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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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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.
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.
With a year-round warm climate, a trip to the beach is almost a guaranteed fun time. Many beachgoers head to Galveston virtually any time of the year but the summer months are the most enjoyable bringing more visitors than any other time.
Galveston Island is home to some of the best attractions Texas has to offer including Moody Gardens as well as Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark and the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier amusement park. Galveston also offers numerous unique museums including The Bryan Museum, Texas Seaport Museum, Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum, and Galveston Railroad Museum.
Having one of the largest and well-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the country, Galveston allows visitors to explore the island’s interesting history by touring one of its popular historic mansions.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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
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