Cowboys, austere desert landscapes and the Rio Grande River: They paint only a small yet iconic portion of the picture in Texas. In fact, the nation's second largest state is vast not only in size, but in variety. Visitors hike the piney woods in East Texas and spend afternoons charter fishing the Gulf Coast shoreline. Art lovers immerse themselves in Degas and Picasso at museums in Dallas and Houston. What about the cowboys? You can still find them, too. Just head for the cattle drives in Fort Worth.
Gleaming glass and steel office towers soar overhead in downtown Dallas, the business and fashion center of the state. Nearby, Fort Worth maintains its West Texas heritage with a daily cattle drive through the Stockyards district. Mexican and Native American cultures mingle in San Antonio, where mariachi singers accompany religious services and thirsty visitors sip Dos Equis beer along the Riverwalk. Magnolia and cypress trees dot the bayous in Houston, and music lovers swarm the streets of Austin.
Acres of bluebonnets cover the Hill Country, brightening the Texas landscape with the periwinkle hues of the state flower. Thick pine forest borders the state's boundaries with Arkansas and Louisiana, while a more stark scene of red buttes and arroyos cover the dramatic Texas panhandle. Do like the locals: Head to the Gulf Coast for a watery respite. There, beachcombers search for seashells and sunbathe cooled by a refreshing ocean breeze.
Eating and Drinking
Dig into platters of cornmeal-fried catfish or mesquite-grilled flounder at fresh seafood restaurants along the Gulf Coast. San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country celebrate both their German and Mexican heritage at local eateries. Look for grilled bratwurst, gooey, cheese-filled chiles rellenos and spicy beef tacos -- sometimes all on a single menu. Sophisticated Dallas loves diversity, from nutty pad Thai to Greek moussaka, while neighboring Fort Worth cranks up the country music and serves oversize steaks and barbecue.
Padre Island National Seashore defies the stereotype of a hot dry Texas, offering water lovers 70 miles of Gulf Coast swimming beaches on the world's longest string of barrier islands. In southwest Texas, Big Bend National Park combines lazy Rio Grande River expeditions, barren desert landscapes and towering, multicolored buttes in a single dramatic wilderness area. The state's Spanish history comes alive at mariachi masses performed in 18th-century San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.