You’ve probably heard the old saying “everything is bigger in Texas” and surprisingly or not, there’s a lot of truth in this popular aphorism. Texas is a state of big hats, big boots, big ranches, big open spaces, big portions of food… Heck, even its territory is quite large. Did you know that if Texas was a country it would be the 39th largest (by territory) in the world? But don’t let Texas’ size trick you; there are a lot worth-seeing hidden gems and small towns in Texas that are worth visiting. That’s what this list is all about!
Gruene- antique shopping, live music river sports
Gruene is one of the most charming small towns in Texas. The city was established in the 1840s by a group of German farmers. The city lies just outside of the historic New Braunfels area and only 25 miles away from San Antonio. Today, Gruene is famous for the countless antique shops where you can purchase all kinds of antiquities, for Texas’ oldest operating dance hall, Gruene Hall (dating back to 1878), and the charming outdoors surrounding the city that attracts a lot of river sports enthusiasts every year.
Dripping Springs- rolling hills, rivers, creeks, and scenic countryside
Located around 20 miles west of Austin lies the picturesque town of Dripping Springs. Here, you can find one of the most underrated yet spectacular natural attractions in the United States. The Hamilton Pool Preserve was created a few thousand years ago when an underground river collapsed due to massive erosion. Today, it’s one of the most beautiful natural pools in America but a lot of tourists aren’t aware of it. But that’s not the only thing worth seeing in Dripping Springs.
This is one of the best small towns in Texas for discovering new outdoor experiences, tour some of the town’s famous ranches and recently, the town is slowly turning into a solid gastronomic hub with the increasing number of ranches, wineries, and local breweries.
Fredericksburg- history, wine, and fine dining
When talking about small towns in Texas, Fredericksburg is probably the most famous one. The town was founded by Germans of noble descent in the mid-1840s and it was a ‘German enclave’ for quite a while. Today, the city still holds on to its rich cultural heritage and is probably the best place in America to learn about the German-Texan culture.
The city is home to several important historical monuments. The most notable ones are the Pioneer Museum and the Vereins Kirche Museum, but it’s also one of Texas’ hottest culinary tourism hub. Fredericksburg is home to 45 vineyards (quite impressive for a small town) and since recently, home to the Fredericksburg Wine Road 290 that’s definitely worth checking out!
West- Czech culture and tasty kolaches
If you ask a Texan where can you find the best kolaches, they’ll probably tell you to go to the Czech Stop in West, around 30 minutes away from Waco. If Fredericksburg is the hub of the German-Texan culture, West is the hub of Czech-Texan culture and of course- kolaches; one of the most popular local pastries stuffed with either fruit, dollop, or sausage and melted cheese.
If you ever intend to visit, plan your trip in September. During this month, the whole town turns into a giant scene for a display of the city’s Czech cultural heritage with Czech food, live music, and polka dancers all over the place.
Marfa- the famous Marfa Mystery Lights and the “Giant”
This list of the most charming small towns in Texas wouldn’t be complete without Marfa; a small town in West Texas famous for the iconic Marfa Lights that have become famous because of their association with paranormal phenomena such as UFOs, ghosts, and will-o’-the-wisp. Science, on the other hand, attributes these lights to atmospheric reflections of automobile headlights and campfires. Whatever the case, the Marfa Lights are awesome.
However, this isn’t the only reason to visit. Marfa is also home to a rather interesting Prada-themed art exhibit in the middle of nowhere that has put the town on the tourist map and to several places featured in the cult classic “Giant” (1956).
Port Aransas- for a peaceful vacation
If you’re looking for some of the prettiest, most quaint beaches in the whole state, there’s no better place in Texas than Port Aransas, one of the most charming small towns I’ve ever seen. Port Aransas is the only town on Mustang Island and its main attractions are the 18 miles of white-sand beaches but there are a lot of other things to do as well.
You can enjoy some scenic views of the island and the shoreline while paragliding or if you’re looking for something less extreme, you can indulge in bird-watching, fishing, parasailing. And if that’s not enough, there are all kinds of festivals on the island that take place throughout the year.
Luckenbach- “where ain’t nobody feelin’ no pain”
Luckenbach is one of the most famous country music venues in Texas, mentioned in numerous country hits, most notably Waylon Jennings’ Luckenbach. This country classic’s verse says Luckenbach is “where ain’t nobody feelin’ no pain”. After visiting, I can totally see why. Nobody ain’t feelin’ no pain because there isn’t anyone there! The town is home to two buildings, one of which is a dance hall, and three (yes, 3) residents. If you’re looking for a different experience, and especially if you’re a fan of country music, a stop to Luckenbach during your trip to Texas is a must!
