- By Kristin Finan American-Statesman Staff
Earlier this month we celebrated Texas Independence Day, the day we Texans indulge in queso and barbecue and find joy in the fact that we get to live in the greatest state (and former country) in the country.
There’s no better way to pay tribute to our wonderful, diverse, beautiful state than to travel to its far reaches. Whether you pay homage to Whataburger at its flagship store in Corpus Christi or pose for a selfie at Cadillac Ranch, the experiences you have on Texas soil will stay with you forever.
Here are 15 experiences that every Texan should have on their travel bucket list.
1. Watch a sea turtle hatchling release in South Padre Island.
Sea Turtle Inc. hosts public releases on South Padre Island at dawn on certain days mid-June through August. Padre Island National Seashore also offers public releases during the same season.
2. Climb Enchanted Rock.
Climbing to the top of this hulking granite dome is a rite of passage for any true Texan. When you’re done, reward yourself with a beer at nearby Luckenbach, where “everybody’s somebody,” then settle in for a night at Starry’s Studio in Fredericksburg.
3. Sip a float at the Dr Pepper Museum.
I’m a pepper? You’re a pepper! Whoever you are, don’t miss your chance to celebrate Texas’ favorite soda at this beloved Waco museum. While in Waco, check out the incredible Waco Mammoth National Monument and say hello to the elephants at Cameron Park Zoo.
4. Scale Guadalupe Peak.
At 8,751 feet, Guadalupe Peak in Guadalupe Mountains National Park is the highest natural point in the state. Which means that if you climb to the top, you get the bragging rights of having been to the “Top of Texas.”
5. Pitch a tent at Big Bend National Park.
There’s nothing better than a long weekend getting back to nature at Big Bend. Also on your to-do list while you’re there: climb Emory Peak, hike the South Rim Trail and soak in the Boquillas Hot Springs.
6. Snap a photo at Cadillac Ranch.
Even if you don’t think you know about Cadillac Ranch, you actually do — it’s the Amarillo art installation that features colorful Cadillacs jutting up from the ground. While in Amarillo, make sure to go mountain biking at nearby Palo Duro Canyon and stop for dinner at the Big Texan Steak Ranch, where anyone who can finish their 72-ounce steak in less than an hour will get it for free.
7. Get fitted for a pair of boots at RJ’s, then stay to see the rest of Houston.
Rocky Carroll, a second generation bootmaker, has worked with everyone from the Bush family to Dolly Parton, and he’d be glad to make you a unique pair, too. While you’re in Houston, drop by the amazing new Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern, carve out some time for the Menil Collection and stop for lunch at the original Ninfa’s on Navigation.
8. Bike the Galveston Island seawall.
Sure, it’s 10 miles long, but who cares when the ground is flat and the ocean is your backdrop? Bonus points for grabbing a shake at La King’s Confectionery, traipsing through the submarine at Seawolf Park or catching some beads on Fat Tuesday — Galveston has one of the best Mardi Gras celebrations in the country.
9. Bask in the glory of the flagship Whataburger.
There’s a flagship Whataburger store in Corpus Christi. And it comes with oceanfront views, a bronze statue of founder Harmon Dobson and even an elevator. Can you imagine a better place to enjoy your honey butter chicken biscuit? Didn’t think so. Oh, and on a more somber note, while you’re in Corpus Christi also be sure to stop by the Mirador de la Flor statue, which honors “queen of Tejano music” Selena Quintanilla-Pérez.
10. Remember the Alamo (and salute Phil Collins).
Seeing the Alamo and marveling at how small it really is, is a must for any Texan. But this time when you go, be sure to rock out to your favorite Phil Collins power ballad on the way, because the British superstar also just happens to be a huge Alamo fan. Seems against all odds, right? It’s not. He even donated his gigantic collection of Alamo and Texana artifacts to the Texas General Land Office, which will display the collection in a few years as part of a new Alamo museum.
11. Dance the night away at Garner State Park.
Garner State Park’s idyllic location along the Frio River has long made it one of the most popular parks in the state, but to truly experience it you have to attend one of its famous summer dances, held nightly June-August.
12. Tube (or toob) the Comal.
There’s nothing better than a summer’s day spent floating the river. After, grab a bite at the Gristmill, then catch some live music at Gruene Hall. Don’t forget to schedule an annual trip to Schlitterbahn, either.
13. Go deep sea fishing in Port Aransas.
Then find a restaurant to cook your catch. Also don’t miss the ferry ride to St. Jo Island for an afternoon, a drink along the water at Virginia’s, dinner at Shells or a sweet treat from Winton’s Candy Company. Extra credit if you time your trip with the annual Texas SandFest, which this year is April 21-23.
14. Stare up at the sky during a McDonald Observatory Star Party.
Then head to nearby Marfa, where your must-do list includes seeing the Marfa lights, taking a photo at Prada Marfa, wandering the Chinati Foundation, stopping for groceries at the Get Go and spending a few nights at El Cosmico.
15. Attend a cattle drive in Fort Worth.
We Texans love our kitschy cowboy culture, and what better way to embrace that than during a twice-daily cattle drive in the Fort Worth Stockyards? Complete the theme with dinner at Cattlemen’s Steak House, where you can pick out the exact steak you’d like to eat for dinner, and a nightcap at the Stockyards Hotel, where you can sip your spirits the way every true Texan should — from atop a saddle.