21 Top Things to Do in Texas

As the second-largest state in the U.S., Texas covers an extraordinary amount of the geographical area in the U.S. Measuring approximately 268,597 square miles, Texas can fit 15 of the smallest states in its boundaries. Because of the size of the state, it’s often said that “everything is bigger in Texas” — and it certainly rings true. Texas is home to three of the 10 largest cities in the country: Houston, San Antonio and Dallas. Not only that, but Austin claims the title of being the Live Music Capital of the World. The dining scene across Texas is also pretty robust thanks to the state’s signature barbecue and Tex-Mex cuisine. Plus, with plenty of sun-drenched beaches, wilderness landscapes and Texan-sized festivals at visitors’ fingertips, there’s truly something for everyone in Texas. Read on to learn more about all of the fun things to do in Texas. (Note: Some tours and excursions may be affected by the coronavirus outbreak. New policies may be in place, including capacity restrictions, mask mandates and parking reservation requirements. Check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of State and local tourism boards before traveling.)

Dallas

If it’s your first time visiting Dallas, you might want to begin exploring this vibrant and culturally rich city in the downtown area, one of 13 distinct neighborhoods across the city. Downtown is where you’ll find several top attractions, including the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza. This museum is dedicated to the legacy of President John F. Kennedy, and the exhibits, photos and films on display document his life and the day of his assassination. Downtown is also home to urban green spaces, the Dallas World Aquarium and the Reunion Tower GeO-Deck. Known as one of the city’s most iconic structures, the Reunion Tower GeO-deck takes visitors on a ride to the top of its tower for panoramic views of the city from 470 feet in the sky. For accommodations, make reservations at The Adolphus Hotel, a historic luxury property that receives top marks from travelers and is home to a spa, multiple dining options and bars, and a rooftop pool. And when you’re ready to head out on the town, make your way north to the Uptown neighborhood. This area is known for its variety of dining venues, trendy boutiques and lively nightlife.

[See more of Dallas: Things to Do | Tours | Hotels | When to Visit | Photos. ]

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden

This 66-acre urban oasis located in the Lake & Garden District in East Dallas is home to 11 display gardens that boast color year-round, three outdoor dining terraces and the Indoor Tea Room at Restaurant DeGoyler, which is open to visitors 13 years and older. After exploring the gardens, the picturesque setting along White Rock Lake is perfect for an afternoon stroll or a relaxing picnic. If you’re traveling with kids, previous families highly recommended checking out the fun and educational activities at the Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden for a nominal fee. You can also watch cooking demonstrations and take cooking classes at A Tasteful Place, a 3.5-acre garden, kitchen and pavilion focused on growing and preparing local, sustainable food. If you visit in the spring, don’t miss Dallas Blooms Spring. The colorful six-week celebration includes as many as 500,000 tulips, Easter events, live music and entertainment, wine and beer pairings, children’s activities and more. For an extended stay, make reservations at a nearby Airbnb, such as The Loft@White Rock Urban Homestead.

Houston

The state’s largest city is emerging as a top travel destination thanks to major sporting events, outdoor adventure activities, world-class museums and a diverse culinary scene. With so much to see and do in the Bayou City, plan to spend several days here and splurge on a stay at one of Houston’s renowned luxury properties. Two traveler-approved options are The Lancaster Hotel in the Theater District and The Post Oak Hotel in the posh Uptown and Galleria area. While in town, catch a Houston Texans (football), Houston Rockets (basketball) or Houston Astros (baseball) game. You can also take in a play or the ballet in the Theater District, spend an evening at the Houston Symphony, or take advantage of the city’s many nightlife options. Houston is known for its Tex-Mex and Mexican cuisine, so be sure to grab lunch or dinner at one of the city’s notable restaurants such as Oaxacan-inspired Xochi in downtown. For a casual evening, head to The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation, one of the city’s legendary Mexican restaurants.

