Jul 01, 2019
Some Texans aren’t content with a life well lived, they want hard evidence: the family vacation photos, a souvenir to stick on the shelf, their name in a register at the highest point in Texas. To help you achieve those goals, we’ve compiled a list of only-in-our-state pursuits you need to check off before another summer speeds by.
Some of Texas’ greatest adventures require physical challenge (the world’s toughest canoe race) and some may require getting out of your comfort zone (goat yoga), while others are simply excuses to take advantage of all Texas has to offer (waterparks, museums, swimming holes, and old-fashioned Dr Pepper floats). This is a packed list—more than 100 ideas to fill the 93 days of summer—but the reward will be well worth the effort. Take note, then take off.
ON THE WATER
Photo: Kenny Braun
Hang 10, dude
Whether you’re a beach bum who can’t wait to wax up your board or a curious beginner, catching waves makes your Texas summer all the more righteous. Some of the best surfing destinations in the state include Matagorda Bay, North Jetty on South Padre Island, Boca Chica Beach, Jamaica Beach in Galveston, and the neighboring towns of Quintana and Surfside Beach. Most of these towns have vendors offering gear and lessons for beginners. If you don’t want to work for your waves, NLand Surf Park in Austin offers hourly rates (as well as seasonal and annual memberships) for access to its lagoon, which features a wave-making machine that creates consistent surf at three levels of difficulty. The facility also offers lessons, an observation area, a sand beach, brewery, and restaurant, so you can have a full day of fun. For those who want to engage in surf culture without getting on a board, the Texas Surf Museum features exhibits on Gulf Coast female surfers, surfing films, and photography.
On the Frio River. Photo: Kenny Braun
Go with the flow
Fill up a cooler and grab your pals for a leisurely float down one of Texas’ refreshing rivers. Head to Concan to enjoy the Frio River, trek to San Marcos to check out the youthful spirit of the San Marcos River, or decamp to New Braunfels to float the Comal River. Riverside outfitters will prep you for the relaxing float ahead. Don’t forget to reapply sunscreen!
Jump off a cliff
Possum Kingdom Lake—the Brazos River basin’s first water supply reservoir—sparkles with blue waters and 310 miles of shoreline. But its most striking feature looms dramatically over the water on the southern edge of the lake: two towering cliffs that rise 90 feet on either side—appropriately named Hell’s Gate. Like flies to honey, the world’s best competitive cliff divers converge here in the summer for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series (June 2). The reservoir’s bone-chilling waters (about 53 degrees) aren’t reserved for thrill-seekers; spectators can watch the cliff-diving action from boats, kayaks, and paddleboards and beat the Texas heat with a plunge in the lake from a more sensible height.
Paddle the cities
Kayaking novices and experts will find much to love when going out on Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Buffalo Bayou in Houston, and the Trinity River in Fort Worth. No need to buy your own equipment or venture out into the wild unknown—rental shops provide boats, life vests, and instruction. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the cool urban views—oh, and paddle of course.
Illustration: Jakob Hinrichs
Laze on the river
Downstream from the Highland Lakes, the Colorado River in Bastrop winds through a quiet stretch of Texas’ Blackland Prairie that makes for relaxing paddling. Forests and pastures line the river, and several sandbars and islands provide overnight camping stops between Webberville Park and Columbus. Avoid camping on the riverbanks though, as almost all of them are private property.
Watch Jaws on the water
Even in the tame waters of Lake Travis, it’s easy to feel on edge when John Williams’ score for Jaws starts. That adrenaline rush is why movie-lovers head to Alamo Drafthouse’s annual Jaws on the Water events at Volente Beach in Austin. Each viewer gets a keepsake tube to float in while a giant screen plays the 1975 Spielberg classic. To keep things interesting, scuba divers have been known to pinch and tickle unsuspecting audience members underwater. Check website for dates.
Park it at a waterpark
Whether you seek out the most harrowing, jaw-dropping slides or enjoy the chill vibe of a lazy river, Texas water parks offer something for everyone. There are also cool times to be found at Typhoon Texas in Katy, Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in Arlington, and Wet ‘N’ Wild Splashtown in El Paso. With its 70 acres of tube chutes, slides, and pools, the original Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels is a Texas summertime rite of passage. Water-sport enthusiasts might find a refreshing challenge in wakeboarding parks like BSR Cable Park in Waco and Texas Ski Ranch in New Braunfels.
