While the number one tourist attraction in Texas is The Alamo, there are a lot of other places that you may have never heard of. You might know of Dallas, San Antonio, Houston and El Paso, but do you know about some of the most fun and interesting places in the state?
First off let me say that none of the places listed are paying me. I do have a few affiliate links for lodging and such, hey a guy has to make some money.
If you are from Texas you are probably thinking “hell everybody knows about that place”. However, if you are one of the several million visitors each year that all they know is that there is someplace called an Alamo, I think there is a beach and don’t they have cowboys? Well, then these places might be new to you.
For those that don’t know, Texas has something for everyone. When Texans talk about the state they usually refer to one of the five main regions such as “Up in the Panhandle” or “Out in West Texas.” To give you a sense of where the regions are I put together a quick map. If you’re a Texan and take exception to the fact I put Amarillo in the Panhandle instead of west Texas or Schulenburg in the Prairies and Lakes Section, just chill out. It is just a general map and I ain’t a map maker.
The Texas Panhandle is the northern most section of the State. Bordering Oklahoma and New Mexico and the part of Texas where the famous Route 66 passed through.
The Texas Air and Space Museum offers airplane and aviation enthusiasts the opportunity to view and learn about early aviation. The museum has historic exhibits centering around pioneer aviators, military aircraft and the various wars throughout history. There are also several aircraft on display including the famed P-51 Mustang and NASA shuttle training aircraft.
When you first hear about the Jack Sisemore’s Traveland RV Museum you might dismiss it as a place where a couple of campers are parked but it is so much more. Sisemore was the first RV dealer in Texas and started collecting vintage RV’s, campers and trailers in the early 1980’s. The museum displays fifteen rolling vacation campers from the 1930’s to the 1970’s. Along with motorcycles, old transportation displays and memorabilia it is well worth a visit. The museum is free and self-guided so you can take your time looking around.
If you are going to be in Amarillo you might as well have a steak at one of the most famous steak houses in the United States. What makes this restaurant famous you ask? The 72oz Big Texan Steak of course. Born out of a challenge to see how much steak local cowboys could eat, today the 72oz steak challenge draws people from all over the US. The meal consists of Shrimp Cocktail, Baked Potato, Salad, with Roll, Butter, and of course the 72 oz. Steak. You have one hour to finish but if you don’t your meal will set you back $72.00. But hey how many steak houses run a limo service to pick you up and drop you off at your hotel, RV park or even truck stop?
Glen Rose, Texas
Dinosaur Valley State Park covers a little over 1500 acres and in addition to being a State Park it is also a National Natural Landmark. The park is home to fossilized dinosaur tracks, believed to be over 100 million years old, embedded in the river bed of the Paluxy River. In addition to the dinosaur tracks, the park offers camping, hiking, mountain biking, fishing and swimming. The best time of year to view the dinosaur tracks is late summer when the water levels are low.
Memphis may have Graceland but Texas has The Buddy Holly Center. One of the first artists to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Holly was truly a rock pioneer. In the early and mid 1950’s Buddy Holly and his band The Crickets drew crowds and topped the charts both in the US and the UK. In 1955 Holly opened for Elvis and another early rock icon, Bill Haley and the Comets. In 1959 Holly formed a new band and was on tour throughout the US. After a show in Clear Lake Iowa Holly chartered a plane to take him and the band to Fargo North Dakota. Two other early rock pioneers Richie Valens and JP “The Big Bopper” Richardson asked the band members if they could have their seats. The plane crashed killing all three plus the pilot and became known as “The Day the Music Died”. One of the band members that gave up their seat? Waylon Jennings. Today the Buddy Holly Center features artifacts and memorabilia along with guitars & personal items in an arts complex for concerts & classes.
Palo Duro Canyon
Located just south of Amarillo and east of Canyon Texas lies Palo Duro Canyon State Park. The second largest canyon, behind the Grand Canyon, Palo Duro is 120 miles long and 20 miles wide at its widest point. The State Park covers over 29,000 acres of the most scenic northern portion of the park and is open for camping, hiking and mountain biking. If you feel in shape you can take part in the Palo Duro Trail Run, October of each year. The race experiences temperatures ranging from freezing at the start of the race to over 100 hundred in the afternoon. You can choose between a 20K, 50K and 50 Mile run. From June to August each year you can enjoy the musical “Texas” in the parks outdoor theater.
West Texas is what comes to mind when people think of Texas. Wide open, mountains, you can drive for miles without seeing anyone other than another passing vehicle, hotter than hell summers, cactus, rattlesnakes and beautiful country. Home of Big Bend National Park the Davis Mountain range and big ranches.
Located about thirty miles northeast of El Paso in the low mountain area. In years past people came to collect rain water that pooled in the natural rock basins. It was also a stage coach stop. Many of those people left markings with special symbols and inscriptions on the rocks. Hundreds of paintings from large panels to smaller ones of faces and animals adorn the rocks. Names of Texas Rangers and US Cavalry can also be seen. The park today draws rock climbers from around the world. Others come for the star gazing, hiking camping and to view the large collection of pictographs. Because of the fragile Eco system and ancient drawings the area is protected and only a certain number of people are allowed in the park at any one time.
Fort Davis National Historic Site
The Ft Davis National Historic Site was established in 1854 to protect people, stage coaches and commerce as well as control the Comanche and Mescalero Apache war trails. The fort is one of the best remaining examples of a western cavalry fort in the US. It is also important since the 9th and 10th Regiments of the US Cavalry were stationed there. Both regiments were made up of black soldiers, known as Buffalo Soldiers. Today the site consists of 24 restored historic buildings and over 100 ruins and the park hosts special events throughout the year.
Terlingua is a small town in the Big Bend area about 12 miles from the Mexican border. The discovery of cinnabar, from which mercury is extracted, was discovered in the 1880’s and brought miners to the area. Today Terlingua is mostly a ghost town with a few what you might call eclectic people living there. There are a couple of motels and rentals available and you can spend your time hiking, river rafting or just enjoying the wide open spaces while you drink a beer on the porch. Each November for the past 51 years Terlingua has hosted the Terlingua International Chili Cookoff. The cookoff runs for 3-4 days and you can enjoy a bowl of Texas Red, the Texas State dish, while you listen to some great music.
The McDonald Observatory is located on Mount Locke in the Davis Mountains. Originally built in the 1930’s the observatory is run by the University of Texas. The observatory offers star gazing parties and tours of the facility. Tickets sell out pretty quick so it is best to make a reservation. If you have never seen the stars from out in the desert then you need to visit. It is amazing what you can see once you are away from the lights of the city.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Located in the Chihuahuan Desert of western Texas, the Guadalupe Mountains National Park covers 86,367 acres and is in the same mountain range as Carlsbad Caverns. The park offers ample opportunities for hiking, backpacking and camping. Pictographs can still be seen in many parts of the park and there are strict rules about disturbing, taking or defacing any of the historic artifacts. Just don’t be “that guy”. The park is also known for its bright-white Salt Basin Dunes, where people for centuries would come to collect salt. In fact, they had a war, the El Paso Salt War, over the ownership and use of the salt flats.
Central Texas & The Hill Country
Central Texas and the hill country, the heart of Texas. Home to the state capitol, undisputed champion of Texas BBQ, weird Austin and the rolling hills, rivers and ranches that people associate with Texas.
Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum
If you want to learn a little bit about Texas history and the legacy of the Texas Rangers from the early days of Texas independence through today, then this is the place you need to visit. Starting in 1823 when Stephen F Austin hired ten frontiersmen to be “Rangers” hunting down a band of attacking Indians the Rangers became an official organization in 1835. In the early days they protected settlers, hunted down criminals and were the only law enforcement for the massive State. Today the Texas Rangers are involved in investigating organized crime, drug cartels and terrorism and remain one of the premier law enforcement agencies. The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum details the biographies of famous rangers, their exploits and the history of the organization. As a side note one of my relatives was a Captain with the Texas Rangers in 1849.
Housed in the 1906 Artesian Manufacturing and Bottling Company building, known as the “Home of Dr Pepper”, the museum celebrates everything Dr Pepper. Invented by pharmacist Charles Alderton in 1880 while working for Wade Morrison in his drug store. Morrison began serving it to customers and Alderton, whose relatives are crying today, gave Morrison the recipe. In 1904 Dr Pepper began to be nationally marketed and as they say, the rest is history. The museum has over 100,000 artifacts and is dedicated to the history of the soft drink industry. The museum is not affiliated with Dr Pepper Snapple Group but receives contributions from them, Coca Cola and other bottlers.
Fredericksburg was founded by German settlers in 1846 and named after Prince Frederick of Prussia. Today Fredericksburg is a popular weekend destination with stores, wineries, B&B’s, specialty shops and museums. In Fredericksburg or close by you can visit:
Ft Martin Scott on the eastern edge of Fredericksburg was the first US Military post to be established in Texas.
Pioneer Museum which contains superb examples of early German structures and artifacts.
The National Museum of The Pacific War What started out as the Nimitz Museum, named after Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz Commander of Pacific Forces in WW2, born in Fredericksburg. Today it has expanded to an entire complex covering the George Bush Gallery of the Pacific War, the Plaza of the Presidents, Japanese Garden of Peace, Memorial Walk, and the Pacific Combat Zone
The Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site and the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park both offer a glimpse into the life of the 36th President of the US. You can tour the ranch, fish, swim and learn about the life and times of the man who designed “The Great Society”.
Ten miles south of Fredericksburg on US Hwy 290 lies Luckenbach Texas. Made famous by Waylon Jennings, remember him from the Buddy Holly Museum in Lubbock? Waylon Jennings song put Luckenbach Texas on the map. Today Luckenbach is an unincorporated little community that hosts musicians from all over. In 1973 Jerry Jeff Walker recorded an album at the Luckenbach dance hall that became an outlaw country music hit. Willie Nelson hosted his 4th of July picnic festival in Luckenbach for several years. Other notable artists have played in Luckenbach and each weekend you can listen to live music from a variety of artists.
There are many things to see and do in Austin. From the State Capitol to famed 6th Street with live music and the clothing optional Hippie Hollow but we have only one entry. The Scholtz Beer Garden is the oldest continuously operating tavern in Texas. Founded in 1866 by August Scholtz, the beer garden has long been a favorite of outlaws, politicians, and everyday folks. City Marshall Ben Thompson had a party there after being acquitted of murder in the 1883, President Lyndon B. Johnson was known to frequent the beer garden as well as other politicians. It was once said more legislation was passed at Scholtz than at the capitol. In 1979 the Scholtz Beer Garden was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Here is a side note. My cousin, a former member of Texas legislature, who wrote the ethics law, once owned the beer garden.
Mason County, Texas
Why visit Mason County Texas? You could get rich, well maybe come away with a cool gemstone anyway. The blue topaz is the Texas State gem and is found only in Mason County. There are three ranches in Mason County where you can pay a fee and hunt for the elusive blue topaz and you can keep what you find. The Bar M Ranch, the Lindsay Ranch and the Seaquist Ranch. The largest gem quality blue topaz ever was found in Mason County Texas. Weighing in at just under 3 pounds you can see it at the Mason County museum.
Located just off I-35 south of Austin lies the little town of Gruene Texas, pronounced “green”. A town that relies solely on tourism it is full of little shops housed in old historic buildings, dining establishments, B&B’s and the Gruene Dance Hall. Built in 1878, Gruene Hall is the oldest dance hall in Texas. Offering live music every day artists like Loretta Lynn, LeAnn Rimes, Chubby Checker, Willie Nelson and others have all played the Hall.
South Texas Plains
Stretching from San Antonio to the Texas Valley and the Mexico border, the South Texas plains is home to ranches, farms and interesting little towns.
San Antonio, Texas
When you think of things to see and do in San Antonio two things come to mind for most people. The river walk and the Alamo. Believe it or not there are a lot of other things to see. The Tower of the Americas, Breckenridge Park, Natural Bridge Caverns and Six Flag over Texas, just to name a few. One of the things you need to add to your list of places to see is the various missions around town. The San Antonio Missions National Historic Park has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Historic Landmarks. The park consists not only of the Alamo but also the Missions Concepción, San José, San Juan and Espada. Mission San José the “Queen of the Missions,” is the largest mission in San Antonio, established in 1720 and completed in 1782. Mission Concepcion is the oldest unrestored stone church in America having been built in 1716. So yes, by all means visit the Alamo and take a stroll on the Riverwalk but see some of the other beautiful sights in San Antonio while you’re there.
