools, and the Alamo—but how about dolphins, rocket launches, and sandcastles the size of actual castles? The state’s barrier islands might surprise you.

What the keys are to Florida, the barrier islands are to Texas: a 234-mile string of islands that hug the Gulf of Mexico coast made primarily of sand built up over thousands of years from tidal movements. They range in size from four miles in length to the largest barrier island on Earth. There are seven main islands in total and each one has a distinct personality from the touristy trappings of Galveston to the utter solitude of San Jose.

Galveston-Port Bolivar Ferry © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No matter your summer fun, Texas’ barrier islands deliver. Want some R&R on a remote beach populated almost exclusively by seagulls? You got it. Want to go kayaking in a national park? That’s a distinct possibility. Want to eat foot-long corn dogs and “mermaid soup”? You can and you should—and rest assured no dogs or mermaids were harmed in the making of either of those delicacies. Here’s your guide to the Texas barrier islands.

Aston Villa, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston

The northernmost barrier island and by far the most popular with more than 7 million annual visitors, Galveston’s reputation as a summertime beach destination for Houstonians can largely be chalked up to its proximity. Although it has somewhat of a hokey reputation thanks to its Pleasure Pier boardwalk, eccentric mini golf courses, 50 colorful Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle statues around the island, and pyramid-shaped aquarium (Moody Gardens) giving it sort of an Atlantic City of the south look, Galveston has a lot going for it. As evidenced by those previously stated attractions, the 27-mile island is far and away Texas’ quirkiest barrier island teeming with historic architecture, and larger-than-life nautical lore. After all, a city with lofty nicknames like Playground of the South and Ellis Island of the West is bound to at least be intriguing.

Seawolf Park, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A hard-to-miss attraction, the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier is a mammoth boardwalk lined with carnival games and enough rides to fill a theme park including the Iron Shark Rollercoaster and the Pirate’s Plunge flume ride.

Related article: Texas Road Trips Sampler

For something a bit more subdued, The Grand 1894 Opera House is an ornate institution, home to popular productions like Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. The theater harkens to the island’s earliest days when Galveston first emerged as a primary shipping and immigration port in the 1800s.

The Strand, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearby is The Strand, Galveston’s historic, bayside district filled with Victorian and Greek Revival architecture. You’ll also find the tall ship Elissa, an 1877 vessel that now serves as a floating museum of maritime history.

Further south on the island, Jamaica Beach offers a quieter reprieve from the touristy clamor for those looking to soak up the sun.

Jamaica Beach RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Follet’s Island

Driving south from Jamaica Beach—and the antithesis of Galveston in terms of hustle and bustle—Follet’s Island is a smaller, 13-mile island that’s largely untouched and undeveloped except for some remote beach houses.

The entire island is one big beach, most of which is quiet and wide-open, providing ample opportunity for swimming, beach camping, fishing, and kayaking. Seeing as the beach is largely undeveloped and open, it’s entirely free to visit and horseback riding is also allowed on the beach.

Birding on the island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Matagorda Island

If you thought Follet’s Island was quiet, just wait until you see what’s next. Further south, Matagorda Island is the most remote barrier island, a 38-mile stretch of solitude only accessible by boat. A far cry from the thrill rides of Galveston, Matagorda is largely comprised of the Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuge and State Natural Area.

Private boat, a means of transportation between the islands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For visitors who have a private boat or can charter one the car-free island is a beachy escape for campers willing to forgo the niceties of electricity and running water. This is an undeveloped place preserved for bird watching, saltwater fishing, and hunting. The 20,000 acres of land are open to deer and waterfowl just as long as you keep in mind that the whooping cranes which occasionally flock to the area are endangered and protected.

Related article: Visit SIX Iconic Texas Landmarks on One Road Trip

At night, thanks to its remoteness and lack of light pollution, stargazing is a popular pastime too.

A ferry connects the islands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Jose Island

Equally, as undeveloped as Matagorda yet easier to access, San Jose Island is the next barrier island down the line. It’s immediately north of populated Port Aransas on Mustang Island where a ferry takes visitors back and forth offering 21 miles of undeveloped beachfront, excellent fishing, and endless beach combing for seashells. Cars are also prohibited in San Jose which is entirely protected as a wildlife sanctuary. Due to the island’s history as a former ranch, wild cattle roam the island and it’s not uncommon to see their offspring on the beach.

