Explore Texas Hill Country, the South Texas Plains and the Gulf Coast Region By Marguerite Cleveland
With summer upon us, it is time for a road trip. Texas is so huge that the best way to do this road trip is to fly into a city near the areas you want to visit. For this trip we are flying Alaska Airlines from either Spokane or Seattle to Austin, Texas, and renting a car.
This journey will take us through the Texas Hill Country with visits to Austin and Waco, then down to the South Texas Plains and San Antonio. The Gulf Coast Region and South Padre Island will allow some beach time before heading back north to the charming town of Victoria. Then it’s back to Austin for the flight home.
Austin Make Austin your base for a few days. The city is known for its many parks and outdoor spaces, as well as being the Live Music Capital of the World. There is something for history lovers, foodies, outdoor enthusiasts, music buffs and so much more. Start your visit at the official Austin Visitor Center & Gift Shop on Fourth Street. They offer Downtown Guided Walking Tours, and you can also book a variety of activities and attractions right at the center. It also has a great gift shop. There is so much to see and do in Austin; it can be overwhelming. So, take the time before you arrive to look at all the city has to offer and pick your favorites.
South Congress Avenue has a funky vibe with shops and great places to eat. Kids will love the circus-themed Big Top Candy Shop, which is like the Disney World of candy. For a fun sightseeing tour, take an Austin Duck Adventure in an amphibious vehicle that will tour the city, and then drive right into Lake Austin for a boat ride. In the evening, check out one of Austin’s kid-friendly outdoor concert venues like Guero’s Taco Bar and Oak Garden. Enjoy great food and live music at this famed destination.
San Antonio San Antonio is a city rich in history and a melting-pot culture with diverse influences from Mexican, Tejano, German, Irish, Czechoslovakian and many more. The Alamo and the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This site comprises the five Catholic Missions established along the San Antonio River and represents the largest concentration of Spanish colonial missions in North America. You can drive to the individual sites or rent bikes through the San Antonio Bike Share and ride along the Mission Reach Trail. With more than 65 docking station and over 575 bikes, this is a great way to get around the area.
The city is one of two U.S. cities designated a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy, and there is some amazing food. The best way to enjoy the dining scene is at a riverfront café on San Antonio’s world-renowned River Walk. This 15-mile urban waterway sits tucked below street level and can be accessed just steps away from the Alamo. You can explore either side on the walking path or take a Go RIO river barge for a guided tour. Go RIO also offers river shuttles that will take you to the area known as the Museum Reach. From there you can access the Pearl, a unique culinary and shopping experience combining retail, dining, green spaces, a riverside amphitheater, and a campus of the Culinary Institute of America.
Corpus Christi - The Gulf Coast Capitol Plan to rent a beach house on Padre Island, known as “the Island” by locals. The Padre Island National Seashore is the longest undeveloped stretch of barrier island in the world. Explore miles of white, sandy beaches with windswept dunes and unobstructed views. Truly beautiful and such a great way to relax. On this portion of your road trip, take some time to slow down and don’t overschedule. Check out Doc’s Seafood and Steak Restaurant for great food, live music and the most photographed sunset in Corpus Christi. There are a variety of attractions and museums in the area. The USS Lexington Museum is a vintage World War II aircraft carrier that also served as a training ship for scores of Navy Pilots.
Victoria The darling town of Victoria is one of the oldest cities in Texas. Immerse yourself in history by taking the Explore Victoria Texas History Trail. Learn more about the area at the Museum of the Coastal Bend, which details 13,000 years of history. Add in the Old Victoria Driving Tour, featuring over 80 homes and properties. You can even visit a historic place to eat. Fossati’s Delicatessen was established in 1882 and is still owned and run by the original family. You’ll be treated to great sandwiches, soups and daily specials all in a building on the National Register of Historic Places.
Head out of town to Goliad, home to the Presidio La Bahia, and one of the world’s finest examples of a Spanish frontier fort. It played a significant role in Texas history. A fun excursion is to rent a kayak and explore the 25-mile-long Victoria Paddling Trail along the slow-moving Guadalupe River; perfect for all levels of paddlers. Plan to finish up near the PumpHouse Riverside Restaurant and Bar set in a historic location with great food.
Insider’s Tip: You can earn a free specially designed "I Explored Victoria, Texas" T-shirt when you visit at least three of the designated history stops and take a picture or selfie. Visit ExploreVictoriaTexas.com for more information.
Waco Most people know Waco from Chip and Joanna Gaines home improvement show, HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.” Due to its popularity, the Waco Convention & Visitors Bureau created the self-guided Magnolia Trail. There are also local companies that give tours to see some of the homes featured on the show. If you can’t get enough, you can rent one of the three homes renovated by the Gaines and offered as vacation rentals.
Waco is so much more than just the TV show. There is a lovely historic district and a vibrant downtown area. One of the most unique attractions in the area is the Waco Mammoth National Monument, where the remains of 25 mammoths can be found. Tour the dig shelter, with its suspended walkway that provides a stunning view of the mammoths. Another not-to-miss site is the 416-acre Cameron Park, which has dramatic bluffs overlooking the Brazos and Bosque rivers, and an extensive trail system. It is considered one of Waco’s greatest treasures.
From Waco, work your way back to Austin for your plane ride home.
Insider Tip: Texas can get hot during the summer. Plan to bring each person a refillable water bottle and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Make sure to bring plenty of sunscreen, and hats go a long way to protect you from the sun. The Specifics Austin Visitor Center and Gift Shop - AustinTexas.org/plan-a-trip/visitor-center San Antonio - VisitSanAntonio.com Corpus Christi - VisitCorpusChristiTX.org Victoria Texas - ExploreVictoriaTexas.com Waco - WacoHeartofTexas.com