The Lone Star State’s rich heritage is proudly displayed throughout Texas, but several attractions outside the big cities offer authentic windows to the past.
For a chronological perspective, start with the San Antonio missions  (early 1700s), which tell the story of Spain’s role in early Texas history when priests attempted to “civilize” Native Americans by converting them to Catholicism. More than 100 years later, frontier forts were established along the path of westward-bound settlers to help protect the pioneers from the same Indian tribes.
In the later part of the 1800s, Texas’s cowboy legacy came to life along the Chisholm Trail, where millions of Longhorns and other cattle were herded northward to markets in Kansas. In the 1940s, legendary Route 66 blazed a different kind of trail through the Texas Panhandle, allowing motorists to hit the road in search of adventure and new horizons.
You can spend an entire day (or two) along a 5.5-mile stretch of Texas’s living history at San Antonio’s Missions National Historical Park . Each of these historic stone structures—Mission Concepción, Mission San José, Mission San Juan, Mission Espada, and the famous Mission San Antonio de Valero (a.k.a. the Alamo )—offers a different perspective of the Spanish influence in Texas.
Texas’s frontier forts are spread across the western portion of the state, so it will take a couple days to drive between even the most noteworthy of the bunch. Begin at Fort Concho in San Angelo to get a true sense of what life was like for Army soldiers and ordinary citizens in mid-1800s Texas. Fort Davis , about a four-hour drive west, offers a fascinating look at the Army’s Buffalo Soldiers (African-American troops), while Fort Phantom Hill in Abilene, about four hours to the northeast, is one of the most evocative historic sites in Texas.
Cattle made their way to the Chisholm Trail from Texas’s southern tip on the Gulf Coast  through the middle of the state and north into Fort Worth  and beyond (roughly following present-day I-35). Although it would take an entire day to make the trek by car, several must-see modern-day attractions along the historic trail include King Ranch  in Kingsville , San Antonio’s Texas Pioneers, Trail Drivers, and Rangers Museum, and the premiere Cowtown site, the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District .
“The Mother Road” beckons along legendary Route 66 in Texas’s Panhandle. Though it was displaced by I-40 in the 1960s, there are still magnificent stretches of the original Route 66 offering travelers comfort and nostalgia in nearly a dozen small towns along the way. Make a point of visiting Cadillac Ranch and the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, the Texas Old Route 66 and Devil’s Rope Museum in McLean, the Tower Station and Café in Shamrock, and the Midpoint Café in Adrian.