Texas Holiday Planning Guide
Thanks to its size and geologic features, Texas contains diverse landscapes that closely resemble both the south and southwest of the United States. Though most people associate Texas with tracts of barren land, deserts cover only about 10 percent of the state, with most of its big population centers located in areas once covered by prairies, grasslands, and forests. As you travel from one end of Texas to the other, observe the changing terrain that ranges from coastal piney woods and swamps in the east to the mountains of the west, with rolling plains and rugged hills in the center. For a bit of urban Texas sightseeing, visit some of the state's large cities, such as Houston, Dallas, or Austin, or immerse yourself in the nation's history by adding famous attractions like The Alamo to your itinerary. Take plenty of time to mingle with the locals, famous for their hospitality, generosity, and fiercely independent spirit.
Places to Visit in TexasTexas Gulf Coast
: Bordering the Gulf of Mexico, this coastline is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and sunbathing beach-goers, with lush national parks and golden-sand beaches interrupted by the occasional fishermen's villages and resorts.San Antonio
: This culture-rich city is famous for its Spanish colonial missions, museums, monuments, amusement parks, and riverside walkways; despite its large tourism industry and development, San Antonio still retains its Old West charm.Dallas
: Filled with hundreds of shopping venues, including flea markets, antique shops, and farmer's markets, Dallas also boasts the largest art district in the United States; the city's historical locations include the building from which John F. Kennedy was shot.Austin
: There is always something exciting happening in Austin, one of America's hubs of technology, film, music, and politics; visitors on a Texas tour are encouraged to attend football games and live concerts while in town.Houston
: Known as the "Bayou City" for its location on the Buffalo Bayou, this culturally diverse city is popular for its local and ethnic restaurants, as well as the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, where NASA conducts research and training for human spaceflight activities.Galveston
: Once a major naval port during, Galveston now serves as a popular Texas vacation spot, delighting history buffs with one of the country's largest collections of well-preserved 19th-century buildings.Fort Worth
: Despite its modern character, Fort Worth proudly retains its cowboy culture and, among shopping malls and fine-dining restaurants, visitors will regularly find cattle drives, weekend rodeos, traditional architecture, and historical museums.Fredericksburg
: Visitors may be surprised to hear Texans speaking German, but after Fredericksburg was settled by German immigrants in the mid-19th century, the city held onto German-style architecture, shops, and festivals.Arlington
: Arlington embodies the Texan spirit and pride with Texas tourist attractions that include stadiums used by the Dallas Cowboys and the Texas Rangers, thrilling amusement parks, museums, and galleries.South Padre Island
: Located off the Texas Gulf Coast, this vibrant holiday destination offers clean beaches, sunny weather, and a mellow atmosphere ideal for travelers looking for quiet coastal experiences not far from the mainland.
Things to Do in Texas
Popular TexasTourist AttractionsThe San Antonio River Walk
: Trailing alongside the San Antonio River, this walkway offers a fun way to see the city's bars, restaurants, shops, and many main attractions without the hassle of traffic.The Alamo
: Visit this popular Texas attraction to see where Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie made their last stand for Texas independence in 1836, which now features a museum housed in an old Roman Catholic church and fortress.The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
: Take a sobering trip to the building from which Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot and killed John F. Kennedy; visitors can view historic films, photographs, and even the window Oswald fired through.Space Center Houston
: Be an astronaut for the day at this NASA facility where you can take a guided tour of the control center and explore many interactive exhibits, moon landing simulations, and a collection of spacecrafts.The Dallas World Aquarium
: Get up close to hundreds of marine animals from all over the world at this aquarium, which also offers scheduled feeding demonstrations and a tropical rainforest exhibit with crocodiles, exotic birds, and sloths.SeaWorld San Antonio
: More than just an amusement park with water slides and roller coasters, this park allows visitors to interact and feed seals, sea lions, and walruses, as well as catch a show with performing dolphins and orca whales.Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Garden
: Lose yourself in the world of landscaped gardens, green lawns, fountains, and hordes of colorful azaleas making up this lakeside complex, which also contains an original Spanish-style estate called Degolyer House.State Capitol
: Many Texas itineraries include this Italian Renaissance Revival building from 1888, housing the Texas Legislature and governor, as well as garden monuments and a rotunda displaying portraits of presidents of the Republic of Texas and governors of the state.Six Flags Over Texas
: The first of a series of Six Flags theme parks features over 35 rides and attractions, including heart-pounding roller coasters, delightful spinning teacups, entertainment shows, and a large selection of restaurants and snack bars.Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District
: Step into a piece of Texas history at this old hub of cattle industry--the last of its kind in America--now offering leather stores, rodeos, Wild West shows, and old-time saloons.
