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!

“Howdy, y’all” to these Small Texas Towns

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

These burgs might not be as flashy or as big as cities like Houston and San Antonio but the warm hospitality and eclectic attractions are found in the sparsely populated patches up in the hills, through the plains, and along the coast are well worth a trip to explore. So put on your boots, and hit the back roads. and get ready to say “Howdy, y’all” to these small Texas towns!

Here are a few suggestions for unique small towns in Texas to add to your next getaway in the Lone Star State. 

Goliad State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goliad, Texas

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.

Goliad State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Shiner, Texas

Speaking of beloved American beverages… 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. 

Related Article: The Spotlight Shines on Unique Small Texas Towns

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tours and samples are free. 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!”

Port Lavaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Port Lavaca, Texas

It’s no secret that the Texas Gulf Coast is a fantastic destination for seaside fun. Port Lavaca is a place where you can enjoy all the sun, sand, and surf without bustling crowds and traffic jams. Nestled halfway between Galveston and Corpus Christi, Port Lavaca is a spectacular place to go fishing on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Port Lavaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anglers have access to a number of public boat launches and fishing piers around town such as those at Bayfront Peninsula Park, Lighthouse Beach, and Magnolia Beach. Along with all the fishing, Port Lavaca is a bird watcher’s delight. Lighthouse Beach offers a birding tower and walkway for getting out among the wetlands creatures of the bird sanctuary, but it is just one of many places around town to bird watch.

Kenedy County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sarita, Texas

You may have passed this county seat because you were too busy looking at your fuel gauge. It’s on Highway 77 on 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.

Kenedy Ranch Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

Related Article: 4 Small Texas Towns to Visit

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

Alamo, Texas

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.

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

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.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schulenburg, Texas

With its rolling hills and relaxed pace, Schulenburg will put a little oompah in your step. 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 outsized cultural attractions including spectacular painted churches, the Texas Polka Music Museum, and the Stanzel Model Aircraft Museum.

Guadalupe River at Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kerrville, Texas

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.

Black’s BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart, Texas

Houston and Austin can quibble all they want about who has the best barbecue, but the clear winner is Lockhart. This small town 35 miles south of Austin is the Barbecue Capital of Texas—and that’s not just a municipal marketing ploy. The Texas State Legislature passed a resolution in 2003 officially giving Lockhart the title. 

Smitty’s Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hundreds of thousands of people make the trek to Lockhart every year where four barbecue joints cook up mouth-watering meats made by legendary pitmasters. Here, meat is served in boxes by the pound and eaten off butcher paper on long, wooden tables.

Fort Stockton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Stockton, Texas

Few Texas towns can claim a past as colorful or well preserved as Fort Stockton. The best way to experience these cultural treasures is to take a self-guided driving tour beginning at the Visitor Center inside the railway depot that was built in 1911. During the tour, you’ll pass more than a dozen legendary sites such as the Pecos County Courthouse, the Historic Old Jail of 1884, the “Oldest House” that is believed to have been built as early as 1855, and the Comanche Springs Pool. Following this route takes you to some of Fort Stockton’s most fascinating places, a great way to get acquainted with this exceptional West Texas town.

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

Port O’Connor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Port O’Connor, Texas 

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.

Port O’Connor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Port O’Connor area is an excellent place for birding. Some places to view birds in town are at the Nature Park at Boggy Bayou, King Fisher Beach, and the Little Jetties as well as walking the residential areas.

Read Next: Texas Road Trips Sampler

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Here and there…not quite everywhere yet!

Texas Road Trips Sampler

Take a leisurely drive and avoid traffic, feel reinvigorated along the coast, and how to enjoy a north-south road trip

Ready to take the roads less traveled? Along this pair of spring road trips you have an option to avoid the traffic of Interstate 35 from DFW to the Hill Country and feel invigorated along the coast. This drive takes you along Texas’ version of the Pacific Coast Highway. If you want to see the variety of vistas that Texas has to offer then load the RV, buckle up, and get ready for these fun spring drives.

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hug the Coast Highway

Distance: 217 miles

Overall vibe: Seafood and seaside breezes

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t be fooled by the name. State Highway 35 is the antithesis to the behemoth with which it shares a number. Interstate 35 is a white-knuckle fight for highway survival while its country cousin is an easy cruise through green marshes and across bays with intermittent glimpses of the Gulf of Mexico.

Tricolored heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Otherwise known as the “Hug-the-Coast” Highway, this 35 predates I-35 by more than 40 years. With only one lane on each side most of the way, it’s a quaint retreat—a throwback to Sunday drives where the journey was the destination.

Related Article: 4 Texas Road Trips: These You Have to Take

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This slow ride begins south of Houston in West Columbia, the tiny town with the distinction of having been the capital of the Republic of Texas for about three months in 1836. 