Athens Scuba Park. Photo: Kenny Braun
Take a deep dive
Scuba-diving, often associated with tropical destinations, is possible (and fun!) in Texas. In East Texas, Athens Scuba Park features a dive shop for equipment and training courses on everything from rescue diving to night diving, and 35 sunken wrecks to discover in both an indoor pool and an outdoor manmade lake. At Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, with the help of a dive charter company, you’ll experience a variety of sea life as you delve into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico 100 miles offshore.
Photo: Kenny Braun
Can you truly experience summer in Texas if you don’t swim in a spring-fed swimming hole? Some of our favorites include San Solomon Springs in West Texas, Barton Springs in Austin, Blue Hole in Wimberley, Fort Clark Springs in Brackettville, and Hancock Springs in Lampasas.
Cheer on canoers
With 260 miles of paddling in the relentless summer heat, the Texas Water Safari is known as “the world’s toughest canoe race.” Starting June 9, competitors have four days and four hours to navigate the San Marcos River’s rocky hazards, rapids, portages, and spillways from the headwaters in San Marcos to the shrimping town of Seadrift on the Texas coast.
Paddleboard on Lake Marble Falls
Jolly Rodgers Paddle Co. offers a sublime stand-up paddleboarding experience on the sparkling waters of Lake Marble Falls. Once you get the hang of it, head out for one of the rental company’s frequent special events. “Dive In Movie Nights” feature classics like The Sandlot for viewers floating in the lake.
Illustration: Jakob Hinrichs
Admire San Angelo’s lilies
It might seem odd to find water lilies in arid West Texas, but in San Angelo’s Civic League Park, seven raised ponds display hundreds of varieties. The plants are the life work of Ken Landon, who has traveled the world collecting seeds of rare lilies, many of which are now extinct in their native countries. Celebrate the blooms at San Angelo Lilyfest on Sept. 15.
THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Photo: Laurence Parent
Enjoy Mountain Breezes
Situated along the southern reach of the Davis Mountains—one of the largest and wettest mountain ranges in the state—the 2,709-acre Davis Mountains State Park is a favorite summer getaway for heat-weary Texans because of its high elevation, low humidity, and frequent breezes. Established in the 1930s, the park’s CCC-built Indian Lodge will reopen in June after months of renovations.
Hop aboard the Ivory Bill
Experience East Texas’ Neches River on one of the Ivory Bill’s weekly guided tours of the Big Thicket National Preserve. The covered pontoon boat explores the diverse flora and fauna of the thicket’s swamps and forests, an outing that’s typically 10 degrees cooler than hiking the bottomlands on foot.
Climb to the top of Texas
Hiking Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a nice reminder that Texas isn’t as flat as some people think. Six peaks in the park top 8,000 feet, including El Capitan, the most famous sight you’ll see when entering the park driving north from Van Horn. Nearby Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in Texas at 8,751 feet. Test your legs on the Guadalupe Peak Trail, an 8.4-mile round trip.
Don’t forget to write
Don’t let the kids have all the fun this summer. Relive the glorious days of sloppy joes, bunk beds, and campfires with a stay at Camp No Counselors. Part of a nationwide chain, the Texas version of this adult camp takes place in Hunt, along the scenic Guadalupe River. Just like grade-school camp, activities include archery, arts and crafts, dodgeball, a slip ‘n’ slide, and a talent show—but with grown-up twists like a Bloody Mary bar at breakfast. “Camp No Counselors was created to give adults a chance to step away from their lives at work and home, and get in touch with the fun of being kids again, along with the fun parts of being an adult,” says Dave Kushner, vice president of community engagement. Who knows? You might find a pen pal or develop a lifelong friendship with your bunkmates. Upcoming sessions run May 10-13, and Oct. 5-8 and 11-14.
Illustration: Jakob Hinrichs
Glide in West Texas
See Marfa’s breathtaking desert landscape from a whole new perspective by hopping on one of Marfa Gliders’ aircrafts. Make an appointment online to ride shotgun and enjoy the view while a certified pilot takes the wheel.
Take your fitness to new heights
Not for the faint of heart, the Davis Mountains Fitness and Training Camp whips amateur athletes into shape over the course of a week in August. Every summer, about 100 fitness enthusiasts gather at Prude Ranch to partake in a wide range of daily activities, like early-morning yoga classes, 20- to 85-mile cycling trips, runs, and hikes of various levels of difficulty. Lest you think it’s all a grueling, sweat-soaked affair, fun outings like viewing the Marfa Lights and swimming in San Solomon Springs at Balmorhea State Park are also on the schedule.
