From El Paso to Galveston, uncover our top 18 travel must-dos for 2018.
Visit San Antonio
No Texas travel bucket list would be complete without a visit to the Alamo City. With its historic missions, 15-mile River Walk, and dynamic art and dining scenes, there’s no shortage of reasons to plan a San Antonio vacation. But in 2018, all of this is turned up a notch as the city celebrates its tricentennial. Special events, commemorative art exhibitions, and celebrations abound.
Photo: Tom McCarthy Jr.
Enjoy the great outdoors at a state park
Hike, camp, fish, bike, swim, canoe… or chill out in a hammock and listen to birdsong. No matter what floats your boat, Texas state parks are calling your name in 2018. Thanks to state legislation passed in 2015 that designated 94 percent of sporting goods sales tax to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, state parks are getting spiffed up for visitors. At some parks, like Pedernales Falls and Inks Lake, we’ll get improved bathrooms, thank you very much. With Fort Boggy State Park’s handsome new cabins, you get more glamping opportunities. The upgrades are all a part of the Centennial Plan, an effort to gussy up state parks for their 100th birthday, coming up in 2023. With 74 state parks already in the system, Texas plans to add five new parks over the next few years—from Palo Pinto near Fort Worth to the Chinati Mountains of West Texas. In 2018, Texas is making it even more fun to get outdoors.
Savor small-town life in Cisco
I’ve lived all over Texas, and there has been no town as kind and loving as Cisco,” says Sean Grose, owner of Waverly’s Coffee and Gifts, a cross between an old general store and a modern coffee shop. While there may be no technical barometer to measure kindness, Cisco—located about 100 miles west of Fort Worth—is known for having lots of it. With a population of just under 4,000, this little town has a big history. In 1919, Conrad Hilton bought his first hotel here, the Mobley. Hilton later wrote in his autobiography, Be My Guest, “The Mobley in Cisco, my first love, was a great lady. She taught [my business partners and me] the way to promotion and pay, plus a lot about running hotels.” And while things have gotten a little sleepy since Hilton’s heyday, his can-do energy is percolating in Cisco once again. Over the past few years, Waverly’s came to town, the Red Gap Brewing Company launched just down the street, and John and Mary Kay Williamson opened the charmingly restored Log Cabin Guest Haus and Log Cabin Collectibles & Custom Framing, which some say is the best antiques shop in the region. All of this goodness is bubbling up near the peaceful shores of Lake Cisco, where the fishing is always good, even when you don’t catch anything. (While at Waverly’s make sure to peruse Sean Grose’s books, like the sweet I Didn’t Bring You Fishing to Catch Fish.)
Illustration: Jonathan Carlson
Cheer on the wizards in Round Rock
Dust off your Nimbus 2000 and fly over to Round Rock for the U.S. Quidditch Cup 11 on April 14-15. Yes, that’s right, the magical flying broomstick sport made famous in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is for real, folks, and whether you’re a muggle or a wizard, you can marvel at the national championship this spring. A raucous blend of rugby, tag, and dodgeball, this mixed-gender contact sport is played by two teams of seven members each who must hold broomsticks between their legs at all times while they dodge bludgers for the win. About as removed from Hogwarts as you can get, Texas, with 17 teams statewide, is one of the top quidditch states in the nation, according to US Quidditch, the group that organizes the event. And the Quidditch Cup will land in Round Rock a few months before the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter book’s American release. So come watch the wizards fly!
Photo: Casey Dunn
Unleash your imagination at Austin’s new Central Library
“The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you.” These words from B.B. King join many others on the wall of quotes at the new Central Public Library in downtown Austin that’s sure to reawaken your inner bibliophile. The new library, a Lake Flato and Shepley Bulfinch architectural masterpiece, is much more than a place to check out books—you can dabble with a 3-D printer, hear live music and poetry readings, or enthrall the kiddos with a puppet show. Overlooking Lady Bird Lake, the library’s reading porches provide dreamy spots to lounge with a book and watch the sun set over downtown Austin. A huge red grackle clock holds court over a light-filled, six-story central atrium from which the rest of the library unfolds—a teen area, conference rooms, a cooking-demonstration atrium, and more. Feed your mind with all this education hub entails and then feed your belly at the soon-to-open Cookbook Café on the second floor. Because, as Lady Bird Johnson once said, “Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest.”
