American author John Steinbeck described Texas as a “state of mind”—but more than that, as “a mystique closely approximating a religion.” From natural wonders to world-famous barbecue, the list of things to see and do across the great state of Texas is almost endless. If you’re debating a trip to the Lone Star State, Culture Trip has 16 reasons you should visit at least once in your lifetime.
Learn about the state’s unique history
Texas is the only state in America that was once a country. On March 2, 1836, delegates gathered at Washington-on-the-Brazos to sign the Declaration of Independence, asserting freedom from Mexico and establishing the Republic of Texas as a separate nation until 1846. The new country even held legations in London, Paris, and Washington, D.C., and Texans still celebrate March 2nd every year with annual Texas Independence Day festivities.
Celebrate a heritage of heroes
Just days after the formal Declaration of Independence, a 13-day siege ended in a massacre at the Battle of the Alamo, where Mexican troops outnumbered a small band of Texans almost 10 to one. “Remember the Alamo” became the battle cry that ended the Texas Revolution on April 21, 1836, securing the state’s independence as a new republic. The fort’s brave defenders included Colonel William B. Travis, James Bowie, and Davy Crockett, whose sacrifice made them heroes in both Texas and national history.
Enjoy the great outdoors with endlessly diverse terrain
From the beaches of South Padre to the Palo Duro Canyon, the geography in Texas is as rich and varied as its history. Salt marshes dominate the eastern Coastal Plains, while endless deserts stretch through West Texas. The state displays a variety of natural wonders, including 120 state parks, five state forests, and 14 national parks.
One of the national parks in Texas is named for Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States and the first to come from the Lone Star State. Texas has produced two other presidents since then, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, and all three Texas presidents dedicated large libraries to the state after their terms ended. The LBJ Presidential Library sits on the University of Texas campus in Austin and houses 45 million pages of historical documents. The George Bush Presidential Library is at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, while the George W. Bush Library is on campus at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Everything really is bigger in Texas
Texas is America’s largest continental state, covering a total area of 268,581 square miles (695,622 square kilometers). The state’s combined land mass is roughly the size of France and part of the United Kingdom, so expansive that visitors in El Paso are closer to San Diego, California, than they are to Houston in the east. In the northwestern corner of the state, the city of Dalhart is closer to the state capitals of five other states than it is to Austin.
The birthplace of music legends
Along with historic heroes, Texas is home to musical legends in almost every genre. Willie Nelson changed the face of country music; Janis Joplin forged a rock-and-roll path for female artists such as Stevie Nicks, and let’s not forget Beyoncé, Selena, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Kelly Clarkson, Lyle Lovett, T-Bone Walker, Norah Jones, and more.
Live music lives on in Austin
Known as “the Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin, in particular, is an incubator for emerging musical talent. Broadcast since 1974, Austin City Limits is the public television program largely responsible for the city’s byname—the only television show to receive the National Medal of Arts. Also famous as a festival city, Austin attracts thousands of visitors every year for both the Austin City Limits Festival and South by Southwest (SXSW).
Cutting-edge technology and space travel
Beyond music, Austin’s SXSW festival expanded its scope in recent years to include film and interactive media, showcasing the latest innovative technology. But Austin isn’t the only major city known for technology: Houston is the home of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), which is responsible for the U.S. civilian space program. Take a look behind the scenes of space travel at NASA Johnson Space Center, the home of NASA mission control, International Mission Control, and astronaut training.
Museum lovers’ paradise
From the National Museum of the Pacific War in small-town Fredericksburg to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, almost every city in Texas features fountains of knowledge that are fun for all ages. Embark on an interactive immersion course in Texas history at the Bob Bullock Museum in Austin, or visit the Book Depository and Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, the site of John F. Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963.
An art destination for aficionados of every genre
There are so many art museums in Texas that it was necessary to make a separate category for them. The list includes something for everyone: contemporary art fiends can make the trek to Marfa for the Chinati Foundation, while the Blanton in Austin and Kimbell in Fort Worth are known for their extensive European collections. The bigger collections at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and Dallas Museum of Arts also do not disappoint.
Savor world-famous barbecue
After satisfying an appetite for fine art, Texans know how to satiate their hunger with world-famous barbecue. Stand in line at the ever-popular Franklin Barbecue, bring your own beer to the Salt Lick in Spicewood, or drive further afield to small-town joints, such as Black’s Barbecue in Lockhart. They are all worth both the wait and the drive.
Try authentic Tex-Mex
Texans may have declared independence from Mexico, but Spanish-speaking settlers (Tejanos) remained an integral part of the new Republic of Texas, and the two cultures are still intertwined to this day. Tex-Mex cuisine is a fusion of American cuisine with Mexican cuisine, derived from Tejano culture. Enjoy fajitas, nachos, burritos and more at historic places such as Matt’s El Rancho or hole-in-the-wall venues, including La Cocina de Consuelo (“comfort kitchen”). And make sure to try a breakfast taco too.
Tour the Texas Hill Country – with wine in hand
No doubt you already knew Texas was famous for BBQ and Tex-Mex, but did you know it is one of the oldest wine-growing states in the U.S.? In the 1650s, Franciscan priests planted vines near modern-day El Paso in West Texas—more than a hundred years before anyone planted vines in California or Virginia. The state’s sunny and dry climate have drawn a comparison to Portuguese wines; there are over 36 members of the Vitis grape wine family, with 15 native to the state. Taste for yourself in Fredericksburg, where you can choose from over 30 wineries.
Drink locally crafted beer
There’s almost nothing Texans know how to do better than sip on some beer in the sun to stave off the scorching heat, and the Texas Hill Country is making just as much a name for itself in the craft beer world as it is in the world of wine. Over 30 breweries make their home in and around Austin, and in nearby Dripping Springs, there are four in close enough proximity for a full day trip (although you’ll want a designated driver).
Come for the coffee, stay for the community
Texas is also forging a path in the coffee world. Houndstooth Coffee changed the game in 2010, igniting a coffee revolution throughout the Lone Star State. Owner Sean Henry made it his mission to build a community for Austinites to gather around the best coffee from across the country. Baristas, using a variety of brew methods, serve local beans from the brand’s roasting den, Tweed Coffee, along with other Austin roasters and several from out of state. Houndstooth now has four locations in Austin and Dallas, including a swanky cocktail bar, Jettison, next to the latest installment at Sylvan Thirty. Cities such as San Antonio have followed in the Houndstooth wake, with brands such as Local Coffee expanding to four locations in recent years and new, independent shops popping up every day.
You’ve already seen it on film
Filmmakers Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, and Terrence Malick all hail from the Lone Star State, and all three memorialize their Texas childhoods in movies such as Rushmore, Boyhood, and Tree of Life (respectively). But even further back, the romantic notion of Texas has long inspired Hollywood with myth and legend, as seen through films such as The Searchers (1956), starring John Wayne, or Bonnie & Clyde (1967), which stars Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. One of the top reasons to visit Texas is to explore and experience its mystique for yourself—already so perfectly captured on film.