- For other places with the same name, see Texas (disambiguation).
Texas is the second largest and second most populous state in the United States of America. Owing to its remarkable size, distinctive culture and politics, and colorful history, many Texans maintain a fiercely independent attitude, with Texan identity often superseding American identity. Few other American states feature their flag so prominently in businesses, on the backs of cars and in advertisements. Originally a territory of Spain and, later, Mexico, Texas rebelled in 1836 and became its own nation for 10 years before being annexed by the United States in 1845. Despite having existed under the auspices of six different nations (France, Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the United States of America, and the Confederate States of America), Texas has maintained its fascinating independent spirit, making for a unique and unrivaled exploration ground for any intrigued and intrepid adventurer.
Known for their generosity, hospitality, unusual accent, and penchant for the larger-than-life, Texans are wonderful people to meet, and the variety of cultural experiences, from feasting on bratwurst with the Germans of the Hill Country to watching Flamenco dancers with the Tejanos of the Rio Grande valley, is seemingly unlimited.
The large size of the state should not be underestimated. Texas measures over 267,000 square miles (695,673 km2) in area, making it slightly larger than France. Having a car is essential for travel between cities, and within most. The traveler should factor on long driving times between cities and destinations.
|Panhandle (Lubbock, Amarillo, Wichita Falls)
Great plains, cotton and the Llano Estacado
|Prairies and Lakes (Dallas, Fort Worth)
Recreational lakes and exciting nightlife
|Piney Woods (Nacogdoches, Lufkin, Texarkana, Tyler)
Pine forests, bayous, and Civil War and Civil Rights history
|Gulf Coast (Houston, Corpus Christi, Brownsville, Beaumont, Port Arthur, Galveston)
Islands, beaches and port cities
|South Texas Plains (San Antonio, Laredo)
Border country along the Rio Grande, Spanish missions
|Hill Country (Austin, Fredericksburg)
Edwards Plateau, rolling hills, rivers and the State capital
|Big Bend Country (El Paso, Odessa)
Big Bend National Park, mountains, desert and canyons.
- Austin - Live Music Capital of the World. State capital. Home to the University of Texas (5th largest in the USA by enrollment).
- Corpus Christi - Home of the Texas State Aquarium and gateway to Padre Island.
- Dallas - One of the most popular visitor destinations in Texas.
- El Paso - The largest city on the US/Mexico border.
- Fort Worth - Fort Worth Stockyards. "Where the West Begins."
- Houston - Texas' largest city. Home of NASA's Mission Control Center. Best dining scene in the state.
- Laredo - The US's largest inland port.
- Lubbock - Financial and cultural center of the South Plains. Birthplace of Buddy Holly and home of several top notch wineries. Location of Texas Tech University.
- San Antonio - Famous for the Alamo and the "River Walk" nightlife district.
- Big Bend National Park
- Big Thicket National Preserve
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park
- Palo Duro Canyon
- South Padre Island
France, Spain and Mexico have all laid claim to Texas at one point or another. However, in 1836, Texas won its independence from Mexico and became the Republic of Texas. The most famous battle of the fight for independence was the stand at the Alamo. Although tragic, the sacrifice allowed the main army of Texas time enough to gather their strength and defeat the formidable Mexican army, led by General Santa Anna. Nine years later Texas agreed to be annexed by the United States and became the 28th state of the Union.
The ethnic background of Texas is extremely diverse. Fully one-third of the population has some sort of Hispanic background. There are also many German settlements (such as Fredericksburg and New Braunfels), as well as Norwegian, Polish, Czech, Swedish and French settlements. Also, a sizeable number of African-Americans (mainly in East and Southeast Texas) and Asian-Americans (often in metropolitan areas of Texas) can be found.
Texas is a huge state and therefore experiences an extreme variety of weather. The state is very warm in the summer months, with temperatures often above 100ºF (38ºC). In West Texas and the Panhandle, summers are usually dry with fits of stormy weather. North (Dallas/Fort Worth region) and coastal (Houston region) areas have unstable climates (hence the oft-repeated saying about Texas weather: "If you don't like the weather, wait 10 minutes" – though 10 minutes later you might not like the change).
