No matter how often you traverse this great state, there’s always something new to see. Still, it can be easy to get stuck in a travel rut—visiting the same favorite towns, comfortingly familiar landscapes, and tried-and-true attractions. Consider our 2020 travel bucket list your opportunity to push yourself out of your bubble. Explore a new region, appreciate a different culture, or test your physical limits. Make it your New Year’s mantra: Go forth and explore.
Flock to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge’s New Boardwalk
Stroll along the 850-foot-long, 6-foot-wide boardwalk at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and peer down at the teeming tidal-flat community of blue crabs, snakes, and alligators. There are even tracks of mammals such as bobcat, feral hog, and javelina. “Visitors can experience the sights, sounds, and smells of a coastal marsh without being up to their knees in marsh mud—making a sometimes inaccessible habitat available to all,” says Laura Bonneau, visitor services manager. If you visit between October and April, you can admire some of the more than 500 endangered whooping cranes—North America’s tallest bird and one of its rarest—that winter here. They number among the 405 bird species sighted at the refuge. The new structure, completed in August, extends over the marsh to a platform overlooking San Antonio Bay, where the refuge offers fishing access after the whooping cranes’ spring departure. It also links the existing boardwalk and 40-foot observation tower to the lush, forested Big Tree Trail. —Susan L. Ebert
Best time to visit: Between October and April. 361-349-1138; fws.gov/refuge/aransas
Say “Prost!” to New Braunfels’ 175th
This March marks 175 years since settlers from Braunfels, Germany, first glimpsed the cypress-lined rivers and rolling countryside of Central Texas. Smitten by the beauty, the weary emigrants, led by Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels, ditched plans to travel farther north and planted themselves in what is now New Braunfels. “They had ample crystal-clear water, ample game, and ample building material, and thought, ‘This is perfect,’” says Judy Young, vice president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. The community embraces its German roots and celebrates its anniversary in grand style every 25 years. The 2020 festivities, spread throughout the year, include cracking a keg of beer created especially for the occasion by brewers from both its Texan and German namesake cities, unearthing a time capsule buried at the 125th bash, a boat parade, a children’s costume parade, a trail ride, and several galas. —Pam LeBlanc
Best time to visit: Many of the anniversary events take place in March, including the Founders Day Parade with fireworks, and a gala on March 21, but events are planned throughout 2020. since1845.com
Play it cool at the new home of the Rangers
This spring, the Texas Rangers start playing ball at their new home, the 1.7-million-square-foot, climate-controlled Globe Life Field, which sits a stone’s throw from the team’s former Globe Life Park and the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. The $1.1 billion facility features a transparent retractable roof (allowing for air-conditioning during the summer) and will also host concerts and festivals. This section of Arlington has become quite the hub for sports and entertainment enthusiasts. Texas Live!, which opened in 2018, is a sprawling sports bar complex, and fans can also rest their heads steps away from the action at Live! By Loews. The 14-story, 300-room resort opened last August with its own roster of eateries and watering holes, including Arlington Clover Club, a chic “mixology lounge,” and Soak, the hotel’s swim-up bar. —June Naylor
Relive presidential history in Stonewall
Constructed in 1964, the Stonewall Motor Lodge originally housed Secret Service agents, pilots, and reporters when President Lyndon B. Johnson visited his ranch—nicknamed “the Texas White House”—2 miles down the road on US 290. Now fully refurbished, the modest 12-room motel features vintage photographs culled from the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, newly built cabins with porches and kitchenettes, RV hook-ups, and an elevated deck lounge atop the lobby. One of the guest rooms, dubbed “The Press Room,” is an homage to the writers and photographers who stayed there; its kitchenette was once a darkroom. “They say the press corps would park [by the side of the road] on a Sunday morning, get their breakfast, and eat in their cars waiting for LBJ to go to church,” says Anita Ortiz Lubke, co-owner of the hotel. Though journalists didn’t have much else to do in their downtime in 1960s Stonewall, visitors can now take their pick of popular wineries like Pedernales Cellars and Kuhlman Cellars (known for their tempranillo and rosé, respectively) within a five-minute drive. —Cynthia J. Drake
Best time to visit: Spring 14818 US 290, Stonewall. 830-644-1040; stonewallmotorlodge.com
Conquer an Obstacle Course on Lake Travis
