So you want to visit the best places in Texas? Then you better prepare to travel long distances.
While it’s possible to visit several cities in Texas on one trip, combining some of the more popular destinations will likely require a rental car and a long drive – or two. If you want to see both Austin and Big Bend National Park, for example, be prepared for an eight-hour road trip (one way).
If you want to visit both San Antonio and Dallas, gear up for a five-hour trek on Interstate Highway 35. And although there are enough Willie Nelson albums to fill over 70 hours of driving, we’ve grouped some of Texas’ best destinations by region to help you make your way around more easily and get the most of your travels in the Lone Star State.
Austin became the capital of Texas in 1846, and the University of Texas was established in 1883. For about a hundred years, the city remained a sleepy college town and political seat until the tech boom of the 1980s attracted more businesses and residents. Known for its rich history of live music thanks to televised performances from the Austin City Limits studios, the city is still the best spot in Texas to catch a troubadour on every corner.
Be sure to browse the local boutiques on South Congress Avenue, such as Allen’s Boots. Founded in 1977, the store’s red boot sign and extensive collection of Western wear has made it a go-to shopping destination for decades. Two-step across the street to South Congress Hotel for a drink in the hotel’s lobby bar before catching live music at the legendary Continental Club down the street.
Texas Hill Country
A trip to Austin or San Antonio pairs well with a day trip or short venture to Texas Hill Country, where wine lovers and beer experts will feel equally at home. Visit Altstadt Brewery for a tour and taste of German-style beer, or head to William Chris Vineyard in Hye for an afternoon among the grapes.
Read more: Discovering Texas' best national parks and reserves
Southold Farm and Cellar is another top vineyard in the region, but if alcohol isn’t your thing, make a pit stop at any of the local peach stands along Highway 290 for a sweet taste of summer. For an outdoor adventure, take in the views from nearby Enchanted Rock, or watch the bats emerge from the abandoned railroad tunnel at Old Tunnel State Park.
Some of Texas' best things to do live in San Antonio. While no trip is complete without a visit to The Alamo, there are several other worthwhile museums and attractions in San Antonio. Be sure to wander the Pearl Brewery campus, where the swanky Hotel Emma holds court as queen of luxury. Try a drink in the hotel’s Sternewirth bar, where you can sip a cocktail in one of the renovated silos from the bygone brewery.
A short drive to the Witte Museum will give you an immersive experience of Texas history, while an afternoon at the McNay Art Museum is the ideal spot for a picnic on the grounds after wandering the galleries.
Houston also boasts its share of galleries, especially the Menil Collection, whose vast exhibits span human history from the Paleolithic era to the 20th Century and contemporary art. But the biggest draw to Houston is NASA’s Johnson Space Center, home to Mission Control, which led the Gemini and Apollo missions and the first lunar landing.
Get a behind-the-scenes look at the history and future of space exploration, as well as a glimpse of space artifacts such as spacecrafts and the largest collection of moon rocks on public display.
Not far from Houston is the port town of Galveston, which was once one of the largest port cities in North America before it was devastated by a deadly hurricane in 1900. Today, the island city remains a top Gulf Coast destination and one of the state’s best beach towns. Go ghost hunting at the historic Hotel Galvez, or head to the Bryan Museum for a chronological exhibit of Texas history and an impressive collection of local art. Animal lovers will enjoy the aquarium and rainforest exhibits at Moody Gardens, while architecture aficionados will appreciate a walking tour of the historic churches and homes like Bishop’s Palace.
About halfway between San Antonio and Houston, Shiner is home to one of the state’s oldest and most popular breweries, the Spoetzl Brewery. Take a tour of the brewery, which started as a tin house in 1909, to learn how the Bavarian beer was first made by Kosmos Spoetzl. Then, sample different Shiner brews from the current brewmaster, who is only the sixth in the history of the company.
Combine the trip with a drive through Gonzalez, where the first shots of the Texas Revolution were fired in October 1835. Or venture slightly further for a walk through the jungle-like trails of Palmetto State Park.
Among the many reasons to visit Dallas are the plethora of professional sports teams in the area. Whether you’re a fan of football, baseball, basketball or hockey, Dallas is home to several state-of-the art arenas and stadiums such as the American Airlines Center, which hosts both the NHL’s Dallas Stars and the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.
Nearby Arlington hosts both the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys and the MLB’s Texas Rangers. Downtown Dallas is also an art lover’s destination, and the Nasher Sculpture Center and nearby Crow Museum of Asian Art are quieter attractions for a rainy day.
Big Bend National Park
Texas’ only national park is also one of the largest in the country, as well as the least visited thanks to its remote location. Separated from neighboring Mexico by the Rio Grande, Big Bend National Park is known for its scenic vistas and many hiking trails. Over 1200 plant species call the park home, along with over 450 species of birds. The South Rim Trail is also one of the best hikes in whole of Texas.
But celestial beings remain one of the park’s biggest draws: certified as an International Dark Sky, the park boasts some of the best stargazing in the continental US. The Santa Elena Canyon is a main attraction, where temperatures can rise above 110°F (43°C) in the summer. Enjoy slightly lower temps from the Chisos Mountains, which offers lodging and unforgettable views over the whole park.
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