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You can plan your trip to Texas in a couple of ways. If you're interested in a particular activity, such as birding, you might choose two or three locations and divide your time among them. Conversely, you could first select a destination, such as one of the state's major cities or national parks, and then decide what to do while you're there.

Because this is such a large state, many visitors will limit their Texas vacation to one or two regions. We've summarized our coverage of the state to help you decide what kind of Texas experience you want to have.

The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex -- Made famous by both a TV show about a Texas oil family and a football team, and infamous by the assassination of JFK, Dallas is a center of commerce, home to headquarters for numerous banking, insurance, and other businesses. Big D, as it's known to locals, is one of the most sophisticated cities in Texas, with excellent restaurants, glitzy shopping, swank hotels, and a continually expanding arts scene. Dallas's unpretentious sister, Fort Worth, is equal parts Old West and "Museum Capital of the Southwest." Longhorns still rumble through the Stockyards National Historic District, while the city attracts art lovers to its top-notch museums. Both cities make good bases for outdoor recreation, children's activities, and professional sports outings; the city of Arlington, sandwiched between Dallas and Fort Worth, is home to several theme parks and the Texas Rangers baseball team.

Houston & East Texas -- The state's largest city (and the fourth-most-populous city in the United States), Houston is the heart of the nation's oil and gas industry. Although not considered a primary tourist destination, Houston offers an abundance of attractions, including several excellent museums, performing arts such as the city's outstanding symphony orchestra, and a variety of outdoor activities. NASA's Johnson Space Center made Houston famous and is the city's most popular attraction. Nearby Galveston combines small-town easiness with a good mix of museums and children's activities, plus beaches that draw hordes of springbreakers and families throughout the warm months. East Texas, along the Louisiana border, is a prime destination for anglers, boaters, and other outdoor recreationists.

The Texas Gulf Coast -- A world removed from the rest of the state, the coastal areas fronting the Gulf of Mexico feature beach activities as well as good boating and even some surfing (okay, it's no Hawaii, but you can surf here). The Texas Gulf Coast is among the nation's top bird-watching regions, and also offers superb fishing. You'll also find a handful of good museums and an active art scene.

San Antonio -- The delightful, Latin-inflected city of San Antonio hosts the most famous historic site in Texas: the Alamo, where in 1836 Davy Crockett and about 187 other Texas freedom fighters died at the hands of the much larger Mexican army. San Antonio also offers numerous other historic sites, a charming River Walk, fine cultural attractions, and a madcap schedule of festivals that make it a popular party spot. West and north of the city, the Texas Hill Country is one of the prettiest areas of Texas, dotted with hills (of course!), lakes, rivers, wildflowers, and picturesque small towns with authentic Texas flavor. There are numerous historic inns, antiques stores, small museums, and opportunities for watersports and other outdoor activities.

Austin -- The state capital, Austin is a laid-back but sophisticated and suddenly bustling, large city with a distinct personality -- a little unusual, a bit intellectual, and a lot different from other Texas cities of its size. It's a place where you'll see bumper stickers that read KEEP AUSTIN WEIRD, even though it's experienced a technology-based boom and a huge influx of money and new residents from California and elsewhere across the nation. In addition to museums, historic sites, and a wide range of outdoor activities, you'll find the best nightlife in the state, with live music practically everywhere, any night of the week -- from country to blues to rock to swing. To the west, the Hill Country is easily accessible via day trips.

West Texas -- Though Texas is largely urban, if you grew up watching TV and movie Westerns, you'd be more likely to believe the plains of West Texas are the real Texas, a land of dusty roads, weathered cowboys, and huge cattle ranches. Although the shootouts are now staged and the cattle drives are by truck and rail, this region retains much of the small-town Old West flavor, and even the region's biggest city, El Paso, is in many ways just an overgrown cow town. The area's history comes alive at numerous museums and historic sites, such as the combination courtroom and saloon used in the late 1800s by Judge Roy Bean, the self-styled "Law West of the Pecos." West Texas also has the 67,000-acre Lake Amistad, a national recreation area along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Big Bend & Guadalupe Mountains National Parks -- Among America's lesser-visited national parks, Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains contain rugged mountain scenery the likes of which is found nowhere else in Texas, or even in surrounding states. There are spectacular and inspiring views from dizzying peaks, as well as hiking, rafting, and other outdoor activities. And Carlsbad Caverns National Park is just over the state line in New Mexico, an easy side trip for those visiting Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

The Panhandle Plains -- A mix of terrain and varied experiences awaits visitors to this vast, rugged region that occupies the northern reaches of Texas. Close to an entire day's drive from the coast, here you'll find small-town charm, good museums, fascinating historic sites, and one of the most outrageous steakhouses in Texas. The main cities -- just big towns, actually -- are Amarillo and Lubbock, each offering comfortable lodging and good eats. The region has plenty to do and see, with watersports on Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, and hiking, horseback riding, and some of the area's most spectacular scenery at Palo Duro Canyon State Park. This is also home to a monument to rock-'n'-roll pioneer Buddy Holly and a display of old Cadillacs, noses buried in the ground with their unmistakable fins pointed skyward.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.