10 Amazing Places to RV in April 2022

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

The only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough.

—Ted Hughes

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

English poet Ted Hughes is best known for his stark, no-frills writing on the natural world which explores the inherent wild nature of both animals and humans. Hughes wrote numerous poetry collections and children’s books and is also remembered as the husband of the renowned writer Sylvia Plath. Hughes’ words here remind us that taking risks is an essential part of living. With every chance we take, we make ourselves vulnerable to failure and hurt. But at the end of the day, we’re more likely to regret a life lived too cautiously to be enjoyed fully.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So whether you’re thinking of renting an RV or getting your RV ready for the road, here are 10 prime choices for an April getaway around the country. As always, check the locations’ policies and hours before you travel—but most of all, get out and live life to the full—in an RV!

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in February and March. Also, check out my recommendations from April 2021.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Caves, condors, and hiking

Caves, condors, and camping are the big draws at Pinnacles which became a national park in 2013. The park gets its name from towering, domed rock structures that seem to bulge out of the earth. Located east of the Salinas Valley, it’s the perfect place to enjoy natural wonder that still feels a bit off the beaten path.

Pinnacles National Park is divided into two sides—east and west—and there is no way to drive through the park from one side to the other (although you can cross the park on foot, a roughly 5-mile hike). 

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The extremely endangered California condor is the park’s signature bird: With its nine-foot wingspan and bald head, these impressive creatures are a sight to behold. Bring your binoculars and stay on the lookout for these prehistoric-looking scavengers as well as nearly 200 other distinct species including turkey vultures, hawks, golden eagles, and peregrine falcons.

Pinnacles National Park offers more than 30 miles of hiking trails, hundreds of rock climbing routes, and two talus caves to explore: the Bear Gulch Cave and Balconies Cave.

King Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

King Ranch

The King Ranch is the largest ranch in the great state of Texas, 825,000 acres spread over 1,289 square miles and founded in 1853 by Capt. Richard King and Gideon K. Lewis.

King Ranch tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The history of the King Ranch reads like one of those magazines at the grocery store checkout stand: a rough and tough lifestyle of economic highs, depressions, and then a strong economic recovery. Heck, there was even a gentleman killed for messing around with another man’s wife. We are talking about real soap opera stuff here.

Caracara on King Ranch Nature tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But King Ranch’s real claim to fame is the livestock that was developed through a very selective merging of bloodlines to create a better breed. The King Ranch had been herding its lanky Longhorns to the railyards to get them to the markets in Chicago and other parts of the country. If you have ever seen one of these Longhorns up close you realize the steaks that would come off this breed would probably be pretty lean and tough as shoe leather. The Longhorn with its huge rack of horns is independent, hard to get along with and pretty much a loner.

King Ranch tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The ranch provided an environment that was conducive to creating a carefully crafted mix of Braham and Beef Shorthorn they call the Santa Gertrudis. This new breed of hearty beef cattle has ease of calving, excellent mothering skills, can tolerate the South Texas heat, and is parasite resistant.

King Ranch tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though King Ranch quarter horses are vital to King Ranch’s day-to-day operations and are seen by thousands of visitors that tour the ranch each year, they also hold an important place in King Ranch history. Visit the King Ranch Museum to experience how King Ranch Quarter Horses are an integral part of King Ranch’s heritage, the Cutting Horse industry, and the American Quarter Horse Association alike in the special exhibit, From OLD SORREL to THE BOON: The History of the King Ranch Quarter Horses.

Related: RV Travel Bucket List: 20 Places to Visit Before You Die

The King Ranch offers Daily Ranch Tours, Special Interest Tours, Nature Tours, and Motor Coach Tours for larger groups.

Peridot Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

AZ Poppy Fest

Experience the vibrant poppy bloom the first weekend of April. Golden poppies are just starting to turn their faces to the sun all over the beautiful hills and neighborhoods of Globe-Miami, Roosevelt Lake, and Peridot Mesa. Enjoy the warmth and beauty of this spectacle April 1-3, 2022. Events will be held in the Roosevelt Lake area Friday, April 1. Globe will hold a Downtown event on Saturday, April 2. San Carlos will hold its second annual event on Sunday, April 3.

Peridot Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Celebrate spring as you feast your eyes on the natural beauty of poppy-covered hillsides throughout the region. Vendors, restaurants, and businesses offer poppy-themed items and the photo opportunities will be unmatched.

The AZ Poppy Fest includes guided hikes, local deals, and a variety of vendors plus poppy-themed eats, art shows, and lectures.

