The Best Stops for a Winter Road Trip

Whether you park for ten minutes or ten days, what destinations do you pull off the highway for?

At some point, everyone starts to think about their dream road trip. For some, it’s a jaunt to the Grand Canyon or touring the Mighty Five in a decked-out RV. For others, it’s traveling Historic Route 66 or the Blue Ridge Parkway. No matter the destination, though, everyone needs to make stops on the way. What are some of your favorites?

For my purpose, a stop is anything from a national park to a state park or a roadside attraction to a Texas BBQ joint. Anything that gets you to pull off the highway, turn off your engine, and stretch your legs a bit—whether it’s to hike a mountain trail or tour a living history museum is up to you.

My vote for the perfect road trip stop is multifaceted and an ongoing list as I travel to new places and explore America’s scenic wonders.

Fort Yuma Territorial Prison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Yuma Territorial Prison, Yuma, Arizona

The Fort Yuma Territorial Prison which operated from 1876 to 1909 was hellish in many respects but it also had more modern amenities than many homes in Yuma at the time including electricity, plumbing, a large library, and even a band. Several of the inmates were Mormons who were convicted of polygamy. Today, the site of the hilltop prison is an Arizona state park with some surviving original features such as the cellblock and other features reconstructed. It’s now a historical museum that not only is open for tours but stages special events such as gunfights and ghost hunts.

>> Get more tips for visiting Fort Yuma Territorial Prison

Kennedy Space Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex, Merritt Island, Florida

This privately owned center provides educational exhibits and activities about NASA’s mission at the center as well as tours to other facilities nearby. You’ll see a “rocket garden,” an outdoor exhibit of an extensive assortment of rockets, capsules, and engines that have been used for actual space missions.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, Desert Hot Springs, California

Nestled in the scenic hills of Desert Hot Springs, a Hopi-inspired pueblo sits against a hillside. Not just any pueblo but one built with natural materials collected throughout the desert. Yerxa’s pueblo is a four-story, 5,000-square-foot structure. It has 160 windows, 65 doors, 30 rooflines, and 35 rooms. When homesteader Yerxa Cabot settled in Desert Hot Springs, he used re-purposed materials and a little ingenuity to build a home so unique it remains a preserved museum to this day.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Desert Botanical Garden © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, Arizona

The Valley of the Sun is home to many great attractions, and it can be difficult for visitors and locals alike to pick their favorites. It’s easy to get caught up in the legend surrounding attractions like the world-famous Lost Dutchman State Park, but sometimes you want to take a break from history and explore Phoenix’s more modern side. 

Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden is also one of the world’s largest collections of desert plants and flowers. It features more than 50 miles of pathways crisscrossing over a dozen outdoor gardens, including the special Children’s Garden, which has a walled maze, garden swings, and plenty of other activities designed especially for the little ones. 

Visitors can also see art installations, take a guided tour or enjoy live music during their visit to the outdoor attractions.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seaside, Florida

A small resort community in the Florida Panhandle, Seaside is the epitome of cute. Featuring pastel-colored homes and pedestrian-friendly streets, the beach community is tranquil and picturesque. Just how adorable is this place? The fictional town from the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show was set here. West of the town visit the Grayton Beach State Park for some coastal trails.

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch, Gilbert, Arizona

There are several good reasons for paying a visit to this 110-acre park. The astounding variety of cacti, probably varieties than you ever knew existed, is itself worth stopping by for. But there are also many other species of plant and animal life in and around this artificial wetland created with reclaimed water. You can view fish, birds, reptiles, and mammals of many different kinds on a short hiking trail. It’s an especially excellent place for bird watching. The picnic and playground areas are imaginatively and artistically designed and laid out. And perhaps most noteworthy of all, there is an observatory that is open to the public to do some star gazing on Friday and Saturday nights.

>> Get more tips for visiting Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Texas

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is one of the best places in the country for bird-watching. People come just for the birds. Bentsen’s wetland, scrub brush, riparian, and woodland habitats make it a world-class destination to observe birds and wildlife commonly found in the subtropics of northern Mexico.
One of the most spectacular convergences of birds on Earth, more than 530 species have been documented in the Rio Grande Valley (including about 20 species found nowhere else in the U.S.) and 365 species at Bentsen itself. Bentsen’s bird-feeding stations are stocked in the winter months making it one of the best and easiest times to view a wide variety of birds from Green jays to Altamira orioles and Plain chachalacas to Great kiskadees.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park

Hi Jolly Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hi Jolly Monument, Quartzsite, Arizona

Hi Jolly was the Americanized name of Hadji Ali, a Greek/Syrian immigrant who was one of several Middle Eastern men hired by the U.S. Army in 1857 (by Secretary Of War Jefferson Davis) to drive camels laden with cargo across the desert. The experiment was discontinued after a short time but it was still much more successful than people often believe. In any case, Hi Jolly stuck around until he died in 1902. A colorful and beloved character, he became a bit of a legend and was honored with this pyramid-shaped monument constructed in 1903 and embellished later. The monument stands in a cemetery with many monuments to military men. You’ll spot the camel motif cropping up in other places in Quartzsite, an interesting little town that is known as a haven for RV boondockers as well as rock and mineral lovers.

>> Get more tips for visiting Quartzsite

Tabasco Factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tabasco Factory, Avery Island Louisiana

While the marshes and bayous of this region make Avery Island worth a visit in its own right, it is the fact that this is the home of the Tabasco pepper sauce that attracts most people. Visitor attractions include a short but informative factory tour where you’ll learn the history of this family owned company and see how this world famous product is created; an excellent country store packed with sauces, souvenirs and gifts; and the Jungle Gardens, 170 acres full of exotic plants and native wildlife including alligators and deer. When you visit the country store, do make sure you try the Tabasco ice cream; it’s more enjoyable than it sounds.

>> Get more tips for visiting Avery Island

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro Lake, Arizona

Located just off State Route 88 east of Phoenix, Saguaro Lake has a marina with rentals for everything from stand-up paddleboards to kayaks and canoes. The lake even has a few desert islands where boaters can stop for a picnic lunch or a quick swim. Visitors also come to Saguaro Lake to camp at nearby facilities or fish along its banks for bass, catfish, and carp. Hikers and campers also enjoy visiting the lake which has over 25 miles of trails that wind around it.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

The largest gypsum dune field in the world is located at White Sands National Park in southern New Mexico. This region of glistening white dunes is in the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert within an “internally drained valley” called the Tularosa Basin. Dunes Drive, an eight-mile scenic drive, leads from the visitor center into the heart of the gypsum dunefield. The 16-mile round-trip drive takes approximately 45 minutes. However, you may want to allow additional time for taking walks in the white sand, photography, or learning about the natural and cultural history.