Marble Falls- for a peaceful lake vacation
Nestled between the Highland Lakes on the Colorado River, Marble Lake is an ideal quaint, town for a peaceful vacation. It’s one of my favorite small towns in Texas because it’s home to some of the south’s most beautiful lakes. After all, you can’t expect less than a town lying on the largest chain of lakes in Texas. You can cool off in Lake LBJ Marina water park, explore the beautiful outdoors, go camping, go swimming, or perhaps witness the annual drag boat race (US’ largest) every August.
Terlingua- “a real-life ghost town”
Often referred to as “Ghost Town” of Texas”, Terlingua is a former mining town located near Big Bend National Park. The town is home to 58 residents and a lot more abandoned buildings and rusted cars. Initially, the town’s population consisted primarily of miners. Throughout the years, most of them abandoned the town in the mid-1800s after the mercury market crash. However, the locals saw this as an opportunity to turn their ghost town into an up-and-coming tourist attraction.
Lockhart- for the best barbecue
Houston, Dallas, and Austin might argue as much as they want about who has the best barbecue but most Texans know that Lockhart is the Barbecue Capital of Texas. So, if you’re a gourmand/barbecue lover, you have to visit Smitty’s Market, Black’s Barbecue, Kreuz Market, and Chisholm Trail. In addition to barbecue feasts, Lockhart is also home to several Victorian-era buildings, historic squares, and interesting landmarks such as Caldwell Country Courthouse, Caldwell County Jail Museum, and Dr. Eugene Clark’s Library.
Jefferson- for history lovers
A list of the best small towns in Texas can’t be complete without Jefferson; a historical town whose glory days are long gone but remnants of it still linger around the city. Before the construction of the railway in Texas and Louisiana, Jefferson was a wealthy city with a river port that connected the city with New Orleans. However, after the railway was constructed, the number of boats going in and out of the city decreased significantly. The local economy took a big hit and the city’s population kept decreasing throughout the years.
However, the town is still taking advantage of its historic past; a lot of the old buildings were repurposed as hotels, museums, and B&Bs to house the increased number of tourists. Even today, the small town of Jefferson is still home to more than 70 historical landmarks, buildings, and museums. Some of the most popular sights in Jefferson include the Historic Jefferson Railway, the Jefferson Historical Museum, The Museum of Measurement and Time, etc.
Wimberley- for outdoor enthusiasts
Located deep inside Texas’ Hill Country, Wimberley is one of the best small towns in Texas for nature lovers. Wimberley is a quiet town surrounded by beautiful nature and if you’re an outdoor enthusiast planning to visit Texas, this town should be at the top of your bucket list. You can take a scenic drive along the popular Devil’s Backbone, witness the beauty of Blue Hole Regional Park that’s home to the famous Blue Hole (one of the most popular swimming holes in Texas), take a jump into Jacob’s Well, or ride the zipline across the hill country.
Canyon- home to America’s second largest canyon
This small town is home to a not-so-secret tourist attraction- the Palo Duro Canyon, the second-largest in the country. The park is home to numerous hiking trails, as well as trails for horseback riding, a lot of picturesque photo spots, and some amazing camping locations where you can enjoy the view of the open sky above and the view of the large canyon below you.
And if that’s not enough, you can also visit some of Canyon’s historical monuments, such as the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum (Texas’ largest history museum) and the Historic Downtown Square, among others.
Bandera- for a throwback to the Wild West
What if I tell you that there’s a small town near San Antonio where all Texas stereotypes come alive? Bandera is a small town on the banks of Medina famous for local cowboy culture that’s still very much alive. The city hosts regular rodeo events every week and shoot-em’-up gun shows are also quite common. Hence, it should come as no surprise that Bandera is the Cowboy Capital of Texas. After all, if it wasn’t for Bandera, a lot of unique Texan traditions like chuckwagon meals, horse riding, and trail rides would be close to extinguished.
Uncertain- to get off the beaten track
You probably won’t find many tourist guides about the small town of Uncertain and if you ever wind up here, according to locals, it’s for one of two reasons; you either have to know where you’re going or stumble upon the city if you got lost. But if you do somehow end up visiting this city, you’ll find a lot of interesting things to do.
For starters, you can start by clicking a picture of Uncertain’s road sign. You can follow this up with a trip to Caddo Lake; one of the most peaceful and unfrequented places in Texas, where you can indulge in birdwatching, fishing, or even kayaking. If you want to get off-the-beaten-track and go where not many others do, Uncertain is one of the best small towns in Texas.
