Things to Do in Texas
The Texas State Capitol building and its stunning presence on the Austin landscape earns its place on the National Register of Historic Places with ease. An extraordinary example of stonework and 19th-century architecture, the Texas State Capitol is widely regarded as one of the nation’s most “stately” state capitols with its elaborate limestone work and impressive dome, which reaches 15 feet above its Washington counterpart.
Offering a panoramic view over all of Austin from the capitol dome, the 1888 Texas State Capitol has the largest square footage of any state capitol in the Unites States, and is only seconded by the National Capitol in Washington D.C. A tour through these beautiful grounds will do more than expose you to the history of Texas legislation, but will tell “a true Texas story.
Simple but profoundly moving, the open-air John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza focuses on the granite slab bearing the assassinated president’s name etched in gold.The granite memorial is surrounded by soaring concrete walls, creating a roofless space for private contemplation and reflection, free from outside distractions.
The Memorial was dedicated in June 1970, and was envisioned by architect Philip Johnson as an open tomb or cenotaph. The plain white walls appear to be free-floating, capturing the feeling of loss felt around the world following Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
By day, the floating white walls are reflected on the monument’s gilt lettering. At night, the monument is a beautifully floodlit city landmark.
For those with an interest in aeronautics and space, Space Center Houston is full of interactive exhibits, presentations and attractions that will help you understand the past, present and future of the universe. Additionally, because Space Center Houston is the official visitors center of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, there are many one-of-a-kind experiences to be had, like watching astronauts train for missions, touching a real moon rock brought back by Apollo 17 or touring NASA’s control center.
While there are myriad points of interest within the Space Center Houston -- like collections of used spacesuits, galleries of crew photos, space station simulations, space theaters and IMAX films -- there are a few must-have experiences. First is the NASA Tram Tour, which takes visitors to the iconic Apollo Mission Control Center, the place where all space shuttle missions and activity onboard international space station assembly flights is directed.
Located in Hermann Park, the Houston Museum of Natural Science is dedicated to providing interesting and educational science exhibits and experiences. Visitors can find four floors of science halls and exhibits in the main building, as well as a planetarium, butterfly center and big screen theater. You could easily spend hours perusing all the institution has to offer.
With so much to explore, where do you begin? The permanent exhibits are included in your general admission ticket and host some worthwhile attractions. For example, the Paleontology exhibit is a common favorite, as it showcases a unique display of predators in action, creating an illusion that the skeletal displays are alive. A progressive timeline layout showcasing over 50 dinosaurs and a section on human evolution also keeps things interesting.
The Alamo is one of the most famous sites in US history, forever linked to the 13-day siege in 1836 that ended with the deaths of defenders James Bowie, William Travis and Davy Crockett. The 18th-century Mission San Antonio de Valero complex became known as the Alamo after it was fortified by Mexican soldiers. When the complex was taken by Texan troops in December 1835, the fight was on between the Texan defenders and Mexican attackers.
After the events of the 1830s, the Alamo’s semi-ruined buildings were used as a garrison and storehouse. Over the past 100 years, the Alamo has been restored and now receives more than 2.5 million visitors a year. Tour the chapel and barracks, small museum, diorama and gardens to learn more about the Alamo and early-Texan history.
Located in downtown Houston, the Downtown Aquarium is home to more than 200 aquatic animal species from around the world, housed in 500,000-gallon underwater complex. The attraction caters to children and families and, while not the largest aquarium, does have some interesting exhibits that will keep you interested. Experience Shipwreck, where you can walk inside a replica of a sunken seventeenth century Spanish galleon to view living coral reefs, octopus, moray eel, Clownfish and more.
There’s also the Shark Voyage Tunnel, a ride aboard a C.P. Huntington Train that takes visitors through an aquarium tunnel filled with a variety of shark species which will swim right over your head. The Downtown Aquarium allows you to explore more than just underwater marine life as it’s home to a variety of eco-systems.
San Antonio makes the most of its river winding through town, with the San Antonio River Walk - or Paseo del Rio. Away from the traffic, beneath ground level, the landscaped walkways bordering the meandering San Antonio River are lined with shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.
Following the walkways is a great way to get around town, from sight to sight, without having to negotiate traffic. You can also take a cruise along the River Walk, to see how a little imagination and good civic planning can turn a river into a truly unique city feature.
Located in the center of HemisFair Park, this 750-foot tall tower offers one of the best aerial views of San Antonio in the city as well as a variety of experiences. First there is the Flags Over Texas Observation Deck, which allows you a bird’s-eye view of iconic sites -- either through the telescope or by using photographs on the deck floor that show you where to find specific buildings and landmarks. Additionally, you can learn about over 300 years of Texas history through a mural exhibit on the walls. Included in your admission ticket is also a 4D Theater Ride, “Skies Over Texas.” The interactive ride takes you on a sensory journey through the state to watch NASA astronauts train at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, attend a local football game, view horses running in the wild and visit some of San Antonio’s most important attractions.
