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!

The Spotlight Shines on Unique Small Texas Towns

From the “Tip of Texas” on the Mexican border to the Panhandle Plains, Texas is full of vibrant small towns

Looking for the best small towns to visit in the Lone Star State? We’ve got you covered.

Welcome to Texas: one of the best states for road tripping where the highways stretch for miles and the summer heat is sweltering. While Texas is home to some of the biggest cities in the U.S., there are some hidden gems along the back roads that you won’t want to miss. So put on your boots, and get ready to say “Howdy, y’all” to these small Texas towns!

Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Luling, Texas

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.

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rockport-Fulton, Texas

Best known as a mecca for Texas artists, Rockport is also home to the Maritime Museum, prime saltwater fishing, and tons of outdoor activities. The area is popular for being a great place for bird-watching due to its small crowds and vibrant natural landscape, and visitors often come from all over the Texas coast to see the flocks of coastal birds that call the region home. 

Related Article: Totally Texas

La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Grange, Texas

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.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aransas Pass, Texas

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.

Related Article: 4 Small Texas Towns to Visit

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schulenburg, Texas

Located at the intersection of Interstate 10 and US 77, Schulenburg may be best known as a reliable stop for a kolache fix (Kountry Bakery). But with its roots in German and Czech settlement, this little town offers numerous cultural attractions including the Schulenburg Historical Museum, Texas Polka Music Museum, the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum, and the spectacular Painted Churches of Fayette County.

Caverns of Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonora, Texas

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.

Gruene © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gruene, Texas

Greune (pronounced “green”) was established by German farmers in 1845, Gruene had its cotton economy destroyed by boll weevils and became a ghost town before it was rediscovered in 1975. The tiny town is best experienced by a stroll through the main square of the Gruene Historic District. You’ll find live music every day at Gruene Hall, Texas’s oldest dance hall, Southern-style lunch at The Gristmill, and wine at The Grapevine with plenty of outdoor seating and fire pits. And, there are around a dozen locally-owned shops and boutiques.

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

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blanco, Texas

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

Fort Davis, Texas

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.

Fort Stockton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Stockton, Texas

Until someone invents the time machine, a visit to Fort Stockton is the next best thing to traveling back to the Wild West. Frontier history seeps through every corner of the town where cowboys once stopped to drink at the saloon and U.S. soldiers and Texas Rangers kept the peace and protected citizens from outlaws and Comanche raids. Needless to say, the top things to do in Fort Stockton involve diving into local lore and experiencing local heritage up close and personal. From the carefully preserved relics at the Annie Riggs Memorial Museum to the intricate artwork depicting life in the south over a century ago, Fort Stockton’s past makes for a wildly entertaining present. 

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

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Here and there…not quite everywhere yet!

Linger Awhile in Luling

The home of the Watermelon Thump is rich in history, barbecue, and parks

Those traveling on Interstate 10 through Texas may know Luling only as a favored Buc-ee’s pit stop on the highway. But for this Winter Texan, Luling offers a glimpse of the slow pace and friendliness of small-town life.

Luling watermelon water tower © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A stop in Luling is a favored stop when heading east or west on I-10 between Houston and San Antonio. Each time I see that big watermelon water tower, I long to stay a spell. My love of small-town life never waned and now I’m heading to Luling with time to linger for a while! 

The WatermelonThump.com website counter ticks off the days until the annual Thump. It was June 24-27 this year after a cancellation due to the pandemic in 2020. It all started back in 1954 when a Luling principal offered up an idea to promote the Luling watermelon crop. A local high school student won a contest with a name for the event that conjures up fun: the Thump. The Thump now draws 30,000 visitors to 5,500-resident Luling each year.

Watermelon Shop in Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How do you thump a watermelon, anyway? The name comes from the practice of hitting (thumping) the watermelon to listen to the sound for juicy ripeness.

As for the capital “T” Thump, there are too many activities to name. The newly crowned Thump Queen presides over the big parade. Other highlights of the four days of activities include a carnival, concert/dances, food booths, beer garden, children’s entertainment, and a marketplace. There are seed-spitting and melon-eating contests and an auction of the biggest melons weighing in at up to 80 pounds. People eat dripping slices of melon and fan themselves on benches, passing the time of day while wildly laughing children run around like it wasn’t boiling hot, chunking watermelon rinds at each other.

Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The history of the town itself began in 1874 as the far western stop of the Sunset Branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad and gathering place for cattle-driving cowboys on the Chisholm Trail. Those hooligans were so unruly that Luling became known as “the toughest town in Texas” until the drives ended in the 1880s. Luling was a quiet cotton town until oil was discovered.

In 1922 Edgar B. Davis brought in Rafael Rios #1 which proved to be part of one of the most significant oil fields ever discovered in the state. Perhaps his greatest legacy was the discovery of the Edwards Lime. It set off vigorous exploration to find the lucrative shallow production.

Oil pump jack © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Almost overnight, Luling was transformed from a railroad town of 500 to an oil town of 5,000. Tents filled every vacant area with roughnecks and their families. “Rag Town” as they called it came with every kind of good and bad-makeshift saloons, restaurants, and even a shooting gallery as entertainment.

Central Texas Oil Patch Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Work was hard and living even harder but the dream that unfolded was a microcosm of Texas history. It was a time when a community of farmers and their families responded to the coming of the railroad only to have their lives changed forever by the discovery of oil. By 1924, the oilfield was pumping 11 million barrels of oil annually.

To acknowledge and embrace the importance of oil to the Luling economy, the town’s pumpjacks are painted with all kinds of characters including a cow jumping over the moon and a little girl eating—what else?—a watermelon.

Central Texas Oilpatch Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 1990 as a non-profit educational foundation, the Luling Oil Museum is designed to preserve and honor the memories of the vibrant life and times during the oil boom in the Central Texas oil patch. The Luling Oil Museum houses tools used in the oil industry and examples of oil production technology from the past. Various artifacts and documents trace the development of the oil industry in Luling and the Central Texas area. Whether your interest is in learning more about an oil town, the oil industry, and the people instrumental in the growth of the oil industry, or the rich cultural heritage of Central Texas, the Luling Oil Museum has something to offer you.

Central Texas Oilpatch Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though the oil industry’s importance has faded in this crossroads town, Luling is more vibrant than ever. Luling Main Street is a community group that seeks to revitalize Davis Street and the downtown area with parks, signage, facade design, murals, planters, and decorative crosswalks.

The highlight of my visit to the charming shops along Davis Street began by following my nose to the original City Market BBQ. I’m thrilled to see no long line for this legendary joint and hurry on back to the pit room to place my order. They keep it nice and simple: brisket, ribs, and sausage. That’s it.

City Market BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Soon my brown bag is stuffed with smoky pork ribs and fall-apart brisket (with a huge burnt end, to my delight), a whole dill pickle, a big slice of onion, and sweet pickles/cauliflower from the big jar. The sausage “links” are each their own little tasty ring. I don’t often categorize barbecue as “adorable,” but these sausage bracelets fit that description.

City Market BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each of Texas’ famed barbecue places has its own customs. Try not to look like a newbie and just follow along. At City Market, you pay for your to-go meat in the back then return to the front counter to buy sauce, beans, or a few other items. For some, it’s all about the sauce and City Market offers the orange vinegary kind, not too sweet. Best of all, the price for the whole feast is about half of what I paid at an inferior place in Katy only a week earlier.

San Marcos River in Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The San Marcos River runs through Luling and its history. Early settlers harnessed the river’s power by building several mills along it to run the community’s gristmill. The Zedler Mill is the last surviving one, built in 1874 by three men from Tennessee who added a cotton gin and water wheel (to power their machine shop) to the stone dam. It was purchased by the Zedler family and other investors in 1885; Zedler bought out his partners in 1888.

Modernizations happened through the years but as late as the 1950s, the mill was still turning out chicken feed for livestock and fine cornmeal for Luling’s dinner tables. But the mill shut down soon after and fell into disrepair.

Renovated Zedler Mill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around 2002, Luling bought the property; the Zedler Mill Foundation and the city invested more than $1.5 million to improve and restore the mill buildings in a new city park. Today the park is a beautiful site for family outings and fun in the water. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and partners put together the Zedler Mill Paddling Trail along with the two- to four-hour trip. Examine the inventive mill components and marvel at how they used the power of the river so effectively long ago. 

San Marcos River and Zedler Mill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A mere 8 miles southeast of Luling but still along the San Marcos River lies a tropical treasure of a state park, Palmetto. After you pass the aforementioned Buc-ee’s (pick up some trail snacks), drive past it a mile or two until you see the brown sign for Palmetto State Park. Roll down the windows to enjoy the cool-down as the two-lane road winds under shade trees that intertwine across the top, forming a canopy.

Along the road from Luling to Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t be puzzled by the signs of non-park life when you emerge from the shade—you’ll soon see park signage directing you to headquarters, the fishing dock, campgrounds, and a variety of trails. Everything looks so photo-worthy. If you’re looking for more than just a day trip extends your retreat with a night or two of camping or a stay in the park’s quaint cabin.