[See more of Houston: Things to Do | Hotels | When to Visit | Photos. ]

Space Center Houston

Fans of space exploration, and budding young astronauts, will want to visit Space Center Houston. You’ll need to allow at least one day to see the exhibits and attractions, such as Starship Gallery, which features flown spacecraft from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo eras. You can also view an extensive collection of spacesuits, step inside a replica of the shuttle Independence and listen to mission updates in the Mission Briefing Center. Don’t miss one of the highlights, the NASA Tram Tour. This experience offers a behind-the-scenes visit to the working hub of the NASA Johnson Space Center. It also includes a visit to Rocket Park, where you’ll see one of the three remaining Saturn V rockets that took astronauts to the moon. For a real treat, reserve a spot to have breakfast with an astronaut, offered on select Fridays and Saturdays. You can also book the Level 9 Tour, a four- to five-hour guided VIP excursion that covers all things space exploration and includes a second-day ticket to explore on your own. Several hotels are conveniently located near the space center, including the Courtyard Houston NASA/Clear Lake.

Houston Museum District

The Houston Museum District encompasses approximately 9 square miles, has four walkable zones and is home to a remarkable 19 museums. Visitors to the city can delve into everything from history to fine and contemporary arts or culture highlighting Houston’s diverse population. Kids will appreciate the 90,000 square feet of interactive exhibits and fun at the Children’s Museum Houston. The Houston Museum of Natural Science features a planetarium where you can explore the universe, realize the vastness of space or watch a light and sound show to Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. You can also have an interactive health experience, watch an educational movie in 4D and get a close look at how the human body works at The Health Museum. If you’re planning to take in several or all of the city’s museums, reserve accommodations in the heart of the Museum District at Hotel ZaZa Houston. This unique boutique hotel features themed suites with names like For Your Eyes Only and Houston We Have a Problem. The property receives rave reviews and also has beautiful standard rooms and suites, or you can stay in one of the posh pool bungalows or villas.

Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District

Experience a slice of life in the Old West, learn about cowboy legends at the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame and watch the world’s only twice daily longhorn cattle drive at the historic Fort Worth Stockyards. After the cattle drive, there’s plenty more to do around the stockyards. Don’t miss the re-enactment gunfights every Saturday and Sunday after the drives in Stockyard Station. You can also go on a horseback ride with city views or sit back and relax during a horse-drawn stagecoach ride. Friday and Saturday evenings, catch the nonstop action at a championship rodeo at Cowtown Coliseum. After the big event, stop in for a cold brew, and listen to live music or go dancing at one of the district’s bars or honky tonks, like Lil’ Red’s Longhorn Saloon or The Cantina Cadillac. Or, if you’re not afraid of the dark, check out some of the best-known paranormal activity in the U.S. during a nighttime 90-minute walking ghost tour. Plan to stay in town several days, and close to the fun, while enjoying Texas-style hospitality at the historic Stockyards Hotel.

[See: America’s 15 Coolest Ghost Towns to Visit.]

San Antonio

The Mission City’s rich history dates back to 1718 with the establishment of the first of five Spanish Missions along the San Antonio River. In 2015, The World Heritage Committee recognized the five mission complexes as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. San Antonio is also home to the city’s vibrant River Walk, another not-to-be-missed top attraction according to past visitors. This 15-mile urban waterway in the heart of downtown, is an excellent way to explore the city on foot, by bicycle or on a GO RIO river barge, which offers a narrated history of the city and River Walk. Along the way, wander through the historic King William Cultural Arts District and Southtown Arts District to see the museums, boutiques, parks, micro-distilleries, coffee shops and more. Make reservations to stay at the waterfront Hotel Emma, which used to be a brewhouse during the 19th century.

[See more of San Antonio: Things to Do | Tours | Hotels | When to Visit | Photos. ]

Explore The Alamo

Built as Mission San Antonio de Valero’s chapel in 1718, and renamed The Alamo in the early 1800s, this “Shrine of Texas Liberty” has a long and colorful history. Occupied by five independent nations and serving as the stronghold for five different armies, the former mission is probably best known for the 1836 Battle of The Alamo. As part of the Texas Revolution, this battle earned Texas independence from Mexico, becoming a self-governing republic. The U.S. annexed Texas as the 28th state on Dec. 29, 1845. Today, guests can book a history talk, take a self-guided audio tour or schedule a guided tour to see the highlights of the renowned mission. Top attractions include the church, which is free to visit independently, with a timed ticket. Other top-recommended stops are the living history encampment, which features hands-on demonstrations showcasing what life was like in the 1830s under Mexican rule, and the exhibit hall with its extensive collection of artifacts and historical documents. For an extended stay in town within walking distance of the historic site, plan to stay at Mokara Hotel & Spa, located on the city’s acclaimed River Walk.

