Any proud Texan knows that everything’s bigger in Texas. If you’ve ever tried to drive across or out of Texas, you’ll know that this slogan is more than true; as the second largest state in the U.S. and the 39th largest country by area (if it were a country), Texas boasts a lot of space. To give you some reference, Rhode Island could fit inside the Lonestar State a whopping 221 times!
Suffice it to say that getting around in Texas is not all that different from traveling across several countries. But to Texas’ credit, its size also comes with an incredible breadth of small towns that give it its diverse and fascinating culture.
Everyone knows about the heavyweights of Austin, Houston and Dallas, but what about the hidden gems and underrated spots that haven’t yet garnered national attention?
If you’re new to Texas, just passing through or even a born-and-raised, BBQ-loving Texan, there’s bound to be a small town out there that’s calling your name. We’ve rounded up 11 of the most beautiful and interesting small towns in the Lonestar State. Take a chance on one of these for your next road trip, pit stop or weekend getaway!
Located in Reeves County, Balmorhea is home to Balmorhea State Park, the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool. Thousands come to this desert oasis every year to swim, scuba dive, picnic and relax. You can also camp overnight at one of 34 campsites.
Art enthusiasts flock to Marfa, and for good reason: This West Texas town is home to Building 98, the Chinati Foundation, tons of local artists, art galleries, and the mysterious Marfa lights (mysterious lights that appear in the desert just outside of Marfa). Another iconic landmark is Prada Marfa, a permanent sculpture designed to resemble a Prada store. Be sure to get a decadent grilled cheese at the Museum of Electronic Wonders & Late Night Grilled Cheese. If you’re making a weekend out of it, Big Bend National Park is only an hour away.
With a name like that, you’d better bet that Rainbow is, well, beautiful. The tiny town got its name in the 1890s, when a thunderstorm struck during a town meeting and was followed by a rainbow. Although quaint and small, Rainbow is also home to nearby Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose.
Visiting Fredericksburg is a rite of passage for any Texan. The home of Texas German, Fredericksburg brings in a good dose of German to proud South. The bustling Main Street is lined fun novelty shops, art, restaurants and quirky stores like Rustlin’ Rob’s Texas Gourmet Foods (you can get lost for hours just trying the various samples of jams, spreads and hot sauces!). Fredericksburg is also known for its various wineries and vineyards–it’s the second most-visited wine trail in the U.S. Be sure to visit Enchanted Rock, a massive pink granite dome (the largest in the United States) just 17 miles north.
Located along the banks of the Guadalupe River, Hunt is the perfect blend of scenery and old Texas. Check out Schumacher’s Crossing for a swim and don’t miss the Stonehenge II Replica, which was built to look like the original Stonehenge (only in Texas, right?).
Wimberley is just, well, pristine. If you’re a swimming hole enthusiast, you’re in luck. This Hill Country town might just be the home of some of the best swimming holes in Texas: Blue Hole (the rope swing is a must) and Jacob’s Well (now so popular that reservations are required). If you’re looking for something relaxing, be sure to check out Bella Vista Ranch, a small olive orchard where you can indulge in wine tastings and olive oils.
Canyon is home to Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the second largest canyon in the country. This massive park has some of the most beautiful and colorful terrains in the Texas Panhandle (a notoriously relentless drive). Don’t miss the internationally-acclaimed outdoor musical TEXAS and the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, the largest history museum in Texas.
Round Top may be tiny, but it boasts some serious entertainment and culture. This town is home to three huge attractions: Shakespeare at Winedale, a Shakespeare-in-Program study program powered by the University of Texas at Austin where students spend two months studying and performing three plays in the theatre; the Round Top Antiques Fair, which many consider one of the best antiques shows in the nation; and the International Festival, an international center for performance.
You can’t talk about Texas without BBQ, and you can’t talk about BBQ without talking about Lockhart. After all, the Texas Legislature proclaimed it the “Barbecue Capital of Texas” in 1999. Lockhart is currently home to four major BBQ giants: Black’s Barbecue, Chisholm Trail Barbecue, Smitty’s Market and Kreuz Market. When you’ve had your fill of BBQ (is that even possible?) take a horseback ride through the town with Maverick Horseback Riding.
Yep, this is an actual place. This tiny town (as of 2000, its population was a whopping 150) is as unique as its name. Located near the Caddo lake area, you’ll find a bevy of cypress trees, funky plant life, birds and wildlife. Birdwatchers are likely to have a field day with the 240 species of birds out here. Take a guided boat tour, fishing trip or just revel in the beauty of this best kept secret.
It’s hard to believe that a place this green exists in Texas. Nestled just between Houston and Austin, Smithville is the perfect place for a quick pit stop or overnighter. Mountain bike enthusiasts will have a blast at Rocky Hill Ranch, one of the first and best mountain bike ranches in Texas. Be sure to grab some gourmet pizza and cocktails at Honey’s, and don’t miss the tacos at La Monarca, a Mexican food truck located just outside of Smithville. Fun fact: Smithville is home to a ton of movies, including Hope Floats, Tree of Life and Bernie.