The first thing I look for at a park is a trail to hike and the winding, well-manicured trails at Palmetto State Park offer plenty to see. The Ottine Swamp Trail and Palmetto Interpretive Trail have boardwalks and bridges so you can wind through swamps filled with the park’s namesake dwarf palmettos. You’ll feel as if you’re in a tropical paradise.

San Marcos River in Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Imagine a Texas swamp fed by warm mineral springs and occasional river flooding that provides a home to unique plant and animal life some seen almost nowhere else in Texas. Riotous birdsong is Palmetto’s soundtrack. The 270-acre park has attracted 240 species of birds, including an invasion of hummingbirds each spring. In the fall, look for butterflies everywhere. Fox squirrels and a variety of wildlife inhabit the park due to the presence of the river nearby.

The park is graced by the presence of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) buildings including a refectory made of sandstone that seems to rise out of the ground and once had a thatched palm roof. A water tower on the park’s interpretive trail was unique for its time supplying fresh water to all the campsites.

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And, of course, everywhere you look is the park’s namesake plants adding a tropical feeling, unlike the surrounding Texas countryside. Dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) plants from which the park gets its name surround the park’s swamp. These palmettos grow in East and Southeast Texas as well as the Palmetto State (South Carolina) and much of the southeastern US. The state park boasts the westernmost stand of dwarf palmettos in the country.
I have a feeling this won’t be the last time I linger in Luling rather than just passing through.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

I didn’t drive eleven hours across the state of Texas to watch my cholesterol.

― Robb Walsh

10 Amazing Places to RV in June

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

June is a fantastic time to travel as it’s when the northern hemisphere enters a time of celebration. The summer season officially arrives and the sun is out longer than ever––providing hours of daylight essential for exploring a new area. To visit a destination in June is (often) to see it at its most joyful. Festivals abound, people sit outside, and there are more hours in each day to enjoy.

If you’re looking for a destination worthy of your June vacation days consider places with generally good weather this month and several events booked on the calendar. These destinations come alive for your June RV travels.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in March, April, and May. Also, check out our recommendations from June 2019.

Kentucky bourbon distillery tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky

Yeah, the bourbon and fried chicken in Kentucky are superb but so is the adventure. Kentucky has a unique geography that has turned the state into a honeycomb of caves and rock formations. It is home to Mammoth Cave National Park, the world’s largest known cave system. If you

prefer sunlight, there’s Red River Gorge Geological Area which has the most sandstone arches outside of Arches National Park not to mention hundreds of sport-climbing routes. In between these two superlatives, you have 49 state parks (including My Old Kentucky Home), massive lakes, and, yeah, really great bourbon and fried chicken.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Dakota

Young Theodore Roosevelt had the world to choose from. Where did he come to satiate his yen for wild open spaces? North Dakota. The state’s badlands, wooded valleys, mighty rivers (featuring Missouri and Little Missouri), and rolling hills are the perfect backdrop for “the strenuous life” that T.R. endorsed. Whether that manifests as an epic bike ride on one of America’s finest off-road trails or a session of walleye fishing in a quiet lake is, of course, up to you.

Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sow the Seeds of Summer

Luling will serve up a juicy slice of summer during its annual Watermelon Thump the last full weekend in June (68th annual, June 24-27, 2021). Held since 1954, the festival draws an estimated 30,000 visitors to the small town for live music, a parade, car rally, carnival, and of course, watermelons—topped off with a seed-spitting contest.

Falls on the Reedy © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greenville, South Carolina

Surrounded by lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Greenville area is an outdoor paradise. Summer in Greenville means the return of Saturday markets for fresh produce, baked goods, crafts, cheese, honey, and more. The friendly city’s walkable downtown features more than a hundred locally-owned restaurants, art, and history museums, Greenville Zoo, and a children’s museum. Ride the free downtown open-air trolleys for vintage-style transportation.

Another favorite Greenville destination is Falls Park on the Reedy with walking paths and a waterfall. These waterfalls are best viewed atop one-of-a-kind Liberty Bridge, a 345-foot-long structure supported by suspension cables on only one side, for the best unobscured view of these beautiful waterfalls set directly in the center of downtown Greenville. 

Wings of the City, an outdoor art installation is on display in Falls Park and the Peace Center campus until October making Greenville the first East Coast city (it’s never been further east than Houston) to host world-renowned Mexican artist Jorge Marin’s art. These monumental wings allow spectators to become part of the artwork, completing it. They rise as a universal symbol of freedom and hope; as the never-ending and, overall, human dream of flying. Enjoy the outdoors on nearby hiking trails or the 20-mile Swamp Rabbit walking and biking trail.

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hoover Dam

An engineering marvel, the Hoover Dam tamed the mighty Colorado River to provide much-needed water supplies and hydroelectric power for the parched southwest creating Lake Mead in the process. Rising 726 feet above the canyon floor, five million barrels of cement, 45 million pounds of reinforced steel, and more than 20,000 workers were involved in the dam’s creation. Today, the iconic art-deco-influenced structure continues to provide a spectacular contrast to the stark landscape with tours starting from the visitor center.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

Lake Mead was formed by the impounding of the Colorado River by the Hoover Dam (see above). Lake Mead National Recreation Area is big, it’s diverse, and it’s extreme. Temperatures \can be harsh from 120 degrees in the summer to well below freezing in winter on the high plateaus.

From the mouth of the Grand Canyon, the park follows the Arizona-Nevada border along what was formerly 140 miles of the Colorado River.

Lake Mead is impressive: 1.5 million acres, 110 miles in length when the lake is full, 550 miles of shoreline, around 500 feet at its greatest depth, 255 square miles of surface water, and when filled to capacity, 28 million acre-feet of water. Although much of Lake Mead can only be experienced by boat, a variety of campgrounds, marinas, lodges, and picnic areas around the lake make it possible for non-boaters to also enjoy the recreation area. Most activities are concentrated along the 20 miles of the southwest shore close to Las Vegas. Facilities include two large marinas at Boulder Beach and Las Vegas Bay plus campgrounds, beaches, picnic areas, and the main National Recreation Area visitor center.

Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Newport, Rhode Island

At the southern tip of Aquidneck Island in Narragansett Bay and fronting the Atlantic, this famed Colonial port and playground of the Gilded Age are glorious at every turn from its treasure trove of mansions to deep harbors bristling with schooners, racing yachts, and pleasure craft to broad, sandy beaches and intimate coves.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona, Arizona

If the red-rock cliffs that preside over Sedona don’t make you pause, it’s time to book a trip to Mars because Earth has nothing left to offer. In the early evening, the spires reflect a reddish-purple hue that no photo could ever hope to do justice. Whether or not you subscribe to New Age beliefs it’s easy to understand why people say there’s an energy here that’s different than anywhere else on the planet.

From taking a walk to taking a Jeep tour there are many ways to explore the desert scenery around the cliffs but none gives you the chance to interact with nature on its own terms quite like riding a horse. Horseback trips typically last between one and three hours with sunrise and sunset options available. Beyond the red rocks, you can catch glimpses of the Verde Valley, the Mogollon Rim, and, if you’re lucky, some wildlife as well.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corpus Christi, Texas

Corpus Christi, Texas, nicknamed the “Sparkling City by the Sea,” is known for its beautiful beaches, water sports, and sunsets framed by the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. So, it may come as no surprise that this sunny playground on the Texas Gulf Coast has two of the city’s most popular attractions directly connected to water: Texas State Aquarium, the largest aquarium in Texas, and the USS Lexington aircraft carrier.

The attractions sit side by side on North Beach, a section of Corpus Christi located on the north end of the city. They are next to Harbor Bridge (U.S. 181), a large, arched span that stretches across the Corpus Christi ship channel. Note: During a recent visit the iconic bridge was undergoing a major upgrade. Before visiting, check for traffic updates at harborbridgeproject.com. Also, because of closures related to the COVID pandemic, check the status of each facility before you go.

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Located in the heart of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg is a classic gateway for outdoor adventures the whole family will love. From stunning mountain views and riverfront walkways to engaging amusement parks and museums, there’s plenty to do in Gatlinburg and its surrounding areas. Some of these activities include hiking, fishing, rafting, horseback riding, and wildlife spotting (black bears, elk, and deer, just to name a few). The Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community is home to over 100 craftspeople and artists along an eight-mile loop. And for a town that’s only two miles long by five miles wide, there are tons of local restaurants serving Southern-style pancakes, locally caught trout, and a variety of steaks.

Worth Pondering…

I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it was always June.

—L.M. Montgomery

Spotlight on Texas: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

There isn’t a single amazing thing about Texas. There are about ten zillion. So start poking around and figure out what to put at the top of your list.

The big-city sprawls of Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, or San Antonio seem very far away as you pass through hundreds of miles of open land and small towns. You know how the song goes, “The stars at night, are big and bright (clap, clap, clap, clap) DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS!” The song goes on to declare the “sage in bloom” to be “like perfume” and the “prairie sky” that is described as “wide and high”…DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS.

Texas is big—and we mean big—and the only way to truly appreciate its size is to hit the road and discover what’s out there in those wide-open spaces. The cities have tons to offer, but Texas does “small town” like few other states, with friendly locals, historic buildings, quirky claims to fame, and an easygoing way of life everywhere you look.

So what’s your pleasure?  Whatever route or destination you choose, you’ll saddle up for adventure on a grand scale.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fredericksburg

In the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg maintains a small-town feel while having lots of things to see and do. With its unique German heritage, thriving wineries, and shopping, it’s the perfect getaway. The historic buildings along Main Street are home to over 100 shops. Influenced by the town’s heritage, German and German-inspired food options abound. Fredericksburg and the surrounding regions are at the heart of Central Texas wine country. This area is particularly beautiful in the springtime, with gorgeous wildflowers erupting from the otherwise green landscape.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corpus Christi

Beaches, islands, bays, and ports—there are many opportunities to engage in the variety of available water and wind sports. Arts, music, museums (such as the USS Lexington battle ship), and other cultural activities (like the Texas State Aquarium) make this Texas road trip enjoyable for those who desire a more relaxing time than their water-adventuring counterparts.

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

Lockhart

A trip to this flavor-packed smoke town should be on any food lover’s bucket list. Dubbed the “BBQ Capital of Texas,” Lockhart is easily one of the most legendary barbecue destinations in the world. While you could make it a daytrip you’ll need several days or more to eat your way through it. Tackle at least two of the Big Three on Day One: Black’s Barbecue (open since 1932), Kreuz Market (est. 1900), and Smitty’s Market (since 1948). Proceed in any order you please. Lockhart has one more stop in store for you: Chisholm Trail Barbecue (opened by a Black’s alum in 1978).

Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Luling

Luling is home to some of the best barbecues in the Lone Star State, so prepare for a meat coma. City Market is one of Texas’s most-storied ‘que joints serving up only three types of meat—brisket, sausage, and ribs. Across the street from City Market is Luling Bar-B-Q—a relative newcomer since it’s only been open since 1986 (which still a long time to perfect their recipes!) Stop by for a second barbecue meal of moist brisket, smoked turkey, and tender pork loins. To cool off on a summer’s day, head to this renovated Zedler Mill on the banks of the San Marcos River to splash in one of Texas’s best swimming holes. It’s got everything you need for a perfect afternoon—shade, water, and plenty of sun. If you’d rather paddle than swim, you can rent kayaks and canoes on site.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 their popular brews get made. Founded in 1909, the little brewery today sends more than 6 million cases of delicious Shiner beer across the country. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schulenburg

Located at the intersection of Interstate 10 and US 77, Schulenburg may be best known as a reliable stop for a kolache fix. But with its roots in German and Czech settlement, this little town offers numerous cultural attractions including the Schulenburg Historical Museum, Texas Polka Music Museum, the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum, and the spectacular painted churches. The area has the rolling hills and the beautiful bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes in the spring. Not far from Austin, San Antonio, Houston, or Waco either, Schulenburg is halfway to everywhere.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park

This sprawling west Texas park has plenty of room (nearly 1 million acres, in fact) to spread out and explore from Chisos Mountains hikes and hot springs to the Santa Elena Canyon, a vast chasm offering shaded respite along the meandering Rio Grande. Due to its sheer size, geographic diversity, and faraway locale, this is the perfect park to immerse yourself in for a week with plenty of sights and activities to keep you busy.

Caverns of Senora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Caverns of Senora

The Cavern is over seven and a half miles long but only two miles of trails are developed for tours. There are five levels of the cave that vary in depth form 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.

Painted churches tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Painted Churches of Fayette County

The Painted Churches of Fayette County 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.

Enchanted Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock

Enchanted Rock, the 425-foot-high dome that is the centerpiece of Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, is one of the largest exposed batholiths in the country. It is a massive pink granite dome that formed when molten rock solidified beneath the surface more than a billion years ago. The summit of Enchanted Rock is easily accessed via the park’s Summit Trail. The trail begins at the Westside parking area where it descends briefly into an arroyo before ascending quickly.  

