In the Southwestern United States, Texas is the second largest state by land area with its borders stretching to cover more than 261,000 square miles. Though large in size, this state is most famous for boasting an everything-is-bigger-in-Texas personality, distinctive cowboy culture, desert landscapes, vibrant music, and great cooking.
Stereotypes about Texans and their state often refer to the state as being full of cowboys and vast deserts. While this is partially true, tourists may be surprised by the state’s diversity in both its urban and natural environments.
Big cities like Austin, Houston, and Dallas are ideal destinations for road trips and family vacations. Or you can head away from the crowds and escape into nature by visiting the mountains, deserts, and beaches.
For those that want to explore more of the American Southwest, this state should be at the top of your bucket list. The possibilities in Texas are endless. There is a destination, attraction, and activity for everyone to enjoy.
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History of “The Lone Star State”
The recorded history of Texas began in 1519 with the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, but before exploration and colonization, the state was home to prehistoric peoples and Native American tribes. Prehistoric evidence that has been found includes the remains of the Leanderthal Lady, which is believed to be more than 10,000 years old.
These prehistoric people are ancestors of the Native Americans and are linked to the ancient Clovis and Folsom cultures. Around 500 BC, Native Americans began to settle in the area. Alonso Álvarez de Pineda was the first European to set foot in Texas in 1520. During his exploration, he created a map of the Gulf Coast – including Texas, which makes it the state’s earliest recorded document.
During the late 17th century, the land was claimed by both France and Spain. Winning and renewing their efforts to colonize Texas, Spain began to create permanent settlements in 1690. However, by 1821 Mexico’s War for Independence took over the land that included Spanish Texas.
Mexico only ruled Texas for a brief time because by 1836, at the end of the Texas Revolution, the Texas Declaration of Independence created the new Republic of Texas. From 1836 to 1845, the state was entirely independent of any country. In 1845, under threat of annexation by the United States, Texans signed a new constitution with the US Congress and officially gained statehood.
Since becoming a US state, Texas has expanded to become a major economy in the American Southwest. Having survived the Civil War, World War II, and other various conflicts, the state has relied heavily on cattle, cotton, lumber, and oil industries. Tourism is a newer industry, but it has become a leading economic driver with millions of out-of-state and international tourists visiting each year.
Capital City of Austin
The capital city of Texas, with a population of 961,855 as of 2020, is Austin. As one of the fastest-growing cities in the US, this city boasts a mix of urban delights and natural wonders. Most people head to Austin to check out the social scene, where it has earned the nickname as being the “Live Music Capital of the World”.
At times, there can be dozens of live music events on the same night, spread throughout various venues in the city. For entertainment, you can’t get much better and to pair with the live music, patrons can enjoy a variety of bars, clubs, and restaurants too.
During the day, one popular activity is a city tour, which runs on a loop and allows visitors to hop on and off at their leisure. Stops along the tour include 6th Street in Downtown Austin, the State Capitol Building, and Congress District.
Additional highlights include the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, Bullock Texas State History Museum, and the Mexic-Arte Museum.
Within city limits, there are also natural attractions where visitors can stretch their legs and spend some time enjoying outdoor recreation. Lady Bird Lake includes a reservoir and stunning views of Downtown Austin. At Zilker Park, visitors can cool off by taking a dip at Barton Springs – a natural spring-fed pool.
Further outside of the city, the McKinney Falls State Park and Mount Bonnell are two more destinations where many visitors head to enjoy swimming, hiking, and picnicking. All of these locations are great for half or full-day trips.
Houston, Largest City in Texas
With a population of 2,304,580 people as of 2020, Houston is the largest city in Texas and 4th largest in the country. Known for being a food-centric destination, this cosmopolitan destination is also renowned for its arts, culture, shopping, dining, and nightlife. Revitalized and thriving, the city attracts millions of visitors each year.
People of all ages will love Houston’s attractions, which range from educational museums to outdoor parks and sporting events. The Houston Museum of Natural Science, Children’s Museum, Downtown Aquarium, and Space Center Houston are some of the best places to learn and interact with dynamic exhibits.
Green spaces in the city include Buffalo Bayou Park, Discovery Green, and Hines Waterfall Park. For those wanting to catch a game, the Astros baseball team plays at Minute Maid Park or you can see the Houston Rockets basketball team play at the Toyota Center.
The party doesn’t stop at sundown and there are plenty of ways for adults to enjoy the city at night too. Houston’s nightlife is upbeat with bars, restaurants, clubs, and theaters. For late-night entertainment, the Music Box Theater combines live music with sketch comedies.
Whether you’re looking to spend time with family or want to party with friends, Houston has plenty of distractions where visitors can enjoy themselves from day to night.
Dallas, “Big D”
Going by the nickname “Big D”, Dallas is home to 1,304,379 residents. Sitting in North Texas, this is a historic city that has welcomed modernization. Once filled with warehouses and known as a pitstop on the highway, Dallas has become a major destination where visitors can shop, dine, and party at upscale establishments.
