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One's general impression of Texas is of a place where everything is bigger and better, where the state's estimated 16-million cattle roam free, and where life is at a cowboy's pace. However, as the second largest state in the US and dotted with half a dozen huge cities, Texas is vast and varied and defies its stereotypes.
Hills, lakes, mountains, beaches, bogs and desert stretch between its Gulf Coast and the Red River boundary north of the Panhandle. There are 23-million acres of woodlands, 125 state parks and four national forests. Large Texan cities like Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio provide the opportunity to soak up culture at a world-class art gallery before meandering through a scenic park. Home to the largest oil industry in the US, Texas also has one of the country's biggest wine-growing regions and boasts some of the nation's finest restaurants.
Historically, Native American groups like the Comanche and Apache roamed the Texan plains and Spanish settlements only began in 1690. In the following centuries, Texas became a conglomeration of settlements of various immigrant groups, and was an independent republic for 10 years with its characteristic Lone Star flag, finally acquiring statehood in 1845. The word Texas is a corruption of a Native American term for friend, and the hospitality of the cosmopolitan Texan people reflects this in a state that caters to everyone's interests.
Texas is home to a lot more than merely cowboys and rodeos. A rich state with so much to offer its visitors, the Lone Star State has a wealth of features and attractions. Not only is Texas perfect for those who enjoy the outdoors, but tourists will also find loads to see and do in any one of its world-class cities.
Particular favourites for sightseeing tourists include San Antonio's River Walk and the famous Alamo, the latter having played a very important role in the wars waged over Texas. Dallas is certainly worth the stop for those looking for arts and culture, easily found in the many museums and galleries, such as the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Old Red museum of Dallas County History and Culture.
The famed Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, where the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is commemorated, is also a must when in Dallas. A trip to Texas would somehow feel incomplete without a visit to the State Capitol in Austin, and of course the popular Space Center in Houston is a top attraction for both adults and children.
Texas is also a region home to some notable vineyards and wines, which can be enjoyed in any one of its many fine restaurants and bars, which means those looking for some good food and entertainment will not leave disappointed. A diverse state with something on every corner to see and explore, Texas is a brilliant destination for visitors of all ages.
Dallas Heritage Village is a living museum of 13 acres, preserving the area's rich history between 1840 and 1910. Visitors to Dallas can explore a working farm, discover elegant Victorian homes, and take in nearly 40 buildings, including a school, church, general store and saloon.There's even a bank alleged to have been robbed by the infamous Bonnie and Clyde. Visitors are also welcome to bring picnic lunches along and enjoy them on the park's lawns. The museum also hosts many events and programs, including lectures, fun workshops and scout days for boys and girls.
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy is commemorated in the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza where the 1963 shooting took place. Most chilling of the exhibits is the window area in the former Texas School Book Depository building from where sniper Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly fired the fatal shots at the 35th President's motorcade. The museum also documents Kennedy's life and legacy, featuring more than 20,000 artefacts and a large amount of archival material, recreating the social and political climate of 1963. A granite marker at the corner of Houston and Main Streets outside shows where Kennedy was assassinated and a memorial stands in nearby John F. Kennedy Plaza.
Fort Worth is the place to experience the romance of the Wild West, and the Stockyards National Historic District is the ideal starting point. It's packed with exciting attractions, including wild rodeos, country music gigs, and shops selling genuine cowboy gear. Hungry and thirsty patrons won't be disappointed by its saloons and Texan diners either. There's also Billy Bob's Honky Tonk, a giant country music club comprising an indoor rodeo, a massive dance floor and restaurants. Further attractions in the district include the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, the Fort Worth Stockyards Stables and the Stockyards Museum.
Fort Worth's Modern Art Museum is second only in size to its counterpart in New York, and is the oldest art museum in Texas. Its permanent collection of modern and contemporary paintings includes works by Picasso, Andy Warhol, Rauschenberg and Pollock, and is particularly strong on works in the pop and minimalist genres, as well as German art from the 70s and 80s. The museum also hosts visiting exhibitions and features a large sculpture collection. Altogether, the permanent collections on display amount to 3,000 works. The building has 53,000 square feet of gallery space and a state-of-the-art auditorium regularly hosting performances and shows.
Located in the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, the Cattle Raisers Museum is dedicated to telling the story of the cowboy and ranching industry. Interactive exhibits, authentic artefacts and theatre presentations bring the legends and lore of the Wild West life, from the famed Texas Rangers to daring cattle rustlers. This museum in Fort Worth covers four broad eras in the cattle industry, starting from 1850 until the present day, along with housing the largest collection of branding irons in the world.
Since its humble beginnings, Fort Worth Zoo now ranks as one of the best in the United States. More than 5,000 animals live in enclosures around the zoo, reflecting their natural habitats. African lions lounge, Asian elephants trumpet and stunning white tigers sit resplendent in their snowy coats. Striking Sumatran orangutans perch in their trees as the imperious Komodo Dragon transfixes onlookers. The zoo also boasts loads of reptiles, amphibians and birds, along with its fair share of marine life and creepy crawlies. Along with a movie theater and petting corral, the zoo also partakes in conservation programs and educational entertainment, such as its Outdoor Learning Theater.
Making science a blast of fun, the Don Harrington Discovery Center contains more than 100 hands-on activities and a recently renovated planetarium. An onsite aquarium features both saltwater and freshwater tanks, while its most popular draws include a Foucault pendulum and a tornado machine. Set in a 51-acre park with a lake and picnic spots, visitors will also enjoy its vibrant botanical garden as well as its permanent exhibits on birds of prey, the human body, and other planets' weather systems. Parents might also be interested in its summer camps and special Friday nights, when they can leave children to safely learn and play for hours.
The Amarillo Museum of Art has six galleries, housing a permanent collection that includes 17th through 19th century European paintings, 20th century modernists, Asian art, Middle Eastern textiles, and photography. There are also Edo period Japanese woodblock prints and Southeast Asian sculptures. Famous artists include Georgia O'Keeffe, Franz Kline, Louise Nevelson, Helen Frankenthaler and Francesco Guardi. A Concert Hall building is part of the museum complex and hosts various concerts and talks throughout the year, while the museum regularly stays open in the evening for a special exhibition that is accompanied by live music, street food stations, possibly a demonstration or presentation of some kind, and further activities such as screen-printing tutorials.
A million years ago a branch of the Red River carved a massive canyon through the northern Texas plains, forming the Palo Duro Canyon. Its walls plunge down some 1,000 feet (305m), exposing the striking layers of coloured rock strata. The Palo Duro Canyon State Park is also historically significant, marking the state's last battle between American troops and Native Americans. The canyon proves to be a great day out, with picnics, camping and horseback rides. Occasional educational talks are hosted by the park to educate visitors on various aspects of life in the canyon over the years.
The Houston Space Center is attached to NASA's mission control, the headquarters which guided pioneering astronauts and directed the space shuttle project. Houston's most popular tourist attraction, the center is located on Clear Lake off the Gulf Freeway I-45. Visitors will encounter wonders that both entertain and educate, including hundreds of hands-on displays, an Imax theatre and even a rare chance of seeing astronauts train. Guests can get an idea of what it's like to carry out everyday tasks in a low-gravity environment, and there is even an opportunity for visitors to practice some basic astronaut skills on simulators, such as landing the orbiter.
The Museum District in Houston features 19 museums and galleries, set within a 1.5 mile (2.4 km) of the striking Mecom Fountain. The Museum of Fine Art and the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston are great spots to start, as is the Rothko Chapel which itself is part of the famed Menil Collection. This is perhaps best followed by the Children's Museum to lighten the mood, while kids and adults alike will love the Museum of Natural Science, the Health Museum and the Houston Zoo. There is also the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum and the Houston Museum of African American Culture, among many others.
For a touch of the bizarre visit The Orange Show, a lot where a postman's obsession with his favourite fruit became a treasured local art space. Its labyrinth of orange passages and staircases has inspired Houston movements like the popular Art Car Parade and the Beer Can House, while the mosaics of Smither Park followed its quirky aesthetics and philosophies. The park is billed as Houston's first folk-inspired green space, even hosting personal ceremonies such as weddings. Public performances and shows are also regular occurrences.