Illustration: Jonathan Carlson
Board a streetcar named El Paso
All aboard, El Paso! When the first of the city’s refurbished vintage streetcars hits the rails in late 2018, they will transport passengers back in time. A staple of daily life in downtown El Paso from 1882—when they were first pulled by donkeys—until 1974, when the system was dismantled, the retro streetcars are memory-steeped for the many locals who once rode them. El Paso residents recall hopping a streetcar over to Juárez for lunch, to see family, or even just for piano lessons. While the 2018 launch will not include a border-crossing route, it’s on the wish list for the future. For now, the 4.8-mile route with 27 stops connects the University of Texas-El Paso and the city’s history-rich downtown, offering a delightful alternative to driving. The ambitious project, a collaboration between the Texas Department of Transportation, the city, and the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority, has restored the actual streetcars used back in the ’50s through ’70s, decking them out with creature comforts like air conditioning and Wi-Fi. Creating transportation solutions while honoring its past, El Paso’s on the right track.
Photo: Will van Overbeek
Shoot for the moon at Space Center Houston
Fifty years ago this December, the three astronauts of Apollo 8 circled the moon 10 times, reading from the Book of Genesis on Christmas Eve to viewers back home—at the time, it was the most-watched television broadcast in history. As a manned rocket that burst out of Earth’s orbit to circle the moon for the first time, Apollo 8 became a symbol of hope and possibility at the end of a turbulent year in America (1968 saw the assassinations of both Martin Luther King Jr. and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy). It was also on this pivotal mission that astronaut William Anders snapped the famous shot of Earth rising, the first time any human had viewed our great blue and green ball as a whole planet.
Celebrate the 50th anniversary of this important leap in space exploration with a visit to Space Center Houston—the official visitors center for NASA. Through March 18, you can take your own lunar journey via the exhibition Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission. It’s the one and only time the command modules from the first and last lunar landings (from Apollo 8 and Apollo 17,
respectfully) have been together under the same roof. We think that’s out of this world.
Photo: Milli Apelgren
Honor Ellsworth Kelly in Austin
“I hope visitors will experience Austin as a place of calm and light,” artist Ellsworth Kelly said in 2015 after donating his designs for a permanent installation — named Austin — to The University of Texas. Kelly’s 2,715-square-foot pièce de rèsistance opens Feb. 18 on the UT-Austin grounds just outside of the Blanton Museum of Art, which will maintain Kelly’s artwork. With light flowing in through parti- colored geometric windows, this vaulted white stone building will stand as a shrine to art, repose, and reflection. It is Kelly’s only freestanding architectural work and also one of his last; Kelly passed away at the end of 2015. An accompanying exhibition at the Blanton, Form into Spirit: Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin” runs Feb. 18-April 29. While you’re on campus, don’t miss the bold new mural in Robert B. Rowling Hall, by Brooklyn-based artist José Parlá, another striking installation to open in spring 2018.
Photo: Laurence Parent
Follow the light in Port Isabel
Port Isabel will let her light shine once again. After a year of restoration, this town’s historic lighthouse — the only one open to the public in Texas — will be ready for visitors in early 2018. Located just a few miles north of the Texas-Mexico border near the southernmost tip of South Padre Island, Port Isabel is the only town in Texas to have a lighthouse beaming up from its town square. This literal beacon of light, built in 1852, will now offer an even more exhilarating experience; for the past few years, the building’s exterior platform and railing, over 70 feet high, were not stable enough for visitors. Thanks to the recent renovations, you can step out on the outdoor catwalk to smell the salty ocean air and marvel at the 16-mile view over the Laguna Madre and beyond. The Lighthouse Establishment Cinema’s annual summer movie series also resumes in 2018—so grab a cooler and lawn chair and see classics like Jaws screened on the façade of this 166-year-old luminary.
Photo: Erich Schlegel
Set sail in Galveston
Hoist the sails, matey! All hands will be on deck in Galveston April 5-8 when 100-foot-tall sailing vessels from the 1800s to modern times race to port in the Tall Ships Challenge. Tall Ships America, a nonprofit educational sailing program that teaches seafaring skills to children, has been hitting the high seas since 1973, but this is the first time it has landed in Texas via a port-to-port race from Galveston to Pensacola, Florida. The opportunities for salty sea fun abound. You can choose the landlubber route and stay on shore to eat, drink, and be merry as the ships sail out, or buy a ticket to come aboard for a tour above and below deck to see how sailors survived back in the days of Moby Dick.
Spend Valentine’s in Valentine
On Valentine’s Day, Big Bend Brewing Company —the Alpine-based makers of “the beer from out here”—writes the ultimate love letter to the land that inspires them. The Texas-dedicated brewing company owner, Matt Kruger, bought Valentine’s vacant 110-year-old adobe Mercantile Building in 2012 and the next year built a reclaimed lumber stage to match. For Valentine’s now annual love fest, Kruger and his team bring in food trucks, musicians, and lots of beer, of course, to this tiny desert outpost, population 125. It’s also the only night you can get your hands on the brewery’s Valentine’s Day beer. Featuring Texas music talents with draw, the party’s hopping, even when it falls on a Wednesday night as it will in 2018. “It’s like an old-school family reunion,” says Mahala Guevara, BBBC’s vice president of operations, “Everyone who lives in Valentine comes, tons of people from surrounding West Texas and the far away cities, too.” Whether you are lovelorn or love-lucky, Valentine is one place where everyone belongs on Valentine’s Day. Also in 2018, look out for the Big Bend Brewing Company’s new San Antonio tap room, coming soon.
Illustration: Jonathan Carlson
See sea turtles in South Padre
South Padre is home to some very happy turtles, thanks to Sea Turtle, Inc.’s roomy new education facility. Founded in 1977 by Ila Fox Loetscher, the “Turtle Lady of South Padre,” Sea Turtle, Inc. rehabilitates injured endangered sea turtles, primarily Atlantic Green Sea Turtles with a few Loggerheads and Kemp’s ridleys, too. They also coordinate early- morning public releases of hatchlings in the summer months. Now the resident turtles, including the very sociable turtle- ambassador, Gerry—one of Loetscher’s original turtles—will have five spacious new tanks for spreading their flippers, and happily, visitors can watch them do it. You, too, can get a sea turtle-like perspective: Stick your noggin in the new bubble tank for an underwater view, or walk through the marine debris tank to see the human impact on the ocean. With a new classroom and a 230-seat amphitheater for presentations, this new center is ready to share the wonder and wisdom of sea turtles with the world.
Illustration: Jonathan Carlson
Party like a queen in Calvert
This April in Calvert, it’s hats off to the queen. The tiny antique town abounding in Victorian architecture is pulling out all the stops for its 150th birthday April 21. Festivities include tea parties in mansions, characters in Victorian garb strolling the time-worn streets, and even a 5K race and social, where you can don your top hat and parasol and run merrily down Main Street. “The Victorian Era is the fabric of Calvert—from turrets, fish-scale shingles, and lightning rods to hats, teas, and galas,” says Brenda Van De Walle, president of Main Street Preservation and organizer of the celebration. Calvert, located midway between Bryan and Waco on State Highway 6, has drawn extra buzz of late thanks to its association with Waco’s successful HGTV show Fixer Upper, now in its last season. Inspired antiques hunters passing through town are regularly smitten by Calvert’s time-travelling charms. “Victorian, Queen Anne, and Colonial architectural masterpieces of the 19th century can be seen in our grand homes and original building facades along Main Street,” says Jennifer Burnitt Caudle, president of the Calvert Historical Foundation and descendent of town-namesake Robert Calvert. “It’s like the setting for a great classic novel.”
Photo: Michael Amador
Walk on the wild side in Fort Worth
For this first phase of its grand multiyear renovation plan called “A Wilder Vision,” the Fort Worth Zoo is thinking big. Rhinoceros big. Hippo big. The African Savanna, set to open this April, will be the new 10-acre home to giraffes, zebras, kudus, and other ungulates along with various African birds all cohabitating freely together. Their more introverted roommates, the critically endangered black rhinos, will have their own special yards on the perimeter of the savanna, allowing the solitary species a little privacy for, um, starting families in order to keep the black rhino lineage alive and well. Perhaps the animals happiest about these new living arrangements are the hippos, who get their own river with a current—a personal lazy river—just like at home in Africa. And because there is almost nothing more entertaining than watching hippos swim, the zoo has installed an underwater viewing space so you can observe how those graceful 3,000-pound beasts breaststroke through their new aqueous digs.
