Need to escape this weekend? Discover the 10 best day trips from Houston

If spending time in the big, bold and beautiful state of Texas, you’ll likely find yourself a while in Houston. The fourth-most populous city in the United States, Houston is big like its papa with a whole host of adventure awaiting below its chaps. While undoubtedly the city is sure to keep you amused with its NASA centre, diverse food scene and epic gay nightlife on Montrose, Houston is also slap-bang between Texas Hill country and the Gulf Coast, making it primed for some legendary day trips towards rolling countryside and coastline, passing by countless towns and cities along the way for real-life rodeos, larger-than-life wineries and craft beer galore.

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Houston Texas

Houston | Photo: Vlad Busuioc

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Gay San Antonio is both active and visible, with the offbeat LGBT community largely centred just north of downtown on ‘the Strip’.

1. San Antonio

The first of our weekend trips from Houston takes us on a three-hour drive to San Antonio for a few days of Spanish-American history, sports and creative arts in good gay company. San Antonio may be the oldest city in Texas but it also happens to be a surprisingly liberal haven in an otherwise conservative state. Gay San Antonio is both active and visible, with the offbeat LGBT community largely centred just north of downtown on ‘the Strip’. Southtown Arts District is another popular area vying for queer attentions, most well known as the creative capital of the city with young students and artists filling its many galleries and alternative events spaces.

To slow down a while, stroll along the Alamo River Walk, a system of sunken pathways below street level linking numerous parks, museums and historic landmarks – such as the Cathedral of San Fernando – downtown. Though leisurely all year round, it comes most alive in summer when live music and al fresco dining become pretty much a way of life and the best gay bars in San Antonio spill out onto the riverfront.

San Antonio TX | Photo: Justin W

San Antonio | Photo: Robson Hatsukami Morgan

2. Galveston

Taking the tempo down a little, we skip town again this time to the historic island of Galveston, the seaside retreat of choice for many Houston locals. Situated off the north end of Texas’ coastline, Galveston is a bustling port city granted year-round sunshine on as many as 50 kilometres of sand and surf, beyond which you’ll find a nice mix of family-friendly attractions, rooftop bars and hotel pool parties. Stewart Beach is a firm favourite for both its shower facilities and volleyball nets, with welcoming waters and small waves for even the most amateur of surfers. Back towards town, Moody Gardens is hard to miss with its giant glass pyramid belonging to the local aquarium, though history buffs can easily swap sting rays for a saunter through the town’s 19th century historic district, where a number of alternative museums, galleries and theatres lie in wait. Whatever you choose, finish up the day with a seafood feast at old-school restaurant Gaido’s, or enjoy a meal with a waterfront view on The Strand.

Galveston | Photo: David Mark

3. Fredericksburg

Another of the best day trips from Houston lies less than four hours outside the big city in the heart of Texas Hill Country. Fredericksburg may take the best part of a day to get to but visitors are quickly rewarded for their pilgrimage with vast Hill Country views and quirky German-influenced cultural attractions. After arriving in town, find the downtown strip for a little history lesson in and around the National Museum of the Pacific War, or make a beeline to the nearest wine tasting event. Put a cork in it until later however to enjoy the town’s natural beauty before sundown, climbing to the Enchanted Rock summit for encompassing views over the region and exploration of the mystical caves beneath your feet.

For local fruit and flowers, try visiting the country’s largest wildflower farm which also doubles up as a butterfly farm in spring, or, for summer visitors, try picking peaches nearby. If you didn’t get enough wine over lunch, try the wineries along Highway 290 just outside of town, also available as part of a vineyard-hopping tour by advance reservation.

4. Brenham

A cute town of creamy heritage and bluebonnet fields, just over an hour’s drive northwest of Houston, Brenham is the perfect excuse for a mini day trip. Brenham is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and downtown can explain exactly why with its old-world streets lined with antique stores and boutiques ripe for window-shopping. Though smaller than what we’re used to, Brenham is in fact the largest town in the region, making it a good base for further adventuring into Washington County. Take a tour of the century-old Blue Bell Creameries, the unofficial state ice cream of Texas, before tracking the wine trail through several of the region’s vineyards in amongst bluebonnet fields, parks and good ol’ Texas countryside. While the outdoor attractions will keep you busy enough, the smell of BBQ and strumming of country music will bring you right back into town for an evening of finger-licking and dosey-doeing.

Photo: Andre Jackson

Photo: James Balensiefen

5. Austin

One of the most worthy weekend getaways from Houston has to be the trip to Austin, Texas’ fun-loving hipster capital, less than three hours’ drive away. Upwards of thirty million people visit Austin each year for its big city culture and small-town charm, made so by the down-to-earth locals who welcome strangers like family. The beauty of Austin lies in its lack of pretension, and while the foodie scene is certainly alive and kicking with its share of wacky restaurant concepts and food truck promotions, the playful passion of locals makes eating a joy. Enjoy some banter in line for the city’s best barbeque, socializing with ease among locals for evermore recommendations on the latest ice cream and taco joints. After filling your stomach, feed your soul with outdoor activities at the Barton Springs pool and lakeside trails surrounding. Besides Barton, Austin is home to more than 300 other parks with 50 kilometres of urban trails linking the streets and hills between them. For biking and hiking, try the Lady Bird Lake loop leading past Barton Creek greenbelt, another go-to spot for swimming and kayaking in summer.

