Getaway Ideas, Road Trips, BBQ & Tex-Mex
By Andy Rhodes
Formats and Prices
- Trade Paperback $23.99 $29.99 CAD
- ebook $16.99 $20.99 CAD
Also available from:
- Strategic itineraries, from a Route 66 road trip to quick getaways to the Hill Country, Big Bend National Park, and more
- The top sights and unique activities: Learn the meaning of Texas pride at the Alamo, marvel at the original Mission Control at the NASA Space Center, or explore JFK’s legacy at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas. Catch a show in the “Live Music Capital of the World,” or learn the moves at a honky-tonk in Hill Country. See the striking sunset over the Palo Duro Canyon, stroll along the Padre Island National Seashore, or watch a genuine cowboy herd cattle at a classic Texas ranch
- The best local flavors: Dig in to authentic, smoky barbecue, classic Tex-Mex staples, and down-home Southern cooking
- Honest advice from Austin local Andy Rhodes on when to go, where to stay, and how to get around
- Thorough background on the state’s culture, history, geography, and regional vernacular
- Full-color photos and detailed, easy-to-use maps throughout
- Focused coverage of Dallas and Fort Worth, Austin and the Hill Country, San Antonio and South Texas, Houston and East Texas, the Gulf Coast, El Paso and West Texas, the Big Bend Region, and the Panhandle Plains
Exploring more of Texas? Try Moon Austin, San Antonio & The Hill Country or Moon Dallas & Fort Worth. If you’re hitting the road, check out Moon Southwest Road Trip.
10 TOP EXPERIENCES
Planning Your Trip
The Best of Texas
BARBECUE AS A WAY OF LIFE
Remember the Alamo!
BEST SCENIC DRIVES
You can’t talk about Texas without mentioning size. It’s enormous. It’s colossal. It’s just a big ol’ place. And it’s not just flat and dry—Texas is geographically diverse, with mountains, tropics, pine forests, beaches, and prairies within its borders. Toss in an eclectic mix of regional cuisine, national parks, and real-life cowboys and you’ll find a rich experience representative of Texas’s distinct character.
Texas has an unmatched independent spirit. Its people, like its landscapes, are rugged, captivating, and endearing. The one element that ropes them all together is an immense Texas pride. The Lone Star State’s mystique is enormous, and for good reason—Texas is practically a country unto itself.
The proud residents of this vibrant state manage to reflect and defy the stereotypes associated with them. For every good ol’ boy who’s set in his ways, there’s a progressive genius building her Web-based empire. For every brash oilman making millions, there’s a humble educator affecting lives. Like anywhere else, people in Texas have their differences, but there’s one thing that transcends obstacles that is wholly unique to this state—the common bond of being Texan.
This spirit is evident in the Panhandle plains, where chicken-fried steak is served at diners along old Route 66, and in the Hill Country, where Texas troubadours play beer-soaked blues guitar on the Luckenbach stage, and all over the Rio Grande Valley, where Lone Star flags are as abundant as the bountiful groves of grapefruit trees.
Friday Night Lights, barbecued beef ribs, Austin City Limits, Chisholm Trail cowboys—you can’t swing a piñata stick in Texas without encountering a cultural icon, and there’s plenty more to discover: Excavated shipwrecks, Spanish missions, majestic courthouses, cattle drives, oil booms, and JFK’s assassination all occurred under the state’s legendary six flags.
You could spend a year exploring the natural and cultural wonders of Texas and still find yourself with dozens of destinations remaining on your must-see list—all certain to become unforgettable memories.
10 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Follow the Rio Grande: Everything about Big Bend National Park is vast—the sky, the views, the mountains, the canyons, and especially the sense of wonder.
2 See the Sea: Get away to the longest remaining undeveloped stretch of barrier island in the world at Padre Island National Seashore.
3 Take in Historic Views: Enjoy the stunning panorama from atop the 570-foot-tall monument that commemorates the San Jacinto Battleground, a triumphant battle site where Texas earned its independence.
