Make the most of your time in the Lone Star State with this ultimate Texas bucket list that will show you all the places you can’t miss!
Texas is the second largest state in the USA, second only to Alaska. Not only is the state big, but everything else here is too. From oversized cowboy hats to large food portion sizes, you most certainly will be impressed.
As you can imagine, with a state this large there are endless possibilities when it comes to things to do. From bustling metropolis cities to rugged desert plains, we have the entire state’s highlights and attractions covered.
This Texas bucket list will begin with must see destinations in the southern half of the state which borders with Mexico, before moving to the Gulf Coast, then traveling through the central part of the state, and finishing off in Dallas and further north to the Texas Panhandle. Let’s get started!
Consider renting a campervan from Outdoorsy to explore all of the must see places in Texas.
Texas Bucket List
Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park is 800,000 acres and contains habitats consisting of rivers, desert, and mountains. It encompasses the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert in the United States.
Although this park has a very remote location, it is well worth the effort to get there and visitors will be rewarded with stunning natural beauty.
People visit Big Bend to go hiking, camping, ride horses, float the river, ride bicycles and motorbikes, and to look for wildlife.
There are five river canyons which offer the opportunity to kayak, canoe, or raft on the Rio Grand with sections of the river that area ideal for all skill levels.
There is also an outstanding scenic drive that skirts the western slopes of the Chisos Mountains climbing up to one the park’s most outstanding viewpoints at Sotol Vista.
The Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park extend twenty miles from Punta de la Sierra in the southwest to Panther Junction in the northeast. The highest peak in the range named Emory Peak sits at 7,835 feet above sea level.
There is a seven mile long paved road that climbs into the Chisos Mountains Basin. In the Basin you will find a developed national park service campground and a park ranger station where you can pick up maps and backcountry permits. There is also a hotel and small dining room up here.
The Basin is where you will find an extensive network of hiking trails that range from short and easy to lengthy and strenuous that take you high up into the mountain range.
Kayak On The Rio Grand
If you are the type of person that loves adventure and watersports, consider floating the Rio Grand through Big Bend National Park.
Seeing the park from the water is an incredible experience that allows you to view the parks colorful buttes, mesas, and mountains from a different perspective.
River trips can be half day or multi-day excursions where you may not see a soul for days. Listen for beavers crawling through the brush and be on the lookout for turtles sunning themselves on rocks.
Santa Elena Canyon
The Santa Elena Canyon sits directly on the United States and Mexico border with the Rio Grand slicing through as the divider between the two countries.
While the spectacular canyon is one of Big Bend National Park’s most popular features, it is not actually inside the park but about an hours drive south along windy and steep Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.
The dramatic canyon is best seen from above at an overlook which is accessible from the scenic byway mentioned above. From the top, you can peer down the canyon’s sheer limestone cliffs that are 1,500 feet above the Rio Grand.
Marfa is located in the high desert plains of southwest Texas and is at least a six hour drive from any large city. The journey to get there is half the adventure and much of the allure of Marfa stems from its remote location.
The town has a small population of about 2,000 people and is influenced by its cattle ranching legacy and its proximity to Mexico. This place has been attracting artists from cities around the nation since the early 1970s for its slow pace and serene lifestyle.
Word has gotten out in recent years that Marfa is an art mecca with a unique southwest culture and intrepid travelers have since been seeking out the place. This is a place where you can see a real cowboy and a major work of art in the same afternoon.
For a completely unique experience while you’re visiting Marfa, book a stay at El Cosmico in one of their really cool furnished teepees.
These 22-foot high structures have brick floors, a small daybed, and a queen bed with heated mattress for those cold desert nights.
El Cosmico state that they are at the center of the exodus from a world of urgency. They purposely limit the reach of the internet to the headquarter lobby to allow guests the opportunity to disconnect from the outside world.
Their simple accommodations encourage unwinding in their hammock grove, bathing outdoors, stargazing, and connecting with other intrepid travelers.
Besides the teepees, El Cosmico also have other types of accommodations that include yurts, trailers, and safari tents.
You may not have heard of Terlingua as it is super off-the-beaten track with a very remote location in West Texas near the border of Mexico.
This unusual destination is a quirky and quiet ghost town which most people stop by on their way to Big Bend National Park. The area used to be a mining town and one of the nation’s leading producers of quicksilver however production declined during the late 1930s and the towns mining company, The Chisos Mining Company filed for bankruptcy.
What most people love about this place is the peacefulness and solitude that you’ll find here which is not surprising when the town only has a population of fifty-eight.
What you can expect from Terlingua now is beautiful sunsets, mountain vistas, and starry skies. There are a handful of lodging options around should you wish to stay overnight. If you are a desert rat (meaning you love those vast desert landscapes and climate that goes with it), then you will love Terlingua!
