Worried about fitting in when in Texas? Vegetarian TravelingMom Judy Antell thought she’d feel out of place, but a pickup truck made her feel like a native, with a bonus that she could borrow bicycles in Houston. On her Texas road trip, she toured the Toyota Truck Factory near San Antonio for free.
When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in August, so much of the city was under water that the Houston Grand Opera had to relocate its entire season and parts of the Buffalo Bayou park were closed indefinitely. My husband and I had planned to visit his brother in Houston. We had yet to see his new house. This is the house he moved to after the last hurricane destroyed his previous home. We decided to keep our trip, and travel on to San Antonio. And when we flew to Houston in October, we were there for gorgeous 70 degree weather, perfect for biking.
Note: My niece usually parks her Prius in the circular driveway in front of my brother-in-law’s house, which lies along another bayou. Good thing she moved the car before the hurricane hit; water rose 10 feet and would have engulfed it.
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1. Biking in Houston
The bike rental place near Buffalo Bayou had been flooded and was still closed. Luckily, my brother-in-law had friends with extra bicycles. And fortuitously, we had a Toyota Tacoma, a pickup truck that easily fit three bicycles in the back.
The truck proved to be an ideal Texas road trip vehicle, with luxury leather seating for five and a bed built for adventure. With a couple of bungee cords, we secured three bicycles in the truck bed and drove to the (free) parking lot at Buffalo Bayou park. There are some bike lanes in Houston, but not enough that I’d feel comfortable cycling around the city.
Fun fact: the Tacoma fit easily in a ‘compact car’ space. Everything in Texas is big! Only here could a pickup truck be the right size for a compact car space.
Buffalo Bayou has running and biking paths, a skateboard park, (also closed due to flooding) playgrounds and a destination restaurant, The Kitchen at The Dunlavy. We biked all day, and stopped for there for lunch. The restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch daily, happy hour, and occasional evenings for special events. We happened to be in Houston for the seventh game of the American League Championship series and the restaurant was open for cheering on the Astros. It also hosted World Series viewing parties.
2. Vegetarian friendly Houston
The Kitchen at The Dunlavy had plenty of veggie choices, from avocado toast with ricotta cheese to a veggie sandwich with goat cheese, hummus, cucumber, tomato, avocado, radish, spinach and sprouts. Hearty salads included a kale salad with quinoa and Brussels sprouts and smashed avocado with cucumber, radish, sprouts and sunflower seeds. I had the savory breakfast bowl: wild rice, quinoa, white beans, and sweet potato with a soft boiled egg. If you decide to drive, there is free parking. But we burned off all the calories from lunch by biking.
3. Free in San Antonio: Toyota Texas Factory Tour
The Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, (TMMTX) outside San Antonio, offers tours from its visitors center. The factory, which makes Tacoma and Tundra pickup trucks, is where the truck I was driving was manufactured. It was fun to bring the truck to where it was ‘born.’
TMMTX was the site of a ranch from the 1700s, and heritage trees still dot the premises. As we drove from the visitors center to the plant, coyotes crossed the path. Toyota just installed solar panels to power the plant sustainably and biking and walking paths for its employees (aka team members). I could feel good about my carbon footprint, too; the Tacoma we drove got 24 miles per gallon on the highway, which is on par with many luxury sedans; my brother-in-law’s Infiniti Q50 also gets 24 mpg and it can’t fit three bikes in the back.
We were surprised to see a fitness area at TMMTX where a trainer lead team members in exercises designed to keep them fit and reduce repetitive motion injuries.
Texas Factory Tour Details
To tour TMMTX, you have to wear closed toe shoes, no shorts or skirts and long sleeves. I also had to remove all my jewelry. You are given a hard hat, safety goggles, and an orange vest, for the tour. Only children over age six are allowed. Tours are free, but reserve in advance, and allow extra time to explore the interactive center.
4. Waterpark included at JW Marriott
We drove the Toyota Tacoma three hours to San Antonio, where we stayed at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa. This luxury resort has a huge water park that offers a respite from the Texas heat. Locals book stays so they can use the water park with their kids during the summer. It’s like a private water park that is open only to hotel guests, and included with your stay. When you think about how much a water park ticket costs, this is a huge benefit.
We walked up to the wrong pickup truck several times during our stay; the parking lot was filled with shiny new trucks. Surprisingly, parking here was free, which seemed unusual at a luxury resort.
Note: Toyota loaned me a Tacoma pickup truck for this Texas road trip. Opinions and fun are all my own.