>> Get more tips for visiting White Sands National Park

Ajo Mountain Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ajo Mountain Drive, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

This 21-mile drive, accessible by any vehicles up to 25 feet, is the most popular way to explore Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Pick up the guidebook from the Kris Eggle Visitor Center and allow at least two hours to drive the loop which includes 18 stops of interest. As well as the distinctive cactus from which the park takes its name, you will also see examples of the many other plants that flourish in the Sonoran Desert including saguaro, prickly pear, jojoba, mesquite, cholla, and ocotillo.

>> Get more tips for visiting Organ Pipe National Monument

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spoetzal Brewery, 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 get made. 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!”

>> Get more tips for visiting Shiner

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

If rugged scenery, hiking, and wilderness are what you are looking for, then put Joshua Tree on your list of road trip stops. Located in the southern end of California, this park is known for its distinctive trees and its craggy and rocky landscape filled with desert flora and fauna.

Plenty of daytime activities are available inside the park and the most popular is hiking (with one paved trail that is accessible). There is climbing, birding, biking, horseback riding, and a driving tour you can take. There are 93 miles of paved roads. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Joshua Tree National Park

Rayne frog mural © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rayne, Louisiana

In a small town in the middle of Louisiana’s Cajun prairie is a town called Rayne where frogs have gained iconic stature. Frogs and Rayne have a relatively long history that dates back to the 1880s when a gourmet chef named Donat Pucheu started selling juicy, delectable bullfrogs to New Orleans restaurants. Word of Rayne’s frog delicacies spread like wildfire and soon attracted the Weil Brothers from France who started a lucrative business exporting frogs to restaurants. For years, world-renowned restaurants boasted of offering frog legs from Rayne, Louisiana. Rayne no longer exports frogs but their frog identity is bigger than ever because of a unique array of frog murals.

Worth Pondering…

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown trail before me leading wherever I choose.

—Walt Whitman

Explore Small-Town Texas from San Antonio

Certain times of year, wanderlust rises up and takes hold but it’s not always possible to plan a cross-country road trip

Are you looking for a fun getaway without leaving the Lone Star State? These 12 charming small towns are a perfect way to scratch that travel itch. Some are close to home in the Hill Country but more far-flung destinations also abound assuming you don’t mind a few hours behind the wheel.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shiner

About a 1.5 hour drive east of San Antonio

Head on out to Shiner and hit up K. Spoetzl Brewery, the home of Shiner Bock beer. The brewery itself is more than 100 years old making it the oldest independent brewery in the Lone Star State. Tours of the historic brewery are offered daily. And, of course, every tour concludes with free samples of Shiner.

Get more tips for visiting Shiner

La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Grange

About a 1.5 hour drive northeast of San Antonio

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.

Get more tips for visiting La Grande

Near Alpine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alpine

About a 5.5 hour drive west of San Antonio

Way yonder, not too far from Big Bend National Park, lies the desert oasis of Alpine. Though secluded, those looking for an outdoorsy weekend getaway have limitless options from mountain biking to hiking and world-class campsites. Alpine is also home to a burgeoning art community. Art installations like the Tribute to Texas Musicians mural and the Sul Ross Desk can be found throughout the desert outpost.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fredericksburg

About a 1.5 hour drive northwest of San Antonio

Fredericksburg is loved by tourists and locals alike and truly has something for everyone. History buffs will enjoy visiting the Vereins Kirche Museum which honors the German pioneers who initially settled this Hill Country town nearly two centuries ago. Shopaholics have plenty of locally-owned boutiques to choose from and there is a swath of wineries and breweries. With an endless supply of rustic bed and breakfasts and RV parks, Fredericksburg is the perfect weekend getaway for a couple or the whole family.

Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart

About a 1 hour drive northeast of San Antonio

When a town’s claim to fame is being the Barbecue Capital of Texas that is most definitely a place worth spending your time—and money. Four major meat joints have received national attention—Black’s Barbeque, Smitty’s Market, Kreuz Barbeque, and Chisholm Trail Barbeque. If you decide to stay for a night or two, there’s the Brock House which offers stunning views of Lockhart’s historic Caldwell County Courthouse. Conveniently located near town, Lockhart State park offers 20 serviced sites.

Get more tips for visiting Lockhart

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Port Aransas

About a 2.5 hour drive southeast of San Antonio

Long a favorite with Winter Texans, Port Aransas offers many activities from walking the beach in search of seashells to taking a tour boat, a deep sea fishing charter, or a sunset dinner cruise. This seaside town makes for a perfect family vacation with endless miles of sandy beaches, a “jersey shore” style boardwalk, and countless affordable resorts.

Gruene © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gruene

About a 45-minute drive northeast of San Antonio

Although it’s considered part of New Braunfels (which can’t be considered a small town these days), the Gruene Historic District should be a bucket list item for Texans. In addition to the legendary Gruene Hall, the district offers other live music venue options, the local general store, a prized antique shop, and the Gristmill Restaurant. This is the place to be for a good time packed with history.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blanco

About a 1 hour drive north of San Antonio

Blanco is known as the Lavender Capital of Texas and if you visit during the blooming season from May through July, you’ll know why. Home to the HIll Country Lavender Farm, the town even hosts an annual Lavender Festival each summer. In addition to being known for soothingly scented purple blooms, Blanco is home to other attractions including the Science Mill and Blanco State Park.

Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kerrville

About a 1 hour drive northwest of San Antonio

Enjoying the sights and getting a dose of small-town charm awaits you in Kerrville—dubbed the “Capital of the Hill Country.” From the Kerrville-Schreiner Park, home to attractions like a butterfly garden and amphitheater, to the Museum of Western Art, not to mention countless wineries, you’re sure to never run out of things to do in Kerrville.

Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Schulenburg

About a 1.5 hour drive east of San Antonio

Schulenburg, like many of the small central Texas towns, was settled by German and Czech settlers in the mid-nineteenth century. A major attraction in the Schulenburg area is the Painted Churches. The churches look like plain white steeple buildings but step inside you and you’ll be in a jewel box of colors and detail. Downtown on Schulenburg’s Main Street is the Texas Polka Museum. It’s full of instruments, pictures, outfits, and a map showing every polka band in the Lone Star State. Then, learn about their heritage and culture by visiting the Schulenburg Historical Museum. Originally opened in 1894, Sengelmann Hall features a big wooden bar and long family-style tables. 

