Hidden Gems of Texas

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With summer in full swing, it’s the perfect time of year to gather a group of friends or family and set out on a little adventure. Maybe you’re thinking of roaming the dreamy streets of Paris or seeing your first Broadway show in the Big Apple — but going on vacation doesn’t have to mean traveling internationally or even leaving your home state. There are abundant exciting travel destinations right here in Texas. Not sure where to go? Start with one of these.

Marfa

For a mystical, magical weekend, take a trek out to West Texas to discover the little town of Marfa. Tucked away in the high desert of the Trans-Pecos with a population of just around 2,000, Marfa may seem, at first glance, like any old, dusty western town. However, widely known as the arts hub of West Texas, Marfa is an eclectic town infused with a mixture of art, music, food and culture. According to the Marfa Chamber of Commerce website, the town was founded in the early 1880s as a railroad water stop, and later grew quickly during World War II. But in the 1970s, minimalist artist Donald Judd put Marfa on the map when he chose it as the home for both his studio space and permanent art installations. Since his death in 1994, both the Chinati Foundation and the Judd Foundation have been preserved to carry on his legacy, and they continue to serve as two of Marfa’s main attractions today. Its minimalist arts scene contrasted with the remote desert landscape draws in visitors from all over the country looking to experience the otherworldly magic of Marfa.

If you’re interested in spending a night in this West Texas gem, book a room at El Cosmico, a campground providing chic trailer, tent and teepee lodging. Or, if you prefer something more classic, check out Thunderbird Hotel or Hotel St. George. By day, you can explore the thriving arts scene, including Ballroom Marfa, a small gallery dedicated to visual arts, film, music and performance, or Prada Marfa, an art installation by artists Elmgreen & Dragset, created to resemble a Prada store just 20 minutes outside Marfa in the town of Valentine. Or, you can take a stroll through downtown and peruse some of the local shops, such as Freda, Wrong, Garza Marfa or Marfa Brand Soap. If you’re hungry, Marfa is also home to a diverse food scene, from fine dining at The Capri or Restaurant Cochineal to hole-in-the-wall eateries such as Food Shark and Stars Marfa. Of course, no trip to Marfa is complete without seeing the Marfa Lights, the mysterious glowing orbs that appear in the southeast horizon of town.

Franklin Mountain Trail Run Photos for Visit El Paso. Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer. Contact: michael.hermsmeyer@gmail.com / @mykehphoto / mykejh.com

El Paso

At the westernmost tip of Texas just along the Rio Grande, which serves as the border with Mexico, sits El Paso, Texas. Only a stone’s throw from its big-city neighbor across the border, Ciudad Juarez, El Paso is a melting pot of American and Mexican culture and history, which is infused in many of the city’s most popular attractions. At Chamizal National Memorial, a 55-acre park and cultural center, visitors have the opportunity to stand on what was once Mexican territory. While many people visit the site to enjoy its stunning landscape, the park also serves as a commemoration of the 1964 settlement of the border dispute between Mexico and the United States. Afterward, head over to the El Paso Mission Trail, the 9-mile historic route that encompasses the most notable surviving Spanish mission stations in Texas, including the Ysleta Mission, the oldest structure in Texas.

If you’re interested in exploring the outdoors, make the drive just 30 miles northeast of town to experience the natural beauty of Hueco Tanks State Park. Named after the immense rock hills and natural basins that collect rainwater, the park provides natural trails for hiking, panoramic views of the terrain and opportunities for rock climbing and camping. If you haven’t had your fill of scenic views, trek over to Franklin Mountains State Park, which boasts over 100 miles of hiking trails, as well as the popular Wyler Aerial Tramway, an aerial cable car that offers breathtaking views of the deep canyons and rugged mountains. If you’re in the mood to stay indoors and learn something new, visit one of El Paso’s many museums, such as the El Paso Holocaust Museum, the Museum of History or the Museum of Art. After a long day of exploring, grab a bite to eat at L & J Cafe, a local favorite which offers homemade Mexican fare, or Café Central, a chic downtown bistro serving the most upscale food in the city.

