A weekend getaway is the perfect way to unwind and disconnect from your everyday responsibilities without the major commitments of planning a big vacation. Texas, thankfully, has no shortage of attractive destinations that are perfect for a little weekend jaunt.
The Lone Star State’s big, flashy metropolises (Austin! Houston! San Antonio!) often steal the spotlight, but Texas is full of small towns (and cities) that deliver both country charm and natural beauty. Since the state is so large—the biggest in the contiguous United States—different regions of Texas are famous for their own local cultures.
East Texas is renowned for its Southern hospitality. Central Texas is packed full of river towns settled by German immigrants. West Texas is known for its quirky desert hamlets and big skies. North Texas is famed for its wide open, prairie plains. South Texas is popular among hunters and other types of outdoorsmen. The coast is characterized by white, sandy beaches and cute beach towns. And there’s a chance you’ll find great barbecue no matter where you are.
Here are 10 ideas, from the coast to the desert, for your next weekend getaway in Texas.
Closest city: Two hours and 40 minutes from Odessa
Consider staying at: The Lincoln Marfa, starting at $200 per night
Best for: Adventurous art lovers
Marfa, Texas, feels a little unreal at times. Located squarely in the middle of nowhere deep in West Texas, this little town is obsessed with art. There are about 2,000 residents and 19 permanent galleries in town, not to mention the annual music and art festivals that it hosts every year like Marfa Myths. Marfa got its start as a legendary art destination when minimalist artist Donald Judd moved there in the ’70s and bought 40,000 acres of land, 16 buildings, and a decommissioned army base to create an art haven for himself and his creative friends. Even before Judd, Marfa had been made famous in the movie epic Giant (1956), starring James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rock Hudson, which was filmed in the area. When they weren’t on camera, the stars shacked up at the Hotel Paisano, which is still in operation today. Other notable Hollywood flicks lensed in the area include No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood.
Today, the Judd Foundation and Chinati Foundation (also founded by Judd) are considered must-see attractions in town, and other museums, like the Inde/Jacobs Gallery and Rule Gallery, are also popular. Ironically, Marfa’s most famous art installation, Prada Marfa, is located within its city limits, but about half an hour away in the even smaller municipality of Valentine. And though Marfa may be a small town, there is no shortage of great eats: for delectable wood-fired pizza, check out Para Llevar, and for creative cocktails and eclectic dishes, head over to the Water Stop, which has a rotisserie chicken dish on its menu that Bon Appetit called the “second best reason to go to Marfa.”
Its proximity to Big Bend National Park also makes the town attractive. (It’s about two hours away, but everything is far apart in this area.) In one of the country’s most isolated and bewitching national parks, covering more than 800,000 acres, you can kayak the Rio Grande or hike, bike, or camp in the Chisos Mountains, which tower nearly a mile above the Chihuahuan desert. The landscape is dotted with cactus, yucca, mesquite, Arizona cypress, maple, aspen, and Ponderosa pine, and if it’s your lucky day, you may spot an elusive bobcat or mountain lion. The 4.8-mile Lost Mine Trail offers sweeping views of Casa Grande and Juniper Canyon; the strenuous South Rim traverses nearly 14.5 miles with 2,000 feet gained in elevation.
The best place to spend the night is Chisos Basin, a 60-site campground with flush toilets, running water, grills, picnic tables, and majestic views of the surrounding peaks. Or book one of five cozy stone cottages at Chisos Mountains Lodge, the only accommodations within the sprawling park.
2. The Less-Visited Towns of the Hill Country
Closest city: San Antonio
Consider staying at: Treehouse Utopia, starting at $475 per night
Best for: Travelers seeking peace and quiet
Fredericksburg, Wimberley, and Dripping Springs receive a lot of weekenders from San Antonio. But a less-explored corner of Hill Country is equally enchanting: Drive one or two hours west of San Antonio, and you’ll find less-traveled-to towns like Leakey, Castroville, and Bandera. These places are located deep in the heart of the Hill Country and pickings can be slim when it comes to hotels or places to eat. However, what this part of Texas lacks in tourist infrastructure, it makes up for in peaceful solitude, unparalleled vistas, and cool, clear rivers to swim in. Park yourself at Treehouse Utopia, a bed-and-breakfast in a town named Utopia (population: 227). The all–tree house property, sited on the banks of the emerald Sabinal River, was founded by Texas-born chef Laurel Waters and Pete Nelson, star of Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters.
It’s the perfect jumping-off point for stuffing your face with brisket quesadillas at Bear’s Den in Leakey, riding rescued horses on the trails at Elm Creek Stables in Concan, and floating the Rio Frio, a spring-fed river that doubles as a popular tubing destination on hot summer days. Concan-based outfitter Andy’s on River Road sets travelers up with rental tubes for themselves and their beer coolers.