4 Listen to Live Music: Austin, the “Live Music Capital of the World,” delivers the goods nightly. Catch a scruffy troubadour in a dive bar, a soulful blues guitarist at a historic club, or a global legend at festivals like South by Southwest and Austin City Limits.
5 Experience Cowboy Culture: Hear the distinctive clip-clop of longhorn hooves on Fort Worth’s brick streets, or watch a genuine cowboy herd cattle at the iconic King Ranch.
6 Taste Texas Cuisine: Texas’s holy trinity of cuisine—barbecue, Tex-Mex, and Southern—provide a culinary journey. Why choose between smoky beef brisket, spicy chile dishes, and chicken-fried steak when you can try them all?
7 Explore Space: Feel your goosebumps rise as you gaze upon the awe-inspiring original Mission Control Center at the NASA Space Center.
8 Hike a Colorful Canyon: The stratified colors of America’s second-largest canyon are stunning. Sheer cliffs and rock towers display hues of red, yellow, and orange at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.
9 Celebrate Presidential Legacies: Downtown Dallas’s Sixth Floor Museum brings JFK’s powerful political career into focus. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park offers insight about the humble Hill Country roots of the 36th president.
10 Remember the Alamo: Inside the Shrine of Texas Liberty’s hallowed halls, you’ll learn the meaning of Texas pride.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
Dallas and Fort Worth
The towering twin cities of Dallas and Fort Worth are only separated by 35 miles (56 km), but their cultural differences are extensive, offering travelers the best of both worlds—glitz and grit, the Big D and Cowtown, the Old South and the Wild West. Though dominated by the Metroplex, North Texas is also home to a large concentration of rivers, lakes, and charming small towns.
Austin and the Hill Country
Dubbed the “Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin is Texas’s mecca for music. Home to the University of Texas at Austin, the city is a hotbed for creative thinkers. With a decade-plus atop the nation’s fastest-growing population lists, Austin boasts countless new entrepreneurial endeavors, especially culinary destinations. Geographically, this region is marked by a convergence of the cotton-rich Blackland Prairie and the granite outcroppings of the Hill Country; culturally, it’s known for its German heritage, honky-tonks, and Magnolia, based in Waco.
San Antonio and South Texas
Most of South Texas is defined and unified by its Tejano heritage. The majority of the region’s culture is tied to Mexico, including the legendary Alamo, constructed with four other San Antonio missions in the early 1700s to expand Spain’s control of the New World. Tejano heritage is concentrated in South Texas, where the border towns of Laredo, Del Rio, and Brownsville offer a taste of Mexico with a uniquely Texan twist.
Houston and East Texas
With historic oil boomtowns, five national forests, and the megalopolis of Houston, this enormous region is an ideal place to experience the legacy of the Lone Star State. East Texas has a distinct Southern bayou influence, reflected in the food, heritage, and even the accents. Standing apart is Houston, the fourth-largest city in the country and home to NASA, oil-related industries, and some of the most preeminent restaurants, museums, and humidity in the nation.
The Gulf Coast
Stretching 350 miles (560 km) along the Gulf of Mexico, this region’s moderate beaches and waves draw casual beachcombers, salty anglers, and frolicking families. The biggest city on the gulf, Corpus Christi, offers plenty of recreational activities to accommodate a quick weekend getaway and the ubiquitous Winter Texans. Once a year, students from across the country invade South Padre Island for a rollicking spring break, but otherwise, the region remains as low-key as the gulf’s lightly lapping waves.
El Paso and West Texas
This region is what most people envision when they hear the word Texas—hot and dry with an occasional cactus or cow skull. The Wild West spirit thrives in sunbaked cities like El Paso and Midland, and the Guadalupe Mountains National Park offers stunning views of colorful canyon walls and rugged outcroppings. Local cuisine reflects the personality of the region, ranging from spicy cheese-filled chiles rellenos in El Paso to sweet and hardy helpings of pecan pie in Odessa.
