Travel

The Best Weekend Getaways Near Houston

French Quarter, New Orleans
French Quarter, New Orleans | f11photo/Shutterstock
French Quarter, New Orleans | f11photo/Shutterstock

Listen, we love Houston. We love it for its foodbarspatio and rooftop life, and hell, even for its absolute bonkers weather. But that doesn’t mean we don’t like to get away every now and then. With that in mind, we’ve put together a little road trip bucket list, with mini weekend itineraries that range from eating and drinking the town dry to boot-stompin’ at a rodeo, luxuriating on a historic ranch, and taking in the scenery of the Great Outdoors. Best of all, you won’t even need to be on the road that long: we’re talking six-hour drives, tops, which in Texas terms is basically a trip around the corner.

Best Food and Drink Getaway: New Orleans, Louisiana

The Big Easy isn’t just one of the greatest food and drink destinations close to Houston -- it’s one of the greatest food and drink destinations in the damn country. 

You’ll no doubt be tempted to start your trip with a New Orleans classic: piping hot beignets and cafe au lait from Cafe du Monde. Fight that urge if you can, though, because the far better play is to dodge the morning tourists and end your night there (it’s open 24 hours a day). Brunch is another solid option, and to get a glimpse into New Orlean’s storied past and experience Haute Creole fine dining, said brunch should be the jazzy kind at Commander’s Palace, a Garden District mainstay since 1893. Wear your finest threads (there’s a dress code) and jumpstart your day with boozy morning cocktails like the Classic Bloody Mary, spiked tableside; then dine on refined but unstuffy plates like turtle soup, duck confit legs & eggs, and smoked oyster/andouille-smothered biscuits & gravy. Jazz brunch runs 11am-1pm Saturday and 10am-1:30pm Sunday.

You’ll probably need a po’boy by midday, and we’ve got you covered, from the classic fried oyster at Domilise's to the fried oyster at Guy’s (perhaps a po’boy crawl is in order?). The sandwich will provide the perfect base for what you’re about to do to your body next: drink. Outside of the bars lining Bourbon and Frenchmen Streets that you’ll easily stumble upon on your own, essential NOLA watering holes include “immortal neighborhood joint” The Chart Room, the “swanky, lost-in-time” Sazerac Bar, and The Victorian Lounge, a dapper bar set in a “19th-century private-home-turned-hotel.” 

For dinner, you’ll want to hit one of the best restaurants at this very moment for an unforgettable meal. That could mean bone marrow bordelaise and moules frites at Justine; tuna toast and farro risotto at Bywater American Bistro; smothered catfish and whole grilled fish at Peche; crispy turkey necks and saffron pappardelle at Meril; or bbq octopus and fried pork chop stacks at Toups South

End the night with more drinks and live music, then do it all over again tomorrow.

Distance: 350 miles, about 5.5 hours by car (or try the Greyhound)

Frio River at Garner State Park
Frio River at Garner State Park | Richard A McMillin/Shutterstock

Best Outdoorsy Getaway: Garner State Park, Texas

With Big Bend roughly 640 miles and 5 billion worlds away (qualifying it for far more than just a quick weekend road trip), Garner State Park is your best bet for a scenic adventure in the Great Outdoors.

Camping is the way to go, here (just make sure to load up on provisions at Buc-ee’s on the way), with campsites offering amenities like picnic tables, outdoor grills, fire pits, and water and electricity. If that’s a bit too rusticated for you, try glamping at the full-on lodges, which feature kitchens, bathrooms, beds, and most importantly, A/C.

In the dog days of summer, you’ll want to beat the heat and float the Frio, which boasts chilly spring-fed waters and a much more peaceful experience than some of those other, rowdier Texas waterways. The winding, 2.9-mile river takes you through thousands of acres of scenic Hill Country terrain; rent paddle boats, kayaks, tubes, and multi-person floating islands to make your way along.
 