Planning a TexasVacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Texas with Kids
Young travelers on a Texas holiday will find endless opportunities for exciting adventures. Large cities like San Antonio
provide theaters, shopping centers, entertainment and sports venues, and fascinating museums ranging in themes from Texas history to local art heritage. Corpus Christi
along the Texas Gulf Coast
is the perfect location for water sports, relaxing on the beach, and visiting museums hosted inside old ships. Another popular Texas destination is New Braunfels
, known for its kid-friendly discovery museums and inner tubing opportunities on the Guadalupe and Comal rivers. For an authentic old-time Texas experience, head to Amarillo
. This town, once a series of ranches, prides itself on a true Wild West atmosphere, and some of its attractions allow young visitors to learn cowboy skills.
Things to Do in Texas with Kids
The Lone Star State boasts dozens of interactive museums, so you won't have any trouble pinpointing one suited to your kids' interests and ages. Consider McKenna Children's Museum
, a learning center for art, creativity, science, culture, health, and history, all displayed in interactive, hands-on exhibits. Older kids and teens enjoy exploring USS LEXINGTON
, a huge World War II battleship now serving as a museum. Tour this National Historic Landmark, catch a film in the MEGAtheater addition, and do not miss the catapult room.
If the legends of the Old West capture your family's interest, head to Cowgirls and Cowboys in the West
, a venue offering horseback riding, chuck wagon rides, Route 66 tours, and excursions following old trails once used by cowboys and Indians. Complete the cowboy experience at San Antonio Western Shooting
, a shoot-em-up experience.
Include outdoor attractions in your Texas sightseeing and check out the state's varied, beautiful landscape. At Big Bend National Park
you can find fossil organisms among the rocks and canyons. Spend the day hiking around rock formations and viewing historical 19th-century buildings. The best way to tour Texas' outdoor world is on horseback, just like the cowboys did. Look for tour operators like Widowmaker Trail Rides
, offering riding trip around Grapevine Lake
Tips for a Family Vacation in Texas
If you are planning to take horseback tours, be sure to book in advance as these activities fill up fast. Consider adding Big Bend National Park
to your Texas itinerary, and check out Far Flung Outdoor Center
. Opt for this operator's Jeep tours if you travel with young kids, or take older children on an unforgettable adventure by weaving ATVs through rock formations, or rafting down the Rio Grande River.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Texas
Cuisine of Texas
Food is part of the Texas experience, and the state's cuisine is characterized as a blend of Southern and Western cooking traditions with a Mexican influence. The cuisine known as Tex-Mex has become famous across the country, but there is no better time to try it than one your Texas vacation. Line up a tour with Food Tours of America
and explore Dallas
through its trendy restaurants and offbeat eatries. This experience includes generous tastings at multiple establishments in the uptown area, with short walks between each site. Do not miss out on the barbecue, a Texas staple thanks to the state's high beef production. Get your taste of barbecue with Texas Bar-B-Q Tour
, a food tour introducing three award-winning restaurants, chats with the pitmasters, and mouth-watering meals.
For a taste of Texas spirits, head to Barrel Barn at Garrison Brothers Distillery
, the state's first and oldest bourbon distillery. The facility provides guided tours with inside looks at the production process and a tasting at the end.
When your vacation is over and it is time to go home, take the taste of Texas with you. Rustlin' Rob's Texas Gourmet Foods
features shelf upon shelf of Texas hot sauce, salsa, jam, preserves, barbecue sauce, rubs, and many more local items that make perfect gifts and souvenirs.
Shopping in Texas
In between barbecues and canyons, take time to pick up keepsakes from your Texas tour. For a typical retail shopping experience visit The Galleria
, a mall boasting 400 stores, an ice-skating rink, swimming pools, arcades, and many more delights. If you're after a more unique experience, visit venues like Jefferson General Store
. Dating back to the 1870s, this antique store retains much of its Old West charm, featuring a jukebox, root beer floats, and rows of interesting products like handmade pecan pralines, old-time toys, books, and old-fashioned candy.
For longer-lasting and more iconic Texas souvenirs shop at The Texas Boot Company
, offering 10 different brands of cowboy boots for men, women, and children in a range of styles and colors. Clothing, hats, and belts are also available, and the store houses a fascinating museum displaying boots worn by celebrities and historical figures.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Texas
History of Texas
The first records of the Texas area come from 1519, when the first Spanish conquistadors arrived in the area. Little is known about the earliest European settlements, with no successful colonies established for an extended period. The Spanish increased activity in Texas after the French settlers appeared, though both groups dealt with attacks by the Karankawa natives. From the late 17th to the early 19th century, Spanish villages and missions succeed on a small scale.
This changed in 1821 with the success of the Mexican War for Independence. The war, which had mostly been fought by guerilla bands until late 1820, ended with a military coup in Spain. The uprising caused the royalist forces in Mexico to switch sides and fight for Mexican independence. After the end of the war, the territory of Texas became part of the new Mexican Empire. Mexican authorities encouraged settlement in the region, and most colonists came from the United States. Get to know how these settlers lived at National Ranching Heritage Center
, which features recreated adobe houses and saddle exhibits.
