A Native Texan’s List of the 9 Best Places to Visit in the Lone Star State

From small town getaways to big city lights, these are the best places to visit in Texas.

Indoor bar area with red lanterns and high ceiling

Known as the Cultural Capital of the South, Houston has no shortage of things to do—or eat.

Photo by Mae Hamilton

As the biggest state in the contiguous United States, Texas can seem larger than life. But there’s so much more to the Lone Star State than cattle ranching, cowboys, and barbecue—though those things can certainly be found here.

Each area of the state has its own distinct personality and culture. The piney woods of East Texas feels about as Southern as you can get in the state. Central Texas is characterized by the rolling, rocky knolls of the Hill Country. The coast boasts white, sandy beaches that are home to unique wildlife. West Texas is characterized by rugged, desert landscapes that have inspired creative works like No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood.

Ready to plan your trip to the Lone Star State? These are the nine best places to visit in Texas.

1. Houston

  • Come for: The state’s most exciting and diverse culinary landscape; plus a thriving arts and culture scene
  • Where to stay: La Colombe d’Or

H-Town is home to hundreds of ethnic communities from all around the planet—more than 145 different languages are spoken here. Naturally, Houston’s multicultural population has created one of the most exciting foodie havens on Earth. Here in Bayou City, you’ll find upscale hand-rolled sushi bars like Handies Douzo as well as James Beard Award–winning soul food restaurant Lucille’s and Viet Cajun crawfish boil outposts like Crawfish Cafe.

Besides the food, one of the best things about Houston is its museum scene. Houston’s Museum District, in the heart of the city, features 20 museums all within walking distance of one another. (If you’re visiting in the summer, bring water if you plan on walking.)

The Menil Collection offers everything from Byzantine artifacts to mind-boggling surrealist paintings by artists such as René Magritte. Head to the Houston Museum of African American Culture to learn more about the Black American history of the city or the Houston Museum of Natural Science to visit such interactive attractions as the Burke Baker Planetarium and the Cockrell Butterfly Center.

How to get to Houston

Fly into either George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) or William P. Hobby Airport (HOBBY), the city’s oldest commercial airport. IAH is about 20 miles from downtown Houston while HOBBY is a little less than 10 miles from the city’s center.

Forested mountain peaks and hills a Big Bend NP

Though the state is known for its big, flashy cities like Dallas and Austin, there are also plenty of lovable small towns and natural spaces.

Photo by Mae Hamilton

2. Big Bend National Park

  • Come for: Beautiful, rugged West Texas desert
  • Where to stay: The Gage Hotel

Big Bend National Park is one of the country’s bewitching national parks, covering more than 800,000 acres. The landscape is dotted with cactus, yucca, aspen, mesquite, and Ponderosa pine and populated by critters like bobcat, javelinas, and mountain lions. Here, visitors can kayak the Rio Grande or hike, bike, or camp in the Chisos Mountains, which tower nearly a mile above the Chihuahuan Desert. 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 stay is in the park itself, either at the 60-site campground at Chisos Basin or one of five stone cottages at the Chisos Mountain Lodge, the only brick-and-mortar accommodations in the park. However, if something more developed is your game, drive to Marathon, the “Gateway to Big Bend” and stay at the Gage Hotel, housed in a mission-style adobe building constructed in 1927.

How to get to Big Bend National Park

The closest airport to Big Bend National Park is El Paso International Airport (ELP), which is 287 miles or four and a half hours away. From Austin, the drive will be 435 miles, or about six and a half hours. From San Antonio, it will be 370 miles and will take about six hours.

Large green tree near small, one-story house

Historic Fort Martin Scott is one of the places travelers can visit to learn about Fredericksburg’s history.

Courtesy of Mark König/Unsplash

3. Fredericksburg

  • Come for: A historic German town in the heart of Texas wine country
  • Where to stay: The Hoffman Haus

Though Texans have long known its laid-back charms, the Texas Hill Country is having a moment as of late thanks to the forecast total eclipse that will pass through the area on April 8, 2024. Fredericksburg may be the region’s crown jewel. Founded by German immigrants in 1946, the town of less than 30,000 is now known for its German restaurants and breweries, booming winery scene, and fresh peaches that grow in its orchards.

