School’s out and you’re probably planning a family vacation this summer. Sometimes, deciding where to go can be a hard decision. Or, sometimes, getting everyone’s summer schedules arranged for a big trip can be hard. Texas Highways has some ideas for a long vacation or a weekend getaway.
17 Trips for 2017
Texas’ new (and refreshed) attractions and destinations for travelers to explore
Written by Helen Anders
There’s no doubt that Texas contains an ever-evolving mix of people and ideas. And with changing times come new offerings for travelers to explore the state’s fascinating history, environment, and culture. Looking ahead to 2017, we’ve scoured the state for 17 new or refreshed attractions. From the recently updated Landmark Inn in Castroville, which first opened to guests in 1853, to a striking new aquarium exhibit at Corpus Christi’s Texas State Aquarium, these enticing new destinations will stretch the boundaries of your own Texas experience.
1: Explore a bigger, bolder Witte in San Antonio
Just in time for Spring Break this March, San Antonio’s Witte Museum will roughly triple in size with the opening of more than 100,000 square feet of new gallery and event space—finally enough to showcase its collection of Texas dinosaur fossils and replicas. In the museum’s new glass-walled lobby entrance, a life-size model of a Quetzalcoatlus flying dinosaur will greet visitors.
A series of three galleries titled Texas Deep Time will explore life in Texas hundreds, thousands, and millions of years ago. In the Dinosaur Gallery, you’ll see full-size skeleton casts of bones unearthed in Texas, including a Tyrannosaurus rex and a carnivorous Acrocanthosaurus, which will stand in molds of actual crocanthosaurus footprints discovered in the Paluxy River in Glen Rose. A 3-D screen next to each dino will show how the animal walked, hunted, and ate.
Among the galleries and dioramas of Texas animals then and now, look for an interactive lab where you’ll be able to touch a snake or hold a tortoise (with staff supervision). In the People of the Pecos exhibit, explore the lifestyles and rock paintings of early inhabitants of the West Texas desert. Another gallery will host summer traveling shows, including an exhibition on whales this summer. Outdoors next to the San Antonio River, the new Acequia Madre Overlook will showcase the stone remnants of a 1719 irrigation system discovered on the Witte’s property.
2: Graze graffiti in Houston
See why the art world has embraced street art at Houston’s new Graffiti and Street Art Museum. Houston graffiti artist Mario Enrique Figueroa, Jr., who signs his work GONZO247, opened the collection at 2219 Canal Street to “give it the respect it deserves.” The works represent everything from wheat paste art to spray-painted murals, as well as glue-up posters, brush painting, and stencil. In October, Figueroa’s annual Human Urban Experience Mural Festival draws street artists from around the world to embellish the outdoor walls of downtown Houston in diverse and captivating styles.
3: Follow your feathered friends through Aransas County
Home to some of Texas’ most beautiful coastline, Aransas County is working to highlight its offerings with the Aransas Pathways Project, an ever-growing network of birding, nature, history, hiking, and paddling sites around the Rockport-Fulton area. The project aims to enhance heritage tourism and eco-tourism with information pavilions, kayak launch sites, hike and bike paths, and numerous bird sanctuaries and birding trails. The historic Bruhl-Paul-Johnson House, home of the History Center for Aransas County, has been renovated, as well.
4: Scout small towns along the Northeast Texas Trail
Ever been to the little town of Celeste? What about Pecan Gap, Blossom, or New Boston? Take a walk—or bike or horse—along the Northeast Texas Trail for a sampling of the region’s small towns and photogenic rural landscapes. The 130-mile trail follows old railroad beds from Farmersville to New Boston through 19 towns. Since the 1990s, volunteers from the Northeast Texas Trail Coalition and other groups have worked with city and state government agencies to grade, clear, widen, and pave portions of the trail, as well as repair the historical railroad bridges along its span. The coming year should see a total of 75 improved miles of trail, including 25 paved.
