East Texas (Canton/Tyler)
Distance from Dallas: 98 miles
Travel Time: 1 hour and 36 minutes
Set your compass, or GPS, to due east for a trip deep into the Piney Woods. First stop, Canton’s First Monday Trade Days. Antique collectors and do-it-yourselfers unite at this glorified flea market, open the first weekend of every month. Look for the blinking “World Famous Hamburgers” sign at Dairy Palace down the road and try an elk, duck, venison or wild boar burger. Keep traveling east on Interstate 20, past Splash Kingdom Waterpark (in the Bible belt, even water parks are evangelical) and stop when you get to Tyler State Park. Post up a tent or rent a cabin for the night and enjoy fishing, mountain biking, hiking, swimming, boating and geocaching.
See how “America’s Rose Capital” got its name at the Tyler Rose Garden. Stop and smell more than 500 different variations in this 14-acre park, open dawn to dusk every day of the week. Word has it these flowers are sold throughout the city for as little as $2.50 a dozen.
Scout historic homes and budding branches along the red brick roads of Tyler’s Azalea District. Just around the corner, the downtown square mixes old school aesthetics with new school flair. Grab a cup of locally sourced Porch Culture Coffee at The Foundry Coffeehouse or catch a classic Hollywood hit at Liberty Hall. Save your appetite for Stanley’s Famous Pit Bar-B-Q, a staple in Texas barbecue culture. Last but not least, meet more than 40 rescued big cats at the 150-acre Tiger Creek Animal Refuge.
Distance from Dallas: 217 miles
Travel Time: 3 hours and 20 minutes
It seems in recent years there has been a rising interest in nature’s epic swim spots. Either that, or these secret spring-fed waters are becoming more regulated, making it easier to plan a successful visit. Skip Austin’s overcrowded Barton Springs and plan a day in Dripping Springs for a dip in Hamilton Pool Preserve. The spot only allows a limited number of visitors each day, so go online to make reservations.
The second best reason to visit Dripping Springs? Four words. Deep Eddy Vodka Distillery. If you haven’t tasted the Ruby Red grapefruit flavor, then you probably don’t have any friends. Because friends don’t let friends drink any other type of vodka. The Tasting Room is open during operating hours and while formal tours aren’t given daily without a reservation, “looking around” is highly encouraged. When you drink too much, stay at one of the city’s growing number of bed-and-breakfasts.
Keep your eye out for actor Kyle Chandler (known for his roles in Friday Night Lights and Netflix’s Bloodline), a Dripping Springs resident and former firefighter.
Distance From Dallas: 239 miles
Travel Time: 3 hours and 31 minutes
Bring on the boba and bahn mi because Houston is home to the second largest Vietnamese-American population in the U.S. Eat your way through every ethnic neighborhood in this majority-minority city, then spend the rest of your weekend on a self-guided art tour for a look at some of the best galleries and museums in the state.
Make it to The Menil Collection before Jan. 8, 2017, for the rare chance to see Sunset, an unfinished film by Andy Warhol and more than 100 works by Pablo Picasso during Picasso The Line. You get it. This museum has strong ties to the worldwide art community, so expect to see big names in its permanent and traveling exhibits, no matter when you visit. All entrances are at ground level as a reflection of the museum’s democratic ideals. As you continue to tour the Houston Museum District, consisting of 19 museums, make sure the Contemporary Arts Museum, Lawndale Art Center, Rice University Art Gallery and The Museum of Fine Arts are on your list.
In one of Houston’s oldest black neighborhoods (and Queen Bey’s birthplace), the Third Ward, you’ll find Project Row Houses. This nonprofit is on a mission to be the catalyst for transforming community through the celebration of art, African-American history and culture. Check the online calendar for artist talks and community markets or stop by and see the seven row houses featuring work by visiting artists.
As far as street art, be on the prowl for UP Art Studios mini mural project. See how local artists transformed more than 30 utility boxes throughout the city into colorful works of art.
Distance from Dallas: 411 miles
Travel Time: 6 hours and 7 minutes
You may be asking, “How did this coastal town make the list?” It’s because you’ve already done Galveston and South Padre ... and because there’s a Selena Museum. You heard me, the Selena. (As opposed to Dallas’ Gomez. We love you too, girl.) Save this trip for a long or holiday weekend, as this must-see museum is only open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Another national treasure, the USS Lexington, finds its home in Corpus. Book a hard hat tour to see parts of the ship that are not open during public tours or a flight sequence tour for a look at what it’s like to be an aircraft carrier pilot.
For live music and community-wide events, downtown’s Water Street Market is the place to be. Choose from three restaurants – The Oyster Bar, Seafood Company and Executive Surf Club – then stick around for a look at Texas’ only surf museum and the South Texas Music Walk of Fame. In October, they’ve got Surftoberfest, a Gulf Coast twist on the traditional Oktoberfest.
Grab a tent and camp along the Padre Island National Seashore, a 70-mile preserved barrier island where your life-long dreams of witnessing a sea turtle hatching release can come true.
Distance from Dallas: 217 miles
Travel Time: 3 hours and 43 minutes
Don’t go digging for gold, but expect to see amethyst, quartz and traces of gold in Llano County. The city of Llano lies upon the Llano Uplift, a geological phenomenon packed with deposits and more than 241 different rocks and minerals. When it’s witching hour, travel 40 minutes down the road to Burnet and take a Paranormal or Wild Cave Tour at Longhorn Cavern State Park. Can’t get enough of nature? Book a Vanishing Texas River Cruise where you’ll see waterfalls and wintering bald eagles as you travel along Lake Buchanan and the Colorado River. Keep your eyes peeled for the infamous lighthouse near Buchanan Dam. If you’re looking for leisure instead, catch a new movie at the classic LanTex Theater in Llano or stroll through the downtown parts for a cup of local brew at Fuel Coffee House and a Walk-Away Omelet at Berry Street Bakery.