Big Bend Region
Everything about Big Bend is vast—the sky, the views, the mountains, and the canyons. It’s a relatively untouched land, where natural elements dominate the landscape and visitors simply marvel at its beauty. The nearby community of Marfa has landed on the radar of the international art community, and its neighbors—Fort Davis and Alpine—are equally compelling for their Old West charm. The rest of the Big Bend area is utterly inviting in its isolation.
The breathtaking views of colorful cliffs and imposing rock towers make Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo a can’t-miss experience, and legendary Route 66—still accessible along portions of I-40—offers a glimpse back in time. This region, including the welcoming wide-open towns of Abilene and San Angelo, is home to iconic Texas cowboys who branded their way into Texas’s mystique by corralling longhorn cattle on the open range.
Know Before You Go
When to Go
Texans like to joke about their two distinct seasons: hot and less hot. Summer can indeed be brutal, with long stretches of 100°F-plus (38°C) temperatures, and the humidity is usually also a factor. Austin and San Antonio are mildly comfortable in the summer, but arid West Texas offers a “cool” respite thanks to the low humidity.
Many Texans take summer vacations at the Gulf Coast, but travelers prefer spring in Texas. One of the state’s venerable springtime activities is viewing wildflowers throughout the state’s midsection. Bluebonnets, daisies, and Indian paintbrushes turn pastures and highway medians into colossal canvases of vivid color, a compelling counterpart to northern states’ fall colors.
Spring is an optimal time to visit Texas parks. Big Bend, the Guadalupe Mountains, and the Rio Grande Valley come alive in March-April, with migrating birds and butterflies dotting the landscape as they feed on fresh foliage. This is also a good time of the year to explore the East Texas Piney Woods—humidity isn’t as oppressive as the summer months, and lakes and creeks are brimming with cool, clear water.
Fall can be variable—it often reaches 90°F (32°C) as late as November—and winters are surprisingly chilly, with ice storms and snow in the Panhandle and northern plains. That being said, the tropical environs of the Rio Grande Valley are a major draw for Winter Texans arriving from the chilly Midwest, who revel in the comparatively balmy 70°F (21°C) temperatures while golfing or birding.
Texas is far removed from the transportation hubs on the East and West Coasts, but it’s easily accessible by plane and relatively accessible by car. Air travel is the best option: Houston is a hub for United Airlines, and Dallas is a hub for American Airlines. It’s wise to reserve a rental car before arriving, and to specify a fuel-efficient vehicle, since you’ll likely be driving a lot. If you wait to rent a vehicle on arrival, there’s a good chance you’ll have to choose from the remaining fleet—typically an SUV or a minivan.
In a state this big, a vehicle is virtually a necessity, despite some recent advances in metropolitan public transportation systems. Fortunately, the interstate highway system is impressive—you can drive between major cities (excluding El Paso) in a few hours.
The Best of Texas
Since Texas is such an enormous state, many travelers opt to focus on a manageable region to maximize their time (it can take 12 hours to drive from Houston to El Paso). Instead of scraping the surface by visiting several major cities in different areas, it’s more rewarding to delve into one part of the state and soak up the local culture via regional restaurants, historic sites, and recreational activities.
The following itineraries represent an overview of Texas’s most-visited regions. The accompanying sights represent the best of each region. Travelers can expect to accomplish most of the activities listed in these regional itineraries within a few days. With extra time, consider exploring another region—the first three are within a three-hour drive of each other. The Big Bend area, however, is a slightly longer detour. It’s an eight-hour drive to this part of West Texas from Dallas, Austin, or San Antonio.
San Antonio, Austin, and the Hill Country
This part of the state is a magnet for those seeking a laid-back getaway. Austin and San Antonio are navigable and comfortably sized, and the equally welcoming Hill Country offers low-key recreational destinations surrounded by rolling landscapes and panoramic skies.
Start in San Antonio by visiting Texas’s most famous attraction: the Alamo. Next, head to the nearby River Walk for some local scenery and a classic Tex-Mex lunch at Casa Rio. Afterward, visit the Alamo’s historic siblings, the four other 18th-century structures that make up the Missions National Historical Park, or search for tempting Mexican imports and dinner in the King William Historic District.