Peace and solitude on the islands © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As quiet and untouched as the island seems today, it’s rich with Texas history. This was the first site to fly the American flag on Texas soil when a lieutenant swam ashore from the USS Alabama and planted it in the sand in 1845. A short-lived town on the island called Aransas was razed by Union forces in the Civil War. In 1935, wealthy oil magnate Sid Richardson established a miles-long ranch and estate where he once wined and dined with the likes of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The estate is long gone but riches may or may not remain—legend has it the island contains actual buried treasure from pirate Jean Lafitte.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mustang Island

While San Jose offers remote solitude and potential pirate riches, the island on the other side of Aransas Pass is a haven of seafood restaurants, margaritas, beachside festivals, and Easter egg-colored cottages. Mustang Island is a mecca for families, wintering snowbirds, and spring breakers alike, especially in the city of Port Aransas which comprises much of the 18-mile island.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pirate Jean Lafitte used to frequent the island, arguably making him the original snowbird or spring breaker (take your choice). And while you likely won’t find buried treasure here, you’re sure to find treasures of other kinds including award-winning sand sculptures, adrenaline-pumping jet ski jaunts, and all the shrimp and redfish you can eat.

Related article: Texas Road Trip Playlist: Sing Your Way across Texas

For a town with a year-round population of about 3,000, Port Aransas is surprisingly happening and delightfully quirky. For instance, Texas SandFest is an annual springtime attraction (April 15-16, 2023) that features carnival-style snacks, live music, and epic sand sculptures right on the beach. It’s an ideal place to scarf foot-long corn dogs and funnel cakes while marveling at giant sand castles.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 Just about every place on the island offers top-tier fish and seafood, perhaps best exemplified by Isabella’s. The beachy-chic restaurant sits in a classy community called Cinnamon Shore (named for the fact that Port Aransas’ beaches look like they’re swirled with cinnamon). There you can pair espresso martinis with cheesy baked oysters, pancetta-wrapped shrimp, and something called Mermaid Soup: a curried medley of lobster-coconut broth and shrimp—and mercifully, no mermaids.

To fully immerse yourself in the action-packed island, though, you need to get out on the water, and by that we mean go on a guided jet ski romp. Gettin’ Salty Watersports takes visitors out into the bay and to a couple seashell-strewn islands with lots of thrilling dolphin sightings along the way.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island

The next island is not only the largest in Texas but also the largest barrier island in the world. Clocking in at 113 miles, Padre Island is bookended by Corpus Christi and Padre Island National Seashore on the north and beach bars and theme park ride on the south. Naturally, an island larger than the state of Delaware is bound to have a wide array of attractions and Padre Island is the kind of something-for-everyone that runs the gamut from urban outings to all-natural tranquility and nature preserves.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Divvied into North Padre Island and South Padre Island, separated by the Port Mansfield Channel, the top half starts with Corpus Christi, the most populated area in the region. From the Selena Museum and the Texas State Aquarium to beachside breweries and guided tours aboard the USS Lexington, there’s no shortage of sights to enjoy.

North Padre is also home to a national park site, Padre Island National Seashore, the longest stretch of an undeveloped barrier island in the world and proof that the “everything’s bigger in Texas” slogan isn’t always a cliche. The 66-mile park protects sea turtles and hundreds of bird species and it’s an ideal haven for fishing, kayaking, windsurfing, and RV camping on the sand.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the southern side of the channel, South Padre is known equally as a family-friendly getaway and a spring break staple. It’s swarming with beach bars (including Clayton’s, the largest beach bar in Texas, live music, carnival rides, an enormous water park (Beach Park at Isla Blanca), and Gravity Park, an adventure and amusement park with some seriously intense attractions including the Tallest Reverse-Bungee in the World (The Rocket).

Padre Island World Birding Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A slender thread of land between the shallow Laguna Madre and the rolling Gulf of Mexico, South Padre Island anchors the World Birding Center with nature adventures in every season.

