We all have those dreaded memories of car trips growing up that inevitably end up in the never-ending bout of, “Are we there yet?” Road trips felt torturously longer than they really were, whether that was a symptom of too much family togetherness or the antsiness of just being a kid trapped in the backseat.
Distances on maps can look deceivingly further than they are, especially in the south, which is pretty well positioned for easy access between states. Even in Texas, which takes a whopping 12+ hours to traverse from east to west, you can get to a number of cities in just a few hours no matter where you’re based.
Once you take a closer look and realize that places aren’t actually as far as you think, a whole world of possibilities opens up for weekend getaways and drive destinations. Here are the best Texas road trips in the Lonestar Star state from the beach to Hill Country and beyond.
Houston to Dallas (4 hours)
While it might seem like you’re just going from one sprawling metropolitan city to another, it’s always about the journey, not the destination, right? In Spring, there’s TGR Exotic Wildlife Ranch, which has intimate animal encounters like feeding sloths. You could spend a night at the Woodlands Resort, which has a full waterpark and lazy river for the kiddos and golf and spa for mom and dad. You’ll also definitely want to check the schedule at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, one of the best outdoor amphitheaters in the county, to catch a concert under the big Texas Sky. Stop in downtown Corsicana to stretch your legs on Main Street, which is teeming with antique shops and art galleries on a red brick road. Once you get to Dallas, explore trendy Deep Ellum, tour Cowboys Stadium (the world’s largest domed structure and art museum), and see where JFK was assassinated.
Check out this post for more things to do in the Woodlands.
Dallas to Lubbock (5 hours)
While not that far out of town, Fort Worth is teeming with Instagram spots and a surprising millennial city that has much more to offer visitors than the Stockyards (although they are a must-see). If you haven’t checked it out recently, I highly recommend you give it another look. Abilene is the Storybook Capital of America, which means there are whimsical characters everywhere you turn. Frontier Texas! has interactive holograms of Wild West settlers, and you can hand-feed giraffes at the Abilene Zoo. Once you get to Lubbock, more western heritage awaits at the National Ranching Heritage Center. Be sure to check out the live music scene in Buddy Holly’s hometown and pay homage at his namesake museum. Joyland Amusement Park is also a good stop for the kiddos, as is saying hi to the critters at Prairie Dog Town (it’s free).
Dallas to Oklahoma City (3.5 hours)
If you take a slight detour through Plano, you can cool off in the Texas-shaped swimming pool and fuel up at Legacy Food Hall, one of the largest and best food halls in the country. Kids will love the interactive and colorful Crayola experience. Once you get to Oklahoma City, experience the modern frontier at a rodeo event in the “Horse Show Capital of the World” or familiarize yourself with the scene at the National Cowboy Museum. The street art scene is booming with Factory Obscura Mix-Tape the crown jewel. An interactive Meow Wolf-esque experience, it’s a 6,000-foot space that’s always evolving. For a unique stay, spend the night in a covered wagon or teepee at Orr Family Farm.
Dallas to Shreveport, LA (2.5 hours)
Tyler has been dubbed the Rose Capital of America and with dozens of gardens, always has something in bloom, but especially in October when the beautiful buds really open up. There’s also an Azalea Trail in spring, so anytime you visit, expect a colorful array of flora and fauna. There are several cute b&bs, none better than Kierpersol, which is right on a vineyard/distillery. Louisiana is known as Sportsman’s Paradise, and Shreveport-Bossier, especially is known for its nature and outdoor pursuits. You can explore the backwaters of the bayou on an airboat ride on a swamp safari or zipline over gators at Gators and Friends Adventure Park. Be sure to stop for a bite of Cajun delight at Orlandeaux’s Café, the oldest continuously operated African-American family-owned restaurant in the United States. There are about a zillion other Creole restaurants, so come hungry and get your crawfish on.
Dallas to Little Rock, AR (4.5 hours)
Before you get to Little Rock, stop in Hot Springs for a little R&R at the original spa town and America’s first resort. Bathhouse Row has eight elegant Victorian bathhouses from the 19th and 20th centuries full of natural mineral pools that arguably became America’s first national park. Once in the capital, pay homage to the Clintons as the town is essentially a memorial to their time in office, including snapping that iconic photo op at the replica White House in the Presidential Library. Ride the free trolley around town for a whimsical street car tour, follow the U.S. Civil Rights Trail for an important history lesson, and take advantage of all the great parks and outdoor spaces in the Natural State. Pro Tip: The Old Mill is the most photographed spot, which you may recognize from Gone with the Wind.
Austin to Houston (2.5 hours)
A Texas must, visit the Blue Bell Ice Cream Factory in Brenham. Bucc-ee’s is also a required stop. Yes, it’s a gas station, but it’s a Texas-sized gas station with 150 pumps, more fudge, candy and jerky than you could ever imagine, and better BBQ than most states (get the smoked turkey sandwich). You can also stop in Katy to pose with the vintage train cars at The Katy Heritage Society Railroad Museum. Once in Houston, visit NASA, photograph the murals, and eat your way around Asiatown.
Looking for more Austin ideas? Check out what to eat and photograph here.