Enjoy an excursion to the Natural Bridge Caverns

Discovered by four college students in 1960, this underground labyrinth of passageways and unearthly formations in San Antonio is one of Texas’ largest show caves. Descend 180 feet down into the caverns via the hourlong Discovery Tour, which allows visitors to admire stalagmites, flowstones, chandeliers and other formations. For the more adventurous that don’t mind getting a little dirty, book the three-hour Adventure Tour. This excursion includes getting decked out in caving gear, crawling on your stomach through cavern rooms and climbing a steep 20-foot hill. When you’re ready for fun above the ground, head over to the Twisted Trails Zip Rails & Ropes Course, or try to find your way out of the 5,000-square-foot maze. Natural Bridge Caverns also offer a limited summertime afternoon combination excursion with the Discovery Tour where you can see the largest bat colony in the world take flight at nearby Bracken Cave. For an extended stay, make reservations at the nearby JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, located about 2 miles from the caverns.

Texas Hill Country

Texas Hill Country boasts scenic landscapes replete with rolling hills, grasslands, rivers, lakes, charming small towns and fields covered in vibrant varieties of wildflowers, such as bluebonnets, buttercups and Indian paintbrushes. There are also over 50 wineries to explore, each with its own terroir and unique approach to winemaking. For a longer getaway, take a road trip through the region beginning 32 miles northeast of San Antonio in New Braunfels, looping around clockwise and ending in Austin. Along the way, stop in Utopia, where you can book an overnight stay high atop the trees in a magical treehouse at Treehouse Utopia. Then, head about 80 miles northeast to historic Fredericksburg. Founded by German immigrants in 1846, this small town retains its unique heritage with German architecture, and exhibits and demonstrations at the Pioneer Museum. You’ll even find German cuisine at several local restaurants and biergartens, and there’s an annual Oktoberfest in the fall. For overnight accommodations in Fredericksburg, splurge on a suite at the Hoffman Haus, a luxury bed-and-breakfast previous visitors loved.

[See: The Top Texas Wineries to Visit.]

New Braunfels

Situated between San Antonio and Austin, New Braunfels is another Texas Hill Country town that celebrates its German heritage. Stroll through the historic downtown brimming with cafes, coffee shops, boutiques, museums and more. There’s also a beautiful green space, Landa Park, just a short distance away. Additionally, the town hosts many festivals, parades and street fairs throughout the year, including the annual Wurstfest. The German-inspired festivities are held in early November along the Comal River and feature Bavarian-style foods, German and Texas beer, and live music. To learn more about the German history of New Braunfels, be sure to visit the Gruene Historic District. For even more fun, especially if you’re traveling with kids, plan to stay at The Resorts at Schlitterbahn. This entertainment and lodging complex offers a wide variety of accommodations, including resort rooms, riverside lofts and luxurious “Treehaus Suites.” Once you’re settled in, head out on the property to take a refreshing ride on water slides, chutes and miles of rivers.

Take the family to Moody Gardens

This multifaceted nonprofit tourist destination began as a hippotherapy facility for individuals with head injuries in the mid-1980s. Today, after a vision as big as Texas and many new projects over the years, Moody Gardens in Galveston is one of the top leisure and educational facilities in the Southwest. Highlights here include the Rainforest and Aquarium Pyramids; a Discovery Museum; the MG 3D Theater, which boasts the biggest screen in Texas; and a 4D Special FX Theater. You can also take a ride on the 1800s-style Colonel Paddlewheel Boat, relax along the white sandy shores of Palm Beach or zip across the property 60 feet in the air for incredible views of the pyramids and tropical gardens. You can even hit the links for a round of golf or take time to relax back at the Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa and Convention Center. If you’re visiting in the winter, be sure to check out the Festival of Lights, the largest holiday light spectacle of its kind on the Gulf Coast.