La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Grange

You’ll discover a fanciful cache of history and culture in this Central Texas community, a town steeped in German and Czech culture. Much of the town history is encased in dignified old architecture laid in the late 1800s. Many of the original buildings have been renovated and serve as creative outlets. The Texas Quilt Museum is located in two historic 1890s buildings. Another must-see stop is the Monument Hill & Kreische Brewery State Historic Site. The settlers also introduced a town favorite treat—the kolache! One of the best spots to grab a kolache is Weikel’s Bakery.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio

From the San Jose Mission to the Alamo, this city is known for its fabulous, historic architecture. With a mix of Spanish and U.S. cultures, the Mexican and Tex-Mex food is more authentic than found almost anywhere else in the country. There is a lot to do in San Antonio, from visiting the missions to the Alamo and touring the River Walk or Natural Bridge Caverns. You can also spend days enjoying family-fun destinations like SeaWorld and Six Flags or join a ghost and vampire tour. There is no lack of diversions to explore in this city.

Rockport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rockport-Fulton

Find yourself in Rockport-Fulton and discover why Rockport-Fulton is the Charm of the Texas Coast. You’ll find a sandy beach, a birder’s paradise, a thriving arts community, unique shopping, delectable seafood, unlimited outdoor recreation, historical sites, and great fishing.

The quaint fishing village of Rockport has been a favorite coastal hideaway and snowbird roost for many years. Be it sportfishing, bird-watching, seafood, shopping, the arts, water recreation, or simply relaxing in the shade of wind-sculpted live oaks life here revolves around Aransas Bay.

Blue Bell Creamery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brenham

Blue Bell fans travel from all over to see the making of their favorite ice cream. At The Little Creamery in Brenham, visitors can watch the manufacturing process from an observation deck and then check out the Visitors Center to read up on the company’s history and see artifacts. The self-guided tours conclude with $1 scoops from the parlor. In addition to regular favorites, the creamery also serves special flavors like Cookies ’n Cream and Pecan Pralines ’n Cream and the newest flavor to temp your taste buds, Fudge Brownie Decadence.

Moody Mansion, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston

Strung along a narrow barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico, Galveston is a beautiful blend of graceful Victorian and early 20th-century mansions, bungalows, and cottages, along with a stunning historic downtown lined with tall palm trees and shady live oaks. Galveston Island is home to some of the best attractions Texas has to offer including Moody Gardens, Schitterbahn Waterpark, the Historic Pleasure Pier, dazzling Victorian architecture, and 32 miles of sun-kissed beaches.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is a state mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Texas BBQ: By Meat Alone

Everything you need to know about Texas BBQ

The American barbecue tradition is rooted in numerous ancient practices. Caddo Indians had a method for smoking venison and in the West Indies, natives grilled meats on a frame of green sticks. Indeed the English word barbecue came from the Arawak-Carib word barbracot (via the Spanish word barbacoa).

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

When European colonists arrived in the New World, no doubt tired of all the salt cod from the long Atlantic passage, they found a local population that roasted fish, birds, corn—pretty much anything at hand. The newcomer’s contribution was to introduce a tasty new animal: the hog.

City Market, Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not only was this beast a marked improvement over the previous fare, but its own habits proved well suited to the Eastern seaboard. In rural areas and colonial towns, pigs would roam freely, indiscriminately eating trash until someone decided to roast them, which was done in the local manner—a hole in the ground, a fire, and a split hog laid directly above it on a wood frame. 

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first recorded mention of American barbecue dates back to 1697 and George Washington mentions attending a “barbicue” in Alexandria, Virginia in 1769.

As the country expanded westwards along the Gulf of Mexico and north along the Mississippi River, barbecue went with it.

Barbecue in its current form grew up in the South, where cooks learned to slow-roast tough cuts of meat over fire pits to make them tender. This Caribbean style of slow cooking meat formed the basis of the Southern barbecue tradition that influenced Texas when some of its first American settlers arrived.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

European meat smoking traditions were brought by German and Czech settlers in Central Texas during the mid-19th century. The original tradition was that butchers would smoke leftover meat that had not been sold so that it could be stored and saved. As these smoked leftovers became popular, many of these former meat markets evolved to specialize in these smoked meats.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wood-smoking traditions of the Lone Star State’s distinct barbecue styles vary by regions:

  • Central Texas “meat market” style, in which spice-rubbed meat is cooked over indirect heat from pecan or heavy post oak wood, a method that originated in the butcher shops of German and Czech immigrants
  • Hill Country and West Texas “cowboy style,” which involves direct heat cooking over mesquite coals and uses goat and mutton as well as beef and pork
  • East Texas style, essentially the hickory-smoked, sauce-coated barbecue with which most Americans are familiar
  • South Texas barbacoa, in which whole beef heads are traditionally cooked in pits dug into the earth

The barbecue is typically served with plenty of thick sauce (either slathered on the meat or on the side for dipping or both), and then sides of coleslaw, potato salad, pinto beans, and fat slabs of white bread.