At Lake Travis Waterloo Adventure, the 600-foot-long Floating Challenge Course lets the whole family live out their American Ninja Warrior dreams by tackling climbing walls, hurdles, blobs, monkey bars, and slippery half-pipes. The waters of Lake Travis sit below as a forgiving cushion. Once your 45-minute session on the challenge course is over, you can jump on a floating trampoline, climb a 14-foot tower, or fly down a water slide. After a day of amped-up activity, recover in the ample lakeside lounge chairs and refuel with food truck fare like hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches. Owners John Shipley and Brian George, who also own Lake Travis Zipline Adventures on an adjacent property, decided to locate their businesses in a serene corner of the busy lake. That means a ticket here gives you an experience that’s not available to the general public. Because there are plenty of lifeguards, the kids can wear themselves out while parents relax and admire the view. —Clayton Maxwell
Best time to visit: April through September 14529 Pocohontas Trail, Suite A, Leander. 512-614-1979; waterlooadventures.com
Choose Your Adventure on Lake Buchanan
One of Central Texas’ six Highland Lakes, Lake Buchanan, near Burnet, offers plenty of options for adventure on water and land. At Spider Mountain Bike Park, a gondola that once whisked skiers up slopes at Taos Ski Resort in New Mexico is now carrying cyclists to the top of the only lift-served mountain bike park in the state. After a seven-minute trip up the 1,500-foot “mountain,” cyclists ride the banked corners, limestone gullies, and wooden ramps on the way down. Trails are rated green for easiest, blue for intermediate, and black for expert. If less-extreme activities are more your speed, book one of the pastel-colored cabins at Black Rock Park, a 25-acre getaway on the other side of the lake. There, you can swim, fish, rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard, play sand volleyball, or take a swing on a new nine-hole mini-golf course. —P.L.
Cruise Amarillo’s Polk Street
A 1939 postcard once proclaimed Polk Street, in downtown Amarillo, the “best lighted Main Street west of the Mississippi,” thanks to its prominent neon signage and intersection with historic Route 66. Sadly, urban sprawl left the city’s once-glitzy entertainment hub a shell of its former self until the recent winds of revitalization and enterprise blew off the dust. Even the vintage neon has returned because of grants and advocacy led by nonprofit Center City Amarillo. Foot traffic has resumed, too, with recently opened businesses like Six Car Pub & Brewery, Crush Wine Bar & Restaurant, the Esquire Jazz Club, and a new arcade-themed bar called Lit. Strings of lights glow while pedicabs shuttle patrons to the new Double-A ballpark, Hodgetown, to catch an Amarillo Sod Poodles game. Meanwhile, on Polk Street, the 1927 Oliver-Eakle building—Amarillo’s first skyscraper—is being restored into a swanky Marriott hotel called The Barfield, set to open in April. —Jason Boyett
Best time to visit: Spring through fall visitamarillo.com
Find inspiration in Lubbock’s arts scene
The city that birthed Buddy Holly, Texas Tech University, and the state’s wine industry is refreshing its reputation as a cultural center. Anchoring the arts district is the $154 million Buddy Holly Hall of Performing Arts and Sciences, opening in fall 2020. The facility will be the home of Ballet Lubbock and the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra. Also breathing new life into the arts scene is the second annual Buddy Holly Songwriters Retreat—the five-day course, starting Aug. 31, supplies mentorship and support for burgeoning singer-songwriters. Just outside the performing arts center, you can explore a wealth of gallery spaces, upscale restaurants, breweries, and wineries set in refurbished historic buildings. Lubbock’s First Friday Art Trail offers the opportunity to see the shops, studios, and museum spaces up close. Retro-chic boutique hotel Cotton Court opens this summer, so you can comfortably explore all Lubbock has to offer without rushing home. —C.J.D.
Best time to visit: Late 2020 800-692-4035; visitlubbock.org
Get in Touch with Big Bend
Big Bend National Park’s landscape changes with the seasons, offering plenty for its 440,000-plus annual visitors to enjoy year-round. But its exhibits were past due for an overhaul. The Rio Grande Village visitors center and historic Magdalena House exhibit building have been upgraded with new educational displays and historical photos focusing on the rich heritage of the bicultural border and how the park works with its Mexican counterparts. New installations at Chisos Basin and Persimmon Gap visitors centers are scheduled for later this year. The park’s Chief of Interpretation Tom VandenBerg says the exhibits, though new, are deliberately low-tech. “We’re so far away from anywhere that exhibits that depend on electronics invariably end up failing here,” he says. “So there are a lot of tactile models for people to touch.” —J.B.