Once cooler weather finally arrives (and the leaves change color), take a hike through the park’s 1,700+ acres of beautiful foliage. Hikers and bikers can enjoy 16 miles of picturesque trails, with wildlife viewing, a 30-foot-deep cave, breathtaking rock overlooks, and towering, shady oaks. Sleep under the stars, and cozy up next to the fire.

Distance: 485 miles, 5 hours by car

Best “Has it all” Getaway: Austin, Texas

Houston has a love/hate relationship with Austin, but we’re not too stubborn to admit that the capital of the Lone Star State offers a little taste of everything: badass food and drink, live music and nightlife, epic outdoorsy activities (including the Greenbelt), and food truck parks to boot.

Want a taste of that outdoorsy stuff? You can reserve your spot for Hamilton Pool, a mammoth natural pool and grotto with a 45-foot waterfall that sits about 30 miles outside of Downtown Austin, way in advance of your travel plans; if it’s already booked up, the open-to-the-public, in-city Barton Springs is waiting for you. Or you can try stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking on Lady Bird Lake, check out the panoramic city views from Mount Bonnell, and play disc golf at Zilker Park. Before you attempt any of this, though, you’ll want breakfast -- more specifically, breakfast tacos.

Another great way to spend your day is to grab a scooter and scoot your way down South Congress, Austin’s iconic avenue. You’ll find tons of shopping and classic Austin spots like Magnolia Cafe, Amy’s Ice Creams, Home Slice Pizza, Guero’s Taco Bar (a mighty fine place to stop for live music and a margarita), and Perla's (where you can unwind with happy hour drinks and oysters on its tree-shaded patio). For more info, check out our in-depth guide to the best of South Congress.

Maybe you’re just in it for the ‘que. Austin plays home to a host of barbecue legends, from Franklin Barbecue and Black’s to la Barbecue.

Dinnertime means you’re securing a table at one of the best restaurants in Austin right now, a list that includes offbeat Asian street food spot Soursop, New American dim sum and pasta purveyor Emmer & Rye, and South Austin staple Odd Duck, among other of-the-moment spots.

After dinner, you’ll want to see exactly why Austin is considered the “Live Music Capital of the World,” or maybe relive your college days on Dirty 6th (or explore its modern equivalent, Rainey Street).

Before you head back to H-town, you’ll need some fuel in the form of brunch. Fill up on chilaquiles and grapefruit concha at Suerte; sunshine bowls and plancha burgers at Launderette; or Sway’s Thai fried chicken and waffle.

Don’t miss our Austin Destination Guide for info on where to stay, and even more essential local experiences.

Distance: 165 miles, 2 hours and 40 minutes by car (or bus)

Coolest Small Town Getaway: San Marcos

While there are plenty of excellent small towns worth road-trippin’ to from Houston, San Marcos is the coolest of them all. The low-key Hill Country college town has slowly but surely been making gains on Austin, offering a thriving live music scene, crystal-clear river perfect for tubing, and its very own brand of hippie weirdness.

In the morning, you’ll want to be hitting that river -- the 72-degree, spring-fed San Marcos River to be precise. Try a kayak, or if tubing is in-season, rent yourself one at Texas State Tubes; walk-up rates run $20, including a shuttle ride to the drop off point, and you can tack on an extra tube for your ice chest for $10 (or get one with a built-in ice chest for $15). The full float lasts around 3 hours, which should be more than enough time to drink whatever non-glass beverage of choice you’ve filled that cooler with.

Head back to your Airbnb for a quick change, then check out the brewery scene, hitting up hoppy heroes like Hops & Grain, Middleton Brewing, and AquaBrew, where you can drink your suds alongside beer queso pretzels, porter bbq burgers, and pork schnitzel in the beer garden.  

Looking for fancier fare? Try Blue Dahlia, a stylish bistro that has brought its open-faced tartines, butter croissants, and drunken mussels straight from its original home in Austin.

By night, you’ll find a music scene that rivals Austin’s coming alive around The Square, San Marcos’ nightlife district. Hop from Kiva to the Green Parrot to Chances R, and on to Cheatham Street Warehouse. Afterwards, get late-night street tacos and tortas at Santi’s, grab a slice at Gumby’s Pizza, or dig into a bucket list burger at Taproom.

A lazy brunch of beers and migas at Zelicks Ice House is the perfect way to say goodbye to your weekend. Grab some Tantra Coffee for the ride home.

Distance: 165 miles, around 2 hours and 45 minutes by car

Best Romantic Getaway: Fredericksburg, Texas

Smack in the middle of the beautiful Texas Hill Country lies a charming, romantic little town where you can get some R&R at a B&B. But perhaps most importantly, you can do so with some C&C -- cabernet and cheese -- because Fredericksburg is absolutely loaded with wineries.

You can stay just a block off Main Street at luxury B&B Hoffman Haus; cozy up in a romantic retreat in Messina Hof Winery’s Manor Haus; get pampered at Magnolia House; stay in a cottage at the Fredericksburg Herb Farm; or go off-the-radar at Trois Estate. The village of suites and villas is carved right into the rocky landscape of Hill Country, and it offers dazzling views of Enchanted Rock: a massive pink batholith that’s one of the choicest spots to catch those ultra-sexy, big and bright Texas stars.

Take the wine road and you’ll find 19 wineries within striking distance, including (but not limited to) Becker Vineyards, 4.0 Cellars, Pedernales Cellars, Messina Hof, and Grape Creek Vineyards, aka the “Tuscany of Texas.” After you’ve had your fill of wine and cheese, stroll the historic Main Street in Old Town Fredericksburg, popping into shops, art galleries, cafes and bakeries (you’ll want to stop in Fredericksburg Pie Company if its open), and even more tasting rooms. 

When you’re ready for dinner, there’s foie gras and duck schnitzel at Otto’s; charred pulpo and grilled lamb rack at Vaudeville; and CFS and whole-grilled flounder for two at Hilltop Cafe. Afterward, see if anything is going down at the Marktplatz (Market Square), which hosts festivals, concerts and more, or head to Silver Creek Beer Garden & Grille for a nightcap and live music.

The beautiful Fredericksburg Herb Farm (with a bistro, gift shop, and garden) makes a nice, quiet next-day activity. If it’s springtime, you’ll want to snap pics in the Texas bluebonnets of the Willow City Loop before the drive home.

Distance: 230 miles, 3 hours and 45 minutes by car

Best Barbecue Getaway: Lockhart, Texas

A short trip to this flavor-packed smoke town should be on any true Texan’s bucket list. Dubbed the “BBQ Capital of Texas,” Lockhart is easily one of the most legendary barbecue destinations in the world. While you could make it a daytrip, you’ll need at least two days if you stand any chance of eating your way through it.

Channel your college days and stay boarding-house-style at Ellison House, an 1880s-home-turned-boutique hotel with only four rooms up for grabs; or, y’know, check out Airbnb. Don’t forget to pack a cooler, though, because you’ll be wanting to bring some of this meat home.

Your Day One itinerary includes the bulk of your eating, as you tackle at least two of the Big Three: Black’s Barbecue (open since 1932), Kreuz Market (est. 1900), and Smitty’s Market (since 1948). You need to consume a lot of meat today, so be sure to stop for breaks, share with friends, and proceed in any order you please. 

At Black’s, third generation pitmaster Kent Black is slow smoking his barbecue with a simple rub and local Post Oak wood. Choose the behemoth beef rib, packing a 9-inch long bone with around 2 inches of fatty, marbled beef cocooning it; and don’t forget the hand-stuffed and -tied homemade sausage (original, garlic, or jalapeno-cheddar), made from an 80-year-old recipe that has stood the test of time.

The black soot covering Smitty’s foyer and pit room is a good sign -- it means the place is alive and kickin’ after all these years. Go for the Texas trinity of brisket, pork ribs, and sausage, fresh from the pit, and throw on a pork chop or shoulder clod if you’re feeling wild. This is the kind of spot where asking for sauce is welcome, and it’s a tasty sauce indeed. 

Hopefully you’re well rested, because you’re not done with the meat sweats just yet. Lockhart has one more stop in store for your before the drive home: Chisholm Trail Barbecue (opened by a Black’s alum in 1978). There’s a drive-thru and bbq sandwiches if you so please, but you can also head inside for a full plate lunch packed with smoked turkey, sausage links, and moist brisket, with sides like mac and cheese, hash browns, and broccoli salad… because you should probably get some greens in.

Distance: 156 miles, around 2 hours and 15 minutes by car

Galveston Pleasure Pier
Galveston Pleasure Pier | Ramiro Reyna Jr/Shutterstock

Best Nearby Getaway: Galveston Island, Texas

Love it or hate it, Galveston is the closest beach we’ve got here in Houston (and we actually do love it). Here’s how you can love it, too:

It begins with a stay at one of the island’s most luxurious choices: The Tremont House, a historic boutique hotel dating back to 1839 that is set right in the heart of the action on the Strand. Inside you’ll find the Tremont Cafe, jazzy Toujouse bar, and The Rooftop Bar, with a four-story view of downtown and the harbor and sexy glow from an 8ft lighted manzanita tree. Other fancy hotel options include Hotel Galvez & Spa and The San Luis Resort‎; but if you’re looking for more space, Airbnb or Vrbo is the way to go.

Upon arrival, you’ll want food. Follow the locals to Mosquito Cafe, tucked away in a quaint 1870s building in the historic East End where you’ll find chalkboard specials and jazzed-up breakfast staples -- corned beef tacos, eggs Benny on a scratch-made scones, and shrimp, grits & eggs. Or go straight for the seafood and island hotspots Shrimp 'N Stuff and Little Daddy’s Gumbo Bar.

If it’s not a beach day, you’re spending the rest of the day exploring. Hit the historic Strand District, a 70-block jewel where you’ll find gorgeous Victorian buildings housing museums, boutiques, theaters, shops, and La King’s Confectionary, an old-timey sweets shop where you’ll be picking up some ice cream, dipped chocolates, and taffy. 

Is it time for happy hour yet? Head to the chic Porch Cafe to enjoy Bloody Mary ceviche, frozen margs, and porchside views of the island. Just don’t go too crazy on the food, you have dinner reservations at Rudy & Paco, a Latin seafood fine dining spot where you’ll dine on plantain-crusted Gulf red snapper, open-face lobster tempura, and Vuelve a La Vida.

Afterward, hit the town and pop from party spots like Yaga’s Tsunami and Float Pool Bar to the five-in-one Island Famous venues to low-key dives like Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe and Daiquiri Time Out.

Before you make the short trip back to H-town, get in some extra island time by hitting the 32-miles of sands, having some old school fun at the Pleasure Pier amusement park, checking out historically and architecturally significant spots like the 1877 Tall Ship Elissa and 1892 Bishop’s Palace, or at the very least, getting a beer at Galveston Island Brewing Company

Distance: 50 miles, just under an hour by car

Best Family Getaway: San Antonio, Texas

Whether you’re after history, amusement park thrills, gastronomic exploration, or boozing by the river, San Antonio has something for everyone.

Set up at a hotel right on the River Walk and start with some early morning breakfast tacos and potato pancakes at local institution Schilo’s; then take a short trip over to the legendary Alamo to re-learn its epic story (or stand outside and watch the line of tourists blinking in the sun). The rest of your day can be spent delving deeper into history at the straight-up gorgeous Spanish colonial missions. You’ll find four breathtaking beauties -- Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada -- sittin’ pretty at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, their towering walls and arches dating back to the early 1700s. Or, you can get absolutely no culture at all, and spend your day at Six Flags Fiesta or SeaWorld

Shower back at the hotel and hit the River Walk by night -- yes, it may be a “tourist trap,” but it’s still worth exploring. For dinner, grab quesadillas for the kiddos, margaritas and mole poblano for you, and tableside guac for everyone at Acenar; or try one of these other restaurants to avoid any tourist trappiness altogether. Away from the River Walk, The Cove is a kid-friendly spot where you can grab a drink while the kids run around, and dine on grass-fed burgers, fish tacos, and fresh-cut fries.

