Hill Country is the heart and soul of Texas, living on the edge of a guitar string that never seems to stop vibrating. Austin, the Lone Star State’s capital, is the driving musical force for the entire region, but wander into any small town or far-flung community here and you’ll find great live music in abundant (and oftentimes impromptu) supply. In spring, the rolling karst-formed hills that define the area burst with wildflowers, making trips to Enchanted Rock, Hill Country State Natural Area and Bastrop State Park a sightseeing extravaganza. In San Antonio, which straddles a number of different regions, don’t miss River Walk and the Alamo.
The Dallas and Fort Worth Metroplex anchor the Prairies and Lakes region of Texas, offering a big-city smorgasbord of world-class attractions, entertainment venues and dining options. Don’t miss Six Flags Hurricane Harbor or the Fort Worth Zoo if you’re traveling with kids. Farther afield, a landscape dotted with lakes, ranchland and small towns awaits exploration at a decidedly slower pace. Waco, Gonzales and La Grange are must-visits for history buffs. Dinosaur Valley State Park is another popular draw, giving visitors the chance to literally walk in the footprints of prehistoric dinosaurs.
More than 300 days of sunshine a year and an incredible slate of world-class attractions make the South Texas Plains one of the most popular landing spots for winter escapists. San Antonio bursts with possibilities, including the Alamo, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, the San Antonio Zoo and SeaWorld. Most of the region is undeveloped borderland, showcasing a hearty fusion of Mexican and American culture. History buffs will revel in exploring old Spanish missions and tiny rustic towns, while nature enthusiasts will find themselves drawn to the Rio Grande Valley, where sweeping views and an abundance of wildlife make for incredible vacation snapshots.
Rugged, wild, open frontier still stretches across vast swathes of west Texas, otherwise known as Big Bend Country. The legendary Rio Grande, the punishing Chihuahuan Desert and the incomparable Big Bend National Park dominate the region, making this is a boon for outdoors enthusiasts and nature photographers. The borderland city of El Paso dates to 1581 and offers a mix of casual, open-air history alongside some of the best museums in the state. This is largely undeveloped country though, so pack your hiking boots and wide-angle lens and go exploring.
Thick, coniferous forests full of pine, hickory and oak trees dominate the eastern edges of Texas, further underscoring the incredible geological diversity of the Lone Star State. Davy Crockett National Forest and Angelina National Forest offer an abundance of hiking, hunting and fishing opportunities, while Big Thicket National Preserve is a remarkable spot for bird-watching and canoeing. Visit Nacogdoches (which dates back 10,000 years) to explore the oldest city in the state. Huntsville, Jacksonville, Longview and Kilgore are popular landing spots for visitors seeking a mix of small-town charm and big vacation fun.
Think of Texas and you’re likely to envision vistas replete with sun-soaked desert hills, rolling prairie plains and craggy red-rock canyons. It’s easy to overlook the Lone Star State’s 600-plus miles of Gulf Coast shoreline, which are full of white sandy beaches and dotted with lively seaside towns. Houston, Galveston and Corpus Christi are the primary centers of attention, activity and attraction here, along with the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world—Padre Island National Seashore. Don’t miss NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (Houston), the Texas State Aquarium (Corpus Christi) and the amusement rides at Pleasure Pier (Galveston).