After booking a room at the Hoffman Haus (a bed-and-breakfast that delivers breakfast to guest rooms via gingham-covered picnic basket), explore the more than 150 local shops in downtown Fredericksburg and then learn about the town’s history at the Pioneer Museum. Finish the day with peach cobbler topped with Blue Bell ice cream at Das Peach Haus, which also sells jams, jellies, and preserves.

How to get to Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg is located in the Texas Hill Country, which is not serviced by any major airports. Visitors will need to fly into either Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) or San Antonio International Airport (SAT) and then drive. From Austin, it’s about a 90-minute drive, while San Antonio is an hour away.

White and blue concrete building with Prada signs near desert highway

Marfa, Texas, can feel a little unreal at times—like a desert mirage.

Photo by Shelby Cohron

4. Marfa

Located squarely in the middle of nowhere deep in West Texas, Marfa is obsessed with art, thanks to the efforts of minimalist artist Donald Judd who moved to the area in the 1970s. There are about 2,000 residents and 19 permanent galleries in town, including the Judd Foundation and the Chinati Foundation (both founded by Judd), the Inde/Jacobs Gallery, and the Rule Gallery.

While Marfa may be a small town, there is no shortage of great eats: For wood-fired pizza, check out Para Llevar, and for creative cocktails and eclectic dishes, go to the Water Stop, which has a rotisserie chicken dish on its menu that Bon Appétit called the “second best reason to go to Marfa.” As an added bonus, the town is an hour and a half drive from Big Bend National Park (see above).

How to get to Marfa

The nearest international airport to Marfa is El Paso International Airport (ELP). From there, it’s a two-and-a-half hour drive to Marfa. However, it’s not uncommon for people to drive 430 miles from Austin or around 400 miles from San Antonio.

Exterior of the Alamo, with small green plaza in front of it

San Antonio is perhaps best known for the Alamo, but visitors can also find a thriving art scene, independent restaurants, and boutique hotels.

Courtesy of Eric Francis/Unsplash

5. San Antonio

  • Come for: Puro San Antonio
  • Where to stay: Hotel Emma

Now, I may be biased as a native San Antonian, but Alamo City is the most stunning of all the Lone Star State’s metropolitan areas. Thanks to a series of extensions, the River Walk is now 15 miles long, and it’s the perfect place to take a long hike or bike ride (albeit, not through the busy downtown corridor, usually packed with tourists and day drinkers). And with the transformation of the Pearl Brewery from condemned building to a vibrant cultural hub, the city has a new favorite hangout. At the Pearl, visitors will find Brasserie Mon Chou Chou, which is perhaps one of the best French restaurants in the state, Cured, which focuses on farm-to-table American cuisine, and Best Quality Daughter, which serves Asian American food inspired by Jennifer Dobbertin’s South Texas upbringing.

How to get to San Antonio

Fly into San Antonio National Airport and then drive or take a cab to downtown, about eight miles away.

White stork standing in water

A little less than 180 miles east of San Antonio is one of the Texas Coast’s best kept secrets: Port Aransas.

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten

6. Port Aransas

Sure, Galveston is one of the most visited beach destinations in the state and South Padre Island is popular among spring breakers. But Port Aransas offers small town charm along an immaculate stretch of white-sand Texas coastline. Here, visitors will find 18 miles of beaches and a cornucopia of fresh Gulf Coast seafood: red snapper, blue crab, oysters, and endless quantities of shrimp. The last wild flock of endangered whooping cranes make their winter home at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Between April and August, travelers can witness baby sea turtles (including the endangered species, Kemp’s ridley) make their big journey to the ocean at Mustang Island State Park, 16 miles south of Port Aransas.

