Buzzing with youthful energy and rooted in rich histories, Texas cities are endless sources of inspiration. Museums, live music venues, and vibrant arts and entertainment districts make cities like Austin, El Paso, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio ideal destinations for a uniquely Texas weekend getaway.
Watch the world’s only twice-daily (at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.) longhorn cattle drive in the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District. Browse the massive vinyl collection at old-school Cactus Music, Houston’s oldest independent music store. At Artpace San Antonio, a nonprofit gallery, sculpture garden, and residency program, see works by contemporary Texas artists and artists-in-residence. Need more inspiration? Check out these four only-in-Texas urban experiences.
San Antonio | The Saga
See the history of San Antonio in a new light at San Antonio | The Saga, the monumental video art installation by acclaimed French artist Xavier de Richemont. Mixing colorful lights, dramatic images, and choreographed surround sound, the 7,000-square-foot installation condenses the city’s more than 300 years of history into a dazzling 24-minute performance. The free shows—held three times nightly (9 p.m., 9:30 p.m., 10 p.m.) on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays—are projected onto the façade of San Antonio’s iconic San Fernando Cathedral.
Founded in 1731, the cathedral—one of North America’s oldest religious sanctuaries—is an apt canvas for the virtual history lesson, which uses high-definition projection mapping to “paint” images of indigenous cave paintings, Spanish colonists, the Battle of the Alamo, and other key chapters and figures in San Antonio’s story. Thunder, lightning, rain, and music—including Texas-Mexican conjunto, a lively accordion-based sound born in 19th-century northern Mexico and South Texas—provide the mesmerizing soundtrack. Watch it once for the spectacle and return multiple times (the art installation runs through 2024) to catch all the historical details.
Cosmic Coffee and Beer Garden, Austin
City life in Austin is meant to be lived outdoors. The Texas state capital city perennially ranks among the top places in the U.S. to live and visit, thanks to factors such as abundant green space, the hometown University of Texas at Austin, and live music played seemingly everywhere (including in the airport terminal). Austin’s ridiculously active music scene, plus a winning combination of warm nights and cold brews (the city is the craft brewery capital of Texas, too), naturally draw people to outdoor venues like Cosmic Coffee and Beer Garden.
Co-founded by native Austinites Patrick Dean and Paul Oveisi, Cosmic puts an authentically-Austin spin on the typical coffee-meets-beer-and-cocktails café. There are local food trucks like LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue, of course, but what sets Cosmic apart is the co-founders’ commitment to sustainability: Planet-friendly practices, such as on-site composting and waterfall gardens that attract pollinators, nurture Cosmic’s lush, outdoor space. Bring your dog, listen to the music, and learn about sustainable city life while exploring the leafy grounds, which include National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat.
The walls can talk in Texas cities like Houston, Dallas, and Austin, where colorful street murals tell stories about Texas history, culture, and current events. In May, 2021, the inaugural Big Walls Big Dreams REFRESH HOUSTON mural-painting festival added more than 20 new works to the city’s impressive collection, which currently stands at more than 750 murals. The festival curator, Houston-based design house UP Art Studio, also curates Mini Murals, the award-winning civic program responsible for transforming about 300 traffic signal and utility boxes into mini-masterpieces. Take a self-guided Mini Murals tour by bike or on foot, and plan a driving tour of the city’s wall-sized murals using the Houston Mural Map.
In Dallas, the Deep Ellum district is home to what’s likely the city’s largest concentration of murals: 130 and growing. One of the newest, the 30-foot-tall “Cultivate Harmony” mural by internationally renowned street artist Shepard Fairey, is impossible to miss―it’s 150 feet off the ground and wrapped around the water tower of Dallas’ historic Continental Gin Building. Fairey also collaborated with Canadian pop urban artist Sandra Chevrier on “The Beauty of Liberty and Equality,” a 12-story Austin mural completed in March 2020.
Mission San Juan Capistrano
Located less than 10 miles south of San Antonio’s most-famous mission, The Alamo, Mission San Juan Capistrano offers a window into the world of the Coahuiltecans, the collective name for the Indigenous peoples who lived in the San Antonio Missions. Originally established in East Texas in 1716 and moved to its present site in 1731, Mission San Juan was once a self-sustaining community. Residents forged the iron tools they used to work the land, which included extensive gardens, pastures, orchards, and crop fields. They also dug out the 6.7-mile-long San Juan Acequia, a network of dams, ditches, and sluice gates used to irrigate mission fields with water from the San Antonio River.
By the mid-1700s, Mission San Juan was supplying corn, grapes, sweet potatoes, sugarcane, and other crops to trading partners across the region and in Louisiana and Mexico. Visit the mission’s Spanish Colonial Demonstration Farm—a partnership between the National Park Service and the San Antonio Food Bank—to see the restored San Juan Acequia in action and learn about the culture and contributions of the Indigenous people who built a thriving agricultural economy here nearly 300 years ago.
It’s true that Houston is Texas big. The sprawling city is the fourth largest in the U.S. (only New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are bigger). Spend a weekend here, though, and you’ll realize that big-city Houston is actually a collection of smaller neighborhoods, parks, and community gathering places where it’s easy to feel at home. One such place is Axelrad, a beer garden and hangout space located in the far reaches of Midtown. Named for its street-facing building, a century-old former grocery store built by the Axelrad family, the creatively cool venue spills out over a roomy patio lined with hammocks and community tables.
Everything about Axelrad is designed to bring people together. There are the beers (more than 30 on tap and over 50 more in bottles, cans or craft buckets) and 10-plus house-specialty cocktails, the shareable bites from neighboring Luigi’s Pizza and a rotating selection of food trucks, and the daily outdoor performances—whether live bands, stand-up comedy sets, open-mic nights, or movies projected onto a huge wall. As part of its community-building mission, Axrelrad also regularly hosts public events, such as fundraisers for local nonprofits, voter registration drives, and adopt-a-pet days.