Cowboy boots tapping on the wooden planks at Gruene Hall. Bluebonnets swaying in the breeze in Brenham. Seventy-two-ounce steaks ready for the eating at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo.
There’s no shortage of quintessential experiences in the Lone Star State.
Texas has always been a treasure map of places waiting to be discovered or rediscovered. This list is by no means comprehensive, but as we celebrate Texas Independence Day this month and prepare for spring break, here are four favorite Texas travel experiences to consider.
Whether you enjoy a picnic at Dennis Dryer Municipal Harbor, drop a fishing line off the South Jetty or snack on some you-peel-’em shrimp at the waterfront Virginia’s on the Bay restaurant, Port Aransas has long been known among Texans as the place to go for the perfect beach vacation.
Six months ago, Hurricane Harvey ravaged this beach town four hours south of Austin, and 50 percent of the locals are still not back in their homes. But area businesses and tourism officials are trying to spread the word that even though it’s not yet 100 percent, Port Aransas is back open for business — and needs visitors now more than ever.
By March 15, said Jeff Hentz, president and CEO of the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau, 23 percent of the city’s lodging inventory — or 780 hotel rooms and vacation homes — should be available. That should increase to 70 percent by June 1, Hentz said, and nearly 90 percent by Aug. 1.
One easy way to find a place to stay? Use vacation rental website HomeAway.com, which is updated regularly with vacation homes and condos available for rent.
About half of the city’s restaurants and shops are open, too, including landmarks such as the IGA grocery store and Shorty’s Place, the self-proclaimed “oldest and friendliest bar in Port Aransas.” There are still plenty of abandoned buildings and construction sites, too, but most of the amenities tourists demand, from coffee shops to fast-food restaurants, are once again available.
Texas SandFest, the largest native-sand sand sculpture competition in the United States, will be held as usual, too, April 27-29.
Stephanie Kenigsberg, who owns Seafood and Spaghetti Works and its on-site boutique, Stephanie’s Stuff, with her husband, Jay, encouraged fans of Port Aransas to start planning a trip.
“Come support the local places you’ve grown up with,” she said. “Come and eat. We are ready.”
To fully experience the vastness of a Texas open road under a bright blue sky, make the six-hour trek to the West Texas artists’ haven of Marfa.
Among the places you must see? The Chinati Foundation, the revered art museum founded by Donald Judd; Prada Marfa, an intriguing art installation that perseveres despite vandalism attempts; and the mysterious Marfa lights, also known as the Marfa ghost lights. Also carve out time to purchase works of art made by local crafters at places like Cobra Rock Boot Company, where each pair of handcrafted boots takes more than two weeks to create.
Marfa is worth a trip any time of year, but it’s ideal to go Wednesday-Sunday, as many businesses are closed on Monday and Tuesday.
While you’re in the area, check out a “star party” at the spectacular McDonald Observatory, about an hour from Marfa.
For a taste of old-school Texas, you can’t miss an opportunity to meander the Fort Worth Stockyards, where cattle drives are held twice daily at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Fort Worth is a true gem because it manages to celebrate Texas’ cowboy culture without being overly gimmicky and also offers plenty of big-name, noncowboy attractions.
After you take in a cattle drive, you can literally saddle up by walking down the street to Booger Red’s Saloon and having a seat on one of the saddle barstools. Or satisfy those red-meat cravings at Cattlemen’s Steak House, where various cuts of steak are on display. Also worth visiting in Fort Worth: Billy Bob’s Texas, the Kimbell Art Museum and the Fort Worth Zoo, among many others.
Need a place to stay? Omni Fort Worth offers beautiful views of the city and a sparkling pool that’s a perfect place to sip a margarita on a sunny day.
From the Alamo to the San Antonio Missions to the historic Pearl Brewery complex, there’s lots to see when you visit San Antonio. And there’s never been a better time to visit than this year as the city celebrates its 300th anniversary. Expect hundreds of special events across the city intended to celebrate San Antonio’s arts, heritage and community.
Traveling with kids? You’ve got lots of options, too, from Six Flags Fiesta Texas to SeaWorld San Antonio. And families of all ages will enjoy a stay at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort, where 600 oak-covered acres will put you right into vacation mode.
If possible, time your trip with Fiesta San Antonio 2018, a beloved celebration of San Antonio’s rich and diverse culture that will be held April 19-30.