Texas is so big, it allows room for all kinds of ecosystems, from sprawling flatlands to lush island getaways. These four destinations show you different facets of the Lone Star State.
While DFW is typically viewed as a single entity, it’s important to recognize that Dallas and Fort Worth are two separate cities with two separate histories. Laid-back Fort Worth keeps the Wild West alive with cattle drives and acclaimed museums devoted to Western culture and art. Bustling Dallas, on the other hand, is the seat of Texas trade and sophistication, with skyscrapers, five-star restaurants and high-end retailers dotting the landscape. A trip to the DFW area offers the best of both worlds. Live out your cowboy dreams at Fort Worth’s historic Stockyards and make it to the AT&T Stadium just in time to see the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys kick off all in the same day.
Gem of Dallas
White Rock Lake features a scenic park with 9 miles of running, biking and walking trails. Originally built as a reservoir to supply Dallas with water, it’s become an outdoor oasis, where flat water paddling and kayaking are commonplace. This tranquil body of water serves up excellent skyline views and supports over 200 bird species, including heron and egrets. It’s regularly stocked with largemouth bass too, so don’t forget to bring your rod. For more fishing fun, head to Grapevine Lake, Lake Ray Hubbard or Lake Arlington. If you want to paddle some more, set off on the Trinity River to uncover tributaries, hidden coves and diverse ecosystems.
Nature Near the City
There is no shortage of natural beauty around Dallas–Fort Worth. There is a plethora of incredible wonders in nature hiding around this pair of metropolises. Enjoy leisurely strolls through stunning flower beds at either the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden or the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. Located on the outskirts of Dallas, the Trinity Forest Adventure Park promises fun thrills with its ziplines and obstacle courses. The Cedar Ridge Preserve is also nearby and has 9 miles of trails. For a walk on the wild side, follow the paths in the Fossil Rim Wildlife Park to get up close and personal with zebras, giraffes and other exotic wildlife.
Get a Taste of the American West
Nothing embodies Western heritage better than the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District. Spend the day drinking beer in a real saloon, shopping for cowboy boots and a ten gallon hat. You can also catch a rodeo at the Cowtown Coliseum and watch daring riders defy gravity as they hang on to bucking broncos and wild steers. Don’t leave without singing along to live country music at Billy Bob’s Texas.
Texas Banana Bread
Texans know how to bake, and this tasty banana bread recipe proves it. Recipe by Rene’ Boullion, Texas Good Sam state director.
- ½ cup butter softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 3 bananas, mashed
- 1 ½ cups flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp vanilla
Cream butter and sugar, add eggs and mix well. Stir in bananas and vanilla. Sift together dry ingredients and add, stirring well. Bake at 350 degrees in greased loaf pan for 55 minutes. Try as muffins — yum!
Move Along, Doggies
You’ll definitely want to line up for the twice-daily cattle drive that meanders down the main thoroughfare in this historic section of town. It’s the only twice-daily drive in the world. Old West nostalgia takes a twist at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, where the women of the cattle-driving, bronco-busting, nation-exploring era are celebrated and honored through exhibits and displays featuring more than 4,000 artifacts. The museum also pays tribute to pioneers in art and government. A few miles south of downtown, you’ll find yourself nearly south of the border at La Gran Plaza. This colorful mecca of Mexican culture is home to more than 200 stores and a 120,000-square-foot market.
Fort Worth’s Worthy Culture
In the Fort Worth Cultural District, you can walk to six world class museums in an area boasting vibrant nightlife, charming historic homes and western heritage events. With a robust performing arts scene, nothing says “hip and culturally relevant” better than the Cultural District. Peer at masterpieces by Michelangelo and Picasso at the Kimbell Art Museum and then visit the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth to admire contemporary works by Andy Warhol. See pieces by Georgia O’Keeffe at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Round out the day with a visit to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, which also hosts the Cattle Raisers Museum on its fascinating second floor. Here, you’ll learn the history behind the famous Texas longhorn, and how it became synonymous with the state.
Music on Tap
There’s plenty of toe-tapping nightlife in Dallas. The Deep Ellum district is a former industrial center steeped in music history, thanks to the likes of jazz and blues artists like Blind Lemon Jefferson and Huddie William “Lead Belly” Ledbetter. Today, Deep Ellum is still the place to be for music lovers, who will find trendy clubs, hip dining spots and a shopping area where one-of-a-kind finds are the norm. The Lower Greenville area is another hip locale, featuring a vast array of bars, restaurants and shops. Major landmarks exclusive to Dallas include Pioneer Plaza, which features the largest outdoor bronze sculpture of its type in the world. The art piece captures 49 Texas longhorn steers driven by three cowboys on horseback. Another landmark, Reunion Tower, is 50 stories high, capped by an observation tower that gives visitors jaw-dropping city views.
Art and Animals
Art lovers can visit the Dallas Museum of Art, while folks with a passion for animals can go wild at the Dallas World Aquarium and Dallas Zoo. The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden is a take-your-breath-away experience, with a vast array of floral wonder and, by its own description, among the most outstanding children’s gardens worldwide.
Learn more about important issues and events of the administration of President George W. Bush. At the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, snap a photo of an exact replica of the Oval Office and explore how presidential decisions were made in the interactive Decision Points Theater.
Dark Day in Dallas
Located in the former Texas School Book Depository, the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza explores the life, assassination and legacy of JFK. Thought-provoking exhibits chronicle the tragedy and the impact the leader had on the country and world. Fort Worth pays tribute to the former president as well with the JFK Tribute in General Worth Square. Stop by to see a bronze statue of the leader and read quotes from his most historic speeches.
Nation’s Largest Fair
Celebrate all things Texas with funnel cakes and Ferris wheel rides at the State Fair of Texas, held in the fall. If you’re in town during spring, indulge in culinary masterpieces by local chefs at Savor Dallas and attend independent film screenings at the Dallas International Film Festival.
Mexican Food Fix
Get your enchilada, queso and margarita fix, where Tex-Mex roots are deeply embedded in its history. Satisfy your enchilada and quesadilla craving at Rafa’s Cafe Mexicano and sip on margaritas of every flavor and style at Meso Maya. Mia’s Tex-Mex draws everyone from Dallas Cowboys players to former presidents with its brisket tacos, and even Guy Fieri has approved the pozole, pork tamale and brisket gordita combo at Avila’s.
Whether it’s a food, music or art function, Fort Worth has a festival or event for everyone. Kick off the year with rodeo action and horse acts at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. Bust out your finest cowboy gear on the National Day of the American Cowboy and celebrate with rib-eating contests, live Western music and parades at the Fort Worth Stockyards. The Texas Motor Speedway hosts three NASCAR and IndyCar races throughout the year, too.
Dinosaurs and Stetsons
You’ll find dinosaur skeletons at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas. In nearby Garland, you can tour Hatco, the plant that’s been churning out Stetson hats since 1938. If you’d prefer shopping malls and high-end fashion, Dallas is home to the flagship Neiman Marcus department store.
Worthy of a side trip is the town of Grapevine to the north. The city’s Main Street is studded with eateries, eclectic shops and historic markers. If you’re in the neighborhood in September, don’t miss the town’s big party, GrapeFest. The four-day festival features international wines.
Offering 32 miles of sun-drenches beaches, a variety of family attractions and Southern hospitality, this barrier island is best known as a vacation destination. Toss in historical charm and an endless supply of outdoor activities, and you’ve got a Gulf Coast getaway you won’t want to miss.
Galveston gives visitors plenty of options when it comes to cooling off at the seaside. From the family-friendly vibe of Stewart Beach to East Beach’s party hard mentality, fun in the sun awaits whether you’re catching a tan, a musical performance or the annual sandcastle competition. Thankfully, escaping the sun is easy at the one-of-a-kind attractions in the nearby downtown district. Moody Gardens, an educational theme park featuring immersive aquarium and rainforest exhibits, is surely the most entertaining conservation initiative you’ll ever see. The Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier boasts carnival rides and roller coasters that soar over the water, while the Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark lets you cool off while you enjoy everything from relaxing lazy rivers to the world’s tallest water coaster.
