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No. 37Every Texan should experience the primordial mystery of Caddo Lake State Park. With its ghostly, century-old cypress trees draped with gray-green Spanish moss, cozy cabins built in the 1930s, and a history that encompasses pearl hunting and steamboating, a Caddo getaway works efficiently to re-set your perspective. Stay at the park, or find lodging and dining in the nearby towns of Uncertain, Marshall, and Jefferson.

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The same natural beauty and fertility that first attracted Native Americans and some of Texas’ earliest settlers to the pine forests on the Colorado River still make Bastrop a welcoming escape today. Bastrop capitalizes on its rich heritage with historic neighborhoods and a downtown full of restored buildings that house charming shops and cafés.

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Those who take time to explore the “Hub City” will find a notable wine scene, thanks to the High Plains’ bounty of vineyards, an influential music scene, and a fascinating selection of museums. Few cities honor their heritage as enjoyably as Lubbock, home to museums focused on Buddy Holly, windmills, agriculture, and—a favorite top destination nominee for a number of TH readers—the National Ranching Heritage Center.

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The Texas Highways Magazine Readers' Choice Top 40 Travel Destinations

Last fall, we asked Texas Highways readers to share their favorite places in the state for our Texas Top-40 Travel Destinations. And share you did—by phone, email, Facebook, and through many amazingly detailed letters. Thousands of TH readers helped to shape the final list, which we will divulge throughout 2014, Texas Highways’ 40th-anniversary year

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A longtime hub for innovation in energy and medicine, Houston has come into its own as a vacation destination in recent years.

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Marble Falls’ picturesque setting along its namesake lake proves enticing enough, but travelers stick around this Hill Country town for the live music, classic cafés, art galleries, intriguing shops, and annual events that range from a soapbox derby to drag-boat races.

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Bald cypress  trees flourish on Caddo Lake, as seen near Big Pines Lodge. (Photos by J. Griffis Smith)

My boyfriend seems unusually skittish as he peers into the utter blackness beyond our cabin door at Caddo Lake State Park. I’ve prepared two hot cups of ginger tea for us to sip on the porch in the crisp night air. But Marshall, willing only to open the door a crack, suggests that we enjoy our tea in the cozy confines of the cabin’s interior.

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Blue Hole in Wimberly. (Photo by Will van Overbeek)

Our bodies are mostly water. Our primordial ancestors lived in it. Science tells us that looking at it lowers stress. Without water, we can’t survive more than a week at best.

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The high temperature had just peaked at 103. A historic drought gripped the entire state. But conditions couldn’t have been more perfect as I followed four other kayakers tooling around Spring Lake in San Marcos one summer evening last year. Seventy-degree spring-fed water provided all the natural air-conditioning we could want. A full moon rising above the trees illuminated the setting. As daylight faded, we paddled around a hidden bend where the limbs of trees hugging the shoreline sagged with dozens of white egrets.

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Across the globe, when talk of music festivals come up, two Texas events always make the list - spring's South by Southwest and fall's Austin City Limits Music Festival, both in Austin – the Live Music Capital of the World. Austin's Fun, Fun, Fun Fest, in November, is also starting to rise to similar ranks.

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I recently made a quick trip to Houston to take care of some medical appointments, which got me thinking about the idea of “health travel,” or even the vague concept of “secondary travel.” For example, even if my main reason for visiting a city is to catch up with family, see a hotshot out-of-town specialist, or to attend a work conference or other event, I do try to squeeze in some recreation. In Houston, I try to visit a museum or gallery, a favorite shop, and a restaurant or bar I’ve been hearing about. This time, I joined up with two longtime Houston friends to check out El Real Tex-Mex Cafe, the new (yet old-school) Tex-Mex restaurant dreamed up by food writer/historian Robb Walsh and restaurateurs Bryan Caswell and Bill Floyd. I had heard raves about the cheese enchiladas with chili gravy—that classic Tex-Mex comfort-food concoction served with orange cheese, lard-laden (and I mean that in a good way) refried beans, and Spanish rice. Well-deserved raves! Tart margaritas and a salvaged décor from the shuttered El Fenix Restaurant completed the experience. I’ll look forward to future visits once I can fit into my jeans again.

When I visit the Bayou City, I often stay with friends, but this time, I tried an experiment. I had heard about travel websites like www.lastminutetravel.com and www.hotwire.com, which offer unsold hotel rooms at steeply discounted prices, and I decided to give lastminutetravel a try. Here’s how it works: You go to the site, pick your city and general area, plug in your dates, and the website finds available rooms. In my case, I found a “four-star hotel” in “downtown Houston” for $95. The site provides photos of the hotel, and a list of amenities, but you don’t learn the name of the hotel until you’ve booked the room. (This makes sense to me: While the hotels want to sell their unsold rooms, they don’t want to advertise that they’re willing to drastically undercut their rack rates. And be aware that after you reserve the room, you can’t cancel or change your reservation.) For my one-night stay, this worked beautifully: My hotel turned out to the Hyatt Regency, where rooms normally start around $180 per night. The hotel has a great rooftop pool, and its central location proved perfect for exploring on foot. When I returned to the office, I poked around these sites to see what other hotel deals I could find in Texas: I pretended to want to book a room four days out, and I turned up a “four-star” hotel in Galveston for $96 and a “three-star” hotel in downtown Fort Worth for $68.

Have you tried these sites for Texas travel? Care to share your experiences?

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There is no shortage of events in Texas. Our searchable database is proof that you'll find plenty to keep you busy. Here, Texas Highways editors offer a few recommendations. If you'd like, feel free to submit an event listing.

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