Texas is big, not just in size, but also in terms of things to see, do, and experience. The Lone Star State offers just about anything you might prefer, whether that’s exploring historic sites, strolling along the beach, heading into the wilderness in a state or national park, or getting up close and personal with some of the world’s most stunning wildlife.

    In this guide to the best things to do in Texas, we'll explore some of the state's most iconic destinations. You'll find quirky options showcasing the Old West, along with wildlife sanctuaries that are great for families. 

    1

    Big Bend National Park

    Explore the mountains, desert, and more in southwest Texas

    Big Bend National Park is located in southwest Texas and offers a chance to explore varied geography, from the Chisos Mountains to the Chihuahua Desert. Like everything else in Texas, the park is big. It’s best to plan your excursion ahead of time so you can make the most of your time.

    Some of the most popular attractions in the park include the Sam Nail Ranch and the Homer Wilson Ranch, as well as the Castolon Historic District. Santa Elena Canyon offers a nice hike at 1.4 miles roundtrip, while the Lost Mine Trail is a longer trail that takes you into the mountains.

    Location: 1 Panther Junction, Big Bend National Park, TX 79834, USA

    Phone: +1 432-477-2251

    Map
    2

    Palo Duro Canyon State Park

    Take in stunning vistas and stone monuments

    Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest in the USA. It’s located within its own state park in the heart of the Texas Panhandle, offering stunning vistas and soaring natural monuments. Overnight camping is available throughout the state park (at designated sites, of course).

    You can explore the canyon in several ways, such as tackling trails through the hill by foot or on horseback. Biking is a popular option, too. You’ll find over 30 miles of mixed-use trails in the Palo Duro Canyon State Park. The TEXAS Outdoor Musical takes place from Tuesdays through Sundays at the onsite Pioneer Amphitheater.

    Location: 11450 State Hwy Park Rd 5, Canyon, TX 79015, USA

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 806-488-2227

    Map
    3

    Fort Worth Stockyards

    Cows, cowboys, and so much more

    Fort Worth is synonymous with cattle, and the Fort Worth Stockyards is an excellent place to get up close and personal with them. You’ll find a live cattle drive held twice per day. A must-do is exploring the historic district on original brick walkways and learn firsthand about livestock history in Texas.

    Of course, there’s more to enjoy here than just livestock. You’ll discover sedans and restaurants, as well as the Fort Worth Stockyards Adventure, where you can try your hand at being a real cowboy. There are also lots of shopping options, including Kokopelli Jewelry and The General Store & Trading Mail.

    Location: 2501 Rodeo Plaza, Fort Worth, TX 76164, USA

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 817-624-4741

    Map
    4

    Dallas World Aquarium

    Get to know sea life, birds, and animals from around the world

    The Dallas World Aquarium lets you get up close and personal with fish, birds, and mammals from all over the world. It’s home to exotic animals such as capuchin monkeys, manatees, otters, sloths, Caribbean fish and penguins.

    Take in Mundo Maya (the Mayan World), Orinoco, South Africa, and Borneo, as well as the aquarium. Along with conventional exhibits, the aquarium holds daily live feeding events. If you're feeling hungry, there are 3 restaurants within the Dallas World Aquarium.

    Location: 1801 N Griffin St, Dallas, TX 75202, USA

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 214-720-2224

    Map

    photo by Michael Barera (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    5

    San Antonio Zoo

    Home to thousands of animals from various continents

    The San Antonio Zoo has over 3,500 different animals from across 750 different species. You’ll find many different exhibits on offer, as well as experiences such as the Beastly Breakfast, Giraffe Feeding, Flamingo Mingle for singles, Lory Landing, and several behind-the-scenes options that let you get a close-up view of these incredible animals.

    The zoo is home to some notable animals, including Asian elephants named Boo, Nicole, Karen, and Lucky. There are also several educational programs on offer, including a zoo camp and after-hours programs.

    Location: 3903 N St Mary's St, San Antonio, TX 78212, USA

    Open: Monday–Tuesday from 10 am to 2 pm, Thursday–Friday from 10 am to 4 pm, Saturday from 10 am to 8 pm, Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 210-734-7184

    Map
    6

    Padre Island National Seashore

    Experience pristine natural beauty on the Gulf

    The Padre Island National Seashore is on North Padre Island, offering a rare glimpse of the area’s natural, unspoiled beauty. There are many attractions, though strolling the beach and enjoying the water are the most common things to do here. North Beach, South Beach, and Malaquite Bathing Beach are all very popular.

