A man on the slide at The Woodlands Resort's Forest Oasis Waterscape

The slides at The Woodlands Resort’s Forest Oasis Waterscape appeal to adults and kids alike.

Summer is the time to take yourself (and those you love) out of your day-to-day existence, even if your destination lies just a few miles down the road. A couple of days’ escape can help smooth life’s rough edges and restore energy. If you decide to plan a resort visit, expect to be pleasantly surprised by the range of choices that wait,, Whether you prefer an urban setting or a remote hideout, creative folks are conjuring delightful ways to help you enjoy stellar dining, explore Texas’ outdoors or splash away your stress. Resorts compete on delivering value, and try to outdo each other with nerve-settling spa treatments, entertaining music performances, and special getaway packages. Ask a few questions about customized experiences, and you might find yourself with a personalized wine selection and a dinner for two by the water, a sunset cruise, or rock climbing combined with kayaking.

Unwind in The Woodlands

The pine-lined drive that leads into The Woodlands Resort foreshadows the forested escape ahead. Some 30 minutes northwest of downtown Houston, the resort exudes a warm sophistication—a comfortable poshness, you might say—that holds appeal for families and solace seekers alike; for both
big spenders and the budget-minded.

Eat

The resort’s dining opportunities run the gastronomic and economic gamut. The Forest Oasis’ poolside Coolwater Cafe serves casual fare, including juicy cheeseburgers and a variety of wraps, and a crunchy and creamy Oreo milkshake. With soothing views of Lake Harrison, The Woodlands Dining Room spreads a big breakfast buffet (made-to-order omelets, sausages, fresh breads and pastries, and waffles), along with lunch and dinner options that range from smoked-chicken salad to tender filet mignon.

Play

Explore the resort’s 350 acres of natural forest and beyond on hundreds of miles of trails (bicycle rentals available). Bird-counters have tallied more than 200 species in these trees, including warblers and the red-cockaded woodpecker.

Ahhh moments await at the spa, where pampering (massages, nail service, facials) and a eucalyptus steam room refresh and relax. There are fairways to remember on two championship golf courses, and 21 indoor and outdoor tennis courts, with both hard and clay surfaces. Or simply splash the day away in the pools at the Forest Oasis Waterscape, an aquatic extravaganza with a three-story waterslide, pop fountains, and a 3-D underwater mural with music (a great way to get that reluctant little swimmer to submerge his head). Poolside on summer evenings, snack on s’mores and watch “dive-in” movies under the stars.

Several days’ worth of entertainment lies just two miles from the resort in The Woodlands’ Town Center and Market Street areas: shops, restaurants, parks, water-taxi rides, and outdoor concerts at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.

Stay

Choose the location of your lushly appointed lodging: secluded quarters in the woods, an executive suite with fairway views, or a cozy room beside the Forest Oasis. Special online packages include “Family of Four;’ “Tame Your Game [golf],” “Shoppin’ & Stylin,” and “Enchanted Romance.” Call 866/ 963-2174; www.woodlandsresort.com.

Fun in All Four Seasons

Of the three Four Seasons properties in Texas (Austin, Houston, and Irving), the I latter—the 400-acre Four Seasons Las Colinas Resort—has earned
an especially lofty honor: It’s the only AAA Five-Diamond Resort in Texas. What does that mean for guests? Service, amenities, and sophistication. And this summer especially, value, too.

Eat

Master Sommelier James Tidwell, one of only four Texans to hold that title, wields his influence at the resort’s new sports bar, 19. Here, an extensive wine list and cocktail menu tempt guests, as do shared dishes like short-rib sliders. During the summer, an outdoor grill by the main pool provides burgers, sandwiches, and other mainstays; over by the family pool and tennis courts, similar fare (plus smoothies, salads, and soups) comes from the kitchen at Racquets. And for elegant dining, you can’t beat the resort’s Cafe on the Green, where chef Katie Natale and her staff work culinary magic with seafood, poultry, meats, seasonal vegetables, and desserts.

Play

Lounging beneath tropical foliage at the main hotel pool, fresh-squeezed OJ or mai tai in hand, it’s easy to imagine yourself vacationing on Kauai. But more active pursuits await, too. Play tennis on indoor and outdoor hard courts; swim in an Olympic-size, indoor, saltwater lap pool; whack a volleyball back and forth at the new family pool; or work out at the fitness center, where helpful attendants will bring you cool towels, fresh magazines, and ice water while you tone up. New offerings for children and teenagers include access to Wii games, foosball, and other activities. And this is a golfer’s paradise: Test your skills on the resort’s gorgeous 18-hole, par-70 course, which was recently redesigned by PGA Tour champion D.A. Weibring and architect Steve Wolfard. The PGA tour’s annual HP Byron Nelson Championship, the largest professional golf event in Texas, takes place here in May.

