Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- 1. South Padre Island
- 2. Port Aransas
- 3. Waco
- 4. Grapevine
- 5. Dallas
- 6. Austin (because we can't write about Texas road trips and skip the capital city!)
- 7. San Antonio
- 8. New Braunfels
- 9. Galveston
- 10. Denton and Decatur
- 11. The Texas Hill Country
- 12. Round Top and Brenham
- 13. Big Bend National Park
- 14. Marfa and Alpine
- 15. Garner State Park
- 16. Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo
From the Guadalupe Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico, Texas offers diverse experiences from tip to tip. With more than 268,000 square miles of wide open spaces, metropolitan cities, and rural charm, there is a little Texas for everyone. It could easily take you two days to drive from Beaumont to El Paso, so we’ve put together a list of top Texas road trips for families that are within a day’s drive from Houston. Not starting from Houston? That’s OK. Many of these trips are within an easy driving distance from Dallas, Austin or San Antonio. Texans are proud of their vast state, and with good reason! The Lone Star State is a stellar place to visit.
15+ Great Texas Road Trips from Houston
Ready for your Texas road trip? No matter where you’re going in Texas, the options are plentiful. From El Paso to Beaumont, from Dallas to Corpus Christi and everywhere in between, Texas has a lot to offer traveling families. I’ve hand-picked some great destinations for this list of Texas road trips. I’m excited to share some of my favorites. You can start planning your Texas road trip getaway right here.
1. South Padre Island
With over 3,300 miles of shoreline, Texas has plenty of beaches to choose from for a great Texas road trip. First check out South Padre Island, known for its beaches and fun family activities. That said, we highly recommend you avoid March. Unless you’re a party-loving spring breaker, of course. Other months of the year are quieter. Interesting wildlife abounds.
Does your family enjoy sea-life related educational opportunities? Your first stop might be the South Padre Island Dolphin Research and Sealife Nature Center and Sea Turtle Inc. There is even a five-story watchtower to catch a glimpse of the hundreds of birds and other creatures who call this barrier island home.
Several terrific parks dot the island for playtime, and Island Adventure Park offers horseback riding, zip lines, and a petting barn for your little (and big) animal lovers. The Island Fun Park features mini golf and go-karts for sports fans.
TravelingMom Tip: If you’re driving in from one of the nearby Texas towns and want to park at the beach, you might want to get there early (before 10 a.m.) and snag a spot along Gulf Blvd. Going south on Interstate 69 out of southwest Houston, the road becomes highway 59 and turns into 77 in Victoria. After you turn onto Interstate 37S and connect to 69E near Corpus Christi, there are a number of restaurant stops for fast food and more.
2. Port Aransas
There are many beach options for Texas road trips. Just three hours up highway 77 from South Padre, Port Aransas is a family-friendly town on the Gulf Coast. Port A, as it’s affectionately called, is a beachside town rich with fun things to do for families. It’s dubbed the “Fishing Capital of Texas.” If that’s your thing, you can cast a line in the surf or book an off-shore excursion.
Feeling competitive? The area runs fishing competitions all summer long.
In town, you might opt to rent bicycles or a golf cart and cruise around, because the chill vibe of Port A is perfect for going with the flow. Mustang Island, where Port Aransas is the main city, has a quiet charm and you can park right on the beach.
Ready to eat? The Tortuga Saltwater Grill is one of our favorites on this Texas road trip, with a Bloody Mary bar at brunch and kid-friendly burgers and shrimp. Moby Dick’s offers kitschy fun with a gift shop that’s a delight to stroll through.
TravelingMom Tip: Don’t miss the surf shops on the island. A few have giant shark sculptures kids can stand inside. They make Instagram-worthy photo ops!
This growing Texas city is about an hour south of Dallas and is famous for being home to America’s home renovations sweethearts Chip and Joanna Gaines. The first Magnolia Market opened in 2003, and the empire grew exponentially when the show Fixer Upper debuted in 2013.
Today, tourists flock from all over the world to visit the Silos at Magnolia. Open Monday through Saturday, the market has food trucks galore and trolleys from all over town to get you there.
TravelingMom Tip: All things Magnolia are closed on Sunday, so plan accordingly or be disappointed.
Aside from Magnolia, Waco is home to the Dr Pepper museum. A fun stop, the museum has three floors of exhibits about this fizzy soft drink, a gift shop, and soda fountain. The Dr Pepper museum is an easy two-block walk from Magnolia, so you can fit both activities into one day. Moreover, it’s close to Torchy’s Tacos, where you can get some divine queso with a scoop of guacamole nestled inside and some crispy chips for dipping.
If you are looking for outdoor activities, check out the the Waco Mammoth National Monument, where you’ll see fossils of a herd of female mammoths and a lone bull mammoth. The Cameron Park Zoo is worth checking out as well.
Waco is about 185 miles from Houston.
The Gaylord Texan’s Christmas decorations are magical. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw
I heard through the Grapevine that… ah, never mind. This city is a suburb of Dallas, but it deserves its own write-up because there are so many fun things to do in the area. Grapevine is known for its restored 19th and 20th century buildings on Main Street, along with a plethora of restaurants, boutiques, and galleries. Of note, Grapevine has more than 200 restaurants, seven wine tasting rooms, and 20 hotels.
For the little ones, LEGOLAND Discovery Center will be a hit, as well as the SEA LIFE Grapevine Aquarium and Peppa Pig World of Play. Additionally, kids who are into history will love the pioneer preservation site at Nash Farm. At the end of the day, the whole family will enjoy the whodunit Texas Star Dinner Theater.
Grapevine is about 240 miles from Houston.
TravelingMom Tip: For the holidays, Grapevine’s Gaylord Texan is transformed for the Lone Star Christmas Celebration. This includes ice skating, gingerbread house making, Santa visits, milk and cookies with Mrs. Claus, and so much more. Miles and miles of glittering lights adorn the resort and it’s absolutely magical. Get a room with a balcony facing into the decorations and you’ll fall asleep dreaming of sugar plums.
The city of Dallas is a multifaceted jewel, and each part of town stands apart as its own unique neighborhood. You can find anything you want in Dallas, from food to retail to live music. One of the most iconic cities in the United States, Dallas lives up to its reputation as a metropolitan city with a small-town feel.
For kids of all ages, the Perot Museum is a marvel to look at from the outside. When you get inside to peruse several floors worth of history and natural science, you and your family will be blown away. The Dallas World Aquarium hosts not only sea life but a number of tropical birds and reptiles. If your family includes an aviator or two, you’ll really like The Frontiers of Flight Museum. It has more than 30 aircraft and exhibits to teach about the history of aviation from Leonardo da Vinci through space exploration today. Further, the museum includes a full-size model of the Wright Flyer, WWI and WWII aircraft and artifacts, the Apollo VII spacecraft, and more. And for a sobering and educational opportunity, the Dallas Holocaust Museum and Center for Education and Tolerance is a worthy stop.
When you’re ready to eat, go get yourself some finger-licking-good barbecue brisket, Tex-Mex, or any number of international treats all over the city. Lockhart Smokehouse BBQ near the Dallas Zoo is a good bet for this Texas road trip. If you fancy a side trip, you can drive all the way to Lockhart Texas (about 225 miles from Dallas and 150 miles from Houston) for what most Texans consider to be some of the best barbecue in the state.
Dallas is about 260 miles from Houston.
TravelingMom Tip: Take a day trip to Southfork Ranch, home of the 1980s-era TV show that helped the whole country fall in love with Dallas.
6. Austin (because we can’t write about Texas road trips and skip the capital city!)
Only three hours from Houston, Austin can be as far-out or as buttoned-down as you like, and each part of town has a personality all its own. Downtown is home to Lady Bird Lake and the bike and walking trails that encircle it.
Austin’s motto is “Keep Austin Weird” but residents say it lovingly as a way to hold onto the unique quirkiness that makes this city special. Point your nose in any direction and you’ll stumble across some amazing nugget of gastronomy. Like Gourdough’s, for instance, where everything on the menu is with, on, or inside a doughnut. Another favorite of mine is Hula Hut, which serves up a Polynesian/Tex-Mex blend you won’t find anywhere else. You’ll love the sangria swirl margaritas there and the kids will love the view.
On the lake, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and canoes are popular ways to get around. Rentals are widely available. Segway tours are an easy way to see the city streets. Stop at any Amy’s Ice Creams for a frosty treat or any of the taco places in town; the competition for great tacos is fierce. The Bob Bullock Museum is a wonderful place any time of day for your family to learn a little about the great state of Texas and have some fun, too.
As a whole, Austin is a huge music town, and the Austin City Limits music festival attracts some of the best artists in the world (along with about a half a million of your closest friends). If you plan a Texas road trip to Austin in October, book your hotel well in advance and brace yourself for an unforgettable experience.
TravelingMom Tip: Plan a day trip to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area (about 90 miles away) to climb the giant slab of pink granite and get the best views of the entire area.
7. San Antonio
There is so much more to San Antonio than the Alamo, of course. But if you haven’t been to this famous site, be sure to make it part of your Texas road trip itinerary. Located just steps from the San Antonio Riverwalk, the Alamo is surrounded by local eateries, ice cream shops, hotels, movie theaters, and activities for you and your family.
Firstly, a great day in San Antonio might start with OMG French Toast at Snooze A.M. Eatery for brunch. Follow that with a quick ride down the road to the San Antonio Zoo, where the reptile house is a standout attraction. On the other hand if your family is more into art than aardvarks, the San Antonio Museum of Art might be more your style. Another choice is the Witte Museum for Texas natural history, or the San Antonio Botanical Garden for a peaceful stroll. For younger kids, the DoSeum offers a number of activities you and the little ones will enjoy.
When it’s time to eat, head to the Riverwalk and catch an early dinner complete with chips and homemade salsa at Iron Cactus. For fancier fare, Biga on the Banks is an excellent choice for those with teenagers. Trust me when I say you should save room for the sticky toffee pudding or you’ll kick yourself. On one of the nights you’re in San Antonio, don’t miss Mi Tierra Cafe y Panaderia, because it has a fun, festive atmosphere the kids will love, margaritas you’ll savor, and a full bakery for to-go options to tide you over the next day.
San Antonio is just under 200 miles from Houston. The trip takes about three hours.
8. New Braunfels
If you ever watched the show Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe, you probably remember the episode from the Animal World & Snake Farm Zoo. It was jaw-dropping, especially when Mike removed his t-shirt and tossed it over the eyes of an alligator and then helped to wrestle it out of the pit for cleaning. Snakes and gators are the mainstay of this unusual attraction, which is visible in New Braunfels right off I-35. The zoo also has several exotic animals to fascinate the kids.
Even more famous is the original Schlitterbahn water park, which draws tourists looking to cool off. Schlitterbahn, which means “slippery road” in German, originally consisted of four waterslides. Today, it has expanded three times and is bigger than ever. Schlitterbahn is just a small part of this area’s German heritage. You’ll also find delicious German food.
Nearby, the McKenna Children’s Museum is a good stop for smaller children and includes activities regarding space, culture, and technology. All ages will enjoy the New Braunfels Historic Railroad and Modelers Society. Special free events are hosted monthly to introduce families to the model railroads inside and the real full-size train cars open for exploring. Your little engineers will be thrilled. If your Texas road trips take you to New Braunfels, don’t miss this!
New Braunfels is about 30 miles North of San Antonio and 48 miles South of Austin. If you’re planning a Texas road trip to either (or both!) city, make sure you check out New Braunfels, too.
TravelingMom Tip: Bring your own ice chest to Schlitterbahn to save money on food and drinks. If you don’t want to bother with that, purchase a Splash Cash card on a lanyard, which is an easy-to-carry, waterproof alternative to cash or credit cards.
The history of Galveston is that of a bustling port city through the 1800s, until a massive storm in 1900 wiped out a wide swath of this gulfside town. In 1904, the first section of the 16-foot-high and 17-foot-wide seawall was completed and is now more than ten miles long. The seawall protects the gems of history still standing, like beautiful Victorian architecture, the Strand National Historic Landmark District, and more. Moody Gardens offers an aquarium plus 3D and 4D movie theaters and other activities to make up a full day.
This is a great area for a boat ride for you and your family, and your options are many. The jet boat tour is a blast for a fast thrill ride. For a slower pace, try the historic paddleboat tour. Other fun-filled activities include airboat rides, fishing, jet skis, or kayaking. Many cruise ships leave from Galveston, so if you’re planning a cruise, make sure to build a little time in to explore this lovely Texas city.
On your way to Galveston, plan to stop at Space Center Houston for a mind-blowing tour of this NASA facility. All you have to do is jump on the NASA Bypass off I-45 and you’re there in minutes.
If you like to eat fish, shrimp, crab, and lobster, Galveston is a dream come true. Especially on Seawall Boulevard, where Gaido’s Famous Seafood awaits.
Galveston is just 50 miles or so from Houston, making this doable as a day trip.
TravelingMom Tip: be sure to save room for one of the incredible desserts Gaido’s offers. (I recommend the bread pudding with Hey Mikey’s vanilla ice cream.) The Spot is another favorite with a gorgeous view of the water and a robust kids menu. Don’t miss the handspun milkshakes.
10. Denton and Decatur
If you venture outside of Dallas, Denton and Decatur are a pair of towns 30 minutes apart that will capture your heart. About 45 minutes north of Fort Worth, Decatur’s crown jewel is the “Pink Lady,” otherwise known as the Wise County Courthouse. This historic site was built with pink granite in 1896, thus the colorful moniker. Surrounding the courthouse is an array of boutiques, coffee bars, and other specialty shops. Biggar Hat Store, for example, creates unique custom-made felt and straw hats.
Just outside the city, is the Decatur Municipal Airport, which is the state’s first airport (built in 1915). Also, the newly-renovated and repaved Eagles Canyon Raceway is nearby, which is a dream come true for those who like to live in the fast lane. You and your teenagers will have a blast at open track days (check the calendar) and especially the 15 turns and half-mile-long back straight. Don’t leave Decatur without having lunch at the Greenwood Grocery on County Road 2740. This quaint diner serves up some of the best hamburgers in the world, in my opinion. Trust me, the homemade pies are DY-NA-MITE.
Down the road, Denton is widely known for having beautiful outdoor murals that can be as large as a building or as small as a poster. Created by local artists, murals around the city of Denton are great spots for you and the kids to take a photo to help you remember your trip. After that, you’re going to want to make a reservation at gastropub Barley & Board. This unique eatery in the town square serves continental fare the whole family will like. Don’t forget about the cookie board, which is a variety of cookies served on a board and covered with a linen towel to stay warm. Yummm.
These two cities are located about 300 miles from Houston.
11. The Texas Hill Country
Have you ever seen a carpet of wildflowers? In the Texas Hill Country, west of Austin, the spring brings rolling hills and fields dressed in a kaleidoscope of colors. The wildflower season starts with the famous indigo Texas bluebonnets. The first wave of blooms usually appears in early March. However, you won’t want to miss the Orange Castilleja, purple thistles, yellow Huisache daisies, and more decorating the country roads.
If you’re passing through Austin toward Llano, you’ll have the opportunity to stop at the Hill Country Galleria. This outdoor mall has hundreds of shops and restaurants, including a new Whole Foods and sizable Barnes & Noble. Keep going west on I-71 and you’ll see Angel’s near Spicewood, which (Traveling Mom insider tip!) has the best lemon icebox pie, possibly in the entire world. A little further down the road, It’s All Good BBQ serves brisket-stuffed jalapenos and melt-in-your-mouth ribs.
If you don’t happen to stop to eat in Spicewood, be sure to plan to take a break in Llano. There, you’ll see a magnificent courthouse in the town square and then you’ll hit Cooper’s, which is arguably one of the best barbecue restaurants in the state.
Both Llano and Spicewood are roughly 200 miles from Houston.
TravelingMom Tip: Stop and smell the flowers with your kids in Hill Country, because it’s the perfect place to do just that.
12. Round Top and Brenham
So you say you’re an antique nut? Not if you haven’t been to the mother of antique markets in Round Top, Texas! The last time I was in Round Top a few years ago, I saw actor John Malkovich browsing and I caught his eye. His stare was so intense I thought I was going to melt. The message was clearly “If you alert anyone to my presence right now, you’ll regret it.” So I went on my merry way and went off to buy a new vintage nightstand.
Right between Houston and Austin, Round Top has the distinction of being near another state treasure: the creamery of Blue Bell Ice Cream in Brenham. Tours (with ice-cream tastings!) are highly recommended on this Texas road trip. If your kids are older than 12 and you want to stay overnight after stuffing yourself with delicious treats, stay at the quaint Ant Street Inn in Brenham. This gorgeously-appointed inn is an elegant place rich with history. Note that the freezers are stocked with even more Blue Bell, of course. For those with younger kids, the nation’s only indoor campground is a unique experience right there in the Round Top area.
Both Round Top and Brenham are less than 100 miles from Houston, so you can also do this as a day trip.
13. Big Bend National Park
The mighty Rio Grande cleaves the state of Texas from our neighbor country, Mexico, on the southern border. As the river bends north between the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Coahuila, Big Bend National Park straddles the two nations. You’ll find activities from A to Z in this showcase park, from air tours to bicycling to hiking to ziplining. This destination is a must for the active family. If you can take an RV, you’re really going to enjoy being close to it all and sleeping under the stars.
Got teenagers? First, head to nearby Terlingua, which is a host to a fun music scene with three venues in the Ghost Town alone. Next, visit the Chisos Mountain Lodge for some continental fare or Big Bend Pizza for a pie. Another great choice is the Starlight Theater, which combines a select menu with live music. After a day of hiking, this Texas Road trip will reward you with both incredible views and delightful nearby towns.
Big Bend National Park is located about 560 miles from Houston, so this is one of the longer Texas road trips. The views are worth the miles.
TravelingMom Tip: Big Bend National Park offers several hiking trails suitable for young kids and older kids alike. You don’t have to rule out this natural jewel if you have little ones. I also recommend checking out nearby Big Bend Ranch State Park. This is run by Texas Parks and Wildlife and not the National Park Service and it’s another option for outdoor adventure.
14. Marfa and Alpine
Whether you’re planning to visit Marfa and Alpine and throw in a visit to Big Bend National Park or vice versa, these towns are places you don’t want to miss. If you make the journey from Houston to Big Bend National Park, it’s a shame to not take the extra time to visit Alpine and Marfa. Marfa is famous for its funky art scene (complete with mockups of a Prada store and a Target) and the elusive Marfa Lights twinkling over the town. Take a glider ride, visit the Marfa Maid Dairy, and see the Marfa Holocaust and Historic Model Ship Museum.
Golf fans won’t want to miss the Marfa Municipal Golf Course, which is the highest course in Texas by topography.
Marfa’s sister city, Alpine, is home to the Alpine Cowboys minor-league baseball team. The Cowboys serve up family fun all summer long at Kokernot Field, called the “best little ballpark in Texas” by Sports Illustrated. For live music in the likes of Jerry Jeff Walker and Del Castillo (check them out on Spotify if you aren’t familiar) plan to visit Railroad Blues. At the end of the night, kick off your boots at the historic railroad inn, the Holland Hotel.
15. Garner State Park
More than 300 campsites, 37 screened shelters, and 17 historic stone cabins are just a few of your choices if you choose to take a trip to Garner State Park. Located west of San Antonio and straight north from Laredo, Garner State Park is a river tubing paradise for families. Rent a tube from one of the vendors along the route like Andy’s on River Road, ice down your cooler full of sandwiches and snacks, and you’ll have a blast.
If your kids are tweens or teens, don’t miss a hike up Old Baldy. It’s a workout and a steep one, so if your kids are little, they might enjoy a nature walk more and a stop at the Frio Float, where everyone can pick out ice cream and treats.
When you live in Texas, you know that fall colors are subtle and sometimes hard to find. Nearby Lost Maples State Natural Area is a wonderful surprise for a burst of autumn colors.
Garner State Park is located about 285 miles from Houston.
TravelingMom Tip: Reserve your camping spot or cabins early. You can also look at Airbnb rentals in nearby Concan, Leakey or Utopia.
16. Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo
Where in the world can you find 10 vintage Cadillacs buried taillights up in the ground? In Texas, of course. Near Amarillo, the popular Cadillac Ranch appears as if in a dream, the land sprouting tailfins painted in tons of wild colors and designs. You, too, can make your mark at Cadillac Ranch if you bring your own spray paint. As you might imagine, the old cars are coated with layers and layers already. You might not be surprised, by the way, to discover that the Home Depot closest to the Cadillac Ranch sells more spray paint than any other Home Depot in the country. In the whole country! That’s quite a distinction.
The old Route 66 is a piece of Americana and this site fits right in. It’s free to enter – just park next to the South Frontage and walk about 200 yards to the Cadillac Ranch on the other side of the field. First, leave your mark on a car or two with your own design, then head on over to the Big Texan Steak Ranch. Think you can eat a 72-ounce steak? The legend is true: if you can eat the shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad, roll with butter, and the steak within an hour, your whole meal is free. If you fail, you pay. Either way, you’ll have fun trying it all on this Texas-sized road trip.
Amarillo is about 600 miles from Houston, so another long trip but there’s a lot to explore in this area of Texas.
TravelingMom Tip: Take the opportunity to visit the Palo Duro Canyon State Park in nearby Canyon, Texas. The deep, colorful canyons will wow you.