Besh-Ba-Gowah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While in Globe visit Besh-Ba-Gowah, the heartland of the Salado people. The term was originally given by the Apaches to the early settlement of Globe. Roughly translated, the term means “place of metal.” Here visitors will see the partially restored ancient ruin of the Salado people who occupied the site between A.D. 1225 and A.D. 1400. Enjoy the self guided tour of the village which allows visitors to experience the mysteries of those who came before.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Williamsburg was once the capital of Virginia, the largest and most influential colony in the budding republic. The restored version of Colonial Williamsburg has provided the public with a detailed, vibrant re-creation of this city with the opportunity to travel back in time amid 88 rebuilt homes, taverns, restaurants, and shops.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience the grandeur of royal authority in Virginia just before its collapse in the Revolution. The Governor’s Palace, home to seven royal governors and the first two elected governors in Virginia, was built to impress visitors with a display of authority and wealth.

Colonial Williamsburg is part of the Historic Triangle, which also includes Jamestown and Yorktown. Each of these sites has its own unique features and historical significance.

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Historic Jamestowne, the site of the original 1607 settlement, explore the Glasshouse to learn about America’s earliest industries, see ongoing archaeological discoveries of the fort, and view thousands of artifacts unearthed on display in the Nathalie P. and Alan M. Voorhees Archaearium. At Jamestown Settlement, explore a world-class living history museum that re-creates life in the Jamestown colony.

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

See where American independence was won at the Yorktown Battlefield, administered by the National Park Service as part of the Colonial National Historical Park. Start at the Visitor Center and see the orientation film and museum exhibits including the field tents used by General Washington during the battle. Join a Ranger for a guided walking tour of the battlefield and 18th-century town.

Montezuma Castle © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle

Although Montezuma Castle National Monument is a small site, its history runs deep. Located in the Verde Valley 25 miles south of Sedona, it was established in 1906 to preserve Indigenous American culture. The compact site almost feels like a diorama of an ancient village built by the Sinagua people who inhabited the valley as far back as 650.

Sycamore along Beaver Creek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A short pathway lined with sycamores and catclaw mimosa trees leads to the limestone cliff where a 20-room building peeks out from above. Built by the Sinagua people in around 1050, the castle is a well-preserved example of architectural ingenuity. The placement of rooms on the south-facing cliff helps regulate summer and winter temperatures. Its elevated location provides protection from Beaver Creek’s annual flooding, plus it functions as a lookout. 

Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive 11 miles north to see the Montezuma Well which is part of the national monument. Along with the limestone sinkhole, cliff dwellings, and irrigation channels are characteristic of the prehistoric people who have lived in the area, dating back to 11,000 CE. The water in the well which is 386 feet across has high levels of arsenic and other chemicals, but it still supports endemic species such as water scorpions, snails, mud turtles, and leeches.

Savannah River Front © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indulge in the Richness of Savannah

Savannah always has something to discover from food to arts, culture, and history. The Plant Riverside District is the new must-see area of River Street with dozens of shops, and restaurants, along with live entertainment and experiences. The JW Marriott Plant Riverside is spread across three buildings with two rooftop bars and a museum-quality collection of minerals and fossils.

Savannah City Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The City Market District has the city’s best shopping for unique gifts, restaurants, and cafes, as well as the American Prohibition Museum, which has its own speakeasy.

Related: The Ultimate RV Travel Bucket List: 51 Best Places to Visit in North America

Savannah has endless options for delicious meals. Grab a reservation at The Grey, an award-winning restaurant located in a restored Greyhound Bus Terminal. Sister restaurant The Grey Market is a more casual experience. Finish off your day with a sweet treat at Leopold’s, a retro ice cream parlor.

Benson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roam Cochise

Amid picturesque river-valley views, agreeable weather, and the Home of Kartchner Caverns State Park, the City of Benson is ideally situated along Interstate-10 as the Gateway to Cochise County. The Benson Visitor Center—Train Depot is a beautiful replica railroad depot using many of the same architectural features as the original depot that was built over a century ago. Head out from the Visitor’s Center and begin the Mural Walking Tour, a fun look at 42 hand-painted.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take in the ambiance of Douglas—home to the first international airport—as you enjoy the Border Air Museum and Art Car Museum. The 1907 Gadsden Hotel was named after the historically significant Gadsden Purchase; a purchase of 30,000 square miles from Mexico made in 1853 for 10 million dollars, negotiated by James Gadsden, who was then the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. The land purchase was to ensure territorial rights for a practical southern railroad route to the pacific coast. We can now only imagine how Arizona was before it was a state and at a time when Wyatt Earp, Geronimo, and Pancho Villa rode roughshod over the West.

Queen Mine © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of Bisbee’s most magnificent architectural achievements is the countless concrete stairs that cling to the steep canyon sides. You can find these stairs all over town. While you’re at it, explore the heritage and culture along Subway Street.

