“Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.”
- John Steinbeck, American Novelist and Writer
It isn’t mere literary exaggeration to look at Texas as a country unto itself. From its earliest beginnings, the “Lone Star State” has marched to its own drummer, and its people are justifiably proud of its achievements and place in United States history.
It is no wonder that in a state of this size (it is second only to Alaska at 268,601 square miles) is chock full of attractions and places to see, from natural wonders preserved in its state and national parks, to its rich history and booming cities, Texas is a fantastic tourist destination that will have you yearning to come back for more.
Texas shares a long border to the south with Mexico, defined by the famous Rio Grande River, which along the way carves through Big Bend National Park in the southwest corner of the state. It also shares borders with Oklahoma (to the north), New Mexico (to the west), Arkansas (to the Northeast) and Louisiana (to the east).
“Texas” and “Big” are virtually synonymous in the public consciousness, and it’s no wonder! In addition to it’s huge geographical size and range, Texas ranks first in the U.S. in productivity, first in beef, first in oil, and first in cotton. Its economic output is the second highest in the U.S. (California being #1), and compares favorably with India and Canada in that regard.
With over 24 million people and growing fast, Texas is the second largest state by population, with 5 cities (Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, and Fort Worth) in the top 20 nationwide, and fast-growing El Paso looking to break into that group at #21!
Texas comes from “teysha” meaning “hello friend” in the language of the Caddo Indian Tribes, and was the word used by Spanish explorers and settlers to refer to friendly Indian tribes in the region. That friendly disposition is on full display among the current residents, making Texas one of the most popular tourist destinations in the U.S.
Like any large country (Texas is larger in size and population than two-thirds of the countries on earth!), Texas is best toured region-by-region, so use the guide below to plan your trip to the Lone Star State!
Hill Country (including Austin)
The Hill Country region of Texas lies at the very heart of the state, beginning in West Texas in Crockett County and extending east to the state capital of Austin, located in Travis County. South to north the region begins in the counties of Kinney County, Medina County and Uvalde County, and extends up to Mills County. The Hill Country is a region of beautiful landscapes, with the rolling hills that give the region it’s name, and plenty of lakes and rivers that draw anglers from around the country. In fact, the lush green landscapes of the Hill Country contribute to Texas having the widest variety of wildflowers in the United States, many of which adorn the byways and roads that crisscross this picturesque countryside.
Austin is understandably the crown jewel of the Hill Country, with a wide range of interesting places to visit and outstanding attractions to explore and experience. As the state capitol, Austin has many attractions such as museums and government buildings which illuminate the rich history and culture f the Southwest; from the art on display in such venues as the Elisabet Ney Museum to the interesting exhibits and attractions of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. The Texas State Capitol building, larger than the U.S. Capitol building, is another popular tourist stop, and a must-see on any trip to Austin.
Austin is also the home of the University of Texas, a city unto itself with over 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students and over 16,000 administration and staff. Home of the Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art and the Lyndon B Johnson Library, the iconic "Tower" (the UT Administration Building), and Division I sports of every stripe, UT is another great stop on your visit to the Hill Country.
For the recreation-minded, Austin boasts many lakes and parks, including Lake Travis in Pace Bend State Park, Lake Austin, House Park, and the famous Barton Springs and pool, with views of downtown Austin. There is also the Schlitterbahn water park in New Braunfels.
The Hill Country is also the home of the Lyndon B Johnson National Historical Park in Stonewall, site of the childhood home and gravesite of our 36th President. In nearby Fredericksburg, visitors can tour the National Museum of the Pacific War (formerly the Nimitz museum), with its many displays and exhibits detailing the life and WW II campaigns of Fredericksburg's most famous native son.
Big Bend Country (including El Paso and Midland-Odessa)
Dominated by the Chihuahuan Desert, this huge swath of land is home to the "West Texas Oilpatch", where fortunes were made and lost in 20th century, and oil prospecting and production continue to this day.
