Whether you are interested in the typical Texan experience or the more modern side of the state, there is plenty to see and do. Head to Houston to marvel at the Space Center, swing by Marfa to see the stunning contemporary art on display at the Chinati Foundation, or visit one of the state's beautiful parks or preserves - no matter what you choose to do, Texas is sure to provide a great vacation. Photo: John/Fotolia
The capital of Texas, Austin is a bustling city known for its live music scene, its many beautiful lakes and parks, and its world-class museums. Lady Bird Lake sits in the heart of the city, offering opportunities to swim, kayak, cycle, and jog. Culinary options range from beat-up food trucks selling delectable barbecue to upscale farm-to-table restaurants, and the city's nightlife has something for almost everyone. Live music performances are held every night all over the city, but it's especially worthwhile making a trip to the city during one of its two major music festivals: South by Southwest (SXSW) and the Austin City Limits Festival.
Overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, Corpus Christi, Texas is the largest coastal city in the state. The biggest attractions here are the beaches, which range from peaceful oases surrounded by sand dunes to bustling strips of sand perfect for surfing. However, the city offers plenty of other water-themed activities as well, including the excellent Schlitterbahn Riverpark, the Texas State Aquarium, and an aviation museum situated on the SS Lexington, the oldest remaining aircraft carrier in the world. Once visitors have had enough of the water, they can also visit the Corpus Christi Museum of Science & History or spend the day in the beautiful botanical gardens.
Best known for its excellent wineries, Fredericksburg also has a proud German heritage and a vibrant art and music scene. There are plenty of opportunities for wine tours, and the area's many wineries are complemented by an excellent selection of restaurants. A beautiful replica of a 19th century German church can be seen in the town square; visitors interested in the city's history would also be well advised to visit the Pioneer Museum. The downtown core is very pedestrian and cyclist-friendly, and thanks to its location in beautiful Texas Hill Country, the city is surrounded by plenty of beautiful walking and cycling trails as well.
Although it's not the capital, Houston is considered by many to be the heart and soul of Texas. It's home to famous attractions like the Space Center Houston and the Houston Museum of Natural Science, but it also boasts some of the best barbecue in the state and a laidback atmosphere that keeps visitors coming back time and time again. The city has a reputation as a hub for science and technology, but there are also plenty of attractions here for anyone who loves art and culture; the Museum District and the Theater District are two of the best places to start.
Established by German settlers in 1845, New Braunfels is notable for its proximity to both the Comal and Guadalupe rivers. There are almost endless opportunities to fish, swim, kayak, and engage in other water sports on the rivers, but visitors can also head to the 70-acre Schlitterbahn Waterpark for a day of family-friendly fun in the water. Adventure lovers should also make time to tour the limestone caves at the Natural Bridge Caverns, while anyone interested in history can visit the Gruene Historic District to marvel at the original German buildings, which date back to the 1800s.
Tucked away in the hills of West Texas, Alpine is a tiny town surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in the state. Many visitors simply use the town as a base to explore nearby Big Bend National Park, but it's well worth a visit in its own right. Visitors can stop by the Museum of the Big Bend if they're interested in learning about the area's history, but it's also possible to have an enjoyable day simply strolling around downtown and visiting the many boutique shops, art galleries, cozy cafes, and perhaps the weekly farmers market if you time it right.
Photo: Visit Alpine, Texas
For visitors looking to get an authentic taste of Texas, few destinations are better than the city of Amarillo. Almost every Texan stereotype imaginable can be found here; visitors can mingle with cowboys at the Amarillo Livestock Auction, chow down on a 72-oz. steak at the Big Texan Steak Ranch, and admire the stunning rock formations in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. An excellent collection of classic Western art and artifacts can be found at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, and anyone interested in art and culture can visit the opera, the symphony, the ballet, or one of the city's excellent art galleries.
Rockport Fulton consists of two twin communities on the Texas Tropical Trail, surrounded by ancient oaks on the Live Oak Peninsula. They are located on the western side of the Gulf of Mexico, with a long, narrow barrier island separating the peninsula from the Gulf of Mexico. One of the most popular attractions is Fulton Mansion, a beautiful Second Empire structure overlooking Aransas Bay, today an education and history center. The Texas Maritime Museum is great place to learn about the area’s maritime past. The Rockport Center for the Arts is the heart of the community’s art life, with plenty of exhibitions and events. Rockport Beach Park is the place to go for a swim or try your hand at fishing.
Only a few minutes away from San Antonio, Boerne has a rich history dating back to more than 150 years ago when it was first settled by immigrants from Germany. The city is still dotted with a good number of beautiful stone buildings that hold great historical importance, but it also offers modern attractions like contemporary art galleries, locally owned cafes and wine bars, and trendy boutique shops. Many of these attractions can be found on the Haupstrasse, or Main Street, but visitors should also make time to check out the tree-lined Cibolo Creek and its many hiking trails.