Fish from the beach or bay shore, surf fish in the Gulf, or wade into and fish from Galveston Bay. This unspoiled oasis stretches from the Gulf of Mexico across the island to West Bay. Shore fishing is a classic pastime on the beach side, while kayak fishing is the most popular way to find your catch in the calm breakwaters of the bay. On either side, skilled anglers can land speckled trout, redfish and flounder. Try the banks of Lake Como or the boardwalk at Butterowe Bayou for more opportunities. Of course, as chartering a boat in the marina for a deep-sea excursion is a must for trophy-size catches. For an outdoor adventure away from the crowds, try the East End Lagoon Preserve, where you can canoe or kayak in quiet coves brimming with wildlife.
Galveston Island State Park
Galveston Island State Park features four miles of trails through dunes and marshes that are perfect for hiking and biking, and the bayside waterways are ideal for canoeing and kayaking. Ranked as one of the top 10 saltwater fishing cities in the country, Galveston offers both deep-sea anglers and shore fishermen the chance to hook redfish, flounder, wahoo, tuna and more in the Gulf’s rich waters. Seawolf Park on Galveston’s Pelican Island is a fishing pier, beachfront playground and site of World War II-era USS Cavalla submarine and USS Stewart destroyer. Tours are available.
Boating and Birds
Head over to the Galveston Yacht Basin to charter a boat and find an expert guide to suit your needs. Birders, too, will have something look forward to in Galveston, one of the top spots in the country for observing migratory species. The boardwalk nature trails in Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge will reward explorers with possible glimpses of the famed sandhill cranes that arrive in the area during winter.
See the Strand
Strand Historic District, which features historical exhibits, art galleries, shops and plenty of places to wind down. Nearby is the Tall Ship Elissa, a three-masted, iron-hulled freighter that carried cargo to Galveston in the heyday of sailing vessels. Docked on Pier 21, the ship is part of the Texas Seaport Museum and even sets sail on special occasions.
You won’t run out of offbeat attractions in the Strand. Ride an old-fashioned trolley or play a giant chess set in Saengerfest Park. Buy a trinket or t-shirt from one of the many shops here or take a tour of the district’s Victorian buildings led by a guide in Victorian garb.
Texas Hill Country
Take a break from the flat prairies and enjoy the rolling terrain of legendary Texas Hill Country. This diverse and often-rugged region of the Lone Star State is a nature lover’s Shangri-La, but even city slickers will find enough towns in the area to become immersed in Texas-style fun and entertainment.
In the Heart of Texas
The Hill Country’s exact boundaries are arguable. In general, the expanse encompasses the area north of San Antonio, stretching almost 100 miles north and bound between Junction to the west and Austin to the east. Small towns like Fredericksburg, New Braunfels and Kerrville are popular places to stop or stay during a Hill Country road trip. Interstate 35 runs along the eastern edge of the region, with Interstate 10 crossing the southwest corner.
Great Tastes of Texas
If you’re a fan of barbecue, you’ll be in heaven in the Hill Country, home to famed joints such as Cooper’s in Llano to City Market in Luling and Salt Lick in Driftwood. But don’t be afraid to dive into German schnitzel in Fredericksburg and Los Gallos Taco House in New Braunfels.
Cool off on a Hot Day
Take a break from the Texas heat with a dip in Krause Springs, located west of Austin in Spicewood. The 115-acre recreation site is privately owned but open to the public, as it has been since 1955. Explore the 32 springs, many of which feed a manmade pool, or stroll through the butterfly gardens.
Of course, Austin, the capital city of the Lone Star State, shouldn’t be missed. The home of the University of Texas, this metropolis is renowned for its music, great food and overall freewheeling culture.
To the southwest lies Bandera, and if you listen closely, you might hear the faint jingle of spurs in the so-called Cowboy Capital of the World.
Music legends live on in Luckenbach, the tiny town where “everybody’s somebody” and where a trading post was established in 1849. Country music icon Willie Nelson brings thousands to Luckenbach for his Fourth of July picnic every year.
Nestled in Texas Hill Country between Austin and San Antonio, San Marcos is a welcome spot on Interstate 35. Renowned as a prime place for “tubing on the river,” San Marcos bundles several attractions and activities into a scenic setting.