Dune meadows, salt marsh, and intertidal flats along with thickets of native shrubs and trees are irresistible to migrating birds.

Related article: My Top 10 List of Texas Birds

Of course, with this much mileage of coastline, there are plenty of beaches to choose from, too, like Isla Blanca Park and South Padre Bayside Beach.

Black skimmer along the Gulf © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brazos Island

The last barrier island is also the teeniest. Brazos Island is a diminutive four-mile island, home to 217 undeveloped acres of seaside wilderness. Located just north of the mouth of the Rio Grande, it’s a peaceful retreat for swimming, fishing, bird watching, hopeful dolphin-spotting, and camping.

Aside from that, the main draw here nowadays is Elon Musk’s SpaceX launch facility which set up shop on the Boca Chita peninsula.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

The forces of nature and their impact on the Texas landscape and sky combine to offer an element of drama that would whet the imagination of artists from any medium.

—Wyman Meinzer

The 10 Top Things to Do in Texas

Plan on Texas-sized fun on your next trip to the Lone Star State

As the second-largest state in the U.S., Texas covers an extraordinary amount of the geographical area in the U.S. Measuring approximately 268,597 square miles Texas can fit 15 of the smallest states in its boundaries.

Because of the size of the state, it’s often said that “everything is bigger in Texas”―and it certainly rings true. Texas is home to three of the 10 largest cities in the country: Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas. Not only that, but Austin claims the title of being the Live Music Capital of the World.

Mission Conception along the San Antonio Mission Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The dining scene across Texas is also pretty robust thanks to the state’s signature barbecue and Tex-Mex cuisine. Plus, with plenty of sun-drenched beaches, wilderness landscapes, and Texan-sized festivals at visitors’ fingertips, there’s truly something for everyone in Texas. Read on to learn more about all of the fun things to do in Texas.

San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio

The Mission City’s rich history dates back to 1718 with the establishment of the first of five Spanish Missions along the San Antonio River. In 2015, The World Heritage Committee recognized the five mission complexes as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio is also home to the city’s vibrant River Walk, another not-to-be-missed top attraction. This 15-mile urban waterway in the heart of downtown is an excellent way to explore the city on foot, by bicycle, or on a GO RIO river barge which offers a narrated history of the city and River Walk. Along the way, wander through the historic King William Cultural Arts District and Southtown Arts District to see the museums, boutiques, parks, micro-distilleries, and coffee shops. The waterfront Hotel Emma used to be a brewhouse during the 19th century.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore The Alamo

Built as Mission San Antonio de Valero’s chapel in 1718 and renamed The Alamo in the early 1800s this “Shrine of Texas Liberty” has a long and colorful history. Occupied by five independent nations and serving as the stronghold for five different armies, the former mission is best known for the 1836 Battle of The Alamo. As part of the Texas Revolution, this battle earned Texas independence from Mexico becoming a self-governing republic.

Related Article: 10 of the Best National and State Parks in Texas

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The U.S. annexed Texas as the 28th state on December 29, 1845. Today, guests can book a history talk, take a self-guided audio tour, or schedule a guided tour to see the highlights of the renowned mission. Top attractions include the church which is free to visit independently with a timed ticket. Other top-recommended stops are the living history encampment which features hands-on demonstrations showcasing what life was like in the 1830s under Mexican rule and the exhibit hall with its extensive collection of artifacts and historical documents.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Hill Country

The Texas Hill Country boasts scenic landscapes replete with rolling hills, grasslands, rivers, lakes, charming small towns, and fields covered in numerous varieties of wildflowers such as bluebonnets, buttercups, and Indian paintbrushes. There are also over 50 wineries to explore, each with its own terroir and unique approach to winemaking.

Enchanted Rock in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a longer getaway, take a road trip through the region beginning 32 miles northeast of San Antonio in New Braunfels, looping around clockwise and ending in Austin. Along the way, stop in Utopia where you can book an overnight stay high atop the trees in a magical treehouse at Treehouse Utopia.