The next day, head over to the family-friendly Pearl District on the way out, hitting the shops and splash pad; grabbing blackberry toasts, quiche, and ham and egg muffins at Bakery Lorraine; and checking out the weekend morning Farmers Market to pick up artisan snacks and local coffee for the road. 

Distance: 197 miles, around 3 hours by car

Best “Taste of Texas” Getaway: Fort Worth, Texas

Sitting in the shadow of its flashier cousin, Dallas (which okay, you should also take a road trip to visit sometime), is a big-small town known as Fort Worth --- aka Cowtown, a moniker it picked up when drovers trailed over four million head of cattle through it between 1866 and 1890, a final stop for rest and supplies before crossing the Red River into Indian Territory. 

You’ll see why its named as such when you visit the Historic Stockyards District, where you can get a true feel for cowboy culture, boots and all. Home to the Cowtown Coliseum, the country’s first indoor rodeo, you can visit the Stockyards to see the rodeo every Friday and Saturday night at 8pm, and cattle drives daily at 11:30am and 4pm (weather permitting). You can also check out the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, and guzzle down drinks at The Basement Bar, the 70-year-old Cowtown Winery (closed until January 2020), Filthy McNasty’s Saloon, and the iconic Billy’s Bob’s Texas honky tonk. Better still, if you’d rather just sip a beer while you walk around the Stockyards, that’s actually a thing you can do -- provided you buy said beer on Exchange Avenue.

When you’re ready for eats, there’s real-deal smoked meats at Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, and Tex Mex staples at the nearby Joe T Garcia’s. Tourist trap or not, Garcia’s makes a damn good margarita and family-style dinner for two, with two cheese nachos, two cheese enchiladas, two beef tacos, rice, beans, corn tortillas, chips, guac, and hot sauce.

By night, you’ll want to hit even more Stockyards watering holes, getting your two-step on at honky tonks like The Longhorn Saloon, The Stampede Saloon, and funky nightclub the Neon Moon Saloon

Beyond the Stockyards, you can spend your night dining on open-fire grilled oysters and paella, chicken-fried steak, and tomahawk prime rib at Woodshed Smokehouse; catching a flick at the old school drive-in theater, the Coyote Drive-In; jamming to live local music at cool blues venue Key’s Lounge; or grabbing drinks at any of these tried-and-true watering holes.

Before you leave town, get one last taste of that cowboy life with smoked brisket and pinto beans at Billy’s Oak Acres (and some banana pudding, because cowboys like that, too).

Distance: 262 miles, around 4 hours by car

Most Luxurious Getaway: The Inn at Dos Brisas

Roughly 45 minutes from Houston lies the escape you never knew you needed: a Relais & Châteaux framed by lakes, wildflowers, and pecan trees, combining luxury and rusticity along with the only Forbes five-star restaurant in Texas.

Book a private Casita with a fireplace and 750 square feet of living space, or go for the gold with a 1,795 square foot-Hacienda, rocking soaring cathedral ceilings, French Oak floors, and private heated plunge pool. You’ll have to convince yourself to leave your room, though, because otherwise you’ll miss out on trail riding and half Clydesdale carriage tours, wine tastings with an in-house sommelier, daily sundown socials, baking and cooking classes, clay shooting, organic farming lessons, swimming, golfing, and tennis, massages and spa treatments, walks in the rose garden, and stargazing.

In between, you can dine on heirloom tomato carpaccio, local pasture-raised Wagyu in Bordelaise, day boat Gulf snapper, and Valrhona chocolate sorbet. Stay for Sunday brunch, where you can start with foraged mushrooms with chorizo spice, move on to confit chicken enchiladas & eggs, and finish with local figs, honey ice cream, and angel food cake.