At the spa, estheticians and therapists offer all manner of facials, massages, and other treatments. Guests can partake of the spa’s amenities (keyhole-shaped hot tub, cold dip, steam room and sauna, spa pool, and relaxing ambiance) independent of a spa service.

Stay

Newly refreshed guest rooms in the main hotel tower offer proximity to the main pool, Cafe on the Green, and the spa; while villas spread throughout the property offer privacy and views of the golf course or resort grounds. The “Summer Escape” package offers deep discounts on golf, spa, tennis, and dining. Call 972/717-0700; www.fourseasons.com.

Tarry in the Quarry

Most resorts, by definition, have this standard six-pack of amenities: sumptuous, lodging, restaurants, pools, spa, golf course, tennis. But in the southwest quadrant of San Antonio, a region long known for its limestone quarries, the Westin La Cantera Resort offers extra value, especially for families with teenagers. After all, most resorts don’t have worldclass rollercoasters—courtesy of Six Flags Fiesta Texas—in their backyards.

Eat

Seven restaurants and bars on the expansive resort satisfy all manner of dining and drinking options. The resort’s flagship restaurant, Francesca’s at Sunset, features a menu influenced by the cuisine of Mark Miller—think antelope chili, prawns with habanero dip, guajillo—rubbed filets of beef, and desserts like Kahlua-chocolate cake. Brannon’s, the resort’s casual (and health-focused) eatery, overlooks the pool area and offers selections like egg-white omelets, chicken tortilla soup, and Thai-inspired tenderloin-lettuce wraps. A wine list chosen by sommelier Steven Krueger features hundreds of international selections, but Krueger appreciates Texas wines, too—in particular Alamosa Wine Cellar’s Grenache, which he often includes in tastings and wine-themed dinners.

Play

Purchase half-price tickets to Fiesta Texas at the gift shop; take a free, five-minute shuttle ride to the nearby Shops at La Cantera, where retailers such as Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus await; or stay onsite and, dare we say it, chillax. There’s a lot to do (or not do): seven swimming pools, including a pool with a water slide and a secluded pool reserved for adults; tennis courts; a health club and spa; and two 18-hole golf courses. The PGA Tour’s Valero Texas Open, one of only four PGA tour sites in Texas, takes place here in May. During the summer, the resort hosts poolside movies, along with games and other activities for kids. And if you’re a parent but want to escape the little rascals while you shop or play through the Back 9, drop ’em off at the Kids’ Club, where they’ll keep busy with scavenger hunts, arts and crafts activities, and games.

Stay

More than 500 guest rooms include 63 secluded villas and suites. Package deals abound. Call 210/ 558-6500; www.westinlacantera.com.

Head for the Hill Country

Just an hour’s drive west of Austin, Horseshoe Bay Resort encompasses 7,000 , acres along the shores of Lake LBJ in an ultra-scenic pocket of the Texas Hill Country. You’ll find both condominium and hotel accommodations here, plus topnotch golf, tennis, and spa facilities, but don’t overlook the chance to simply while away a couple of relaxing hours by renting a boat and touring the resort by water. Or even spending the entire day on the water.

Eat

Horseshoe Bay Resort offers seven dining facilities; if you’re staying at the Marriott hotel, you’ll be a regular at The Lantana Bar and Grill, in the hotel lobby. The Lantana starts the day with a breakfast buffet and offers a full Southwestern-influenced menu, including a wine list with extensive international and Texas selections.

You’ll find two pub-style restaurants, each overlooking the 18th green of a different golf course. For upscale, fine dining, try the Resort Yacht Club, which offers a sophisticated continental menu in a relaxed, yet refined, atmosphere.

Play

Golfers can hit the links on three championship Robert Trent Jones, Sr. golf courses, but everyone can try a made-to-scale, 18-hole par-72 Bermuda grass putting course called Whitewater. Rejuvenate in the full-service spa offering a wide variety of body treatments, massage therapies, facials, and nail and salon services. Make a splash in one of four swimming pools, or Kids dive for treasure at The Woodlands Resort’s elaborate Forest Oasis Waterscape. play in the water on constant-level Lake LBJ (rent personal watercrafts and boats at the marina). In addition to pools, you’ll find 16 adult tennis courts, three USTA-sponsored Andy Roddick Kids Tennis Courts, and two fitness facilities.