Photo: Erich Schlegel
Visit an LCRA park
Established in Depression-era Texas, the Lower Colorado River Authority operates 41 parks encompassing more than 11,000 acres—from the Cedar Point Recreation Area along the north shore of Lake Buchanan to the isolated beaches of Matagorda Bay Nature Park, which offers guided horseback riding, beachcombing, and birding. The legendary Highland Lakes—Inks, Buchanan, LBJ, Marble Falls, Travis, and Austin—sparkle in the Central Texas summer sun. The biggest of the collection, Lake Buchanan, offers nice pebble beaches on its western shore, perfectly primed for swimming, water skiing, canoeing, and windsurfing.
EAT AND DRINK
Photo: Will van Overbeek
Eat your way through the Barbecue Capital of Texas
Lockhart is home to three of Texas’ most legendary barbecue joints: Kreuz Market (go for the sausage, stay for the smoky pork chops), Black’s BBQ (dinosaur beef rib, anyone?), and Smitty’s Market (lines form for a taste of its shoulder clod, brisket, hot links, and pork ribs). Why not try all three in a day? lockhartchamber.com
Illustration: Jakob Hinrichs
Try a piña preparada
Piñas preparadas satisfy your inner child, but you might think twice about serving one to a kid. The South Texas specialties feature a hollowed-out pineapple filled with a variety of fruits, gummy bears, sour worms, and other candies, all sprinkled with a dusting of chili-lime powder, then filled with Topo Chico or malt liquor. Its brazen ingredients and liberal use of sugar make for a summer temptation that’s worth the indulgence. Try one in Laredo at La Laguna or Picca Dilly’s.
Fill up at a food hall
Following a trend in cities like Atlanta and Seattle, food halls are popping up across Texas. These convivial food courts feature several vendors in a large, shared space serving varied cuisines—like a mess hall but with more pizzazz (and a bar). The Bottling Department at The Pearl in San Antonio features burgers by Fletcher’s and doughnuts by Maybelle’s; Fareground in Austin dishes out tacos by Dai Due and pretzels from Easy Tiger; Conservatory in Houston serves up poke and pizza (“European-style” Finn Hall is set to open later this year); and The Market in Dallas has everything from seafood to macarons.
Imbibe in the Hill Country
Brew buffs will find much to love at award-winning Hill Country breweries like Real Ale Brewing Co. in Blanco, Twisted X Brewing in Dripping Springs, Pecan Street Brewing in Johnson City, and Seguin Brewing Company in Seguin. The Hill Country Craft Beer Trail offers five different shuttles for a safe and fun way to experience it all.
Drink a Dr Pepper float
As you tour the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco and delve into the history of this homegrown Texas soda, you might find yourself salivating. Lucky for you, the museum’s Frosty’s Soda Shop serves everything from chili dogs to ice cream sundaes. But nothing beats an old-fashioned float, made with hand-pumped Dr Pepper and a scoop of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream.
Illustration: Jakob Hinrichs
Pick your own Texas fruit
Summer in Texas means farm-fresh fruits will be ripe for the picking. Since 1982, Texans have been picking their own blueberries atBlueberry Hill Farms in Edom. At Sweet Berry Farms in Marble Falls, blackberries should be ready for harvest in May, while peaches and nectarines at Sweet Eats Fruit Farm in Granger ripen late May through August.
Blueberry Hill Farm’s Blueberry Streusel Muffins Recipe »
Shake up the Sotol
If Desert Door has anything to say about it, sotol will someday be to Texas what bourbon is to Kentucky. The Driftwood-based distillery, which opened in December, crafts sotol from the ubiquitous West Texas plant of the same name. Take a tour, take home a bottle, and try this recipe:
Desert Door Paloma Recipe
2 oz. Desert Door
3/4 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
1/4 oz. agave nectar
Splash of grapefruit soda
Combine all ingredients except soda into shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously for 8-10 seconds, then fine strain in a rocks glass with fresh ice, and top with soda. Garnish with a grapefruit wheel.
Illustration: Jakob Hinrichs
Grape stomp In a classic episode of I Love Lucy, our favorite comedic heroine visits a vineyard for some barefoot grape-stomping, only to get into a juicy skirmish with an angry local. In Fredericksburg, Becker Vineyards pays homage with its annual Lucy and the Italian Woman Costume Contest (Sept. 2), the culmination of two weekends of grape-stomping.
Tour the Blue Bell creamery
Blue Bell fans travel from all over to see the making of their favorite ice cream. At The Little Creamery in Brenham, visitors can watch the manufacturing process from an observation deck while attendants narrate and provide fun facts, and then check out the Visitors Center to read up on the company’s history and see artifacts. The self-guided tours conclude with $1 scoops from the parlor. In addition to regular favorites, the creamery also serves special flavors like Milk ‘n’ Cookies and Cake Batter.