Distance: 70 miles, a little over an hour by car

Best River Getaway: New Braunfels, Texas

You have your choice of living that river life along one of the two waterways running through this historic Hill Country town. 

The Comal is the shorter of the two: a beautiful, spring-fed river that flows through Landa Park, Downtown New Braunfels, and Schlitterbahn Waterpark before merging with its bigger cousin, the Guadalupe. Its waters sit at a steady 70 to 72 degrees year-round, offering in-season floating and whenever-you-want kayaking. Check out Airbnbs right on the Comal, or rent a spot on the Guadalupe, an epicenter for Texas summer tubing that’s equal parts fun and gorgeous. Lined by bald cypress trees and with rugged flows originating out of Canyon Lake, you can take 2, 3, and 6-hour floats, or go fishing, swimming, and paddling.

No matter the season, both are choice destinations for one of Texas’ most beloved pastimes: drinking by a river. But while you’re not doing that, you’ll also want to check out the cool haunts over in the Gruene Historic District, which houses the Gruene Mansion Inn, antique and specialty shops rocking real deal cowboy hats, Old World books, custom salt scrubs, olive oils, and pickles. You’ll also find the district’s pièce de résistance, Gruene Hall: built in 1878, it’s the oldest dance hall in Texas. 

When you’re hungry, fill up on margs and enchiladas at Cantina del Rio; wine, dine, and jam on corn fritters and smoked pork chop at The River House; go for sliders, garlic fries, and libations at Mozie’s; or dig into legendary Texas eats like CFS, battered and bacon wrapped jalapeños, and the “best” wurst at Gristmill Restaurant

You can also spend a day hitting up breweries on the Hill Country Craft Beer Trail, get your wine fix at Dry Comal Creek Vineyards, visit a Texas-style African safari, check out the murals at an Outdoor Art Museum, or journey your way through the Natural Bridge Caverns, located around 25 miles west of town.

Before you get back on the highway, pick up some jerky from the New Braunfels Smokehouse for the ride home.

Distance: 175 miles, around 2 hours and 40 minutes by car

Best Beach Getaway: South Padre Island

When you hear South Padre Island, you probably think of belligerent Spring Breakers crushing Tecates on their foreheads. But this blissful island escape is so much more than that. 

With 34 miles of white sands and the clearest emerald waters in the state (and dolphins!), South Padre Island is the crown jewel of Texas beachfronts. On the southernmost tip of the island you’ll find another rarity: a mile-long, unspoiled beach at Isla Blanca Park. Pitch a tent there for a more serene stay, or rent an entire beachhouse for you and your crew if you’re in it to party.

Drinking on the beach is allowed on South Padre (but glass isn’t). Pack a cooler and enjoy the sands, try your hand at kite-surging, or check out fun daytime beach bars like Clayton’s and Wanna Wanna. You’ll find food at both, but you can also make your way to island favorites like build-your-own ceviche spot Ceviche Ceviche or Tex-Mex haven Chilitto Pikin

Later, score a sunset table at popular restaurants like Laguna Bob’s, The Palms Resort’s Cafe on the Beach, and Pier 19; or head to Louie’s Backyard for its famous all-you-can-eat prime rib and seafood dinner on the bayfront. You can stick around for more action at the attached sports bar and nightclub, then continue the party at Tequila Sunset, the island’s hottest nightclub.

If partying isn’t your thing, go get your nighttime thrills on the “Tallest Reverse-Bungee in the World” at Gravity Park, an epic adventureland that also features adults-only go karts, a rock wall, and a giant swing with views of the island. Just make sure to grab some of the best fried seafood you’ve ever had at Dirty Al’s before your trek home.

Distance: 375 miles, around 6 hours by car

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Brooke Viggiano is a Houston-based writer who suddenly really needs a weekend getaway. For now, you can staycation with her on IG @brookiefafa or on Twitter @brookeviggiano.