Visit the oldest independent brewery in the state and the home of Texas' Shiner Bock. It's two and a half hours away and has some of the most laid-back brewers you can find, next to our own at Saint Arnold's, of course.
Blue Bell Ice Cream, people. Need we say more? The creamery that churns out the world's greatest Homemade Vanilla is located in this darling Texas town, located on Highway 290 halfway between Houston and Austin. Call ahead to reserve space on a tour of the ice cream plant. Wildflowers in the spring, country fairs and festivals in the fall months make Brenham a year-round day-tripper's dream. Check out the bed-and-breakfast inns if you decide you don't want to drive back to the city.
This town has literally got more gators than people, and they hold a Texas Gator fest each September to prove it. The place to experience Southeast Texas nature, including alligators, up-close-and-personally is in the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. Take an airboat ride (a la Bobby Boucher in The Waterboy), listen to some zydeco and make sure to eat some crawfish.
Didn't know that there is an amazing, exotic botanical garden little more than hour to Houston's east? Head to Orange and take in the gorgeous local greenery and tour the platinum LEED-certified nature center at the Shangri La Botanical Gardens, covering 252 acres in the heart of this East Texas burg.
The Aggies of Texas A&M University alone are worth the trip for sheer observation, but you don't have to be one to enjoy College Station and the campus. Be sure to visit the 3-ton replica of the coveted class ring and ask about the ritualistic "dunking" ceremony. Highlight of the campus visit is the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, and nearby in Bryan is the best in Texas wine at Messina Hof Winery & Resort.
Only an hour southwest of Houston, see the stars you can't in Houston at the George Observatory in Brazos Bend State Park, where you can even go on simulated space shuttle missions in the Challenger Learning Center and actually touch one of the earth's oldest meteorites. Of course, the park offers all the regular outdoor fun — camping, hiking, biking, fishing and horseback riding. Watch out for the alligators!
In addition to the natural wonders of the surrounding Big Thicket National Preserve, this is the home of the spooky Saratoga Lights (which have been featured on Unsolved Mysteries) and makes for a perfect fall outing. Rumor has it that if you drive down a dirt road that begins near the intersection of FM 787-770 and turn off your headlights, floating lights will appear in the woods.
Swing into the San Marcos river in little Luling There's a swimming hole at the old Zeedler Mill that boasts the ultimate summer accessory: A perfect rope tree.
The Colorado River goes through Columbus and there's a paddling trail there where adventurous daytrippers can rent a kayak or canoe. The river is forgiving and flat, so first-timers are welcome.