Things to do in Texas
The bright red drum-shaped Margot & Bill Winspear opera house and the steely, space age Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre call out Dallas’ shiny new AT&T Performing Arts Center, a $354-million complex that opened to much fanfare in 2009. Located in the heart of the city’s arts district, the multi-venue center hosts performers like Al Pacino, Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, and the Dallas Opera.
Austin Market District
The area at Sixth and Lamar includes BookPeople (the city’s only independent bookstore), Whole Foods’ headquarters and flagship store, Amy’s Ice Cream, and fashion boutique By George.
Barton Springs Pool
Located in Zilker Park, the city’s undisputed gem is fed by underground springs. The year-round 68-degree waters are popular with top triathletes and families alike.
The 1920s mansion of Houston philanthropist Ima Hogg now houses the early American (1620s-1870) decorative arts and painting collection from the Museum of Fine Arts. No admittance for children under 10.
This Victorian castle, named one of the U.S.’s 100 most important buildings, is known for its 1888 architecture and opulent colored stone, rare woods, and intricate carvings.
Catch a Game at Cowboys Stadium
With the world’s largest HDTV video screen (complete with 30 million bulbs), seating for up to 100,000 people, and the largest retractable end zone doors in the world, Jerry Jones’ glittering temple to football is a certifiable stunner. Ticket prices and availability can waffle from year to year; although scalpers are plentiful, a safer last-minute option is the standing-room-only tickets in the upper decks, known as “Party Passes,” that sell for a wallet-friendly $29.
Catch a show
Houston ranks second (behind New York) for the number of theater seats in a downtown area and is one of five U.S. cities with permanent professional companies in major performing arts disciplines (opera, ballet, music, and theater).
Congress Avenue bats
Austin hosts North America’s largest Mexican free-tailed bat colony. More than a million of them swoop out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge just after sunset from March until November.
Crow Collection of Asian Art
Browse at least 569 ancient and contemporary pieces from China, Japan, India, and Southeastern Asia at this small museum that Trammell and Margaret Crow opened in the heart of the Dallas Arts District in 1998. Admission to the center is free, and complimentary guided tours are offered twice weekly, on Thursdays at 6:30pm and Saturdays at 1pm.
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
Beautiful gardens play host to year-round events and seasonal concerts; the immaculate grounds make a splendid backdrop for afternoon tea.
Dallas Museum of Art
The Dallas Museum of Art anchors the city’s arts district, the country’s largest contiguous urban neighborhood of its kind. Don’t miss the Wendy and Emery Reves exhibit, part of which recreates the Mediterranean villa where Coco Chanel once lived, with many of the iconic fashion designer’s original furniture and décor on display. Then break with a glass of wine or a light lunch at the Atrium Café, situated by the main entrance beneath the airy, open Harmon Atrium.
Dallas World Aquarium
Home to thousands of species of marine life and a walk-through tunnel, this isn’t just an aquarium. Exhibits also include “Mundo Maya,” taking guests from the ocean to the rainforest.
Edward Steves Homestead
South of downtown, where the river passes through the historic King William neighborhood (home to over-the-top Victorian mansions built by the city’s leading merchants in the late 19th century), the Edward Steves Homestead is one of the few area homes open to the public and suitable for indulging in some real estate voyeurism, circa 1876.
A stripped-down charm pervades El Mercado, a sprawling Mexican market near downtown where stall after stall is piled with serapes, turquoise jewelry, and guayaberas. Outside and indoors, mariachi and Tejano bands play at all hours.
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area
About midway between Llano and Fredericksburg, the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, dominated by a large pink granite dome, offers a 360-degree view of the countryside from the summit – a steep, 425-foot hike. Though considered haunted by the Tonkawa tribe, we’ve found this place to be a downright serene nature stop.
A center of entertainment and culture, and site of the gargantuan State Fair of Texas, Fair Park offers everything from sporting events and concerts to crafts and museums.
