Interpretive signs on a deck overlooking a large marshland
Roma Bluffs World Birding Center over the Rio Grande. Photo by Tom McCarthy Jr.

South Texas Plains

Home to one of the oldest entrances into Mexico, Laredo offers a multicultural experience

By Luis G. Rendon

Directions to Laredo are easy. Find your way to Interstate 35 and head south. Go far enough and you’ll get there eventually. Coming from the Valley? Take a left at the Whataburger in Falfurrias and keep going. The flat scrub of South Texas eventually leads to this sprawling border town spread across a jagged crook in the Rio Grande. Today, 250,000 people live in the city that was originally founded as a Spanish colony in 1775. Laredo has long been a nexus for Mexican and Texan comingling. Its most popular and enduring cultural festival, the monthlong George Washington Birthday Celebration features both a jalapeño festival and a debutante ball in full U.S. colonial garb. The celebration is held in February.

That Tex-Mex duality runs deep. Laredo’s Mexican sister city, Nuevo Laredo, was founded in 1848 by Laredoans who wanted to keep their Mexican citizenship. Though the two are forever connected by history and culture, Laredo has forged its own identity as a birding paradise, an outdoor recreation and sports haven, and a modern Mexican food mecca. After a recession in the 1980s decimated the downtown business and cultural districts, Laredo is now experiencing a citywide renaissance. Flush with cash from the booming post-pandemic shipping industry—$800 million in products come through Laredo’s land ports each day—local entrepreneurs, chefs, and artists are transforming Laredo into much more than a historic gateway to Mexico. Next time you sing the folk song “The Streets of Laredo,” just know they’re busier than ever.

A large fountain in the foreground and an ornate stone building behind

Laredo Center for the Arts. Photo by Michael Amador

STAY

The Laredo Mansion
Laredo businessman Peter Leyendecker built this mansion in the early 1900s and refurbished it, turning it into a boutique bed and breakfast in 2019. The transformation was part of a downtown revival of neglected but historically significant structures. Choose from one of four suites, each themed to reflect different aspects of Laredo culture: contemporary, French, Mexican, or Victorian. Suites range from $79 to $200 per night.

Texas State Parks: Hidden Gems

LAKE CASA BLANCA INTERNATIONAL STATE PARK
¡Bienvenidos! Swim, fish, boat, or simply walk the trails at this lakeside park in Laredo, only 10 miles from Tamaulipas, Mexico. Enjoy playgrounds and fields for team sports, as well as several pavilions and a recreation hall available by reservation. All campsites include water and electricity.

OTHER HIDDEN GEMS
Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park
Choke Canyon State Park
Falcon State Park

MORE SOUTH TEXAS PLAINS STATE PARKS
Estero Llano Grande State Park
Goliad State Park & Historic Site

For more information, directions, and amenities, get your free mobile guide to all 80-plus state parks: texasstateparks.org

LEARN

Laredo Kayak
Peep the diverse bird population of Laredo while you kayak down the Rio Grande with Rick Rodriguez, a one-man river recreation revivalist, and owner of Laredo Kayak. For $65, Rodriguez provides the kayak, paddles, life jacket, and guidance down a 4-mile stretch of the river.

Laredo Center for the Arts
Located in the original 1880s City Hall, the Laredo Center for the Arts showcases local artists and hosts musicals, festivals, and kid-friendly art classes. Join other art lovers on the first Friday of the month for Caminarte, an art walk through downtown that starts at the Center.

SEE

Los Olvidados
Equal parts art gallery, thrift shop, and performance venue, this mini cultural center is far more than a coffee shop. Stop by for DJ sets in the evening or sip fancy lattes made from beans sourced from Mexico. It’s a place for Laredoans to make a human connection, the owners say.

Avenida San Bernardo
Once the highway to San Antonio, San Bernardo Avenue has been treating tourists to shops along the 40-block
corridor for decades. The shops are full of Mexican imports, such as clay pottery, hand-carved furniture, silk rebozos, all sourced from Mexican artisans.

Casa Ortiz
This nearly 200-year-old hacienda located downtown is at the center of the city’s First Friday artwalk, Caminarte. Built by cattle rancher Don Jose Reyes Ortiz around 1830, the roughly 12,000-square-foot property is now owned by Webb County. The nonprofit Laredo Cultural District hosts cooking workshops, live music and dance performances, and movie screenings on-site.

Jamboozie
Laredo’s most popular music festival has been bringing people downtown for music, food, and fun for over 20 years. Originally a Mardi Gras wannabe, this March festival has shed its imitator skin and become a daylong, music-centric showcase featuring local talent and big time headliners across multiple stages and genres on a closed city block downtown. There’s something for everyone
at Jamboozie.

EAT

Iturbide Street
Known locally as “It Street,” the strip is home to more than a dozen bars and clubs in the center of Laredo’s historic downtown, making it the heart of the city’s entertainment district. The street is closed to traffic on Fridays and Saturdays, making it pedestrian-friendly for bar hopping.

Casa Lopez
Looking for a baile? Music lovers pack this unassuming restaurant every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night to nosh on Spanish tapas, drink sangria, and dance the night away to live music. Special noches de flamenco, with performances by classically trained flamenco dancers, are local favorites.

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The March 2024 cover of Texas Highways Magazine

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