While the prospect of tackling a state as massive as Texas in one long drive is a daunting one (and, ultimately, futile – you’ll need to circle back for another look eventually), we can’t say it isn’t a righteous goal. In the interest of helping any brave road warriors on their way, we've picked some of our favorite destinations, kicking off near Dallas and galloping across to the Mexican border, right through the heart of the Lone Star State. By hitting these highlights you can get a good taste of the culture, the history, and some damn fine barbecue along the way.
By the way, those 'Don't Mess With Texas' bumper stickers you see all over the state? That's not a threat; the line was developed as part of an anti-litter campaign, even if it has become the state's unofficial motto. So buckle up for a Texas-sized road trip adventure – and be sure to enjoy those super-clean highways as you go.
Real cowboys are in short supply in glitzy Dallas – but not over on the Ft. Worth side of the Metroplex, where you can rustle up some fun straight out of the Old West at the Stockyards National Historic District. Cowboys on horseback answer questions near the visitor center, longhorn cattle are available for photo ops, and the streets are lined with saloons, steakhouses and shops full of Western wear. Brush up on cowboy history at the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, and don't miss the daily cattle drives down Exchange Avenue.
Dealey Plaza & Sixth Floor Museum
A museum in Dallas dedicated to the assassination of a US President? Okay, so it sounds a bit morbid, but with all the mystery surrounding the death of John F. Kennedy in 1963, it's no surprise that the former Book Depository holds us in its thrall fifty years on. Whether you believe the official account or are sure it was a conspiracy, it's fascinating to look down on Dealey Plaza from the sixth floor where Lee Harvey Oswald was said to have hidden, then walk over to the grassy knoll and check out some alternate theories. You won't leave with answers, but you will leave with an eerily thorough understanding of the crime scene.
Austin is known for its live music, and you could plan an entire visit around watching bands play every night of the week in venues all over town. During the day, tour the Texas State Capitol, an impressive structure built in 1888 from sunset-colored granite; cool off in the frigid waters of Barton Springs, a pool fed by ice-cold natural springs; and watch the massive colony of bats that swarm from beneath the Congress Street Bridge at dusk.
Vegetarians, close your ears: it's time to talk about meat. Still with us? Good. Because all you carnivores out there are going to want to try some Texas barbecue: slow-cooked beef brisket, pork ribs and spicy sausage doused in spicy-sweet, Texas-style barbecue sauce. Everyone will argue who has the best, but you can sure conduct some delicious experiments in Lockhart, the ‘BBQ Capital of Texas.’ Follow your nose to Kreuz Market, Black's Barbecue or Smitty's Market – or try all three and pick your favorite.
Since 1878, Texans have been scooting their boots across the well-worn wooden dance floor at Gruene Hall outside of San Antonio. Stop in for a cold Shiner Bock, listen to some fiddle playing, and grab a partner for a little Texas Two-Step. This is honky-tonkin' at its finest. Get to Gruene early and you can grab dinner at the Gristmill (located in the old gristmill) and browse the Gruene Antique Company and the old Gruene General Store.
Technically, you could buzz through the Hill Country in one day, if all you wanted to see was the exuberance of wildflowers that line the road each spring. But if you take your time, you'll be rewarded with stops like the famously tiny town of Luckenbach (population: 3), the working cattle ranch that President Lyndon B. Johnson called home, or the charming German settlement of Fredericksburg, chock-a-block with B&Bs, antique stores and peach farms.
Right smack dab in the middle of downtown San Antonio sits Texas' number one tourist attraction and its most famous historic site: The Alamo. Most everyone stops to snap a picture in front of the former mission built in the early 1700s, but this is no mere photo op. Stop in for a tour and hear how hundreds of men died defending the fort against Mexican troops during the Texas Revolution, inspiring the famous rally cry of ‘Remember the Alamo!’
There's not much along the interstate between San Antonio and El Paso, but drop down below I-10 and you'll find some of Texas' best small towns. Don't miss Marfa, the tiny, one-stoplight darling of the minimalist art world, with an improbable number of galleries and the impressive Chinati Foundation founded by artist Donald Judd. After dark, head out east of town in search of the elusive Marfa Mystery Lights. A staple of any road trip, these unexplainable lights dance on the horizon and have even been known to chase folks occasionally. Their first reported sighting dating back to the late 1800s.
Big Bend National Park
Just how big is Texas? Big enough to include a state park that's approximately the size of Rhode Island. Within Big Bend National Park’s 1252 miles of wide-open spaces are the Chisos Mountains, the Chihuahuan Desert and the Rio Grande, with 150 miles of trails that let you explore them all. The landscape is straight out of a classic Western film, and the remote location makes it the perfect place to go off the grid.