Of course, no trip to Llano County is complete without a sunset hike to the top of Enchanted Rock where you can enjoy one of the best views of Texas Hill Country.
Distance from Dallas: 274 miles
Travel Time: 4 hours and 6 minutes
Chances are you do remember the Alamo and probably the River Walk. But don’t get tripped up on the typical tourist to-do list. San Antonio has off-the-beaten-path parts, such as Southtown, that are much more hip than Texas history. (Sorry, Davy Crockett.) For a taste of San Antonio 2.0, head to the Blue Star Arts Complex in the heart of King William Historic Neighborhood. Get your art fix at the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, San Antonio’s oldest contemporary art space and seek out Bar 1919, a swanky basement speakeasy for those who enjoy not knowing what’s behind every door.
If cheap beer and sports are more up your alley, check out Josephine Street, a 37-year-old Texas steakhouse known for their red meat and whisky selection. You’ll come for the “uncommonly affordable” food ($15.95 steak and shrimp plate) and stay for the free ride to AT&T Center. Hop on the Josephine St. Express, and travel to and from any Spurs’ home game. All your pre-gaming dreams can come true thanks to an extensive list of beers for under $5. Uneven wooden floors and a 500-year-old tree are just a few of the interesting interior elements that make this space so special. Jo Street owners are also known for their revitalization of the similarly styled Gruene Hall in New Braunfels.
While you’re in the Pearl neighborhood, see how the iconic Pearl brewery, established in 1881, has transformed into a new cultural hub featuring 15 top-notch restaurants and cafes, 13 retailers and twice-weekly farmers markets.
Distance from Dallas: 257 miles
Travel Time: 4 hours and 13 minutes
What do Ruby Redbird, White Wing and Holiday Cheer have in common? If you’re at least 25 percent Texan, you’ll likely know the answer. Time to visit the motherland of your favorite brew – Shiner, Texas. Prepare your taste buds for that beloved bock at Spoetzl Brewery during multiple tours a day, Monday through Friday. Unlike most other brew tours in the state, this one’s free.
When you’re done fangirling over the state beer of Texas (that’s a thing right?) check the community calendar for a handful of other classic small town treats. In June, see the Little Miss Shiner Pageant, then come back in October for the Shiner Music Fest or November for the Shiner Beer Run.
Distance from Dallas: 262 miles
Travel Time: 4 hours and 18 minutes
You’ll find an association of 15 award-winning Texas wineries along U.S. Highway 290 near Fredericksburg, Texas. It’s no Napa Valley, but it is Texas Wine Country at its very best.
If you’re a fan of wildflowers, stop by Wildseed Farms, located seven miles east of Fredericksburg on Highway 290. At the Wildflower Market Center, you’ll see fields of flowers blooming March through October. Create your own bouquet in the Pick Your Own fields, explore walking trails and stop by Blossoms Boutique, Lantana Nursery and the Brewbonnet Biergarten. Check the website for “bloom updates” and cross your fingers you get to see the red poppies.
When you drive down Main Street, you’ll see that German roots run deep here. Altdorf Biergarten, Rathskeller and Auslander Restaurant are among fan favorites for food in this area. For the most authentic German dining experience, drive out to Friedhelm’s Bavarian Inn, located a little farther west. Inside this hidden gem, waitresses wear dirndl dresses and lederhosen costumes as they serve up traditional Bavarian dishes.
In terms of accommodations, forget about a bed-and-breakfast. Book a room at Fredericksburg Brewery’s Bed & Brew instead and receive a free flight of beer with each night’s stay. Another hoppin’ hot spot, Pedernales Brewing Co., holds tours every Saturday. They recently joined with Texas country singer Robert Earl Keen to make the killer REK Honey Pilsner.
Distance from Dallas: 376 miles
Travel Time: 5 hour and 43 minutes
If you’ve never spray painted the cars at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, snap your Instagram picture and keep moving. Stop when you get to Canyon, because Palo Duro Canyon State Park is as pretty as a picture and has signature rock formations such as the Lighthouse that are worth all the sweat it’ll take you to get there. Hop on a Jeep tour at Elkins Ranch when your feet get tired and listen to a tour guide dish out dozens of fun facts.
Stop for a show at the park’s Pioneer Amphitheater, a close second to Colorado’s Red Rocks. When you get to the canyon floor, stock up on snacks and souvenirs at the Trading Post.
Back in town, The Panhandle-Plains Museum Historical Museum holds the title as Texas’ largest history museum. From art and agriculture to petroleum and paleontology, you’ll get a taste of it all.
West Texas (Marfa/McDonald Observatory/Big Bend) — pictured at top
Distance from Dallas: 521 miles
Travel Time: 7 hours and 49 minutes
OK, so you may need a four-day weekend for this one. But these three stops should be on every native- and transplant-Texan’s bucket list.
Marfa is a no brainer with its Truman Show-like feels that have you questioning what’s real life and what’s part of a performance art piece. Don’t miss the Marfa Lights Viewing Center, located 9 miles east of town on Highway 90, as it’s sure to spark conversation about UFOs and extraterrestrial life. Stop by the Lost Horse Salon for a chance to meet the eye-patch wearing owner Ty, a real-life ranch man and professional actor. Stay in Sioux-style tepees or Mongolian yurt at El Cosmico if you haven’t ever before. But first, make the 45-minute drive and spend your evening at the McDonald Observatory for a star party.
Wake up in the high plains desert, and journey an hour and a half to Big Bend National Park. If bicycling, horseback riding and river trips are too much work for your city-slicker soul, settle for a scenic drive, as you get up close and personal with the Chisos Mountains.