Flagship Neiman Marcus
Less glossy than its shopping mall counterparts, Neiman Marcus nonetheless maintains its flagship perch, opened in 1914, on Main Street (the very first store, which opened seven years earlier, burned down in a fire in 1913). Although the neighborhood’s glamour has faded since its turn-of-the-20th-century heyday, the downtown location is still worth a visit for nostalgia’s sake – as well as for the sixth-floor bar and restaurant, The Zodiac, which draws a lively post-work crowd.
HemisFair Urban Park
A kid-designed wood and sand playground is one of the attractions at ground level. The 1968 Tower of the Americas, at 750 feet, gives more perspective on the city.
Highland Park Village
Dallas’s reputation as a retail therapy mecca stems at least partially from Highland Park Village, an outdoor mall that was the country’s first planned, organized shopping center when it was built in 1931. The complex – now designated a National Historic Landmark – consists of Spanish Mission-style buildings housing high-end storefronts like Carolina Herrera, Escada, and Chanel.
Nolan Ryan’s former team still has plenty of intrigue – catch a game with inexpensive outfield seats: $7 for adults and just $1 for kids ages 3 to 14.
Long known for sports, the town’s newest athletic contender is major league soccer team, Houston Dynamos (the former San Jose Earthquakes relocated to Houston in 2005). See them play at Robertson Stadium.
The star power of Tony Parker and 7-foot, 6-inch Yao Ming makes basketball a worthy splurge.
Experience NFL football at a Houston Texans game. The team, added in 2002, is relatively new to the league.
Located in the 500-acre Hermann Park, Houston’s zoo is one of the best. Get close to 4,500 animals, including lions, tigers, and grizzly bears. Also here: the Houston Museum of Natural Science (713-639-4629; www.hmns.org).
This historic, south bank arts village is a delightful cluster of restaurants, galleries, and shops. German and French settlers’ influences remain evident here on the site of Santa Ana’s cannon line.
Just a few miles from Fredericksburg (but on a different cultural bandwidth), Luckenbach was popularized in the seventies by Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker. The tiny compound is comprised of a dance hall, a bar, and a general store packed with corny Luckenbach souvenirs. Despite the bald commercialism, there’s something transporting about sitting around a campfire under the stars with a cold Lone Star beer, while someone strums away on a guitar.
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park
One of the biggest draws in the Hill Country region is dedicated to a statesman who still casts a sizeable shadow in these parts. The rolling property flanks the Pedernales River and contains a still-working ranch (president-rancher Lyndon B. Johnson owned a prizewinning herd of Herefords). The most compelling part of the ranch is the Texas White House – the former president’s private home that buzzed with Texas and national politics for more than 20 years – open to the public since 2008.
The Marfa Lights have baffled scientists since the first recorded sighting in 1883. Visible only on clear nights, the weird yellowish-green orbs float, bounce around, and vanish then reappear over the Mitchell Flats, just outside of Marfa, Texas. Explanations range from the mundane (mirages, car taillights) to the otherworldly (alien spacecrafts, displaced souls), so it’s only natural that visitors flock here year round to spot the mystifying glows from the viewing center, about 10 miles east of Marfa.
Whether you need to stock up on Stetsons, steer skulls, or get your fill of folk art, Market Square will have you Texed and Mexed up in no time.
Houston’s art offerings are world-class and no collection demonstrates that more than this one, with its 15,000 paintings, drawings, sculptures, and rare books.
Mexican American Cultural Center
After 30 years of planning and acquiring, this 126,000 square-foot tribute to Latino and Native American traditions opened in fall 2007, offering exhibits, performances and classes in the arts.
Visit this distinctive shopping experience with plans to stay all day; an avant-garde cinema, modern boutiques, and innovative dining make it a must-see.
NASA's Johnson Space Center
Visiting NASA headquarters is a must. See astronauts in training and on the “NASA Tram Tour.” Little ones love walking on the moon at the “Kids Space Place.”