The largest cities in the region are El Paso, Midland (childhood home of 43rd President George W. Bush) and Odessa, but it is the state's natural beauty which draws visitors from around the world, particularly the stunning landscapes within Big Bend National Park, located along the Rio Grande River on the Texas border with Mexico. Big Bend is Texas' first national park, and at over 1200 square miles, is nearly the size of Rhode Island! A visit to the region would also not be complete without seeing Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which includes the Guadalupe Mountains range and the highest point in the State of Texas, Guadalupe Peak. While there, be sure and experience the spectacular scenery of the Mckittrick Canyon and El Capitan.
For a taste of the Wild West, there are few destinations more beautiful and authentic than the Big Bend region of West Texas!
The Gulf Coast (including Houston, Galveston and Brownsville)
Like it's name implies, this region hugs the 624-mile Texas coastline on the Gulf of Mexico, from the Louisiana border to the Mexican border near Brownsville. For those who love the beach, or fishing the rich waters of the Gulf, this beautiful region is an outstanding destination, including Corpus Christi and Padre Island National Seashore, touted as the longest undeveloped barrier island beach in the world. There also beautiful public beaches along the barrier islands of South Padre Island, Galveston Island and many, many more.
If you like your nature dry, the region is also a magnet for wildlife and bird-watching, including numerous federal, state and local parks and preserves.
Houston is here, the largest city in the region and in all of Texas, and here you'll find some of the nation's finest museums, restaurants, shopping venues and hotels. And be sure and visit NASA's Johnson Space Center the home of Houston's "Mission Control", astronaut training facilities, and the Johnson Space Center Museum. Also nearby is the San Jacinto Monument, part of the San Jacinto Battlegeround State Historic Site, where the battleship USS Texas Battleship is moored as a floating museum.
For the sports fans, Houston boasts a major league stadium or arena in nearly every sport, including Minute Maid Park (home of baseball's Houston Astros), Reliant Stadium (Houston Texans football), and the Toyota Center (Houston Rockets basketball).
Gorgeous coastal venues, inland nature and big-city life, the Gulf Coast of Texas has it all!
Panhandle Plains (including Amarillo, Lubbock and Abilene)
The Panhandle Plains region is a beautifully unspoiled landscape of rolling hills and plains, giving Montana a run for its money on "Big Sky" honors. And from Abilene in the south, to Lubbock and Wichita Falls in the center, and Amarillo in the north, the Panhandle Plains delivers more than its share of big-city sights and attractions!
You can get your kicks along Old Route 66 in Amarillo, made famous by the song of the same name, performed by Nat King Kole and the Rolling Stones, among others. And after touring the sights and attractions in Amarillo, make sure you take in the region's natural beauty as well.
North of Amarillo is the Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, a popular destination for hiking, boating and fishing. To the south are two beautiful state parks: Palo Duro Canyon and State Park, located just south of town, where steep canyon walls carve through over 18,000 acres of scenery. At over 120 miles in length it is second only to the Grand Canyon in size. Also in the area is Caprock Canyons State Park, another beautiful venue for hiking and camping and other outdoor recreation.
South of Amarillo is the city of Lubbock, hometown of rock-and-roll legend Buddy Holly, and the site of the Buddy Holly Center, a great museum dedicated to his life and music. Lubbock is also home to the Silent Wings Museum, which traces the history and exploits of the Army Air Force WWI glider program, located adjacent to Lubbock International Airport.
Lubbock is also home to the Texas Technological University ("Texas Tech"), a major university and home of the Texas Tech Red Raiders sports teams, avidly followed by legions of North Texas sports fans.
Further south in Abilene, you'll find the Abilene Zoo, one of Texas' largest, amidst the beauty of the Abilene Zoological gardens. Also nearby is the peaceful grounds of Abilene State Park.
Prairies and Lakes (including Dallas/Fort Worth and Waco)
This region is dominated by the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area, which is filled with big-city attractions, museums, sports venues, restaurants and nightspots, and some of the best hotels in the world.
