In a state large enough to cover the combined land mass of France and part of the United Kingdom, Texas has no shortage of things to see and do. From desert art installations, underground caverns, and historic landmarks, here’s our guide to the top 20 must-visit attractions across the Lone Star State.
Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo
Created by three members of the avant-garde San Francisco design practice, Ant Farm, Cadillac Ranch is a public art installation in North Texas, which reimagines a popular US icon. Dating from 1949 to 1963, a row of 10 used and junk Cadillacs lie buried nose-first in the ground, at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza. The installation is west of Amarillo on the famous former Route 66, celebrated in American popular culture from songs like Bobby Troup’s “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66.”
Thanksgiving Square, Dallas
Dedicated to gratitude in action, Thanksgiving Square is a public space set 15 feet (4.5m) below ground level in the heart of Dallas. The Chapel of Thanksgiving is the highlight: its 90ft (27.5m) spiral ceiling signifies the infinite upward reach of the human spirit, containing the stained glass “Glory Window” featured in Terrence Malick’s 2011 film, the Tree of Life.
Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas
The Perot Museum of Nature and Science opened its doors to the public in 2012, providing hands-on learning through tangible exhibits that cover everything from dinosaurs to DNA. The 180,000-square-foot facility floats like a cube over a landscaped plinth, featuring a 54-foot continuous flow escalator within a 150-foot glass ceiling, which wraps diagonally around the exterior. Integrating architecture, nature and technology, the museum’s design is used as a teaching tool for living examples of engineering, sustainability and technology at work.
Dealy Plaza, Dallas
Located in the historic West End district of downtown Dallas, Dealy Plaza is most famous as the site of John F. Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963. The plaza predates the shooting by many years, named for George Bannerman Dealey, an early publisher of The Dallas Morning News. Today, the Sixth Floor Museum presents the life, death, and legacy of the President in the top two floors of the nearby seven-story Book Depository, from which Lee Harvey Oswald fired his rifle on that fatal day. At the plaza’s west perimeter lies a triple underpass beneath a railroad bridge, under which the motorcade raced after the shots were fired.
Fort Worth Stockyards
Celebrating Forth Worth’s long tradition as part of the cattle industry, the 98-acre (40 ha) historical district represent the last standing stockyards in the United States. The area has an opry and a rodeo, along with numerous entertainment and shopping venues that capitalize on the city’s “Cowtown” image. Don’t miss the world’s only twice daily cattle drive, featuring the Forth Worth Herd of 15 Texas Longhorns – one for each decade of Fort Worth’s 150-year history.
Six Flags Over Texas, Arlington
Opened in 1961, Six Flags Over Texas is a 212-acre theme park located in Arlington, Texas, named for the flags of six different nations that have governed Texas (Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the United States of America, and the Confederate States of America). One of the Dallas/Fort Worth area’s biggest, most popular attractions, the park features dozens of thrill rides, including the famous steel rollercoaster, Texas Giant.
Global Life Park, Arlington
Formerly known as the Ballpark in Arlington, Global Life Park is home to the American League’s Texas Rangers and the Texas Rangers Baseball Hall of Fame. The stadium’s 810-foot (250 m)-long facades are made of brick and Texas Sunset Red granite, featured in several scenes of 2002 sports drama, The Rookie. The Rangers hosted the 1995 MLB All-Star Game, six World Series games (2010 and 2011), and the first regular season interleague game on June 12, 1997, against the San Francisco Giants. The Texas team plans to open a retractable roof stadium as early as 2021, so catch this architectural gem before new technology takes over.
Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Houston
Also called RodeoHouston, Houston’s signature annual event is one of the largest live entertainment and livestock exhibitions in the world. Festivities kick off in February each year with a race, parade, and Go Texan Day, where Houston residents are encouraged to dress in western wear on the Friday before the rodeo beings. The 20-day show features championship rodeo action, livestock competitions, live auctions, food, wine, and live entertainment from some of the world’s biggest recording artists.
Space Center Houston
Space Center Houston is the area’s number one destination for international visitors and the official visitor center of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). Visitors can 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. Among featured exhibits are Gemini and Apollo space capsules, and the world’s largest collection of moon rocks and lunar samples.
USS Lexington Museum, Corpus Christi
Nicknamed “The Blue Ghost,” the USS Lexington is an Essex-class aircraft carrier built during World War II for the United States Navy. Commissioned in 1943, she served the United States longer and set more records than any other Essex Class carrier in the history of naval aviation. The ship became a museum after it was decommissioned in 1991, designated in 2003 as a National Historical Landmark.
Texas’ native wildflowers are the official harbingers of spring in the Lone Star State. Indian paintbrushes, Mexican hats, white poppies, buttercups all bloom as early as February, but the bluebonnet is the state flower and its crowning glory. You can catch a glimpse on highways all over the state, especially near Ennis, Texas, which is designated the Official Bluebonnet City of Texas and home of the Official Bluebonnet Trail.