Fredericksburg

Less than a two-hour drive west of Austin, you’ll find the charming town of Fredericksburg nestled in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. Founded in 1846 by German immigrants and settlers, this quaint town contains authentic German culture, a variety of shops and boutiques, and over two dozen wineries. If you’re visiting on a warm summer day, there are plenty of outdoor activities to take advantage of. Seventeen miles north of Fredericksburg sits Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, one of the most popular hiking and camping sites in Texas. Here you can climb the magnificent 425-foot pink granite batholith called Enchanted Rock, which includes eight miles of trails, wildlife, spots for picnicking and rock-climbing opportunities. Another option for a day outdoors is to enjoy the beauty of Wildseed Farms, the nation’s largest wildflower farm. A Fredericksburg favorite for plant lovers, Wildseed Farms contains over 200 acres of wildflower fields, as well as walking trails, a butterfly garden and countless photo opportunities.

If you’d rather sip your way along the wine trails, the 30-mile stretch from Fredericksburg to Johnson City includes more than 30 wineries, including Pontotoc Vineyard, Lost Draw Cellars and Grape Creek Winery. In the evening, take a stroll down the historic Main Street in downtown Fredericksburg, where you’ll find over 100 shops, art galleries, theaters and restaurants. The street is split into two parts — the Magic Mile shopping district and the historic West Main Street — and at the epicenter, you’ll find Marktplatz, the site of frequent community events and festivals. For a German-inspired meal, grab a bite to eat at the Old German Bakery and Restaurant, Otto’s or Der Lindenbaum.

Brownsville

Located in the southern tip of Texas less than half an hour from the Gulf of Mexico, the city of Brownsville is home to a bicultural diversity and southern charm. Situated just across the Rio Grande from the Mexican town of Matamoros, Brownsville contains an authentic Tex-Mex culture that reveals itself through its architecture, traditions and history. For a warm summer day in this South Texas town, grab a swimsuit and towel and make a trip to Boca Chica State Park, an isolated white-sanded beach sitting just 20 miles east of town. Visitors can enjoy an afternoon swimming, fishing, sunbathing or watching wildlife in this local paradise. If you haven’t yet had your fill of the outdoors, head over to the Gladys Porter Zoo, a 31-acre zoological and botanical park containing over 1,500 rare species of mammals, birds and reptiles, located in the center of Brownsville’s Cultural District. Afterward, check out the Brownsville Farmers’ Market, hosted every Saturday in Linear Park. With a wide selection of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers, the Farmers’ Market is the perfect way to experience the community and support local farmers.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the town, make a trip to the Historic Brownsville Museum, where you can discover the region’s bicultural history and diverse culture. Housed in a Spanish-style building constructed as a Southern Pacific Railroad depot in 1928, the museum displays a variety of artifacts and photographs that reveal the town’s fascinating history. Or, if you’re interested in exploring even more, check out the Commemorative Air Force Museum, The Brownsville Museum of Fine Art or the Costumes of the Americas Museum.

Amarillo

Otherwise known as the “Yellow Rose of Texas,” Amarillo is located in the heart of the Texas Panhandle along Route 66. Beginning as a railroad town in the 1880s, Amarillo has transformed into a flourishing city filled with western heritage, a thriving arts scene and breathtaking natural scenery. If you’re the outdoorsy type, make sure to start out at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the second largest canyon in the country. Just 25 miles south of town, the canyon provides an unforgettable scenic view, and the park includes opportunities for zip lining, horseback riding, biking, camping and hiking. Next, for all of you art junkies, Cadillac Ranch is a must-see attraction. Built in 1974 by the art group Ant Farm on billionaire Stanley Marsh’s property, Cadillac Ranch is a public art installation comprised of 10 junkyard Cadillacs buried nose-first into the ground. If you plan on visiting this quirky Amarillo site, make sure to bring along a can of spray paint to add your own personal art to the exhibit. Next, head over to the giant pair of legs located off of I-27 heading south out of town. Built by local artist Lightnin’ McDuff, the sculpture is called “Ozymandias,” named after the famous poem written in 1818 by the Romantic poet Percy Shelley.

If you’re looking to learn something new or experience authentic Texas culture, take a trip to one of Amarillo’s many museums, such as the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum, the Texas Air & Space Museum or the Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum. Later, stop by The Big Texan Steak Ranch, where you can attempt the legendary 72-ounce steak challenge — if you can finish in under one hour, your meal is free. Whether you accept the challenge or opt to be a spectator, this iconic restaurant is worth the trip. Lastly, take a stroll down the Route 66 Historic District, lined with shops, antique stores, festivals and a variety of architectural styles, including Art Moderne, Art Deco and Spanish Revival. While the route no longer exists, the district continues to stand as a symbol of legendary highway that once carried travelers out of Amarillo for decades.

 

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