More Things to Do in Texas
Lady Bird Lake (formerly Town Lake) is Austin’s preeminent lake and located at the northeastern end of Zilker Metropolitan Park. Known for its excellent hiking, biking and running trails (and for providing Austin with a beautiful skyline), Lady Bird Lake is where Austin locals go to relax and soak up some of the beauty of this man-made reservoir.
The biggest in the area and home to a healthy population of large-mouth bass, catfish, carp and sunfish, Lady Bird Lake has a large recreational following. Enormous carp are caught here regularly, and you’ll see sincere locals along the shoreline with bobber and smile in place. A placid and constant-level lake, Lady Bird Lake is ideal for canoeing, fishing and bird-watching for those who don’t indulge in fishing, while photographers can be seen shooting sunsets over two of the lake’s pedestrian-only bridges.
The Sixth Floor Museum chronicles the events leading to the assassination of President Kennedy in November 1963.
It’s a moving and eerie experience to visit the museum, taking up the very spot Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that perhaps killed the president.
Film, photographs, artifacts and exhibits examine the event and the ensuing investigations.
Oral history and eyewitness accounts form an important part of the museum’s collection, and you can take an audio walking tour of the area.
Home to more than 6,000 animals and 900 species, the Houston Zoo is a popular attraction for locals and visitors to Houston. Located in the beautiful Hermann Park, the 55-acre zoo features many exhibits, animal encounters, shows and ecosystems to explore. Additionally, the attraction is well-staffed, and there is always a knowledgeable worker to answer your questions or direct you.
While the zoo has numerous interesting sites within it, there are a few experiences you shouldn’t miss. First is the Masai giraffe feeding, which can be done daily from 11am to 2pm. Visitors can feed these long-necked creatures crispy lettuce leaves while getting a close-up view. Another not-to-miss attraction is the African Forest exhibit, which will transport you to a different continent as you trek through an African jungle full of chimpanzees, rhinos and antelopes, Masai giraffes, zebra and ostriches. Part of the experience is also authentic drumming and art.
The oldest continuously operating religious community in Texas, San Fernando De Bexar Cathedral was constructed between 1738 and 1749. In fact, the dome of the original church was the point from which all mileage in Texas was measured in the 1700s. The cathedral is well-maintained, and mass still goes on daily so make sure to be respectful when entering.
One major attraction inside the sacred space is the Alamo Coffin, located near the church entrance, which is believed to hold the remains of the men who lost their lives at the Alamo. The cathedral played a part in the battle, as it was President-General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s headquarters during the siege of the Alamo, and from where he sent a terrifying message. Instead of flying the tri-color Mexican flag from the church’s belfry he flew a blood-red flag, letting the defenders of the Alamo know he would kill them even if they surrendered.
San Antonio’s historic roots are preserved at La Villita Heritage District, a protected enclave of heritage buildings. The arts village is a living and breathing part of San Antonio, with boutiques, restaurants and galleries taking up the historic old buildings.
On a walking tour of the precinct you’ll see Cos House, one of the oldest buildings, dating back to before 1835. Other old buildings include the 1873 house occupied by Villita Stained Glass, and the 1839 cottage known as Losana House.
Shops in this vibrant quarter include Texan outfitters, art and craft galleries, souvenir shops and jewelry stores. You’ll also find a couple of typically Texan grills and cafes for snacks, meals and cocktails.
Sixth Street, located in Downtown Austin, is the hustling hive of community from which all things stem from in this music-oriented city. More than just the sleek street which bears its name, the 6th Street Historic District is a neighborhood filled with live music venues, honky-tonk hole-in-the-walls, restaurants, pubs and art galleries. Added to the National Register of Historic Places, the area plays host to many music and film festivals throughout the year, even the occasional biker rally.
A big night on the town often starts and ends here, and if live music, sawdust on the floors and the walls bending with riotous drum-rolls and crowd cheering sounds like a good time, then 6th Street Austin is where you want to be.
A National Historic landmark, the Spanish Governor’s Palace is perhaps the last remaining early-Spanish mansion in Texas. A poignant reminder of San Antonio’s early-18th-century past, the former capitol building is almost 300 years old.
Now a museum, the building has a Spanish colonial design built around a lovely central courtyard and fountain. The white stucco walls are fringed with purple bougainvillea, and the interior is decorated with rugged colonial furnishings, whitewashed walls and a sturdy timber roof.
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