Willow- for picturesque hills and flower valleys
If you’re looking for a peaceful getaway from San Antonio or Austin, Willow is a perfect choice. The town itself has a rich history and it was actually an emerging city during the second half of the 19th century. However, that’s not what Willow is most famous for. The small town is mostly famous because of the Willow City Loop, one of the most scenic drives in Texas. During these 13 miles, you’ll see rolling meadows, scenic hills, and picturesque valleys filled with colorful flowers that look like they’re a world away from the busy city streets.
Port Isabel- for beaches and beautiful views
Most tourists visit Port Isabel for the beautiful beaches and relaxing activities, such as fishing, boating, kayaking, and parasailing. Additionally, you can also take dolphin-watching tours or climb up to Port Isabel’s lighthouse (the only one in Texas that’s located at the town square) for an amazing view of the city, the shore, and the surrounding nature.
Rockport- for seafood and endless recreational opportunities
Rockport is another quaint, coastal town that’s the perfect choice for a beach getaway. This town is one of the most pedestrian-friendly towns in Texas with a vibrant downtown area with charming little shops and restaurants specializing in fresh seafood. Rockport offers a lot of shopping options but it’s also a great place to unwind and relax while dipping your toes in the sand and enjoying the view of the coast.
Nacogdoches- the oldest town in Texas
What kind of list of small towns in Texas would this be if we didn’t mention Nacogdoches? Originally a Spanish settlement, the town of Nacogdoches dates back to 1716. Throughout the years, the town adopted the typical Southern hospitality without letting go of its Spanish heritage. Today, Nacogdoches is home to 32,000 residents and is a town with a slow living pace and friendly locals. As the oldest town in Texas, Nacogdoches has a lot to offer and won’t disappoint.
Needless to say, there are a lot of important historical landmarks, interesting museums, several recreational areas, a lot of breweries and wineries, and of course- antique shops.
Smithville- the most photogenic town in Texas
Most Texans say Smithville is one of the most photogenic small towns in America and it’s easy to see why. Smithville was even certified as “The First Film-Friendly Town in Texas” by the Texas Film Commission. Numerous films were shot in Smithville, most notably “True Grit”, “Bernie”, “My All-American”, and “Hope Floats” among others.
If you’re looking for some other activities that don’t involve movie locations chasing and photography, you can indulge in river sports, golfing (they have some really nice golf course down in Smithville), motocross at Cross Creek Cycle Park, and of course, relaxing in some of the town’s picturesque parks.
Fort Davis- the highest town in Texas
The former military post on the Texas Frontier is today a laid-back town with friendly folks and not a lot of traces from the town’s troublesome past. Fort Davis is the highest (and probably coolest) town in Texas. Fort Davis lacks tourist infrastructure, but it’s still home to some interesting sights, such as the McDonald Observatory, the Indian Lodge, and of course, the Fort Davis National Historic Site, one of the most important historical sites in Texas.
Palacios- for views of the Gulf and birdwatching
Palacios is one of the most beautiful coastal small towns in Texas famous for beautiful beaches, marine life, seafood, and some of the best birdwatching spots in the south. In addition to this, since recently, the Matagorda Bay Foundation organizes regular tours that introduce visitors to the unique ecosystem at the confluence of the Colorado River and the Gulf of Mexico.
Lampasas- for mineral springs and one of the oldest pools in Texas
The small town of Lampasas is home to seven mineral springs and Hancock Springs Free Flow Pool; one of the oldest pools in Texas (1911). The town did a good job of working with what it has and developing local tourism around the mineral springs, local pools, and the beautiful surrounding nature.
In addition to this, Lampasas is also home to several quirky attractions, such as “the largest spur in the world” and Hanna Springs Sculpture Garde filled with quirky art installations. Overall, this small Texan town is filled with hidden gems that keep attracting tourists from different parts of the country but despite this, Lampasas is keen on preserving its small-town identity.
Albany- for ranches and cultural attractions
I know that ranches and cultural attractions might not always go together in the same sentence. However, Albany has both of them in abundance. The town is home to numerous ranches and some interesting and quirky attractions. The most notable examples are the Old Jail Art Center, named after the 1878 jail building in which it’s located, the iconic Flying A Classic Car Club Museum, and the nearby Fort Griffith State Historic Site that hosts an annual musical that showcases the town’s rough frontier history…
How did you like this list of the best small towns in Texas? Did you ever visit any of these? If not, which small towns in Texas would you visit first? Let us know in the comments!
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