Photo courtesy of Grand Texas
Cool off at Grand Texas in New Caney
Get your tubes ready. This summer, you can submerge yourself on all of the water slides, splash rides, and lazy rivers imaginable at Big Rivers, Texas’ latest in water park wonders. With a natural outdoors feel, the 40-acre Big Rivers was designed with our state’s many rivers as inspiration. It’s just the latest phase of the planned 630-acre Grand Texas Sports and Entertainment District, which is opening in stages over the next few years; the first element, Grand Texas RV Resort and Speedsportz Racing Park, opened in 2017. Located about 9 miles north of the George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Grand Texas will eventually include an amusement park, shopping area, and hotels. The Gator Bayou Adventure Park—planned to launch at about the same times as Big Rivers—is a wilderness-focused park catering to the fishing-paddling-outdoorsy adventurer. Gator Bayou, presided over by alligator mascot Big Al, will also give you a chance to try out rope courses, zip lines, and other extreme sports. Whether by water or land, adventure awaits.
Photo: Eric W. Pohl
Visit local establishments in Rockport, Port Aransas, and North Padre
“I am a live oak tree and I am very old. I have seen spring return more than a thousand times. I can remember hundreds of hurricanes, most I’d rather forget, but I withstood.” So says the plaque by Big Tree, a more than 1,000 years old live oak at Goose Island State Park north of Rockport. The Big Tree withstood Harvey—and it was not alone. Rockport and Port A are rebuilding, and many of our seaside favorites will be better than ever in 2018. At Shorty’s, the self-proclaimed “Oldest and Friendliest Bar in Port A,” the jukebox was miraculously playing and the beer was cold within a week of Harvey’s Category 4 landfall. At Snoopy’s Pier, North Padre’s dockside hangout, the sunset over the bay is now even sweeter, the fried oyster plate even more delicious after having survived the storm. The buckets of boiled Cajun-spiced crabs and corn at the Boiling Pot in Rockport are once again dumped out on paper-covered tables for diners to devour. After a month of closure, Flower’s Shrimp Market is again serving its famous eggrolls and sending anglers out to sea with fresh bait. The biggest challenge to businesses has been the lack of accommodations for the many employees who lost their homes; many have had to either camp out at their jobs or leave town. And hail to the pirates who storm the ship during Woody’s Sports Center’s famed dolphin tour in Port A—they managed to save their pirate vessel from Harvey’s wrath and will be ready to attack again sometime in 2018. Texas strong, these favorite beach-town institutions keep on keeping on.
Illustration: Jonathan Carlson
Time travel in Old Town Spring
The saloon doors will swing once again in Old Town Spring, a bustling historic district north of Houston. When the Wunsche Bros. Café & Saloon first opened in 1902 to accommodate an influx of railroad workers, you could tie your horse out front, wet your whistle at the bar, and then rest your weary bones in the upstairs bedrooms. Over the last century, Wunsche Bros. morphed from a hamburger joint into a café known for its chicken-fried steak, beer bread, and other country classics until it met its flaming farewell in a 2015 fire. For two years, this historic landmark sat charred and encircled by a wire fence until the Kosh family came along to give this old-timer new life. In fall 2018, the Koshes, owners of Amerigo’s Grille in The Woodlands, will reopen this historic watering hole with their own versions of down-home comfort food, this time with a farm-fresh locally sourced twist.
Illustration: Jonathan Carlson
Get into character with Abilene’s Storybook Garden
Stroll through downtown Abilene and you can meet the Lorax, Stuart Little, and dozens of other stars of children’s literature. All of this is to be expected in the Storybook Capital of Texas, Abilene’s official designation by the 84th Texas Legislature. And while these beloved characters may be statues, they come alive via the city’s free Storybook Sculpture Audio Tour iPhone app that lets you listen to readings from each of the books as you go. Abilene loves children’s stories so much, it regularly hosts storybook readings and performances at theaters and museums throughout town and puts on adventurous statue scavenger hunts.
The city’s storybook passion explodes June 7-9 with the Children’s Art & Literacy Festival, a smorgasbord of literary fun from a parade to kids’ writing workshops to puppet shows; this year the featured illustrator is Oliver Jeffers, whose beloved book The Day the Crayons Quit sat on the New York Times children’s picture books bestseller list for more than 200 weeks. And with the opening of Abilene’s Sockdolager Brewing Company last March, you have a mouthwatering retreat for post-story refreshments.