Guadalupe National Park
Yes, there are two national parks in Texas! Guadalupe National Park is not a place most travelers are familiar with and more than likely haven’t even heard of. This is mostly because of its remote location and I’m sure the unbearable heat deters many visitors too.
However, like most places that are difficult to get to, the reward usually pays off. Guadalupe offers the intrepid traveler stunning mountains, vast canyons, desert, and dunes.
This national park holds the highest mountains in Texas and there are various hiking trails that lead to their peaks. You can literally hike to the top of Texas along an 8.5 mile hike up Guadalupe Peak which provides sweeping vistas of the West Texas landscape.
Galveston is a barrier island on the Texas Gulf Coast fifty miles south of Houston. Its close proximity to such a large city does make it a popular and sometimes crowded vacation destination but you shouldn’t let that deter you from visiting.
This place is popular for weekend getaways for a reason so if the opportunity arises you should plan a one or two day trip to see what’s on offer here.
You can sample fresh seafood, lay in the sun, swim in the warm waters of the Gulf Coast, peruse art galleries, and spend time relaxing.
Take a look at some of these beautiful and extremely affordable apartments in Galveston for the ultimate beach escape in Texas.
Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier
Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier is one of the few spots in the world that has rides over water. Visitors here can soar over the Gulf of Mexico on thrilling rides, enjoy fun midway games, and chow down at one of the eateries on the pier.
South Padre Island
Padre Island is a barrier island along the southern coast of Texas. The island is split into two areas; South Padre Island and North Padre Island.
South Padre Island is the most popular area especially with spring breakers in the month of March when college students flock to the beach shores for night after night of partying.
But this island isn’t just for school kids. This stretch of coastline is also a popular vacation destination with with families and couples too because it offers lots of fun recreational activities such as kiteboarding, surfing, jet-skiing, dolphin watching excursions and some great deep sea fishing.
Padre Island National Seashore
Padre Island National Seashore is located on North Padre Island and separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Laguna Madre. In contrast to South Padre Island, the northern section is much quieter and does not draw the same type of lively crowd.
The park protects seventy miles of coastline, dunes, prairies, and tidal flats and is known to be the nesting ground for the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle. The place is also a haven for over 380 bird species so needless to say the birdwatching here is phenomenal.
The best time to birdwatch on Padres Island National Seashore is during early spring and during fall or winter when birds migrate through the park or spend winter here. Some of the species you can expect to see include the Great Blue Heron, Brown Pelican, Snowy Egret, and the Roseate Spoonbill.
Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christie
The Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christie is a non profit organization committed to educating the public on wildlife conservation focusing on species in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.
Exhibits here are designed to inspire appreciation of the local marine ecosystem. Some of the highlights include The Coral Reef which is a replication of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef off the coast of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, the Aquatic Nursery which displays juvenile jellyfish, cuttlefish, and baby seahorses, and the Stingray Lagoon where you can touch the gentle animals as they glide by.
Other displays you can look forward to seeing is the Tortuga Cay where rescued sea turtles live out their lives and the Jungle where you will be surrounded by Caribbean songbirds, flamingos, and lush tropical plants of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Be sure to arrive early so you can catch the daily dolphin presentation!
San Antonio is a beautiful city rich in history and bursting with culture so it’s no wonder travelers from around the world have this city on their itinerary when they visit the USA.
San Antonio offers an array of attractions that include top notch museums, world class theme parks, incredible shopping opportunities, and beautiful green spaces. The city is also a good base to explore nearby Hill Country.
This city should be must visit on your Texas bucket list. Below is are some must see places in San Antonio.
The Riverwalk is San Antonio’s star attraction and a popular place with tourists. Here, visitors can stroll lush riverside paths lined with towering trees and top restaurants.
One of the best ways to experience the Riverwalk is to take a relaxing cruise down the waterway aboard a guided tour boat which provide informative and humorous narration about San Antonio’s history. These guided tours are offered from 9am to 10pm daily. Alternatively, you can also ride water taxis although these are without commentary. Taxis operate between 9am and 9pm.
As for the restaurants, there are plenty of great options! You’ve got the popular American chains like the Hard Rock Cafe and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and also some awesome Texas style eateries like The County Line who serve legendary Texas BBQ. Another good spot to try is the Republic of Texas where you can find American burgers and Tex-Mex food – which is known as ‘Texican’ around these parts.
If you’d like to stay on the Riverfront, check out The Canopy by Hilton, The Westin Riverwalk, or the Hotel Valencia.
The Alamo is a historic Spanish mission and fortress compound founded in the 18th century by Roman Catholic missionaries that you can visit in San Antonio.
The Church or “Shrine” which was built between 1775 and 1793 is the most recognizable structure on the Alamo grounds. This church played a vital role in the 1836 Battle of the Alamo which was a pivotal event in the Texas Revolution.
