The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in South Texas

From stunning beaches to one of the most desolate national parks, find inner peace without traveling (too) far.

Have y’all heard? Texas is pretty beautiful, and in particular, our southern half (which lies just south of San Marcos, and is bordered by the Gulf of Mexico and Rio Grande) is no-joke gorgeous. There’s the 367 miles of coastline, for starters; plus all sorts of other natural wonders, including but not limited to prehistoric limestone caverns and flowing cliffside rivers. Not to be outdone, we’ve got some man-made relics that are absolute beauts, too. Have you peeped those epic colonial missions dating back to the 1700s? All of this to say, the southside of the Lone Star is totally worth exploring. Here are the most visually stunning places to check out.

Don’t knock it ‘til you try it. Houston’s favorite barrier island rocks both a gorgeous, 70-block historic Strand District and 30+ miles of salty sands. East Beach is where most of the action lies, while the nearby Stewart Beach is a bit tamer for those looking for an untouched slice of bliss by the water. Want even more quiet time? Catch a ferry over to Bolivar Peninsula to find the pristine sands of Crystal Beach.

Visit Port Aransas
Visit Port Aransas

Mustang Island
On the north end of Mustang Island, Port A’s a fun place to spend some time. It’s also a beautiful place to spend some time, with 18 miles of unruffled shoreline and enough Gulf Coast charm to warm the soul. Do that, then hop on a jetty over to the 21 miles of undisturbed sands on the privately-owned San Jose Island, which is home to some of the best birding and saltwater fishing in the Lone Star.

Rockport Beach, Texas
Conscious Matter/Shutterstock

Third Coast beaches don’t get nearly enough cred. Case in point: this mile-long dime piece, with calm, crystal-clear surf and a crescent of near-virgin sands. Set in Aransas Bay, Rockport Beach just so happens to be the state’s first Blue Wave beach, a Clean Beaches Coalition certification that ensures the shores are robust and healthy. At sunset, a breezy stroll down the 1,500 feet lighted pier that jets out into the water is basically the definition of romance.

Guadalupe State Park, Texas
Richard A McMillin/Shutterstock

New Braunfels
You may not fully appreciate it as you’re tubing down the river slapping a bag of Franzia, but the Guadalupe River is pretty damn gorgeous. Lined with bald cypress, sycamore, and pecan trees and rugged limestone bluffs, and coursing over four natural rapids, the winding stretch of water is the star of the show at this state park. Kayak, raft, tube, or just plop yourself in to get a slice of the laid-back Hill Country life.

San Antonio Missions
Mission San Jose | Richard A McMillin/Shutterstock

San Antonio Missions

It’s not all natural beauty in the Lone Star. There’s a reason San Antonio’s Spanish colonial missions are tourist attractions, and that’s because they are straight-up gorgeous. You’ll find four breathtaking beauts—Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada—sittin’ pretty at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, and a fifth, the Alamo, a little upstream. With towering walls and arches dating back to the early 1700s, there’s no better place in Texas to play out your GoT fantasies. And since you’ve already road tripped over there, you may as well check out San Antonio, too.

South Padre Island
Flickr/Todd Carr

South Padre Island

With white sands and the clearest emerald waters in the state, South Padre Island is the crown jewel of Texas beachfronts. On the southernmost tip of the only island in Texas is another rarity, a mile-long, unspoiled beach at Isla Blanca Park. The underdeveloped preserve is perhaps the best spot to pitch a tent and reflect on all of the damage you did at Clayton’s the night before.

Santa Elena Canyon
Linda Moon/Shutterstock

Santa Elena Canyon Rio Grande

Big Bend isn’t messing around when it calls itself big (the park named itself, obviously). At over 800,000 acres, it’s one of the largest national parks in the entire country. Lucky for you, it’s also one of the most desolate, with only around 450,000 visitors annually…compare that to Yellowstone’s 4.8 million visitors and you get it. It doesn’t get more scenic, or more serene, than the Santa Elena Canyon, the enormous winding valley that separates the US and Mexico. Flowing with the waters of the Rio Grande River and faced with 1,000 feet cliffs, you’ll want to break out the selfie stick for this one.

Garner State park
Richard A McMillin/Shutterstock

Almost three miles of the Frio River cascades straight through this 1,774-acre state park. ICYMI, the spring-fed Frio River is named for its cold temps, making it a prime spot to escape the blistering Texas heat. The lush landscape surrounding the limestone cliffs, deep canyons, and clear streams grows undisturbed, providing a natural beauty that is also a prime spot to escape today’s overly manicured world.

Cave without a name

Fifty miles outside San Antonio, the Cave Without a Name literally has no name. A statewide contest was held to name it in 1940, and after one kid suggested that the limestone cave "was too beautiful to have a name," its lack of a moniker was born. The cave was first discovered in the early 20th century, when a small farm animal got trapped in a sinkhole. Years later during Prohibition, a moonshine distillery set up shop (can we start a petition to bring that back?). In 1975, cavers mapped out over 2.7 miles of caverns, just over a quarter of a mile of which are open for tours today, with six immense rooms bursting with stalactites, stalagmites, and helictites for your viewing pleasure.

Dolan Falls
Flickr/Patrick Lewis

Located in the remote southwestern slice of the state, the 94-mile Devils River flows southwest through the desert before emptying into Lake Amistad. It’s remote location makes it one of the most pristine rivers in Texas, and its lack of access points makes it one of the hardest to visit. If you do find your way there, you’ll be treated to steep limestone ridges dotted with juniper and mesquite trees, flowing freshwater rapids, and Dolan Falls, a 15 feet waterfall that is not open to the public, so you really shouldn’t be there.

Boca Chica beach

While we’ve established that South Padre is quite purty, it’s also known for a bit of an insanely rowdy, Spring Break-ish crowd. Just detached from the island, though, there is a glimmer of isolation—this eight-mile, untouched strip of sand that is protected as part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. The desolate beach in the deep Texas south feels a million miles away from it all, making it exactly where you want to camp, fish, snorkel, and straight-up chill without the noise of the modern world.

Natural Bridge Caverns

San Antonio
Texas’ caverns aren’t only breathtaking, they’re also cool as hell. This 180-feet-below-ground wonder is no exception. Four college kids discovered the two-mile-long cavern under a limestone bridge in 1960, and today, you can pay your respects to the natural relic through guided hikes. Formed by an underground river that dissolved the limestone, the truly dope caves are chock-full of geological allure, from a large stalagmite known as The King's Throne to a funky-looking “chandelier” in the Castle of the White Giants.

Sign up here for our daily Houston email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.

Brooke Viggiano is a Houston-based writer who is serious about that moonshine-cave petition. Sign hers @BrookeViggiano.