Amy McCarthy and Jaime-Paul Falcon are Dallas' foremost experts on traveling around Texas (not together, separately, and by "foremost" we mean they get around a lot). Anyhow, in the interest of making sure you get the most out of your late summer days off they decided to give you the 15 best destinations you absolutely should visit if you want to call yourself a Texan. Or even if you don't want to call yourself a Texan, but don't want to have to board an airplane.) It's up to you whether you decide to drive two hours or seven, but each of these places are absolute must-dos.
(NOTE: Houston is on this list, much to Amy's chagrin. After three hours of arguing and countless impassioned attempts at helping Jaime see the light, it's on the damn list. They settled it with a coin flip.)
Distance from Dallas: 141 miles Time it takes to get there: 2 h 42 min
You're going to have that goddamn Toadies song in your head the entire time, but the near-three hour drive to Possum Kingdom is the type of road trip where that rock music of your disaffected youth makes some actual sense. Once you get there, though, you'll forget that this lake situated in the middle of a massive state park is just a few hours outside of the city and probably change the music to Enya or something. Outdoorsy types will find plenty to love, including SCUBA diving, hiking and whatever a "nature study" is. If roughing it on the campgrounds isn't in the cards, you can get a cabin for four at $75 a night and enjoy the closest thing we've got in North Texas to a beach. AMC
Dublin & Hico
Distance from Dallas: 143 miles Time it takes to get there: 2 h 23 min
You. Texas person. You like chocolate and you like soda, and you want to go taste the best of each in the state. So jump on U.S. 67 till you get to Hico where you're going to stop and eat at the renowned Koffee Kup Family Restaurant, and then you're gonna make your way to the Weisman House Chocolatier store front where you'll indulge in a variety of dark chocolate truffles. From there, you jump on Texas 6 and head to Dublin to visit Dublin Bottling Works where our dear departed Dublin Dr Pepper was bottled for over 87 years till those bastards at Snapple put an end to it. Don't worry though, the Works has it's own line of fantastic sodas to try, and the town is the Irish capital of Texas, so you'll be able to find something to mix that soda with. JPF
Distance from Dallas: 376 miles Time it takes to get there: 5 h 43 min
With all its quirky charm and middle-of-nowhere placement, Amarillo still somehow manages to inarguably be one of the worst places on Earth. Just south of town, though, Canyon is all of the beauty of West Texas' elegant canyons and rock formations in one single trip. Palo Duro Canyon may not be as impressive as that Grand one in Arizona, but it's still going to take your breath away. Georgia O'Keeffe was reportedly inspired by the beauty of Palo Duro country, so maybe it will finally help you figure out your masterpiece. Or at least help you figure out that you need to move on to something else. AMC
The West Texas triangle (San Solomon Springs Courts, Marfa, McDonald Observatory)
Distance from Dallas: 467 miles Time it takes to get there: 6 h 37 min
Marfa. Yes Marfa. All your hipster friends talk endlessly about Marfa, because ART! and EL COSMICO! But what they're forgetting is that you're also in a vastly unique part of the state, a part that's nothing like anywhere else. Yes, there's Marfa, with its restaurants and Cobra Boot Co. and ballroom. But down the road is Alpine, with its dive bars and artist community. Your best lodging bet is 50 miles outside of Marfa at the San Solomon Springs Court, a retro style motel located in the Balmorhea State Park that's home to the world's largest spring-fed swimming pool, which stays at 76 degrees year round. Obviously you can't spend every night at the bar, so make it a point to drive to the McDonald Observatory for one of their star parties, it's a bucket list activity, and you'll never have a better view of the vast Texas sky. JPF
Mineral Wells (crazy healing water and the haunted hotel)
Distance from Dallas: 82 miles Time it takes to get there: 1 h 25 min
After the Civil War and into the early 1900s, wounded soldiers and other war-weary folk flocked to towns with healing springs, including Texas' own Mineral Wells. The water there, now bottled and sold as "Crazy Water," reached legendary status in 1881, after a woman was reportedly "healed" of dementia. It's more likely that the whole deal was just a marketing stunt for an entrepreneurial man who saw the potential of selling bottled water, but the high mineral count at least makes people feel healthier.
