The big four cities of Texas -- Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin -- lure millions of travelers every year with their unique vibe and array of attractions. But, the Lone Star State is huge (it's an 11-hour drive from El Paso to Houston), and it's filled with dozens of quaint towns worthy of a visit for both Texans and out-of-state travelers. Read on for eight of our favorite under-the-radar destinations in Texas, where you can show off your cowboy boots, learn to two-step, and bust out a "y'all".
A roughly 90-minute drive from both Austin and San Antonio, Fredericksburg is a town with a charming Main Street that was founded in 1846 for German settlers. The German roots are still on full display and celebrated here, particularly when the permanent population of around 11,000 swells for the city’s annual Oktoberfest. History buffs looking to learn about Texas-German history and culture should visit Vereins Kirche Museum and Pioneer Museum Complex and dine at one of the many eateries offering sausages, schnitzel, and apple strudel. The town is popular for wine tours — there are several great, scenic vineyards to choose from — as well as for lunch after a morning spent hiking up nearby Enchanted Rock, a granite dome that rises 425 feet from its base.
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Marble Falls is a tiny city of around 6,000, set around the Colorado River about an hour’s drive northwest of Austin. It’s most popular for visitors to the nearby Lake Lyndon B Johnson (a 10-minute drive away), where water skiers, Jet-Ski-riders, and boat drivers cool off from the Texas sun. Anyone who is a lake person will feel right at home here, particularly as Texans are prone to waving as they pass each other on watercraft. Don’t miss Blue Bonnet Cafe, which is famous for their dessert pies and all-day breakfast, as well as strawberry picking at Sweet Berry Farm and Belgian ales from Save The World Brewery.
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Antique enthusiasts and lovers of southern boutiques should make a beeline for Boerne, which is a quick 40-minute drive north of downtown San Antonio. Like many quaint towns, there’s a wonderful Main Street lined with yummy restaurants, adorable clothing shops, and stores selling fine art, high-end jewelry, and antique furnishings. Visit on the monthly Market Days, when the Main Plaza is lined with vendors and there’s live music. This Hill Country town is home to the Cibolo Nature Center, which has a creek running through it, scenic trails, and even dinosaur tracks created around 100 million years ago. For family fun, head to Cave Without a Name, a stunning cavern with stalagmites, stalactites, soda straws, and more.
Wimberley is a city of just 3,000, about a 45-minute drive from Austin. It’s primarily popular in the summer, when travelers head to its famed Blue Hole Regional Park and Jacob’s Well. The former is a 126-acre park with hiking trails, rope swings, and lovely cypress trees. Jacob’s Well, meanwhile, is the largest continually flowing karstic spring in the Texas Hill Country, and part of the longest underwater cave systems in the state. The well’s opening measures about 12 feet wide and 30 feet deep, and the water is about 68 degrees year-round. Charming local cafes and bakeries fill the town, including Papa Hoos Popcorn, which offers dozens of sweet and savory popcorn varieties.
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Gruene has a similar feel to Boerne and Frederickburg, but it adds in a historic dance hall built in 1872 — the oldest continually running dance hall in Texas. While it was founded by a German settler in the 1840s, it became a bit of a ghost town during the Depression era, before eventually being placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. It’s now considered a part of the larger New Braunfels city. Today, it has a quintessential general store, cute candy shops, affordable boutiques, and restaurants with lovely views of the Guadalupe River. Try and see a show at Gruene Hall, which has hosted acts like Willie Nelson, the Dixie Chicks, BB King, and Garth Brooks.
There’s one reason out-of-towners go to Lockhart, Texas, and that’s for the barbecue. The state legislature officially proclaimed the town of 13,000 as The Barbecue Capital of Texas in 1999, due to it housing four legendary and delicious barbecue joints. Shoulder clod from Kreuz Market, brisket from Smitty’s Market, the dinosaur beef rib at Black’s Barbecue, and sausage from Chisholm Trail BBQ are all must-eats, plus you should throw in sides of green beans, potato salad, and peach cobbler for good measure. A visit to the Caldwell County Courthouse, horseback riding, and tour of the Caldwell County Jail Museum will help you work up an appetite between meals.
If you’re looking for a city with palpable history, head to Jefferson, located near the Louisiana border about a three-hour drive east of Dallas. Settled around 1840, it acted as a major port town and served as a major supply point for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Post-Civil War, its population ballooned to an estimated 30,000, until completion of the Texas and Pacific Railway bypassed the city altogether. By 1885, the population had fallen to around 3,500, and today it’s even less. But, nearly every building has a historic marker, museums showcase its storied past, and ghost tours provide spooky fun.
8. Port Isabel
You may have heard of South Padre Island, located in the Gulf of Mexico near the border, as it’s famous for party-hearty spring breakers, but travelers looking for somewhere more low-key should consider nearby Port Isabel. It’s a small coastal city that connects to South Padre via a bridge, and dates back to 1519 when it was chartered by a Spanish explorer. The Port Isabel Lighthouse, numerous fishing charters, and waterfront eateries create a cheerful, maritime spirit that’s family-friendly. The only downside is you’ll have to head to South Padre for beach time.
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