10 Texas must-dos

By Danny Baggott

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Texas is as diverse as it is vast, from its cosmopolitan cities and fine white beaches to its cattle-grazing plains, where the cowboys call home. With so much on offer, Danny Baggott chooses ten locales in the Lone Star state.

Reach for the stars

Be amazed by the largest collection of moon rocks and lunar samples in the world at the Space Centre Houston, the official visitor location of the NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Centre. This awe-inspiring attraction includes a vast educational complex, 400 space artefacts and a galaxy of exhibitions including Mission Mars (where you’ll climb aboard a simulated Orion capsule). You can even have lunch with a real-life astronaut…

Go wild

With an abundance of unusual vegetation (the cacti are noteworthy) and over 500 species of animals, Big Bend National Park offers the wildlife experience of a lifetime. Billing itself as ‘an 1100 square mile playground and classroom’, there are three natural habitats - river, desert and mountains (it’s the only park in the United States that contains a complete mountain range, the Chisos) - all ripe for exploring by foot, bike or boat.

  • Learn what it’s like to be President at the George W. Bush Library and Museum © Getty.

    An American dream

    With 43,000 artifacts in the library plus a full-size replica of the White House Oval Office and the original Situation Room (now the setting for a unique, interactive experience) in the museum, this is the place to channel your inner President of the United States.

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  • In Texas, barbecuing is a way of life - sticky ribs are a favourite © Getty.

    Smokin’ hot

    Where you are in the Lone Star State will affect your BBQ experience. In central Texas, expect meat smoked over oak and served with no sauce; in the east, Texans cook with hickory wood and use a sweet, tomato-based sauce; while in the south, it’s all about thick, molasses-like sauces.

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  • Brewster, located in the west of Texas, is the largest county in the state by area © Getty.

    Great bowls of fire

    Held every November on a remote ranch in Terlingua, Brewster County, the annual International Championship Chili Cookoff was established in 1967 by newspaperman Frank X. Tolbert and is a must for die-hard chili enthusiasts.

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Dust off your boots

Mosey on down to Fort Worth’s Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, which pays tribute to the very best cowboys and cowgirls in the Wild West. Enjoy hands-on exhibits (kids will love seeing how a cowboy would "pack" his horse) and learn about the Chisholm Trail, used in the late 1800s to drive cattle from Texas into Kansas.

The city of Lockhart is known as ‘the barbecue capital of Texas’ for good reason - it is sizzling with world-class BBQ joints

Step into the president’s shoes

Celebrating the life of the 41st US President, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas offers a fascinating insight into what it’s like to be one of the most powerful people on earth. While the library houses Bush’s official records and personal papers, the museum includes a full-size replica of the White House Oval Office.

  • Standing at 691 feet, the Chevron Building is one of the tallest skyscrapers in Houston © Getty.

    Reach for the skies

    This skyscraper in downtown Houston was originally the HQ of Enron, one of America's largest commodities trading companies during the 1990s. Following Enron’s collapse, energy company Chevron leased the entirety of the building before buying it for $340 million.

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Make it a meat feast

The city of Lockhart is known as ‘the barbecue capital of Texas’ for good reason - it is sizzling with world-class BBQ joints, all serving up chargrilled, lip-smacking delicacies. Black’s Barbecue - established in 1932 - is widely considered the best. Meat is most definitely the order of the day: pork baby back ribs, melt-in-the-mouth beef brisket… whatever you choose, savour that intense smoky flavour.

Find your wings

From ancient Egyptian mummies to a fine line in dinosaur skeletons (the curator of paleontology advised on Jurassic Park), the Houston Museum of Natural Science is in a class of its own. Four floors burst with permanent and travelling exhibits, as well as fun activities for kids; there’s also the requisite IMAX cinema, planetarium shows and a rainbow-hued butterfly centre.

Thanks to its vast stretches of white sand, sparkling warm waters and funky beachside bars, Padre Island is the go-to spot for fun in the sun

Hit the surf

Geography fans, take note: Padre Island - located along the southern coast of Texas - is the world’s longest barrier island. And thanks to its vast stretches of white sand, sparkling warm waters and funky beachside bars, it is the go-to spot for fun in the sun. The small coastal community of South Padre Island sits at the southern end of Padre - while away a sunny afternoon here browsing its souvenir shops or enjoying a plate of fresh oysters.

Be a culture vulture

Houston’s temperate climate allows residents and visitors to pursue myriad outdoor pursuits, including the performing arts. The Miller Outdoor Theatre puts on an eight-month season of free plays and productions, the largest ‘always free’ programme in the country. From jazz to Shakespeare and ethnic dance, it caters to all tastes - and every show is family-friendly.

Take a trip down memory lane

The only US institution dedicated exclusively to telling the story of the Pacific and Asiatic Theatres in World War II, the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg pays homage to the lives of the eight million Americans who served and the 100,000 plus who lost their lives as a result. A trip to this six-acre, three-museum complex offers a moving insight into a significant part of America’s history.

The Barton Springs Pool in Austin is a whopping three acres and is filled entirely by underground natural springs

Make a splash

The Texans never do anything by halves, even when it comes to swimming pools. The Barton Springs Pool in Austin is a whopping three acres and is filled entirely by underground natural springs, which keep the water temperature a refreshing 20 degrees celsius all year round. Plus, early morning and evening swimmers can do their lengths for free.

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