Lifestyle

The 50 Things You Must Do in Texas

Published On 07/20/2016 Published On 07/20/2016
Congress Ave Bridge bats in Austin
Congress Ave Bridge bats in Austin | Kushal Bose/Shutterstock

Whether you were born and raised in the Lone Star State or migrated here after realizing Texas is the best damn state in the whole damn country, you should take pride in having every pivotal Texan experience you possibly can. Consider this your official checklist of our state's iconic events, activities, sights, restaurants and bars. Since this state is seriously gigantic, we’re sure you have more to add, do so in the comments.

1. Conquer the 19 best burgers in Texas

If there were a class called Spending Your Short Time On This Earth Wisely 101, the final would most certainly involve eating your way through Texas. Start by burger road-tripping to taste monsters like the Bowling Alley Burger at Swift’s Attic in Austin, Seabrook’s famous Bean Burger from Tookie’s, the Burger from Hell” at Amarillo institution Coyote Bluff Cafe, and the Blue Ribbon Burger at San Antonio’s Cured.

2. Float a river

Boozing while tubing down a river -- any river -- is a Texas rite of passage. Hit the Guadalupe for a killer party scene, the Comal for a quick float with an urban feel, the Brazos for the scenery and the Possum Kingdom dam, and the spring-fed San Marcos and Frio to beat the heat. Whatever way you go, remember that bringing glass is for jerks.

3. Pull off a Schlitterbahn four-bagger

Texas’ beloved waterpark has four locations: Corpus Christi, Galveston, New Braunfels, and South Padre. Hit all of them and be forever named the “Sultan of Schlitterbahn.”

Flickr/Brian Russell

4. Camp out at Enchanted Rock

The nation’s second-largest granite dome is one of the choicest spots to catch those ultra-sexy, big and bright Texas stars. But that’s not even the coolest part about the massive pink batholith. Native tribes once believed the rock to be haunted, giving it magical powers, and legend has it anyone who stays overnight becomes invisible. If you were looking to be a part of the next Marvel franchise, this is pretty much your only chance.

5. Slurp wood-grilled oysters at Gilhooley's

Instinct may tell you not to trust oysters from what looks like a dive bar in the middle of Nowheresville. In this case, your instinct would be way wrong. These wood-fire roasted oysters, which get a healthy dab of Parmesan-garlic butter that crisps and bubbles in all the right places, are a legit Gulf Coast staple.

6. Roam the iconic Fort Worth Stockyards

...with an open container, because YOU CAN. Also, do "The Wobble" at the self-proclaimed "World’s Largest Honky Tonk," and watch out for the horse poop on the streets.

Flickr/lee leblanc

7. Visit a grotto way sweeter than the Playboy Mansion's

That would be Hamilton Pool Preserve in Dripping Springs. Unlike Hefner’s faux-boob-infested grotto, this cavernous limestone swimming hole -- complete with a trickling 50ft waterfall -- is au naturel. The mammoth natural pool was created when the dome over an underground river caved in.

8. Fake a spring break at South Padre Island

And where exactly do you fake this spring break, you ask? That’s easy. At one the best beach bars in the damn world.

9. Make a pit stop at Buc-ee's

Drive anywhere along the Central and Eastern regions of the Lone Star State and you’ll see a giant smiling beaver beckoning you in like a siren song. Listen to that call and enter a rest stop of Disneyland proportions, with cut-to-order beef jerky, fresh sandwiches, and homemade fudge bars, beaver paraphernalia, goodies like Beaver Nuggets and cheesy Beaver Nuggets, and nearly every kind of candy imaginable to get you through the rest of your road trip.

Jacob's Well | Flickr/Patrick Lewis

10. Get lost in Big Bend

With over 800,000 acres, Big Bend National Park is one of the largest national parks in the US. It’s also one of the most desolate, but that just makes it all the more beautiful... oh, and more super-easy to get lost in. Hike the well-known Chimneys and Marufo Vega Trails. Make your way over to the Santa Elena Canyon, the winding valley that separates the US and Mexico. Or try finding Cattail Falls, hidden off the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive at the base of the Chisos Mountains. The lush desert oasis comes complete with an Instagram-baiting waterfall that can reach up to 80ft. If you really do get lost, at least the park has the darkest skies in the state, making it ideal for viewing the stars.