Nasher Sculpture Center
Raymond D. and Patsy Nasher, two of Dallas’ chief patrons of the arts, commissioned this Renzo Piano-designed center in 1997 from their personal collection, which includes works from Joan Miró, Roy Lichtenstein, and Alexander Calder. Although the inside collection is worth exploring, the highlight of the space is the tranquil, outdoor garden, where three fountains, an outdoor café, and cedar elm trees beckon contemplation.
National Museum of the Pacific War
This 6-acre museum (with three exhibit areas and outdoor grounds) is the only museum in the country exclusively dedicated to the 8 million troops who fought in the Pacific and Asia during World War II. The George H.W. Bush Gallery, which opened in December 2009 following a $15.75 million expansion, holds both moving and frightening Pacific Theater relics, including the first Japanese submarine to strike Pearl Harbor and the casing of an unused atomic bomb originally scheduled to drop after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks. Note that the admission tickets are valid for 48 hours, so there’s no need to tackle all the exhibits in one afternoon.
North Park Center
Fashion addicts who collect clothes and shoes like artwork should hoof it in their heels to North Park Center, a 2.4-million-square-foot mall that displays museum-quality art installations alongside its Louboutins. Founded by Raymond D. Nasher – who also founded the Nasher Sculpture Center – the collection has rotating works by acclaimed artists like Andy Warhol, Joel Shapiro, and Jonathan Borofsky. Thoughtful mall amenities such as free coat checks and stroller rentals bolster the art-gazing and shopping experience.
Just as New York has its High Line Park on a retired elevated rail, San Antonio has Pearl Brewery, an artifact of the past that points to the future. A bold urban reclamation project at the end of a newer stretch of San Antonio’s River Walk (which opened in May 2009, just 2 miles north of downtown), Pearl Brewery – a still-expanding development on the site of a 19th-century beer brewery – is the brainchild of Kit Goldsbury, a reclusive philanthropist and former owner of the Pace Picante sauce business. Part New York City’s High Line, part Seattle’s Pike Place Market, Pearl Brewery houses an outpost of the Culinary Institute of America devoted to Latin cookery, Il Sogno (San Antonio hero chef Andrew Weissman’s latest offering focused on northern Italian cuisine), and the popular Pearl Farmers Market, stocked full of local delicacies like peach and habañero jam. He’s bringing the osteria spirit to Texas, with deft preparations of classics served in a snazzy industrial space. 2010 Smart Luxury Award winner
Port of Galveston/Galveston Wharves
What began as a trading post in 1825 is now an 850-acre port than ranks among the top terminals for cruise ships headed to the Caribbean. Sailing is seasonal, however, so check for up-too-date schedules at the Port of Galveston website.
Rio San Antonio Riverboat Cruise
Drift under bridges, past crowds thronging Riverwalk restaurants, bars, and hotels, and potentially become an unexpected prop, should you happen to float past the La Villita amphitheater during a play.
At the heart of the River Walk is the canal-like San Antonio River. Flanked by lush landscaping and pedestrian paths (and traversed by diminutive footbridges), the river winds through the downtown tourist hub below street level. The route is packed with theme restaurants, bars, and hotels – and though it’s more than a little crowded, and expansion is ongoing, most visitors can’t help but be charmed by Texas’s answer to Venice.
San Jacinto Monument & Battleship Texas
Don cowboy hats and pay homage to the brave Texans who fought at the 18-minute Battle of San Jacinto by touring the battleship memorial museum at this historic site.
This year-round waterpark is a family favorite. Kids love Treasure Island rides while adults get a kick out of adrenaline-pumpers like Cliffhanger, an 81-foot freefall.
Six Flags Fiesta Texas
A rambunctious blast of 50s America, the Old West and a retro boardwalk, Six Flag’s Texan theme park provides thrills for the whole family.
From fun to funky, expensive to cheap, there’s something for everyone on South Congress. Buy boots at Allen’s, black and white, pre-1967 vintage clothing at Blackmail and Latin American art at Mi Casa.