Consider staying at: Cotton Court Hotel, starting at $150 per night
Best for: Wine enthusiasts
West Texas lays claim to the fifth largest viticultural area in the United States, with more than 9 million acres devoted to harvesting wine grapes. Lo and behold, nearly 90 percent of those grapes are grown in the small city of Lubbock. Although the South Plains town is home to some 250,000 residents, it’s one-third the size of El Paso, five and a half hours west.
Vineyard hopping is practically a sport here, and most tours start or end at the 20-year-old powerhouse McPherson Cellars, host of the annual Wines & Vines Festival founded in 2011. The Llano Estacado winery, vino-and-tapas restaurant La Diosa Cellars, and the Funky Door Bistro & Wine Room should also be pinned on your map. Leave time for a saunter through the Buddy Holly Center, dedicated to Lubbock’s most famous musical son, and don’t miss the 19-acre historical park, bronze sculpture garden, and 44,000-square-foot Western Americana museum at the National Ranching Heritage Center.
4. South Padre Island
Closest city: Three hours from Corpus Christi
Consider staying at: This Airbnb, starting at $150 per night
Best for: Nature-loving beach bums
In Texas, South Padre admittedly has a bit of a Girls Gone Wild reputation because of its notorious spring break parties. But there’s more to this 34-mile barrier island than frat boys double-fisting Solo cups at poolside beer pongs. About a three-hour drive from Corpus Christi, the skinny isle on the Gulf of Mexico promises beaches and boardwalks for miles. (Our favorite: the horizon-spanning stretch of sand at Andy Bowie County Park, on the north end of South Padre Island.)
Less than a quarter mile from the county park is the South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center & Alligator Sanctuary, where visitors amble along 3,000 square feet of elevated boardwalk bridging 50 acres of wetlands. Climb the five-story watchtower for glimpses of black skimmers and scarlet tanagers. (Grounds admission is $5 to $8 and free for children under four.) And one minute away, you can observe a feeding while learning about rescued sea turtles at Sea Turtle Inc., an operation focused on education, rehabilitation, and conservation. On the southern end of the island, check into one of South Padre’s gazillion Airbnbs—this superhost’s two-bedroom, glass-front condo is two minutes from the waterfront and an easy walk to a feast of freshly marinated fish at Ceviche Ceviche.
5. Round Top
Closest city: 75 minutes from Austin
Consider staying at: Rancho Pillow, starting at $300 per night
Best for: Antique collectors
The world’s largest antique fair takes place in a town of 90 residents, midway between Austin and Houston. The long-running Original Round Top Antiques Fair celebrates its 54th birthday this year and will be held from October 24 to 29. Because the fair prohibits vendors from selling new items or reproductions, it attracts some of the country’s most serious antique and vintage collectors.
For year-round tchotchke hunting, browse treasures from more than 50 dealers at the 12,000-square-foot Round Top Vintage Market and stop by McLaren’s Antiques and Interiors for one-of-a-kind architectural salvage, D. Little Gallery for antique French pottery, Mallory et Cie for vintage indigo ponchos, and Abejas Boutique for vintage Navajo and Zuni jewelry. Round Top Festival Institute, founded by concert pianist James Dick, is another community pillar—check the calendar for music and poetry events throughout the year.
For grub, look no further than the thin-crust pies and pitchers of sangria at the Stone Cellar, followed by a slice of Texas Trash pie (coconut, chocolate chips, graham crackers, pretzels, and caramel) at Royers Pie Haven. To stay, book a room at Rancho Pillow, a remote family compound turned quirky artists’ retreat about eight miles from downtown Round Top. If your timing is right, you can reserve the hand-painted tepee with air-conditioning.
Closest city: One hour from Houston
Consider staying at: Carr Mansion, starting at $280 per night
Best for: Those looking for a quick coastal escape from Houston
The island port city of Galveston (which was so wealthy in the late 1800s, it was nicknamed the “Wall Street of the South”) is a hot magnet for families seeking a beach holiday. Playing in the waves along the sandy shore is a must. But for an adrenaline rush, zoom down a 100-foot vertical drop at 52 miles per hour on the Iron Shark roller coaster at Galveston’s century-old Pleasure Pier; for a collective family aww, marvel at the penguins in the 1.5-million-gallon aquarium housed within the glass pyramids at Moody Gardens. Galveston Island State Park, a 2,000-acre barrier island ecosystem with lagoons, salt marshes, and coastal prairie, offers a quiet escape, ideal for swimming, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and kayaking. The diversity of wildlife is its biggest draw—look for everything from armadillos to marsh rabbits. Or take time to tour the 1892 Bishop’s Palace, aka Gresham House, considered one of the country’s finest examples of Victorian architecture.