If you want to see a Texas ranch then you might as well see a big one. The King Ranch spans 825,000 acres in South Texas. In 1852 Richard King started a cattle camp on the Santa Gertrudis Creek and later bought an initial 15,500 acres through a Spanish land grant. King continued to amass land and at one time had cattle operations in four US States and seven foreign countries. The King ranch crossbred cattle to develop a new breed. The Santa Gertrudis Cattle recognized in 1940 as the first beef breed formed in the United States was bred for their ability to adapt to harsh climates. Today the King Ranch has interests in including cattle, horses, citrus, cotton, grain, sugar cane, turf grass, and much more. Visit the King ranch to learn about the history of Texas cattle ranching and what efforts are being undertaken today on behalf of ranches.
The Gulf Coast of Texas is 367 miles long making it the fifth longest coastline in the US. How Louisiana is longer I just don’t understand. The coastline spans from the border of Louisiana to the border of Mexico. From the city of Orange and Beaumont to the east to Boca Chica State Park bordering Mexico. That is a lot of coastline and a lot of things to see and do.
Remember “Houston we have a problem?” Well this is where they were calling. Located south of Houston this is NASA’s manned spacecraft center where training, research and the famed mission control are all located. Named after president and Texan native Lyndon B. Johnson, the center trains astronauts from all over the world. Here you can take a tour of the facilities, see mission control, learn about the history and on Fridays sit in on a talk by one of the astronauts.
For Texans, the Alamo is hallowed ground but it is San Jacinto where Texas gained independence. The war for Texas independence lasted from Oct 2 1835-Apr 21 1836 and culminated in a battle lasting 18 minutes on an open plain near the San Jacinto river. Today the park serves a threefold purpose. There is the battlefield with markers showing where troops were stationed and what happened along with the San Jacinto Monument, a 567 ft. high column, taller than the Washington Monument, where you can take the elevator to the viewing deck. The park is also the resting place for the USS Battleship Texas commissioned in 1914 and served until 1946. The Battleship Texas served in WW1, WW2 including Operation Overlord, D-Day, The Battle of Cherbourg and also in the Pacific. The Battleship Texas is the only remaining World War I-era dreadnought battleship and today you can tour the ship and see what life was like onboard. There is also a marsh trail where you can walk on a boardwalk through the marsh and check out the wildlife and the alligators.
Galveston is an island located south of Houston. At one time Galveston was one of the largest ports in the US and briefly the Capitol of the Republic of Texas and the 1817, the home of pirate Jean Lafitte. A hurricane in 1900 all but wiped out the city and had a death toll between 6000-12000 people. Galveston has a lot to offer and is a hub for Caribbean cruise departures. A couple of notable things to see include:
The Elissa is a three masted iron hulled sailing ship built in 1877 in Aberdeen Scotland. During her working days Elissa sailed the world delivering cargo to various ports of call. Today you can tour the Elissa and experience a survivor from the golden age of sailing ships.
Dating from 1895 the Moody Mansion exemplifies the grandeur and splendor of Galveston’s time as the grand city of the south. Tour the 20 rooms of the 28,000 sq ft mansion furnished with the family’s personal effects. Make sure to check out the garage if you are into automobiles. One of the Moody family cars, a 1931 Studebaker, is on display.
Goliad is located about halfway between Houston and Corpus Christi and for a small town holds a lot of history. The town itself is a great place to visit and see small town Texas. A town square with shops, cafés and market days once a month where vendors fill the town square with goods. There is also the Mission Espiritu Santo and State Park along with the Presidio La Bahia and Fannin Memorial Monument. Check out this article for a more detailed look at Goliad.
The Sparkling City by the Sea was discovered by Spanish explorer Alonso Álvarez de Pineda in 1519, but the city itself was founded in 1862. While in Corpus Christi you need to check out the great seafood restaurants and the USS Lexington.
The USS Lexington
The USS Lexington, nicknamed “The Blue Ghost” is an Essex Class Aircraft Carrier built during WW2 and named after the Lexington that sank during the Battle of the Corral Sea. The carrier saw action at the Battle Leyte Gulf, the battle of Philippine Sea and was de commissioned in 1991. Today you can tour The Lexington and walk the decks where 3,000 men served during WW2.
The Texas State Aquarium
The Texas State Aquarium opened in 1990 and in 1993 became a federally funded rehabilitation facility. Exhibits include a 400,000 gallon dolphin exhibit, Eagle Pass where raptors that cannot be released into the wild are housed, an 800 gallon floating phantoms exhibits with jelly fish and sea nettles, the Wild Flight Center with parrots, owls and hawks and several other exhibits with sharks, Atlantic tarpons, barracudas, crabs, sea turtles and more.
