They say everything is bigger in Texas, whether that’s the size of football stadiums, portions of chicken-fried steak, or volumized hair. And the big factor also extends to the number of cities with varied personalities – from the huge multicultural city of Houston to the tiny art town of Marfa. While we could list dozens of cities worth visiting in Texas (including the charming small towns we wrote about here), we’ve found the seven must-see destinations in Texas for vacation if you have no idea where to start. Have these on hand, for when it's safe to travel again.
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The likability of Austin is no secret. The city has been a hotspot for years, attracting all types of travelers with its hip vibe, stellar music and arts scene (it’s known as the “Live Music Capital of the World”), and delicious array of eateries that range from hole-in-the-wall taco joints to fine-dining sushi restaurants. Most of the action centers around downtown, which sits next to a scenic stretch of the Colorado River known as Lady Bird Lake and its encircling trail that’s popular for dog-walking, jogging, and stand-up paddleboarding. Bachelor parties can be found hopping from bar to bar on iconic Sixth Street, while a more laid-back atmosphere is found at Rainey Street’s houses-turned-bars or East Austin’s dive-like spots. A climb up Mount Bonnell, dip in the natural Barton Springs pool, or stroll around the University of Texas campus are other top things to do.
Set next to Lady Bird Lake and within easy walking distance of many top Austin attractions, the Four Seasons Hotel Austin is an excellent luxury option for tourists. Locals and guests alike come here to take advantage of the restaurant and bar, which both have outdoor seating amid greenery. Calming rooms have sophisticated amenities and great vistas, plus there are a high-end spa, outdoor area with games, and even an on-demand margarita cart.
It may be most famous for The Alamo, but there’s a lot to love about the city of San Antonio. For one, it has a strong Mexican American culture that’s on display in restaurants – from casual Tex-Mex to fine-dining Mexican eateries – colorful markets selling traditional dresses, silver jewelry, and hand-painted ceramics, and the Mexican Cultural Institute museum. In addition to The Alamo, there are four other Spanish missions located in the city, which were established to spread Christianity and act as a refuge for Native Americans. The oldest is Mission Espada, built in 1690, and park rangers are on hand to provide free tours. Other can’t miss spots include the River Walk – a river lined by restaurants, shops, museums, and hotels – and The Pearl District, a former brewery that’s been turned into a hip area with farmers’ markets, live music, and boutiques.
The 99-room Mokara Hotel and Spa is a luxury hotel set along San Antonio’s River Walk. Extensive high-end features consist of a year-round heated rooftop pool, an upscale spa with a variety of massage and wellness treatments, and a fine-dining seafood restaurant. Romantic rooms have four-poster beds, jetted tubs and separate glass showers, and Nespresso coffeemakers.
At more than 800,000 acres, Big Bend National Park offers tons of land for outdoor enthusiasts. Located about a five-hour drive south of El Paso, the park encompasses the Chisos Mountains and the Rio Grande, which forms the international boundary between Mexico and the U.S. This beautiful park provides visitors with over 150 miles of hiking trails — including short day and multi-day backpacking hikes — horseback riding, kayaking, bird-watching, and fishing. It’s also an incredible place for stargazing, and reportedly has the least amount of light pollution of any other National Park in the lower 48 states. Not to be skipped is a trip to the 105-degree Hot Springs, which originally acted as a bathhouse in the early 1900s and is now open to all of those who walk half a mile from the trailhead. An array of plant and animal species is also appealing for nature-lovers. Inexpensive campsites are available, as are several hotels just outside the park.
The upscale Lajitas Golf Resort is set along the edge of Big Bend National Park. This 27,000-acre resort is home to numerous family-friendly facilities, including an 18-hole golf course, zip-line, swimming pools, full-service spa, equestrian center, and stand-up paddleboarding on the Rio Grande. Homey, western-inspired rooms, suites, and condos are spread across the property.