Get more tips for visiting Schulenburg

Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Luling

About a 1 hour drive northeast of San Antonio

Located on the banks of the San Marcos River about 45 miles from San Antonio, 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.

Get more tips for visiting Luling

Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brenham

About a 2.5 hour drive northeast of San Antonio

The main attraction in Brenham is the Blue Bell Ice Cream factory which opened in 1907. Visitors can stop by the creamery’s Ice Cream Parlor for a generous scoop, learn about the history from the visitor’s center, shop the Country Store, and watch the production from the observation deck. Be sure to take a photo with the statue of the brand’s iconic logo, a little girl leading a cow on a rope. While the ice cream alone is worth the 150-mile road trip from San Antonio, the town is also the main hub of Washington County with a plethora of attractions within in a 12-mile radius.

Get more tips for visiting Brenham

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

Along the Kolache Trail

How did a traditional Czech pastry became a Texas bakery staple?

You know what they say: If life is a highway as sung by Tom Cochrane in Mad, Mad World (1991) and Rascal Flatts in Cars, a computer-animated sports comedy film (2006), I wanna pull over, get a Texas-size kolache (fruit or cream cheese-filled Czech pastry) and pick up the road trip later.

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kolache are round sweet-bread pastries with prune or poppy seed filling. They are considered to be Czech but deliciousness knows no borders and the neighboring cultures picked them up—including the Slovaks whose similar language uses the same word. While in Czech a kolach (KOH-lahch) is singular and kolache (ko-LAH-chee) is plural, the latter is sometimes used in the U. S. as singular. So you may sometimes hear kolaches (ko-LAH-chees) for the plural of the word.

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Say it as you will, but I had never heard any form of the term until I spent my first winter in Central Texas where I found not just kolache for sale in bakeries but kolache franchises such as Kolache Factory. But what made Texas so kolache-friendly?

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 19th century, an abundance of land to settle and a list of grievances against the old-world homeland compelled waves of Czech immigrants to sail halfway around the world to Texas. Those grievances included various political frustrations ranging from feudalism and nationalism within the ruling Austrian Empire to religious persecution, conscripted military service, and a lack of freedom of the press.

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

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Czechoslovakia is probably not the first country that comes to mind when people set out to identify the ethnic influences on Texas food. However, any Central Texan who has ever sunk their teeth into the soft, yeasty cloud of a fruit kolache knows that Czechs bring a delicious contribution to the Texas culinary table.

Czech immigrants began arriving in Texas during the mid-to-late nineteenth century entering through the busy port of Galveston and spreading out through the central part of the state. At one point that area had over 200 Czech-dominant communities.

Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

They settled in rural areas and became farmers and craftsmen whose society revolved mostly around family life and the Catholic Church. The Czechs rich cuisine was based on roasted meats with noodles and dumplings; homemade sausages, potatoes, and sauerkraut; and baked goods such as fruit strudels and kolaches.

Kolaches came to the Lone Star State with 19th-century immigrants from Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia and continued making their native pastries over wood stoves when they settled in Central Texas. The kolache is the most prominent edible symbol of Texas Czech culture.

Related: The Essential Guide to Eating Texas

Kolaches are made with sweetened yeast dough formed into rolls and filled with fruit or cheese before baking.

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birds of a feather flock together and today you can find many Texas communities with Czech roots. A region known as the Texas Czech Belt is a line of towns and counties that starts less than an hour south of Dallas and runs about 180 miles straight down the map to the town of Yoakum, Texas, just south of I-10 between Houston and San Antonio.

Cultural centers and museums are abundant as are Czech festivals as those places proudly celebrate their roots. But if there’s anything that tends to last long after the generations have passed, it is food. And the Czech kolach is the star of the show.

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The kolach, as with a croissant or Danish pastry, is made using yeast, resulting in a more bread-like character rather than cakes, cookies, or pie crusts. The pastry is circular and measures about 3 to 4 inches in diameter. The filling is laid into an open depression in the middle though I’ve also seen them with the pastry corners folded up together over the top to allow the filling to peek out of little openings after baking.

On the Painted Churches tour near Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traditionally, in the Old World, fillings were limited to local ingredients: poppy seed, prune, apricot, cherries, and farmer’s cheese. But new lands bring new traditions, often driven by experimentation and whatever’s available.

Related: Historical Painted Churches of Central Texas

In Texas, you get all sorts of fillings: apricots, peaches, blueberries, pineapple, cherries, apples, pecans, cottage cheese, cream cheese, and chocolate coconut cream, to name a few.

Several bakeries in Fayette County feature a sausage wrapped in kolach fashion. This, to be honest, is not a kolach but a klobasnek (plural klobasniky), a delicious creation originating in the Czech immigrant population in Texas. To many Americans, a sausage in a pastry is a “pig in a blanket.” The true kolach is sweet, never meat-filled or savory.

So where can you find the best or the truest kolaches? Those are opinions folks fight you over with a passion. A good place to start is with festivals dedicated to the pastry.

Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center in La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The annual Kolache Fest, one of the largest such festivals, takes place in late September in Hallettsville. More than 3,000 people attend and gobble up the thousands of kolache produced by the local Kountry Bakery which uses the recipes passed down by three generations of the Czech American Besetsny family. The festival includes polka music, a car show, a parade, arts and crafts, a BBQ cook-off (it’s still Texas), loads of other food, a kolache-eating contest, and a 5K run to burn off some of those calories. Central to the festival is a bake-off, the winner of which is crowned the Kolache Queen. It’s a huge deal for a sizeable Czech community.

Related: Absolutely Best Road Trips in Central Texas

Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1989, the Texas state Legislature declared the town of Caldwell the “Kolache Capital of Texas.” The city of West received similar honors as the “Home of the Official Kolache of the Texas Legislature” in 1997. Both of those places also have festivals that honor kolache. Draw a line through all three on the map and you’ve got the Czech Belt.

Kolache © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Always the second Saturday of September, the Burleson County Kolache Festival, held in Caldwell, celebrated its 36th year in 2021. Septuagenarian Joe Rycalik, a local Czech speaker, opened the festival in the Czech language. Another proud local, 40-year-old Zach Zgabay who traces his roots all the way back to what’s now Czechia or the Czech Republic felt that language played an important part in the preservation of culture so he returned to college to learn Czech. If Rycalik retires, Zgabay may one day open the festival in a similar fashion.