11. Cliff-jump into Jacob's Well

Ever seek the thrill of diving headfirst into a natural artesian spring with an extremely dangerous limestone cave below it? Well, you’re in luck, because Jacob’s Well is just that. Thanks to a charted cave system nearly 140ft deep and almost a mile long (it’s believed to be the longest underwater cave in Texas), only experienced cave divers are permitted to go down, because as we stated, this guy’s pretty hazardous. But no worries -- regular folk can still cliff-jump into a 12ft swimming hole and hang by the water.

12. Embrace Texas’ Czech roots

Eat ALL the kolaches. Czech immigrants began arriving in Texas through the port of Galveston during the mid- to late 19th century, and they brought their sweetened dough, fruit, cheese, poppyseed, and sausage-filled pastries with them. Now you can find them all over Central Texas, from Houston to Rowena, but we suggest starting with Weikel's in La Grange, Hruska’s in Ellinger, and Czech Stop in West.

Kimberly Park/Killen’s Barbecue

13. Taste the gold standard of Texas barbecue

Six Texan spots made our list of the best BBQ joints in America. Get Flintstone-sized beef ribs and hand-stuffed jalapeño cheddar sausages at Lockhart’s legendary Black’s Barbecue. Head to Austin’s La Barbecue for incredible brisket with a side of live music and Austin soul. About 40 minutes away in Taylor, cult favorite Louie Mueller Barbecue draws crowds with the holy trinity of ribs, brisket, and snappy sausage stuffed on-site. Over in Dallas, Lockhart Smokehouse serves up juicy cuts of meat the old-school way, with brisket boasting an especially peppery, spicy bark (ask for the burnt ends on Thursdays); and the young gun Pecan Lodge brings new flavor with mesquite rubs, fat-rendered pulled pork with sweet vinegar sauce, and showstopping extras like beans, mac & cheese, and granny-style banana pudding. In Houston’s suburb of Pearland, Killen’s Barbecue provides one of the best beef ribs in the country (and the fried chicken, oh, the fried chicken). It wouldn’t be a barbecue tour without a pit stop at Snow’s BBQ in Lexington; living folk legend Tootsie Tomanetz’s mouthwateringly soft brisket is undeniably one of the best renditions in state.

14. Now compare them to the most underrated BBQ joints

Think any of the above are overrated? We’ve got a dozen under-the-radar spots vying to earn their place at the picnic table.

15. Get serenity now at the Rothko Chapel

Considered one of the most holy spots on the planet, the totally zen chapel earned a spot on National Geographic’s “Sacred Places of a Lifetime: 500 of the World's Most Peaceful and Powerful Destinations.” The stark, contemplative space encourages people of all faiths to get their meditation on, with around 80,000 people per year coming from all over the world to take in its majesty.

Andre m/Wikimedia

16. Remember The Alamo

Visit the enduring symbol of the Texans’ heroic resistance to oppression in their struggle for independence, The Alamo. Was that not obvious?

17. Visit the world's tallest monument column

The San Jacinto Monument, a 567.31ft soaring National Historic Landmark, commemorates the Battle of San Jacinto. If that means nothing to you, here’s a little history: that battle is widely known as the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution. Since we realize that may also mean nothing to you, here’s some more: Texas was once a Mexican province, and in 1835, American colonists in that province -- known as Texans -- rebelled against the increasingly centralist Mexican government in a year-long revolution that ended with the Republic of Texas being an independent country and eventually becoming a part of the US. We may have skipped a few things here and there, but you get the point. This monument is cool.

18. Play in the bluebonnets

Hopefully you’ve encountered the beauty of Texas bluebonnets, but you haven’t really done them right until you’ve taken a ride on the Willow City Loop, a hidden scenic loop outside of Fredericksburg. Take the girlfriend or boyfriend and bring some Hill Country wine and cheese for triple bonus points.

Flickr/Tom Hilton

19. Celebrate the Day of the Dead in San Antonio

Fact: there’s no better place in Texas to commemorate loved ones who have died than at the two-day Día de los Muertos festival held in San Antonio.

20. Visit Blue Bell

Though the state’s beloved ice creamery may have had a rough go of things lately, it remains a shining star in most Texans’ (listeria-free) eyes. Production tours are currently down, but there’s still a country store, ice cream parlor, and visitors center to check out in Brenham.

21. Be a real-life Batman

Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge houses the world's largest urban bat colony, with over 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats spiraling out from the bridge’s crevices near dusk. For the best viewing, visit April through October.

Flickr/Thomas & Dianne Jones

22. Kayak Caddo Lake

Created by the gigantic logjam dubbed the “Great Raft” -- which began backlogging the Red and Atchafalaya Rivers as far back as 1100-1200 AD, this East Texas lake is the only natural (read: not man-made) lake in Texas. Kayak through the sprawling labyrinth of lush bayous and wetlands, using the thick cypress trees cased in Spanish moss as a sort of lakeside slalom.