Austin is a city of oddballs, the long-time home of unconventionals who thrive within the non-judgemental creative community found here. Named the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ with not one but two internationally acclaimed music festivals (South by Southwest and the Austin City Limits Festival), Austin continues playing and dancing year-round, with nightly performances of country music, blues, rock, hip-hop, and jazz at clubs, bars and restaurants all over the city. Like San Antonio, Austin is a liberal oasis when compared with the rest of the country, and while gay Austin has no designated gay district, you’ll find no one is keeping anything in the closet, thanks to open attitudes and gay-friendly nightlife across the city. Discover more secrets with our Austin travel guide.

Austin, TX | Photo: Tomek Baginski

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Four hours from Houston and just a sidestep west of Dallas is the cowboy capital of Fort Worth, starting point of the wild west made famous for its epic cattle drives, a tradition carried through to today

6. Fort Worth

Four hours from Houston and just a sidestep west of Dallas is the cowboy capital of Fort Worth, starting point of the wild west made famous for its epic cattle drives, a tradition carried through to today. Though Fort Worth maintains its cowboy credentials by hosting weekly rodeos and the world’s biggest honky-tonk, it also grants visitors a thriving arts scene, centred on three art museums and an opera house in the Cultural District, an area at its liveliest during the Main Street Fort Worth Arts Festival each year. As we are in Cowtown, gay Fort Worth cannot compete with the gay nightlife of more liberal cities, but nevertheless, the city still boasts its own Pride week events, gay rodeo and a small selection of gay bars to keep you amused. Though the city was once a rampant city of saloons, brothels and drunk cattle ranchers, today you’ll see a cheeky yet respectable Fort Worth, with vibrant nightlife split between Stockyards District and Downtown Sundance Square.

7. Dallas

If Fort Worth was the Sundance Kid, then Dallas is the one and only Butch Cassidy, offering a much bigger and wealthier introduction to the American West. Running alongside the cultural heritage of Dallas – chiefly the Dallas Heritage Village and Dallas Cowboys home stadium – this modern metropolis has a ton of other attractions to keep everyone’s attention. Families can make the most of activities at Hurricane Harbor, Dallas Zoo or Six Flags theme park, while couples may better suit a swan-shaped boat ride across Leonhardt Lagoon before catching a performance in the 68-acre Arts District, but only if the Dallas Cowboys aren’t playing! Wandering the streets of Dallas is an intrigue in itself, passing by diverse local characters to find a mutual appreciation of food, arts and architecture on every corner.

Hosting not one but two gay neighbourhoods just moments from downtown, gay Dallas will surprise you with its thriving gay scene in what is ostensibly one of nation’s most conservative regions. Thankfully the urban character wins out, allowing for all types of fetishes and LGBTQ+ meet ups in the bars and megaclubs concentrated around Oak Lawn neighbourhood and along Cedar Springs Road. Find a friendly watering hole among our list of the best gay bars in Dallas.

Dallas | Photo: Rich

Dallas | Photo: Ryan Jacobson

8. Wimberley

From the dancefloor to the water’s edge, our next escape from the city lies three hours from Houston in the town of Wimberley, deemed one of the most picturesque towns in all of Texas. Situated at the confluence of Cypress Creek and the Blanco River, Wimberley already has the perfect conditions for a tranquil town, made even better by the run of artists’ community events and craft markets held throughout summer. Wimberley Market Days in particular is one for the calendar, when Lion’s Field transforms into a festival space for live music, food and crafts. When the market is off, head to the town centre for boutique, antique and art stores or take a ride out of town to an olive oil orchard before returning for a rest at a Creekside lodge. Other natural attractions near Wimberley include Blue Hole Regional Park and Old Baldy Mountain for hiking, wild swimming and panoramic views over the town.

Wimberley | Photo: Roy Reyna

9. New Braunfels

Then there’s New Braunfels over in Texas Hill Country, 2 hours and 40 minutes by car from Houston, with its own brand of riverside charm. Both Guadalupe and Comal Rivers work their way through the town edged by countless parks and recreation areas. Comal is the more tranquil of the two, passing through downtown and Schlitterbahn Waterpark, while Guadalupe in contrast is made for tubing, fishing and swimming adventures. If riverside fun doesn’t interest you, at least take a while to stroll the leafy promenade, stopping at museums, galleries and performance spaces as you please. Though a DIY tour is certainly a joy, the official walking tours can teach you a little something about the town’s German heritage, in particular Gruene Historic District, home of the oldest dance hall in Texas. Another top site in New Braunfels is the Natural Bridge Caverns, a subterranean maze primed for spelunking, rappelling, and exploring, with all the more attractions above ground.

10. Lake Charles, Louisiana

Leaving Houston for one last weekend getaway, we venture across state borders into Louisiana, just two hours’ drive away. In place of cowboys and cattle, Lake Charles brings visitors a taste of creole culture and symphonic sounds. The Charpentier Historic District is a nice place to start, to see quintessential Victorian architecture and the old money that built it, while museums such as USS Orleck Naval Museum and the Mardi Gras Museum showcase wholly different records. Before calling it a day, consider hiking the Creole Nature Trail through the local nature reserve, an area teeming with birds, reptiles and as many as three wildlife refuges. From there, either get with the high rollers at any of the town’s fancy casinos, or enjoy a live performance from the Lake Charles Symphony, or various other theatre groups active in the area. Year-round Lake Charles hosts as many as 75 different festivals – such as Mardi Gras and Louisiana Pirate Festival – meaning there’s almost always something to watch in addition to the roulette wheel!

Louisiana | Photo: Mick Haupt

Photo: Cade Prior

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Galveston | Photo: Marlen Alimanov

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