Cookies at Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Several local bakeries collaborated to bake roughly 12,000 kolache. They went on sale at 8 a.m. and sold out by 2 p.m. The festival also includes a baking competition in 12 classes including apple, apricot, cheese, cheese, and other combination, peach, poppy seed, prune, and other fruit. There’s also an activity I might be more inclined to participate in Kolache Eating. But if you’re not in Texas, you may have to bake your own.

Related: Totally Texas

Just north of Waco, the small town of West (known for clarity’s sake as “West Comma Texas”) is the state’s kolache capital where descendants of Czech immigrants make these little square pastries that hold a dollop of fruit rimmed by a puffy pillow of supple dough.

Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Koláče are sold warm from the oven,” assures the sign above the counter at the Village Bakery, a shop with three small tables and one circular ten-seat table that hosts a community coffee klatch most mornings. Apricot and prune are the flavors favored by old-timers along with poppy seeds and cottage cheese. Tourists tend to like fruitier versions—apple, strawberry, blueberry—as well as those made with cream cheese.

Weikel’s Bakery in La Grange © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the best spots to grab a kolache is Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande. Here you find cinnamon rolls, strudel, cream cheese pound cake, pecan sandies, and cookies of all kinds, plus a repertoire of a dozen kolaches. The kolache is Weikel’s specialty, the shop’s motto (on the highway billboard): We got’cha Kolache.

Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bakery has become a traditional stopping point for many travelers on Highway 71 between Austin and Houston. Some say this Czech bakery’s kolaches are the best in the state. Don’t worry—you don’t have to squeeze every flavor into one trip… Weikel’s will ship these goodies anywhere in the country!

Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in La Grande, “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.

Original Kountry Bakery in Schulenburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can start your day in Schulenburg by indulging in the Czech breakfast of champions: kolaches. I’m drawn to the buttery goodness of traditional fruit kolaches at the Original Kountry Bakery. The first one melted in my mouth so quickly that I had to grab a few more to go. Kountry Bakery’s stew and chili are also lunchtime favorites. And the best part about eating lunch at Kountry Bakery is all the sweets to pick up for dessert.

Friday’s Fried Chicken in Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After our visit to the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, we stopped for dessert at Friday’s Fried Chicken. Don’t let the name throw you off. They have a full menu and a bakery. Friday’s named after the Patek family (Patek means “Friday” in Czech), offers some of the best-fried chicken south of the Colorado River—along with those Bohemian delicacies known as rosettes, kolaches, and a variety of delicious pies including pecan. Friday’s Fried Chicken is about a half-mile from the brewery on the left as you head into town.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering… 

Eat dessert first. Life is uncertain.

—Ernestine Ulmer

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

Texas is big, beautiful, and diverse. It’s not so exaggerated to think of Texas as a whole country—800 miles wide and nearly that far from north to south.

With the state’s 10-gallon hats, acres of cattle ranches, and expansive skies, it’s easy to understand why Texans love to exclaim, “Everything is bigger in Texas!” And indeed, Texas is the largest state in the contiguous United States—only Alaska is larger in terms of square mileage—so they’re not wrong!

The Lone Star State possesses a rich history and varied landscapes. Over the course of its history, Texas has been ruled by six different countries. It’s known as the Lone Star State because it was once an independent republic. No other state can make such a claim.

Fully exploring the state will expose you to 10 different climatic regions that range from dry, dusty deserts and sandy beaches to rolling hills.

With so much to see and do, you could easily spend a lifetime in Texas and not experience it all, so be sure to put these 10 things to see and do at least once in Texas at the top of your travel bucket list.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Remember the Alamo

Perhaps because of its significance in Texas’s struggle for independence from Mexico, the Alamo is one of Texas’s most-visited attractions. Located in the heart of San Antonio this mission-turned-battlefield shouldn’t be missed.

Today the 300-year-old limestone structure is predominantly a shrine to the lives lost on the site during the famous Battle of the Alamo. You can learn more by watching a brief film and by reading the signs placed throughout the grounds.

Mission San Jose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the Alamo is the best known of San Antonio’s Spanish missions, there are four others. You could easily spend an afternoon exploring them all when you’re in San Antonio. For just a few dollars, you can purchase a day pass for the metro bus that will shuttle you between the missions. Otherwise, you could rent a bicycle from a local bike-sharing station and explore the Mission Trail by bike.

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Stroll along the San Antonio River Walk

Hotels, restaurants, boutiques, and historic sites surround the San Antonio River as it flows through downtown San Antonio below street level. This area, known as the San Antonio River Walk is just a short walk from the Alamo, and exploring the River Walk is a quintessential Texas experience.

If you opt to take the 35-minute narrated cruise down the river, your guide will discuss the city’s history and point out interesting sights along the way. Afterward, enjoy a drink at the Esquire Tavern, the oldest bar on the San Antonio River Walk; it opened the day Prohibition was repealed in December of 1933. Otherwise, enjoy fresh guacamole paired with a prickly pear margarita at Boudro’s.

Black’s BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Dig into Texas Barbecue

With 13 million head of cattle, Texas has nearly double the number of any other state so it should be no surprise that the Lone Star State cooks up the delicious barbecue. Whether you prefer thick slices of brisket or a rack of ribs, barbecue is one of those foods you can’t leave Texas without trying.

As you travel through Texas, you’ll likely notice different styles of barbecue from sauce-covered meat in the southern and eastern portions of the state to well-seasoned meat with sauce on the side in the central and western portions. Needless to say, it’s all fantastic.

Lockhart is the Barbecue Capital of Texas. Out-of-towners and locals flock to four smoked-meat emporiums—Black’s Barbecue, Chisholm Trail Barbecue, Kreuz Market, and Smitty’s Market.

Bishop’s Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. I Still Dream of Galveston

With a year-round warm climate, a trip to the beach is almost a guaranteed fun time. Many beachgoers head to Galveston virtually any time of the year but the summer months are the most enjoyable bringing more visitors than any other time.

Galveston Island is home to some of the best attractions Texas has to offer including Moody Gardens as well as Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark and the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier amusement park. Galveston also offers numerous unique museums including The Bryan Museum, Texas Seaport Museum, Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum, and Galveston Railroad Museum.

Having one of the largest and well-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the country, Galveston allows visitors to explore the island’s interesting history by touring one of its popular historic mansions.