    Big Shell Beach and Little Shell Beach are fun for little ones and shell collectors. If you have a boat, head down to Bird Island Basin’s boat ramp. Hiking and biking are also possible, thanks to miles of trails and camping neighborhoods within the Padre Island National Seashore.

    Location: 20301 Park Rd 22, Corpus Christi, TX 78418, USA

    Phone: +1 361-949-8068

    Map
    7

    Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier

    Games, rides, and fun on the Gulf of Mexico

    The Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier offers a world of fun and amusement set over the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Built in 2012, it’s home to a full-size rollercoaster, along with iconic rides like the Texas Star Flyer, Gulf Glider, and Galaxy Wheel.

    You can get your shopping on here, with destinations like Pelican's Bag, Lolli & Pop's. The Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier also has plenty of dining options, from fast food and sit-down venues to fast-casual restaurants.

    Location: 2501 Seawall Blvd, Galveston, TX 77550, USA

    Open: Monday–Thursday from 4 pm to 9.30 pm, Friday–Saturday from noon to 10 pm, Sunday from noon to 9 pm

    Phone: +1 855-789-7437

    Map
    8

    Guadalupe Mountains National Park

    Scale El Capitan, go birding, or bring your RV

    Guadalupe National Park offers a wide range of things to see and do for outdoor enthusiasts. You can hike 8,000 ft to the peak of El Capitan, but there are moderate and easy trails for beginners too. If you have more time, make sure to take the Smith Spring Trail, which is a 2.3-mile roundtrip.

    For those who want more of a challenge, consider backpacking through the park. Camping is also possible – there are 20 tent and RV sites at Guadalupe National Park’s campground. Birding and wildlife viewing are also popular activities. The Pine Springs Visitor Center is the place to go for information and to visit the park’s museum.

    Location: 400 Pine Canyon, Salt Flat, TX 79847, USA

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 4.30 pm

    Phone: +1 915-828-3251

    Map
    9

    Cadillac Ranch

    Iconic art in the Texas desert

    The Cadillac Ranch dates back to 1974 when 3 members of the art group Ant Farm decided to plant 10 Cadillacs nose-first in the Texan soil. Today, the art installation is one of the state’s most popular tourist attractions.

    This installation isn’t just about viewing someone else’s artistic creation. While you’re there, make sure to pick up a couple of spray paint cans and leave your mark on the Caddies. Painting the installation is encouraged, though you can always just admire and photograph it.

    Location: 13651 I-40 Frontage Rd, Amarillo, TX 79124, USA

    Phone: +1 806-848-0764

    Map

    photo by Gorup de Besanez (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    10

    USS Lexington

    Echoes of WWII aboard one of the greatest carriers ever built

    The USS Lexington earned her fame in the Pacific Theater of WWII. Today, the ship rests on the water, just across the channel from Corpus Christi’s downtown. Offering the chance to learn about WWII history, the LEX is open for self-guided tours that let you explore the decks and bunks.

    There are 3D movie experiences that highlight the ship’s history, as well as novel experiences like an escape room, virtual battle stations, and a flight simulator. Head to the mess deck of the USS Lexington, where you can grab a bite to eat.

    Location: 2914 N Shoreline Blvd, Corpus Christi, TX 78402, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 361-888-4873

    Map
    11

    The Alamo Roman Catholic Mission

    Remember the Alamo

    Abbreviated simply as ‘The Alamo’, the mission is seen as a intersections of history. Though not particularly striking in appearance, the bullet-riddled building holds great importance in Texan history and its label as the ‘Lone Star State’. Here, the legendary battle between Mexicans and Texans took place in 1836 – a famous last stand against impossible odds. The mission is now a museum for this time in US history. Tour and audio guides are offered for a more in-depth experience.

    Location: 300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, TX 78205, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 7 pm

    Phone: +1 210-225-1391

    Map
    12

    Space Center Houston

    Fly your own supersonic jet

    Peek into mission control of the United States’ manned space flight program at Space Center Houston. The special visitor hub of NASA’s Johnson Space Center has lunar mission exhibits, flight simulators, and programs where you can meet and listen to stories from real astronauts. You can enjoy compelling space documentaries in one of America’s largest 4K theatres. Out on Independence Plaza, check out the magnificent Independence space shuttle replica, piggybacking on a historical carrier jet.

    Location: 1601 E NASA Pkwy, Houston, TX 77058, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +1 281-244-2100

    Map

    photo by Romain2k (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    Valerie Mellema | Contributing Writer

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