Best time to visit: Spring And Fall nps.gov/bibe
Gorge Yourself on a Visual Feast in San Antonio
This year, San Antonio shows how deeply personal art can be. Hopscotch, a nearly 20,000-square-foot interactive art space opening downtown this spring, dissolves the line between art and viewer. The 13 installations invite visitors to participate by dancing, moving, shouting, and playing—touching the art is actually encouraged here. After testing the concept with a six-week pop-up in Austin, Hopscotch found its permanent home in Alamo City. “‘Experiences over things’ has become my mantra,” says Nicole Jensen, one of Hopscotch’s co-founders. “People enjoying themselves together through art is an impactful thing.” Also breaking boundaries is Ruby City, a free contemporary art center that opened this past October in the Southtown neighborhood. Designed by international architect Sir David Adjaye, it houses selected works from the 900-plus-piece collection of late San Antonio artist and philanthropist Linda Pace, of the Pace salsa family. The project originated from a dream she had before her death in 2007 in which she envisioned a shining ruby city. Twelve years later, that vision has been realized. Inaugural exhibitions include Playtime, a video installation by filmmaker Isaac Julien; and Waking Dream, a collection of works from artists like Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović and San Antonio-
based painter and printmaker Cruz Ortiz. —C.M.
Join the Pop Parade in San Angelo
San Angelo nonprofit Art in Uncommon Places continues to paint the town red—as well as every other hue—with its novel Pop Art Museum. The open-air museum, a cooperative effort with Downtown San Angelo, Inc., is located a block from Paintbrush Alley, an outdoor mural space that was revamped in May 2019 and features a permanent tribute to the film Giant rendered by nearly 60 San Angelo artists. The Pop Art Museum, which opened in October, is housed in a now-roofless former bowling alley. It showcases more than 50 pieces, including some by San Angelo native and pop luminary James Francis Gill, an Andy Warhol contemporary, whose depiction of Marilyn Monroe graces the entrance. All works celebrate the vibrant midcentury aesthetic of the Pop Art movement. AIUP President Julie Raymond, an art teacher for 20 years, says these two 24-hour free museums have long been a dream of hers. “I love putting art in the public’s faces and seeing how it transforms people,” she says. “It heals us every day.” —S.L.E.
Rediscover Fort Worth
It’s fair to say that Cowtown is having a moment. Last May, it was recognized as the 13th largest city in the country in terms of population. Coming off the heels of that news, Fort Worth is determined to make everything bigger and better, starting with the $540 million Dickies Arena that opened in November. With 14,000 seats, the stadium will host everything from parts of the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo and March Madness games, to concerts from the likes of George Strait. Two blocks away, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art recently unveiled its yearlong renovation, which includes enlarged and expanded galleries to display newly acquired works by late artists Scott and Stuart Gentling, famous for their watercolor paintings of Texas landscapes and wildlife. In the historic Stockyards, old Mule Alley reveals an extensive update that adds new luxury lodging, Hotel Drover, and a herd of new shops like the Lucchese Collection and restaurants like The Biscuit Bar. Slightly off the well-trod path, the once-industrial Near Southside neighborhood now houses fresh occupants (like Leaves Book and Tea Shop, Locust Cider & Brewing Co., and Black Cat Pizza) that have transformed it into a booming entertainment district. —J.N.
Best time to visit: January and February fortworth.com
Expand your Mind at Upgraded Museums across the State
Several museums around the state benefited from updates, expansions, and new amenities in 2019. In September, the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum debuted with state-of-the-art exhibitions and a black-box theater in which Holocaust survivors, appearing as three-dimensional projections, answer questions posed by visitors. In the same month, the El Paso Museum of Art revamped and reinstalled its second-floor permanent-exhibition spaces, which display Latin American, early Texas, and American art, among others. The Holocaust Museum Houston completed a $34 million expansion in June, more than doubling its size and rebuilding its exhibition spaces. The Contemporary Austin’s Laguna Gloria campus grew with the addition of a café and shop carrying artist-designed merchandise in May. The café, called Épicerie at the Contemporary, offers French-Cajun fare and outdoor seating on a terrace verlooking the lush grounds near Lake Austin. —H.B.
Also set to debut in 2020
SeaWorld San Antonio will launch the state’s tallest, fastest, and longest wooden roller coaster, the Texas Stingray, this spring. With a 100-foot drop, it overtakes the previous record-holder, the Boardwalk Bullet in Kemah.
The historic P. A. Smith Hotel in Navasota will once again welcome visitors this summer. The former hotel, which was in operation from the mid-1800s to 1890, will undergo a complete renovation that preserves its past by retaining the building’s limestone walls and some of the hardwood flooring and beams. The hotel will also have a space devoted to historical photographs and memorabilia.
The Houston Farmers Market is remaking itself into a mecca for foodies. Opening in late 2020, the nearly 18-acre destination will offer on-site restaurants, including one headed by James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd. There will also be fresh fruits and vegetables, a butcher, and a fishmonger. —Heather Brand