Blue Bell ice cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Order up a Scoop of Ice Cream at the Blue Bell Parlor

Founded in 1907 as the Brenham Creamery Company, Blue Bell began operation making butter. In 1911, ice cream for local consumption began production. Ice cream distribution was limited to the small town of Brenham in the Brazos River country of south-central Texas about 70 miles west of Houston. As transportation improved, distribution expanded. The company name was changed to Blue Bell Creameries in honor of a Texas wildflower in 1930. A reproduction of one of the first route trucks, a 1932 Ford, sits outside company headquarters.

Blue Bell offers a wide variety of ice creams, sherbets, and frozen snacks. Ice cream flavors include 25 classic year-round options like cookie two-step, mint chocolate chip, and pistachio almond. As well as rotational limited-time flavors like fudge brownie decadence, spiced pumpkin pecan, and confetti cake. And yes, I’ve tried them all! Honestly, all Blue Bell ice cream is so good. Any other brand could never compare.

A trip to Blue Bell isn’t complete without exploring the beautiful surrounding communities.

Lady Johnson Park near Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Tour the Texas Hill Country

Imagine hills, soft and scrubby, green valleys, and limestone cliffs. Conjure up ranches and communities of German heritage, wineries, fields of wildflowers, and sparkling rivers lined with cypress and oak. Ah, the Texas Hill Country. To some, it is the state’s greatest natural resource.

No big cities, no hustle and bustle—just cafes with country cooking, water for fishing and inner tubing, and old places with timeworn comfort. Yes, it’s easy to feel at home in the Texas Hill Country.

Wildseed Farms near Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hill Country offers many getaway options. Fredericksburg, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. The towns of Boerne and Comfort, New Braunfels and Gruene, Dripping Springs and Marble Falls, Kerrville and Blanco, and Bandera, the “Cowboy Capital of the World”.

Oh yes, and Luckenbach. When Waylon Jennings first sang about Luckenbach, the town in the Hill Country where folks “ain’t feelin’ no pain,” it instantly put this otherwise non-place on the map. The population is about 10, and all that’s here is the old General Store, a town hall, and a dance hall.

Shiner beer © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. A Toast to Texas History

In Texas, the mere mention of the word “Shiner” immediately brings to mind thoughts of a cold longneck and the distinctive brew within. However, before the beer, there was the town. Not surprisingly, the best way to learn the history of Shiner is to learn the history of Shiner Beer as the two have been intertwined for more than a hundred years. So, head to Spoetzl Brewery and join a tour. The tour provides a firsthand look into the brewing process and, of course, a firsthand sampling of the final product, from flagstaff Shiner Bock to the Extra Pale Ale, Haymaker. A day trip to Shiner goes down as smooth as the namesake beverage. As they say when toasting in Shiner, “Prosit!” That’s what ought to come out of your mouth before the refreshing goodness that is a free beer goes into it. It’s a toast that means “good health.”

La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Best Little Day Trip in Texas

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

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

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Charm of the Texas Coast

The quaint fishing village of Rockport-Fulton has been a favorite coastal hideaway and Winter Texan roost for years. You’ll find a sandy beach, a birder’s paradise, a thriving arts community, unique shopping, delectable seafood, unlimited outdoor recreation, historical sites, and great fishing. The town’s recovery since Hurricane Harvey three years ago counts among the great feel-good stories in Texas history. Rebounding in stunning ways, this little art colony beloved by visitors since the 1950s for its fishing, bay setting, and festivals feels fresh again.

Big Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Envision the life of an affluent Victorian family while exploring Fulton Mansion, built-in 1877 with comforts not easily found: gas lights, central heat, and running water. At Goose Island State Park you’ll find the wintering grounds for whooping cranes and other migratory birds. It’s also home to the 1,000-year-old Big Tree, one of Texas’ largest live oak.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park has it all—vast amounts of open space, rivers, canyons, pictographs, and hot springs. Located in southwest Texas, the park can be wonderfully warm in the winter and unbearably hot in the summer offering year-round access to some of the most beautiful terrain in the state. Big Bend National Park is where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Chisos Mountains and it’s where you’ll find the Santa Elena Canyon, a limestone cliff canyon carved by the Rio Grande.

Big Bend is among the largest national parks in the United States. With numerous trails, mountains, canyons, and nearby villages to explore; each point of interest could easily yield itself to days of exploration. For the best experience resist making a set plan—allow yourself plenty of time to explore and discover each desert sanctuary at your own pace.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the paved roads make it possible to explore much of the park’s natural beauty, many of the more obscure sights are hidden deep within the park’s interior on rough, dirt roads. To explore this rugged area bring a vehicle with four-wheel drive, plenty of ground clearance, and good tires.

Texas Spoken Friendly

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

The 20 Best Road Trips from San Antonio

Whether you feel like tubing the river, making a craft beer pilgrimage, or working on your BBQ bucket list, these 20 road trip-able destinations are beckoning

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, 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. 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 and beyond.

But this is the summer of road trips! If you are wondering “What are the best places for road trips from San Antonio?” we have you covered. Road trips are a fun, safe option for traveling out of town for a getaway. Whether you’re looking for somewhere to head for the day or a weekend or a long driving tour of Texas, we have the list.

Po-Po Restaurant near Comfort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Comfort

Distance from San Antonio: 47 miles

Comfort, Texas embodies everything there is about a small Texas town. One of the strange and fun attractions that Comfort has to offer is its Hygioestatic Bat Roost. This historic tower has been home to over 100 malaria-fighting bats for years and it’s a fun activity to watch them fly. There are also plenty of down-home restaurants and shops worth visiting in the old town. If you’re looking for a humble Comfort history, visiting shops in the old town is a great place to start.

City Market, Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Luling

Distance from San Antonio: 58 miles

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 is 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 spring-fed 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 be on the water, you can tube down the river.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Blanco

Distance from San Antonio: 59 miles

Blanco was settled in the mid-1800s for Texas Rangers, immigrants, and their families. Blanco State Park is filled with wildlife, diverse topography, and hiking trails. Once you’ve spent some time exploring the outdoors, you can head over to the local winery, Texas Hills Vineyards. They’re actually the only winery in Texas to produce Pino Grigio. Relax at their onsite tasting room. And don’t miss Real Ale Brewery!