Thunderstorms are common, sometimes generating tornadoes and hailstorms. It is often warmer near the coast, though humidity can be unbearable in the summer. Conversely, the spring, autumn and winter are relatively pleasant for most of the state. It rarely dips below the freezing point in winter, except in the Panhandle region where the winters can get quite cold (Lubbock and Amarillo have suffered devastating blizzards in the past), and, though it is quite rare, even points as far south as Corpus Christi and Brownsville have seen snow.
Again, the sheer size of the state is not to be underestimated. Brewster County in West Texas is larger in land area than Rhode Island and Delaware combined; Texarkana is closer to Chicago than it is to El Paso, and Brownsville is closer to Mexico City than it is to Dallas. If you are wanting to take in the full Texas experience, you will need ample time to do so.
Texas has no official language. However, as with the rest of the United States, English is the predominant language of the state. Spanish is also widely spoken by approximately one-third of the population. (Don't assume that all people of Mexican origin speak Spanish; some families have been in Texas for longer than Texas has been part of the U.S.) Texas also has small numbers of Chinese, Tagalog, and Vietnamese speakers as well.
Don't assume that the majority of people are going to have a "Texan" accent. While you will run into many that do, the majority of Texans, especially in the cities, lack the "Texan twang" one associates with the state's residents.
Texas shares an international border with Mexico as well as a 600 mile coastline. It is bordered on the north by the state of Oklahoma, on the west by the state of New Mexico, and on the east by the states of Arkansas and Louisiana. As a state of the United States, all visa and passport rules of the USA apply.
Texas has several international airports, including the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), the largest and busiest airport in Texas and 4th busiest airport in the United States. It is a major airline hub and is relatively cheap to fly into. Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) is also a major hub and has the most international connections in the state. Other major airports can be found in Austin and San Antonio, though almost every reasonably sized city in the state is served by some kind of air transportation.
Three Amtrak trains serve the state: The Texas Eagle, Sunset Limited, and Heartland Flyer. Fares are high and ride times are long, but the Amtrak offers a unique perspective for those who are interested.
Texas is well-served from other points in the U.S. by the United States Interstate Highway system, the quality and condition of which is generally very good. There are many roads which cross into Texas from Mexico, most notably in McAllen, Brownsville, Laredo and El Paso. Due to the enormous amount of traffic from Mexico and Central America, Laredo is the country's largest inland port, and wait times at this and all border stations can often be tremendous. In all, Texas boasts over 72,000 miles of state and federal highways.
If you are not a U.S. citizen and you are driving into the U.S. from Mexico, you must have a visa or valid permit beforehand, as they are not issued at the bridges across the Rio Grande. If you are a U.S. citizen, you must present a passport to customs at the border crossings to re-enter the United States. Otherwise, your vacation in Mexico just got longer!
For the braver, more adventurous (and more frugal) passengers, the Greyhound bus may be another option. Please take into consideration that this mode of transportation is used by those who cannot afford air travel (as well as individuals preferring overland travel) and you may be riding with migrant workers, and very low income Americans. Even so, conditions in stations and on the buses are first class. The Greyhound takes you to remote cities within Texas, and can take you as far as Mexico City and all points in Canada. Passengers on Greyhound coming from Mexico must have a valid passport.
The road system is almost universally excellent, and even the most remote points in the state can be accessed with an average sedan. Gas stations are numerous; however, in rural West Texas, do not press your luck. Texan highways are often built with parallel frontage roads and turnarounds at most exits. Speed limits are very strictly enforced in rural areas of the state; Texas state troopers will pull you over for an infraction as small as five miles per hour over the speed limit, as traffic fines are often an important source of income for many smaller towns. However, when traveling through larger cities, observing the "common speed" of traffic around you is much safer. The rural speed limit in Texas is generally 70 MPH, though it increases to 80 MPH on Interstates 10 and 20 in the sparsely populated far western portion of the state.
On the down side, Texas has one of America's worst traffic safety records and one of the highest number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in America.
Texas is home to two major airlines: American Airlines, based out of Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport; and Southwest Airlines, based out of Love Field, Dallas's secondary airport. United Airlines maintains a primary hub at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH). American and United fly to many national and international destinations. Southwest is the no-frills discounter granddad and flies throughout Texas and most of the United States. Travel to any destination world-wide is quite painless from the larger Texas airports. Nonstop flights to and from Houston's IAH include London, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Moscow, Dubai, Doha, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Bogota, Lagos, and Tokyo. Nonstop flights to and from Dallas/Fort Worth's DFW include London, Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Madrid, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Santiago, Dubai, Tokyo, Seoul, and Sydney.
Since Texas cities are geographically dispersed, travel by train is expensive and often inconvenient, though Amtrak does provide several lines. Passenger service is no longer an option for cities in the Panhandle or southern Texas. Again, the size of the state is startling; traveling across the width of Texas (from Orange, in the eastern extremity, near Houston, to El Paso in the western extremity) is roughly the same distance as one would encounter while traveling from El Paso to Los Angeles or from Houston to Jacksonville, Florida. Texarkana, in the northeast corner of the state, is closer to Chicago than it is to the extreme southern tip of Texas.
Greyhound provides intercity bus service. Other bus carriers include TNM&O, Kerrville Bus Co. & Americanos. There are increasing number of bus lines that serve Texas' Mexican population, running routes across the border to regions such as Mexico City and Chihuahua.
- The Alamo in San Antonio, where the erstwhile Republic of Texas saw its most tragic hour. Here some 200 men under siege by a Mexican army of 1,500 or more bravely refused to surrender, and gained immortal fame.
- San Jacinto Battleground State Historical Park, Houston. This is the site of the decisive 1836 battle between Texians led by Sam Houston and the Mexican army under the dictator Gen. Santa Anna, in which Texas gained independence. The San Jacinto Monument, the park's 570-foot-tall centerpiece, is fifteen feet taller than the Washington Monument and the world's tallest monumental column (everything is bigger in Texas!). The battle is counted among those having the greatest impact on history. Within a dozen years of its defeat, Mexico had lost not only Texas, but the territory of the future states of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico. Don't forget to make time to visit the Battleship Texas, permanently moored nearby.
- Galveston was a prosperous port city, when a hurricane hit in 1900, wiping most of the buildings, and 6,000 to 8,000 of its residents in America's worst ever natural disaster. The city rebuilt on sand pumped in from the sea behind a 17-foot high seawall, but never regained its former position. A few buildings that survived the storm, and others built after the disaster and then protected from replacement by the city's decline, today form a handsome historic downtown district.
- After Texas was annexed, the U.S. and Mexico proceeded to quarrel over the border. General Zachary Taylor was ordered by President Polk to set up and to mobilize ground troops at Fort Texas/ Fort Brown. During the American Invasion of Mexico, 1846 to 1848, two historic battles took place in Brownsville the Battle of Resaca de la Palma and the Battle at Palo Alto
- Fort Davis National Historic Site - Partially restored fort, home of the Buffalo soldiers (the first peacetime all-black regiments in the regular U.S. Army)-- located in the town of Ft. Davis north of Big Bend Nat Park. In the surrounding Davis Mountains is MacDonald Observatory and Ft. Davis State Park. A scenic loop drive goes through the forested mountains and down on the desert prairie; you may see deer, pronghorn (also called antelope), javelinas (also called peccaries), roadrunners, eagles and some very beautiful scenery.
- The Fort Worth Stockyards offer a look into the past, when cattle drives and cowboys were all the rage.
- Lubbock Lake Landmark State Historical Park, Lubbock. Evidence of human occupation dating back several millennia is strewn across this South Plains park. Archaeologists even today frequently discover new artifacts.
- Dealey Plaza, Dallas. One of the top tourist attractions in the state, this is where the assassination of John F. Kennedy occurred on 22 November 1963. Visit the Sixth Floor Museum in the infamous Texas School Book Depository building, and the equally patronized Conspiracy Museum nearby.
- The state capitol in Austin is a pink granite look-alike to the nation's capitol, with a gorgeous interior under the spectacular dome. In the nearby Bob Bullock Museum of Texas History, a Disney animatronic version of Sam Houston narrates the story of Texas.
- The Rio Grande has cut a pass through the Southern extension of the Rocky Mountain chain, here called the Franklin Mountains, found in the center of El Paso. Three Spanish missions south of the city -- Ysleta founded 1682, Soccorro Mission 1759, and San Elizario Chapel 1789 -- are some of the oldest still functioning churches in the U.S. The campus of UTEP, the University of Texas at El Paso, features buildings, even parking garages, which improbably enough are constructed in the Bhutanese style of architecture, unlike any place in the country.
Fun and Games
- The original Six Flags and Hurricane Harbor, Arlington
- Six Flags Fiesta Texas, San Antonio
- Sea World, San Antonio
- Schlitterbahn, New Braunfels
- Wonderland Park, Amarillo
- Joyland Amusement Park, Lubbock
Culture and "Texana"
- As the largest city on the US/Mexico border, El Paso is a hotbed of Hispanic culture in America with a flavor that is more Mexican than Texan.
- Not to be missed is the extraordinary Hill Country, with its fields of wildflowers covering sprawling cattle ranches.
- Big Bend National Park is mountains, desert, wilderness, and river (Rio Grande) scenery. There are snakes, deer, javelina (wild pigs) plus many other types of wildlife. At the western entrance is Terlingua (an old ghost town) which is the home to the annual International Chili Cookoff. Farther down the road to the west along the El Camino del Rio (The River Road) scenic drive to Presidio is the town of Lajitas whose mayor is a goat (a real goat) that guzzles beer like water -- put a bottle or can near his mouth and he will grab it right out of your hand in his teeth and turn it up until it all drains into his mouth.
- Get an idea of the size and space of Texas with a drive through the Chihuahuan Desert or through the Texas Panhandle.
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park, at the New Mexico state line in the far western part of the state, is home to 8,749 foot Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas. Another point of interest in the park is McKittrick Canyon, a rather startling oasis of maple trees and other flora and fauna that stands out in stark contrast to the aridness of the surrounding desert.
- Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the country, was cut across the High Plains near Amarillo by a branch of the Red River, providing some really breathtaking scenery and plenty of trails to follow.
- Take a leisurely inner tube trip, floating down the Comal, Guadalupe, San Marcos, Brazos, or Frio rivers.
- Spend the weekend living the Old West at a Dude Ranch
- Enjoy live music and Western heritage at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, held every spring at Houston's Reliant Park.
- Pique your curiosity about Texas' storied history at the Alamo in San Antonio.
- Take in a show in Houston's Theatre District - the largest performing arts district outside of New York City.
- Sports fans will want to see some of America's winningest and iconic professional and collegiate sports teams, including the Dallas Cowboys, the Texas Rangers, the Dallas Mavericks, the San Antonio Spurs, University of Texas Longhorns, and the Texas A&M Aggies.
- Barbecue is the mainstay of any true Texan's diet (most Texans will frown at you if you call it B-B-Q). The International Barbecue Cookoff is held annually in Taylor, TX (northeast of Austin). A Texas specialty is chopped or thinly sliced beef brisket, usually served with a slice of white bread, pickles, onions, and sauce in a separate container (although Central European-style sausage is also common). Classic sides are coleslaw, beans, and potato salad.
- Chili is the official state dish of Texas. There are many varieties of chili, but original Texas-style chili contains no beans. The place to try all the varieties is the International Chili Cookoff, held on the first weekend in November in Terlingua, TX.
- Tex-Mex is Mexican cuisine with Texas flair. Take ancient traditions (such as filled tortillas) and add beef, sauces, cheeses and spices, and Tex-Mex is born. Nachos, crispy tacos, crispy chalupas, chili con queso, chili con carne, chili gravy, and fajitas are all Tex-Mex inventions. Serving tortilla chips and a hot sauce or salsa as an appetizer is also an original Tex-Mex combination, and one that Texan diners insist on. While Texans are generally nice people, and won't be easily offended, it's worth repeating: Tex-Mex food is most definitely not the same as Mexican food, a point locals will be all-too-happy to point out.
- Down Home Cookin' is a blend of American and German cuisine brought about by the necessity of cooking from the back of a chuck wagon. Meals include steaks, stews, casseroles, breads and pies. There are many steakhouses around the state, notably the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, Bob's Steak and Chophouse in Dallas, Fort Griffin General Merchandise in Albany and Taste of Texas steak house in Houston's west side.
- Chicken Fried Steak is cube steak pounded until tender, breaded, and fried in a pan, usually topped with a peppery, creamy white gravy and served with a side of mashed potatoes and beans. CFS (as it's sometimes known) can be found everywhere from school cafeterias, to fast food joints, where it may be served on a sandwich, to upscale eateries (with a creative twist, of course). Its presence on the menu is a sure-fire way to tell if you're in Texas - just don't ask for it "rare" or "well done"; it's not that kind of steak!
Texas has many cities with fabulous nightlife. Some of the more notable include:
- Dallas: Uptown, Deep Ellum, and Greenville Avenue districts.
- Fort Worth: the Historic Fort Worth Stockyards including the world-famous Billy Bob's Texas, which claims to be the largest Honky-Tonk in the world (it even has its own rodeo arena). Also, in Fort Worth's surprisingly clean and vibrant downtown area, there is Sundance Square, where one can find food, drink, and entertainment ranging from live music to first-run movies.
- Houston: Downtown or Montrose.
- Austin: 6th Street and the Warehouse District.
- San Antonio: the River Walk
- Lubbock: Depot District.
The maximum legal Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) limit for adults is 0.08.
In early 2006, the controversial Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission (TABC) program that allows for "public intoxication" arrests in any public area or business establishment, including bars, drew national attention. This was due to an unfortunate incident where people staying in a hotel were arrested for being intoxicated in that hotel's bar. There has been enough negative feedback from the public regarding the TABC program that it has been suspended for review.
Texas produces a number of famous beers, particularly German-style beers, which are available throughout the state and beyond.
- The Spoetzl Brewer in Shiner is famous for producing Shiner Bock, the best selling specialty beer in the state.
- Anheiser-Busch's Houston brewery produces Ziegen Bock, sold only in Texas.
- Lone Star Beer. Brewed in San Antonio, is billed as the "national beer of Texas", but is sold as far away as New York — and reportedly even spotted in Tallinn, Estonia.
There are also several important regional breweries, such as Saint Arnold and Southern Star in Houston and Real Ale near San Antonio.
The crime rate in Texas is relatively low. In the larger cities, if you stay in the tourist areas you will be generally safe (talk to your hotel concierge or manager if you aren't sure about a certain area). The rural areas have a very low crime rate. Texans have a reputation for carrying firearms or resolving disputes with gunfire, but such actions are not significantly more common here than in other parts of the US. Concerns about crime spilling over from Juarez across the border into El Paso is unjustified, as El Paso remains a very safe city. Of course, Juarez sadly remains a very unsafe city, and El Pasoans will very strongly advise that you do not cross the bridges.
Law enforcement is provided statewide. All major cities and almost all towns have a police department, and all counties maintain a sheriff's office. However, in some more sparsely populated areas of the state agencies may be more understaffed and spread out. This is especially true in West Texas, where many towns are too small to operate police departments, and county sheriff's offices may be poorly manned and spread out over enormous land areas. Just as in the rest of the United States, the number "911" should be called in the event of an emergency.
Policing on the state level is generally provided by the Texas Highway Patrol. This agency mainly enforces state traffic laws, but also provides more localized law enforcement services in areas like West Texas. The Texas Highway Patrol has an outstanding reputation in the United States for being extremely courteous and professional. Officers of this agency (called "troopers") can be easily recognized by their characteristic tan uniform and matching cowboy hat. The Texas Rangers, despite being internationally known and storied, are unlikely to be seen by the public and are not prominent in everyday police work.