Closest city: 40 minutes from Waco
Consider staying at: The Cell Block, starting at $225 per night
Best for: Car enthusiasts and star gazers
For a true Bonnie-and-Clyde-style escape, book one of two rooms in the Cell Block, a 1930s-era jailhouse turned boutique inn about two hours south of the twin cities metroplex. (Rooftop deck? Check. Natural gas firepit? Check. Vintage phonograph and the wax to go with it? Double check.) The Cell Block is situated in Clifton’s Art Alley, a historic stretch peppered with small galleries, shops, and restaurants.
To stay entertained, browse yoke shirts and hand-tooled leather roach stompers at BJ’s Western Wear; ogle Corvettes, Thunderbirds, and other vehicles from the 1940s through ’80s at the Clifton Classic Chassis Auto Museum; or catch a concert, play, or art exhibition at the Tin Building Theatre and not-for-profit Bosque Arts Center, housed in a landmarked former admin building of Clifton Lutheran College. When your stomach rumbles, fill it with fried catfish or a chicken-fried rib-eye steak from Horny Toad Bar and Grill, chased with a bottle of tempranillo or lenoir from the Clifton-based tasting room of sustainable winery Red Caboose. Come nightfall, check in with the Central Texas Astronomical Society to see if the Meyer Observatory at the Turner Research Station has any public stargazing events on its calendar—all the proof you need that the stars at night really are “big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas.”
8. Gruene and New Braunfels
Closest city: 40 minutes from San Antonio
Consider staying at: The Gruene River Hotel & Retreat, starting at $270 per night
Best for: Tubers and dancers
Located less than an hour’s drive from San Antonio, Gruene and New Braunfels are well-known in their region for their small-town charm, German Texan heritage, and gorgeous rivers. Gruene was founded as a separate town in the 1800s, but it is now technically located in New Braunfels’ city limits (and one of the fastest growing places in the United States).
Gruene is perhaps most famous for Gruene Hall, the state’s oldest continuously operating dance hall, which has seen the likes of Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and George Strait on its stage. Sample local wines at Gruene Winery and be sure to nab a bite to eat at the Gristmill River Restaurant and Bar, which serves up Texas-style grub like quesadillas and stuffed jalapeño poppers—and boasts a fantastic view of the Guadalupe River. Feel free to take a dip or rent a tube to float downstream—a beloved Texan pastime.
A short drive away is New Braunfels, home to the Comal River and the popular Schlitterbahn Waterparks (don’t forget to stock up on brisket sandwiches and beaver nuggets from the nearby Buc-ee’s). The Comal River is the shortest navigable river in Texas, making it a popular spot for tubers since they won’t have to commute far from where they began their river journey. Enjoy a brew at the bierhalle Krause’s Cafe, which has local beers on tap. For some ’cue, the ever-popular Black’s Barbecue has a location in town—don’t miss out on its beef ribs.
9. Fort Davis
Closest city: Two and a half hours from Odessa
Consider staying at: The Agave House, starting at $295 per night
Best for: Dark sky chasers
As far as West Texas vacation destinations go, Marfa often hogs all of the attention—and for good reason. But look to its neighbor to the north: This oft-overlooked West Texas town deserves some love as well. Fort Davis is actually the highest town in Texas with an elevation of 5,050 feet, and the mountain range that it resides in, the Davis Mountains, are classified as a “sky island”—you’ll find flora and fauna here that you’ll see nowhere else in West Texas, including piñon pines and silver-haired bats.
Drive the Davis Mountain Scenic Loop, a 75-mile stretch of Texas State Highway 118 and Texas 166, where you’ll find green-sloped mountains, historic ranches, and high-desert scenery. Be sure to check out the University of Texas’s McDonald Observatory, which welcomes academics from all around the world seeking to study the stars in West Texas’s famously dark skies. Try to snag a ticket to a Star Party, which allows visitors to view constellations through some of the observatory’s telescopes. Afterwards, fuel up in town at the Blue Mountain Bar and Grill, which serves brisket tacos and burgers using local ingredients.
Closest city: 40 minutes from Austin
Consider staying at: The Ellison House, starting at $695 per night
Best for: Die-hard barbecue fanatics
There’s perhaps no place in Texas that takes its smoked meats more seriously than Lockhart, which was dubbed the “Barbecue Capital of Texas” by the state legislature in 1999. This town of 15,000 people has five barbecue restaurants, with Kreuz Market, Black’s Barbecue, and Smitty’s Market the big three names. But there’s more to Lockhart than ’cue. To cool off with a crafty cocktail, head over to Old Pal Texas Tavern, which also serves crispy fried chicken, and for all your vinyl needs, check out Bluebonnet Records. Lockhart is also blessed with beautiful brick architecture—make sure to check out the Second Empire–style Caldwell County Courthouse and the equally ornate Caldwell County Historical Museum, which once served as the county jail. For a getaway splurge, book a few nights at the Ellison House (reservations include the entire home), built in the 1880s and located a few blocks from Lockhart’s downtown.
This article originally appeared online in March 2020; it was updated on September 21, 2021, to include current information.