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

4. Lockhart

Distance from San Antonio: 67 miles 

A trip to this flavor-packed smoke town should be on any foodie’s bucket list. Tiny Lockhart can be found outside of San Marcos and is well known for its BBQ. In fact, Lockhart is the “BBQ Capital of Texas”. Black’s Barbecue (open since 1932), Kreuz Market (est. 1900), and Smitty’s Market (since 1948) are the three you want to tackle. 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 is a great place to camp and hike after you eat copious amounts of delicious BBQ.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Fredericksburg

Distance from San Antonio: 70 miles 

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.

Go there for the shopping but stay for the natural beauty and great attractions. You will definitely want to stop by one of their many wineries and weingartens but don’t miss the Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park or the Pioneer Museum. The real gem, though, is the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. This huge, dome-like mountain of limestone has miles of trails. Make it to the top for a never-before-seen view of the Hill Country.

Spoetzl Brewery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Shiner

Distance from San Antonio: 100 miles 

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

7. Schulenburg

Distance from San Antonio: 112 miles

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 rolling hills and beautiful bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes in the spring. Not far from Austin, San Antonio, Houston, or Waco either, Schulenburg is halfway to everywhere.

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

8. Painted Churches of Fayette County

Distance from San Antonio: 114 miles

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.

La Grande © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. La Grange

Distance from San Antonio: 120 miles

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’s 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.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Corpus Christi

Distance from San Antonio: 143 miles 

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.

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

11. Brenham

Distance from San Antonio: 150 miles

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.

Rockport- Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Rockport-Fulton

Distance from San Antonio: 161 miles

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.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Port Aransas

Distance from San Antonio: 178 miles 

Dive into fun at Port Aransas on Mustang Island. With 18 miles of wide, sandy beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, there are endless ways to recreate in Port A. Two popular activities in Port Aransas are swimming and fishing. There’s also the Port Aransas Nature Preserve which is home to diverse wildlife, beautiful topography, and some of the most scenic sunsets on the island. Bird watching is also a popular activity in Port Aransas and the best place to go is Leonabelle Turnbill Birding Center.

Texas Ranger Museum, Waco © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Waco

Distance from San Antonio: 181 miles

The Heart of Texas has recently become famous for its Magnolia Market at the Silos, the birth child, and flagship home and decor store of Chip & Joanna Gaines from HGTV. The city on the Brazos (River) has so much more to offer—the Waco Mammoth National Monument is one of the best. The nationally recognized trails at Cameron Park are worth an entire day. If that’s not enough, you can visit the Dr. Pepper Museum and Texas Rangers Hall of Fame & Museum. Walk across the historic Suspension Bridge built in 1870 where the clopping hooves of cattle followed the Chisholm and Shawnee Trails up north.

Caverns of Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Caverns of Senora

Distance from San Antonio: 186 miles

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 from 20 feet to 180 feet below the surface. The Cavern is known for its stunning array of calcite crystal formations, extremely delicate formations, and the abundance and variety of formations. You’ll find helictites, soda straws stalactites, speleothems, stalagmites, and cave bacon. The cave is a constant 71 degrees with 98 percent humidity which makes it feel about 85 degrees.

Moody Mansion, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Galveston

Distance from San Antonio: 250 miles

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, Schlitterbahn Waterpark, the Historic Pleasure Pier, dazzling Victorian architecture, and 32 miles of sun-kissed beaches.

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

17. South Padre

Distance from San Antonio: 297 miles 

South Padre is a beautiful island set on the Texas coast that’s home to 34 acres of leisurely beachfront property and should be on your road trip from San Antonio’s list. The stunning sandy beaches, numerous tourist attractions, and exciting water activities make sure that every traveler will have fun in South Padre. Laguna Madre Nature Trail is a great place to start exploring the island.

Marathon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Marathon

Distance from San Antonio: 326 miles 

Marathon, Texas is a tiny town close to Big Bend National Park. If you’re stopping in Marathon for the night, the Gage Hotel is a historic property that is full of local history in a comfortable setting. There’s also plenty of adventure to be had in Marathon. Post Park in the city is a beautiful oasis in the middle of the desert where travelers can head to the water and feed the local ducks. 

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

19. Fort Davis

Distance from San Antonio: 401 miles 

Fort Davis is a small town in West Texas near Big Bend National Park. This town is well known for the observatory that helps travelers see the beautiful night sky and all the stars that dance and skip inside it. Fort Davis is also home to the Davis Mountains that are fun to explore at the Davis Mountain State Park.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Big Bend National Park

Distance from San Antonio: 404 miles

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.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

After 7 days of trial and error,

God created Texas on the 8th day.

Texas is BIG—Beautiful & Diverse

Texas is big, beautiful, and diverse

With 267,000 square miles of amazing opportunities and unforgettable destinations, an RV visit to Texas is always exciting.

Enchanted Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a state as diverse as Texas, there’s always an adventure around every corner and unique attractions at every turn. From West Texas to the Panhandle to the Gulf Coast, El Paso to Texarkana to Brownsville, from outdoor enthusiasts to foodies to culture buffs, there’s always something to see and do in Texas.

Even those of us who visit Texas frequently and spend a big chunk of our time traversing it leave most of the state untouched. We’ve driven through Texas numerous times over the years. But yet, it always amazes us just how big Texas really is.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Charting any RV trip through the state can be a daunting task. So many miles, so many routes, and even after all our years on the road we’ve still not seen large portions of the Lone Star State. Every trip through, we explore new areas—and revisit favorite haunts. The state overflows with awesomeness at every turn, places we find completely captivating.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usually, we just follow I-10 from the west. Yes, it can be boring but it is the most direct route. We take our time and schedule varied side excursions along the way and make the journey—and not the destination—the highlight of the trip. It is the journey that is the joy of RVing.

We’ve explored the Big Bend area including Big Bend National Park, Terlingua, Alpine, Marfa, and Davis Mountain Observatory. If it’s solitude you seek, you’ll find it here. However you see it, Big Bend is not soon forgotten: It’s a place of mystery and timeless beauty.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wind-swept, dynamic rippling sandscapes in Monahans Sandhills State Park are one-of-a-kind. A half-hour’s drive west of Odessa it is well worth a visit. The park consists of 3,840 acres of wind-sculpted living sand dunes some up to 70 feet high. The Park is set in one of the areas where the dunes are still active and constantly being shaped by the wind and rain. The dunes grow and change shape due to seasonal prevailing winds and you can watch them change whenever the wind is blowing.

