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.