Despite stories of extremely harsh and brutal justice in Texas, law is executed in the Lone Star State in just as fair a manner as in any of the other forty-nine states.
Texas is generally safe for LGBTQ travelers. Texas's law criminalizing homosexual behavior was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2003. Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, El Paso, Houston, and San Antonio have large and very friendly gay communities; Houston elected an openly lesbian mayor in 2009, becoming the largest US city to do so. Attitudes towards gays are more accepting in urban areas than rural areas. Texas's high rate of religious observance and strong Christian traditions influence the negative attitudes towards LGBTQ people and, in particular, public displays of homosexuality. Regardless, while isolated incidents of gay-bashing do occur, violence against gays is very rare.
Texas has a very strong gun culture, owing to its rural character, strong hunting traditions, and its many US military bases. The vast majority of people who carry handguns are kind, law-abiding people who will not cause any trouble for anyone. Be aware, however, that gun politics arouses very strong emotions and opinions for many Texans, and it is best to avoid discussing the topic.
Texas has very tough laws regarding narcotics. Simple possession of even small amounts of any illegal substance can cause you significant and expensive legal trouble.
Near the Mexican border, it is very common to encounter CBP (Customs & Border Patrol) agents. They are generally somewhat gruff, but always professional. If you encounter a CBP roadblock while driving, relax and answer any questions calmly and honestly. The agents are looking for drug cartel members and smugglers and are unlikely to bother the average tourist.
The startling heat of a Texas summer is not to be underestimated. The state has experienced temperatures as high as 120ºF (49ºC), and though this extreme is rare, it is a good indicator of how hot things can get. Areas from north central Texas down to the coast also tend to experience stifling humidity during the spring and summer months, so pack accordingly with plenty of loose, light colored clothing.
Western portions of the state tend to experience higher temperatures and lower humidity. It is true that the Texas deserts are beautiful, but the heat can be dangerous without the proper precautions. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen. If you are venturing off into the desert, it might be best to do so later in the afternoon once the sun has begun to lower in the sky. Do not go alone, and always let someone else know where you will be going and when you should return. Follow desert survival guidelines.
Be aware of the weather during hurricane season on the coast (June through November, though hurricanes move slow and provide days to weeks of warning).
The eastern and central regions of Texas are located within the infamous "tornado alley". Always maintain a vigilance of any severe weather threats while traveling through or to these regions of the state during the spring and summer months. Dangerous weather conditions can arise suddenly, and if a traveler is unprepared, dire consequences may be the result. Tornadoes in this region can be exceptionally large and deadly. If there is an eminent threat of such weather, do not stay outside to take pictures. Do not try to outrun a tornado in your vehicle. Seek immediate shelter!
Refer to the Tornado safety page for further information.
The following US states share borders with Texas:
- New Mexico - Texas's western neighbor was a Spanish and then Mexican colony until the Mexican War of the 1840s, and retains a culture that is heavily influenced by its native and colonial past.
- Oklahoma - The state's northern neighbor has been a state since only 1907 and retains some of the pioneer spirit from its early days as a frontier, along with a lot of Native American history and culture.
- Arkansas - Texas shares a small border to the northeast with "The Natural State", which is home to the Ozark Mountains in the northwest while the south and east of the state has flatter land and shows more of its agricultural heritage.
- Louisiana - Home to New Orleans, this state on Texas's eastern border offers a unique culture.
These Mexican states also share a border with Texas:
- Chihuahua - The biggest state in Mexico, Chihuahua served as the battle ground between federal and revolutionary forces led by Pancho Villa and has played a crucial role in the development of high-tech enterprises in Mexico.
- Coahuila - Mexico's top mining state, Coahuila has also been a leader in modern policies such as offering civil unions to same-sex couples and, like Baja California, plays an important role in Mexico's wine production.
- Nuevo León - This state shares a tiny 15km border with Texas and is home to Monterrey, Mexico's third largest city.
- Tamaulipas - Strongly focused on export-oriented manufacturers (i.e. maquiladoras), the average wage for an employee in Tamaulipas is the highest in Mexico, making Tamaulipas also a leader in education with minimal illiteracy compared to other states.