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Written by Texas Highways

Photo: © Hogaboom Road, Inc.

Finding the boundary between Texas and Mexico isn’t as simple as locating the Rio Grande. As I discovered on my trip to Laredo, the border between these lands is more of a gradual blending, where the best parts of Texan and Mexican traditions mix and fill the area with history, food, and pride that’s truly unique.

Illustration by Kathryn Rathke

Hugo Ortega’s culinary touch is celebrated in his hometown of Houston and beyond—he’s the creative force behind a string of successful eateries in the city’s prosperous yet competitive restaurant scene.

Illustration by Eric Hanson

Around this time of year (and only this time of year), I start to miss the snow.

An exhibition of works by the late San Angelo artist Jimmy Don Cox

Amid the rugged terrain of the Concho Valley in West Texas, on what was once the edge of the wild frontier, the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts stands as a vibrant cultural outpost. Overlooking the Concho River just south of downtown, its three-story modernist limestone building features a swooping metal roof whose shape brings to mind a saddle or a covered wagon. Within the 30,000-square-foot space, three galleries highlight the state’s rich artistic traditions, from Spanish Colonial-era paintings to contemporary Texas art.

Chef Mike Morphew, a Texas transplant from London who has cooked for the royal family, teaches classes at Le Petite Gourmet twice a month.

While I’m an avid cook and food writer, I’m not usually a fan of “gourmet” kitchen stores. In my experience, instead of tools for serious cooks, the merchandise tends to be heavy on cutesy gifts and novelties like pig-shaped sponges. So, as I approached the door to Le Petite Gourmet Shoppe, across from the historic courthouse in downtown La Grange, I braced myself for the aromas of candles and cinnamon-scented home spray. Boy, was I wrong.

The Wine Shoppe specializes in lesser-known wines from untraditional winemaking regions across the globe.

If you venture to Waco on any given day but Sunday, you’ll find Magnolia Market buzzing with starry-eyed devotees of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ HGTV home-improvement show, Fixer Upper. Waco has seen a steady uptick of visitors since 2015, when the Gaineses transformed two defunct grain silos into home and garden shops, complete with food trucks and a bakery. But blink and you could miss one of Waco’s more understated gems just 5 minutes away, a taupe building emblazoned with two simple words: Wine Shoppe.

Whether you crave Vietnamese pho, Texas barbecue, fried chicken, or a Neapolitan pizza, Conservatory steps up to the plate.

Arriving during the dinner rush at Conservatory Underground Beer Garden & Food Hall, a bustling eatery in downtown Houston, I walked past a wall of colorful pop-art portraits at the entryway, then proceeded down the beautifully ornate stairwell. The scene that greeted me looked like a party in full swing.

Francine Pons, co-owner of Las Colchas, rolls out some fabric in her store.

If you, like me, are not one of the estimated 10 million quilters in the U.S., you may be as surprised as I was by the magnitude of the quilting phenomenon in Texas. Before I went on a months-long quilt quest, the craft seemed to me hair-pullingly repetitive and, well, boring. That’s because I had no idea what it actually was. I’d never owned a nice quilt or thought much about them. But as I started to piece together (forgive me, quilting lends itself to puns) all that this centuries-old art form is, I realized the robust quilting culture in Texas not only inspires and comforts those it touches, but it also tells a story about where we come from.

Some state parks encourage campers to decorate their sites like this one under the pines of Daingerfield State Park.

On a bluff overlooking La Grange, ice skaters swirl on an imaginary pond and penguins check their fishing lines amid a sea of twinkling lights.

Escape the big city to enjoy wines, inventive food, and relaxing lodgings far from the madding crowd.

Escapes have little to do with flashy destinations and full itineraries. For most of us, the point of a getaway crystalizes when simplicity merges with discovery—and that’s what you’ll find when wandering around towns in developing vineyard regions. Two such jewels are Coleman in West Texas, and Muenster, up north in Red River country. Both burgs surprise with wide-open vistas, good things to eat, dreamy accommodations, places to acquire interesting souvenirs, and unassuming charm to spare. And the wines will wow you. Plan on taking several bottles back home.

While Christmas decorations are the main attraction here, the shop also carries items for Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and other occasions.

In Charles Dickens’ classic holiday tale A Christmas Carol, a reformed Ebenezer Scrooge proclaims, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Shoppers looking to keep the Yuletide spirit in their hearts year-round need look no further than the Christmas Rocks store in Houston.

Holiday-themed festivities on board the North Pole Flyer include visits from Santa and Mrs. Claus, Christmas carols, and unlimited hot chocolate.

North Pole Flyer

Austin Steam Train’s holiday-themed rides start Nov. 25 at the Cedar Park Depot, 401 E. Whitestone Blvd., Ste. C-100, Cedar Park.

Holiday train rides around Texas

1. The popular North Pole Express in Grapevine includes a “We Believe” silver Santa bell (if you’ve watched The Polar Express, you’ll know why the bell is a big deal), a mug of frosty chocolate snow milk, and a family photo with Santa.

2. The Texas State Railroad, out of Palestine, also offers a Polar Express train trip, complete with soundtrack. Guests enjoy Christmas-decorated steam-powered rail cars, and cookies and cocoa delivered by dancing chefs. The train stops at the “North Pole” to let Santa on board, and he hands out sleigh bells to the children.

3. At the Christmas Train at Victory Camp in Alvin, the eight-to 12-minute train ride around the grounds is just part of the holiday festivities. Attendees will be dazzled by more than 300,000 lights and hundreds of Christmas decorations such as a gingerbread village, penguin snow lands, and life-size storybook illustrations within the park. Guests can also enjoy story time with Mrs. Claus and live music, as well as hot cocoa, popcorn, and pizza for purchase. The event runs on select days in December.

"Are we really going to the North Pole, Mommy?”

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