San Antonio holds the honor of being home to two of the best attractions in Texas: The world-famous Alamo and the beautiful River Walk that runs along the San Antonio River. The Alamo is the most-visited historical monument in the entire state, and the River Walk is lined with excellent cafes and shops that can be explored either on foot or by bicycle. These might be the things that bring visitors here in the first place, but people find themselves returning over and over again to enjoy the delicious cuisine, the beautiful architecture, and the vibrant art scene.
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They say that everything is bigger in Texas, and nowhere is that truer than in the action-packed city of Dallas. In addition to well-known attractions like the Dallas World Aquarium and Reunion Tower, the city boasts the largest urban arts district in the country, stunning Pritzker Prize-winning architecture, and an excellent array of world-class restaurants and bars. Visitors who fly to Dallas might not even need to worry about renting a car; it's easy to explore the city thanks to free transportation options like the M-Line Trolley and a shuttle service known as the D-Link.
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Sometimes known as the City of Cowboys and Culture, Fort Worth is like an unpolished version of its neighbor Dallas. The Stockyards National Historic District attracts more visitors than any other part of the city; its old wooden buildings make it look like the set of an old Western movie, but it offers plenty of modern restaurants, bars, and shops. An impressive herd of Longhorn cattle is paraded through here twice daily, but visitors should also make time to visit the pedestrian-friendly downtown, which boasts a 4.3-acre water park, a beautiful theater called the Bass Performance Hall, and an excellent array of dining options.
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Set on an island of the same name, Galveston is a busy resort city with six cruise ship ports and an incredible array of restaurants, hotels, and tourist attractions. Visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to things to see and do; they can head to the south shore to enjoy the rides and restaurants on the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, to the state park in the west of the island, or to the beautiful beaches on the east coast. Another top destination is Moody Gardens, an educational nature center that features sharks, monkeys, and other animals housed in enormous glass pyramids.
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Conveniently situated between Dallas and Fort Wort, the city of Grapevine is full of beautifully restored buildings that were originally constructed in the 19th and 20th centuries. The city got its name from nearby Grapevine Lake, but several wineries and tasting rooms can be found here as well. Most of the city's best restaurants, shops, and art galleries are located on the attractive Main Street, but it's also worth making a trip out to the Cotton Belt Railroad District to visit the artisans' workshops. This area is also where you'll find the starting point for the scenic Grapevine Vintage Railroad ride.
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»Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Tucked away in southern Texas right on the Mexican border, Laredo is a thriving city with a fascinating Mexican-American history. A bridge right next to Los Dos Laredos Park crosses over the Rio Grande and provides direct access to Mexico, while nearby Lake Casa Blanca International State Park offers a great selection of hiking trails and an excellent fishing lake. However, visitors who choose to spend their time in the city itself won't be disappointed; attractions include the Republic of the Rio Grande Museum and a unique children's museum known as the Imaginarium of South Texas.
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Sitting on the plains of northwest Texas, Lubbock offers fascinating museums, a buzzing nightlife scene, and some of the best wineries in the state. The city is also known for being the birthplace of legendary rock n' roll musician Buddy Holly, and visitors interested in his life and music can visit the Buddy Holly Center to view an excellent collection of artifacts and mementos. Another worthwhile stop in the city is the West Texas Walk of Fame, which features a statue of Holly as well as a collection of plaques dedicated to other musicians from the area.
Photo: makasana photo/Fotolia
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Despite its small size, Marfa is a mecca for tourists interested in the arts. One of the biggest draws here is the Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum founded by Donald Judd, which features both indoor and outdoor installations displayed on an old army base. At certain times of the year, visitors also flock to the town to attend the many concerts, exhibitions, and festivals held at the Ballroom Marfa arts center. Lucky visitors will also have the chance to see the Marfa lights, mysterious glowing orbs that sometimes appear outside the town and can be seen from a special viewing platform.
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»Big Bend National Park
Situated right on the border with Mexico, Big Bend National Park encompasses the whole Chisos mountain range as well as a significant chunk of the Chihuahuan Desert. Because of its remote location, the park is one of the least-visited national parks in the country, but anyone who makes the effort to get here will be well rewarded. The park offers approximately 200 miles of hiking trails, many of which wind through scenic canyons or bring visitors to breathtaking desert rock formations. Hiking trails vary in difficulty and length, but there are also plenty of paved trails for those interested in exploring the park by vehicle.
