The 2023 Texas Traveler’s Gift Guide

From dolphin cruises to wildflowers, what to get
the state explorers in your life this holiday season

The Holiday Wonder Dallas light display at Fair Park in 2017. Photo by Michael Amador

Our 2023 Gift Guide is for the curious Texas traveler. Though there are a few collector’s items on this list, the majority of our picks were selected with travel in mind. Whether your loved one is an active explorer, a voracious learner, or a seeker of new experiences, we’re sure you’ll find something for them here.

Follow the Lighthouse Trail to see the most famous rock formation at Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Photo by Bryan Frazier

Annual Texas State Parks Pass

If you know someone who frequents state parks or is looking to get outdoors more, an annual pass to the state parks system is a solid bet. A pass costs $70 and waives entrance fees to over 80 state parks for the pass holder and all guests in their vehicle for a full year.

Though you can only buy a park pass for yourself, you can purchase a Texas State Parks gift card. Your recipient can then use it to sign up for their own pass. Buy a gift card here.

The Texas Highways 2024 calendar’s cover image features Padre Island National Seashore. Photo by Jason Garza

Texas Highways Calendar

What better way to plan 2024 travels than with our annual calendar? It proudly showcases Texas’ natural beauty, as seen through the lenses of our talented photographers. Purchase for $14.95.

Artist Mishka Westell illustrated the cover art for the compilation album Texas Wild. Courtesy of Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation

Texas Wild Vinyl

In honor of the 100th anniversary of Texas State Parks, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation created Texas Wild. This album features songs from Texas musicians like Adrian Quesada, Paul Wall, and Sir Woman. Though the album was digitally released in May, the vinyl album debuts in December. Pre-order now for $24.99.

 

A bed of wildflowers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. Photo by Will van Overbeek

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Membership

This one’s for all the wildflower lovers out there. With tiers starting at $50, you can gift a membership to the Wildflower Center in Austin.

Recipients will receive free admission along with a subscription to Wildflower magazine; discounted plant, gift shop, and cafe purchases; and reduced rates for classes and programs. And if your recipient doesn’t live near the center, a membership also gets them reciprocal admission to more than 300 botanic gardens across North America. Senior prices are also available. See membership levels here.

Courtesy of The Texas Capitol Gift Shop

Texas Capitol Ornament

Every year since 1996, the Texas Capitol gift shop releases a new ornament. This year’s ornament marks the 28th in the collection and is an ode to the long-gone Texas Capitol Trolley. Purchase for $25.

Courtesy of the Blue Bell Country Store

James Avery Blue Bell Charm

The Kerrville-born jewelry brand James Avery released a new charm this year in collaboration with another iconic Texas company: Blue Bell Ice Cream. Treat your loved one to something sweet with this sterling silver and bronze charm. Purchase for $88.

 

The 1940 Air Terminal Museum is housed in the original art deco building that served as Houston’s first airport for passenger flight. Photo by John Clark

A Houston Museums Pass

The curious-minded will appreciate a pass that allows them to explore more than 10 museums in Houston. From free admission to the Houston Museum of Natural Science to discounts at the Rothko Chapel gift shop, one of these passes offers hours of entertainment. Options range from a day pass ($39.95 for adults) to a 30-day pass ($64.95 for adults). Grab a pass here.

A hot air balloon floats over Central Texas. Photo by Michael A. Murphy

Hot Air Balloon Ride

For those who seek a little more of a thrill, a hot air balloon ride makes for a unique experience. Flight times typically last about an hour and offer riders a beautiful view of the land below. There are plenty of companies that offer balloon excursions but these in Central and North Texas offer gift card options.

Austin Aeronauts was created in 1983 by local pilot David Smuck. The company offers rides in cities such as Austin, Round Rock, Georgetown, and San Antonio. Flights start at $229 per person.

Rohr Balloons began in 1994 under the ownership of Brian Rohr, who started developing his ballooning skills at the age of 6 with his father. The company offers group rides, champagne rides, private engagement flights, tethered rides, and more in North Texas. Flights start at $299 per person.

Dolphin watching on the Mustang cruiser at Neptune Charters in Port Aransas. Photo by Will van Overbeek

A Dolphin Watch Along the Gulf Coast

South Padre Island, Galveston, and Port Aransas all offer dolphin watch cruises that range from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours. The locations below offer digital gift cards.

The Original Dolphin Watch at SPI has been running tours since 1988. Excursions come with an “Eco-Tour” in which the crew collects a sample of marine life from the bottom of the bay and gives an educational presentation. The samples are then released back into the water. Tours start at $18.

Baywatch Dolphin Tours in Galveston is a family-owned business that’s served the area since 2005. The boarding area is located just two blocks from the historic Strand District. The dolphin tours now offer enclosed and heated viewing options. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $15 for children.

Neptune Charters in Port Aransas has been in operation since 1985. Tours embark aboard the Mustang, a 65-foot boat that holds up to 85 passengers. Aside from dolphins, guests can see migrating birds, experience a shrimp trawl, and access a live touch tank filled with sea critters. Tours are $38 for adults. Children and senior prices are available.

The University of Texas at Austin held a watch party on campus during the annular solar eclipse in October 2023. Photo by Danielle Lopez

A Ticket to an Eclipse Festival

When the total solar eclipse on April 8 occurs, Texas is expected to have some of the best views in the world. People are coming from all over to attend watch parties and partake in festivals celebrating the celestial event. Buy your loved one a ticket to the event of the century.

Eclipse Over Texas: Live From Waco
A ticket grants admission to the grounds of McLane Stadium in Waco. The event includes presentations by astronomers and science educators, interactive activities, and safe guided viewing of the sun as it progresses through the eclipse. Each ticket comes with a pair of ISO-certified solar glasses, available upon entry. Tickets  cost $20 per adult and $10 for each child between 5 and 17 years old. Children 4 and under enter free. Buy here.

Hill Country Solar Eclipse Fest
Located at Lucky Arrow Retreat in Dripping Springs, this event offers a general admission ticket that includes grounds access, a guided viewing, solar eclipse glasses, live music, and local beer and wine tastings. Tickets for adults cost $200 per person. Tickets for children under 12 cost $50. Buy here.

2024 Solar Eclipse Festival
General admission to this event includes access to eclipse viewing grounds at Grapetown Vineyard & Farm throughout the whole weekend. Tickets for adults cost $95 per person. Tickets for children ages 3-18 cost $20. Buy here.

 

A sign in Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood. Photo by Michael Amador

A City Food Tour

Thrill the foodies in your life with a food tour of one of Texas’ major cities. Knowledgeable guides in Dallas, Austin, Houston, and San Antonio offer delicious explorations of the cities’ neighborhoods and cuisine. Tours typically run between 2 to 3 hours and involve leisurely walks led by experienced locals.

Astroville Tours
No place in Texas offers more diverse culinary options than Houston. Try assorted international dishes in downtown Houston with Astroville Tours, a locally owned business that partners with the Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau. Tickets cost $62 per person. Purchase a gift certificate here.

Austin Eats Food Tours
Barbecue, brunch, and breweries are on the menu at Austin Eats Food Tours. Since 2011, this group has been leading people through some of the best culinary delights that downtown Austin has to offer. From brisket to breakfast tacos, get your foodie a taste of East Austin. Tours cost $75 per person. Get a gift card here.

Food Tours of America Dallas
Founded by a local Dallasite in 2011, Food Tours of America Dallas offer a variety of experiences. Options include a stroll through downtown Dallas, an exploration of historic Deep Ellum, and a visit to the site of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Tickets for adults start at $89. Get a gift card here.

Texas Books Released in 2023

Every year, an impressive cohort of Texans release memoirs, research books, novels, and cookbooks. What’s a road trip without a good book?

Covers courtesy of book publishers, identified below

Dinosaurs and Other Ancient Animals of Big Bend (UT Press)
By Cindi Sirois Collins and Asher Elbein
Purchase for $24.95.

Larry McMurtry: A Life (Macmillan Publishers)
By Tracy Daugherty
Purchase for $35.

The Big Time: How the 1970s Transformed Sports in America (Hachette Book Group)
By Michael MacCambridge
Purchase for $21.69

Black Chameleon: Memory, Womanhood, and Myth (Macmillan Publishers)
By Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton
Purchase for $27.99

LBJ’s America: The Life and Legacies of Lyndon Baines Johnson (Cambridge University Press)
By Mark Atwood Lawrence and Mark K. Updegrove
Purchase for $29.95

 

 

A Night of Screams: Latino Horror Stories (Arte Público Press)
Edited by Richard Z. Santos
Purchase for $24.95.

Armadillos to Ziziphus: A Naturalist in the Texas Hill Country (UT Press)
By David M. Hillis; fo reword by Harry W. Greene
Purchase for $29.95.

Texas State Parks: The First One Hundred Years, 1923-2023 (TCU Press)
By George Bristol
Purchase for $49.95.

The River Nuts: Down the Nueces with One Stroke (TCU Press)
By Avrel Seale
Purchase for $24.95.

Cemetery Birding: An Unexpected Guide to Discovering Birds in Texas (Texas A&M University Press)
By Jennifer L. Bristol
Purchase for $35.

The March 2024 cover of Texas Highways Magazine

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