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

If you want to sink your teeth into excellent brisket then head to Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas. The small town is home to four major barbecue restaurants: Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932; Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que; Smitty’s Market; and Kreuz Market (pronounced Krites).

Heavy on the pepper, the snappy beef-and-pork sausage at Kreuz Market is truly one of the best in Barbecueland. The pork spareribs taste fresh, with plenty of juicy, delicious meat on them, and the beef ribs are scrumptious.

Smitty’s Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Only the uninitiated use the front door at Smitty’s Market. You’ll enter the boxy brick building from the parking lot passing the waist-high brick pits and peruse the list of post oak–smoked meats—brisket, pork ribs and chops, shoulder clod, sausage, and prime rib. Salivating, you place your order for a pound or so of meat. May this bulwark of tradition never change.

City Market, Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead of a mesmerizing encounter with a picturesque fire blazing at the end of an ancient brick pit like you’ll find at Smitty’s, at Black’s you’re funneled through a narrow corridor past a salad bar. When you finally reach the meat counter, you’ll find great brisket, enormous beef short ribs, pork ribs, pork chops, smoked turkey breast, and Black’s signature sausage (90 percent beef, 10 percent pork) with phenomenal flavor.

Luling Bar-B-Q, Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heading south on Highway 183, the City Market in Luling is just 15 miles away. Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. They also offer pinto beans and a homemade mustard-based sauce which is out-of-this-world.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in Brenham (think, Blue Bell ice cream) I decided to check out a rising star, Truth BBQ on the west side of town. Truth looks too cute to be serving serious barbecue. The carefully curated interior—with its hand-lettered signs, Texas license plates, and Instagram-ready desserts—is a far cry from a no-frills meat market or a rusty roadside pit. Walking in we’re offered samples of brisket and a delicious side. The first bite announces the fact that youthful proprietor Leonard Botello IV has been an admirer of the handiwork of other masters of the craft, notably Franklin Barbecue’s Aaron Franklin.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pork ribs are decadently moist and slightly sweetened with a glaze. The brisket possesses an intense meaty flavor, subtle but deep smoke penetration and a fine black-pepper crust. With every bite I liked my visit more. And the sides—can we talk about the sides? There is creamy mac and cheese with sizzling bacon crumbled on top; slow-cooked collard greens; rapturously buttery corn pudding; and bright, crisp slaw.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Somehow you must leave room for one of Truth’s five or so different monster cakes, which Botello’s mother, Janel, makes from scratch. And on the way out the “Love Texas” sign makes a perfect background for selfies. Truth BBQ is the real deal, get out there the next chance you can. If you don’t believe me, they have a 5 star rating on Yelp and Trip Advisor.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a trip to the Coastal Bend we checked out Mumphord’s Place BBQ in Victoria and it did not disappoint. The minute we parked, I was drawn to the action out back where the pit master tends the glowing fireboxes and pits in the screened-in shed. This is “cowboy-style” barbecue, where the wood is burned to coals, then transferred to large metal pits in which the meat is placed on grates set about four feet directly above the heat.

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The flavor is good, and in a part of the state where quality ’cue of any kind is scarce, Mumphord’s does a better than decent job. Part of the fun is being there, in the room with its red-checked tablecloths, sports photos, trophies, cow skulls, an ancient icebox, a sword, old firearms and cameras, beer cans, and heaven knows what else. 

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You don’t need no teeth to eat my beef.

—from Legends of Texas BBQ

Everything’s Bigger in Texas: Best Road Trips from Houston, San Antonio, and Austin

As t-shirts and bumper stickers are quick to remind us, Texas is big

There’s an old saying that “everything is bigger in Texas” and what counts as a commute for a Texan may well qualify as a road trip in other states. From Conroe to Freeport, Katy to Baytown, the greater Houston area spans more than 100 miles north to south and over 50 miles east to west. The Dallas/Fort Worth metropolis isn’t much smaller especially as suburban sprawl continues to spread and San Antonio has expanded significantly in recent years.

Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big cities mean wide highways and fast speed limits: The 41-mile stretch of Texas Highway 130, just east of Austin, boasts a speed limit of 85 miles per hour—the fastest legal limit in the country. Austin retains traces of its small-town vibe although locals whisper about a future where Austin and San Antonio could morph into one giant megacity. And Austin is notorious for its daily traffic jams.