[See more of Galveston: Things to Do | Hotels | When to Visit | Photos. ]

Austin

As the Live Music Capital of the World, Austin is known for its eclectic neighborhoods and entertainment districts featuring more than 250 live music venues. The city is also the capital of Texas, so there’s plenty more to explore, including art museums and galleries as well as the State Capitol. The landmark granite Capitol building opened in 1888 and boasts a beautiful 218-foot rotunda. Free guided and self-guided tours are available daily of the Capitol and grounds, and come highly recommended by previous visitors. Be sure to check out another Texas Historic Landmark, Mount Bonnell at Covert Park. This popular tourist destination since 1850s features a vantage point overlooking the Colorado River, affording some of the best views of the city. While in town, plan to stay at The Driskill hotel, which is conveniently located near many of Austin’s top entertainment and nightlife spots.

[See more of Austin: Things to Do | Tours | Hotels | When to Visit | Photos. ]

South Padre Island

Situated off the southern tip of Texas on Laguna Madre Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, this barrier island is the only tropical island in the state. Perfect for a romantic getaway or a family vacation, South Padre Island boasts more than 300 days of sunshine, 34 miles of white sand beaches and emerald-tinted waters. Top attractions include a visit to Sea Turtle, Inc., a rehabilitation facility for sea turtles that focuses on education and conservation. You can also book a lesson with a master sand sculptor to create your own masterpiece while visiting the Sandcastle Capital of the World. And when it comes to sunsets, previous visitors and locals say the views here are hard to beat, so head out to one of the island’s bayfront bars or restaurants for that perfect Instagram shot. For accommodations, book a room with a view at the Isla Grand Beach Resort.

[See more of South Padre Island: Things to Do | Hotels | When to Visit | Photos. ]

Admire art at Cadillac Ranch

This quirky art installation, dating back to 1974, features 10 Cadillacs buried nose-down in an empty and dusty field off of iconic Route 66 and I-40, approximately 10 miles southwest of Amarillo. A group of art hippies from San Francisco, known as The Ant Farm, created the offbeat installation silently funded by the eccentric billionaire Stanley Marsh 3. His goal was to baffle the local residents with a public art display. The Ant Farm responded to his wishes with the creation of this bewildering memorial to the Cadillac’s tail fin evolution from the 1949 Club Sedan to the 1963 Cadillac de Ville. Over the years, the cars have been defaced, stripped and splashed with DayGlo paint and graffiti, but it still remains one of the most popular roadside attractions for travelers visiting Texas from around the world. If you’re headed into Amarillo after your visit to Cadillac Ranch to see a little more of the Texas Panhandle, plan to stay at The Barfield, Autograph Collection. Located in the historic Barfield building, this boutique hotel is an excellent choice for accommodations in downtown.

[See: 13 Unusual Roadside Attractions Across America.]

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Situated 110 miles east of El Paso in West Texas, this rugged wilderness landscape covers more than 76,000 acres and boasts the four highest peaks in Texas. The park is a hiker’s paradise with 80 miles of trails, ranging from easy to strenuous with steep and rocky climbs. The 8.5-mile trail to the “Top of Texas” is difficult and takes about six to eight hours round trip to complete. But once you reach the pinnacle, you’re rewarded with unforgettable views of the mountains and desert from atop Guadalupe Peak at 8,751 feet above sea level. Other highlights include McKittrick Canyon, especially during fall foliage season, the 2,000-acre Salt Basin Dunes and the Frijole Ranch Museum, which documents the area’s settlements from the early Native Americans to ranchers in the 1900s. For overnight stays under the starry skies, pack up the tent and reserve a spot at Pine Springs or Dog Canyon campgrounds. It’s important to know that there are no paved roads, no gas or supplies for 35 miles and very few amenities in this remote park.

Enjoy history and adventure at Caddo Mounds State Historic Site

Established by a group of Caddo Indians, this village in Alto (about 150 miles southeast of Dallas) dates back more than 1,200 years. Located in the Piney Woods region in East Texas, the village was the southernmost location for the Mississippi Mound Builder Culture. Three of these ceremonial mounds still exist today. The Caddo Indians remained in this area until the 1830s, when Anglo-American colonization efforts forced them to move to the Brazos River. After another relocation, they finally settled in western Oklahoma in what’s known today as the Caddo Nation Headquarters. Self-guided and guided tours are available to visit the ancient site, and walk along the two interpretive trails, a part of the El Camino Real de los Tejas. This 150-year-old 2,500-mile route through Texas and Louisiana contains many historic sites related to the battle for Texan independence, the growth of cattle ranching when Texas was part of Mexico and the efforts by the Spanish to missionize American Indians. At the Caddo Mounds, there’s also a visitors center and museum store where you can learn more about of this significant part of Native American history. Some of the closest hotels are in downtown Nacogdoches (around 30 miles east), including the mid-century-style boutique property, The Fredonia.

