WHY VISIT TEXAS
Home to vast mountain ranges, broad plains, beautiful beaches, rolling countryside, and countless miles of an uninhabitable desert, Texas is arguably one of the most awe-inspiring states in the USA. “Everything is bigger in Texas,” goes the slogan – and there’s some truth in it. Similar in size to France, almost everything in Texas appears larger than life: the mountains, the cities, the food portions, and yes, some of the people too.
The so-called Lone Star State is world renowned for its Wild West spirit and a brazen “don’t mess with Texas” attitude. But there is more to this state than big-headed cowboys, small-town girls, and nationalistic defiance. Texas is home to cosmopolitan cities, sprinkled with creative businesses, smart urban types, internet millionaires, and artistic communities.
The capital Austin is dynamic and happening, with a lively music scene, retro vibe, and boutique stores. The state’s largest city, Houston, is an expansive, multi-ethnic metropolis with plenty of charm and is famously the home of NASA. Dallas glitters with a shimmering high-rise skyline, elegant stores, fine restaurants, and a rich cultural and sporting life.
The beautiful city of San Antonio is home to the stunning River Walk – a picturesque riverbank lined with cafés and restaurants – plus one of the state’s most famous historical monuments, The Alamo. If you’re after a small-town America experience, visit sleepy Fort Worth, with its Old West charm, Saturday night rodeos, and country western line dancing.
For an altogether wilder experience, saddle up at a working cattle ranch, lounge on unspoiled Gulf Coast beaches, and discover national parks such as Big Bend or the Guadalupe Mountains. Whatever you do, a warm welcome awaits. Texans are friendly folk and their indomitable spirit is bound to bowl you over.
WHAT TO SEE IN TEXAS
- San Antonio: there are a lot of big cities in Texas, but few carry the old Western charms of San Antonio. Its extraordinary River Walk that manages to fuse a relaxing recreation path with riverside dining and drinking, is reason enough to visit. But this city also has The Alamo, some fascinating Spanish-era missions, and an amazing historic district in La Villita. All this cool history blends well with the Tex-Mex vibe that pervades the upscale shopping in Alamo Heights or the dining and nightlife along River Walk.
- Austin: a great alternative to the big Texan cities is the capital Austin, one of the coolest, friendliest places in the country. The dominating creed here is ‘do your thing’, and judging from the incredible music scene, fun bars, and eclectic bohemian vibe that covers SoCo (South Congress) a lot of people agree. Catch some genuine Texas blues at legendary venues like Antone’s, or sample sublime home cooking at Threadgill’s. The University of Texas campus is another major facet of Austin that keeps this place fresh and lively.
- Padre Island National Seashore: Texas has beaches, too, as many a university spring breaker knows and perhaps the most delightful stretch of sand is in this national park. Padre Island features 70 miles of a very nice beach, sand dunes, and warm water perfect for swimming and recreation. The bird-watching here is fantastic, as is the windsurfing. You can even drive on sections of the beach where the sand is packed down hard. If you don’t want to camp in the park just stay in South Padre Island, a hub of commercial activity and fun that appeals to partiers just as much as families.
- Dallas: rising from the flat Texas prairie is the glittering skyscraper metropolis of Dallas. The Big D, as they call it, is truly the quintessential Texas city. It’s a place where live country music at Gilley’s, steaks at Bob’s Steak and Chop House, and shopping for Western apparel at Wild Bill’s or the Western Warehouse are frequent activities. But Dallas also has a superb Arts District with world-class performing talents and some real treasures in the Nasher Sculpture Center and Dallas Museum of Art. It’s a massive city with Texas-sized fun.
- Houston: the largest city in Texas holds down the southeastern corner of the Lone Star State. While not as cowboy as Dallas, Houston still has plenty of authentic honky-tonk music, hand-cut steaks, and ten-gallon hats. Its Museum District is a marvelous collection of top-drawer cultural institutes and art museums, while Space Center Houston still plays a pivotal role in America’s space program and caters to curious tourist astronauts. After dark, the city’s thriving Theater District showcases some of the state’s finest opera, symphony, and thespian performances. Though it’s a tad hot and humid in summers, Houston is well worth a visit any other time of year.
- Space Center Houston: easily one of the most popular attractions in Texas, this is the visitor center for the neighboring NASA space center, providing visitors with a realistic look at how things happen up in outer space and down at the control center. Disney has a hand in the cool interactive exhibits, displays, and attractions like the low-gravity Feel of Space gallery. A massive IMAX theater shows some stunning movies, and the 90-minute tram tour of the actual NASA Johnson Space Center is very cool.
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park: underneath Texas’ Guadalupe Mountains is one of the planet’s largest cave systems, Carlsbad Caverns. More than 100 identified caves make feature the complete package of subterranean wonders. Visitors get to some impossibly magical limestone formations from frozen waterfalls to little castles inside the Big Room, the main cave open to the public. It rises 25 stories high and can fit six soccer fields inside. Park rangers offer guided tours of the Big Room as well as a few smaller chambers, or you can wander around on your own. Hundreds of thousands of bats live inside Carlsbad, creating a surreal show every dawn and dusk as they fly out in a fluid mass for their daily meals. Although officially in New Mexico, the park is just over the border next to Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
WHEN TO GO TO TEXAS
The best period to visit Texas is from September to November.