Where else but South Austin can you find Resistencia, a neighborhood anarchist bookstore? Shop for vintage garb at Bella Blue; trendy styles at Tryst and Kick Pleat; and local art at The Stash.
Gorgeous 18-hole golf course located ten minutes outside Dallas. Great for a casual game with friends, this professional course also offers lessons.
Texas Aviation Hall of Fame
What began as a private collection is now a public museum of World War II warbirds and military planes. Aviation fans can even take to the skies in a B-25 Mitchell bomber.
Texas Seaport Museum
Explore the ship Elissa, built in Scotland in 1877. At the museum next door, learn about the state’s oceangoing economy (especially the shrimping industry).
Texas State Capitol
Of course it’s taller than the U.S. Capitol building – this is Texas, after all. Overlooking Congress Avenue, this stunning example of 19th -century architecture has a “Sunset Red” pink granite exterior and incredible rotunda detailing.
Unlike the River Walk, The Alamo – the one site no visitor to Texas forgets to visit – is perhaps best seen at night. The site of a 13-day siege in 1836 that pitted Mexican troops against Texans seeking independence, the fort now exhibits military paraphernalia. After dark, the onetime Franciscan mission exudes a special magic when spotlights make it radiant and a little ghostly.
The Blanton Museum of Art
New in 2006, the Blanton houses 17,000 works of art, including modern, Latin American, Renaissance and Baroque pieces, 20th-Century American artworks, and 15th-century prints.
The Colonel Paddlewheeler
Spot birds and dolphins and enjoy a narrated tour of the city’s history as you boat through Offats Bayou, an inlet off the bay.
The Drag, Guadalupe
Follow the University of Texas students to this square mile of funky chains (Urban Outfitters), resale/vintage shops (Buffalo Exchange), and a toy store cooler than FAO Schwartz (Toy Joy).
Galleria's ultra-modern architecture and high-end stores were ahead of their time when this shopping mall opened in 1970, and it's still going strong with 375+ restaurants and shops (Gucci, Nordstrom), an ice rink, and two hotels.
The Majestic Theatre
Book seats for a Broadway show or catch the San Antonio Symphony at the atmospheric, vintage vaudeville movie palace, a State and National Historic Landmark.
The Sixth Floor Museum
Located in the building where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shot that killed President John Kennedy; this engaging museum contains historical artifacts related to the assassination.
Tour Cowboys Stadium
Cowboys Stadium is one of the few sports arenas where the sheer scale of its art collection makes a nongame-day tour worthwhile. In addition to the stadium’s massive HD screen, visitors can peruse the 21 pieces of site-specific art splashed above concession stands and swooping over entranceways, including an installation by Olafur Eliasson, famed for his 2008 New York City Waterfalls installation.
Proximity to Dallas’ Uptown, Downtown, Arts District, and Turtle Creek neighborhoods distinguish this $3-billion entertainment development of restaurants, shops, and lounges. Although some residences line the small neighborhood, the complex best serves as a dining destination when performers take the stage at the nearby American Airlines center.
White Rock Lake Park
This popular recreation area is also the largest park in Dallas. Lots of hiking and biking as well as fishing piers and picnic areas make this a safe-bet for families.
Whole Foods Market Flagship Store
The flagship of the Whole Foods empire, founded in Austin in 1980, is now an 80,000 square foot mega-store and culinary center with tasting events, cooking classes, and live music on an outdoor plaza. Check the store calendar online for specific events, though the market itself is worth exploring for its sheer size and overabundance of items. For under $100 the staff at the culinary center can remedy any gastronomic deficiency with classes like Cutting Edge Knife Skills and Sushi 101.
Zilker Park, Lady Bird Lake
Austinites love this 351-acre park centered around Lady Bird Lake for its walking trails, sports fields, city views, spring kite festival, fall music festival and December Christmas tree.
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