Beyond the facades of hundreds of shops and restaurants, this city is filled with museums, parks, history, and events. Some of the best museums to visit are the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Frontiers of Flight Museum, and the Dallas Heritage Village. Visitors might also enjoy the Dallas Zoo or Dallas World Aquarium.
Right in Downtown Dallas, Fair Park is a great place to walk, bike, picnic, and enjoy special events like concerts and sport games. With native and exotic flora, the Texas Discovery Gardens has dozens of exhibits that include plants, animals, and insects.
Historically, Dallas will always be tied to John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in Downtown Dallas at Dealey Plaza in 1963. Day and night tours are a popular activity for guests who want to learn more about the assassination and travel the same motorcade route that the president took that fateful day.
Finally, sports are important to the Dallas residents and many visitors too. The Dallas Cowboys, Stars, Texas Rangers, FC Dallas, and Mavericks are five professional sports teams that play throughout the year. During home events, people can watch the games in person and cheer on their favorite players.
Southern Cowboys and Culture
A big part of Texas’ southwestern culture comes from the cowboys and dude ranches that still exist throughout the state. Historically tied to cattle drives, Texan cowboys continue to be an important symbol. Tourists can learn more about cowboy culture and cattle by visiting a dude ranch.
Scattered throughout the state, many dude ranches are open to providing overnight accommodation and authentic cowboy experiences to their guests. Ranging from small bed and breakfast-type establishments to luxurious estates, visitors should consider paying a visit to the Dixie Dude Ranch, Wildcatter Ranch & Resort, Cibolo Creek Ranch, or the JL Bar Ranch, Resort & Spa.
Looking further back into Texan history, there are multiple historic sites that have made the state famous as they tie back to the days of early colonization. The most famous site of them all is The Alamo, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Famous for its battle during the Texas Revolution, visitors come from far and wide to view the mission and learn more about the area’s history.
Close to The Alamo is the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, which has 4 other historic missions that are also protected by UNESCO. At the park, people can enjoy the series of trails, bridges, and walking paths that meander along the river and to various missions.
Another historic site is the San Jacinto Battleground, which is where the last battle of the Texas Revolution took place. Included at the site are the San Jacinto Monument and the USS Texas battleship. Being just a short drive from Houston and because of its historic value, many visitors are eager to explore the battlefield and monument.
What many people may not know is that Texas has more than 40 mountain ranges, the Chihuahuan Desert, and dozens of beaches. The diverse array of landscapes offers visitors plenty of opportunities to customize their vacation as they pick and choose where to go.
Guadalupe Peak, Anthonys Nose, Bush Mountain, and Capitol Mesa are all popular mountains where people can go hiking and camp. In the Chihuahuan Desert, activities range from hiking, swimming, dune buggies, and sightseeing.
Finally, along the Gulf of Mexico, visitors can stretch out and enjoy the sand on Texas’ beaches. There are hundreds of sandy spots along the coast, but a few of the best coastal areas to visit include Galveston, South Padre Island, and Port Aransas.
Protecting some of the diverse landscapes in Texas are two national parks – Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains. Big Bend National Park is famous for the Chisos Mountain Range and Chihuahuan Desert. Highlights of the park include the Santa Elena Canyon, which was carved by the Rio Grande River and the Langford Hot Springs – built from the foundations of an old bathhouse.
In the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, visitors will find the state’s four highest peaks, as well as plenty of Permian fossils. Covering another portion of the Chihuahuan Desert, additional highlights include the Salt Basin Dunes, El Capitan, and McKittrick Canyon Trail.
Although there are only two national parks in the entirety of this large state, there are plenty of other protected areas too. Beyond the national parks, visitors should check out the state parks, preserves, monuments, and recreation areas.
Texas is famous for its food, which has been influenced by a variety of cultures around the world. Known for serving hearty meals and large portions, many visitors are eager to taste the most popular Texan foods. Choosing from a full menu can be difficult, but to start off it might be best to pick the state dish, which is chili.
Cooked to perfection and bursting with flavor, Texan chili is widely served with numerous establishments often claiming to serve the best version. For meat lovers, Texas will get your mouth watering with its barbecue, which is slow-cooked to just the right tenderness. Fried food is very popular in the state too with classic dishes like chicken fried steak and funnel cake.
Whether you’re eating at a local establishment or going to upscale big-city restaurants, Texan cuisine is insanely good.
With so much to see, do and explore, visitors won’t be able to resist this state’s southern charm. From delighting your tastebuds to turning you into a history buff and offering some of the best entertainment, a Texas vacation will be unforgettable. So, be prepared for great adventures and let this state’s attractions sweep you off your feet.
Add a few of the wonderful natural springs in Texas to your Lone Star State itinerary.
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