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continuing on the road as Route 35 steers you straight toward Matagorda Bay. In the town of Palacios, home to birders and fishermen, stop at The Point. The hybrid convenience store and Vietnamese and Mexican restaurant has become the social hub of the town. You can grab fishing gear, breakfast tacos, and authentic Vietnamese food or grab takeout for a picnic on the docks overlooking the bay. If you’re lucky, you might catch the flash of a roseate spoonbill in flight.

Port Lavaca

Grab your fishing pole, sunscreen, and beach chair…it’s time to go to Port Lavaca. This coastal town has all the seaside fun you could ask for but without all the crowds found in other Gulf Coast locales.

Port Lavaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Checking out Port Lavaca’s beaches is a no brainer, regardless of whether you’re looking for a quiet barefoot stroll, hunt for shells, or kick back and relax. Start at Magnolia Beach, also known as the only natural shell beach on the Gulf Coast. Lay out a blanket and soak up the sun, or cast a line from the fishing pier. For more sandy beaches, relax in the shade of a thatch-covered cabana at Lighthouse Beach or swim or paddle board in the tranquil waters of Alamo Beach.

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

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can keep on trucking toward Rockport or take a 45-minute side trip to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. This pristine sanctuary overlooking San Antonio Bay attracts more than 400 species of birds and is the winter home of the endangered whooping cranes. Heron Flats, an easy 1.5-mile walking trail, promises glimpses of leggy birds high-stepping through marshes as they seek their supper.

Big Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The natural wonders continue 10 miles north of Rockport in Goose Island State Park where the Big Tree prevails. Scientists have calculated this live oak could be more than 1,000 years old—and it’s so resilient even Hurricane Harvey couldn’t knock it down.

Rockport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fulton and its historic mansion and the seaside resort town Rockport are worthy stops, especially for dockside seafood at places like the Boiling Pot or Charlotte Plummer’s.

Fulton Mansion State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Rockport, it’s only 28 miles to Portland where it’s time to say goodbye to this laid-back coastal road as it merges south into the bigger US-181. 

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heading toward Corpus, you are thrust back into the rush of multiple lanes and cars in a hurry to get somewhere—a jolt after so many miles of traffic-free driving. The intensity of it brings to mind the other bigger, faster 35. It’s a reminder of just how good you’ve had it on the mellow side of the coast-hugging highway.

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

San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The DFW Metroplex-South Texas Scenic Workaround

Distance: 370 miles

Overall Vibe: Pretty as a picture

San Antonio

No matter where you are or the time of day, Interstate 35 is a crapshoot. You never know when traffic is going to back up, or why. There is an alternative for a north-south road trip: US Highway 281 running between the western Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and greater San Antonio. It is less traveled, less billboarded, and less congested—and usually, worth the extra hour especially whenever I-35 is all jammed up.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alas, US-281 is no longer a secret thanks to Google Maps and Waze. The route which goes through Hico, Hamilton, Lampasas, Burnet, and Marble Falls has unpredictable bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go traffic. To bypass these conditions the time has come to suck it up, factor in at least two more hours of drive time, and take the long way to South Texas. Fortunately, you’ll be passing through some of the prettiest western landscapes Texas has to offer.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After leaving Dallas, make your way to downtown Fort Worth then drive 75 miles west on Interstate 30 and Interstate 20 to Exit 361, south of Strawn. Head south on State Route 16. The two-lane road starts in the Big Country and transects the Hill Country. If you’re relatively new to Texas, this is a fine introduction to some of the state’s finest natural beauty. Plus, you’ll be avoiding the horrible, ongoing interstate highway construction in Waco.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Granted, SR-16 is a longer way and posted speed limits drop below 55 passing through small towns. But since each one justifies stopping for one reason or another depending on your level of curiosity and available time, slow down at least and enjoy the scenery.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On this route you’ll pass through the boomtown ghost town of Desdemona to Comanche where you can stop for a bite to eat at Stone Eagle Beer Garden. If in need of a beautifully crafted custom pair of boots set up an appointment at the family-owned and operated Kimmel Boot Company.

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

Drive past the wind farms of Priddy on your way to Goldthwaite, home to the Texas Botanical Gardens at Legacy Plaza and Mills County Historical Museum (note, the museum is only open Monday through Friday).

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue on SR-16 until you hit San Saba, the Pecan Capital of the World. If you have some time, park your car and take a walking tour of downtown and the lively main drag. Then, head to Cherokee where the bluebonnets should be in full bloom this time of year. If hungry, make a pitstop at Cherokee Corner Cafe.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next up is Llano, the heart of the granite part of the Hill Country and a traditional barbecue town with options that include the original Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que and Inman’s BBQ and catering (known for turkey sausage). Take the Farm to Market Road 965 junction to see the bulging pink granite mountain known as Enchanted Rock within Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. From here, you’ll drive to Eckert, a ghost town at the western end of the Willow City Loop wildflower drive, and Fredericksburg where all the action can be found on its charming Main Street.