Located in southeast Texas near the Gulf of Mexico, Houston is a large, sprawling city known for its significant role in the oil and gas industry. Houston is also one of the most culturally diverse cities in the United States. And nowhere is that more evident than in the approximately 11,000 restaurants that serve cuisines from more than 70 countries, like Chinese, Vietnamese, French, and Middle Eastern fare, and of course, lots of steak. Apart from eating, there’s ample to keep tourists entertained, such as the renowned 1931-founded Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the Space Center, Houston Astros baseball games at Minute Maid Park, and The Houston Museum of Natural Science. Additionally, no visit would be complete without a stop at The Galleria, the state’s largest shopping center.
Although it may seem geared toward business travelers with its location connected to George R. Brown Convention Center, the upscale Marriott Marquis Houston is a stellar pick for couples and families as well. Spacious, comfortable rooms have flat-screen TVs, coffeemakers, and mini-fridges, plus most provide expansive city or Minute Maid Park views. The highlight is the Texas-shaped lazy river, plus there are an outdoor pool, 5,000-square-foot spa, and multiple dining options.
Located a roughly 90-minute drive from both Austin and San Antonio, Fredericksburg is a charming town that was founded in 1846 for German settlers. Its cute Main Street has antique shops, boutiques, and German restaurants serving tasty sausages, schnitzels, and strudels. The city is most alive and full of German culture during the annual Oktoberfest, and visitors can also tour the Vereins Kirche Museum and Pioneer Museum Complex to learn about Texas-German history throughout the year. Particularly in recent years, Fredericksburg has become a popular place for wine tours, thanks to several scenic vineyards and wine tour companies to choose from. Before heading to wine tastings, we recommend hiking up the nearby Enchanted Rock, a granite dome that rises 425 feet from its base and has pretty views of the surrounding area.
The budget-friendly Inn on Barons Creek is a warm and friendly hotel a short walk off the Main Street. The 90 suites are done in traditional furnishings and come with microwaves, coffeemakers, flat-screen TVs, and free Wi-Fi, plus some have whirlpool tubs and sleeper sofas. Amenities include a heated outdoor pool, a full-service spa for massages and wellness treatments, and free breakfast buffets with hot items such as eggs, waffles, and biscuits and gravy.
Nearly smack dab in the middle of Oklahoma City and Houston, Dallas is a modern metropolis of about 1.3 million people and packed with things to do both inside and outdoors. Nature-lovers can head to the 66-acre Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Gardens for water features, striking flowers, and a Japanese Garden, plus seasonal festivals. History buffs can fill their days at The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum; The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, which chronicles the life and death of President John F. Kennedy; and the Frontiers of Flight Museum. For my arts-centric outings, there are the Dallas Museum of Art and adjacent Nasher Sculpture Center, Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, and Bishop Arts District for galleries, antique stores, and shops. Another fun spot in town is the Deep Ellum area, a former warehouse district that now houses breweries, wall murals, and popular barbecue spot Pecan Lodge.
Luxurious and stylish, The Joule is a fabulous hotel located in Downtown Dallas. It occupies a historic building dating back to the 1920s, and its decor reflects this with a cool mix of funky new furnishings and antique touches. The property even has an extensive art collection, including works by Andy Warhol. Trendy rooms are equipped with rainfall showers and Apple TVs, while hotel amenities consist of a well-frequented bar, 11,500-square-foot spa, and Texas brasserie.
Most folks know about the tiny 2,000-person town of Marfa due to that famous photo Beyonce posted in front of the town’s “Prada Marfa” sculpture, a 2005 artwork by Elmgreen and Dragset. But the city was actually a popular travel destination long before it became Instagram famous, thanks to what’s known as the Marfa Lights, an unexplained phenomenon of mysterious glowing orbs that dance across the horizon no matter the weather. A thriving art scene permeates the town, and visitors can hop between cool cafes, bars like a saloon with live music and pool tables, and art galleries.
The upper-middle-range Hotel Saint George is a contemporary property situated where a former 1886 hotel of the same name once stood. There are 55 rooms and suites done in a sleek modern design, all with free Wi-Fi, fridges, and upscale Aesop bath products. Curated art fills the spaces, and there are a restaurant, bar, outdoor pool, and fitness center on-site.
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