Here’s the thing about exploring the best places to visit in Texas: the more vacation-worthy places you visit, the more you find.
As the second-largest state in the USA, potential Texas vacation spots include everything from tropical beaches to mountaintops, city lights to lush waterfalls, and wide-open deserts dwarfed by larger-than-life skies to quirky small towns.
Assembling a list of the best places to go in Texas is no easy feat–and actually making it to all the coolest vacation spots in Texas is even harder.
As Rosemary Kent once said, “Most Americans can cover their home state in less than a week. In Texas, if you concentrate and work at it steadily, you can traverse your territory by about age thirty-seven.”
Though it’s tempting to write a list of a hundred or more travel destinations in Texas (we do have a list of 101 bucket list things to do in Texas, after all), we want to keep this short enough that it’s not overwhelming, while still giving Texans and visitors alike new beautiful places in Texas to add to their list of places to see.
Featuring every region and climate in the Lone Star State, here are the best places to visit in Texas!
Best Cities to Visit in Texas
The capital of Texas is known for its many festivals, beautiful setting in the Hill Country, self-proclaimed weirdness, and for being the Live Music Capital of the World–and without a doubt, it’s one of the best cities in Texas to visit!
Whether you come into town for an event or just for a weekend getaway, be sure to make the most of your trip to Austin.
Some of the best things to do in the city include strolling down South Congress, going for a swim in Barton Springs, renting a kayak on Lady Bird Lake, and seeking out some of Austin’s famous street art.
Check out our guide to spending a long weekend in Austin!
As the home of Texas’ most famous building and the state’s most-touristed, city, San Antonio is a delightful place to visit.
Meander along the Riverwalk, tour the Alamo, cycle between San Antonio’s five historic (and UNESCO-recognized) missions, step inside the San Fernando Cathedral, and browse Historic Market Square, and you’ll soon find yourself smitten with San Antonio.
Check out our guide to spending a long weekend in San Antonio!
As one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, Dallas is one of the best cities to visit in Texas and has plenty to offer all kinds of travelers, from artists to sports-lovers to history buffs.
Of course, no weekend trip to Dallas would be complete without a somber exploration of the assassination of President Kennedy, whose murder in Dallas in 1963 is one of the most haunting in the USA’s collective memory.
On a lighter note, though, Dallas offers far more than morbid history: with phenomenal shopping, excellent skyline views at Reunion Tower, walkable neighborhoods like the Bishop Arts District, and great gardens and museums (the Dallas Arboretum is stunning), you’ll find plenty of fun things to do during a weekend in Dallas.
Though it’s often lumped in with Dallas, Fort Worth–also known as Cowtown–is a distinct Texas travel destination in its own right.
While in Fort Worth, be sure to watch a cattle drive at the Stockyards, watch US currency being printed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (yes, really–it’s even free to visit!), and check out the beautiful Fort Worth Water Gardens.
Want to get a bit of a thrill during your trip? Hop over to Arlington to ride roller coasters at Six Flags Over Texas!
As the largest city in Texas, the fourth-largest city in the United States, and one of the most diverse cities in the country, it’s safe to say that Houston is one of the best cities to visit in Texas!
Be sure to check out the Space Center Houston and NASA–the most famous of all the attractions in Houston–as well as sample some of Houston’s other top museums and parks.
Head to Kemah Boardwalk for a charming slice of Americana, and be sure to enjoy the food scene: Houston’s diversity is perhaps best displayed through its enormous collection of fantastic restaurants featuring cuisines from across the world.
Amarillo may not immediately come to mind as one of the best vacation spots in Texas, but not only is this small, out-of-the-way city in Texas full of quirky attractions, it’s also located right on Route 66!
While driving Texas’ (admittedly short) portion of the Mother Road, be sure to stop in Amarillo to see the Route 66 Historic District, the famous Cadillac Ranch, and–if you’re so inclined–take on the 72 oz. steak challenge at the Big Texan Steak Ranch.
Plus, be sure to drive slightly outside of town to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park, home of the second-largest canyon in the USA (aka the Grand Canyon of Texas)!