La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking to ditch the hustle and bustle of big-city life? There’s so much to see in Texas beyond its major metropolitan areas. Houston, San Antonio, and Austin are strategically placed for road trips in Central Texas. Here are some of my favorite getaways for a day trip, a week, or longer.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note that, in 2020, it’s imperative to check websites and social media updates beforehand to ensure that your destination is open and accepting visitors at the time you arrive. Many state parks and public areas require passes beforehand or impose a strict limit on the number of guests allowed at any given time even during normal circumstances.

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

Lockhart

A trip to this flavor-packed smoke town should be on any food lover’s bucket list. Dubbed the “BBQ Capital of Texas,” Lockhart is easily one of the most legendary barbecue destinations in the world. While you could make it a daytrip you’ll need several days or more to eat your way through it. Tackle at least two of the Big Three on Day One: Black’s Barbecue (open since 1932), Kreuz Market (est. 1900), and Smitty’s Market (since 1948). Proceed in any order you please. Lockhart has one more stop in store for you: Chisholm Trail Barbecue (opened by a Black’s alum in 1978).

Lockhart State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But there’s a lot more to Lockhart than just smoked meats. Golfers can look out on the rugged Texas scenery while enjoying a round of golf at the Lockhart State Park Golf Course which also offers an on-site swimming pool, camping sites, and fishing hole.

What is next? Off to Luling for some more barbecue? How about a Shiner beer? A nap? Or both? You deserve it!

Luling Oil Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Luling

This little town is known for BIG flavors—and whether you prefer sweet or meat, both are delicious here. Gorge yourself on juicy watermelon or fill up on some of the best barbecue in the Lone Star State—either way you’ll leave here full. And while you’re eating your way through town, you’ll also find some pretty epic nature spots.

Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dive into the history of “the toughest town in Texas” at the Luling Oil Museum where you’ll learn about the oil boom of Central Texas in the 1920s. Walk through a model town and see real tools from the oil boom days. Around this oil town, you’ll find tons of pump jacks decorated as everything from quarterbacks to killer whales. It’s the perfect mixture of art, history, and liquid gold!

Spoetzal Brewery, Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 their popular brews get made. Tours and samples are free. Founded in 1909, the little brewery today sends more than 6 million cases of delicious Shiner beer across the country. Founder, Kosmos Spoetzal, would be pretty proud! To which we say “Prosit!”

Blue Bell Creameries, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brenham

Blue Bell fans travel from all over to see the making of their favorite ice cream. At The Little Creamery in Brenham, visitors can watch the manufacturing process from an observation deck while attendants narrate and provide fun facts, and then check out the Visitors Center to read up on the company’s history and see artifacts. The self-guided tours conclude with $1 scoops from the parlor. In addition to regular favorites, the creamery also serves special flavors like Cookies ’n Cream and Pecan Pralines ’n Cream and the newest flavor to temp your taste buds, Fudge Brownie Decadence.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fredericksburg

In the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg maintains a small-town feel while having lots of things to see and do. With its unique German heritage, thriving wineries, and shopping, it’s the perfect getaway. The historic buildings along Main Street are home to over 100 shops. Influenced by the town’s heritage, German and German-inspired food options abound. Fredericksburg and the surrounding regions are at the heart of Central Texas wine country. This area is particularly beautiful in the springtime, with gorgeous wildflowers erupting from the otherwise green landscape.

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

La Grange

This might just be the “Best Little Day Trip in Texas.” I’m sure Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton would agree as it was the events of La Grange’s famous “Chicken Ranch” that inspired the classic musical “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.” While the brothel is no longer around there’s still plenty to do in this town.

Weikel’s Bakery kolaches, La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For starters, “Czech” out the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center. This museum gives visitors a feel for the culture and early days of Fayette County when thousands of Czech immigrants populated the area. Another must-see stop is the Monument Hill & Kreische Brewery State Historic Site. The settlers also introduced a town favorite treat—the kolache! One of the best spots to grab a kolache is Weikel’s Bakery.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blanco

Blanco calls itself the “Lavender Capital of Texas” as 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. A river runs through this 104-acre green oasis making Blanco State Park a perfect destination for a relaxing afternoon of kayaking. Calm waters and an easily accessible watercraft launch site (complete with handrails) mean that even first-timers can easily rent a single or double kayak and take in the lush greenery that borders the mile-long stretch of the Blanco River. If desired, bring along your tackle box to enjoy some fishing as well. 

Bottom line

While the tiny towns of Texas may not be very large, everything else is generally bigger from the distances you’ll be driving to the sheer amount of open sky you’ll see on the road. This shortlist of destinations in Central Texas is far from an exhaustive list, but it’s a start.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is a state mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America