Mineral Wells is most famous, though, for a haunted hotel in the middle of town called The Baker. Built after the bottled water boom in the 1920s, The Baker Hotel was a destination for rich people who needed a spa day and a shining testament to small-town ingenuity. Unfortunately, the property was abandoned in the early 1950s and is now (allegedly) haunted by a bunch of ghosts from the past. AMC
Distance from Dallas: 137 miles Time it takes to get there: 2 h 17 min
You're making this trip because Larry McMurtry is a By God National Treasure and might be the greatest Texan to ever live. You're going to visit his home town, the basis of his classic novel The Last Picture Show, where you will visit his enormous book store, Booked Up, where you will by one his first editions before making your way around the town square to the movie theatre where much of the film adaptation of The Last Picture Show was filmed. You will then eat at the Dairy Queen and try to track down the newly elected 18 yr old mayor and say hello. You will do all of this with a smile on your face and a sense of wonder, because Larry McMurtry wrote Lonesome Dove, Terms of Endearment, and the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain, and he is the best, THE BEST. JPF
Distance from Dallas: 83 miles Time it takes to get there: 1 h 23 min
The German influence throughout the Texas Hill Country is strong, but many people forget about Muenster, a small community just north of Dallas. When Muenster was founded in 1889, over 90 percent of the population was German, something that is still largely true today. Still, despite an overwhelming lack of racial diversity, there is sausage. Fischer's Meat Market is classically German, and smokes and stuffs all of their traditional sausages on-site. There are also a few great local wineries just outside of town if all that meat makes you want to drink. On your way out of town, don't forget to stop at Bayer's Kolonialwaren on East Division for strudel, kolaches, and fresh donuts. AMC
Distance from Dallas: 275 miles Time it takes to get there: 4 h 9 min
I've actually written about Shiner before, when I made the trip to the Brewery for a City of Ate piece last year, and honestly, the brewery is doing our job with their series of commercials promoting the town. Hell, when Shiner saw the piece I wrote, a box full of Shiner goods and beer showed up at my door step three days later. The town's motto is "Cleanest Little Town in Texas" when it should be "Friendliest Little Town in Texas." JPF
Distance from Dallas: 500 miles Time it takes to get there: 7 h 46 min
Considered by many to be the most historic city in Texas, Roma is home to more than 30 buildings that were built before 1900 that now make up the Roma National Historic district. It's a fascinating look at what life was like on a border town before technology took hold. Bonus points for it being situated on the Rio Grande giving you easy access to Mexico, and the city goes out of its way to show films in its historic plaza including Viva Zapata! an Elia Kazan film shot there in the '50s. JPF
Distance from Dallas: 195 miles Time it takes to get there: 3 h
Staycationing in Texas doesn't have to mean settling for some low-budget campsite or a shitty motel. If you haven't heard of Washington before, it's likely because the people who frequent this mini-oasis near Houston don't want any of us riffraff to know about it. The Inn at Dos Brisas, Washington's swankiest hotel, rivals anything you'd see in Dallas with the bonus of a peaceful and bucolic setting. Outside of the usual hotel and spa amenities, The Inn at Dos Brisas has horseback riding, organic farming classes, fishing, hunting, even clay target shooting. A room here isn't going to be cheap, but nobody would blame you if you decided to max out your credit card on a suite. AMC
Drive the Coast (Port Aransas, Rockport, and the Indianola ghost town)
Distance from Dallas: 414 miles Time it takes to get there: 7 h 23 min
