Texas Independence Day is March 2. (On that day, back in 1836, the Texas Declaration of Independence was adopted at Washington-on-the-Brazos.) So, to celebrate, the KERA News staff figured we’d come up with a list of quintessential Texas experiences – a list of things you should do in the Lone Star State before you kick the bucket.
Pack your bags, fuel up your car, and come take a tour with us across the state …
1. Visit the State Fair of Texas in late September and early October. Eat a corny dog (and the fried cookie dough and the funnel cakes …) Admire the art deco buildings and artwork. Stare up at the new Big Tex. Ride the Texas Star Ferris Wheel, North America’s largest.
2. Visit a real Texas rodeo with bona fide cowboys and cowgirls ropin’ and ridin’ wild animals. The Texas Ranch Roundup in Wichita Falls includes some of the best in the state from the big, legendary ranches.
3. Drink in the bluebonnets and other wildflowers that bloom in springtime. Drive the Bluebonnet Trail in Hill Country at the height of the season. Closer to Dallas, visit the bluebonnet trails in Ennis in April.
4. Jump into a swimming hole in Central Texas. Some are spring-fed pools. Canoe or kayak one of the beautiful, clear rivers in Central Texas, such as the Comal or Guadalupe. Or grab an innertube and float away.
5. Head to Padre Island. Watch the rare, protected Kemp’s Ridley turtles as they hatch and race to the water. Stay on the beach past sundown to see the Milky Way over the Gulf of Mexico.
6. Attempt to ride the Hotter’N Hell Hundred cycling event in Wichita Falls. It’s in late August! What were they thinking?
7. Go deer hunting in picturesque Hill Country. Did you know Hill Country is known as the “Deer Factory of Texas?” The area where Mason, Gillespie, and Llano counties converge supports the highest deer density in the country, with one deer for every 2 to 3 acres, according to Texas Parks & Wildlife. Take in the beautiful Hill Country views.
8. Camp out with wild and exotic animals at the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose. The 1,800-acre center is home to over 1,100 animals and 50 species of native and non-native animals.
9. Go eat some Tex-Mex. A hole-in-the-wall. Or a chain. Or one of these suggestions from across the state, or from this list of North Texas eateries. Specifically in Dallas: Don't miss listening to dueling mariachi bands while chowing down on fajitas and schooners of margaritas at El Ranchito in Oak Cliff on a Saturday night.
10. Go to church. Perhaps a mega-church such as Lakewood Church or Second Baptist in Houston or the Potter’s House in Dallas. Or visit St. Mary Catholic Church in High Hill, near Schulenberg, which Fox News named one of the country’s most beautiful. With its ornate design, paintings and stained-glass windows, it’s known as one of the Painted Churches of Texas.
11. Visit the Texas Capitol and take the tour offered several times a day. “Completed in 1888 as the winning design from a national competition, the Capitol's style is Renaissance Revival, based on the architecture of 15th-century Italy and characterized by classical orders, round arches and symmetrical composition.” Then walk several blocks and tour the Bullock Texas State History Museum, which explores the story of Texas. “From the 35-foot-tall bronze star sculpture that greets visitors as they arrive, to the campfire scene in the terrazzo floor in entryway that features a campfire scene with enduring themes from Texas's past, every corner of the Museum proclaims the ‘Story of Texas’ in a bold and new way.”
12. Canoe or boat through the cypress trees and enjoy the swampy East Texas bayous that are Caddo Lake. Eat some fried catfish while you’re there.
13. Admire the roses in Tyler. Each October thousands of visitors head to Tyler for the Texas Rose Festival. Tyler is home to the largest municipal rose garden in the United States.
14. Head to Gruene Hall, Texas’ oldest dance hall, in New Braunfels' historic Gruene district. Built in 1878, the 6,000-square foot hall has a high-pitched tin roof and its original layout. It offers live music every day. Since 1975, Gruene Hall has hosted hundreds of celebrities. In the 1800s, Gruene Hall held weekly dances and hosted traveling salesmen, high school graduations and badger fights.
15. Attend a taping of Austin City Limits. The PBS show is the longest-running music program in television history, the only television show to have been awarded the Presidential Medal of the Arts, and was recently recognized by Time magazine as one of the 10 most influential music programs of all time. Watch a bunch of clips and episodes here.
16. Catch the battle of the bands during the State Fair Classic each fall between the Tiger Band and the Marching Storm — the marching bands of Grambling State University in Louisiana and Prairie View A&M in southeast Texas. Oh, and there's a football game, too.
17. Museums – and more museums. There are all sorts of great museums across the state. How to choose? Pick one of these three with great collections that were designed by Renzo Piano: the Menil Collection in Houston; the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas and the Piano Pavillion at Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth.