23. Mountain-bike through Palo Duro Canyon

Dubbed “The Grand Canyon of Texas,” this way-underrated sunken valley shows off a seemingly endless array of green- and sunset-colored terra-cotta. At 120 miles long, 20 miles wide, and 800ft deep, it’s the second-largest canyon in the United States -- but it's only visited by around 300,000 people per year (by comparison, the Grand Canyon gets over 5 million). At least that means it’s wide-open for biking and stargazing.

Dan Gentile/Thrillist

24. Get real-deal Tex-Mex

... by visiting any of these best Tex-Mex restaurants in Texas.

25. Eat deep-fried everything at the State Fair of Texas

We’re talking things like America’s original Corny Dog, chicken-fried lobster with Champagne gravy, funnel cake, and bacon cinnamon rolls, and deep-fried BEER.

26. Two-step at a dance hall

Over in New Braunfels you’ll find the oldest continually run dance hall in the state. Built in 1878, Gruene Hall has played home to country music greats like Willie Nelson, George Strait, and Lyle Lovett. Not one to be outdone, the city of Luckenbach is known for its honky tonk and live country music scene, even being immortalized in a Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson song.

Flickr/Amy Claxton

27. Get your rodeo on

You should have no problem finding a rodeo in Texas, but in case you do, here’s a start. There’s the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo from mid-January to early February, the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo in February, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo in March, and the Stockyards Championship Rodeo every single Friday and Saturday night.

28. Channel Indiana Jones

Texas has plenty of amazing caves, some of which lie just west of the small city of Sonora (which, FYI, is about halfway between San Antonio and Big Bend). Appropriately named the Caverns of Sonora, the massive cave was carved into Cretaceous-period limestone about 1-1.5 million years ago. Today it boasts one of the heaviest collections of calcite crystal formations, most especially helictites, in the world. Make sure to check out the “butterfly,” where two fishtail helictites share the same attachment point, and the "snake pit," where the formations are so densely packed, you’ll soon be Indiana Jonesing to get out.  

29. See the best star show in the state

The McDonald Observatory in Davis Mountains State Park legit hosts “Star Parties,” where you can look through a bunch of badass telescopes (including the biggest in Texas) to see night sky constellation tours and views of celestial objects. As with any good party, you need to RSVP to attend, but if you find yourself without reservations, the park’s dark, open skies are plenty good for catching views.

Stanley Ford/Shutterstock

30. Hike your way to Gorman Falls

We don’t even know why you’d visit Colorado Bend State Park without hiking the 1.5-mile trail to this hidden treasure. Afterward, you’ll be treated to a misty chill and a breathtaking 60ft waterfall cascading into a fern-coated grotto.

31. Trip out in Marfa

Experience hyper-reality in this offbeat West Texas town, where you’ll find a minimalistic Prada art installation in the middle of the desert, and mystery lights that have gone unexplained for over half a century. There’s also a bunch of hipster galleries, boutique shops, and a cosmopolitan dining scene that rivals those not in the middle of nowhere.

32. Pour one out for the Dublin Dr Pepper

For 121 years, Dublin Bottling Works in Dublin, TX made Dr Pepper the way it should be made -- using cane sugar as opposed to that high-fructose corn syrup crap. Sadly, due to disputes with Plano-based Dr Pepper Snapple Group, the factory ceased production of the cane sugar-fueled beverage in 2012. Rumor has it you can still get the original recipe bottles (albeit without the Dublin label) throughout areas including Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, and Waco, so pick one up and pour one out for this late Texas icon.

Flickr/DonkeyHotey

33. Live that astronaut life

The Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center is home to a bunch of great experiences, from International Space Station mission operations to astronaut ice cream. If you take the three-hour tram tour (YOLO!), you can even get a peek at the historic mission control room.

34. Pretend you're on Friday Night Lights

That TV show your ex-girlfriend used to “make you” watch but you secretly loved was inspired by a movie that was inspired by a book that was inspired by the Permian Panthers high school football team from good ol’ Odessa, Texas. That’s a whole lot of inspiration, so the least you can do is relive your glory days and go see them play.

35. Drink your way through the best craft breweries in Texas

We asked Texas beer connoisseurs to weigh in on the best craft breweries the Lone Star State has to offer. Sip fine craft suds at all 10, then finish with a stop at Spoetzl Brewery. The magical land that pumps out each and every can and bottle of Shiner also happens to be the oldest brewery in the state.

