The Judd Residence Block

The writers who contribute to Texas Highways exemplify a few traits in common: They’re experienced travelers guided by curiosity, adventure, culture, and hard-earned wisdom.

Texas Highways readers share photos and thoughts on their most inspiring places.

And perhaps most important, they’re fascinated by Texas, so much so that they aim to make a living by exploring the state’s farthest reaches, hidden nooks, and iconic destinations, and then sharing their experiences with you, their fellow travelers.

With this breadth of experience at our fingertips, we couldn’t help but wonder about the places that Texas Highways writers love the most. So we asked a handful of regular contributors to identify some of their favorite places in Texas, be they in their own backyard or somewhere out on the road, and tell us what they love about them. We hope their selections will inspire you to think about your favorite places across Texas. Be sure to keep us in the loop!


The Buffet Restaurant at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

Photo by Michael Amador

The Kimbell Art Museum is at 3333 Camp Bowie Blvd. Call 817/332-8451.

Like a lot of people, I seek out museums when I travel. But I also spend an inordinate amount of time in museum cafés. The atmosphere of a good museum café pulls me out of time and settles me in a world—my chair, stool, or booth—literally surrounded by artistic inspiration. I do some of my best thinking that way.

I don’t know why it took me decades of courting my creative muse in far-flung cafés to discover I could have coffee with her in my hometown of Fort Worth. Just before Christmas one year, I stopped at the Kimbell Art Museum for a gift shop run. I plodded up the broad travertine steps to the gallery level, overwhelmed by obligations, my head full of deadlines. Drawn into the light that fills Louis Kahn’s vaulted masterpiece, I stepped into a calm I recognized—and headed straight for the café. From my seat, I could see Aristide Maillol’s L’Air, a bronze female figure, floating in a courtyard. European masterworks beckoned from across the corridor. Cupping my warm coffee mug, I realized I was steps away from Michelangelo’s first known painting. And just like that, I lay my burdens down.

Now I return regularly to the Kimbell’s café for creative therapy. I can energize myself in 10 minutes or 20, view one painting or a dozen, before or after my coffee. Or I can simply sit quietly in my spot. No entce fee and no passport required. And the buffet lunch is mighty tasty, too.



Tarpon Inn, Port Aransas

Photo © Tosh Brown

The Tarpon Inn is at 200 E. Cotter Ave. in Port Aransas. Call 361/749-5555.

Ceiling fans line the long, wide porch of the Tarpon Inn, turning lazily in the afternoon heat. This building has looked out on Port Aransas since 1862, when the town was called Ropesville and the property was constructed to house Union troops during the Civil War. An entrepreneur converted the barracks into the Tarpon Inn in 1886, and the town took on the temporary name of Tarpon a few years later, in honor of the sport fish that drew anglers from far and wide. I’ve come to catch nothing more than the sea breeze that ruffles the palm trees, and to relinquish the workweek, like a wave disappearing on the sand.

I grew up on the Texas coast, addicted to warm sun and the splash of salty waves on my skin. I also find the character and curiosities of old inns irresistible. The Tarpon Inn combines these two passions in one place. After hurricanes in 1916 and 1919 inflicted major damage, a new owner rebuilt with 40-foot pilings that are planted 10 feet deep in concrete and reach into the attic. The inn has weathered whatever nature has doled out since, remaining an oasis of calm as a bustling beach town grew up around it.

In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt caught a 77-pound tarpon while vacationing here. One of its palm-sized scales bearing his signature adorns the lobby wall, along with thousands of such tributes to the ones that didn’t get away. Within walking distance of the Tarpon Inn lies one of the most inviting beaches in Texas, as well as a marina, fishing piers, dolphin-watch tours, restaurants, and shops. Tempting, if I can ever leave my rocking chair on the porch.



Tyler State Park, Tyler

Tyler State Park

Photo © