The Ultimate Texas Road Trip

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Deal Expert, Chicago
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They say everything’s bigger in Texas, so we decided to put together an ultimate road trip from Dallas to the Gulf Coast.

As you drive past bluebonnets and other wildflowers, here’s our deal experts’ collection of must-see spots, hidden gems and the best places to eat in the Lone Star State. And of course, a few deals to use while you’re there.

Fly into … DALLAS

Dallas-shutterstock_219513739-660x440

The Cowboys and their cheerleaders, Bonnie and Clyde, Mark Cuban, heck, even Barney the purple dinosaur  — they all came from the “Big D” and have shaped the city’s culture and lifestyle, making it “Texas’ most mythical city” (Lonely Planet).

  • First stop … Take in the sweeping views offered by Reunion Tower and then head to The Sixth Floor Museum for some of the best exhibits and collections on President John F. Kennedy.
  • Don’t miss … The Dallas Arts District. After roaming the halls of the Dallas Museum of Art (admission is free!), stop at Klyde Warren Park. Spanning 68 acres and 19 blocks, the area is the largest contiguous urban arts district in the nation.
  • Hidden gem … For a combination of history, hip bars and entertainment, visit Deep Ellum, one of Dallas’ most up-and-coming neighborhoods.
  • Must eat … Our deal experts suggest Remedy, a modern spin on the traditional soda shop.
  • Staying the night … Check into the 4-star Renaissance Dallas Hotel.

Take I-30 W 18 miles (23 minutes) and make a pit stop at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.

A photo posted by AT&T Stadium (@attstadium) on


While you’re at it, check out Globe Life Park, home of the Texas Rangers, (it’s just across the street!). Sports not your thing? Get your thrills at Six Flags Over Texasjust a 10-minute drive from the stadiums.

Hop back on the highway for another 15 miles (20 minutes) to …

FORT WORTH

Established after serving as a stop on the Chisholm Trail, Fort Worth continues to “revel in its role as the gateway to the West” (Frommer’s).

  • First stop … See nearly 7,000 native and exotic animals — from Komodo dragons to white tigers — at the oldest continuously running zoo in Texas, the Fort Worth Zoo. 
  • Don’t miss … The Fort Worth Stockyards. Between the Stockyards Station and its Western-themed shops and restaurants, the National Historic District and its real-life cattle drives and the Championship Rodeo, you’ll get your fill of the wild, wild West.
  • Hidden gem … Housed in architect Louis Khan’s most famous American building, The Kimbell Art Museum exhibits incredible works, including one of the largest collection of Asian art in North America.
  • Must eat … Joe T. Garcia’s has a simple menu, but an unforgettable one best paired with its top-secret margarita concoctions.
  • Staying the night … Check into the Dallas/Fort Worth Marriott Hotel & Gold Club at Champions Circle.

It’s a 3-hour drive straight from Fort Worth to Austin — but the best road trips have detours. These are worth a stop.

Walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs — literally. Head an hour southwest from Fort Worth to Dinosaur Valley State Park, in Glen Rose — where fossilized footprints remain from an era where bigger beasts roamed the Texas plains.

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Hungry? Waco (home of Baylor University) is about halfway to Austin, and a great place to stop for a snack or a belly-filling meal.

If meat’s on your mind, give the aptly named Health Camp a try. It’s an old-school burger and shake joint where the Super Health Burger touts double meat, double cheese, special sauce, tomato and lettuce — for about six bucks.

For a jolt of caffeine, stop by the Common Grounds cafe near the Baylor campus. The coffee is great — but the real buzz is for the live music, attracting acts like Patty Griffin and The Civil Wars. Stop by on Wednesday night for open mic from 8-10 p.m. If you get your coffee to go (and are HGTV fans), drive around the Waco area and try to find fixer uppers — homes transformed by local couple Chip and Joanna Gaines.

Finally, while on your way to Austin take a pit stop at one of Texas’ newest Buc-ee’s in Temple. As explained by one of our deal experts, “Buc-ee’s is the world’s greatest truck stop. It’s not a road trip in Texas without Buc-ee’s.”

After you’ve had your fill of old-school snacks, “Beaver Nuggets,” kolaches and the like …

Get back on I-35 S for 70 miles (1 hour, 15 minutes) to …

AUSTIN

Texas State Capitol
Flickr/Ed Schipul

Texas’ state capital, home to the University of Texas and the “Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin is known for being “an extraordinarily open and welcoming place — a city where you’re not only allowed but expected to be yourself, in all your quirky glory” (Fodor’s).

  • First stop … Take a tour through the Texas State Capitol Building. Not surprisingly, it’s the biggest in the U.S.
  • Don’t miss … Austin’s natural beauty. Take a hike or hop on a bike and hit the 12+ miles of trails in the Barton Creek Greenbelt, or go bat watching on the Congress Avenue Bridge at sunset.
  • Hidden gem … Rainey Street is where you’ll find some of the most authentic and lively hot spots and best live music in the city. Definitely make a stop at Container Bar — it’s literally made from cargo containers!
  • Must eat … Head down to South First for a food trailer park crawl. While barbecue (Franklin’s, Salt Lick & more) is undoubtedly a must-eat while in town, one can not live on smoked meats alone. A collection of food trailers congregated in parks along South First offer up just about any cuisine under the sun (and stars). Do a little research, go early (they sell out), follow your favorites on social media for updates.
  • Staying the night … Check into the 4-star Omni Austin Hotel or any of these top-rated properties.
Flickr/Hunter Cash
Flickr/Hunter Cash

Cruise through the bluffs and meadows of Texas Hill Country along US-290 W toward Fredericksburg with these stops along the way…

Take a quick turn onto Route 71, and stop for a swim at the natural spring-fed Hamilton Pool Preserve. It’s $15 (cash) per vehicle, and there’s a strict car limit — so get there early. You’ll be rewarded with photos like this …

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After your swim, you’ll have a Texas-sized appetite, so make your way back toward US-290 W and stop in at Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza — for the Willie with brisket and jalapenos, the Zinnia with pulled pork and pineapple slaw or the Sparky with prosciutto and mozzarella. They’re all good.

Stanley’s extensive local craft beer list may help you decide where to go next. Your first stop may well be the Jester King Brewery next door — try the Wytchmaker India Pale Ale (or just about anything else on tap).

To venture deeper into the craft beer and wine scene, book a room at one of the sprawling resorts near San Antonio — or one of the cozy B&Bs and inns sprinkled throughout the area. The charming town of Fredericksburg can be your base, as you sip on vintage Viogniers from the area’s 44 wineries.

After wrapping up your Hill Country hiatus, get back in the car and take US-87 S to catch up with I-10 E. In about 70 miles (1 hour, 15 minutes) you’ll be rolling into …

SAN ANTONIO

Texan and Mexican cultures collided at The Alamo, but the evidence of this “confluence of cultures has been much more auspicious elsewhere” (Frommer’s). Take a walk through the city’s parks, gaze upon its artwork, step into its clubs or taste its cuisine and you’ll discover the true meaning of the term “Tex-Mex.”

  • First stop … “Remember the Alamo!” But really, seeing The Alamo is a necessary pilgrimage of any Texas road tripper. It’s a powerful symbol of Texas’ independent spirit and a preserved historic gem in the middle of the city.
  • Don’t miss … The Paseo del Rio a.k.a. the River Walk. This European-style pedestrian walkway is full of gorgeous gardens, riverside cafes and quaint footbridges and is at the heart of San Antonio’s best tourist spots.
  • Hidden gem … The Landa Library and Gardens is a 1929 Mediterranean-style mansion that was donated to the city in 1946 and now serves as a gorgeous public space, complete with landscaped walking paths and gardens and paintings and sculptures.
  • Must eat … For “killer” (Zagat) Tex-Mex, stop in Acenar, located right on the River Walk. This top-rated restaurant serves everything from short rib tacos to buttermilk fried oysters.
  • Staying the night … Stay in the center of it all at the Hotel Indigo San Antonio Riverwalk or at any of these top-rated hotels.

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Start down I-10 E for 197 miles (about 3 hours) to …

HOUSTON

A photo posted by Visit Houston (@visit_houston) on

“Sprawling, brash, friendly, and prosperous, Houston is arguably Texas’ most cosmopolitan city,” and by far its biggest (Fodor’s).

  • First stop … Remember the infamous line, “Houston, we have a problem”? The Space Center Houston is the site of that “Houston” and still functions as the Mission Control that NASA astronauts communicate with today.
  • Don’t miss …  The extensive collection at the Museum of Fine Arts. Part of an extensive museum campus in Houston, the MFAH is one of the largest in the nation with two main buildings connected by an underground tunnel. Admission is free on Thursdays. Don’t miss the Cullen Sculpture Garden — with contemporary art from Henri Matisse, Auguste Rodin and more.
  • Hidden gem … Take the elevator at the JPMorgan Chase Tower up to the 60th floor and enjoy the view from the 15th-tallest building in the U.S. Best of all? It’s free during business hours, Monday-Friday.
  • Must eat/drink … For some of the best and most authentic Texas beer, check out Karbach Brewing Co. True brew fans should also make a stop at Beer Can House. Yes, it is a house covered in beer cans.
  • Staying the night … Check into the 4-Diamond Westin Oaks Houston at the Galleria or any of these top-rated hotels.

A photo posted by Wei Jien (@wei.jien) on

Just head 50 more miles (1 hour) in the car down I-45 S to …

GALVESTON

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You’ve made it all the way to the Gulf Coast, but your trip isn’t done yet. Welcome to Galveston. As Lonely Planet explains, “nowhere else in-state will you find such sun-drenched historic charms.”

  • First stop … Galveston’s pride and joy is in its Historic Downtown Strand District. It’s here visitors will find the city’s best selection of shops, restaurants, art galleries, museums and beautiful historic buildings, many of which predate 1900.
  • Don’t miss … Housed on the restored 1877 tall ship Elissa, the Texas Seaport Museum gives insight into the shipping trade of the 1800s, including routes, cargoes and a detailed list of the 133,000 immigrants who entered the U.S. through Galveston.
  • Hidden gem … Head west from the city for one of the top 5 Gulf Coast beaches (Travel Channel) at the Galveston Island State Park. Nature lovers will also enjoy the hiking trails, camping and bird-watching.
  • Must eat … Seafood is a must in Galveston, so stop at Millers Seawall Grill. This Galveston institution serves up hearty breakfasts and dinners and offers some of the finest Gulf views on the island.
  • Staying the night … The “Queen of the Gulf”, the 4-star Hotel Galvez across the street from the beach has been hosting guests since 1911.

Enjoy the sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico.

Flickr/Ron Wooten
Flickr/Ron Wooten

This road trip only scratches the surface of things to do in Texas. For more ideas, check out these Texas Trip Guides.

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  • Mosquito Festival

    For Art & Culture, the Center is rated one of the top ten museums in Texas by Frommer’s Travel Guide. The Center houses the largest shell collection in the southern portion of the United States by the Clute Visitor’s Bureau