Long weekend trips across Texas you’ll want to put on your bucket list.
As the second largest state in the U.S., Texas delivers big when it comes to things to see and places to visit. A long weekend offers the perfect opportunity to check out more of what the state has to offer, whether you’re a native interested in exploring your own backyard or you’re a traveler looking to make the most of your visit.
1. Wind Down in Wine Country
You don’t need to jet off to Napa Valley to enjoy a wine-filled retreat. Instead, head to the center of the state to enjoy the Hill Country, where over 50 wineries dot the rolling green hills. Founded in 1846, the charming city of Fredericksburg makes for a good home base for your weekend trip through Texas wine country. Here, you can take your pick from unique lodging options like a luxurious room at Hoffman Haus bed and breakfast, or a quaint cottage at Fredericksburg Herb Farm designed like the Sunday houses German settlers used when they came into the city on the weekends.
To get going with the wine, stroll up and down Main Street where you’ll find many tasting rooms from popular wineries like Grape Creek and Narrow Path. Alternatively, you can hop on one of the town’s wine tours and shuttles to leave all the logistics to the professionals and visit multiple vineyards in the area.
When it’s time to take a break between tastings, immerse yourself in the German heritage of Fredericksburg with a beer at The Ausländer, a cozy meal at Rathskeller, or a swanky dinner at Otto’s German Bistro. Want to balance your culinary explorations with a bit of history? Pay a visit to the National Museum of the Pacific War or the Pioneer Museum.
The fun doesn’t stop at Fredericksburg’s borders, so carve out some time to check out the other attractions around the Hill Country. Outdoor lovers shouldn’t miss a hike up Enchanted Rock, a massive granite dome just 20 minutes north of Fredericksburg. Also worth a stop is Luckenbach, a tiny community that consists of a general store, bar, and dancehall where you can catch some excellent country music.
2. Hide Away in the Highland Lakes Region
Why visit just one lake when you can visit multiple? Stretching west out of Austin, there’s a chain of lakes made by dams in the Colorado River known as the Highland Lakes region. Along this stretch, there are so many recreation options that you may have trouble deciding how exactly you should spend your long weekend.
For starters, there’s all the boating, fishing, and swimming your little heart may desire at any one of the lakes, including Lake Buchanan, Lake LBJ, and Lake Travis. Those who prefer to keep their feet on the ground will be in heaven hiking the trails of nearby parks like Inks Lake State Park and Pace Bend Park.
There’s even more fun to be had from deep underground all the way to the treetops. Go under the surface to see stunning cave formations on a guided cave tour at Longhorn Cavern State Park, which was developed in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Then there’s Cypress Valley, where you can join a zoom your way through the canopy on one of their ziplining tours. Better still, you can set free your inner kid and actually stay in one of the property’s gorgeous treehouses.
When all that adventuring gets your stomach rumbling, you can’t go wrong with a hefty chicken-fried steak and slice of pie at Blue Bonnet Cafe, or with some mouthwatering brisket alongside a side of their famous butter beans at Opie’s Barbecue.
3. Go Out to the Gulf Coast
If a beachy getaway is more your vibe, drive to Galveston Bay and the Gulf Coast just outside of Houston. You’ll probably want to spend most of your long weekend exploring Galveston Island itself, which offers a mix of historic sites and modern tourist attractions.
Along with its beautiful old mansions and the historic downtown known as the Strand, one of Galveston’s draws is simply the beach. There are a few spots to pick from like Stewart Beach or East Beach. If you really want to get a lay of the land, go for a walk along the Seawall, which is 10 miles long and was built between 1902 and 1904 as hurricane protection. Eventually, you’ll come across the historic Pleasure Pier where you can hop on a ride or have a go at some carnival games.
While you’re on the island, don’t forget to check out Moody Gardens, a popular destination that stands out with its three giant pyramids. One houses a 1.5-million-gallon aquarium, one is a rainforest exhibit, and one is a discovery museum. Conveniently right next door is Schlitterbahn waterpark, yet another local attraction calling for your attention.
From Galveston, you can take the ferry across to Bolivar Peninsula to explore Fort Travis, the first fort established by the Republic of Texas in 1836, and has even more beaches. Alternatively, you can head north to Kemah, a city on Galveston Bay that’s known for it's boardwalk full of family-friendly entertainment.
4. Get Some Sun on South Padre Island
If you can make the time for the drive, another relaxing island destination awaits all the way at the southern tip of Texas: South Padre Island. While the journey out here might be long, you’ll be rewarded with whiter beaches and warmer temperatures. You may have heard of South Padre before as the hotspot for spring breakers, but there’s so much more here to enjoy than its wild reputation may let on.
Of course, there’s the beach, and there are access points all up and down the eastern coast of the island. For fewer crowds, drive all the way up to the aptly named End of the Road, which is the northernmost point where the island’s main road ends. From there you can walk out over picturesque dunes to quieter expanses of seashell-covered beach without any resorts in sight.
Wildlife lovers and families traveling with kids should pencil in time at two of South Padre’s most popular attractions: Sea Turtle, Inc and the South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary. Sea Turtle, Inc is an organization focused on rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing injured sea turtles, as well as educating the public about conservation efforts. At their center, visitors can check out the resident turtles as well as the ones there as patients.
At the South Padre Island Birding, Nature Center and Alligator Sanctuary, walk along the long, beautiful boardwalk to get an excellent opportunity for birdwatching. It’s not just about the birds here though—they also have an alligator sanctuary on-site, which is home to the 12-foot, 6-inch–long gator known as Big Padre.
5. Escape to West Texas
Going out to West Texas feels like entering another world. Things are quieter, the distances are longer, and the sky feels bigger. Since it might’ve taken you a good portion of your long weekend just to drive out here, one thing you definitely want to make time for is Big Bend National Park. Going right up to the border with Mexico, this 800,000-acre park has numerous trails across desert and mountains for hikers of all levels. Santa Elena Canyon is one of the park’s highlights and also happens to be a quick, easy hike to tackle if you don’t have too much time.
For lodging, you can camp within the park, or you might rather rest your head in Terlingua, an old mining town turned quirky ghost town. Don’t worry, they have accommodations there like the chic, modern casitas at Willow House. Elsewhere in West Texas, one of the most popular places to spend the night is El Cosmico in Marfa where you’ll find unusual abodes like yurts, teepees, and safari tents.
Speaking of Marfa, that small town is another gem of the area that beckons many creatives with its respectable art scene. From the Chinati Foundation to various smaller galleries, Marfa is like a contemporary art oasis in the middle of the desert.
Out here, you won’t have any trouble seeing a sea of stars in the night sky, but for extra close viewing, check if you can catch a star party at the McDonald Observatory. When making your way in or out for the weekend, you may want to swing a trip to Monahans Sandhills State Park where pristine sand dunes make up an ocean of sand. While you’re free to explore the area on foot, a far more fun way is to rent a sand disk and surf your way down the many peaks—some up to 50-feet high.