Texas is a large state that’s big on small-town charm. So whether you travel through the Texas Hill Country, down to the coast, or into the desert, you’ll find quaint towns offering history, charm, scenic landscapes, and Texas-sized hospitality.
Here are some of our favorite small towns in the Lone Star State.
Head to Fredericksburg, an old German town in the Texas Hill Country, for a step back in time.
Take a winery tour of Wine Road 290, and then visit the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area for a hike. Tour the National Museum of the Pacific War, the only museum in the continental United States solely dedicated to telling the story of World War II in the Pacific, or visit the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park to tour the Texas White House. Then check out the Sauer Beckmann Living History Farm, where park rangers dressed in period clothing teach visitors about life in simpler times.
Dine at one of the numerous German restaurants in town, such as Otto’s, and sample authentic German fare like the duck schnitzel served with kasespatzle (cheese spatzle), rotkohl (red cabbage), cranberry marmalade, and pickled peppers. Then stay the night at one of Fredericksburg’s 1,200 bed and breakfasts and guest houses.
Pro Tip: Visit in the spring to catch the wildflowers in bloom -- you’ll find picture-perfect fields of poppies and bluebonnets in full splendor. Drive through the Texas Hill Country for a photo tour, or visit Wildseed Farms and walk among fields of flowers at the nation’s largest working wildflower farm.
2. Willow City
Approximately 12 miles northeast of Fredericksburg is the small town of Willow City, only home to about 70 residents. It’s worth the drive for the scenery and top-notch Texas barbecue. Stop by Harry’s on the Loop, a legendary Texas beer bar housed in an 1890s home, for an authentic Hill Country experience.
Pro Tip: Take the famous Willow City Loop, an excellent 13-mile scenic drive in the area. You’ll see the wildflowers in the spring, but it’s a stunning drive at any time of the year. You’ll take winding roads and see rugged landscapes, including a canyon.
Another Texas Hill Country favorite is Luckenbach, made famous by Willie Nelson’s song. Make a day trip to Luckenbach and explore the combo general store, post office, and bar where you can enjoy a cold beer inside or sit outside, where there’s often live music playing. At night, the town’s dance hall comes alive. Luckenbach is just a blip on the map, but it’s worth a visit for the authentic experience.
Burnet is the county seat of Burnet County, located in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. The area is home to nearly 1,000 square miles of beautiful lakes and rolling hills. In town, explore the Highland Lakes Squadron Museum, tour the Falkenstein Castle, and get an education at the hands-on Fort Croghan Museum.
You can also enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, including bird-watching at the Canyon of the Eagles, caving at Longhorn Cavern State Park, water sports at one of the Highland Lakes, and observing the night sky at the Eagle Eye Observatory at the Canyon of the Eagles.
There are a variety of unique lodging options in the area. Stay in an authentic log cabin on the banks of Lake Lyndon B. Johnson at Log Country Cove, or take a nature walk or try sunrise yoga overlooking Lake Buchanan at Canyon of the Eagles Resort.
Pro Tip: Internet service may not be available at some of the more remote locations.
5. Port Isabel
Head to the coast to visit Port Isabel, where you’ll find the only town square in Texas with a lighthouse. Located across the bay from South Padre Island, Port Isabel offers plenty of museums, shopping, and dining options to fill a beach getaway.
Spend time on the water fishing and boating, or simply enjoy the beaches and views. Climb the historic Port Isabel Lighthouse for a stunning view of the city. Take a dolphin-watching cruise with Dolphin Docks; walk the Pirate’s Landing Fishing Pier, the longest fishing pier in Texas; and then dine on Texas-sized portions of Tex-Mex at Manuel’s Restaurant.
Spend a night or more at the Southwind Inn for a kitchenette and proximity to great fishing.
Canyon is the gateway to the second-largest canyon in the U.S., the Palo Duro Canyon. Explore the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, the largest history museum in Texas. Palo Duro Canyon State Park offers an abundance of outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, and horseback riding. In town, meander through the specialty shops, historic buildings, and quaint restaurants, or take in a West Texas A&M sporting event.
Rent a two-bedroom home at The Cottage. For dining, try one of the local cafes such as The Ranch House Cafe for breakfast or a slice of pie (or a slice of pie for breakfast!) or Feldman’s Wrong Way Diner for a fresh-cut, hand-battered country-fried steak served on Texas toast.
Texas is known for its barbecue, which focuses on the dry rub for flavor. There’s no better place to taste authentic Texas barbecue than Lockhart, the Barbecue Capital of Texas. In 2003, the Texas State Legislature passed a resolution officially giving Lockhart the designation. In this small town about 35 miles southeast of Austin, you’ll find four fantastic barbecue restaurants.
In 1900, German immigrant Charles Kreuz Sr. bought an existing meat market and renamed it Kreuz Market. Kreuz began smoking meat in a German meat-market style using Texas-raised meat smoked over native oak. The business has changed hands over the years, but you’ll still find some of the best smoked meat there, served on butcher paper and without utensils. To avoid long lines, visit during off-peak hours.
At Smitty’s Market, another acclaimed barbecue restaurant, you can sample meats from the smoker while sitting at communal tables. Credit cards are not accepted.
Four generations of grill masters have served up barbecue at Black’s BBQ, home to pits that can hold up to 500 pounds of meat at a time. The restaurant is cafeteria style, where you pick up your salad and dessert and order your main entree.
Finally, there’s Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que. This newcomer to the bunch, opened in 1978, is off the beaten barbecue path and frequented by locals. There’s even a drive-through if you want to take your meat to go.
Stay in a boutique boarding house at Ellison House. The home was built in 1880 and has been reimagined as a luxury hotel.
You can have an authentic Western experience in Bandera, the Texas Cowboy Capital of the World. Stay at a dude ranch, put your two-stepping skills to the test at the local honky-tonk, dine on a chuckwagon meal, or take in a rodeo reenactment. Follow the Bandera Foodies group to get an inside look at the best places to eat in town.
Get the full Wild West experience at Rancho Cortez, where you can stay in one of 15 deluxe suites or go for a bunkhouse with a porch. Enjoy trail rides, hayrides, campfires, cattle roundups, lasso lessons, and swimming in the pool or soaking in the hot tub.
The tiny West Texas town of Marfa is known for the nightly and mysterious Marfa Lights. The source of the phenomenon is unknown, but every night, lights -- sometimes red, sometimes blue, sometimes white -- dance on the horizon southeast of town in a predominately uninhabited area.
Stay to watch the lights with a glamping experience at El Cosmico. Choose from a renovated vintage trailer, a safari or scout tent, a Sioux-style teepee, a Mongolian yurt, and a tent campsite. While there, take part in one of their events designed to elevate the mind, body, and creative spirit, such as cooking and art classes, songwriting workshops, and cultural events.
In Terlingua, known as Ghost Town Texas, you can visit Wild West-era cemeteries, see the remnants of abandoned homes, and view empty mine shafts at this former mining community. You’ll be just minutes from Big Bend National Park, so plan on taking a day trip for hiking or a scenic drive.
You won’t find any franchises in Terlingua, so enjoy the family-owned restaurants and lodgings. Dine in a cave at La Kiva Restaurant and Bar, where you can enjoy award-winning barbecue while listening to live music at the place GQ named the most bizarre bar you must visit before you die.
For a view of the mountains from a chic cottage, stay at the Nuevo Terlingua.