Designed to resemble a Prada store, this permanently installed sculpture by artists Elmgreen and Dragset combines minimalism and land art to create an icon about 26 miles (42 km) northwest of the city of Marfa. The installation’s door is non-functional, with two large windows displaying actual Prada wares, shoes and handbags provided by Miucci Prada herself in 2005. The Texas Department of Transportation (TXDot) reclassified the structure a museum in September 2014 to bypass allegations that the building is an illegal highway advertisement for Prada.
Also on U.S. Highway 90, a small cinderblock building has created quite the buzz near Marathon, Texas – population 430 – thanks to its recognizable signage for the American superstore, Target. Photos of the work went viral in January 2016, garnering media attention and immediate comparison to nearby Prada Marfa. The building sits alongside a railroad track in a picturesque valley, with distant mountains making for a perfect, quirky photo-op en route to Big Bend National Park.
Blanton Museum of Art, Austin
The Blanton revealed its newly renovated layout in early 2017, with bright, white temporary walls in one of the main vaulted corridors to display more of the collection’s 18,000 works. Located on the University of Texas campus, the museum is the primary art collection for the city of Austin, with a wide range of pieces from ancient Greek pottery to abstract expressionism. Stacked Waters, the living installation by Teresita Fernandez, is a special highlight, welcoming guests in the museum’s beautiful atrium.
Circuit of the Americas, Austin
Austin’s international reputation changed forever in 2010, when construction of the Circuit of the Americas was announced. The grade 1 FIA specification 3.427-mile (5.515 km) motor racing facility, finished in 2012, now hosts the Formula One United States Grand Prix, the Motorcycle Grand Prix of the Americas (MotoGP), and various other racing championships throughout the year. The track also doubles as a music venue, attracting artists such as Mumford & Sons and Taylor Swift to the Austin360 Ampitheater stage.
Texas State Capitol Building, Austin
One of the state’s best urban views is looking north up Congress Avenue toward the capitol building in downtown Austin. Modeled after the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. (in turn modeled after St. Paul’s Cathedral, London), the building’s cornerstone was laid on March 2, 1885, Texas Independence Day, and opened to the public on April 21, 1888, San Jacinto Day. Many of the materials were sourced locally, including the sunset red granite that gives it a pinkish hue at twilight. And as proof that “everything is bigger in Texas,” the dome’s Goddess of Liberty statue stands seven feet (2.13 meters) taller than its national counterpart.
Eiffel Tower with Cowboy Hat, Paris, Texas
For a taste of France in America, you would not likely put northeast Texas high on the list. But the town of Paris, Texas, (one of 15 American municipalities named after the French capital city) is worth a detour for its unique Eiffel Tower. The story goes that the model’s giant red cowboy hat is the result of a fierce competition with a rival Paris in Tennessee: when the latter erected a 70-foot tall tower replica in 1993, the 65-foot Texas version added a hat and thus a few extra feet to outdo its competitor. Also worth a detour is the statue of Jesus in cowboy boots, standing over the grave of Willet Bacbock in the nearby Evergreen cemetery. Only in Texas.
Natural Bridge Caverns, New Braunfels
The largest known commercial caverns in the state, Natural Bridge Caverns was named for the 60ft natural limestone slab bridge that spans the amphitheater setting of the cave’s entrance. Located between Austin and San Antonio, the caverns feature several unique speleothems and other geological formations with a year-round temperature of 70F (21C) and a 99% humidity level. The deepest part of the public tour is 180ft below the surface, while undeveloped areas can reach depths of 230ft.
The Alamo Mission, San Antonio
If you’ve ever wondered where Texans get their state pride, look no further than the Alamo. Located in the heart of downtown San Antonio, this modest landmark witnessed the most pivotal moment in Texas history, defended by a small band of Texians for 13 days against the Mexican army of dictator General Santa Anna. The brave siege ended in massacre on March 6, 1836, but “Remember the Alamo” became the battle cry of Sam Houston’s army in the later Battle of San Jacinto, securing Texas independence as a free republic. The mission, one of five in the San Antonio Missions National Park, is Texas’ only UNESCO World Heritage site.
River Walk, San Antonio
Winding along the banks of the San Antonio River, the Paseo del Río, or San Antonio River Walk is a network of alleyways lined with, shops, restaurants, public art and more. The route twists and turns under bridges as two parallel sidewalks, connecting the city’s major tourist attractions from the Shops at River Center, to the San Antonio Museum of Art, to the Pearl and the city’s five Spanish colonial missions, including the Alamo. More than a thoroughfare, the River Walk is a tourist attraction in its own right, drawing thousands of visitors, especially during Fiesta San Antonio, when flowery floats glide down the river as part of the annual springtime celebration.