The second largest state in the US, Texas is brimming with countless possibilities for fun and adventure. Geographically and culturally diverse, the state offers a wealth of unique attractions and things to do. From the cities to the coastal beaches, mountains, and desert, vacation possibilities in Texas are extensive.
Metropolitan centers, like Houston, Austin, and Dallas, are an interesting contrast to the West Texas cities, like Amarillo or Lubbock, but each has its own character and reason for visiting. San Antonio, famous for the Alamo and the River Walk, and the nearby Hill Country, should also be on travelers’ itineraries.
For nature lovers, some of the best places to visit are the parks, like Big Bend National Park, set along a bend in the Rio Grande in West Texas, and Padre Island National Sea Shore, along the Gulf of Mexico.
For more ideas on where to go and what to see, have a read through our list of top tourist attractions in Texas.
1. San Antonio’s River Walk
Stretching for several miles along the San Antonio River in the heart of the city, the River Walk is lined with restaurants and lovely outdoor patios, where you can sit and dine alongside the river. Built below street level, this 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.
Although strolling along the river is the most popular thing to do here, another great way to enjoy the ambience of the area is on a leisurely cruise on a river boat. These run all the time and range from standard sightseeing trips to dinner cruises.
2. The Alamo
The Alamo is one of the most important historic sites in America. Part of a mission station established in 1718, it was built by Franciscans in 1744 and by 1836, had been converted into a fort. It became famous during the Texas Revolution, when a small force, including Davie Crockett and James Bowie, barricaded themselves in against an overwhelmingly superior Mexican army some 3,000 strong. While the defeat saw all 187 defenders killed, the cry of “Remember the Alamo!” rallied the state to eventually overcome the Mexicans.
Today, you can visit this landmark to see its restored buildings and the cenotaph commemorating the fallen Texans. Inside is a museum with changing displays, featuring weapons and artifacts related to the events and the history of the mission.
If you have time, it’s worth visiting some of the other missions in the area, which are all part of the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, and connected by the Mission Trail.
3. Space Center Houston
Just 30 minutes’ drive from the heart of Houston, Space Center Houston is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Texas. This is a wonderful place to learn about space exploration, upcoming missions, NASA’s latest projects, and possibly even meet an astronaut. Space Center Houston is also home to Johnson Space Center and Mission Control, which can be visited on a tour.
Plan to spend at least a half-day exploring the entire complex, which includes a space shuttle replica mounted on a shuttle carrier. Visitors can walk inside the shuttle and the carrier. You can also walk inside a replica of America’s first space station, Skylab. Other highlights include seeing rockets and touching a rock from the moon and Mars.
The center provides a fascinating insight into the operations of the world’s largest space program, with countless exhibits, as well as films, models, astronaut-related artifacts, and displays on the experiments and development at NASA.
4. Big Bend National Park
In the Chihuahua Desert of West Texas, on a huge bend in the Rio Grande River, lies some of the most dramatic and uniquely beautiful scenery in the state. Mountains, canyons, and the river flowing along the border, separating the United States from Mexico, offer a diverse range of recreational and sightseeing opportunities for visitors to Big Bend National Park.
While most people simply enjoy touring along the roads, the park offers a full range of things to do. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the extensive network of hiking trails and the beautiful campgrounds. Paddling along the Rio Grande or enjoying a picnic and wading into the water are other popular activities on warm days.
With more than 400 species of birds, bird watching is another prominent pastime in the park, but even if you are not looking for them, you are likely to see roadrunners darting across the roads or trails.
5. Padre Island National Seashore
The world’s longest undeveloped barrier island, Padre Island is just a short drive south of Corpus Christi and stretches 70 miles from end-to-end. One of the most important conservation areas in Texas, Padre Island consists of more than 130,000 acres of beach, dunes, and grassland habitats and is home to rare sea turtles and countless migratory birds, making it a birder’s paradise (350 different species visit this stopover on the Central Flyway migratory route).
The Mala quite Visitor Center is the best place to begin your visit of this beautiful coastal region of the Gulf of Mexico. It provides plenty of information, as well as assistance for those with mobility issues, including specially adapted beach wheelchairs.
6. The Texas State Capitol in Austin
The Texas State Capitol, built in 1888, is considered one of the finest state legislatures in the US. In Austin’s downtown core and now a National Historic Landmark, it certainly impresses with its dimensions, standing 308 feet tall.
Highlights of its 22-acre park include monuments to the defenders of the Alamo and to veterans of the Vietnam War. Guided tours of the building’s interior are available and start from the visitor center with its many displays. At dusk, head across to the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge for a chance to witness the spectacle of a million or so Mexican free-tailed bats coming and going from their perches under the bridge.
7. 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 F. Kennedy Memorial, a huge monument dedicated to President Kennedy unveiled in 1970.
8. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
In the northwestern corner of the state, approximately 100 miles east of El Pasco, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is home to the four highest peaks in Texas. It’s also known for an abundance of wildlife, including golden eagles.
The landscape itself is stunning, especially around the towering El Captain, as well as the Guadalupe Peak, the highest elevation in Texas. It’s also tremendously popular with hikers thanks to its more than 80 miles of trails through spectacular woodland canyons and lush springs. Be sure to stop in at the visitor center in Pine Springs for information on the park, including details of hiking and biking trails
9. The Fort Worth Stockyards
The Stockyards National Historic District remains Fort Worth’s biggest draw. Founded in 1866, the area took its name from the cattle industry, as it was here that millions of cattle were rested, sorted, or shipped out to other points across the state.
The last surviving facility of its kind in the US, these historic stockyards have been transformed into a splendid attraction consisting of all sorts of fun things to see, including rodeos, concerts, theatrical performances, and western-themed shopping. Highlights include cattle driving demonstrations and a chance to saddle up for some trail riding.
Be sure to check out the Stockyards Visitor Center and the Stockyards Museum, both of which provide information regarding current events as well as the history of this fun area of Fort Worth.
10. Galveston’s Beaches & Strand Historic District
Like numerous spots along the Texas Gulf Coast, Galveston is home to beautiful beaches that stretch on for miles. The shallow and often calm water makes this a popular area for families and beachgoers. In summer, set up your beach umbrella along the Seawall or enjoy some fun and games at the Pleasure Pier.
But this is more than just a beach town, with plenty to do here all year long. Explore the Strand Historic District in downtown, a National Historic Landmark District, and wander past the ornate Victorian-style mansions that line the quiet streets. If you are traveling with kids, be sure to stop by Moody Gardens and Aquarium. This huge complex, with its landmark glass pyramids, is home to an aquarium, a rain forest, and an amusement park.
Galveston is less than an hour’s drive from Houston and only about 45 minutes from Space Center Houston.
11. The USS Lexington, Corpus Christi
The USS Lexington, Corpus Christi
Moored off the shore just a few minutes’ stroll from the center of Corpus Christi, the mighty USS Lexington is one of the largest surviving vessels to have served in WWII. This important aircraft carrier was launched in 1943 and now serves as a naval museum.
On display are a large collection of vintage aircraft, and visitors can see the bridge and crew quarters. Also fun are the simulators and games, as well as a 3D movie that puts you in the pilot’s seat. You can also opt for the four-hour Hard Hat Tour, which takes you into the very heart of the ship.
12. Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo
Cadillac Ranch is one of West Texas’ most iconic sites. Standing in a line, nose first into the ground, it might seem like an odd attraction. But visitors come here in large numbers, not only to see and photograph this colorful spectacle, they also come here to leave their mark, at least for a short while.
The artwork on the vehicles is an ever-changing canvas, with almost everyone adding their own creative mark to the Cadillac. You are welcome to spray paint your own design. The layers of paint on these cars is hard to determine, but outside the gate, vendors sell paint chips from the cars, in jewelry settings. While you may hear you should bring a spray can, there is no need. You can find spray cans of all colors left here on the ground from the thousands of others who have come before.
13. Natural Bridge Caverns
Just a short drive from San Antonio, the spectacular Natural Bridge Caverns are part of a vast underground network consisting of more than 10,000 different stalactite formations. The largest such cave network in the US accessible to the public, Natural Bridge Caverns includes highlights such as the 40-foot-high King’s Throne, a massive wall of stalactites found in one of the largest caverns, the Castle of the White Giants.
Taking its name from the huge 60-foot limestone bridge spanning its entrance, Natural Bridge Caverns also offers a number of other fun activities, including themed tours. Up top are other attractions, including a treetop climbing adventure across a sprawling network of rope ways, platforms, and zip lines.
14. Houston’s Museum District
In the heart of downtown Houston is the city’s lovely Museum District, home to 19 museums, some of which are free. Many of the museums in this area are within walking distance of each other.
Two of the key highlights here are the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Houston Museum of Natural Science, but the district houses a mix of quality museums, including a Holocaust museum, children’s museum, and some smaller art museums, which are well worth your time.
15. Greene Historic District, New Brussels
Just a short drive from San Antonio is the small town of New Brussels, known for its charming Greene Historic District. One of the main attractions is the historic Greene Hall, the oldest dance hall in Texas, operating continuously since 1878. Performances run nightly, and some of the biggest names in country music perform here, in this small venue. Children are allowed, and kids under 10 receive a discount on admission at the door.
The Grist Mill Restaurant, on the edge of the Guadalupe River makes a nice destination for day trippers who want to come for lunch. In the spring, the water is packed with people tubing down the river. And don’t miss stopping by the General Store, where time seems to have stopped several decades ago.