Blue Bell Creamery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ice cream. For us aficionados, ice cream is one of the four food groups. Blue Bell has become the best tasting and certainly the most successful ice cream in Texas (and that means the best in the world). Would my taste buds lie? To learn what makes an exceptionally good thing good, we visited “the little creamery” in Brenham: I think we found out but every few years we require a refresher course.

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

Lockhart is the Barbecue Capital of Texas. Out-of-towners and locals flock to four smoked-meat emporiums—Black’s Barbecue, Chisholm Trail Barbecue, Kreuz Market, and Smitty’s Market. Several tons of barbecued beef, pork, chicken, and smoked sausage links are served each day. Aside from the barbecue, Lockhart is a wonderful old town to visit. This small Texas town exudes a rustic, slow-paced charm arising from its Western heritage rooted in cattle and cotton.

City Market, Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the great joys of RVing is visiting new places and making interesting discoveries. Another is just the opposite—revisiting those places that demand a closer look. Sometimes that second chance leads to a third—and a fourth. City Market in Luling, is such a place. The meat-market-turned-barbecue-restaurant started in 1958, and over the years has become a barbecue icon. This is the arguably the best barbeque in all of Texas which helps explain why Luling is perennially included on our Texas itinerary.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Texas, the mere mention of the word “Shiner” immediately brings to mind thoughts of a cold longneck and the distinctive brew within. However, before the beer, there was the town. Not surprisingly, the best way to learn the history of Shiner is to learn the history of Shiner Beer, as the two have been intertwined for more than a hundred years. So, we headed to Spoetzl Brewery and joined a tour. The tour gave us a firsthand look into the brewing process and, of course, a firsthand sampling of the final product, from flagstaff Shiner Bock to the Extra Pale Ale, Haymaker. A day trip to Shiner goes down as smooth as the namesake beverage. As they say when toasting in Shiner, “Prosit!”

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

There’s more—much more—an adventure in Texas. Space does not permit us to detail our numerous other unforgettable adventures and experiences from The Alamo, River Walk, and San Antonio Missions National Historic Park in San Antonio to Fredericksburg, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, and Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park in the Hill Country. Galveston, Johnson Space Center, Big Thicket National Preserve, Caddo Lake, Rockport, Corpus Christi, Goliad, Rio Grande Valley, and Austin.

San Antonio Missions National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t Mess with Texas, Y’all!

And, of course, because we haven’t yet been quite everywhere, we’ll keep exploring Texas. 

What’s Next?

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

After 7 days of trial and error,

God created Texas on the 8th day.

A Toast to Texas History

Every drop of Shiner is brewed in Shiner

South of Flatonia and Moulton on Highway 95 lay a magical land where beer is made—Shiner. To that place two thirsty companions and a designated driver traveled.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the first grumblings of hunger appeared as we approached the little village of Moulton. It was hard to believe the locals when we were told that one of the best restaurants around was Klosel’s Steakhouse. After some hesitation, we stopped for lunch en route to the little brewery in Shiner and gave it a shot and what a pleasant surprise. The food was truly amazing and good value. Great atmosphere and friendly service! We have eaten here numerous times over the years and have always been impressed with their food and staff. Particularly love their chicken fried steak—and desert.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Brewery is on the right as you enter town—you can’t miss it. The best time to go is during the week when the Spoetzel Brewery comes to life. My fellow pilgrims that day were Winter Texans like myself.

The Spoetzel Brewery, founded in 1909, brews Shiner Beer with the pure artesian water that’s flowed beneath the ground there for centuries.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1909 the residents of Shiner, Texas, didn’t strike gold. They struck water. And shortly thereafter they learned that they could turn that water into some pretty tasty beer. Today, they still brew every drop of Shiner with the same pure artesian well water that’s wet the town’s whistle for more than a hundred years. They say some things never change, to which we say “Prosit!”

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Decisions! Decisions! At the time of our previous trip the brewery gave each visitor tokens (wooden nickels) for four complimentary beers. Well, they weren’t quite full beers. They’re more like six ounces but they’re nice for trying new flavors. During our most recent visit they charged a small $5 fee. Just happened to have unused tokens in my pocket from previous visits to which we said “Prosit!”

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And there is something deeply satisfying about drinking Shiner from the tap knowing it was brewed less than 100 yards away. Prosit! That’s what ought to come out of your mouth before the refreshing goodness that is a free beer goes into it. It’s a toast that means “good health.”

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I started out with Shiner’s new rose ale. It tasted like someone poured a Shiner in a glass that had a little red wine left in it. But it wasn’t bad. The next three were White Wing, Fresh Hop IPA, and Prickly Pear. The brewery recently introduced a new beer to the market, a Belgian white named, appropriately, White Wing. Brewed with orange peel and coriander, White Wing replaces Shiner Hefeweizen as a permanent, year-round option.

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The original tin brewery was founded in the center of an Austrian, German, and Czech farming community near the railroad tracks on the banks of Boggy Creek. A group of Shiner businessmen interested in appealing to new Bohemian settlers established the original stock company known as the Shiner Brewing Association in 1909. After a few years of disappointing results they hired Spoetzl who purchased the brewery in 1915. With Prohibition, Spoetzl turned to producing ice and “near beer.”

Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can’t have Shiner without Bock. Spoetzl releases three year-round brands, about eight seasonal, and four Brewer’s Pride beers every year. Bock remains a favorite. Brewed since 1913, the flagship brand began as a seasonal brewed for spring then became a year-round offering in 1973. Shiner Bock now accounts for over 80 percent of the total Shiner volume.

Friday’s Fried Chicken © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After our visit to the Spoetzl Brewery we stopped for dessert at Friday’s Fried Chicken. Don’t let the name throw you off. They have a full menu and a bakery. Friday’s named after the Patek family (Patek means “Friday” in Czech), offers some of the best fried chicken south of the Colorado River—along with those Bohemian delicacies known as rosettes, kolaches, and a variety of delicious pies including pecan. I saw several customers with full meals on their table ranging from chicken to beef to salads. Friday’s Fried Chicken is about a half mile from the brewery on the left as you head into town.

Saint Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the way out of town we stopped by Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church, a towering cathedral that has anchored Shiner since 1921. Boasting a Romanesque revival style of architecture and stunning stained glass windows imported from Germany with a magnificent mural of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and an imposing square tower, the church is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Saint Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

For a quart of ale is a meal for a king.

—William Shakespeare

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

Free Things to Do in America

From Kentucky to Vermont and Utah, fun times don’t have to cost a lot

Just because the temperature has dropped a few degrees doesn’t mean you have to stay at home watching Netflix.