The 19 acres of Sam Houston Park provides visitors with a larger than life look into the area's history. It features seven of the oldest buildings, now fully restored and relocated to this convenient central location. A small log cabin named the Old Place dates all the way back to 1823 while others were built throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Many of the buildings entrance travellers with the weight of time and history, while others are simply wonderful structures such as the St John Church and the Pilot House. The park itself was bought by the mayor in 1900 and landscaped into a gorgeous Victorian garden, with several permanent sculptures and memorials.
The magnificent pink mansion in the marshy elbow of Buffalo Bayou in Houston's River Oaks area was the home of Miss Ima Hogg. Miss Hogg and her two brothers bought the woodlands estate in 1925 and for two years, Miss Hogg worked on the gardens. At her death, she left her home and gardens as a legacy for the city. The gardens were the first 100 percent organic gardens in the state of Texas, with dedicated teams working to preserve and enhance them. The house contains a remarkable collection of Americana dating from 1620 to 1870 and is regarded as a cultural treasure, with several thousand objects displayed in 28 period room settings in the mansion.
At Barren Springs in Houston is an unusual private museum dedicated to funeral memorabilia, perhaps the biggest of its kind in the world. Customs, rituals, and traditions associated with burial from ancient Egypt to the present day are represented, with some highlights of the collection being restored horse-drawn and vintage automobile hearses, and a unique 1916 Packard funeral bus. The museum also features a gallery devoted to the funerals of famous figures like Elvis Presley, John F. Kennedy and Rudolph Valentino. Permanent exhibits focus on embalming, presidential funerals, mourning customs, Ghanaian and Japanese funerals, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and other intriguing displays.
Austin's impressive pink granite capitol building is rivalled only by that of the US Capitol in Washington, DC. Constructed in 1882, it stands proudly in sweeping grounds encircled by its original wrought-iron fence topped with gold Lone Stars. Its grand design is Renaissance Revival, proving an excellent example of late 19th century public architecture. Events and exhibits are regularly hosted, while its 9 hectare (22 acres) grounds contain monuments to causes including the heroes of the Alamo, volunteer firefighters and Vietnam veterans.
The 140-hectare (347-acre) Zilker Park is Austin's most popular public recreational area, dominated by its ancient spring-fed natural swimming pool known as Barton Springs, which Native Americans believed to have healing properties. There's also a botanical garden which features dinosaur tracks, a nature preserve, the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, canoes and biking and walking trails; there are sports facilities aplenty and amusements for children like the Zilker Zephyr miniature train and paddleboat rides. The Zilker Hillside Theatre hosts musical concerts throughout the year, and the park also hosts the Austin Nature and Science Center where exhibits and workshops run throughout the year. The Zilker Park's annual Christmas tree-lighting ceremony is a popular event, boasting a tree that stands 155 feet (47m) holding some 3,000 lights.
Texas hill country is renowned for its glorious spring blooms, with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center dedicated to the study and preservation of its native plants. Visitors enjoy 72 hectares (178 acres) of wildflowers in display gardens, with free lectures, guided tours and an array of different trails and inspiring displays. There are areas for the kids to play while the center regularly hosts artwork and photography exhibitions inspired by nature, especially wildfowers. The classic Mollie Steves Zachry Texas Arboretum is the perfect opportunity for visitors to learn more about Texan trees, with a particular focus on Texas oak.
The opulent plantation-style mansion home to the Texas State governor is one of the oldest buildings in the city, dating from 1856. Although it is still lived in when the governor is in town, the mansion is open to the public for limited hours each day and many historical artefacts are on display, including portraits of Davy Crockett and Sam Houston, and a collection of mementoes from each administration. The mansion has been recently renovated, guided tours are available, which offer interesting anecdotes about previous governors.
A major stop on national art circuit tours, the Blanton Museum of Art is found at the University of Texas in Austin. Highlights include the Suida-Manning Collection featuring 250 works by the Old Masters, as well as James A. Michener's collection of 20th-century American Art. There's also a sizable assemblage of Latin American Art, alongside rotating temporary exhibitions covering anything from the avant-garde to the abstract. These changing exhibits often contain themes that focus on aspects of American history and scenery depicted in art, as well as current artist showcases.
