13 Best Places to Visit in Texas, According to a Local
Whether you want buzzing city life or solitude in a small town, you can find it in Texas.
As the largest contiguous state in the U.S., Texas is home to vast desert grasslands, dense forests, miles of beaches, rolling plains, and rugged hills. With more than 268,000 square miles making up the Lone Star State, there’s lots of room to roam and plenty of places to explore.
Whether you want a bustling city or quiet place to explore, you can find it in Texas, from the Panhandle Plains and Hill Country to the Gulf Coast and Piney Woods. Here, the best places to visit in Texas, according to a local.
About 30 minutes west of the hustle and bustle that is Dallas lies Fort Worth, where world-class art museums and an excellent food and drink scene collide. And while Fort Worth is growing — it’s the 12th largest city in the U.S. — it still feels relaxed and approachable. Perhaps it’s that friendly Western hospitality and a range of dining options and activities that make it a win.
In the Cultural District, visitors can check out five museums dedicated to art, science, and local history. Of course, the Stockyards is a Fort Worth rite of passage, where the world’s only twice-daily cattle drive and year-round rodeo occurs. Downtown Fort Worth is another gem, with block after block of restaurants, Broadway shows at Bass Performance Hall, and nightlife in the form of pubs, bars, live music, comedy shows, and more. The Fort Worth Zoo remains one of the best in the U.S. today, too.
Austin, the state's quirky capital, is home to nearly one million people. Locals love to take advantage of the city’s numerous parks and public spaces, including Zilker Metropolitan Park, a 351-acre oasis with gorgeous views of the skyline and plenty of four-legged friends roaming about, as well as Barton Springs Pool, a three-acre, spring-fed pool used year-round for swimming. There are also lots of hiking trails throughout the city, including the 10-mile Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake, the Barton Creek Greenbelt, and McKinney Falls State Park.
Austin is known as the Live Music Capital of the World, too, and there are numerous places to catch a show, including the annual Austin City Limits festival. One of the best perks, though, is the city's location near Hill Country, which provides easy access to charming small towns, rivers for floating, and more.
Under two hours south of Austin lies San Antonio, another cultural treasure Texans love to visit and call home. Known for the Alamo, this city is home to four other beautiful missions, all part of the UNESCO-designated San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Of course, there’s also the beautiful River Walk, full of shopping and dining, and Market Square, where more than 100 vendors sell Mexican wares and cuisine.
San Antonio also brims with incredible museums such as the Witte Museum, McNay Art Museum, Briscoe Western Art Museum, and San Antonio Museum of Art.
Located at the southern edge of Texas Hill Country, San Antonio is also full of outdoor pursuits, including Government Canyon State Natural Area, where 12,00 acres and more than 40 miles of trails offer plenty of room to roam. There’s also river access all around for fishing, swimming, and floating.
If you’re looking to explore the vast Big Bend area, Terlingua is a great base camp. Located in between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park, this former mining town became one of the country’s largest producers of quicksilver in the early 20th century, later transforming into a ghost town when the mine closed.
Terlingua is also home to two renowned chili cook-offs, which bring in thousands each fall. Hike through the state or national park, or rent a canoe and float down the Rio Grande along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Back in town, the Starlight Theatre Restaurant and Saloon is a must for dinner and live music, as it was known as the theater in town for miners back in its heyday. The Terlingua Cemetery, home to a few graves with quirky embellishments, is one of the most photographed in Texas.
There’s also lots of great art throughout town. Stop by a local gallery for mosaics, paintings, photography, and more, and don’t miss the Terlingua Trading Company for souvenirs, art, and gifts. Foodies will enjoy Taqueria El Milagro for its tacos and Tex-Mex plates, while Long Draw Pizza serves up delicious specialty pizzas like the Terlingua Spur (fajita chicken, onions, jalapeno, cheddar, mozzarella, barbecue sauce, and marinara).
Named for the wild horses that inhabited the area for hundreds of years, Mustang Island, just south of Port Aransas, is a barrier island that’s ideal for those seeking a beach escape without the crowds found along the Texas coast. Visit Mustang Island State Park, where more than five miles of coastline offer swimming, fishing, kayaking, and beachcombing. The island is also a great destination for wildlife enthusiasts, as 400-plus bird species have been identified here, plus sea turtles can be spotted nesting. Adventure lovers can parasail or try their hand at surfing, or cast a line during an offshore fishing excursion.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
In West Texas near the New Mexico state line, you’ll find Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which includes the four highest peaks in Texas. The park has more than 80 miles of hiking trails, from easy walks to all-day endeavors that require a bit of planning. Trek to the "Top of Texas" (a.k.a. Guadalupe Peak), an 8.4-mile hike with views from the highest point in the state, at 8,751 feet. Here, surrounded by vast terrain, you can see the surrounding mountains and a seemingly never-ending expanse of the desert. Guadalupe Mountains National Park is part of the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef complex, Capitan Reef, and other activities include backpacking, camping, horseback riding, and birding.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Texas is home to the second largest canyon in the U.S., and it’s found at Palo Duro Canyon State Park in the Panhandle. Here, the canyon sprawls for roughly 120 miles and is about 20 miles wide and up to 800 feet deep in some places. As you hike, you’ll notice four geologic layers that make up the canyon, which began forming a million years ago.