5: Toast a stirring new exhibit in Houston
It’s happy hour at the Houston Museum of Art. Through November 12, 2017, Shaken, Stirred, Styled: The Art of the Cocktail delves into the history and culture of cocktails, as well as the vessels used to prepare and serve them. The exhibition displays objects like glasses, decanters, punch bowls, and Prohibition-era cocktail shakers in its tracing of cocktail culture from the late 19th Century to the present.
6: Drink in history, art in Marfa
The West Texas arts oasis of Marfa grows ever more fascinating with new offerings that build both on its history and distinctive culture. The new Hotel Saint George, located downtown about three blocks from the Presidio County Courthouse, is built on the footprint of the 1880s Hotel Saint George. The four-story, 55-room lodging forges a minimalist, industrial design using marble and bricks reclaimed from the original site. Take in the view of Chinati Peak from your room’s window and enjoy Chef Allison Jenkins’ deft entrees (crispy river trout, seared rib eye) in the restaurant, LaVenture. The hotel also houses the Bar Saint George and the Marfa Book Company bookstore.
Need another reason to head for Marfa? The Chinati Foundation recently added a vast (about 10,000 square feet), permanent installation by Robert Irwin. Essentially, it’s a building with transparent scrim walls in black and white. The experience transforms throughout the day as natural light and shadows change, or as the Chinati Foundation puts it, “Irwin’s largest work to date, it represents the culmination of his decades-long investigation into the act of perception through poetic manipulation of space and light.”
7: Commune with Big Bend’s big beasts
Big news in the Big Bend: In January, Big Bend National Park opens its new Fossil Discovery Exhibit at a site where paleontologists excavated mammal fossils in the 1950s. Under an open-air shelter, life-size fossil replicas demonstrate how the area’s landscape has changed over time—from a sea (mosasaurs, sharks, oysters), to a swamp (giant alligators), to a forested upland (flying pterosaurs), and finally, to the rocky Chihuahuan Desert we know today. Touchable exhibits, including the bronze cast of a giant alligator skull, will add thrills.
8: See more sea life in Corpus Christi
Always a gem of coastal Texas, the Texas State Aquarium gets bigger and better with the summer 2017 opening of its new Caribbean Journey showcase. The new wing, topped with a glass roof, more than doubles the size of the aquarium and explores the wildlife of the Western Caribbean Sea and Yucatan Peninsula with habitats of sharks and tropical fish, exhibits of birds and reptiles, and close-up looks at coral reefs and karst caves. Step into the 4-D theater and take a virtual swim with the sea creatures.
9: Shop, sip, and dine in Georgetown
Just north of fast-growing Austin, once-sleepy Georgetown is joining in on the frenzy to the benefit of shoppers, as well as fans of history and small towns. Crape myrtle-shaded brick sidewalks line the thriving Williamson County Courthouse Square, where century-old limestone buildings house boutiques, eateries, galleries, and theaters.
Pick up wind chimes at The Escape Fine Crafts and Gifts, check out paintings and sculptures at the nonprofit Georgetown Art Center, and enjoy a glass of wine at the Grape Creek Vineyards tasting room. If you have time, catch a local production at the Art Deco Palace Theatre, a 1920s movie house.
10: Feel the pioneer spirit at Landmark Inn in Castroville
On the banks of the Medina River in Castroville, the Landmark Inn gives visitors the chance to stay in the same building as travelers from the 1850s. You can learn about those pioneers and absorb the 19th-Century atmosphere by spending the night in the period-furnished, eight-room inn. The Texas Historical Commission recently completed a project to repair, re-stucco, whitewash, and add central air conditioning to the Landmark. The project included the restoration of an open-hearth demonstration kitchen, where you can watch biscuits and pies take shape.
11: Monkey around at the Amarillo Zoo
The monkeys have more to play with in 2017 at the Amarillo Zoo, and that means you have more to watch. A new climbing structure in the black-handed spider monkey exhibit consists of pipes formed into faux branches with platforms for the monkeys, as well as ropes to swing on and more shade.
After you’ve monkeyed around, check out the excellent Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, just south of Amarillo, to enjoy its renovated Panhandle Petroleum Story exhibit. The 16,000-square-foot interactive exhibit explores the petroleum industry, including the lives of oil workers and industry equipment.
12: Soak up some fun in Mineral Wells
You may know about Crazy Water, the mineral-rich water bottled in Mineral Wells that inspired the town’s heyday as a health resort from the 1880s to the 1940s. But did you know you can once again bathe in the mineral water, as the likes of Clark Gable and Judy Garland did here in the ’30s? The Famous Water Company, purveyor of Crazy Water, operates the Crazy Bath House. You can also spend the night in the Crazy Bath House’s 1900s rock abode, where hardwood floors and period furniture will take you back to Mineral Wells’ golden years.
13: Explore professional wrestling in Wichita Falls
Turns out Wichita Falls has a wrestling history, with pros such as Gorgeous George working the rings of far North Texas in the 1950s. So, when former wrestler Johnny Mantell, a native of Montague County, became president of the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, he saw an opportunity to move the museum from New York State to Wichita Falls, his old stomping grounds. The history-focused museum, unaffiliated with World Wrestling Entertainment, opened in March, featuring a wall honoring hall-of-famers such as Hans Schmidt, the Fabulous Freebirds, Fritz Von Erich, and Hulk Hogan. The museum showcases memorabilia including the sign from the old Houston Sportatorium, David Von Erich’s “Yellow Rose of Texas” jacket and boots, a U.S. Air Force wrestling belt, and a ring from New York’s Polo Grounds that was used for both boxing and wrestling. The museum also hosts occasional meet-and-greets with pro wrestlers.
14: Find your cabin in the woods at Fort Boggy
In Leon County north of Houston, reserve a cabin to stay overnight at 1,847-acre Fort Boggy State Park, a woodsy haven for fishing, hiking, and biking. The new cabins are the park’s first overnight lodging options (there are no campsites). Each 300-square-foot, wood-floored, wood-paneled cabin offers both heat and air conditioning and includes a microwave and refrigerator, as well as an outdoor deck and screened porch. Outside, you’ll find a picnic area shaded by pecan and elm trees with a table, lantern holder, and fire ring. It’s the perfect setup for an outdoor weekend with the family.
15: In Beaumont, gaze at gators and birds
Beaumont’s Cattail Marsh was already a prime spot for viewing birds and alligators, but now visitors can get even better access with the construction of a 520-foot boardwalk and viewing platform. More than 251 species of birds hang out here, including roseate spoonbills, grebes, and even bald eagles, and it’s virtually impossible not to spot a gator in the marsh’s 900 acres, whose six miles of gravel levees can be toured by bike or on foot.
16: Revel in the ’50s in Nacogdoches’ Fredonia Hotel
When it opened in downtown Nacogdoches in 1955, the six-story Fredonia Hotel was touted to be “as modern as an atomic submarine.” While it lacked atomics, the hotel did have a swimming pool and, wonder of wonders, central air conditioning. Immediately popular, the Fredonia nevertheless eventually fell into disrepair and closed. Now, local businessman Richard DeWitt is leading a renovation to reimagine the Fredonia as a boutique luxury hotel combining its classic mid-century character with modern updates. The newest incarnation of the Fredonia is expected to open in spring 2017 with two restaurants, two bars, two pool areas, and a gift shop.
17: Delve into history in Irving
You’ll feel like you stepped back into the 1950s when you enter the Ruth Paine House in Irving. Now open to the public as a museum, the home that civil rights activist Ruth Paine lived in during the 1960s draws its fame from Lee Harvey Oswald’s visit there on the night before he assassinated President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Oswald’s estranged wife, Marina, was living with Paine at the time.
In addition to its historical significance, the house is a rare example of 1950s design, right down to the knotty-pine kitchen cabinets. Before your 90-minute tour, you’ll visit a museum nearby offering assassination photos, newsreel footage, and Oswald effects found by police, including a Russian-English dictionary and cameras.
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