Head north for 1.5 hours on I-35 to Austin for a day and night in Texas’s creative hotbed. Visit the State Capitol, take a stroll down trendy South Congress Avenue, watch a million bats emerge from under a downtown bridge, and experience the “Live Music Capital of the World” at a hip East Side club.
Plan to spend a weekend exploring the Hill Country, which offers all kinds of compelling options. Choose from dude ranches in Bandera, the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park near Fredericksburg, or paddling or tubing on the Frio River.
Dallas and Fort Worth
Begin in Fort Worth, even if your hotel is in Dallas, in which case the 40-minute drive west on I-30 is still worth the effort. Go directly to the Fort Worth Stockyards and immerse yourself in Texas’s cattle-driving heritage. Spend the afternoon at the internationally acclaimed Kimbell Art Museum and Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth before devoting the evening to eating and nightlife at Sundance Square.
One of Dallas’s lasting legacies is its association with President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and the Sixth Floor Museum deftly documents its political and cultural implications. After lunch in the West End District and shopping at the original Neiman Marcus, visit the fascinating Perot Museum of Nature and Science or Fair Park, where several museums tell the story of Texas’s rich past. For dinner and drinks, be sure to visit the Greenville Avenue entertainment district.
Houston and the Gulf Coast
Head to Houston for an out-of-this-world experience at the NASA Space Center. Visit the Museum District to choose from 19 world-class facilities, or for something completely distinctive, check out the bizarre folk art of The Orange Show.
For a beach fix, head three hours southwest to Corpus Christi for a weekend of wave-based recreation, seafood, and cultural attractions (the Texas State Aquarium, in particular). If you’re short on time, Galveston offers distinctive historical destinations and prime beachcombing just an hour southeast of Houston.
Big Bend Area
West Texas is quite a jaunt but worth it. The wide-open spaces and enormous sky in Marfa and the natural wonders of Big Bend National Park give travelers a true sense of the Texas mystique.
Begin your journey in Marfa with the fascinating Chinati Foundation, which features contemporary art in a historic Army base. Later, head to nearby Fort Davis for a quick visit to McDonald Observatory or to Alpine for the Museum of the Big Bend. After sundown, be sure to look for the mysterious Marfa Lights.
Head an hour south to Big Bend National Park for a couple of days of camping and hiking in the Chisos Mountains (Santa Elena Canyon is a must-see). A side trip to the abandoned mining town of Terlingua, an hour away, is also a worthy option. Spend the night in a tent or the Chisos Mountains Lodge.
Remember the Alamo!
The Lone Star State’s rich heritage is 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, from the early 1700s, which tell the story of Spain’s role in early Texas history when priests attempted to assimilate Native Americans by converting them to Catholicism. In the latter 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 from the King Ranch near Corpus Christi. 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-mile (8-km) stretch of Texas’s living history at the San Antonio 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 on the Spanish influence in Texas. For an added dose of Spanish colonial history, visit the Spanish Governor’s Palace, built in 1749, and the stately San Fernando Cathedral (1755).
Austin and the Hill Country
Austin’s most-impressive historic building is the 1888 State Capitol—it’s worth spending a few hours exploring the architectural magnificence of this significant structure.
If you become inspired by Texas’s larger-than-life political heritage, consider a trip to the Hill Country for a day of fascinating stories and structures at the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park.
Just east of Houston lies the sacred ground of San Jacinto Battleground Historic Site. With its remarkable 570-foot-tall (175-m) monument, 15 feet (4.6 m) taller than the Washington Monument, honoring Texas’s victory in its fight for independence, this 1,200-acre site commemorates the legendary battleground where Texas Army troops defeated the Mexican Army with rallying cries of “Remember the Alamo!” under General Sam Houston in 1836.
The Gulf Coast
Cattle made their way to the Chisholm Trail from Texas’s southern tip, with many originating from the legendary King Ranch
- On Sale
- Dec 1, 2020
- Page Count
- 528 pages
- Moon Travel