BUCKLE UP: There’s more to Texas than cattle and cowboys
Located between Dallas and Fort Worth (each about 30 minutes away), the city is part of the “DFW metroplex,” and also known as the “Home of the Cowboys,” as in football team. And home of the Texas Rangers baseball franchise too. The former offers popular tours of state-of-the-art AT&T Stadium (photo), while Globe Life Field is a great place to catch a ball game. The original Six Flags also calls Arlington home. Scott Poland, director of tourism development, explains that Arlington is a great hub-and-spoke destination for the area (plus it’s only 10 minutes from DFW airport) and all major hotels offer a trolley service to attractions for guests. An 888-room Loews hotel is on the horizon for 2024.
Austin may be state capital, but Canadians will be more interested it’s the city’s status as “Live Music Capital of the World,” with no shortage of places to experience different styles of music (including at concerts performed for the legendary TV show “Austin City Limits”). Also new on the scene is Moody Centre, a state-of-the-art 15,000-seat performance venue, and Armadillo Den, a two-storey neighbourhood bar and entertainment destination that spans 1.2 hectares and boasts two bars, indoor stage, outdoor entertainment area, and fare from Austin food trucks. Live music is featured seven nights a week. In addition to existing non-stop service from Toronto, Air Canada has just launched service from Vancouver four times a week.
A northern suburb of (and great base for) Houston, Conroe is a “charming old Texas town,” located just off the I95, according to Visit Conroe director Shannon Overby. With a revitalized historic downtown that boasts an iconic courthouse and public square, there is plenty of shopping, craft breweries, and music. It’s also bordered by Lake Conroe and national and state forests, presenting endless opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts, on land or water. The fastest-growing city in Texas will welcome a Margaritaville resort this month (June).
A prime example of a Texas destination that belies the image of cattle and cowboys, Dallas is home to the largest arts district in the US, prompting Visit Dallas sr. director of tourism Lilliana Riviera to observe, “That’s the biggest surprise – you don’t expect Dallas to be an arts city!” But there’s also sports (the Cowboys, Rangers, and Stars), live music in Deep Ellum, barbecue (Terry Black’s BBQ), three microbreweries, JFK (assassination) tours, a symphony, and many other cultural institutions. And if you’re still muddling “who shot JR,” the “Dallas” TV show’s Southfork ranch can be visited 45 minutes away.
Where to start in El Paso? “It’s more urban than you’d expect,” says Destination El Paso’s Trinity Smith, but also a gateway to Big Bend country and a host of outdoor activities. The city of a million people is on the Mexican and New Mexican borders, adjacent to colourful Juarez in the former and close to renowned White Sands National Park in the latter. Known as the “Boot Capital of the World,” there is plenty of western culture to be found, including connections to Billy the Kidd and other gunslingers (buried at Concordia Cemetery). There’s also a mountain within the city limits and Hueco Tanks State Park, known for its bouldering (plus hiking, biking etc.) Where to stop about El Paso?
The other bookend of the DFW metro area, Fort Worth is America’s 12th largest city but feels smaller, thanks in part to its walkable downtown. Dubbed “the modern west,” it’s a destination full of history and characters, particularly in the Stockyards National District (photo), where real cowboys conduct a twice-daily cattle drive and visitors can see rodeo year-round (Fridays and Saturdays), shop for western wear, savour traditional Texas fare, and listen to country music. The National Cowgirl Hall of Fame adds to the vibe, as does Billy Bob’s Texas entertainment, food, and concert complex, which calls itself “the world’s largest honky tonk.”
But Forth Worth also has five world-class museums, an arts district, and the Trinity River Trails, for hiking, cycling, horseback riding and water activities, right in the city. Director of Tourism Estella Martinez-Stuart touts the ale trail with 19 craft breweries, and the unique Whiskey Ranch distillery. But, “If you want the real Texas,” she admits, “come here.”