In Dallas, you can visit the Dallas Zoo, Fair Park (home of the Texas State Fair), the Dallas Museum, and Dealey Plaza Park, site of the assasination of John F. Kennedy and the Sixth Floor Museum, located in the former Texas School Depository, from which Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fateful shots.
You can also take in a game at one of the many professional sports arenas in the Dallas area; including professional basketball and hockey at the American Airlines Center, home of the Dallas Mavericks basketball and Dallas Stars hockey teams. In nearby Arlington you will find Cowboy Stadium (home of the Dallas Cowboys football team) and The Ballpark in Arlington (Texas Rangers major league baseball).
Arlington is also the home of Six Flags Over Texas, the original theme park in the Six Flags amusement park chain. The name "Six Flags" refers to the six nations that have had sovereignty over the territory that now comprises the State of Texas: Spain, France, Mexico, Republic of Texas, Confederate States of America, and the United States.
Just west of Arlington is Fort Worth, home to many museums and attractions, including the Kimbell Art Museum and the Amon Carter Museum. A popular getaway is Cleburne Lake and Cleburne State Park, located southwest of Fort Worth.
In the heart of the Prairies & Lakes region is the city of Waco, which includes many sites and attractions, including the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and the Dr Pepper Museum. Waco is also the home of one of the top educational institutions in the country, Baylor University.
No visit to Texas is complete without a visit to the beautiful scenery and exciting city life in the Prairies and Lakes Region!
South Texas Plains (including San Antonio)
The beautiful weather and natural scenery of the southeast Rio Grande Valley, combined with the many attractions of the city of San Antonio make the South Texas plains a popular stop on any trip to the Lone Star State.
The Rio Grande Valley boasts some of the best birdwatching in the country, drawing "birders" from all over. Over 500 species of birds make their home in the valley. The World Birding Center is headquartered at Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park in Mission, along with eight other sights throughout the region.
While its natural beauty and climate draw many visitors, the region's crown jewel is surely San Antonio, In addition to it's two most famous attractions, The Alamo and Riverwalk, you will also find the Fort Sam Houston Museum, Six Flags Fiesta Texas theme park, Sea World San Antonio, Tower of the Americas and the San Antonio Museum of Art, to name just a few.
So start planning your next trip to San Antonio and the wonders of the South Texas Plains!
Piney Woods (including Tyler and Nagodoches)
Located in the extreme northeast corner of the state, it's no surprise that the Piney Woods got its name from the thousands of acres of forests that blanket the region. With four national forests and five state forests, the Piney Woods offer plenty for the outdoor enthusiast and scenery junkie.
In the southern part of the Piney Woods is the city of Tyler, known as "The Rose Capital of America" because of the region's large role in the rose-growing industry. Fully 20% of commercial rose bushes produced in the U.S. are grown, packaged and shipped from here. Make sure you include a tour of the Tyler Municipal Rose Garden when you visit.
For scenery on the wild side, don't miss the lush wetlands of the Big Thicket National Preserve, one of the first preserves in the U.S. National Park System. The Big Thicket has been described as the "biological crossroads of America" and "The American Ark" for its remarkable biodiversity. Here you will find over 100 species of trees and shrubs, over 5,000 species of flowering plants and ferns (including over 20 types of orchids) and over 300 species of birds. When you come, be sure and visit the Big Thicket Museum to learn more about this national treasure.
For the history buff, a visit to the Piney Woods should include a tour of Nacogdoches. Billed as the "oldest town in Texas", the town began as a Caddo Indian settlement. Indeed, there is evidence of a settlement in this spot dating back 10,000 years. In more recent times, a Spanish fort was constructed in the 1700's, and it is said that the first shot in the Texas Revolution was fired here when local citizens attacked and routed a Mexican garrison.
So whether its pristine natural scenery, the roses of Tyler and Smith County, or the rich history of East Texas, the Piney Woods is waiting!