Texas has several offshore preserves, beaches and wildlife sanctuaries including Matagorda Island, a 38 mile long 56,688 acre barrier island that is a favorite for wilderness lovers. You will need to hire a boat to get there but once on the island wild camping, hiking and having an undisturbed island to yourself can be rewarding. Check out the 1852 lighthouse on the North end of the island.
The world’s longest barrier island, Padre island stretches 113 miles. Stretching from Corpus Christi to the south near Mexico, Padre island has been a favorite spot for tourists, beachgoers and the last few years the Spring Break crowd. The Padre Island National Seashore is located on the northern end of the island. The Padre Island National Seashore covers 70 miles of dunes, prairies and flats and is the nesting ground of the Ridley Sea Turtle. The southern town of South Padre Island, just north of Mexico is known for white sand beaches and a favorite Spring Break destination.
Having been born in Corpus Christi and spending way too much time at the beach in high school, I can tell you Padre Island is a great place to spend some time.
Piney Woods of East Texas
The Piney Woods of East Texas cover an area bordering Louisiana and running the length of the State of Texas. With 17 State Parks and 4 National Forests.
Tyler, the rose capitol of the United States is a great town to spend some time. One place you should visit is the Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge.
Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge started as a way to document and provide a sanctuary for tigers living outside accredited zoos. Using DNA to document various species, the refuge began taking in tigers and preserving endangered tiger species. Today the refuge works with Texas A&M University in identifying various species and rescuing the big cats. With 150 acres and 40 cats, including tigers, lions, bobcats and more the refuge is saving tigers one by one.
Rusk is home to the Texas State Railroad. The railroad runs the historic 25 mile route from Rusk to Palestine Texas. Operating old steam engines, you can book a trip back in time on the Moonlight Special dinner train, ride in first class comfort or an open air coach class and even book a ride in the engine cab with the engineer and fireman.
Prairies and Lakes
The Dallas Ft Worth area is the largest metropolitan area in the south covering 13 counties. With a lot to do a couple of notable places you should visit are:
Billy Bob’s in Ft Worth, promoted as “The World’s Largest Honkey Tonk” is 127,000 sq feet of boot scooting, beer drinking fun. Many big name country artists have played Billy Bob’s along with non-country acts including ZZ Top, Bob hope, Peter Frampton, Ringo Starr, BB King and Marvin Gaye. In addition to the music acts there are pool tables, video games and bull riding. Not mechanical bulls but real live bulls. The Honkey Tonk kitchen serves up burgers, BBQ, chicken fried steaks and bar food.
The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza chronicles one of the most tragic events in US history. On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, was fatally shot in Dallas, in Dealey Plaza. The museum, located in what was the Texas School Book Depository, has exhibits on display about the various persons involved, the history and culture of the times, the timeline of what occurred that day, documents and photographs.
Canton is a small town of under 4,000 but on Mondays but one weekend per month, on Thursday through Sunday prior to the first Monday the town is transformed into one of the world’s largest flea markets. First Monday Trade Days is the oldest, largest continually operating outdoor flea market in the United States. Starting in the 1850’s when the judge would stop by town on Mondays and hold court, people would trade horses, goods and watch hangings. There are no hangings today but there are over 100 acres, pavilions and 6,000 vendors selling everything you can imagine. There are plenty of restaurants serving everything from BBQ, pizza, fair food and also a lot of restaurants in town. If you plan on staying in town book a room early.
Schulenburg is about halfway between Houston and San Antonio on I-10. Other than a popular place to gas up and get some food on the road, Schulenburg is also one of the places you can visit the Painted Churches of Texas. In the 1800’s when Czech immigrants came to Texas they began building churches in their communities. In order to make their churches more like the big cathedrals of home they began painting the interiors with bright colors. Known as The Painted Churches, you can view these in a lot of towns all over the State where Czech, German and other European immigrants settled. Schulenburg and the surrounding area has about ten of the churches and many are open for tours. While you are in Schulenburg stop in at the Oakridge Smokehouse Restaurant, great food and they sell baked goods, beef jerky and some really good smoked bacon.
Now it would be almost impossible to list all the great places you can visit and I have left out a couple of the more well known attractions just to show that there is a lot more to see and do for just about every interest. Plus, after writing over 4900 words I just got tired of listing places. Have you visited Texas? What places would you add to the list?