Indulge in innovative ice cream
Sure, vanilla, chocolate, and rocky road satisfy—but a crop of upstart ice cream shops are pushing the cup and cone with new adventurous flavors. Sample the slightly spicy strawlepeño from Melt Ice Creams in Fort Worth, blueberry lavender from The Latest Scoop in San Angelo, Rice Krispie treat from A La Mode Gelateria in Corpus Christi, duck fat caramel from Heritage Creamery in Waco, and roasted beets and fresh mint from Lick Honest Ice Creams in Austin and San Antonio.
Photo: Clark Cresnshaw
Gaze at the stars
It may still be warm when the sun goes down, but nighttime activities offer a welcome reprieve from the blazing sun. George Observatory in Needville, only open on Saturdays, has three telescopes for public use and a planetarium with educational exhibits. The University of Texas McDonald Observatory high up in the Davis Mountains offers daytime tours, solar viewings, and star parties.
Fly a kite on South Padre Island
There’s something joyful about looking out across the Laguna Madre and seeing hundreds of kites soaring over the Gulf of Mexico. Pick out a colorful kite from the multitude available at B&S Kites or rent a kiteboard from a local vendor. In 2017, National Geographic named the island as one of the world’s 13 greatest kiteboarding spots. sopadre.com
Find a lightning whelk
The lightning whelk—Texas’ state shell—is among the Gulf Coast’s largest shells at 8 to 16 inches long. Found only on the western part of the Gulf of Mexico, the shell has a long history in the region: Some Native Americans used it as a tool for eating and drinking, while others considered it to be sacred.
Befriend a penguin
In Galveston, Moody Gardens’ 45-minute Penguin Encounter grants you access to the frigid penguin habitat, along with a biologist-led tour of the food-preparation area, participation in an enrichment activity with the animals, and information about conservation, training, and biology. Or you can always visit penguins at the Aquarium Pyramid, where they reside next door to seals, stingrays, and sharks.
Photo: Michael Amador
Take yourself out to the ball game
No doubt the World Series-winning Houston Astros are the hottest ticket this summer—and the most expensive. For more wallet-friendly bat-crackin’ entertainment, the minor leagues offer numerous teams to support across Texas. Perks like the lazy river at Dr Pepper Ballpark(home of the Frisco RoughRiders) and the gorgeous view of the Gulf of Mexico at Corpus Christi’s Whataburger Field (home of the Hooks) add to the fun. milb.com
Spray paint a car at the VW Slug Bug Ranch
An homage to the more famous Cadillac Ranch just 35 miles east, this quirky roadside attraction on Interstate 40 outside of Amarillo touts five Volkswagen Beetles planted nose-down in the dirt. In some ways, it’s better than its Cadillac cousin: fewer people, lower profile, and more room to spray paint with abandon.
Beat the Christmas rush
Summer Christmas shopping might sound crazy, but come November you’ll be patting yourself on the back. In Laredo, the Sister Cities Festival features more than 180 vendors from Mexico (and sometimes China, Australia, Argentina, and Spain) selling handmade items ranging from leather goods to jewelry to pottery. The free, three-day shopping extravaganza has been around for 16 years and runs July 13-15 this year.
Photo: Laurence Parent
Halfway between San Antonio and Big Bend National Park off Interstate 10, the Caverns of Sonora is a prime locale to hide from the blazing Texas sun this summer. Keep in mind: While the temperature 155 feet below the surface is 72 degrees year-round, high humidity levels mean it can feel more like 85.
Watch the sunset from a treehouse
Cypress Valley Canopy Tours opened in Spicewood in 1999 as the first zip-line canopy tour in the continental United States. Nestled high above a creek, Cypress Valley’s two-bedroom “Nest” is an ideal sanctuary for families. “There’s something about being off the ground, when you’re up in a tree,” co-owner David Beilharz explains, “whether it’s some instinctive monkey evolution or it’s feeling like The Swiss Family Robinson.”
Remember—and Reimagine—the Alamo
“What if you could stand where Davy Crockett defended the Alamo and could hear the story about how he wound up there?” asks Michael McGar, president of augmented-reality production company Imagine Virtua. Thanks to the combined efforts of coders, artists, and a half-dozen historians, you don’t have to wonder anymore.