Aside from 30 miles of hiking and biking trails, the park has 1,500 acres dedicated to horseback riding. Catch the "Texas Outdoor Musical" show in the summertime at the amphitheater, and learn about the struggles and successes of early Texas settlers. Campsites and cabins are available, but new to the park are luxury glamping sites with covered porches with swings, air conditioning, fire pits, bicycles, and rustic decor.
This iconic Texas town is a trek, but it’s worth the drive. Marfa is an artistic oasis, full of galleries, boutiques, museums, and stand-alone art pieces. The Chinati Foundation is a contemporary art museum with pieces inspired from the surrounding landscape; guided tours are available. There’s also Ballroom Marfa, another contemporary art museum that strives to give artists and musicians a platform in the Big Bend area.
Toast to a great day at Marfa Spirit Co., where rum, sotol, vodka, and more are blended into signature cocktails, and grab a tasty burrito from Marfa Burrito. For a cool souvenir, stop by Marfa Book Co., and when it comes to where to stay, there are loads of quirky-cool options such as Chinati Hot Springs cabins, El Cosmico, Hotel Paisano, and Hotel Saint George.
While here, don't miss the Marfa Lights, a mysterious dancing light phenomenon that occurs southeast of town. The lights appear in a few different colors, and the cause is still argued today.
Located in Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg is a well-known destination for local and out-of-state tourists looking for an escape. Home to about 11,000 people, this small city is situated in the middle of Texas wine country, with more than 50 wineries, tasting rooms, and vineyards in the county.
There are also lots of shuttle options in Fredericksburg that take visitors to wineries outside of town, plus breweries and distilleries dotting the area. Nature lovers have an array of options as well, including rock climbing and hiking at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, plus cycling and horseback riding through parks and backroads across town. For shopping and dining, head to Main Street, where you’ll find more than 150 boutiques, galleries, restaurants, and museums.
Between Austin and San Antonio lies New Braunfels, a charming Hill Country city founded by German immigrants in the mid-19th century. In the summer months, visitors flock here to float the Guadalupe and Comal rivers, both located in New Braunfels and a favorite way to spend a long, hot day.
Back in town, Texas-German architecture lines the downtown streets, where you’ll find boutique shopping, a developing bar and restaurant scene, museums, and art galleries. New Braunfels is also home to historic Gruene and Gruene Hall, the oldest dance hall in Texas and a beloved live music venue today.
A suburb of Austin, Georgetown has plenty of parks and outdoor space for adventure, including Lake Georgetown, where you can picnic, swim, and hike around the water on a 26.5-mile trail. In the downtown square, you’ll find everything from fine jewelry and boutique clothing to guitars and gourmet foods. Each year, Georgetown hosts the annual Red Poppy Festival, plus a summer concert series, and the Georgetown Wine and Music Festival. Whether you want room to roam or a great place for restaurants and shopping, this city delivers.
Denton, north of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, is a college town with two universities: the University of North Texas (UNT) and Texas Woman’s University. The city has a fun, quirky vibe, but still holds onto a small-town feel with a cute downtown square and pocket after pocket of charming neighborhoods. The creative scene here is huge, too, from a thriving liberal arts program at UNT to community organizations showcasing and promoting local artwork and performing arts. Surrounding the 19th-century courthouse are lots of local restaurants and shops to explore, including a bookstore, an ice cream parlor, and bars serving cocktails. In the fall, catch a UNT football game at Apogee Stadium and cheer on the Mean Green in a sea of green and white.
If a beach town is what you’re after, then Rockport-Fulton might be the ticket. It’s quieter and not as touristy as Galveston or South Padre Island, but it still offers plenty of fun in the form of outdoor exploration, coastal dining, and history. Rockport-Fulton has a booming arts scene, and the Rockport Center for the Arts holds classes and workshops and has rotating exhibitions.
Birders love the area, too, as hundreds of species migrate through the area or call it home. Adventurers love to explore the coastline via kayak or boat, or head to one of the piers for fishing. Geocaching, stand-up paddleboarding, hiking, and windsurfing are popular pastimes as well. More than 30 locally owned restaurants provide an array of dining options, and the sunsets here are some of the best along the Gulf Coast.
For more Travel & Leisure news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!
Read the original article on Travel & Leisure.