Everything is bigger in Texas. Anybody who has heard any of the Lone Star State’s tourism promotions has heard of this meme, and in many respects it’s amazingly accurate, from the hearty portions that are dished up in its signature BBQ shacks, to the expanse of its territory, as it takes the better part of two days to drive across from west to east.
The spirit and pride of those that call this corner of the USA home is another thing that comes in heaping portions, as any guests that come here will be treated very well, and while many here are proud Americans, some identify as a Texan first.
The fierce sense of independence found here largely comes from a bloody revolutionary war that was fought with Mexico in the 1830’s that wasn’t won without a heavy toll paid in blood. The wide open spaces that spread well beyond their sprawling cities add to this aesthetic of individualism, as the abundant amounts of natural beauty in the countryside seem as if there they were put there just for you.
Throw in a lively Latino culture due to Texas’ proximity to Mexico, and you have a destination that is worth a trip on its own, let alone a point of interest on a cross country adventure.
What To Do – Culture & History
Any historical examination of Texas need to begin at The Alamo. This garrison in San Antonio was the focus of an eleven day siege during the Texan Revolutionary War that ended with almost all the Texan defenders dead. The “Take No Prisoners” approach of the Mexican army led to the battle cry “Remember The Alamo!”, which served as motivation towards the inevitable success of the Texans in this conflict.
Restored to its former glory in the early 20th century, the chapel and the barracks are available to be toured by visitors looking to imagine how things were almost 180 years ago.
The battle that ended this war took place at a field near where Houston is today, with the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site marking the spot where Sam Houston’s army routed the charges of Mexican president Santa Anna, leading to the wholesale surrender and retreat of Mexican forces from Texan territory.
In addition to information of the battle of San Jacinto, a museum also contains informative displays of the cultures that comprise Texas (American, Spanish, Mayan, and more), lending a background to the people that call this state home in the present day.
While oil comprises much of Texas’ present day wealth, cattle raising has long been a sustainable enterprise for many living in the Lone Star State. The Fort Worth Stockyards was where the best steers were brought to auction, fetching their handlers a pretty price in the past.
Today, it is largely an entertainment venue where many shops selling western apparel, bars slinging frosty mugs of beer, and restaurants serving up the finest in Texan cuisine can be found, though shows put on by volunteers show guests how cattle were rounded up in those days.
If you prefer to see cows at home on the range, rather than in a place where they traditionally met their end, there is no better place to do so than at King Ranch, a working livestock farm found between the cities of Corpus Christi and Brownsville in the far south.
Being roughly the size of the state of Rhode Island, this ranch gives their steers tonnes of room to roam, as well as horses, as well as the imported nilgai, an Asian antelope native to India!
If the muse in you needs some musical inspiration, there is no better way to feed it than taking in some live music in Austin. Self proclaimed as the live music capital of the world, Austin nonetheless as no shortage of venues playing host to a thriving indie music culture night in and night out.
It is the home of the famed show Austin City Limits (try to attend a taping if one is available during your visit, as many A-listers in the music industry show up to play), and SXSW is a music and popular culture festival that you definitely want to take in if your trip has you in Texas during March.
What To Do – Modern & Natural Attractions
Those into science will certainly want to stop by Space Center Houston, which is home to the museum that fills in guests of the history of operations at NASA Johnson Space Center, where all American space missions flown by NASA have been coordinated over the years.
See capsules from past space excursions, watch shows that show you what it takes to be an astronaut, and go on guided tours of the Johnson Space Center that show how people much smarter than you operate technology that rests on the bleeding edge of our engineering ability.
After seeing the Alamo, take time to unwind afterwards by going on the San Antonio River Walk. This pedestrian only walkway along the banks of the San Antonio River is lined with restaurants, shops, and microbreweries that draw locals and tourists alike in massive numbers.
If the Texas-sized heat is starting to get to you, steer your car down to South Padre Island, a barrier isle that is home to Texas’ most notorious beach and best protected coastal area, all in one place.
While the upper portions of South Padre are protected as a national seashore that contains 70 miles of dunes that make a great nesting spot for sea turtles, the southern portion is a resort town popular with the Spring Break crowd. If you like your beach with plenty of beer and rowdy antics, this is likely a better bet for you than the other end of this barrier island.
If you’d rather get lost in Texas’ massive outback, then Big Bend National Park is great spot to do just that. Preserving the biggest chunk of Chihuahuan desert in the US, this park offers backpacking and hiking trails that will take you through canyons, to waterfalls and up mountains in one of the least visited national parks in the entire country.
If you want to up the ante and scale Texas’ highest peak, head to the extreme western portion of the Panhandle near the New Mexican border, where Guadalupe Mountains National Park can be found. In addition to the outstanding mountain hikes, old ranch houses where pioneers eked out a living can also be explored.