Stay

Accommodations include The Horseshoe Bay Resort Marriott Hotel which offers nearly 400 rooms, including  more than 100 suites and nearby one-, two-, and three-bedroom villas. The resort also manages 50 lakefront condominiums, available in one-, two-, and three-bedroom floor plans, all completely furnished in a comfortable, even luxurious, style. Expect flat-screen televisions, iPod docking stations, spacious balconies, and fully equipped kitchens with granite countertops. Packages include an unlimited golf package, a spa package, and seasonal family deals. Call 800/531-5105; www.horseshoebaytexas.com.

Moonlight in the Pines

We’ve heard many times that, as you make the winding drive into the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa, you’ll feel like you’re entering a national park. The resort itself takes in 405 acres along the Colorado River, and right next door is the 1,100-acre McKinney Roughs Nature Park, operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority and open for the use of resort guests. This expansive Texas hotel resort welcomes you with approachable luxury in the midst of rugged wilderness.

Eat

Lost Pines offers delectable dining in more than half a dozen locations, ranging from the Firewheel Cafe, named for the colorful, orange-and-red wildflower, to Stories fine dining, the preferred spot to celebrate special occasions. When you are in a more casual mode, you can stop by the poolside grill, relax in one of the bars, or indulge your sweet tooth in McDade’s ice cream emporium.

Play

Activities abound: From spa treatments to horseback riding, the range of options starts with birding, hiking, and kayaking, and continues with golf and swimming. Or take a short trip into nearby Bastrop and shop in its historic district. The resort’s river recreation programs let you enjoy the Colorado River, either by raft or kayak, regardless of your skill level. Youngsters will want to take advantage of Camp Hyatt programs, which are designed to help kids make friends while enjoying a range of outdoor and craft activities.

Stay

The ranch-style hotel houses nearly 500 guest rooms, all designed to recall the rustic setting in a true resort style. You’ll find Texas-style furnishings, like comfy leather armchairs and, if you can’t get entirely away from the office, a true work-sized desk and the technology to keep you connected. Many rooms adjoin patios or balconies with views of the resort and the area’s natural beauty. Ask about this summer’s “Family Stay More Play More” package, which offers discounts and resort credits. Call 512/ 308-1234; ww.lostpineshyatt.com.

Other Great Getaways

The Houstonian, Houston

Enjoy the activities of the nation’s 4th most populous city, then retreat to this wooded 18-acre urban resort to relax. The Houstonian offers four restaurants, three pools, and access to the Houstonian’s exclusive fitness club and spa, plus two of the city’s finest golf courses. Call 800/ 231-2759; www.houstonian.com.

Gaylord Texan Resort Hotel, Grapevine

The sprawling Gaylord resort campus, which lies just six minutes from DFW International Airport and overlooks Lake Grapevine, encompasses six restaurants, seven lounges, eight shops, and a day spa and fitness center (complete with indoor and outdoor pools). Call 866/ 782-7897; www.gaylordtexan.com.

Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort and Spa, San Antonio

Family getaways couldn’t get much simpler- the resort offers golf, tennis, biking, a four- acre water park, numerous restaurants and lounges, a fitness center and spa, and easy access to theme-park fun and shopping, thanks to neighbors Six Flags Fiesta Texas and the Shops at La Cantera. Call 800/ 233-1234; www.hillcountryhyatt.com.

Lajitas Resort & Spa, Lajitas

This remote getaway in the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert offers luxuries you might not expect in the heart of the Big Bend-three restaurants, a spa, pools, and an 18-hole golf course (currently under renovation), plus a ranch-style decor with lots ofleather and wood. Easy access to canoeing, rafting, hiking, and other activities in Big Bend National Park, 22 miles east. Call 877 / 525-4827; www.lajitas.com.

Wildcatter Ranch Resort, Graham

Guests at this 1,500-acre ranch resort can play cowboy, but other amenities include an infinity-edge pool overlooking the Brazos River Valley, a spa, a well-regarded restaurant and saloon, and activities such as archery, canoeing, and skeet-shooting. Call 888/462-9277; www.wildcatterranch.com.

From the May 2009 issue
The September 2022 cover of Texas Highways: Visual Wonders


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