How to get to Port Aransas

Fly into Corpus Christi International Airport and then drive four minutes north on Mustang Island to reach Port Aransas. Many folks also drive in from Houston (200 miles away), San Antonio (180 miles away), and Austin (200 miles away).

Skyscrapers near forested area

The capital of the Lone Star State is ever-evolving and these days, it’s changing fast.

Photo by Mae Hamilton

7. Austin

There’s a little joke in Austin that every generation of Austinites says, “You should have seen it 10 years ago.” And it’s true. Over the past three years or so, Austin’s skyline has transformed thanks to an influx of folks and tech companies looking for a place to weather out the early days of the COVID pandemic.

But that’s not to say that Austin has lost its soul. The Live Music Capital of the World is still very much focused on music—head over to the Skylark Lounge for soulful blues and funk bands, the Continental Club for jazz, and the Broken Spoke for a tried-and-true honky-tonk experience. The state capital’s culinary scene has come into its own as well. Dark, broody, and only open 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. (midnight on weekends), East Austin favorite Justine’s Brasserie serves French cuisine and craft cocktails by the glow of dim lamps. Franklin Barbecue has had its praises sung the world over for its tender brisket, and the adulations are more than deserved—hop in line or order in advance on its website. Jester King Brewery, located on the outskirts of Austin on a 100-acre Hill Country spread, specializes in barrel-aged wild ales and wood-fired pizzas.

How to get Austin

The Texas capital is serviced by Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), about five miles southeast of downtown Austin. The easiest way to get out of the airport and into the city is via car.

Cloudy sky and an empty road after a rain storm in Lubbock, Texas

Located in northwest Texas, the area surrounding Lubbock is one of the largest viticultural areas in the United States.

Photo by Joshua Brian/Shutterstock

8. Lubbock

  • Come for: High plains hospitality and a fast-growing winery scene
  • Where to stay: Cotton Court Hotel

The Texas Panhandle has admittedly been overlooked as its vast seas of grass make it an ideal place to raise cattle rather than, say, see mind-blowing vistas. However, the area surrounding Lubbock has more than 9 million acres devoted to growing wine grapes—the region produces 80 percent of the state’s, far more than the Hill Country. Consider putting McPherson Cellars, the Llano Estacado winery, vino-and-tapas restaurant La Diosa Cellars, and the Funky Door Bistro & Wine Room on your to-do list. After you’ve had your fill of wine, head over to the Buddy Holly Center, where visitors can learn all about the rock ‘n’ roll legend. And if you’re looking for something more outdoorsy to do, drive 90 minutes north to Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the second largest canyon system in the United States after Arizona’s Grand Canyon.

How to get to Lubbock

Fly into Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport (LBB). You’ll need a car to get around town.

A cowboy leads several longhorn bulls down a street

The Fort Worth Stockyards dates back more than 100 years.

Photo by James Kirkikis/Shutterstock

9. Fort Worth

  • Come for: Cowboy charm with big city amenities
  • Where to stay: Bowie House

Long overshadowed by its glitzy neighbor, Dallas, Fort Worth is steadily coming into its own. Known for its historic stockyards, in operation since 1866 (it still puts on a twice daily cattle drive), Fort Worth is now attracting attention as the next Texas boomtown—and it’s attracting travelers’ attention as well. One of the latest hotels to hit the scene is the Bowie House (which opened in December of this year), an Auberge Resorts Collection property that pays homage to the West and owner Jo Ellard’s love of horses.

Fort Worth is also making headlines in the culinary realm. In 2021, Goldee’s Barbecue snagged Texas Monthly’s top spot on its annual list of the 50 Best BBQ Joints—the restaurant is planning to open a second location, Ribee’s, which will focus solely on ribs, soon. But if cowboys and barbecue aren’t your thing, Fort Worth has a healthy offering of museums in town including the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

How to get to Fort Worth

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is located almost dead center between Dallas and Fort Worth. From the airport, it’s about a half an hour’s drive into the heart of Fort Worth.

Mae Hamilton is a former associate editor at AFAR. She covers all things related to arts, culture, and the beautiful things that make travel so special.
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