Don't let Galveston or Padre fool you, the Texas Gulf Coast is a wonder that you should experience for yourself. Head down to Calhoun County and stop in the Ghost town of Indianola which sits on Matagorda Bay. Destroyed by a hurricane in the 1800s the town was rebuilt, only to be wiped out by another hurricane in the late 80s. Not much still stands other than a Civil War era graveyard and a monument dedicated to Robert La Salle, the man who placed the French Flag over Texas. After enjoying some history, head to Rockport for some fishing, as it sports some of the best guided tours in the state. After a day on the ocean, jump in the car and drive straight to the Port Aransas Brewing Co. in Port Aransas and order the Strikezone Stout, one of the best beers in Texas. After several of those, order the Stopher Burger, which was named one of the best burgers in the state by Texas Monthly. Once you're full of history, beer, and burger walk out on the beach and watch the sun set over the Gulf. Congrats, you're at the beach and you didn't have to spend an arm and a leg to get there. JPF
Distance from Dallas: 229 miles Time it takes to get there: 3 h 45 min
Ghosts are probably not real, but there are those among us who, for some reason, need to know for sure. Jefferson is the kind of place that indulges those people. At the turn of the 19th century, Jefferson was a bustling port city with some of the state's finest plantation homes. Now, you can tour all of those homes and be regaled with stories about the former slaves, jilted wives, and gone-too-soon owners who currently haunt them. On the Jefferson Ghost Walk, one of the area's most knowledgeable historians will take you across some of the city's hotspots for haunts, and scare the absolute shit out of you in the process. To complete your creepy East Texas experience, visit Caddo Lake.
The barren trees are thick with Spanish moss and look like something directly out of a horror movie. After you've indulged your flair for the paranormal, do a little budget-friendly antique shopping in downtown Jefferson. These old shops are packed with good stuff, and the prices are refreshing for those of us who are tired of vintage shop markup on quirky old junk. AMC
Distance from Dallas: 212 miles Time it takes to get there: 3 h 26 min
Situated in one of the most beautiful locales in the state is Marble Falls, home to a wondrous series of waterfalls and collecting pools. Inside the town sits the Bluebonnet Café, renowned for its insanely portioned breakfasts and its amazing pies. You might have heard about this place from a troll doll on the Food Network, but don't let that scare you off, it's worth the trip. JPF
Spindletop Oil Field in Beaumont
Distance from Dallas: 282 miles Time it takes to get there: 4 h 49 min
The world changed in 1901 when just outside of Beaumont atop Spindletop Hill, oil was struck. What followed was the Texas Oil Boom, which led to the changing of industry in the state, deregulation, more money than you can imagine. In the '70s, Beaumont's Lamar University dedicated a museum in the area as an ode to the place that made Texas what it is today. For better or worse, it's an important piece of Texas history, and if you stop in Beaumont you can eat at Novrozsky's, a local chain that's more than decent. JPF
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Houston Distance from Dallas: 239 miles Time it takes to get there: 3 h 27 min
OK, calm down. I know, you all hate Houston due to some terrible rivalry that's been fostered for no reason whatsoever. You need to get over your bias and realize that Houston offers the best of Dallas and Fort Worth in a more central location. First off, Houston has an amazing art scene. AMAZING. There's the Museum of Fine Art which get's some of the best traveling exhibits in the world, The Contemporary Art Museum which, while smaller than Fort Worth's Modern, can go toe to toe with its inventiveness, The Orange Show Center For Visionary Arts who are in charge of the Art Car Parade, and the Beer Can House. Oh, and there's the Menil Collection that's home to the Rothko Chapel and some of the most renowned Minimalist art in the world.
Oh yeah, there's also the culinary/cocktail scene which features the best bar in the south, The Anvil, and what might be the best restaurant in the state, Underbelly. Throw in staples like Poison Girl, Paulies, Niko Niko's, Frenchy's, This Is It, and newcomer Neil's Bahr and you have a town set up perfectly for you to eat and drink to your hearts desire.
Oh, and their baseball stadium has air conditioning. Really, nothing in Dallas tops that. -JPF