The Lone Star State of Texas is the second-largest state in the U.S. by both size and population. One of the biggest draws of Texas is its varying geography -- lay by the beach on the Texas coast, go on a wildflower tour of the hill country, and hike through the rocky Natural Bridge Caverns. Although stereotyped for its dusty planes with cacti and tumbleweeds, Texas is actually home to lush vegetation and picturesque scenery. Add in the friendly residents, delicious foods, and fun-filled activities, and you get a perfect vacation destination.
Big Bend National Park combines the Texas desert with stunning mountains. Camp enthusiasts love this spot for its unparalleled views and range of wildlife. There you can spot over 400 species of birds and 1,100 species of plants. An unexpected form of transportation in Big Bend is by boat, so be sure to book a river tour.
Remember the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. This well-preserved mission stands as a historic monument to the 1836 battle that saw the death of all the Texan defenders. Although the battle was a loss for Texas, it spurred inspiration in Texans and led to the ultimate defeat of the Mexican army. Entrance to the Alamo Church and its grounds is free, but for a fee, you can get a guided tour or audio tour.
They say everything is bigger in Texas. So it won't come as a surprise that this massive, three-story structure is the largest capitol building in the United States. Take a free tour to learn the building history. Explore galleries, legislative chambers, and historic courtrooms. The building features several areas restored with original or reproduction furniture, artwork, and décor. While you are there, enjoy a stroll through the beautifully landscaped Capitol grounds, which showcases over 20 monuments.
In Austin, the Congress Avenue Bridge is home to the largest urban bat colony in North America. An estimated 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats call this area home and emerge from under the bridge around dusk to hunt for food. The best months to view the bats are March through November, and the most impressive flights happen on hot August evenings. Visitors can enjoy the view from atop Congress Avenue Bridge and along the Butler Hike and Bike Trail.
Houston boasts the largest livestock exhibition and rodeo in the world. The rodeo is held in the NRG Stadium, and it's a good idea to arrive at the grounds early to check out the livestock and grab a bite. The tots will enjoy the petting zoo where they can get up close and personal with goats, lambs, and other loveable creatures. Then head into the stadium for the bucking broncos and other wild rodeo activities. Each night is punctuated by a different musical act performing on the main stage.
Hikers love this park, which includes the four highest peaks in Texas and over 80 miles of trails through mountainous terrain and rugged wilderness. Short on time? Make a quick visit to the Pine Springs Visitor Center for the museum and Pinery Nature Trail. If you have time for exploring, make the 3,000-foot climb to the Top of Texas followed by camping under night skies at Pine Springs Campground.
Nashville and New Orleans aren't the only two cities known worldwide for their musical acts. Austin, Texas has been dubbed "the Live Musical Capital" of the United States and the best way to experience that is by taking a nighttime stroll down 6th Street. Sixth Street and Red River are the entertainment hubs of Austin and are chock-full of restaurants and bars that host local and popular live music acts on any given night.
"Houston, we have a problem," is not a phrase you will be uttering when you visit the Space Center in Houston. This center is a leading science and space learning center containing space artifacts and exhibits. It also serves as the gateway to tour NASA Johnson Space Center. Admission runs around $30 for adults and $25 for children, but be sure to check online for seasonal deals and memberships.
With 32 miles of beautiful shoreline and seven beach parks, Galveston Island is a beach lover's paradise. For the fun-loving, East Beach entertains visitors with festivals and concerts throughout the summer months. Each summer, thousands gather for the annual Sandcastle Competition. Active beachgoers will want to check out Seawall Boulevard, which features the nation's longest continuous sidewalk for walking, jogging, or biking. From picnics and playgrounds to kayaking and amusement parks, the beaches of Galveston offer something for all ages and interests.
Bring history to life with a visit to the President Kennedy and Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, Texas. Located at the Texas School Book Depository where the shot was fired that led to the assassination of President Kennedy, the museum offers a detailed account of that fateful day and the history leading up to it.
Marfa, Texas may not hold any records for population or growth, but the small West Texas town is a gem in its own right. Stay at an idyllic bed and breakfast or camp in style, known as glamping. And no visit is complete without a stop at the Instagram-famous pop art installation known as Prada Marfa.
Marfa is home to a mysterious phenomenon known as the Marfa lights. No one is quite sure why the glowing orbs appear to float in the sky off Highway 67 heading out of town. These strange lights have been described as multicolored and seem to be about the size of a basketball. The sightings are sporadic, so you may or may not be privileged to actually see the inexplicable lights from the viewing center along the highway.
The fossilized remains of 24 Colombian mammoths were found near the Bosque River in Waco in 1978. Baylor University is now home to 16 of the mammoths, which are preserved in storage. In 2009, a climate-controlled pavilion was completed over the site, and now visitors can view the remaining fossils in their original resting place.
In downtown Waco, the Dr. Pepper museum was formerly the building that housed the Artesian Manufacturing and Bottling Company, which was constructed in 1906 to specifically bottle Dr. Pepper. The "Home of Dr. Pepper" is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and visitors can tour three floors of exhibits. The museum also has a gift shop stocked with memorabilia and an old fashioned soda fountain where visitors can quench their thirst.
If you're looking to get your kicks on Route 66, as the song goes, then look no further than Cadillac Ranch. On this strip of the historic highway, just west of Amarillo, ten brightly graffitied Cadillacs stand in a row, half-buried, nose down in the dirt. Bring along a can of spray paint and leave your artistic mark on this quirky roadside attraction.
Home to the Spurs, Tex Mex, and Six Flags Fiesta Texas, there are many great reasons to visit San Antonio, Texas. But one of the most iconic elements of this city is the winding river flowing through downtown. The San Antonio River Walk shows off the city's rich culture through its restaurants and decor. Visit at Christmas to see the dazzling lights in the oak trees and carolers singing on barges on the river.
The colossal USS Lexington, nicknamed "Lady Lex," is one of the largest surviving vessels to have served in WWII. The well-preserved ship is now docked on the shore of Corpus Christi, Texas and is open for tours. Inside the ship, take a tour into the heart of the boat, see a 3-D informative movie, and test your nerves in a flight simulator.
Although California has gotten most of the glory for wineries in the United States, Texas is making a name for itself among wine experts. Combine a day-long wine tour with the beautiful scenery of Texas hill country, and you have a great getaway. Go during wildflower to see fields of beautiful bluebonnets, the state flower of Texas.
Outdoor enthusiasts will love this park with 70 miles of undeveloped beaches and natural habitat. Bike or hike along the Grassland Nature Trail. Enjoy swimming, surfing, or snorkeling at the beach. Or spend the day kayaking in the Laguna Madre lagoon. Don't miss a chance to see the endangered Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle nesting and laying eggs. Visitors can camp year-round, but a permit is required.
The Texas Eiffel Tower was completed in 1995 by a local iron union and was initially known as the second-largest Eiffel Tower in the second-largest Paris. But when Paris, Tennessee unveiled their replica, which stood five feet taller, a group of investors came up with an interesting solution to the contest. In 1998, a 10-foot diameter red cowboy hat was installed on top and lived up to its reputation until the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas built their own 541-foot replica.