The Long Barrack is the oldest building on the Alamo grounds dating back almost three hundred years to the site’s origins as Mission San Antonio de Valero.
When you are done viewing the historic buildings make your way to the Alamo’s living history encampment behind the church to get a taste of life in the 1830s. Here you will find history guides who will demonstrate daily life at the time of the Texas Revolution such as what people wore, how they looked after their health, and skills that were essential to them like fire starting and leather working.
It is completely free to tour the Alamo and to visit the onsite museum however you can purchase tickets for a more personal guided tour.
Japanese Tea Garden
The Japanese Tea Garden is a lovely place to spend a morning or afternoon if you’re looking for a more peaceful activity while on vacation in San Antonio.
These gorgeous grounds were originally a rock quarry before being transformed in the early 1900s. The quarry was slowly shaped into what is here today which includes walkways, stone arches, a lily pond filled with koi, and the most popular with visitors, the 60-foot waterfall.
The best part is that admission is free!
The Mission San Jose
The Mission San Jose was founded on June 11, 1797 by Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen. It is the fourteenth of the 21 Spanish Missions in Alta California and this one in particular is the largest of the missions and known as the “Queen of the Missions”.
These Missions were founded to secure Spain’s claim to the land and to convert native Americans into their way of life. The walled compound was built in a Spanish colonial Baroque style and visitors are encouraged to wander the grounds to admire the architecture.
The park grounds are operated in partnership by the National Park Service and the church. There is a small entry fee that covers admission to the park grounds and a small onsite museum. You will be able to use your America The Beautiful Pass if you have one.
Tower Of The Americas
The Tower of the Americas is a 750 foot tall building located in downtown San Antonio that provides guests with a spectacular view of the city from above.
A visit to the iconic building wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Flags Over Texas Observation Deck where you can see panoramic views of the city’s landmarks.
The kids will enjoy the Skies Over Texas 4D Theater ride which takes guests on a high-flying trip over the Lone Star State to visit a NASA space shuttle and to experience a Friday night lights high school football game.
Adults will love the revolving Chart House Restaurant which offers fine dining with outstanding views and the sky-high Bar 601.
Austin is the most popular city to visit in Texas. Known for its lively music scene, art, culture, and incredible food, this is one place you shouldn’t miss on your trip to Texas.
There are many attractions to add to your bucket list but at the top should be Barton Springs, Zilker Park, and the State Capitol building.
If you love your BBQ you won’t be disappointed as I’m sure you’ve probably already heard. Yes, the Austin food scene is amazing and besides the BBQ you can find great Mexican here too.
So if you love warm weather, eating, or shopping, be sure to add Austin to your Texas bucket list!
State Capitol Building
The Texas Capitol in Austin is widely recognized as one of the most distinguished state capitols in the United States. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
Visitor can take guided tours for free which depart from the South Foyer outside of the tour guide office every thirty minutes. The tours take visitors to key areas of the building and cover topics on Texas history and legislature.
You can also visit the Capitol Visitors Center which is housed in the beautifully restored 1856-77 General Land Office building. The three story castle-like structure is the oldest state office building in Texas.
Murals In Austin
Austin is well known for its murals and numerous street art sprinkled throughout the city. These public artworks can be found everywhere from alleyways to the side of buildings.
Many visitors to the city of Austin specifically seek out the more famous murals such as the ‘You’re My Butter Half’ and the Austin postcard for fun photo opportunities.
Be sure to keep an eye out for these colorful paintings especially in the South of Congress district.
Hamilton Pool Preserve
Hamilton Pool is a gorgeous swimming hole with blue-green water that you can swim in during the summer months. This popular Texas destination is actually a collapsed grotto and features a 50 foot waterfall that plunges into a steep box canyon.
The area boasts a lush plant community, a variety of bird species, and many hiking trails that will take you through the preserve to enjoy the unique environment.
This fun and beautiful place is located only 45 minutes from Austin and makes a fun day trip.
If you are driving between Austin and Dallas be sure to add a stop in Waco. The infamous place turned celebrated town is due to popular HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines landmark store Magnolia Market being located here.
The celebrity couple’s store occupies two city blocks in the downtown area and is hard to miss as it sits beside two giant grain silos. Inside the main store you’ll find handpicked home decor and lifestyle items handpicked by Joanna herself and stunning interior displays in her style.
In addition to the main market, there are a variety of other stores including a bakery, coffee shop, and garden supply outlet. The shopping destination is surrounded by lovely landscaped gardens filled with produce and flowers that changes with the seasons.
North Houston Skatepark
Okay, so I’m sure you are thinking why would I want to see a skatepark?! But this isn’t any old skatepark, this is the biggest skatepark in the USA!!! Yes, in typical Texas fashion, they like to do everything bigger, skateparks included.