“A lot of people haven’t heard of us, but we’re quintessential small-town America,” says Karen Mayo, director of tourism at the CVB. And while Mayo certainly isn’t wrong, her town also wears its founding by German immigrants proudly, with multiple ethnic restaurants and beer gardens sprinkled along the 10-block-long main drag. Located in Texas hill country, about an hour’s drive north of San Antonio (and about the same distance west of Austin) Fredericksburg is also in the heart of wine country, boasting over 50 local wineries, some of which offer tours and/or tasting shops on Main Street. Out of town there’s hiking and renowned wildflowers, while back in town there’s an excellent, if unexpected, Smithsonian Museum of the Pacific War. In sum, it is said that Fredericksburg has a “Texas heart and German soul.”
Exuding a vibe more reminiscent of Charleston or Savannah than typical Texas, Galveston is a great getaway for a couple of days, or day trip from nearby Houston for shopping or the beach. (Stop at NASA’s Space Centre Houston on the way). It’s also a notable cruise gateway. Visitors will discover a fresh-look Historic Seaport that includes Ship Shore, a new interactive attraction that allows visitors to follow in the footsteps of early immigrants who travelled to Galveston in the 1880s.
Another town – with its own unique personality – that’s part the Dallas-Fort Worth metro region. Close to Arlington and the airport, Grapevine might be where you stay, with 20 hotels in town, including the Gaylord Texan Resort and a Great Wolf Lodge. “We’re a great hub,” says Heather Egan, Grapevine CVB’s director of leisure and international sales. Not surprisingly, Egan says the town is “all about wine” and boasts an urban wine trail. Other attributes: a historic main street, claims of being the “Christmas Capital of Texas,” a great live music scene, artisan shopping, restaurants and cafés, and a vintage excursion train to the Fort Worth Stockyards. And after exploring the DFW area, the town, Egan says, is simply “a great place to end the day.”
Visit Houston’s Celia Morales says her city – fourth largest in the US – is also the most diverse, including, for example, more than 10,000 restaurants serving cuisine from around the globe. Close to the Gulf of Mexico, the city is also home to an amazing cultural district with 18 museums. There’s also the Houston Zoo, Space Center Houston, award-winning performing arts groups, professional sports teams, and more than 12 shopping districts throughout the city. A tapestry of culture, Houston’s diversity is celebrated throughout the city in the arts, culture, and gastronomy.
Located in the West Texas “panhandle” about a five-hour drive west of Dallas, revitalized Lubbock boasts new hotels, an eclectic food and beverage scene (including craft breweries), and a growing cultural and entertainment community. The latter is centred on The Buddy Holly Hall of Performing Arts and Sciences, named after the rock and roll pioneer and city’s favourite son. Broadway productions like “Hamilton” and “Dear Evan Hansen” will take the stage during the 2022-23 season in the 2,300-seat main theatre, along with dance, comedy, and concerts in the Holly Hall.
“A little oasis in West Texas,” unique San Angelo is not a city you would see anywhere else in the state, says the CVB’S sales manager Suzanna Valezuela. A mix of arts and culture, with a diversity ranging from symphony to C&W music, San Angelo’s treasures include artistic alleys, historic murals, internationally acclaimed waterlilies, and Concho pearls from freshwater mussels.
This south Texas city is known for The Alamo (it’s called “The Alamo City” after all), which is smack dab in the centre of town and a must-see stop for photos (see banner photo) of the famous white church, as well as with a bronze statue of Davey Crockett. But there are five UNESCO Spanish missions in total around San Antonio, which tell the story of the origins of the city and the state of Texas, of which the Mexican siege of The Alamo in 1836, of course, was an integral contributor.
But San Antonio’s best feature is River Walk, an amazing, 25-km long leafy path, that winds its way along the banks of the San Antonio past hotels and neighbourhoods and is adorned with clever art displays. The exception to the serenity is in the central bar/restaurant area, the modern mecca of the city. Boasting a distinct Mexican flavour (it’s two hours from the border), including its own annual fiesta, San Antonio also has its own SeaWorld on the outskirts, plus the incredible Natural Bridge Caverns, the state’s largest network of caves (with requisite rides and ziplines).
First published at Travel Industry Today