Primarily known as a Texas vacation destination for Houstonians looking for a beach close to home, Galveston is worth visiting for more than just a chance to cool off in the water.
While you’re there, be sure to check out the Strand, to tour one of the city’s historic Victorian homes, and to pay a visit to the Historic Pier (and hop on the Ferris Wheel for great views if you’re so inclined)–all of which, along with enjoying the beaches, rank among the best things to do in Galveston!
When it comes to cities in Texas to visit, El Paso often flies under the radar–but this desert city situated in the far, far western corner of the Lone Star State has a lot of offer.
Some of the best things to do in El Paso include touring the El Paso Mission Trail, visiting the Chazimal National Monument, admiring the views from the Scenic Drive Overlook, and visiting nearby state parks like Hueco Tanks State Park and Franklin Mountains State Park.
For those flying in, El Paso also makes an excellent jumping-off point for visiting Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, as it offers the biggest airport located close to the parks (“close” is relative in West Texas, however–it’s about a 5-hour drive from El Paso to Big Bend National Park, though less than 2 to Guadalupe Mountains NP).
Long known as the home of Baylor University, Waco has become one of the most popular Texas cities to visit in recent years for a very different reason: the opening of Magnolia Market, owned by Chip & Joanna Gaines of HGTV fame.
Even beyond the immensely popular Silos, though, Waco has plenty to see: consider also stopping by the Dr. Pepper Museum, enjoying Baylor’s beautiful campus, or checking out the Wooly Mammoth National Monument during your visit.
Cool Small Towns in Texas to Visit
For the purposes of this guide to the best places to visit in Texas, we’re trying (emphasis on trying) to keep things at a reasonable length… but I have a special love of small towns, so be sure to check out our complete guide to the best small towns in Texas for more great vacation spots!
Undoubtedly one of the best-known small towns in Texas, popular Fredericksburg is known for two things: its German heritage and its many, many vineyards.
While you’re there, consider making the short drive to Enchanted Rock, too–after all, you’ll no doubt want to stretch your legs after feasting on Texas wine and German food!
Check out our guide to the best things to do in Fredericksburg!
Legendary Marfa is known in and outside of Texas for its quirky, artistic atmosphere set in the middle of the desert… and for having the world’s smallest Prada store (which is actually an art installation located in the nearby town of Valentine, and is definitely worth a stop on a West Texas road trip!).
Head to Marfa to enjoy interesting art, a much more vibrant downtown than you might expect in a small desert town, an excellent food scene, and–of course–the legendary Marfa Lights, which have been mystifying visitors for generations.
A beloved Texas Hill Country gem, Wimberley is known for its artsy downtown packed with galleries and unique boutiques, its natural beauty, and–most of all–its swimming holes.
Two of Wimberley’s swimming holes (Jacob’s Well and the Blue Hole) rank among the most sought-after places to swim in Texas, and you’ll need to plan weeks in advance to score reservations to jump in during the summer!
Check out our guide to the best things to do in Wimberley!
Corsicana, made notable for the Netflix show “Cheer”, is a cute and cozy small town that is rising in fame thanks to the film industry, its beauty, and how easy of a getaway it makes from Fort Worth or Dallas!
There is a quaint winery, great lakes for kayaking or fishing, and mouthwatering restaurants to try from. Downtown is a charming area that preserves so much of that old school country charm.
The beautiful town of Jefferson, with its historic charm, railroad history, and proximity to Caddo Lake, is one of the coolest vacation spots in Texas.
The best things to do in Jefferson include antiquing in the historic downtown center, shopping at the famous Jefferson General Store, staying in one of the many bed and breakfasts that the town is famous for, and learning about Jefferson’s railroad history–touring Jay Gould’s opulent private rail car is a great place to start.
Check out our guide to the best things to do in Jefferson!
Texans know of Brenham as one of the best places to go in Texas for one very important reason: it’s where the original Blue Bell Creameries is located–and yes, you can visit (and buy ice cream at the rate of $1 per giant scoop).
Once you finish touring Blue Bell, though, there’s still plenty more to explore in Brenham, including a walkable downtown center complete with lots of beautiful murals, a nearby lavender farm to visit, the gorgeous Giddings Stone Mansion that is worth a tour, and even an antique carousel for kids to ride!
Check out our guide to the best things to do in Brenham!
Home to just a handful of official residents, the positively minuscule town of Luckenbach is the smallest of these vacation spots in Texas.
Despite its small size, Luckenbach is well-known as a country music hotspot, and is home to a popular dance hall and far more live shows than one would expect from a town of its size!
Charming Round Top is synonymous in Texas with its annual antiques fair, but it is one of the most best places to visit in Texas year-round.
In addition to the many, many antique stores around town (don’t miss McLaren’s, complete with London-style double-decker buses out front), a visit to Round Top should definitely include a slice of pie from Royer’s, strolls around Henkel Square Market and Rummel Square, and a quick visit to nearby St. Martin’s Catholic Church, the smallest (active) Catholic Church in the world!
For much of the first half of the 20th century, Terlingua was a booming mining town–but today, it is officially known as Terlingua Ghost Town.
After the Chisos Mining Company went bankrupt in 1942, this small settlement between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend State Park ended up abandoned–but the remains of the town have become a tourist attraction, which has sparked a small revival.
Today, you can eat dinner in the historic Starlight Theater and shop in one of the quirky galleries that have sprung up among the abandoned buildings and historic cemetery, making Terlingua one of the most unique places to visit in Texas.
Located right on Lake Granbury, the quaint town of Granbury has been named the best historic small town in the country by USA Today, and a quick stroll through its historic center makes it clear why!
Granbury is beautiful, charming, and packed with a wide variety of things to do for a town so small, from getting out on the lake to touring the Hood County Jail Museum.
Check out our guide to the best things to do in Granbury!
South Padre Island
One of the most beloved beach towns in Texas, South Padre Island is the only tropical island in the Lone Star State and a fantastic place to visit.
Relax on the long beaches, try to spot wild dolphins, enjoy the sunset from the pier, ride horses on the beach, and learn about rescued sea turtles while visiting South Padre!
Check out our guide to the best things to do in South Padre!
Texas National + State Parks to Explore
Big Bend National Park
Home to some of the most stunning views in Texas, Big Bend National Park is a fantastic place to hike and explore–don’t miss the beautiful Santa Elena Canyon or the Lost Mine Trail while you’re there!
Visiting Big Bend National Park is a commitment–no matter where you’re coming from, it’ll be a long drive to get there, and cell phone service is spotty at best–but in exchange, you’ll be treated to some of the best hiking and most magnificent viewpoints in Texas (not to mention some of the most incredible night skies).
Big Bend Ranch State Park
Wild and remote, Big Bend Ranch State Park is located right next door to the national park and is every bit as beautiful.
The Camino del Rio (FM 170) drive hugs the Rio Grande as it flows through the desert, and is considered one of the most beautiful drives in the country!
Be sure to stop for a swim in the river, check out the hoodoos, and hike Closed Canyon, one of the only easily accessible slot canyons in Texas and an unforgettable experience.
Colorado Bend State Park
For a park so lush that you’ll almost forget you’re in Texas, head to Colorado Bend State Park, home to great hiking, beautiful waterfalls (including incredible 70-foot Gorman Falls), and great swimming holes.
Want a little more adventure? Consider signing up for a wild cave tour!
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
Twentieth-century US History and the Texas Hill Country combine to make the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park one of the most unique places to visit in Texas.
Comprised of several different sites, including Johnson’s childhood home and one-room schoolhouse as well as the Texas White House he worked from as president and even a presidential jet nicknamed Air Force One and a Half, history buffs and lovers of Texas ranches alike will enjoy this park.
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
Made of pink granite, this bald dome stands 425 feet tall and has been fascinating humans for thousands of years.
Climbing to the top takes less than an hour (albeit a very strenuous, sweaty hour) and delivers you to a beloved and memorable view of the Texas Hill Country!
There are also several other interesting hikes at Enchanted Rock worth enjoying after your ascent.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
The second-largest canyon in the USA is located just outside of Amarillo, and it’s one of the coolest vacation spots in Texas!
