If you don’t have the budget or vacation days to take a cross-country trip, gas up the car and take a road excursion to one of these unexpected Texas cities that promise to quench your thirst for new adventures.
Explore: Located about 3-1/2 hours from Houston, Tyler State Park has towering trees and a scenic spring-fed lake for outdoor adventurers. Try the .67-mile Whispering Pines hike for a short and moderate trek, or the 3.1-mile B Loop for more skilled hikers. Rent a canoe, kayak, or paddleboat to see the park from the 64-acre lake. The 1859 Goodman-LeGrand House & Museum serves as a good starting point for exploring this historic town. Walk through the free museum situated on manicured grounds with lots of azaleas and roses. After gaining an appreciation for the town’s history, walk south on Broadway Avenue to Front Street and explore the antique shops and boutiques.
Eat: For a town with only 100,000 people in it, Tyler has a respectable dining scene. Stop at Stanley’s Famous Pit Barbecue for a plate of finger-licking meat. The restaurant's Mother Clucker piles a smoked chicken thigh, cheddar cheese, and a fried egg on jalapeño cheese sourdough. For a fancier dinner, make a reservation at the restaurant, winery, and B&B hybrid Kiepersol. The menu features a little of everything, but seafood is the shining star. Make sure to ask about wine pairings for your meal. Try Roast Social Kitchen for pizza, Villa Montez for Latin American food, or FD’s Grillhouse for American fare.
Stay: Camp primitively at Tyler State Park or rent a cabin with electricity, air conditioning, and basic appliances. A string of sleeping options such as Rosevine Inn Bed & Breakfast, Woldert-Spence Manor, and Memory Lane Inn have that charming small-town feel within walking distance to shops and attractions.
Explore: Every Saturday from noon to 5 pm, 903 Brewers offers free tours of its Sherman brewery. Try a Republic of Texas lager, Mythical Creature IPA, or Mexican-style Cervaza Por Favor. For an authentic animal experience, visit the migratory bird haven Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge on Lake Texoma. Visitors can walk trails, fish, and (of course) bird watch. The Harber Wildlife Museum has a large selection of animal dioramas, but check out its limited opening hours before venturing to the north end of town for a visit.
Eat: After your 4-1/2-hour drive from Houston to Sherman, get your caffeine fix at Bean Me Up Coffeehouse & Bistro or grab a quick sandwich and soup from the board of rotating specials. A giant salad and bakery treats such as buttermilk pie or lemon squares are on offer at Kathleen’s Kitchen. Come for the unpretentious American food (think everything from nachos to BLTs to chicken fried steak) at Old Iron Post, but stay for the live music on most weekends. No cover charge and inexpensive drinks could keep you there all night. For a classier dinner, head to Fulbelli’s Restaurant. A large menu of seared pork belly, stuffed quail, Moroccan sea bass, lobster mac and cheese, and more will help you fuel up after your day of travel.
Stay: In addition to the usual roundup of Comfort Suites, Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites, and more, Sherman has a handful of home rentals on Airbnb.
Explore: This tiny Texas town with a population of 1,600 west of Gainesville (and around a 6-1/2-hour drive from Houston) forces visitors to slow down from big city bustle. Fish for largemouth bass or crappie in Muenster Lake. Public docks make for the ideal spot for a sunset picnic with goodies from Fischer’s Meat Market grocery store. Muenster Antique Mall often serves as home base for serious vintage lovers making the rounds to shops in Gainesville to the east and Saint Jo and Nocona to the west. If you find yourself in Muenster for the last week in April, the town’s annual Germanfest offers strudel, schnitzels, spätzel, German brews, and nonstop live music. Plus, you could win a nägelschlagen competition (just Google it, trust us).
Eat: Try Rohmer’s Restaurant for authentic German food made by the same family for three generations. Doc’s Bar & Grill has a board of rotating specials spanning all your tried-and-true bar food and a full bar. On hot summer days, grab an ice-cold treat at the Chill Out snow-cone stand.
Stay: Shillinghaus, a B&B run a husband-and-wife duo, has a couple rooms decorated in local goods and furniture. Koesler Haus is a 1900s-era home on a scenic pond that can be fully rented for a group. A jacuzzi, fire pits, and plenty of board games make for a cabin-style weekend. Elm Creek Manor offers guest rooms and a farm-to-table dining experience with homemade cheese; homegrown veggies; and farm-raised goats, chicken, rabbits, and tilapia. If you get tired of walking through the gardens during your stay, take a dip in the pool or hot tub, or play one of the outdoor games on the property.
Explore: For a couple off-the-wall attractions about six hours north of Houston, visit the world’s littlest skyscraper in downtown Wichita Falls. The neoclassical Newby-McMahon building measurers 40 feet tall and is a Texas Historic Landmark. The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum is worth a visit just to snap a photo with all the wrestling outfits on display, and the memorabilia and history will keep you entertained for a couple hours. Roam the Art on the Green Outdoor Sculpture Invitational Exhibit’s six permanent exhibits on the grounds of Kemp Center for the Arts.
Eat: Plenty of good food can be found in Wichita Falls. A modest menu of American food pairs well with a cold beer at the newly opened Highlander Public House. If you make it to Wichita Falls during the week, stop at the Gypsy Kit for tacos, burgers, sandwiches, and more at this food truck-turned storefront hot spot. Get seafood at Pelican’s, pizza at Stone Oven, and cheesy, greasy goodness at Willie’s Place. For one of the best steaks in the area, head to McBride’s Steakhouse.
Stay: Book a stay at one of several chain hotels and motels, such as Courtyard Marriott, Hampton Inn, and Homewood Suites.