Houston is bustling with many opportunities to shop, dine, and experience numerous attractions. That can sometimes feel too crowded and overwhelming to enjoy. So escaping the busy city for a day is something locals and visitors alike desire to do. I have made countless road trips to Houston since I was a little girl, but the ones most dear to me were the trips we took as a family at Thanksgiving to visit my great aunt. As much as I loved visiting Houston all those years, I’ve also had many chances to visit nearby small towns that I have returned to time and time again. Here are several small towns bursting with excitement that would make a perfect day trip from Houston.
1. Kemah Boardwalk, Kemah, Texas
Kemah is a city on Galveston Bay and a place I think doesn’t get enough hype. Many people pass right by, heading for the island. But, only 20 miles from downtown Houston right on the bay, sits Kemah Boardwalk with entertainment galore for the whole family. It offers an amusement park with fun and exciting rides, seaside shows, waterfront dining, and more. Shopping and dining are a huge part of the boardwalk. We went on a cool day in October to walk around the bay and noticed that some rides and attractions were not operating, plus it was a bit windy and chilly, but we were still entertained by the sights, sounds, and dining options. There are also other dining alternatives in the nearby Kemah Lighthouse District.
Pro Tip: Kemah Boardwalk is open year round, but the summer months are the best time to visit.
2. Galveston, Texas
With a year-round warm climate, a trip to the beach is almost a guaranteed fun time. Many beachgoers head to Galveston virtually any time of the year, but the summer months are the most enjoyable, bringing more visitors than any other time. I took my grandson when we visited Kemah and had no idea it would be warm enough for him to get in the water. We didn’t go prepared but clothes and all — he made a mad dash straight into the water and splashed around for at least an hour.
Stewart Beach is a well-known area where families go and swim but can be the most crowded. Depending on what you’re looking for — the popular area or something a bit more relaxing and secluded — the beach is large enough to suit every taste! In less than an hour from Houston, you’ll be putting your feet in the sand. A lunch or dinner with salmon involved is always a good choice on Galveston Island.
Pro Tip: Besides the beach, Galveston Island has 14 museums, historic homes open to the public for tours, and various art galleries.
3. Crystal Beach, Bolivar, Texas
Crystal Beach is located on the Bolivar Peninsula along the Gulf of Mexico and is about an hour and a half drive from Houston. However, there’s another way to get there — by ferry. If you don’t want to drive the full distance and want to do something different, drive to Galveston and take the free 20-minute ferry ride to the peninsula. You can either drive on or walk on, and it operates 24-hours a day. Many ride the ferry, then turn around and ride it back without getting off… just for fun.
Pro Tip: The line to get on the ferry is long since many take it to go home from work. In October, the line was too long for us to wait, but we were there at 4 p.m. I suggest heading to the peninsula in the morning and staying all day to enjoy the beach.
4. Beaumont, Texas
Beaumont is a straight shot on I-10 about 86 miles east of Houston. If you keep going, you’ll end up in Louisiana. Beaumont has many attractions such as museums, live gators at Gator Country, a Texas-size fire hydrant that is a popular landmark for photos, lots of colorful murals all over town, and more. I enjoyed walking out on the boardwalk at Cattail Marsh Wetlands and watching the birds fly over. And when you’re ready to feast, Beaumont has some of the best food in the Southeast, and being so close to the border of Louisiana, the food scene has a bit of Cajun in the mix.
Pro Tip: I highly suggest visiting Tyrrell Park, where Cattail Marsh Wetlands is located, and try to spot as many different birds as you can. It’s free, and the birds are more than welcoming!
5. Huntsville, Texas
Huntsville is known as one of the oldest cities in Texas and home to Sam Houston, a prominent leader of Texas back in the 1800s. The town boasts about its connection to Houston. There are many places named after him — Sam Houston University, Sam Houston Memorial Museum, and the lifesize Sam Houston statue that’s mounted on a 10-foot base right off the highway. Huntsville is also a quaint town with restored century-old homes, antiques, boutiques, and several wineries and vineyards near the town where you can relax and enjoy award-winning wines and wine tastings. For more fun things to do — check out Best Things To Do In Huntsville, Texas.
Pro Tip: Located 70 miles north of Houston on Interstate 45.
6. Lake Conroe, Conroe, Texas
If you’ve ever driven to the Dallas-Fort Worth area from Houston, you’ve driven right through Conroe. I can’t count the many times I’ve done that, but have never stopped. But I hear Lake Conroe is beautiful, and they offer watersports, such as kayaking, boating, jet skiing, etc. Fishing is a favorite recreational pastime at the lake as well. On a good day, you can get to Conroe from Houston in about 40 minutes. That gives you plenty of time to enjoy the outdoor life on the lake.
Pro Tip: If time allows, downtown Conroe has the neatest Walking Tour of the Art Benches, featuring 13 benches that tell the history of Conroe.
7. College Station, Texas
In about 90 minutes or so, you’ll be in the quaint town of College Station, home of Texas A&M University. I’m sure those roads have been driven many times, taking kids to check out the college. But College Station is way more than just a college town. It’s fueled by unique experiences and attractions such as the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum, Northgate Entertainment District (where the world-famous Dixie Chicken restaurant is located), and my favorite — the Veterans Park & Athletic Complex. This is where you can walk around and let history tell you a story. I also enjoyed walking through The Gardens at Texas A&M and marveling over all the annuals, perennials, and vegetables we saw, but our favorite was listening to the water rippling off the rocks from the creek.
Pro Tip: Many fantastic restaurants are in town, but the one I liked (because it’s fun) is Gate 12 Bar & Grill. You can have a lovely lunch or dinner, a scrumptious dessert, all while watching airplanes come in for a landing and taking off at College Station’s only airport.
8. Brenham, Texas
It’s worth a 75-mile drive to the home of Blue Bell Creameries just to get an ice cream cone for $1 at the place where it’s made. Yep, that’s right, when in Brenham splurge for that $1 single dipped cone at the parlor. Not only can you indulge in your favorite ice cream, but you can look down on the creamery from the observation deck, read about the history of Blue Bell in the visitor center, shop in the country store, and meander around the premises and get a photo by the old-timey Blue Bell truck.
Brenham boasts authentic Texas history, Texas wildflowers, and Texas ice cream! For more information on Brenham, check out my article 11 Best Things To Do In Charming Brenham, Texas. Other towns close by to visit while you’re there are Burton, Chappell Hill, Independence, and Washington. They all run together, and each offers something special. A little slice of heavenly Texas, they call it!
Pro Tip: When planning your trip, keep in mind that the visitor center and the observation deck are not open on weekends.
9. Round Top, Texas
Do you love going antiquing? If so, you may already know that Round Top hosts two indoor-outdoor antique shows a year in April and October. And, if you didn’t, make a plan to go — it’s a huge market and a trendy one! Thousands of antique seekers gather their friends and family and head out to the place where they hope to find that one-of-a-kind treasure for their home, garden, or office. Antique dealers and vendors from Texas and beyond bring out their wares that they’ve refurbished or hunted down with hopes it all gets sold. It’s well worth getting up early for a 95-mile drive to one of the top antique shows in Texas. Round Top Antiques Fair showcases everything from old Texas art, jewelry, vintage furniture, collectibles, old car parts, and everything in between you can imagine.
Pro Tip: Bring the largest vehicle from your group because you all will go home with something … it’s almost guaranteed!
Texas is big and broad, and the state has enough attractions, events, and activities to satisfy the most ardent traveler: