The second largest state in the US, Texas – aka the “Lone Star State” – features a wealth of natural assets and cultural attractions. Geographically, its south central location offers a diversity of landscapes, from desert regions and cave systems to mountains, canyons, and the splendid coastal scenery along the Gulf of Mexico. Its world-class cities are also a big draw and are packed with tourist attractions. Highlights include San Antonio’s superb River Walk (not to mention the famous Alamo); the galleries and museums of Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston; the State Capitol in Austin; and the Space Center in Houston. Texas is also one of the most multicultural states, and Spanish influences in particular are still evident thanks to its status as a former colony of Spain.
1 The Alamo
On the eastern outskirts of San Antonio, the Alamo is one of the most important historic sites in America. Part of a mission station established in 1718, the Alamo was built by Franciscans in 1744 and by 1836, had been converted into a fort. It became famous during the Texan War of Independence after a small force barricaded themselves in against an overwhelmingly superior Mexican army some 3,000 strong. While the defeat saw all 187 defenders killed – including such famous names as Davy Crockett – the cry of “Remember the Alamo!” rallied the state to eventually overcome the Mexicans. Today, more than two-and-a-half million people visit this landmark annually to see its restored mission buildings and the cenotaph commemorating the fallen Texans.
2 President Kennedy and the Sixth Floor Museum, Dallas
It was from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas that the fatal shot that took President John F. Kennedy’s life was fired. Now home to the Sixth Floor Museum, this tall red brick building offers a detailed account of the assassination, as well as Kennedy’s legacy. Highlights include accounts of his presidential campaign and term as president, all supported by historic footage, photos, and artifacts. Also worth a visit is the nearby John Fitzgerald Kennedy Memorial, a huge monument dedicated to President Kennedy unveiled in 1970.
3 Space Center Houston
Just 30 minutes’ drive from the heart of Houston, the Space Center is not only one of the state’s most popular tourist attractions, it’s home to NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center and Mission Control, the monitoring center for the agency’s manned space flights. It’s a fascinating insight into the operations of the world’s largest space program, with many exhibits, film shows, models, astronaut-related artifacts, and samples of moon rock on display in the Visitor Center. Other highlights include objects collected during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space programs, as well as a chance to dress up as an astronaut, experience a space simulator, and see real rockets.
4 Big Bend National Park
One of the most popular wilderness areas in Texas, Big Bend National Park is in the southwestern part of the state on the frontier with Mexico around the great bend in the Rio Grande from which it takes its name. Lying at altitudes of between 1,870 feet and 7,875 feet, it’s made up of three different zones: the valley of the Rio Grande, the desolate landscape of the Chihuahuan Desert, and the Chisos Mountains. It’s thanks to this diversity that the park is home to more than 400 species of birds, including golden eagles and roadrunners, along with more than 1,100 species of plants. The park boasts 240 miles of hiking trails, ranging from the five-mile-long Lost Mine Trail with its beautiful views to the 17-mile-long Window Trail through the Chisos Mountains (longer hikes are available, but should be done with an experienced guide). The other great attractions are the three canyons on the Rio Grande – the Mariscal, Boquillas, and Santa Elena Canyons – with their rock faces rising up to 1,650 feet above the river; and the Chisos Mountains with the 7,835-foot-tall Emory Peak and its wild gorges, precipitous rock faces, and gentle valleys. Hot Tip: A great way to experience the park is by boat, and a variety of river trips can be booked through the Panther Junction Park Headquarters.
5 San Antonio’s Spectacular River Walk
Stretching for several miles along the San Antonio River, the excellent River Walk cuts right through the heart of San Antonio, passing the city’s best shopping areas, restaurants, hotels, and attractions. Built below street level, this long pedestrian walkway hugs the river as it winds and weaves through the city, and is as popular among locals as it is for tourists, day and night. One of the best ways to tackle the attraction is to take a river cruise upstream, and walk back to your starting point, stopping for a bite to eat or a museum visit along the way. Hot Tip: Plan your visit to coincide with one of the area’s many festivals or popular arts and craft shows.