Texas is home to some pretty obvious landmarks. See: Alamo, Big Tex, Reunion Tower. But for every larger-than-life Lone Star attraction, there are some lesser-known Texas institutions.
At the time of its original installation in 1933, the Otto Struve Telescope at McDonald Observatory was the second largest in the world. Superman had yet to land from the far-off planet Krypton and Pluto had been named a planet only three years prior. Now, the observatory operates four mammoth telescopes that constantly scan the heavens. Big highlights for visitors are the solar viewings and the star parties that the observatory hosts throughout the week. Here, guests can telescope-hop and gaze a the grand Texas sky.
The Ann & Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum in Dallas is home to the single greatest collection of samurai artifacts outside of Japan. From magnificent suits of armor to the finest samurai swords and daggers, The Samurai Collection is a truly awesome experience. Samurais might be Japanese, but their protective nature and resourceful dedication would be right at home in Texas.
On your next trip to Aggieland, head a few miles out of town and visit Messina Hof Winery & Hotel. The vineyard is open for tours and is also home to a wonderful restaurant and The Villa, a world-class bed & breakfast. The four-diamond resort is full of European antiques and the grounds boast private patios and over-sized hot tubs.
Each spring, Carrollton hosts the Santa Fe Days, a family-friendly festival celebrating Native American culture. Multiple tribes across the nation come to support their unique heritage. American Indian artists present their crafts and jewelry, and traditional Native American dishes are served. The celebration also includes special tribal dances and other performances by tribal members.
Get your mad kicks on Route 66 in Amarillo. Here, you can get up close and personal at Cadillac Ranch, an art exhibit created in 1974 to showcase the evolution of the Cadillac. Clearly aiming for great things, the original architects even angled the cars to correspond with the Pyramids at Giza. Visitors are also encouraged to contribute to the exhibit by spray-painting the cars.
The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum is Waco’s glorious homage to the finest law enforcement organization in Lone Star history, the Texas Rangers. The museum houses famous artifacts from past rangers and tells the stories of the men and women who dedicated their lives to protecting Texans and catching the worst criminals in the state.
Longview is the “Balloon Capital of Texas”, and host to a number of races. Each year, hundreds of competitive pilots from across the world come to compete in the Great Texas Balloon Race. A big highlight of the event is the Balloon Glows, where pilots light up their balloons in the sky and then offer a public view of how the machines work. Live music keeps folks busy while they stare at the sky.
Boasting the same gorgeous topography as the Guadalupe and exponentially less traffic, the Medina River is a perfect river for kayakers. The river is narrow and winding, so boaters are challenged to make the tight turns. They are also rewarded by a leafy canvas of trees that cover the river and create beautiful green arches. To top it off, float below the Medina River Bridge, built in 1910.
Anchored down on the Corpus Christi Bay is The Executive Surf Club, a one-of-a-kind restaurant/bar/music venue. With surfboard tables, windsurfers jumping out of the wall, fried fish and Mexican burgers, along with a killer shaded porch that takes in the sea breeze, the Surf Club is the best bar in South Texas. The Surf Club is also home to the South Texas Music Walk of Fame, where stars line the streets applauding the likes of Freddy Fender, Roger Creager and Kris Kristofferson.
Austin’s Waterloo Records opened its doors just over 32 years ago. Since then, the store has won the Austin Chronicle’s “Best Record Store” award every single year. The store is 6,400 square feet of music-lovers’ paradise. Waterloo Records is the go-to destination for anyone whose a bit voracious for vinyl. The record store also hosts concerts throughout the year.
What do you do when you’re tired of listening to cars drive through your art district? Simple: reroute traffic, plant some grass, and open up a park on the top of an overpass. Klyde Warren is a sprawling park that welcomes food trucks, garden games, live music, and a lending library, all in the heart of downtown Dallas.
Blanco, TX is surrounded by several lavender farms. During the annual Blanco Lavender Festival, the entire riverside town of Blanco is adorned in lavender. The Lavender Market is an artisan paradise where lavender is incorporated into food and crafts. The town’s restaurants feed you lavender flavored grub, and you might even find a lavender themed t-shirt or two.
Falkenstein Castle rises high in the Texas Hill Country. Terry and Kim Young built the castle from the plans of Belgian King Ludwig II’s unfinished project in the mid-1800’s. The Youngs now live in Falkenstein Castle and host year-round weddings in the main palace.
Another resourceful couple, Craig and Carol Conlee built their meditative resort in the Loyal Valley area of the Hill Country. The resort is “calming and restorative” and offers yoga retreats, mind-body-spirit cleanses, and quality time with nature. Tres Lunas also sports a Lunar Courtyard for stargazing and an infinity pool, access to horse races, and good old fashion river floating.