Great Vacation Destinations Outside Texas’ Big Cities

The Lone Star State is known for many things: barbecue, country music and rolling hills, to name a few. It’s also known for its size — which means there are plenty of places to explore on family vacations in Texas. And big cities aren’t the only options for family fun. In fact, getting outside the major metro areas can help minimize cost while maximizing adventure. Here are a handful of destinations for memory making that are within driving distance of Houston, San Antonio and Dallas.

Vacation Destinations Outside Houston

Houston is a renowned hub of science, art and culture and an important business center both nationally and globally. On your next vacation, use the city as a starting point for one of two affordable destinations in East Texas.

Getting there: Fly into George Bush Intercontinental Airport or William P. Hobby Airport and pick up your rental car.

Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier, Galveston, Texas Originally opened in the 1940s, Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier was damaged by a hurricane in 1961 and revitalized as a family-friendly destination in 2012.



Where: About 75 miles south of Houston (from George Bush airport) via Interstate 69 and Interstate 45; from Hobby airport, about 45 miles south via I-45.

Why: The historic island city of Galveston is a unique getaway full of activities for adventure seekers and history fans. Spend a day at Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier — this promenade features rides, carnival games, shops, restaurants and stunning photo ops at sunset. Before you leave, grab a seat on the Gulf Glider, a swing carousel that takes riders 22 feet in the air. About 1.5 miles north of the pier is the Texas Seaport Museum, home to Elissa, a three-masted sailing ship built in 1877. Nearby, Galveston also has a railroad museum, several historic mansions for touring and a 1.5 million-gallon aquarium (Moody Gardens Aquarium Pyramid).

About 14 miles southwest on Termini-San Luis Pass Road is Galveston Island State Park, 2,000 acres of sanctuary from the relative bustle of downtown. Sand dunes, wetlands and coastal prairie are ideal for hiking, bird-watching and swimming.

Stay: Centrally located, Gaido’s Seaside Inn is a simple and cozy place right on the southern seawall. If you prefer something more upscale that’s also near the action, check out Hotel Galvez & Spa, built in 1911 and featuring a heated saltwater pool.

Sam Houston National Forest

Where: About 50 miles north of Houston (from George Bush airport) via state Route 8 and Interstate 45; from Hobby airport, about 70 miles north via I-45.

Why: To get out of the city and enjoy the outdoors or simply relax in nature, drive about an hour north to Sam Houston National Forest. A true Texas gem, this 163,000-acre section of wild, multiuse land is a paradise for camping, bird-watching, fishing, swimming, canoeing, kayaking and hiking.

Little Lake Creek Wilderness, on the western edge of the forest, is the site of the 7.8-mile Sam Houston North Wilderness Loop, a scenic hike with many creek crossings. The loop shares part of the Lone Star Hiking Trail, a 128-mile path traversing the western and eastern ends of the national forest. Near the eastern end, Big Creek Scenic Area is celebrated for its rich plant diversity.

Stay: Campers can pitch their tents at three designated campgrounds. Two of them, Cagle and Double Lake recreation areas, take reservations. Double Lake also has a concession stand for renting canoes and paddleboats, a bathhouse, lakeside hiking trails and a beach. If you prefer a roof over your head, New Waverly, on the western edge of the national forest, has a variety of accommodations; Gibbs Street Manor, in particular, is a cozy bed-and-breakfast.

Vacation Destinations Outside San Antonio

San Antonio is in the heart of Texas Hill Country, one of the most scenic parts of the state — particularly in the spring and fall, when seasonal colors are abundant. From San Antonio, some of Hill Country’s most iconic landmarks and towns are within an hour or two’s drive.

Getting there: Fly into San Antonio International Airport and pick up your rental car.

A field of bluebonnets in Texas Visitors to Texas Hill Country are treated to bluebonnets and beautiful sunsets as far as the eye can see.



Where: About 80 miles north of San Antonio via Interstate 10 and U.S. Route 87.

Why: Fredericksburg is a town rich in German culture and cuisine. To get there, you’ll pass through signature Hill Country scenery: fields of bluebonnets in early spring, wineries, rolling green hills, ancient cypress trees lining creeks and rivers, and beautiful autumn displays in fall.

Once in town, experience the area’s German heritage including artifacts from the 19th century at the Pioneer Museum. For some exercise, drive about 15 miles north and hike your choice of trails around Enchanted Rock, a pink granite dome that rises above the surrounding green hills. End your day back in Fredericksburg by feasting on traditional German food at Auslander Restaurant or the Altdorf Biergarten, where you can have a locally brewed or imported German beer and cheer on a polka band.

Stay: Locally owned Peachtree Inn & Suites offers rooms and cottages near historic downtown. Alternatively, the suites at The Lodge Above Town Creek have some luxurious touches at an affordable price.

Aircraft carrier USS Lexington docked in Corpus Christi, Texas The USS Lexington, an aircraft carrier in World War II, is now a naval aviation museum docked in Corpus Christi, Texas.


Corpus Christi

Where: About 145 miles south of San Antonio via Interstate 37.

Why: If you’re more of the coastal kind, Corpus Christi is worth the drive. Padre Island National Seashore (park headquarters is a 30-mile drive farther south) offers 70 miles of protected coastline and unique opportunities to ride horses on the beach and watch turtles hatch — plus kayak, canoe, sport-fish and bird-watch. On the mainland, the South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center has floral exhibits bursting with roses, bromeliads and orchids, plus plumerias during the warmer months; a screened butterfly house; and a hummingbird garden.

Closer to downtown Corpus Christi, stop by the Texas State Aquarium to see exhibits of coral reefs, dolphins, sharks, alligators, jellyfish, shorebirds and otters. A few touch pools give visitors a hands-on experience. Next door to the aquarium, history buffs will enjoy touring the USS Lexington, a World War II aircraft carrier turned naval aviation museum. Just across the Harbor Bridge to the south, the Art Museum of South Texas houses a permanent art collection with an emphasis on regional and Texas art and has rotating exhibits.

Stay: The Sea Shell Inn Motel is right on the waterfront at North Beach, just a few minutes from many city attractions. Alternatively, nearby Hotel De Ville, a two-minute walk from the water, has a Ferris wheel on-site.

Vacation Destinations Outside Dallas

Dallas is a distinguished destination for foodies, art lovers and shoppers, but so are many of its neighboring cities and towns. Experience the richness of North Texas in these two affordable vacation spots.

Getting there: Fly into Dallas Fort Worth International Airport or Dallas Love Field Airport and pick up your rental car.

Dinosaurs Live! exhibit at the Heard Natural Science Museum in McKinney, Texas The Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney, Texas, exhibits life-size animatronic dinosaurs each fall and winter



Where: About 35 miles northeast of Dallas (from Dallas Fort Worth airport) via state Route 121 and Sam Rayburn Tollway — find details on toll passes here; from Love Field, about 30 miles north via Mockingbird Lane and U.S. Route 75.

Why: McKinney is a small town with big charm and a vibrant history. The arts are an important focus here, with a wide range of arts-related events happening and galleries open year-round. Families who enjoy creating together can take a painting class at Wild Brush Studio or get help making ceramic pieces at Walls of Clay.

Families who like to learn together can explore historic landmarks and museums. At the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary, you can see life-size animatronic dinosaurs, peruse a wide collection of fossils and find out about plants and animals native to Texas. Chestnut Square Historic Village has a collection of preserved buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s. It also hosts a farmers market showcasing local foods, arts and crafts.

Stay: The historic Grand Hotel & Ballroom dates to the 1880s and has a chophouse on-site.

Fort Worth Stockyards, Texas The Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District celebrates the area’s Western heritage with Wild West re-enactments, longhorn cattle drives and authentic rodeos.


Fort Worth

Where: About 25 miles west of Dallas (from Dallas Fort Worth airport) via state Route 97, state Route 183 and state Route 121; from Love Field, about 30 miles west via Mockingbird Lane, Westmoreland Road and Interstate 30.

Why: Fort Worth has preserved a small-town feel with a quintessential cowboy culture. The Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District gives visitors the chance to explore the state’s rich livestock history. Experience a Wild West re-enactment, a longhorn cattle drive or an authentic rodeo. And when you’re hungry, enjoy local food favorites like barbecue and Tex-Mex in one of the Stockyards’ many restaurants.

If fine art is your fancy, the family will love the Kimbell Art Museum, which is home to works from celebrated artists like Monet and Michelangelo. The museum also has curated collections from Europe, Asia, Africa and America, with some pieces dating back thousands of years. The Fort Worth Botanic Garden is another beautiful landmark of the city. Stroll through more than a dozen distinct areas, such as the Japanese Garden, the Native Texas Boardwalk and the Rose Garden.

Stay: Three Danes Inn is a family-run bed-and-breakfast in a historic landmark home. Stockyards Hotel, within the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District, has housed cattle barons and country music stars over the past century.

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Ashley M. Halligan is a copywriter, editor and journalist who specializes in travel and technology. She’s been published by Backpacker Magazine, Alaska Magazine, Texas Lifestyle Magazine, Irish Examiner and Reuters. She also founded Pilgrim Magazine, a narrative-inspired travel publication. You can follow her travels on Instagram: @contemporarypilgrim and @pilgrimmagazine.