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This vast state — the biggest in the contiguous United States — sweeps from semi-tropical white-sand beaches to forests, rolling prairies, windswept plains, and desert sand dunes. It even has the country’s second-largest gorge: the Panhandle’s Palo Duro Canyon. Texas has 16 areas preserved by the National Park Service, ranging from Padre Island — one of the world’s only hypersaline lagoons — to the Palo Alto Battlefield, where U.S. and Mexican troops fought in 1846. Standouts include the colorful, fossil-rich Guadalupe Mountains and the cactus-studded solitude of Big Bend. The five San Antonio Missions, including the Alamo, do double duty as a World Heritage Site too.
This big-hearted state offers something for everyone, from cattle drives to cutting-edge music and gleaming modern architecture. Food highlights include BBQ, Tex-Mex, and festival wackiness like fried PB&J sandwiches. The connecting tissue? Admiration for the countryside and its folksy, slowed-down ways harking back to Texas’ farming and ranching heritage. Wherever you go, find time to sit for a spell and soak it all in.
Texas doesn’t mess around in terms of size. It has almost three times the landmass of the United Kingdom. Most airplane passengers land at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental (IAH) or Dallas Fort Worth (DFW), which rivals Manhattan for acreage. But Texas has hundreds of other public airports too. Expect taxi service and rental cars at most terminals, but rail and bus connections can be hit-or-miss. Unless you’re staying in central Dallas, Austin, Houston, or San Antonio, you’ll want wheels to efficiently get around. Happily, the roads remain well maintained and clearly marked. Car and motorcycle buffs shouldn’t miss the 200 miles of famous Route 66 that pass through the Panhandle’s plains.
The climate varies wildly across the state’s 268,596 square miles. But broadly speaking, spring and fall remain the best times for pleasant weather. Fall has the advantage of avoiding the peak festival crowds who flock to the state’s southern half, especially South Padre Island. March comes in like a lion with Austin’s SXSW, which celebrates the convergence of the film, music, and tech industries. April typically draws 3.5 million people to Fiesta San Antonio, an 11-day heritage bash that includes the Battle of Flowers parade. Texas doubles down on Juneteenth across the state. Autumn brings the State Fair to a Dallas park that’s a National Historic Landmark, as well as the Texas Renaissance Festival to Houston. Then the Austin City Limits music festival draws big-name acts for two weeks in October.
A natural spring pockets the Hill Country chaparral, creating an emerald grotto fringed by maidenhair ferns, 30 miles west of Austin. But it’s more than just a pretty swimming hole with waterfalls (depending on the season). The preserve protects the fragile canyon and animals like the endangered golden-cheeked warbler that rely on it.
An ancient sea deposited fossils of corals, urchins, sea lilies, and even primitive sharks here 300 million years ago — an area now 87 miles west of Dallas. This buried treasure emerged due to erosion in the city’s old landfill, closed in the early 1990s. Today paleontologists, amateur and professional, can dig here using small gardening tools and take home their finds for personal use. Note: the site has basic restrooms and no running water. Bring plenty of liquids and also an umbrella for shade.
This abandoned Victorian mining village sits between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park, 13 miles north of the U.S.-Mexican border. Once a leading producer of quicksilver, Terlingua faded after World War II. Today visitors can explore the ruins and a simple cemetery, known for its Day of the Dead celebrations. The town has a few tourist amenities, and attracts crowds for its chili cook-offs in early November and late February.