If the winter blues are making you stir crazy, fear not: There’s plenty of excitement to be had across America. From sampling maple syrup in Vermont to following the Freedom Trail in Massachusetts, you don’t have to leave the U.S.—or break your budget—to have an amazing adventure.

Check out these seven fun activities you can enjoy in these states for free. 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.

Morse Farms Maple Sugarworks © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free Things to Do in Vermont: Taste Maple Syrup

Don’t leave Vermont without sampling some authentic maple syrup. You’ll find plenty of maple farms in the Green Mountain State, and some of them offer free tastings. At Sugarbush Farm in Woodstock, for example, you can get free admission and try four grades of pure Vermont maple syrup.

Boston Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free Things to Do in Massachusetts: Follow the Freedom Trail

You can’t follow the yellow brick road in Boston, but you can follow a red line that guides you along the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail. Visit 16 official sites that are significant in the history of the American Revolution, from the Old Corner Bookstore to the site of the Boston Massacre.

And don’t forget about Faneuil Hall, which hosted America’s first town meeting. These days, you can shop, eat, and enjoy live musical performances in the market.

Buffalo Trace Distillery tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free Things to Do in Kentucky: Drink Bourbon

Kentucky is known for its bourbon, so why not take a tour of the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort? All tours are complimentary, and the Trace Tour doesn’t require a reservation. You’ll see bourbon barrels and get to sample some of the best local liquor. Extend your travels on the Bourbon Trail.

Shiner beer © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free Things to Do in Texas: Tour a Brewery and Sample Beer in Shiner

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 get made. 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!”

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free Things to Do in Virginia: Wander Colonial Williamsburg 

Explore Colonial Williamsburg in the city of Williamsburg. Visitors typically drop a bit of cash to tour the 18th century buildings in Colonial Williamsburg, but if you keep your wanderings to commercial shops and the city streets, you don’t have to spend a dime.

You’ll be highly entertained as you explore the government buildings, shops, homes, gardens, and taverns of Williamsburg and viewing free outdoor entertainment like re-enactment actors firing cannons. Enter the residents’ homes or learn about their workplaces; see where they sleep, where they eat, and where they socialize.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free Things to Do in Utah: Explore the Valley of the Gods

This little valley near Bluff, Utah is filled with sandstone formations and starry night skies. Located in the southeastern corner of Utah it is out of the way of the main national park loop.

To drive through the Valley of the Gods you will take a 17-mile, unpaved loop. Similar to Monument Valley, but only a quarter of the size, it remains quiet and peaceful.

Holmes County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Free Things to Do in Ohio: Experience the Past in the Present in Holmes County

The Amish have established themselves in the Holmes County area, and it is estimated that one in every six Amish in the world live in this area. The Amish choose to live a simple way of life, which is clearly evident by the presence of horses and buggies, handmade quilts, and lack of electricity in Amish homes.

Holmes County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the byway you will be treated to the typical, yet breathtaking sights of Amish Country: teams of huge, blonde Belgians pulling wagons of hay, farmers working in the fields and of course, beautiful views of lush, green farmland, large white houses, and red barns.

Worth Pondering…

America is laced with nooks and crannies, good places that go undiscovered by many mainstream travelers.

The 6 Best Places to Travel in 2019

Ask me where I want to RV in 2019, and I will answer, honestly, where don’t I?

Ask me where I want to RV in 2019, and I will answer, honestly, where don’t I?

When it comes to compiling my list of the places I’m most excited about in the coming year, narrowing down the field is easier said than done.

I pore over tourism reports, and consider scenic landscapes, culinary experiences, historic significance, outdoor activities, temperate weather, fall foliage, and my bucket list.

Minor consideration is given to where people are actually going, and the trendy places that the so-called travel experts are watching in the coming year.

And, of course, there are the off-the-beaten path destinations and hidden secrets that we haven’t heard much about—places like British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, an emerging wine destination.

After all, isn’t dreaming about places totally new to us—and seeing old favorites in a new light—why we travel in the first place?

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

With rolling hills dotted with sagebrush and ponderosa pine—and thousands of acres of vineyards—the Okanagan Valley can no longer be considered a nascent Napa. Lying between two mountain ranges and stretching roughly 125 miles north from the U.S.-Canada border, the geography varies from the desert-like conditions in the south to the green plateau of the Naramata Bench and Okanagan Lake’s sandy beaches.

Mesilla

Although the town of Mesilla, in Southern New Mexico, is home to a mere 2,196 people, it’s a fascinating place to visit. Here you’ll find well-preserved architecture, history worth delving into, and high quality restaurants.

The plaza is the heart of Mesilla and that’s a good place to start exploring. In fact, it’s a national historic landmark. The San Albino Basilica dominates one side of the plaza. This Romanesque church was built in 1906 although its bells are older, dating back to the 1870s and 1880s.

Newport

There are plenty of things to do in Newport but the seaside city really shines brightest during the summer. After all, the million-dollar mansions that Newport is known for were built as warm-weather retreats, for those perfect days spent on yachts and lawns.

There are many ways to soak in the culture. The Cliff Walk, where you can peek into well-manicured backyards, remains free, while some of the mansions are open for tours and special events. And the who’s who of Newport will be out in spades at two big festivals in July: the Newport Folk Festival and the Newport Jazz Festival.

Santa Fe
Founded in 1607, Santa Fe is America’s oldest capital city and also houses the oldest public building in the country, the circa-1610 Palace of the Governors which was originally the seat of government for the Spanish colony of Neuvo Mexico. To wander the Downtown Santa Fe Plaza is to immerse one in traditional adobe structures. There are time-warped old buildings and churches including the stunning Loretto Chapel famous for its miraculous staircase and San Miguel Mission, reported to be America’s oldest church built between 1610 and 1626.

But, history’s not the only thing going down in Santa Fe. The city’s unique cuisine and renowned art galleries are integral to the area’s charm.

Lodi

Lying at the edge of the Sacramento River Delta, Lodi enjoys a classic Mediterranean climate of warm days and cool evenings, ideal for growing wine grapes. Wander historic downtown Lodi with century-old brick buildings, brick-cobbled streets lined with elm trees and turn-of-the-century light poles. You’ll love this area and the way the city has maintained its history and heritage. Many unique shops, restaurants, and more than a dozen wine tasting boutiques and exciting restaurants.

Shiner

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 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!”

Worth Pondering…

America is laced with nooks and crannies, good places that go undiscovered by many mainstream travelers.