Photo: Alizada Studios/Fotolia
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Nestled up against the southern coast of Texas, Padre Island is the longest barrier island in the world. The island caters to visitors interested in a luxurious vacation as well as to those who want to unplug and lose themselves in nature; the south end of the island is home to a busy resort town full of spas, restaurants, and shops, while the north end features the beautiful and secluded Padre Island National Seashore. Breathtaking beaches can be found on almost every part of the island, ensuring plenty of opportunities to surf, sunbathe, and swim in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
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»Palo Duro Canyon
Set in the heart of the Texas Panhandle, the Palo Duro Canyon is the second-largest canyon in the country. There are over 30 miles of hiking and cycling trails for visitors to enjoy; popular activities include geocaching, birdwatching, and wildlife spotting. Horseback riding is permitted on two of the trails as well, and an additional 1,500 acres of land around the canyon are set aside for equestrian use. Both developed and primitive campsites are available, and during the summer months, visitors can also enjoy outdoor shows of the family-friendly musical drama TEXAS at the on-site amphitheater.
Photo: Zack Frank/Fotolia
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Found right in the heart of Central Texas, San Marcos is a vibrant university city that has something to offer everyone, including beautiful historic buildings that can be found on the campus of Texas State University and in the downtown Historic District. The city is home to a good number of outlet malls, including the biggest outlet center in the United States, but it boasts plenty of beautiful parks and green spaces as well. Nature lovers can also head to the nearby San Marcos River, which offers the opportunity to swim, fish, kayak, and engage in other water sports.
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Seguin isn't as well known as many of the other cities in Texas, but that's a big part of its charm. Its sleepy small-town atmosphere is perfect for anyone wanting to relax, but visitors looking for a more active vacation can visit the ZDT Amusement Park, take a ghost tour of the Haunted Magnolia Hotel, or kayak down the Guadalupe River. The town is also known as the Pecan Capital of Texas, and visitors shouldn't miss the chance to marvel at the World's Largest Pecan and stock up on locally grown nuts to bring home with them.
Photo: Seguin, Texas
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Waco is much smaller than many other cities in Texas, but it has more than its fair share of attractions and activities for visitors to enjoy. The city is especially popular with fans of the HGTV show Fixer Upper, who come to visit and shop at Magnolia Market at the Silos. Other attractions include the Cameron Park Zoo, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame, and the Dr Pepper Museum, which was established in honor of the locally created soft drink. Just outside the city is the Waco Mammoth National Monument, a special fossil site home to Columbian mammoth bones.
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Located on the westernmost edge of Texas, El Paso is a friendly and welcoming city that also happens to be right across the Rio Grande from the busy Mexican city of Chihuahua. The city has been heavily influenced by its proximity to its southern neighbor, meaning that visitors can indulge in spicy Mexican food until they burst or join a ghost tour on Día de los Muertos. Of course, the area has its own rich history as well, and there's no better way to learn about it than by taking a tour of the El Paso Mission Trail.
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25 Best Places to Visit in Texas
- Austin, Photo: Courtesy of f11photo - Fotolia.com
- Corpus Christi, Photo: Courtesy of trongnguyen - Fotolia.com
- Fredericksburg, Photo: Courtesy of dfikar - Fotolia.com
- Houston, Photo: Courtesy of simonvo - Fotolia.com
- New Braunfels, Photo: Courtesy of Aaron - Fotolia.com
- Alpine, Photo: Visit Alpine, Texas
- Amarillo, Photo: Courtesy of giumas - Fotolia.com
- Rockport Fulton, Photo: Courtesy of cbphoto - Fotolia.com
- Boerne, Photo: Courtesy of Ranjani - Fotolia.com
- San Antonio, Photo: Courtesy of andreykr - Fotolia.com
- Dallas, Photo: Courtesy of Katherine - Fotolia.com
- Fort Worth, Photo: Courtesy of philipus - Fotolia.com
- Galveston, Photo: Courtesy of eric - Fotolia.com
- Grapevine, Photo: Courtesy of loriette - Fotolia.com
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- Laredo, Photo: Courtesy of Laurens - Fotolia.com
- Lubbock, Photo: Courtesy of makasana photo - Fotolia.com
- Marfa, Photo: Courtesy of lulu - Fotolia.com
- Big Bend National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Alizada Studios - Fotolia.com
- Padre Island, Photo: Courtesy of philipus - Fotolia.com
- Palo Duro Canyon, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- San Marcos, Photo: Courtesy of Arthur - Fotolia.com
- Seguin, Photo: Seguin, Texas
- Waco, Photo: Courtesy of Peter - Fotolia.com
- El Paso, Photo: Courtesy of spiritofamerica - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of John - Fotolia.com
Big Thicket National Preserve
The Big Thicket is one of the most biodiverse non-tropical areas in the world, and the Big Thicket National Preserve was established in 1974 to protect its incredible wealth of plant and animal species. Roughly 40 miles of trails wind their way through the park, providing countless opportunities to marvel at the plants, birds, and other wildlife found here. The park also offers many miles of creeks and rivers, and many visitors choose to explore the park by canoe or kayak. Hunting permits are available at the visitors center, as are camping permits for anyone interested in spending the night in the backcountry.
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