Imagine Virtua debuted its free Alamo Reality app in March, offering users the chance to interact with the hallowed historical site in a new way. At 14 sites on the Alamo grounds, the app recognizes your location and displays 3-D digital images of what the location looked like in 1836, the year of the Alamo battle, including various characters that would have been present. At each location, the app also provides deeper historical context, interpreting the sites as they would have appeared when occupied by Native Americans and then the Spanish.
“You can be engaged on your phone and share it with the people around you and still be in the moment,” says Leslie Komet Ausburn of Imagine Virtua. “The app is designed to elevate the experience.” alamoreality.com
Illustration: Jakob Hinrichs
Last year, the Houston Zoo renovated its McNair Asian Elephant Habitat, adding a 7,000-square-foot barn and boardwalk with unobstructed views of the pachyderms bathing in their new 160,000-gallon pool. Summer also brought a new baby elephant, Joy. Now’s the ideal time to visit and learn about these highly intelligent animals.
Watch the bats take flight
As if summoned by a dinner bell, millions of bats spiral out of their dark homes across Texas every summer night—a spectacular show if you know where to look. More than 15 million Mexican free-tailed bats make Bracken Cave near San Antonio the world’s largest such colony. In Austin, Congress Avenue Bridge is home to more than 1.5 million.
Photo: Theresa DiMenno
See the sunflowers shine along I-35
From May to October, you’re likely to witness the golden glow of sunflowers when driving along Texas highways. More often than not, the flowers are part of crops harvested for their seeds. The sunflowers along Interstate 35 near Hillsboro often draw admirers, but keep in mind the fields are mostly on private property.
SAVE THE DATE
Photo: Erich Schlegel
Join a pickin’ circle in Luckenbach
Pickin’ circles are a longstanding tradition in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, unincorporated town of Luckenbach. On Sunday through Thursday nights, musicians of all sorts and skill levels gather under the oak trees outside the Luckenbach Texas dance hall and general store for an acoustic jam session. If you’ve never strummed in public, don’t be shy; the town’s motto says it all: “Everybody’s Somebody in Luckenbach.”
Watch a musical in the nation’s second-largest canyon
Every summer for more than five decades, Palo Duro Canyon has set the stage for TEXAS!, an outdoor musical chronicling the Native Americans who called this Panhandle wonder home and the pioneers who settled it. It’s theater for the people, but more than anything, it depicts the drama of frontier history in a setting like no other. Shows run June 1-Aug. 18.
See the sea turtles
The Gulf Coast is preparing for summer’s most welcome guests: tiny Kemp’s ridley sea turtle hatchlings. While most of the endangered turtles’ nests are protected from public view, well-timed tourists can witness a release from Malaquite Beach in front of the Padre Island National Seashore Visitor Center from mid-June through August.
Get country on the 4th
In Austin, the red-headed stranger returns to Circuit of The Americas for the 45th annual Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic, a full day of country music old and new. Meanwhile at Kerrville’s Louise Hays Park, Robert Earl Keen’s Fourth on the River offers free live music and the largest fireworks display in the Hill Country.
Embrace the mosquitoes
In most places, to be called “mosquito legs” would be considered an insult. But skinny stems are prize-worthy in Clute, home of the Great Texas Mosquito Festival (and its Mosquito Legs competition). The 38th annual event, July 26-28, celebrates the summer nuisance in style with three days of events, including carnival rides, the mosquito chase (a 5K race), barbecue and fajita cookoffs, horseshoe and washer throwing tournaments, and games. Live entertainment caps off each evening with the likes of Jack Ingram and Rodney Atkins. The buzziest sight is the Mosquito Calling competition, in which contestants vie to summon the biggest bloodsucker. “It definitely put us on the map,” says Clute Visitors Bureau Director Angel Cowley. “We’ve embraced it.”
Celebrated on June 19, the Juneteenth holiday memorializes the day in 1865 when word of the Emancipation Proclamation—signed two-and-half years earlier—finally reached Texas. Galveston celebrates with a reading of the Proclamation at the Ashton Villa. Houston’sEmancipation Park is home to one of the oldest Juneteenth festivities in the South—dating to 1872—with parades, church choirs, and vendors.
Catch a classic movie on the silver screen in El Paso
Celebrate the magic and nostalgia of cinema at the Plaza Classic Film Festival (Aug. 2-12), which screens an array of films in downtown El Paso’s beautifully restored Plaza Theatre. Don’t be surprised if you spy a few famous faces while you’re there; in previous years, celebrities like Al Pacino and Debbie Reynolds have attended screenings of their classic hits.
Full Article: https://texashighways.com/things-to-do/the-ultimate-texas-summer-bucket-list-to-soak-up-every-second-of-the-season/