My friends and family in the Lone Star State love to tell me that everything’s bigger in Texas, and they’re not wrong. Nearly 70 percent larger than California and home to two of America’s most populous metropolitan areas, Texas certainly offers a lot to see, do, and eat.
When you visit, you’ll find sprawling cities with shiny skyscrapers and wide-open prairies filled with grazing cattle and bobbing grasshopper pumps. You’ll see men in Stetson hats, women with big hair, and lots of cowboy boots. And there will be gallons of sweet tea, served with a smile and ample “y’alls” alongside sizzling steaks or fresh-from-the-Gulf seafood.
Two of Texas’s largest cities, Houston and San Antonio, anchor this road trip. Here’s what to see and do between Mission Control and the Mission Trail.
More than 50 years ago, as the Apollo 11 crew made its historic moon landing, the space center in Houston served as mission control. Don’t leave Houston without visiting the Johnson Space Center in the southeastern part of the Houston metro, now beautifully restored and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
But there’s plenty to see and do in Houston beyond the space center. Art lovers will enjoy the city’s Museum of Fine Arts, with its collection of more than 70,000 works of art spanning a variety of time periods and cultures. Sports fans can take in a professional baseball, football, basketball, or soccer game, and shopaholics won’t want to miss The Galleria, the largest shopping center in the Lone Star State.
Houston is also full of hidden gems and surprising things to do for travelers who have already seen the city’s highlights or for those who enjoy experiences that are off the beaten path.
Pro Tip: Spanning nearly 9,000 square miles, the Houston metro area is about the size of New Hampshire. Be sure to keep the distance between attractions and the heavy traffic in mind when planning your Houston itinerary.
After braving the bumper-to-bumper traffic of Houston, treat yourself to a pit stop at Buc-ee’s in Katy. Known for the world’s cleanest restrooms (always a fantastic road-trip find), this regional chain of convenience stores reinforces the idea that everything’s bigger in Texas — it’s got both the world’s largest convenience store and the world’s longest car wash.
Once you’ve used the facilities, filled up your tank, and grabbed your favorite road-trip snacks, continue heading west to Columbus.
Santa Claus Museum
Perhaps it’s because Santa and Mrs. Claus prefer snow to the heat and humidity of Texas, but this is the only Santa Claus Museum in the South. Celebrate the magic of Christmas year-round in Columbus, with nearly 3,000 Santas ranging from dolls and dishes to figurines and fabrics.
The museum is open Thursday through Sunday during December and by appointment during the rest of the year.
Painted Churches Of Schulenburg
As a descendant of German immigrants who settled in western Kansas, I’m fascinated by other ethnic communities around the nation. Germans once represented more than 35 percent of the Texas population, and a strong German influence lingers in the Lone Star State today, especially in the Texas Hill Country.
More than 20 painted churches dot the bluebonnet-covered, rolling hills of Central Texas. With their high-pitched roofs and bell towers, these sacred structures look quite modest from the outside. But the astonishing beauty that awaits inside might just take your breath away.
Several of these painted churches await your exploration near Schulenburg, a charming small town about halfway between Houston and San Antonio. But if your Texas road-trip itinerary will only accommodate one stop, make it Saint Mary Catholic Church in High Hill, just 3 miles north of Interstate 10. The ornate design, detailed paintings, and 150-year-old, colorful stained glass windows have earned Saint Mary the title of the Queen of the Painted Churches.
Fun Fact: German and Austrian immigrants called their town High Hill in honor of the mountains they left behind when they moved to the United States.
Other painted churches to explore in and around Schulenburg include Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church in Dubina, Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha (founded by Czech immigrants), and the pretty pink Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Ammannsville.
Remember that the painted churches are active parishes. Please respect them as houses of worship when visiting and note that they are not open to visitors during weddings or funerals or on Sundays or holy days.
Continuing west along Interstate 10, the next stop is the Luling Oil Museum. Luling was established in 1874 as the railroad made its way west. It soon swelled with rowdy cowboys driving cattle along the Chisholm Trail and earned the nickname “the Toughest Town in Texas.”
But what really put Luling on the map was the discovery of one of the biggest oil fields in the Southwest. At the Luling Oil Museum, you can examine the tools used to draw oil from the earth and learn how production technology has evolved over the years.
Pro Tip: If you want another go at Buc-ee’s on this Texas road trip, pull into the location at the intersection of Interstate 10 and Highway 183 a few miles before you reach the Luling Oil Museum.
Take a break from the interstate and travel the backroads to reach Blue Lotus Winery in Seguin. This 15-acre vineyard and winery focuses on fruit-flavored wines that include blueberry jasmine, cranberry orange spice, and desert pear pomegranate. Blue Lotus also produces mead, a fermented alcoholic beverage made with locally sourced honey.
If you prefer hops and malt to honey fermented into mead, then the Seguin Brewing Company is for you! In this region known for its German immigrants, you’ll certainly be offered craft beers brewed with Munich malts and find a seasonal Oktoberfest. But don’t overlook the Honey Pecan #5. Known as the Seguin Brewing Company’s flagship beer, this full-bodied cream ale finds the perfect balance between the sweetness of the honey and the nuttiness of the pecan, delivering a smooth, praline-like finish.
Because they know that beer and pizza go together like cowboys and cowgirls, the folks at Seguin Brewing Company connected a pizzeria to their taproom. So be sure to pair your beer with a soft pretzel, a specialty pizza, or saucy wings.
Pro Tip: Beer lovers can explore other local breweries in the area along the Hill Country Craft Beer Trail.
As its name suggests, New Braunfels was founded by German immigrants from the old Braunfels in Central Germany. Start by exploring the Gruene Historic District, whose century-old buildings were saved from a developer’s bulldozers by a kayaking architecture student. Explore the Gruene Mansion, old mercantile, and more on this self-guided walking tour.
Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch
Enjoy a Texas-style safari by driving through the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch, where you can get up close and personal with ostriches, zebras, and bison as you meander through this 450-acre, drive-through animal encounter.
Known as the Mission City, San Antonio is the last stop on this Texas road trip. The San Antonio River, which winds its way through town, is lined with festive shops, green spaces, and restaurants. Enjoy a narrated river cruise in a colorful, flat-bottomed boat and then settle in at Boudro’s for a prickly pear margarita and an order of guacamole made tableside. Or dig in to flavorful Tex-Mex cuisine at Casa Rio, the oldest business on the San Antonio River Walk.
Pro Tip: If you find yourself craving Boudro’s guac once you return home, you can find the recipe here.
San Antonio is home to five Spanish missions established to unite Catholic missionaries and Native Americans under the flag of Spain while keeping other indigenous tribes and French explorers at bay. As one of the most-visited attractions in the state, you certainly won’t want to miss The Alamo, but the other four missions that comprise the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park round out the experience. It’s easy to visit all five missions by car, but if you want to leave the driving to someone else or explore the missions on two wheels, check out this article.
For more to see and do in San Antonio, see this page.
From the historic mission control room in Space City to the Spanish colonial missions along the Mission Trail, there’s so much to experience on this road trip between Houston and San Antonio.