Harlingen, Texas is a small town located in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley that boasts quick access to South Padre Island and Mexico. You’ll also find aa vibrant cultural scene, and plenty of small town charm. Home to plenty of mom-and-pop shops, authentic Mexican cuisine, and unique glimpses into the history of Texas, Harlingen is a southern destination not to be missed. If you’re lucky enough to spend a day, a week, or even just a few hours in the town, these are things to put at the top of your to-do list.
Spend an afternoon strolling through the streets of Downtown Harlingen. The historic district is filled with quaint shops and restaurants operating out of some of the oldest buildings in the city. The streets are colorfully decorated with awnings, large murals, and an endless row of palm trees. You won’t find many chain stores here. Downtown Harlingen is home to several family-owned businesses including consignment stores, art galleries, antiques shops, and cafes. On the weekends, the district serves as a venue for community events. Be sure to stop by the Harlingen Farmers Market, Jackson Street Market Days, or Harlingen Art Night to meet local artists and vendors.
To get the full small town experience, you have to stop by Rustlers. Rustlers is a trendy country bar serving up cold drinks, good food, and lots of space for two-stepping. Rustlers is open in time for happy hour Wednesday through Saturday and keeps the party going all night long. If you’re looking for live music, the bar hosts Tejano and country bands throughout the month. The bar has a dress code, so double check before heading out. You can finally put those cowboy boots to good use.
If you’re looking for a relaxing spot to have a few drinks with friends, Carlito’s Wine House is the place to go. The large space is decorated with cozy couches, dim lighting, and exposed brick walls. Carlito’s serves several seasonal craft beers and a full menu of domestics. Selections off of their wine menu can be ordered by the glass or by the bottle. If you’re with a group, the classic cheese platter is large enough for four or five people to share. Weekdays tend to be quiet but you can expect a crowd on weekend nights.
If you’re looking for a park with a little more to offer, McKelvey Park is it. This park is well-maintained and has the standard lawns, picnic tables, shady pavilion, and playground. What sets this park apart is its scenic trail. The park runs along the Arroyo Colorado River and has a path perfect for walking or jogging. The best time to visit is in the afternoon when the air is cooler and the setting sun paints the sky a brilliant orange. The path isn’t lit, so be sure to make it back before nightfall. And don’t forget the mosquito repellant.
Harlingen Performing Arts Theatre is one of the Rio Grande Valley’s premiere community theatres. HPAT has a long history of quality performances and community engagement in Harlingen. The theatre relies heavily on volunteers of all ages to act, dance, sing, design, and promote shows. They produce several plays and musicals throughout the year including family friendly classics like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Seussical the Musical. Stop in for a performance and discover local talent in a charming theater.
The bookstore is a true hidden gem in Harlingen. Located just north of downtown, this unassuming building holds a maze of books that will make any literature lover’s heart beat fast. The store sells used, out-of-print, rare, and hard to find books. Thousands of fiction and non-fiction books fill wall-to-wall shelves in four rooms. They are organized by genre and author, so it is easy to find a specific book or browse to discover something new. They also have an online store if you’re not in the area.
Comic culture fans will find everything they’re looking for at Comics Unlimited. The shop sells new releases, back issues, and collector’s editions of popular comic books and manga. They also have supplies for D&D, tabletop, and Magic the Gathering. Collectors should check out their collection of toys, statues, and board games. If you’re looking for a place to play, Comics Unlimited hosts card tournaments throughout the month and groups for casual play. Stop in to pick up hard to find items and meet a welcoming group of regulars.
The Iwo Jima Memorial Museum is a small museum at the Marine Military Campus dedicated to preserving the history and legacy of the WWII battle. The museum is open to the public and displays photographs, memorabilia, and artifacts from the battle. The main attraction is a full-size working model of the Iwo Jima Monument on display at the Arlington National Cemetery. Veterans of the battle are encouraged to visit the museum and sign the logbook in the museum’s Hall of Fame. Admission is free.
Harlingen Arts & Heritage Museum offers unique insight into the history of the Rio Grande Valley and Texas. The museum campus has five buildings to explore. The main building features art and culture exhibits that change throughout the year. The History Museum is a permanent exhibit of historical artifacts. The other three buildings are preserved historical structures from Harlingen’s earliest days. Visitors can see Harlingen-founder Lon C. Hill’s house, Harlingen’s first hospital, and the Stagecoach Inn.
Every town in Texas thinks they do Tex-Mex best, but it just might be true in Harlingen. The town’s proximity to Mexico and its penchant for family-owned restaurants has created a culinary scene of outstanding Mexican restaurants run on decades-old family recipes. There are too many to mention but the cheese enchiladas at Las Vegas Café are a good place to start. The margaritas at La Playa Mexican Cafe are cheap and strong during happy hour and go down nicely with a plate of sour cream and spinach enchiladas. Or start your day with breakfast at Las Cazuelas. Just be careful not to fill up on the free chips and salsa.