Tour the Queen Mine, one of the most productive copper mines of the 20th century. Don the mining lanterns, hats and slickers of the miners, ride the mine train deep into the mine, and search for remaining veins of copper, gold, turquoise, silver, lead, and zinc.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Last, but not least, hitch a ride aboard a Tombstone Stage Coach in the Town Too Tough To Die.

Then, watch a reenactment of The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, a 30-second gunfight between outlaw Cowboys and lawmen that is generally regarded as the most famous gunfight in the history of the American Wild West.

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hike and Paddle through Ancient Beidler Forest

The Francis Beidler Forest preserves one of the last large virgin stands of bald cypress-tupelo gum swamp in the United States. A significant number of rare and unusual plants and animals are found in this unique natural area. Its five major community types provide habitat for an extremely rich diversity of species.

Related: Get in your RV and Go! Scenic Drives in America

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Part of an 18,000-acre bird and wildlife sanctuary owned and managed by the National Audubon Society, Francis Beidler Forest boasts the largest virgin cypress-tupelo swamp forest in the world. The 3,408-acre pristine ecosystem features thousand-year-old trees and a rich diversity of species.

Francis Beidler Forest offer two trails, the old growth virgin forest cypress tupelo swamp boardwalk and the newer grassland-woodland trail.

Frances Beidler Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now’s your chance to paddle in the still blackwater of a primeval swamp and experience nature as it existed a thousand years ago. The water level is up in Francis Beidler Forest this time of year making it possible to navigate through the largest remaining stand of virgin bald cypress and tupelo gum trees in the world.

Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

BBQ Capital of Texas

In 2003, the Texas Legislature proclaimed Lockhart the barbecue capital of Texas. Come hungry—there are four barbecue restaurants in town with menus that range from brisket to sausage and turkey. The oldest is Kreuz Market which opened in 1900 and is famous for not serving barbecue sauce. In 1999, owner Rick Schmidt moved the business to the current location, while his sister, Nina Schmidt Sells, continued ownership of the original building and opened it as Smitty’s Market. (Smitty’s does have sauce, but you have to ask for it.)

Black’s Barbecue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Opened in 1932, Black’s Barbecue is one of the oldest barbecue restaurants in the state owned and continuously operated by the same family. (In the 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson had their sausage flown directly to Washington, D.C. to be served at the U.S. Capitol.) Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que is the newcomer to town, opening in 1978 after owner Floyd Wilhelm sold his fishing boat to start the restaurant. Both Chisholm and Black’s have the largest variety of side dishes from macaroni and cheese to fried okra.

Caldwell County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In between eating, be sure to stroll by the photogenic 1894 Caldwell County Courthouse, a three-story building made from Muldoon limestone with red Pecos sandstone trim. Another must-see attraction is Texas Hatters, a family-owned custom hat shop that’s fitted celebrities ranging from Willie Nelson to Robert Duvall. Stop by to see third-generation master hatter Joella Gammage Torres at work using the same techniques (and tools) her father and grandfather used.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park

Located in Oro Valley, at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, this nearly 5,500-acre park is home to thousands of saguaro cacti, other desert plants, canyons, and streams. Designated an Important Birding Area (IBA) by the Audubon Society, the park is home to more than 150 species of birds and several nature trails varying in length and difficulty.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park is a convenient place to stay near Tucson, offering 120 electric and water sites for RV and tent camping (each with picnic tables and grills, and access to flush restrooms and hot showers). One of the most visited parks in Arizona, Catalina is known for its stunning views and clean showers—but campers are advised to be on the lookout for camel spiders; although they’re harmless to humans, the scary-looking arachnids like to lurk in bathrooms and scare unsuspecting visitors. 

Worth Pondering…

April is a promise that May is bound to keep.

—Hal Borland

The 10 Top Things to Do in Texas

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

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

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

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

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

San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio

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

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore The Alamo

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

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

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Hill Country

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

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

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

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

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

Gruene Dance Hall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Braunfels

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

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

Gruene Historic District © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Austin

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

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

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

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

Painted Churches of Fayette County

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

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

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

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

South Padre Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Galveston

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

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

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

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

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

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corpus Christi

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

Texas State Aquarium © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Texas BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eat Texas Barbecue

With 13 million head of cattle, Texas has nearly double the number of any other state so it should be no surprise that the Lone Star State cooks up the delicious barbecue. Whether you prefer thick slices of brisket or a rack of ribs, barbecue is one of those foods you can’t leave Texas without trying. As you travel through Texas, you’ll likely notice different styles of barbecue from sauce-covered meat in the southern and eastern portions of the state to well-seasoned meat with sauce on the side in the central and western portions. Needless to say, it’s all fantastic.

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

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

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

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

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

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

Linger Awhile in Luling

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

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

Luling watermelon water tower © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Watermelon Shop in Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Oil pump jack © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

Central Texas Oilpatch Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Central Texas Oilpatch Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

City Market BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

City Market BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

Renovated Zedler Mill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palmetto State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

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

― Robb Walsh

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.

The Essential Guide to Eating Texas

Everything a foodie should know about the Lone Star State

Of course, you’re bound to get hungry on any Texas road trip. Since the Lone Star State is populated by predominantly devout carnivores laying claim to about 268,820 square miles of land, there are countless restaurants to discover (or re-discover). So we rounded up a list of the best small-town places to visit when you’re making your way around the Lone Star State.

The best road trips are the ones that involve delicious food, am I right? Texas is just full of so many amazing places to eat and it seems impossible to try all of them in a lifetime—so we’re done the next best thing and tried a few of the very best, most iconic restaurants in Central Texas.

Smitty’s Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Smitty’s Market, Lockhart 

The black soot covering Smitty’s foyer and pit room is a good sign—it means the place is alive and kickin’ after all these years. Go for the Texas trinity of brisket, pork ribs, and sausage, fresh from the pit, and throw on a pork chop or shoulder clod if you’re feeling wild. This is the kind of spot where asking for sauce is welcome and it’s a tasty sauce indeed. 

Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weikel’s Bakery, La Grande

Weikel’s Bakery prides itself in making authentic from-scratch Czech pastries like Kolaches and Klobasnikies (Pigs-in-a-Blanket) and many other baked goods. 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.

Black’s Barbecue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black’s Barbecue, Lockhart

Smoked Texas barbecue puts smiles on faces. Black’s is one of the most iconic barbecue joints in Texas. From brisket so tender it practically melts in your mouth to fall-off-the-bone ribs smoked in the most flavorful marinade you’ll ever taste, I guarantee you’ll be leaving the table more than a little full.

Kloesel’s Steakhouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kloesel’s Steakhouse, Moulton

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

Black’s Barbecue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kreuz Market, Lockhart 

Kreuz Market (pronounced ‘Krites’) might be the most unique dining experience you’ve ever had. The beef, sausage, or pork is served on brown butcher paper. No side dishes here. But you can enjoy a slice of cheddar cheese, chunk of onion, tomatoes, avocado and your favorite beverage. Don’t ask for barbecue sauce. They don’t have it and quite honestly are offended if anyone asks. The owners say, ‘good barbecue doesn’t need sauce.’

City Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

City Market, Luling

There are few places we love as much as the pit room at City Market. Entering the smoke-filled, glass-enclosed chamber at the back of the dining room is an experience you will remember for decades—a trip into an iconic, sacred space in the world of barbecue.

The City Market serves brisket, ribs, and sausage rings on butcher paper. They’re great as-is but house-made sauce is significant. The brisket is terrific as are pork ribs, but City Market’s great dish is a sausage ring. A swinging door leads into a back-room pit where pit men assemble meats on pink butcher paper. They take your money then gather the edges of the paper together so it becomes a boat-like container you easily can carry back into the pine-paneled dining room.

Truth BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Truth BBQ, Brenham

Walking in we’re offered samples of brisket and a delicious side. The first bite announces the fact that youthful proprietor Leonard Botello IV has been an admirer of the handiwork of other masters of the craft, notably Franklin Barbecue’s Aaron Franklin. The pork ribs are decadently moist and slightly sweetened with a glaze. The brisket possesses an intense meaty flavor, subtle but deep smoke penetration, and a fine black-pepper crust. And the sides—can we talk about the sides? There is creamy mac and cheese with sizzling bacon crumbled on top; slow-cooked collard greens; rapturously buttery corn pudding; and bright, crisp slaw.

Original Kountry Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Original Kountry Bakery, Schulenburg

In 1979, Evelyn Besetsny and her husband Clarence started a bakery in a little house along Highway 77. Evelyn’s recipes came down from the Czech lands through her mother, Caroline Valicek. Those basic recipes for kolaches, strudel, and pigs haven’t changed, either. Clarence and Evelyn retired in 2007 but their daughter Lynn Heller carries on the tradition today. Heller has added a few items over the years like sauerkraut pig-in-the-blankets, jalapeno pigs, bacon and cheese rolls, and boudin pigs. Kountry Bakery’s stew and chilli are also lunchtime favorites. And the best part about eating lunch at Kountry Bakery are all the sweets to pick up for desert.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

I am not a glutton—I am an explorer of food.

—Erma Bombeck

Texas BBQ: By Meat Alone

Everything you need to know about Texas BBQ

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

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

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

City Market, Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smitty’s Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

City Market, Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Truth BBQ, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

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

—from Legends of Texas BBQ