Born and raised a Texan, I’ve spent the better part of my life in this unique state. And one thing that bothers me is reading travel bloggers write about Texas-and just go to Austin!
Austin is a cool city. No doubt about it. There’s plenty of fun, lots of good tacos, and outdoor activities. However, this state is bigger than France! Texas holds a lot more treasures than just Austin-and you should explore beyond the capital.
So, here’s my list of the best experiences and places you’ll want to include in any Texas road trip. Enjoy!
I’ll start with my home in the Panhandle! Also known as the plains. This part of Texas is flat as can be. While we may not have rolling hills, this area is beautiful in its own way. During summer, you can stumble upon sunflower fields. Go anywhere outside a city and you can see for miles and miles. While many people in Texas have never been to the Panhandle themselves and might suggest you skip it, I’m biased.
Things to do:
Palo Duro and Caprock Canyon are beautiful hues of orange, red, and yellow. Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the States (right after the Grand Canyon) and a favorite subject for Georgia O’Keefe.
Both canyons are relatively small and easy to get around although Palo Duro is the more popular of the two! Palo Duro offers plenty of hiking opportunities and if you’re into dirt biking, you’ve found your spot. Caprock Canyon is less frequented and home to a herd of bison and nice loop trails!
Favorite trails: Hike to the Lighthouse in Palo Duro! Moderate trail with a great view. Bring plenty of sunscreen and lots of water.
Cadillac Ranch are the famous graffitied cars sticking straight up from the ground. Off famous Route 66, a group of artists known as Ant Farm stuck these cars in the ground on the property of partner and billionaire Stanley Marsh. It’s weird. It’s crazy. And you can’t miss it if you’re in the area.
Pro tip: Bring your own spray paint so you can decorate a car yourself.
Go to a drive-in movie theater if you’ve never experienced one! Drive-ins are a fun way to see movies on the cheap. You can bring your own popcorn, beer, and lawn chairs. Experience quintessential small-town America and enjoy a movie!
Pro tip: If you’re worried about your car battery, bring a small radio and sit behind your car with lawn chairs. Two movies costs $6 at Stars and Stripes.
Wander through a corn maze which is so stereotypically Southern that you must do it.
Big Bend Country:
Big Bend Country is hands-down my favorite part of Texas. Hardly anyone travels here but the landscape is simply stunning and features Texas hidden gems. It’s hot during summer but travel in winter to witness star-filled skies, the Rio Grande, and desert beauty.
Things to do:
Big Bend National Park is vast, untouched, beauty. My family frequently gets a cabin here for New Year’s where we spend our time hiking, swimming in hot springs, and spending time together bringing in the New Year. I’ve been year after year and we always find some new thing to enjoy.
More info: Check out my favorite Big Bend hikes here.
Alpine, Texas is a quaint little town that’s fun to browse through. You’ll find used book stores and vibrant art galleries. The town is on the way to Big Bend making it an essential stop.
Must do: The Marfa lights are a mysterious phenomenon shrouded in legend and myth. They dance around changing color and shape almost every night. They’re been around for hundreds of years and still leave scientists stumped leading to alien and ghost theories.
McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis is the perfect place to go star gazing. Check their website for star parties and peer at stars and galaxies through some seriously high-tech telescopes.
Guadalupe National Park hosts the beautiful Guadalupe mountains. It’s a small park but wake up early to climb Guadalupe Peak trail which with its elevation of 8,751 ft. above sea level takes you to the highest point in Texas.
Must do: Hop over to nearby New Mexico to visit Carlsbad Caverns for the day.
Hill Country is probably what Texas is most famous for-travel-wise at least. I won’t waste my time convincing anyone to go here because everyone wants to go to Austin already.
Things to do:
Eat tons of delicious food in Austin. SoCo has tons of delicious food trucks. Juan in a Million has amazing breakfast tacos and horchata. And Amy’s Ice Cream is my favorite ice cream spot in the world.
Must do: Grab a picture by the iconic I love you so much wall in Austin while you’re shopping in SoCo!
Float the river in New Braunsfels. Grab a six pack of Shiner, book a company, and cool down in the Texas heat on the Guadalupe River.
Must do: If you like swimming check out Schlitterbahn-the best water park ever. Most of the tube rides utilize the Comal River. If you’ve got the money, Schlitterbahn is worth every penny.
Wander through downtown Fredricksburg. This cute German town has tons of shopportunities and is fun way to spend an afternoon.
South Texas Plains:
South Texas is probably the least explored area of the State for me. But the Rio Grande Valley attracts many snowbirds as it’s nice and temperate in the winter. And apparently gorgeous.
Things to do:
Stroll down the Riverwalk in San Antonio. The number of restaurants and shops could keep you busy for a few days on the Riverwalk alone. The Riverwalk is especially beautiful during December when it’s decorated in lights and not as humid.
Must do: If you’re up for a little crude humor, eat at Dick’s Diner where the waiters make obscene hats and insult you instead of waiting on you. You’ll be peeled over from laughing.
Become a Texas history buff and explore the forts of San Antonio. Specifically, don’t miss the Alamo-the most famous landmark in Texas.
The Gulf of Mexico might not boast the most beautiful beaches, but the coast is still a fun place to spend your time.
Things to do:
Galveston is a small town on an island outside of Houston. It’s the party place for Texas! While it might not be New Orleans, Galveston hosts wild Mardi Gras parties. Also, a good place to snack on tasty gumbo.
Must do: Right before you cross into Galveston from Houston is the center for NASA. Tour the museum and see where the astronauts work!
Go the Houston Rodeo in the Spring. The Houston Rodeo is basically the Coachella of the rodeo world. And it’s one of the most memorable things I’ve done in my life. Watch cowboys from all over the world ride bucking broncos, escape bulls, and rope calves.
East Texas holds a special place in my heart as it’s where I went to college. Even now, I have a soft spot in my heart for Dallas. I mean, they have the best skyline in Texas. And the traffic isn’t bad as Austin. But East Texas and the Metroplex are worth diving into.
Things to do:
Participate in a mimosa or wine walk in Deep Ellum. This up and coming hipster neighborhood in Dallas is funky and cool. Cool wall art pops out and eco-friendly cafes and urban farming centers make this neighborhood their home.
Visit the Fort Worth stockyards. The stockyards are basically filled with every Texas stereotype possible. And you can drink beer down the street. The cattle drive is every day at 11:30am and 4pm. Grab a good view for the longhorns!
Must do: Go line dancing at Billy Bob’s! I haven’t been but it’s definitely on my list.
Wander through Denton’s downtown square which is full of funky bars and stores like the coffee bar, a comic book store, and beer gardens.
Of course, each of these regions of Texas could be destinations on their own. I wanted to showcase my favorite parts of each region. If you do have a few weeks on your hand and are trying to explore the state, use this as a resource to planning your trip. Texas is so much more than just Austin!
Where have you been in Texas? What would you recommend doing to people who have never explored the state?