Residents of San Marcos are proud of their city’s natural beauty and strive to preserve it. A great place to start is the San Marcos Discovery Center for an overview of local parks, trails and rivers. Visitors should also set aside a large portion of time at Spring Lake, one of the world’s largest aquifer-driven spring systems. The lake itself forms the headwaters of the San Marcos River.
Meadows Center Insights
The San Marcos Springs helped to catapult the area’s reputation as a must-see destination. Visitors can experience it all firsthand at the verdant Meadows Center for Water and the Environment. This recreation and education complex offers glass-bottom boat tours with close-up views of life underwater in crystal-clear Spring Lake. Species found exclusively in this region include the colorful but endangered Texas blind salamander.
A lush complement to the Meadows Center is Spring Lake Natural Area, a 251-acre park that rests just above Spring Lake. The park has miles of trails open to the public for hiking, biking and bird-watching. There’s also an exhibit hall that features a 1,000-gallon aquarium of fish native to Spring Lake.
Rolling on the River
Looking for more fun? The San Marcos River is the star of summer recreation, and local vendors offer tube and kayak rentals for visitors to relax in the pleasant current.
The area boasts plenty of land-based fun as well, from Blanco Shoals Natural Area to the Purgatory Creek Natural Area. Check out Prospect Park’s 1-mile, highly accessible crushed-limestone trail.
Not all of San Marcos can be found above ground; take a peek under the surface and discover a family-friendly destination at Wonder World Cave and Adventure Park. Tours lead visitors to Fossilized prehistoric life encased in the strata formations. The star of this theme park is the Balcones Fault Line Cave, formed by an earthquake. There’s also an observation tower, train ride and petting zoo.
In Port Aransas, the sand feels softer, the seafood tastes better and the time passes just a bit slower. Located on Mustang Island in southwest Texas, this easygoing coastal town has mastered the art of the beach getaway, so you’re guaranteed to leave relaxed and rejuvenated. Bursting with pristine shores, golf courses, peaceful parks and fine dining establishments, this slice of paradise is sure to become your new favorite vacation destination.
Barrier Island Flora and Fauna
Mustang Island State Park is just a 15-minute drive south of town and encompasses 5 miles of quiet beachfront. Jump in a kayak and venture onto the park’s three-part paddling trail to explore the island’s western coast. Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for unique birds, such as the roseate spoonbill and reddish egret. Head a bit further south to reach Padre Island National Seashore, the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world. Spanning 130,000 acres, this area is a vivid tapestry of wind-swept dunes, coastal grasses and sparkling shoreline. You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to outdoor recreation—go off-roading at the beach, trek the Grasslands Nature Trail to see local plant life, or look through your binoculars to spot hundreds of bird species. You can even attend a sea turtle hatchling release from mid-June through August.
Angling Adventures on the Gulf
Dubbed the “Fishing Capital of Texas,” Port Aransas gives you the chance to reel in the big one from the Gulf of Mexico’s mighty waters. Hire a charter and set off for the deep sea in search of marlin, tuna and kingfish, or dunk your line from the town’s four public piers if you prefer to keep your feet dry. The waterways around Mustang Island also boast healthy populations of redfish, flounder and trout. After a day on the water, lug your fresh catch to a local restaurant — the chefs are more than happy to cook it any way you like.
Beaches, Birds and Beyond
Get away from it all by taking a short ferry ride to the privately owned San Jose Island. It’s pretty much uninhabited, which means you’ll have endless stretches of beach all to yourself. Back on Mustang Island, perfect your golf game at Palmilla Beach. The region is home to many sites on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, too. Visit the Port Aransas Nature Preserve, South Jetty and Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center to view resident and migrating birds from boardwalks and observation towers.
Island Life on a Whole Other Level
Port Aransas redefines what it means to be a charming beach town, with its luxurious amenities and vibrant community of 4,000 strong. Spend your days indulging in candle-lit dinners at waterfront restaurants, shopping at artisan boutiques and dancing until dawn at a handful of bars and nightclubs. Got a bit of free time on your hands? Farley Boat Works can help you build the boat of your dreams in a few days to a few weeks.
