With the state’s 10-gallon hats, acres of cattle ranches, and expansive skies, it’s easy to understand why Texans love to exclaim, “Everything is bigger in Texas!” And indeed, Texas is the largest state in the contiguous United States — only Alaska is larger in terms of square mileage — so they’re not wrong!
The Lone Star State possesses a rich history and varied landscapes. Over the course of its history, Texas has been ruled by six different countries. It’s known as the Lone Star State because it was once an independent republic. No other state can make such a claim!
Fully exploring the state will expose you to 10 different climatic regions that range from dry, dusty deserts and sandy beaches to rolling hills and the Guadalupe Mountains.
With so much to see and do, you could easily spend a lifetime in Texas and not experience it all, so be sure to put these eight things to do at least once in Texas at the top of your travel bucket list.
1. Remember The Alamo
Perhaps because of its significance in Texas’s struggle for independence from Mexico, the Alamo is one of Texas’s most-visited attractions. Located in the heart of San Antonio, this mission-turned-battlefield shouldn’t be missed.
Today the 300-year-old limestone structure is predominantly a shrine to the lives lost on the site during the famous Battle of the Alamo. You can learn more by watching a brief film and by reading the signs placed throughout the grounds.
Tip: If you want to pay your respects to the heroes of the Alamo, including Davy Crockett, you won’t find them at the Alamo. Instead, they are interred at the San Fernando Cathedral in downtown San Antonio.
While the Alamo is the best known of San Antonio’s Spanish missions, there are five others. You could easily spend an afternoon exploring them all when you’re in San Antonio. For just a few dollars, you can purchase a day pass for the metro bus that will shuttle you between the missions. Otherwise, you could rent a bicycle from a local bike-sharing station and explore the Mission Trail by bike.
2. Stroll Along The San Antonio River Walk
Hotels, restaurants, boutiques, and historic sites surround the San Antonio River as it flows through downtown San Antonio below street level. This area, known as the San Antonio River Walk, is just a short walk from the Alamo, and exploring the River Walk is a quintessential Texas experience.
If you opt to take the 35-minute narrated cruise down the river, your guide will discuss the city’s history and point out interesting sights along the way. Afterward, enjoy a drink at the Esquire Tavern, the oldest bar on the San Antonio River Walk; it opened the day Prohibition was repealed in December of 1933. Otherwise, enjoy fresh guacamole paired with a prickly pear margarita at Boudro’s.
No trip to the San Antonio River Walk would be complete without at least a glimpse of the Selena bridge. In her role as Tejano singing sensation Selena Quintanilla in the movie Selena, a young Jennifer Lopez filmed shots on the arched stone bridge outside the River Walk’s Omni La Mansion del Rio.
3. Dig In To Texas Barbecue
With 13 million head of cattle, Texas has nearly double the cows of any other state in the nation, so it should be no surprise that the Lone Star State cooks up delicious barbecue. Whether you prefer thick slices of brisket or a rack of ribs, barbecue is one of those foods you can’t leave Texas without trying.
As you travel through Texas, you’ll likely notice different styles of barbecue, from sauce-covered meat in the southern and eastern portions of the state to well-seasoned meat with sauce on the side in the central and western portions. Needless to say, it’s all fantastic.
4. Create A (Temporary) Masterpiece At Cadillac Ranch
In the Texas Panhandle, about 10 minutes east of Amarillo, is Cadillac Ranch. In 1974, three San Francisco-based artists pitched an idea to an eccentric Texas millionaire, and this quirky roadside attraction was born. In the middle of a field along what used to be Route 66, Cadillac Ranch features 10 Cadillac cars from 1949 to 1963 that are buried nose-first in the ground. The classic vehicles provide an ever-changing canvas for a crowdsourced public work of art.
Stop by the closest Home Depot (the one on Soncy Road), pick up some spray paint, and make your mark on one of the cars at Cadillac Ranch. Once you do, be sure to snap a picture of your spray-paint masterpiece, because it won’t last long! Other visitors will soon cover it up with their own unique designs.
5. Relive That Fateful Day At Dealey Plaza
On a sunny November morning in 1963, the presidential entourage was slowly winding its way through downtown Dallas. Sandwiched between an unmarked white hardtop carrying members of the Secret Service and a third car carrying presidential aides was charismatic President John F. Kennedy, riding in a convertible and waving to the crowds.
But just 5 minutes from his luncheon destination, as the motorcade turned and slowed for the crowds gathered in the grassy area of Dealey Plaza, shots rang out. A short while later, Kennedy would be pronounced dead, and the nation would be overcome with grief.
Today, a red brick building still stands at the intersection of North Houston and Elm. It was from the sixth floor of this structure, the former Texas School Book Depository, that Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fatal shots that assassinated Kennedy.
The building is now home to The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, where visitors can relive the events of that fateful day, from Air Force One’s arrival at Love Field to Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson’s swearing-in as president. The self-guided tour includes an audio narrative by Pierce Allman, the first reporter to broadcast from the Texas School Book Depository on the day that Kennedy was shot.
6. Tour The Texas Capitol
The Texas Capitol is proof that everything really is bigger in Texas. At a whopping 360,000 square feet, it’s the largest state capitol building in the U.S. In fact, it’s even taller than the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.!
The dome is the most prominent feature of most capitol buildings, and the Texas Capitol’s dome is no exception. The immense curved space sits atop the building like a giant 10-gallon hat, and inside, the dome is striking for its cream-colored woodwork accented with gold.
By the time the Texas Capitol was constructed in Austin in 1888, six different nations had governed the Lone Star State: Spain, France, Mexico, Texas (as an independent republic), the Confederate States of America, and finally, the United States. Once you’ve admired the dome, examine the tile floor of the rotunda to find a nod to this complex history.
In addition to touring the capitol building, be sure to explore the grounds. In the serene park setting, you’ll find 22 statues that honor the people who have called Texas home, including the pioneers, cowboys, and the heroes of the Alamo. You’ll also see a miniature bronze replica of the Statue of Liberty and a granite column like the ones that encircle the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. But one of the largest and most-visited memorials is the Texas African American History Memorial. The 30-foot-long memorial covers nearly 500 years of black history in Texas, from the arrival of the first enslaved person in 1528 to the efforts of present-day heroes.
7. Explore The Final Frontier At Space Center Houston
After cattle barons and oil tycoons, Texas may be best known for its role in the space program. After all, the state’s biggest city will forever be associated with the phrase, “Houston, we have a problem” from the Apollo 13 mission. That’s why visiting Space Center Houston is one of the things you need to do at least once in Texas.
Start your day at Space Center Houston with a tram tour. Don’t miss the Mission Control Center Tour — you’ll get to see the room that served as the Apollo Mission Control Center during the Gemini and Apollo missions. It’s now a National Historic Landmark.
Another highlight of any visit to Space Center Houston is stepping inside the replica space shuttle. Mounted on top of the original Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft No. 905, the Space Shuttle Independence is the only craft mounted on a shuttle carrier that’s open to the public.
From museums to Mars exploration, spray paint to Spanish missions, and barbecued ribs to the River Walk, there are so many things to experience in the great state of Texas.