Check out the Annual Texas Renaissance Festival

The Annual Texas Renaissance Festival is the largest of its kind in the U.S., hosting as many as 500,000 people every year. The event usually runs from early October to late November and features jousting knights, kings and queens, jugglers, clowns, acrobats and magicians. There are more than 20 stages with live entertainment, 400 shops with Renaissance-themed items and souvenirs, a myriad of dining and beverage options, and 231 acres of camping sites across the 70-acre property. There’s even a Royal Fireworks display every evening. Additional offerings include activities like a daily high tea, escape room adventures, scotch tastings and the festival’s highlight — The King’s Feast. This two-hour daytime event includes an all-you-can-eat feast, mead, ale and wine, along with plenty of frivolity and entertainment. Be sure to take home the commemorative drinking vessel to remember the experience. So, don your best knight in shining armor or damsel in distress costume, and head out for a medieval adventure to remember. You can find the Texas Renaissance Festival in Todd Mission, about 55 miles northwest of Houston.

Corpus Christi

Situated on the Gulf Coast of Texas, Corpus Christi offers miles of beaches, plenty of fresh seafood and Tex-Mex dining options, and even indoor activities like the Texas State Aquarium in North Beach. The aquarium features 18 exhibits with sea creatures and wildlife that take you from the Caribbean Sea to the jungle and beyond. While in North Beach, you can also visit the USS Lexington on Corpus Christi Bay. This aircraft carrier, commissioned in 1943, took part in almost every major operation in the Pacific Theater over 21 months of combat during World War II. While here, you can also take flight as an F-18 pilot in the flight simulator or check out the thrilling feature films at the Joe Jessel 3D Mega Theater. If you prefer to spend time outdoors, kick back and relax poolside, take a horseback ride along the beach or go snorkeling or deep-sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. For accommodations with a bay view, make reservations at the Omni Corpus Christi Hotel.

[See more of Corpus Christi: Things to Do | Hotels | When to Visit | Photos. ]

Ride the Texas State Railroad

Located about 110 miles southeast of Dallas, the Texas State Railroad takes a step back in time with an old-fashioned rail journey crossing over 24 bridges through the Piney Woods region of East Texas. During the four-hour round-trip ride from the Palestine Depot, you can sit back and relax, enjoy small snacks and drinks and watch the world go by while listening to the narration about these historic steam locomotives. The vintage 1920s car offers seven accommodations including a glass-top dome car boasting comfy leather seats and a personal valet. Other seating options available include caboose seating, two presidential cars, first-class seating and an open-air coach. During a one-hour stop at the Rusk Depot, you’ll have time to grab lunch at the Mail Car Café. If you’re traveling during the Christmas holidays, kids will delight in the magical Polar Express journeys that include hot chocolate, cookies and keepsake mugs. For a quiet getaway in a romantic setting that’s close to the depot, stay at Sabor a Pasion, Estate & Vineyard, an intimate bed-and-breakfast.

Experience The State Fair of Texas

For all things Texas, you won’t want to miss the annual State Fair of Texas that runs for several weeks typically from late September to mid-October. Highlights of the Dallas-based fair include musical performances on the Chevrolet Main Stage and three exhibits at the Texas Auto Show. The fair also features youth livestock auction for up-and-coming ranchers, bull riding at the rodeo and more than 70 rides on the midway, including the 212-foot Texas Star Ferris wheel. Sign up in advance for the Chevy Ride & Drive event where you can take a new car, truck or SUV for a spin on the test track. Visitors say you shouldn’t miss the decadent fair food that includes everything fried from beer and gumbo to peaches and ice cream. Before heading out, snap a photo of Big Tex, the iconic 52-foot-tall cowboy figure that watches over the festivities.

You might also be interested in:

The Top Romantic Getaways in Texas

The Best Places to Visit in Texas

The Best Beaches in Texas

12 Top Texas Wineries to Visit

The Best Weekend Getaways in the South

The Top Gulf Coast Beaches

The Best Fredericksburg Wine Tours

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21 Top Things to Do in Texas originally appeared on usnews.com

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