The North Houston skatepark weighs in at a whopping 78,000 square feet and consists of a long line of some prcool features like a 20 foot full pipe which is quite impressive if you happen to be a skateboarder.
Anyway, we recommend stopping by to see this monumental concrete playground. Some of the local skateboarders are quite talented and very entertaining to watch too.
Space Center Houston
Space Center Houston is the official visitor center of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. From here you can take an open-air tram tour to the Johnson Space Center to see where astronauts train for space missions plus see real life space rockets that are on display.
There are also all sorts of space related exhibits such as a replica of a space shuttle that you can walk through, and information on NASA’s upcoming space missions. You can even touch a rock that was brought back from the moon!
This place is a can’t miss if you are a space/astronomy enthusiast. Be sure to allow at least half a day to fully enjoy and explore the Space Center.
You can save money on your visit if you purchase a Houston City Pass which includes admission to the Space Center along with admission to the downtown aquarium, Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Houston zoo.
Caddo Lake is a 25,400 acre lake on the border of Texas and Louisiana. Believe it or not, this lake is the only natural lake in Texas. Yes, all the others in the lone star state are man-made.
While Caddo Lake is more like a swamp than a lake, it is no less impressive. In fact, it makes it even more beautiful.
Wildlife abounds here which includes owls, snakes, frogs, river otters and alligators. This lake is an internationally protected wetland under the Ramsar Convention as it is one of the largest flooded cypress forests in the USA.
Dallas is a large and sprawling city with plenty of museums, green spaces, amusement parks, world class restaurants, and some of the country’s top sporting teams like the Dallas Cowboys and the Mavericks.
For a complete guide to everything you should see and do in Dallas, see this Ultimate Dallas Bucket List.
The Reunion Tower is an iconic landmark in Dallas and one of the most easily recognizable features of the Dallas city skyline. It’s awesome to see it from a distance or towering above you from below, but it is even better going to the top to get a birds eye view of the city!
Visitors can experience panoramic views of downtown Dallas from the Reunion Towers 470-foot high indoor/outdoor observation deck.
The observation deck is reached via a thrilling ride inside a glass-panel elevator which is definitely not for the feint of heart! Admission to the Geo-Deck is free with the Dallas City Pass.
The Traveling Man is an installation in Deep Ellum that serves as an ambassador for the neighborhood reminding visitors and locals of the area’s history with trains and its more recent history as a cradle for the arts.
There are in fact three Traveling Man sculptures on Good Latimer Expressway and each of the figures are made of polished metal sheets held together with rivets, all meant to evoke the railway history of the Deep Ellum neighborhood.
These installations are the work of artist Brad Oldham and Brandon Oldenburg and each figure stems from a different narrative the artists created.
The story starts with a blues musician sitting underneath an elm tree who spills his can of gin which soaks down to the roots of the tree and touches a train car buried deep underground. The gin and the iron mix together and magically activate creating the Traveling Man.
Be sure to add seeing this unique art installation to your Dallas bucket list! Of course there are many things that are worth seeing in Dallas but this sculpture makes for some good photo opportunities that will be fun to look back on.
Join a one-of-a-kind tour of the world famous AT&T Stadium, home of the five time Superbowl champions the Dallas Cowboys.
On the tour, a guide will walk you through the expansive and impressive stadium including the radio box and private suites before heading over to the team’s locker room followed by the post game interview room. You’ll even have the opportunity to throw a ball on the field! The entire tour lasts about three hours.
Of course if you get the chance to catch a home game that would be a perfect addition to your travel itinerary too!
Fort Worth Stockyards
The Fort Worth Stockyards District attracts visitors from all over the world that come to experience the American West. And nothing embodies Western heritage better than Fort Worth’s Stockyards National Historic District.
From the original brick walkways to the wooden corrals, every inch of the Stockyards tells the history of Texas’s famous livestock industry.
The highlights would have to be watching the drovers herd steer down the main street which happens twice daily. Be sure to get there at least thirty minutes prior to the demonstration so you can get a good viewing spot.
Afterwards you can go shopping for western attire, relax at one of the restaurants or bars in the downtown area, or organize a short horseback ride. The kids will love the activities on offer here which includes a fun maze and pony rides.
Palo Duro Canyon
Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle can lay claim to being the second largest canyon in the country. This canyon was formed by millions of years of water erosion by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River.
This spectacularly scenic landscape offers a host of outdoor activities including hiking, mountain biking, horse riding, and wildlife watching inside the Palo Duro Canyon State Park.
For visitors who would like to stay overnight inside the park, there are campsites with and without water and electricity, three cabins, as well as luxury glamping opportunities.
The park is located just outside of Amarillo so if you prefer hotel style accommodation you can search for rooms here.
Amarillo is only four hours drive away from Oklahoma City so if you are headed that way on your road trip, see this guide to the 19 best things to do in Oklahoma City.
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