18. Visit Scenic Drive and watch the sun go down and the lights come up over El Paso and Juarez.
19. Tour President Lyndon Johnson’s ranch, home of the Texas White House. It’s near Stonewall. The LBJ Ranch was where he was born, lived, died, and was buried.
21. Holy smokes batman! Hang out by the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin and watch the bat show: about 1.5 million bats love the bridge because it’s humid and there are lots of hiding spots.
22. Visit the Inner Space Cavern in Georgetown — one of the best-preserved caves in Texas and home to prehistoric remains.
23. Explore Hueco Tanks State Park & Historic Site in El Paso. Ancestors used the rainwater pooled in natural rock basins, or huecos. You can hike, climb rocks, admire birds, study nature and stargaze.
25. Make an appointment to see The Hill, artist James Magee’s giant art project in the desert outside El Paso. Here’s how his website describes it: For more than 25 years, Magee “has been engaged in a massive, largely secret, almost solitary endeavor in the vast plains of West Texas.” It’s a series of buildings and sculptures on about 2,000 acres. In 2010, KERA’s Jerome Weeks interviewed Magee.
26. Check out the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders’ locker room as part of your AT&T Stadium tour.
27. Watch Intocable in concert when the group tours Texas. Intocable started nearly 20 years ago in Zapata and has become one of the most influential Tejano/Norteño groups.
28. Find some peace at a Buddhist temple. Try Wat Buddharatanaram in Fort Worth.
29. Visit a charming small town with a quaint downtown square – perhaps Waxahachie in North Texas or Fredericksburg or Boerne in Hill Country. (Or a bigger town with a charming square, such as McKinney.)
30. Head out to Marfa, the arts mecca in Presidio County in far west Texas. It has less than 2,000 residents, but NPR has described it as “a blue-chip arts destination.” There are museums and galleries and sculptures. “Vegan food, straw bale houses and funky bars filled with artsy kids clinking Shiner Bocks with famous painters and film directors. Their pearl-buttoned shirts and cowboy boots can make the place feel like a Western-themed outpost of Brooklyn. And for a town of only about 2,000 people, you can amuse yourself nightly with screenings, readings and, of course, gallery shows.”
31. See the spectacular July 4 fireworks show in Addison – Kaboom Town, considered one of the country’s best fireworks shows.
32. Slide down Flagpole Hill in Dallas after a snowfall or ice storm.
36. Visit the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville. The Texas Prison Museum says it offers an “intriguing glimpse into the lives of the state's least-loved citizens.”
37. Stroll along the San Antonio Riverwalk. Then drive past the beautiful historic homes in the King William Historic District. And tour the missions. (Update: Tour the Alamo, too, of course -- we meant to include this the first time around!)
38. Stop in Amarillo and look at the Cadillac Ranch, the public art installation that features painted Cadillacs.
Update: We’ve received so many responses from readers that we wanted to add a few of the more popular items we’ve missed. (And there are some places that KERA News staff members insist be added to the list. And there are some we simply forgot to post in the first place.) What else are we missing? Let us know — contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org!
40. Join a stargazing party and ponder the universe at the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains in west Texas. “The Star Party program is fun for the entire family, and is open to everyone. Enjoy night sky constellation tours and views of celestial objects through a number of telescopes (varying in size from a 4-inch giant binocular to a 24-inch Ritchey–Chrétien telescope) in the Rebecca Gale Telescope Park at the Visitors Center.”
41. Visit Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas panhandle – it’s the country’s second-largest canyon. Palo Duro Canyon State Park says: “Early Spanish explorers are believed to have discovered the area and dubbed the canyon ‘Palo Duro,’ which is Spanish for ‘hard wood,’ in reference to the abundant mesquite and juniper trees.” While you’re at Palo Duro, see TEXAS, the outdoor musical.
42. Visit one of Texas’ national parks. Hike to the highest peak in Texas at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which is home to three species of horned lizards. Raft the Rio Grande through Big Bend National Park. Big Bend’s website says: “Big Bend National Park in Texas features broad expanses of Chihuahuan Desert shrubland and grassland interspersed with smaller areas of high-elevation woodland in the Chisos Mountains. … Deep canyons along the river are among the park's most striking features. The black bear, mountain lion, and javelina, along with bats, turtles, frogs, toads, and 450 species of birds, either reside in the park or use park resources.”
43. Venture to Southfork and look for Sue Ellen and Bobby or other members of the Ewing clan.
45. Stuff yourself silly with some Texas barbecue. Among the places suggested (and we don't mean to start World War III): Snow's in Lexington, Louie Mueller in Taylor, Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Pecan Lodge in Dallas.
And as you think about what you love about the Lone Star State, we’ll serenade you with this rendition of “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”
Photo credit: Top photo (Texas flag/Texas sunset) by Dave Hensley on Flickr
This story published March 7, 2014 and has been updated.