Windseed Farms near Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From here, you have the option of cutting away at Fredericksburg onto US-290 and going to Austin or taking US 87-and Interstate 10 for a more direct route south to San Antonio.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

After 7 days of trial and error,

God created Texas on the 8th day.

Where the Journey Is the Destination: Texas State Highway 35

The journey is the destination along this coast-hugging highway

Don’t be fooled by the name. State Highway 35 is the antithesis to the behemoth with which it shares a number. Interstate 35 is a white-knuckle fight for highway survival while its country cousin is an easy cruise through green marshes and across bays with intermittent glimpses of the Gulf of Mexico.

Otherwise known as the “Hug-the-Coast” Highway, this 35 predates I-35 by more than 40 years. With only one lane on each side most of the way, it’s a quaint retreat—a throwback to Sunday drives where the journey was the destination.

Tri-colored heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This slow ride begins south of Houston in West Columbia, the tiny town with the distinction of having been the capital of the Republic of Texas for about three months in 1836. Stop by the state historical marker on the corner of Brazos and Brown streets to learn about Charlie Brown, the former slave who became the largest landowner in Brazoria County and started the county’s first school for African American children.

Port O’Connor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although much about Brown’s life is unrecorded and unknown, in 2015 the state legislature passed a resolution honoring the man whose “life and legacy are indeed worthy of tribute.” The Varner-Hogg Plantation, a state historic site just outside of town, tells stories of pioneer days, slavery, and oil.

Port Lavaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Back on the road as Route 35 steer you straight toward Matagorda Bay. In the town of Palacios, home to birders and fishermen, stop at The Point. The hybrid convenience store and Vietnamese and Mexican restaurant has become the social hub of the town. You can grab fishing gear, breakfast tacos, and authentic Vietnamese food. Everyone in Palacios ends up at The Point. Road-trippers can dine on world-class pho and spring rolls at the same table where the late chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain once sat, or grab takeout for a picnic on the docks overlooking the bay. If you’re lucky, you might catch the flash of a roseate spoonbill in flight.

Grab your fishing pole, sunscreen, and beach chair…it’s time to go to Port Lavaca. This coastal town has all the seaside fun you could ask for but without all the crowds found in other Gulf Coast locales.

Port Lavaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Checking out Port Lavaca’s beaches is a no brainer, regardless of whether you’re looking for a quiet barefoot stroll, hunt for shells, or kick back and relax. Start at Magnolia Beach, also known as the only natural shell beach on the Gulf Coast. Lay out a blanket and soak up the sun, or cast a line from the fishing pier. For more sandy beaches, relax in the shade of a thatch-covered cabana at Lighthouse Beach or swim or paddle board in the tranquil waters of Alamo Beach.

Texas Lakeside RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plus, Texas Lakeside is a 5-star RV resort with long concrete pads, multi-purpose clubhouse, fitness center, tropical pool, stocked fishing lake, and gated entrance. The park’s 138 full-service sites include cable TV and high speed Internet.

Rockport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can keep on trucking toward Rockport or take a 45-minute side trip to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. This pristine sanctuary overlooking San Antonio Bay attracts more than 400 species of birds and is the winter home of the endangered whooping cranes. Heron Flats, an easy 1.5-mile walking trail, promises glimpses of leggy birds high-stepping through marshes as they seek their supper.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The natural wonders continue 10 miles north of Rockport in Goose Island State Park, where the Big Tree prevails. Scientists have calculated this live oak could be more than 1,000 years old—and it’s so resilient even Hurricane Harvey couldn’t knock it down.

Big Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Between Palacios and Rockport, it may be hard to keep your eye on the road. SR-35 crosses over the shimmery Lavaca, San Antonio, and Copano bays, where rivers meet the Gulf of Mexico. The thrill of being surrounded by blue water on all sides may require a photo stop. If you time it right, you can catch a sunset sky of pink and orange swirls at the remains of the Copano Bay Fishing Pier just as you’re cruising into Rockport.

Sea Breeze RV Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Rockport, it’s only 28 miles to Portland, where it’s time to say goodbye to this laid-back coastal road as it merges south into the bigger US-181. Sunset Lake Park, with a 2-mile hike-and-bike trail among the wetlands of Nueces Bay is a breezy spot to stretch your legs and enjoy some bird watching. And Sea Breeze RV Park is a friendly spot to enjoy a panoramic view of Corpus Christi Bay with the causeway and city skyline and amazing sunrise and sunset from your 75-foot pull-through site.

North Beach on Corpus Christi Bay © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lyrics of country musician Don Williams, who was raised in Portland, suits the bayside scene: “The smell of cape jasmine through the window screen / I can still hear the soft southern winds in the live oak trees.”

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heading toward Corpus, you are thrust back into the rush of multiple lanes and cars in a hurry to get somewhere—a jolt after so many miles of traffic-free driving. The intensity of it brings to mind the other bigger, faster 35. It’s a reminder of just how good you’ve had it on the mellow ride of the coast-hugging highway.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

After 7 days of trial and error,

God created Texas on the 8th day.