Port Aransas annually hosts the Harvest Moon Regatta, the longest point-to-point sailboat race in the country. Watch boats speed from Galveston to Port Aransas from excellent viewpoints such as the South Jetty and Roberts Point Park. You’re welcome to attend the Texas SandFest too, a three-day event featuring master sculptors and their sand creations. Live music, food vendors, craft stalls and sand-sculpting classes round out the experience. In the summer, sign up for the Deep Sea Roundup if you think you have what it takes to beat the best local anglers, or come in February for the Whooping Crane Festival along the Texas Coastal Bend to see rare birds in their natural habitat.
South Texas Tropics
With images of sun-drenched beaches and swaying palms, this vibrant southern tip of Texas is a triangle of coastal plains roughly bounded by the Rio Grande, San Antonio River and the Gulf of Mexico. It’s one of the top birdwatching spots in the country and home to the world’s largest undeveloped barrier island. Step inside the lush terrain to hear birds sing, see baby turtles hatch and catch a bounty of bass. Between the sprawling expanses of wilderness, you’ll uncover 20 lively counties all eager to show you their version of the good life.
The Valley of Birds
The Rio Grande has become a bucket list spot for birders, having become popular with bird and butterfly chasers alike. The World Birding Center has nine designated sites in the area, each showcasing a unique habitat. Go to Mission’s Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley to come face-to-face with the rare green jay and flocks of migrating hawks; McAllen’s Quinta Mazatlan is the place to spot sparrows and hummingbirds. The Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco welcomes you into the Indigo Blind, a tropical zone that houses the park’s most elusive birds, like white-tipped doves and Altamira Orioles. Other fantastic birding locations include the Roma Bluffs, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, Brownsville’s Resaca de la Palma, and the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.
Birds, Blooms & Bass
Anglers are drawn to Falcon State Park for some of the best freshwater fishing lakes in South Texas. Largemouth bass anglers tend to be successful during the spring, fall and winter months. Take your boat out on the 84,000-acre Falcon International Reservoir to nab largemouth bass and channel catfish. Lake Casa Blanca is right next door and supports largemouth and hybrid striped bass along with catfish and crappie. The state park offers fishing gear rentals in case you forget to bring yours. On the coast, book a deep-sea charter from South Padre Island if you want to fish for monster grouper, tuna and blue marlin in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Last Great Habitat
Established in 1946 to provide habitat for wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds, Laguna Atascosa is a world-renowned birding destination. Feeding stations at the visitor center attract gorgeous green jays, northern cardinals, woodpeckers and more. This 45,000-acre expanse supports an abundance of birds and mammals including the endangered ocelot, a type of wild cat that once roamed much of the country. Meet the wild residents of the refuge by hiking and biking through a series of trails such as Prairie and Gator Pond. The Lower West Lake Trail has spectacular views of the Laguna Atascosa Lake.
A Slice of Paradise
Take in the gulf’s breeze, sandy beaches and precious marine wildlife at this shimmering oasis. Just north of Laguna Atascosa lies the longest remaining undeveloped stretch of barrier island in the world. Covering 130,000 acres, the Padre Island National Seashore will captivate you with its serene coastline, rolling dunes and vast prairies. Discover local flora by traversing the Grasslands Nature Trail and watch baby sea turtles hatch out of their shells and scurry across the beach in summer. Across the water, the historic Port Isabel Lighthouse, built in 1852, is open for touring.
Texas Tropical Island
Blending the beauty of the Laguna Madre Bay and the Gulf of Mexico is a barrier island of unsurpassed beauty. Grab the beach ball and soak up the sun at South Padre Island. Work on your tan at the beach or take a surfing and parasailing lesson if you want to try something new. Mini golf courses, go-kart tracks and water parks can also be found.
King of Ranching
In addition to the innovations in cattle and horse breeding and large-scale range management techniques, King Ranch continues to be on the forefront of innovation in farming. The King encourages visitation through nature and guided tours of its heritage.
For More Information
Texas Economic Development and Tourism
Galveston Island CVB
Hill Country of Texas
Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau
South Padre Island/South Texas Tropics
Tour San Marcos