The sheer size of Texas creates several different climates, though in general, this state is warm all year round. North Texas and the Panhandle are the coldest regions of Texas, but even in the dead of winter, the daytime highs are around 50°F. The Gulf coast cities like Houston and Galveston are significantly warmer in winter, with daytime highs averaging in the 60s (°F) between December and February. Most of the precipitation in Texas falls in this southeastern coastal region as well, while the Panhandle and western end of the state are quite dry.
Summers are very hot throughout the state, particularly in the southern regions around Houston where high humidity levels conspire to create very stuff sweaty conditions. The entire state experiences daytime highs well into the 90s°F between June and August. Texas also has the dubious distinction of getting the most tornadoes of any American state per year. An average of 139 tornadoes hit between April and June each year, primarily in north Texas and the Panhandle.
Texas is also in the regional hurricane pathway. Some of the country’s most destructive hurricanes have been in cities like Galveston along the Gulf coast, usually arriving in the late summer and fall. During spring and summer, thunderstorms are common in the east and north of the state. Snow is possible in the hills of west Texas and the Panhandle, but quite rare in the rest of Texas.
WHAT TO DO IN TEXAS
Stuff yourself with brisket
Brisket in Texas is on another level, so much so that lauding brisket in another state requires the disclaimer, “This is the best…outside of Texas.” You don’t need to waste your day waiting in line at Franklin BBQ to try it, either. Lockhart, less than an hour from Austin, has three legitimate contenders for Texas’ best in Smitty’s, Black’s, and Kreuz Market. Just down the road in Driftwood, the legendary Salt Lick BBQ has its own onsite winery for convenient meat pairings. Outside of San Antonio, Heavy’s BBQ in Hondo does a mean brisket, too. No matter where you go in Texas, great brisket will meet you there.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations in Texas.
- Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show: this massive rodeo and livestock expo in Fort Worth, Texas is the nation’s oldest and one of its most famous. The Will Rogers Memorial Center attracts around one million spectators each January for two weeks of Western-style action. It starts with the world’s largest horse-drawn parade, the All-Western Parade, and carries on with some 30 different rodeo performances.
- South by Southwest: one of America’s most popular and exciting music events takes place in Austin every March. It’s both an awards ceremony and a giant music festival featuring the hottest known and undiscovered bands in the country. They play for several days at numerous venues around Austin, making this event the capital’s top attraction. Keynote speakers and workshops with famous musicians round off the program.
- Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo: for over two weeks at the beginning of each March, the city of Houston, Texas holds its big rodeo event. It is billed as the largest rodeo in the world, featuring all the usual performances, competitions, and livestock expositions along with a solid line-up of country-western musicians. It is Houston’s main event.
- Fiesta San Antonio: San Antonio’s big city festival takes place at the end of April, combining everything from society balls to concerts and food fairs. It’s a huge 10-day party that brings most of this city together for a daily revelry including parades, live music, art exhibitions, and the elaborate costumes of the fiesta’s royal court.
- Gran Fiesta de Fort Worth: the rich Hispanic culture and heritage of Texas is celebrated every July with a week of everything Latin. There are amazing food fairs, live music, parades, traditional dances, and other fun Hispanic-themed activities throughout Fort Worth. This is a great chance to experience the diversity of Texan society.
- State Fair of Dallas: America’s largest state fair takes place in Dallas. For one month this city gets seriously festive from the end of September right through October just as the weather turns pleasant. The location of this Texas-sized fair is just as impressive as the carnival rides, livestock shows, concerts, and awesome food. The Art Deco fairgrounds were built in 1936 and have the perfect atmosphere for Texas’ main event.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH TEXAS
As befits a state as large as Texas, it takes a lot of driving to get between cities. But driving is definitely the way to go if you want to see anything outside of the city centers. Most attractions like The Alamo and the Stockyards Historic District require a vehicle to reach. Getting around by taxi is possible but inevitably costs much more than renting a car each day. Texas has excellent Interstate highways that cover every corner of the state. Road conditions are very good thanks to the dry climate here, and even on long journeys, there are convenient gas and travel stops every few miles along the interstates. Cars can be easily rented at the airports or the offices of major car hire firms in the downtown districts of cities.
Amtrak operates three train lines that pass extensively through Texas. The Sunset Limited runs between New Orleans and Los Angeles, stopping at Beaumont, Houston, San Antonio, and El Paso. The Texas Eagle line runs between Los Angeles and Chicago, with stops in San Antonio, El Paso, Austin, and Dallas. The Heartland Flyer runs from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth. Trains are slow and the fares are not cheap, but the scenery is excellent and the overall experience very comfortable.
Texas is also well-served by the Greyhound bus network. Fares for bus travel are very affordable but the buses themselves are not particularly comfortable or pleasant. This is an option only recommended for travelers on a serious budget.
Main airports are:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON TEXAS
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-5,-6 (-6,-7)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN TEXAS
Typical food in Texas
- Chicken Fried Steak
- Pecan Pie
- Chile con Queso
- Texas Sheet Cake
- Texas Barbeque
- Frito Pie
- Texas Caviar (Cowboy Caviar)
- King Ranch Chicken Casserole
- Texas Hash
- Sweet Tea
Souvenirs from Texas
- Cowboy Hats and Boots
- Belt buckles
- Salsa and BBQ sauces
- Sport items
- Rodeo Souvenir
- Music instruments
- Beer and Wines
- Chocolate and pecans