The settlers from the U.S. quickly outnumbered the Mexicans in Texas. This laid the foundations of the Texas Revolution. The Texians (English-speaking settlers in Texas) rose up in arms and were met with the Mexican military. The roughly 200 defending Texians and volunteers from the United States, including Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, were completely wiped out at the Battle of the Alamo. Another Mexican force marched up the coast pushing the Texians back and executing most who surrendered. The came to an abrupt end when Sam Houston defeated Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto near the Louisiana border. The captured Santa Anna had the Mexican forces withdraw south of the Rio Grande, ending the war. To see where Texan independence was won, add San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site
to your Texas itinerary.
With the end of the Texas Revolution the Republic of Texas was formed. As an independent nation, Texas fell into economic decline. Despite immigration from the U.S., the international trade and Mexico's refusal to acknowledge the nation led to hard times for the fledgling country. The vast majority of Texans wished to join the United States, but the political landscape at the time made the issue very touchy and it was largely avoided for almost a decade. President John Tyler finally arranged a compromise bill to annex the area to the United States. This bill passed and Texas became the 28th U.S. state in 1845.
Texas' statehood didn't last long, as the area seceded from the Union in 1861 to join the Confederate States of America. The Union did attempt to recapture the region, but their most successful military action was the blockade of the port of Galveston. The war ended in 1865, when Texas went under reconstruction with the rest of the former Confederate states. Learn more about Texas during the Civil War at Texas Civil War Museum
, where films and artifacts are displayed in an extensive collection.
Texas economy focused on cotton farming and ranching until the 1880s, when the railroad came through the region. At the turn of the century oil was discovered at Spindletop Hill, which became the most productive oil well the world had seen up to that point. The economic period that followed became known as the "Oil Boom."
Throughout the 20th century Texas continued to develop. It is now the second largest state in terms of population. Its thriving economy makes it the 12th largest in the world.
Landscape of Texas
Texas is more than just deserts and canyons, and the state boasts impressive western mountains, forested and swampy lands in the east, and miles of rolling plains. To experience the region's scenic landscape, include Chisos Mountains
on your Texas itinerary. Explore trails for every age and fitness level through lush forests with lots of shade, making this attraction a refreshing respite in the middle of the desert. Keep your eyes peeled for fantastic views and lots of wildlife.
Stock up on water and head to the the second-largest canyon in the United States at Palo Duro Canyon State Park
, where you can take a scenic drive and spot quirky fairy chimneys reaching into the sky. You can also hike or bike the attraction, but do not forget plenty of sun protection. Be sure to add Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
to your outdoor adventure itinerary. The pink granite dome is a favorite among tourists because of its massive size and legends claiming the rock holds mystical powers. Spend the day hiking the surrounding park's trails, rock climbing, and learning about the history of human habitation dating back thousands of years.
Holidays & Festivals in Texas
Texas has a lot to celebrate in terms of history, culture, music, and food. Catch the cowboy festivities at the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show at Fort Worth
, one of country's oldest and most celebrated events of its kind. Lasting for two weeks in January, the event kicks off with the world's biggest horse-drawn parade and continues with dozens of thrilling rodeo performances. If you miss this event, try to attend the State Fair of Texas in September and October in Dallas
. The fair offers carnival rides and games, auto shows, art competitions, and lots of animal displays.
Every March, music fills Austin
during South by Southwest, a hugely popular music festival featuring up-and-coming bands. Complete with an awards ceremony, live concerts, keynote speakers, and workshops with musicians, this celebration will leave a lasting impression on your Texas holiday. Enjoy more music and colorful culture at the Gran Fiesta de Fort Worth, which celebrates Hispanic culture and heritage every July with food fairs, live music, parades, and traditional dances.
Texas Travel Tips
Climate of Texas
The massive size of the state means it experiences an extreme range of weather. Generally, during the summer temperatures tend to skyrocket, humidity can be uncomfortable, and storms blow up in a matter of minutes. Summer rainstorms often turn into hailstorms, which can make for an uncomfortable sightseeing experience. Alternatively, spring, fall, and winter are more pleasant for Texas tours. Keep in mind that the Panhandle region sees the coldest winter temperatures in the state and plenty of snow.
Transportation in Texas
Transportation from city to city can be arduous and time-consuming. Take advantage of the outstanding road system during your Texas trip by using a private vehicle, whether your own or a rented one. Always obey the speed limits, as troopers conceal themselves along the highways and strictly enforce the local laws. If a car is not a viable option and you need to cross long distances, consider flying instead. Trains are an expensive option and do not serve cities in the Panhandle or the south, but several bus operators (including Greyhound, Vonlane, and Megabus) provide a link to most cities and towns.