Guadalupe River in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, head about 80 miles northeast to historic Fredericksburg. Founded by German immigrants in 1846, this small town retains its unique heritage with German architecture and exhibits and demonstrations at the Pioneer Museum. You’ll even find German cuisine at several local restaurants and biergartens and there’s an annual Oktoberfest in the fall.

Gruene Dance Hall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Braunfels

Situated between San Antonio and Austin, New Braunfels is another Texas Hill Country town that celebrates its German heritage. Stroll through the historic downtown brimming with cafes, coffee shops, boutiques, and museums. There’s also a beautiful green space, Landa Park, just a short distance away.

Related Article: 10 Things You Need To See and Do At Least Once In Texas

Gruene Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additionally, the town hosts many festivals, parades, and street fairs throughout the year including the annual Wurstfest. The German-inspired festivities are held in early November along the Comal River and feature Bavarian-style foods, German and Texas beer, and live music. To learn more about the German history of New Braunfels, be sure to visit the Gruene Historic District.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Austin

As the Live Music Capital of the World, Austin is known for its eclectic neighborhoods and entertainment districts featuring more than 250 live music venues. The city is also the capital of Texas, so there’s plenty more to explore, including art museums and galleries as well as the State Capitol. The landmark granite Capitol building opened in 1888 and boasts a beautiful 218-foot rotunda. Free guided and self-guided tours are available daily on the Capitol and grounds.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to check out another Texas Historic Landmark, Mount Bonnell at Covert Park. This popular tourist destination since the 1850s features a vantage point overlooking the Colorado River, affording some of the best views of the city. Explore the wildflowers and native plants of Texas in the beautiful gardens at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church (High Hill) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Painted Churches of Fayette County

As German and Czech immigrants arrived in Central Texas, they established a cluster of small communities that has one thing in common: their painted churches. The term “painted” comes from the elaborate faux-finished interiors. Gold-leafed, stone, and polished marble columns and ceilings are (upon closer examination) actually finely-fitted woodwork.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church (Praha) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The terrain between the churches is winding and rolling and contains some of the best country views in the state. The Painted Churches are a sight to be seen. Go inside a plain white steeple church and you will find a European-styled painted church of high gothic windows, tall spires, elaborately painted interiors with brilliant colors, and friezes created by the German and Czech settlers in America.

South Padre Island Birding Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Padre Island

Situated off the southern tip of Texas on Laguna Madre Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, this barrier island is the only tropical island in the state. Perfect for a romantic getaway or a family vacation, South Padre Island boasts more than 300 days of sunshine, 34 miles of white sand beaches, and emerald-tinted waters.

Related Article: Explore the Funky Art Towns and Desert Beauty of West Texas

South Padre Island Birding Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top attractions include a visit to Sea Turtle, Inc., a rehabilitation facility for sea turtles that focuses on education and conservation. You can also book a lesson with a master sand sculptor to create your own masterpiece while visiting the Sandcastle Capital of the World.

South Padre Island Birding Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On its 50 acres near the convention center, the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center presents a microcosm of the rich habitats that contribute to this very special place. Dune meadows, salt marsh, and intertidal flats are all here along with thickets of native shrubs and trees that are irresistible to migrating birds.

The Strand Historic District, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Bishop’s Palace, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Ocean Star Off-shore Drilling Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corpus Christi

Situated on the Gulf Coast of Texas, Corpus Christi offers miles of beaches, plenty of fresh seafood, and Tex-Mex dining options, and even indoor activities like the Texas State Aquarium in North Beach. The aquarium features 18 exhibits with sea creatures and wildlife that take you from the Caribbean Sea to the jungle and beyond.

Texas State Aquarium © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in North Beach, you can also visit the USS Lexington on Corpus Christi Bay. This aircraft carrier commissioned in 1943, took part in almost every major operation in the Pacific Theater over 21 months of combat during World War II. While here, you can also take flight as an F-18 pilot in the flight simulator or check out the thrilling feature films at the Joe Jessel 3D Mega Theater.

Related Article: Discover more on a Texas-sized Outdoor Adventure

If you prefer to spend time outdoors, kick back and relax, take a horseback ride along the beach, or go snorkeling or deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Texas BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eat 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.

Black’s Barbecue, Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is a state of 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