Flickr/Nicolas Henderson

36. Salute the Texas State Capitol

Take a guided tour of the 19th-century building... or just take a selfie in front of it, we won’t care, and neither will your mom.

37. Spend some time in the most underrated place in Texas

That would be the tiny old mercury mining town of Terlingua. Maybe you’ve never of it, but we bet you’ve heard of Chili’s, the Southwestern chain your grandma gets you gift certificates to every birthday. Turns out the chain was born out of the Chili Appreciation Society International's annual chili cook-off, which is held in Terlingua each November (which seems like as fine a time as any to visit).

38.  Survive at least one music festival

You have ample opportunity to rock your finest jorts and fringe vest at heavy-hitters like SXSW, ACL, FPSF, and Fun Fun Fun Fest. But if those seem too daunting, the music and dancing at Wurstfest, the 10-day salute to weenies, will suffice.

Flickr/dcwriterdawn

39. Do the River Walk

It’s kinda like doing the dinosaur, except instead of looking like an idiot and dancing, you’re actually strolling along the river, or touring on a boat, and eating/drinking your way through San Antonio. For best results, do it once in the spring and once around the holidays, when it’s more lit than your uncle at Christmas dinner.

40. Get to know the Third Coast

It may not have a rhyme as good as “West Coast is the best coast,” but it does have these excellent ways to spend your time.

41. Buy some damn boots

Country kid or not, you’ll want to rock some cowboy boots at least once during your Texan lifetime. Get rugged leather custom beauts from top-notch bootmakers at Texas Traditions (Austin), James Leddy Boots (Abilene), Western Leather Craft Boot (Amarillo), or Little’s Boots (San Antonio).

Flickr/Jinx!

42. Conquer "The Texan King"

The iconic Big Texan Steak Ranch harbors the opportunity of a lifetime, and that is the chance to tackle and defeat a colossal, 72oz hunk of Texas beef. If you can get the 4.5lbs of steak down, along with a baked potato, shrimp cocktail, salad, and bread roll accoutrement, in under one hour, your meal will be FREE. Your ambulance ride, on the other hand... well, that depends on how good your insurance is.

43. Smash a CFS

Probably any roadside diner will do (the shadier-looking the better), but you can head to Bandera, the “Cowboy Capital of the World,” where you’ll find chicken-fried all-star Old Spanish Trail; or Tomball, which houses the “Home of the Best Chicken Fried Steak in Texas,” Goodson’s Cafe.

Flickr/Nan Palmero

44. Try to hide your wine mouth in Fredericksburg

Who says California should have the monopoly on pounding a bunch of vino in the great outdoors (you know, so it's classy)? Texans can handle that all day! Pro tip: book a limo tour so that you can enjoy yourself more thoroughly.

45. Make a dent in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio’s respective to-do lists

It’s like a bucket list Inception.

46. Spend some time on a lake

Lake Travis. Inks Lake. Lake Conroe. Lake Livingston. Possum Kingdom Lake. Doesn’t matter. Just plop yourself on some sort of flotation device (tube, Jet Ski, 20-person pedal party boat), pop on some sunscreen and shades, and enjoy a day out in the Texas sun.

Krause Springs

47. ... and in a natural-fed spring

Try the Spicewood watering hole Krause Springs, a 115-acre family-owned property that shows off with 32 on-site springs, plus a waterfall, grotto, man-made spring-fed pool, and au naturel pool, which flows into Lake Travis.

48. Compete in a chili cook-off

We’ll give you a head start: make it hot, and don’t use beans.

Flickr/Chuck Coker

49. Cruise along Route 66

The Texas slice of the legendary Route 66 is 178 miles of ramshackle ghost towns and mighty fine roadside attractions, including Amarillo’s offbeat but totally rad Cadillac Ranch and McLean’s tribute to barbed wire, the Devil's Rope Museum.

50. Decide your Whataburger stance, one and for all

In cowboy country, it’s only fair we end our list the same way we started it: with BEEF. It’s also only fair that you consume the Corpus Christi-born Texas staple that is Whataburger until you deem it either the king of all fast-food burgers, or ehhh, just OK. Either way, never admit that you’re not a fan of the honey butter chicken biscuits. Texans are pretty serious about those.

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Brooke Viggiano is a Houston-based writer who’s kinda scared to attempt “The Texan King.” Share your 72oz beef war stories with her @BrookeViggiano.

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