Austin to San Antonio (1.5 hours)
A romp through Hill Country, the area is known for watery fun, wildflowers, and wineries. Many know San Marcos because it has the largest outlet mall in the country, and while you could drop some serious coin, there’s plenty more to do than shop. You can take a glass-bottom boat ride down the river or do a glow in the dark standup paddleboard tour. New Braunfels is the place to float the Guadalupe, two-step at the iconic Gruene Hall, and eat at the iconic Gristmill Restaurant overlooking the river. Once in San Antonio, walk or cruise the river walk, visit the Alamo, and see the Missions, a colonial UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Houston to Galveston (1 hour)
Galveston is actually an island in the Gulf of Mexico. It is a quick hour drive to get from the city to the beach. Moody Gardens is one of the prime attractions with an aquarium, virtual reality experience, rainforest, zipline, and paddlewheel dinner cruises all under one roof. Peruse the Pleasure Pier, ride some rides, play some games, and indulge in fare food. The area is supposedly very haunted, so ghost tours abound, especially around Halloween. If you take the longer route down, you can also stop at the Kemah boardwalk, another nostalgic waterfront and theme park slightly reminiscent of the Jersey Shore.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Galveston
Houston to New Orleans (5 hours)
Stop in Beaumont for your first taste of Cajun delights and to see where the oil boom got its start. Spindletop, a recreated gusher, is what put Texas on the map. Once you cross the Louisiana border, Lake Charles is the casino capital of the south, and if you’re feeling lucky, roll the dice. Lafayette is the center of Cajun and Creole Country, so get ready to eat your heart out. Fill up on gumbo and crawfish and follow the Boudin Trail before working it off on a swamp tour or airboat ride. The state capital, Baton Rouge, has southern plantation homes aplenty plus a rich 300+ year history. Once in New Orleans, revel on Bourbon Street, listen to live jazz, binge on beignets, and let Marie Laveau’s mystical voodoo put you under her spell.
San Antonio to Corpus Christi (2 hours)
Another easy Texas beach road trip down the Gulf of Mexico, Corpus Christi has an expansive shoreline with plenty of room to spread out. Pay homage to Selena in her hometown (there’s actually a singing sculpture), tour the U.S.S. Lexington, and get to know the marine life at the Texas State Aquarium. Take advantage of the pristine Padre Island National Seashore by horseback riding on the beach, windsurfing, kayaking, or kiteboarding.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Corpus Christi
San Antonio to South Padre Island (4.5 hours)
If you’re intent on exploring more of the coast, Corpus can also be your midpoint en route to South Padre Island, which has a bit more of a spring break vibe, but it doesn’t have to be all rowdy revelry. The area is also known for birding, dolphin watching, and is home to the longest fishing pier in Texas. You can try a new watersport like flyboarding, see sea turtles hatching, and photograph the largest permanent sandcastle in the US.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay on South Padre Island
El Paso to Marfa (5.5 hours)
A quirky West Texas artist commune, Marfa is an outdoor gallery and desert oasis that’s become incredibly popular thanks to Instagram. Everything is kitschy and photogenic from the freestanding Prada façade to the yurts, teepees, and airstreams of El Cosmico. Home to the darkest skies in America, you’ll always see stars, and if you’re lucky, the Marfa Lights, a strange glowing phenomenon that’s been attributed to everything from science to aliens. If you have time, continue on to Big Bend National Park, which is an hour and a half further, and really requires at least three days to explore fully.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Marfa
El Paso to Albuquerque (4 hours)
Your first stop out of town should be White Sands, which was newly upgraded to a national park. The white is so blindingly bright it actually hurts your eyes, but you’ll forget all about that one you’re sandboarding and sledding down the dunes. From there, it’s a bit of a choose your own adventure. The route through Truth or Consequences, a quirky hot springs town is more direct, but I personally prefer Ruidoso, which is New Mexico’s second largest ski area and a totally underrated gem. You can rent cute A-frames and cabins for a steal, peruse the Southwest chic boutiques, and indulge in their signature green chile delights (including wine). Once in Albuquerque, got lost in the alleys and adobo casitas of Old Town and take in the Route 66 and Breaking Bad landmarks. The best time to visit is in fall during Balloon Fiesta, where hundreds of colorful hot air balloons take to the skies. If you have time and want to keep exploring, Santa Fe’s only an hour and a half further.
Fort Worth to Amarillo (5 hours)
While Fort Worth is pretty cosmopolitan, Amarillo is the quintessential cowboy town and a trip back in time. You can stretch your legs at Wichita Falls, which has a manmade waterfall cascading through downtown. For a more intense hike, the Lighthouse at Palo Duro Canyon State Park is one of the most photographed rock formations in Texas. It’s six miles roundtrip (and beware the heat), but you can see it jutting out from pretty far off so you don’t necessarily have to do the whole hike. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, the Big Texan is one of the most famous stops along Route 66 for its Texas-sized 72 oz. steak that’s completely free if you finish it under an hour as the whole restaurant cheers you on. The entire place is essentially one giant photo op and recreated Wild West town complete with shooting gallery and saloon. You also don’t want to miss Cadillac Ranch, a quirky art installation / photo op where spray-painted cars are memorialized in the desert.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Amarillo
Amarillo to Colorado Springs (6 hours)
A beautiful drive through the mountains, you’ll get your first taste of the peaks when you reach Raton, which is nestled amongst the majestic Sangre de Cristo range. You can hike to the rim of Capulin Volcano National Monument to see down into a no longer active crater. The Pueblo Riverwalk is another great place to stretch your legs with swan boats and gondola rides before you reach your destination, Colorado’s first resort getaway. Drive Pike’s Peak Highway for epic views, hike the awesome and free Garden of the Gods, be wined and dined at the swanky Broadmoor, and visit the Olympic Training Center. If you’re so inclined, you can also continue another 1.5 hours to Denver.
Plan Your Trip: Where to Stay in Colorado Springs
Looking for more things to do in Texas? Check out this post.
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