One of the more unusual tourist attractions in Austin, millions of Mexican free-tailed bats emerge every night from roosts beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin. The largest urban colony in the world, the bats take up residence under the bridge in mid-March each year and return to Mexico in early November, with 1.5 million creatures living under the bridge at the height of season. Their mass emergence generally takes place at dusk and is viewed by hundreds of people gathered around the bridge or at the Statesman's Bat Observation Center on the southeast side of Town Lake.
Rising from the desert in western Texas, the rugged Guadalupe Mountains National Park is the ancestral home of the Apache nations. The wilderness is now occupied by hundreds of plant, animal and bird species, with large amounts of mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Visitors can traverse more than 80 miles (129km) of trails on foot, horseback or 4x4. McKittrick Canyon in the northeast corner is regarded as the most beautiful spot in Texas, where oaks and maples make a colourful display in fall. There is a Junior Ranger program for kids, as well as camping for small or large groups.
The Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum is a non-profit organisation dedicated to memorialising the Holocaust and its victims, as well as covering the history and continued struggle for human rights. It is widely acclaimed for its creative programs, internationally celebrated exhibits and world-class speakers. The museum provides guided tours for groups, audio tours for individuals and public lectures, and even contains digitised testimony from survivors of genocides throughout the world. There's a strong focus on education, with it welcoming hundreds of school trips each year, while its West End location means loads of award-winning pubs and restaurants are nearby.
The Alamo has assumed mythological significance in American culture. Originally built as a mission by Spanish priests in 1724, the missionaries later gave the land to resident converts to continue their farming. But in the early 19th century, the Spanish military stationed cavalry at the old mission station. The men began calling the mission the Alamo, a reference to their hometown in Spain, and during the following wars over Texas, the Alamo played a very important role. Davy Crocket and his small party held out for 13 days against a 2,500-strong Mexican army before finally being overrun. While the actual Alamo is smaller than most visitors expect, its immense history and gravitas means it is seen as the cradle of Texan Liberty.
The River Walks serves as the centre of San Antonio's shopping and dining district. Winding its way for some five miles (8km) along the river, travellers can even take a stroll through La Villita Historic District. Dinner cruises are a perfect way to enjoy the scenery while over 20 exciting events take place every year, such as the Fiesta de las Luminarias and the Ford Holiday River Parade. Cobbled walkways sit a full level below the city's streets, lending a secluded and peaceful atmosphere, while there are plenty of restaurants, bars and theatres on hand such as the Pearl Brewery, the Alamo and the Aztec Theater.
The city's biggest theme park and one of the best-known in the United States, Six Flags Fiesta Texas keeps raising the bar with its water rides, roller coasters and musical shows. Experience the thrill of the Krypton Coaster, the looping Boomerang, and the Scream, a 20-storey free fall, or let fly through the air on the Screamin' Eagle Zipline or the Joker Carnival of Chaos. The rides all come with a rating, from mild to moderate to max, and there will surely be something for everyone's taste. After a long day out, there are plenty of snack shops, restaurants and ice-cream parlours, while there are numerous fun events to mark out on the calendar such as the Fight Night on Hallowe'en and the Coca Cola July 4th Fest.
The Buckhorn Saloon and Museum contains over 8,000 wildlife exhibits, wax effigies and other western memorabilia. The owner's wife also collected rattlesnake rattles which she used to create the unusual artwork still on display. The attached Ranger Museum is filled with guns from the era, along with a shooting gallery and a lifesize reproduction of San Antonio of the Wild West. But thirsty customers can still grab a local craft beer at the 129-year-old saloon, enjoyed at its original cherry and marble bar counter.
Described by National Geographic as the most beautiful building in San Antonio, the diminutive palace once served as the headquarters for the Spanish rulers of this region. Built in the Spanish Colonial style, it is said to have been erected as early as 1722. The lovely building is filled with treasures and historical relics from the 18th century and the patio flows onto a relaxing garden perfect for contemplation. The palace is an easy walk from the San Antonio River Walk, while on the last Sunday of every month a living history group visits in period costume and performs reenactments.
The rolling, rugged hills that begin on the northern outskirts of San Antonio are known as the Texas Hill Country. The region is known for its natural beauty found in carpets of spring flowers and abundant woodlands. Once declared by the New York Times as the nation's number one vacation spot, it sits behind only Florida as the top retirement destination. The unique blend of Spanish, German, Swiss and Austrian influence is noticeable in the food, bear, architecture and music. Interestingly, it also operates as the centre of the Texas wine region, producing mainly Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Key attractions include Enchanted Rock, an enormous granite dome, and the exciting city of San Marcos.
A resplendent South Texas coastal city, Corpus Christi enjoys a relaxed and laidback atmosphere. Affectionately known as the Sparkling City by the Sea, it's just 143 miles (230km) from San Antonio. Aside from its sought after beaches, visitors to Corpus Christi can venture on to the floating museum on the USS Lexington, wander through the botanical gardens and birding trails, or experience its vibrant promenade nightlife. Nature lovers won't be disappointed either as the Padre Island National Seashore, the longest undeveloped stretch of barrier islands in the world, is easily accessible from Corpus Christi.
Six Flags Over Texas has been a consistently popular family attraction for over 50 years, sitting midway between Dallas and Fort Worth. There's truly something for everyone, from thrilling coasters to gentle rides for the little ones. Six Flags Over Texas stages events and festivals throughout the year, such as Labor Day Weekend and Fathers Day Weekend. Across the road in summer sits Hurricane Harbor, a perfect antidote to those hot summer days. It's the largest waterpark in northern Texas, with numerous slides and pools. With over a million annual visitors, Six Flags Over Texas has earned its reputation as one of the premier theme parks in America and visitors to Fort Worth would be ill-advised to miss it, especially those travelling with kids in tow.
Texas is a very large state, with an incredibly diverse topography and therefore the Texas climate is hard to pinpoint. The Gulf Coast has a typically maritime climate, with hot, humid summers and mild winters. The central and northern areas are more continental, with hot summers and cold winters. Dry and hot conditions exist along the Mexican border in the southwest, and in the northwest, in the Texas/Oklahoma panhandle, winters are colder with snowfall a common occurrence. The state has two principal seasons - summer usually runs from about April to October, and winter begins in November, lasting until about March.
In summer, temperatures can range from 96°F (36°C) in El Paso in the southwest, to 91°F (33°C) in Amarillo in the panhandle, to 88°F (31°C) on the Gulf Coast, while winter temperatures in the same three areas can range from 29°F (-2°C), to a more mild 48°F (9°C) on the Gulf Coast. The rainfall in Texas can vary too, with the western areas experiencing the least amount and the east and southeast along the Gulf of Mexico experiencing the most. The Gulf Coast is susceptible to hurricanes and tornadoes, while the state has also experienced severe floods, as well as droughts.
Situated in La Mansión del Río in the downtown area, this highly regarded Tex-Mex restaurant offers both fabulous food and a wonderful setting on a riverside veranda shaded by palm trees. Tapas are available for each meal of the day; main courses are anchored on fresh, seasonal ingredients. Check out the $12 lunchtime 'Two Courses in 40 Minutes' special.
Start off slow at the super-modern first-floor bar before heading upstairs to the restaurant for some of San Antonio's best dining experience. Enjoy the elegant cuisine with the restaurant's celebrated chicken-fried oysters or blue-crab spring rolls. If you're on a budget but your appetite isn't, get here before 6.30pm for the 3-course dinner at only $30.
Fine dining in a beautiful 19th century house with gorgeous views of the river. The dishes are European fusion, with plenty of fresh fish and modern reinterpretations of classic dishes such as beef Wellington. The desserts are sensational and the wine list quite possibly the best in town.
This temple to Tex-Mex is hugely popular with locals, as much for its excellent food as its fun and lively vibe. Prepare yourself for Tex -Mex legends like crabmeat quesadillas and superb fajitas. The margaritas are an irresistible accompaniment.
If you're looking for barbequed meat done just the way you like it, accompanied by a choice of award-winning wines, head to fun and friendly Vic & Anthony's. This restaurant has a comfortable, tasteful dining room to host its clientele of carnivores, most of which are regulars.
By some margin Houston's best Indian eatery, Indika earns rave reviews for its unique combinations of Texas ingredients and Indian spices. Great desserts too. Don't miss the duck tandoori and order some naan bread to accompany just about every dish you order.
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