While you’re there, be sure to soak in the excellent views from the top of the canyon, drive the park loop road, and hike a couple of trails. Most importantly, be sure to hike to the Lighthouse formation! It’s the most famous formation in the park for good reason.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Set just south of the New Mexico border in West Texas sits the beautiful Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Home to the four highest peaks in Texas, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a hiker’s dream.
If you feel like extending your trip, you can also easily hop north to reach Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico as part of your trip!
Caddo Lake State Park
While Texas may be classically characterized as a place of desert landscapes and cowboys, at Caddo Lake State Park, you’ll find a very different side of the Lone Star State–one dotted with giant cypress trees that drip Spanish moss and leisurely canoe rides.
This isn’t a lake for swimming–the alligators who live in the lake are best avoided–but it is utterly beautiful, and one of the many fantastic places to vacation in Texas.
Lost Maples State Natural Area
Lost Maples State Park makes for a beautiful Texas travel destination year-round, but never more so than during the fall when the park becomes one of the best places to enjoy fall foliage in Texas!
The foliage is typically best from late October through mid-November and lasts 3-4 weeks, but the season does vary by year, so if you have your heart set on catching the foliage at its best, be sure to check its status before heading out.
Padre Island National Seashore
The Padre Island National Seashore encompasses the longest stretch of an undeveloped barrier island in the world, which separates the Gulf of Mexico and Laguna Madre.
It also happens to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Texas and a favorite Texas vacation destination for generations!
Garner State Park
Encompassing more than 1700 acres of beautiful Hill Country, nearly 3 miles of the stunning Frio River, and roughly 16 miles worth of trails, Garner State Park is absolutely one of the most beautiful Texas vacation spots!
Whether you’d like to hike, camp, float the river, or simply enjoy a picnic and a swim, Garner State Park’s unforgettable beauty will be on full display.
More of the Best Places to Visit in Texas
Beyond the Lone Star State’s cities, towns, and parks, there are several other places that are, in their own right, among the best places to visit in Texas. Here are a few of them!
The legendary Hamilton Pool in Dripping Springs is one of the most famous swimming spots in Texas–and despite the fact that you’ll probably need to wait weeks for a reservation, it’s absolutely worth the effort it takes to get there.
Indisputably the most famous stop on Texas’ portion of Route 66, there’s nothing quite like seeing 10 heavily spray-painted Cadillacs buried in the desert!
From roughly late-March to mid-April each year, the Texas countryside positively explodes into color, with fields of bluebonnets and other assorted wildflowers stretching as far as the eye can see.
Without a doubt, these fields are among the most stunning travel destinations in Texas.
Some of the best places to see the flowers include Ennis, Willow City Loop, and Burnet, but you can find the flowers all over the state.
Check out our complete guide to Texas bluebonnets!
Caverns of Sonora
Widely considered one of the most beautiful caves in Texas and even in the world, the founder of the National Speleological Association, Bill Stephenson, once said this about the Caverns of Sonora: “This is the most indescribably beautiful cave in the world, its beauty cannot be exaggerated, not even by a Texan.”
With a sales pitch like that, it’s not hard to see why the Caverns of Sonora are considered one of the most beautiful places in Texas to visit–even if they are located a few hours from any of Texas’ larger cities.
Pit Barbecue Joint
Whether it’s The Salt Lick in Driftwood, one of the rightfully famous joints in Lockhart, Opie’s in Spicewood, Truth Barbecue in Brenham, the legendary Franklin’s in Austin, or one of the many, many other incredible pit barbecue joints in Texas, sidling up to the counter to order meat by the pound and sides by the pint is a must-have Texas travel experience–and until you’ve visited a pit barbecue joint, you can’t consider a trip to Texas complete.
Each summer, Bracken Cave hosts 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats–making Bracken Cave home to the largest bat colony in the world and indisputably one of the best places to see bats in Texas.
If you’re visiting at the right time of year, you’ll never forget visiting to watch the bats fly out from the cave near sunset (advance reservations are required).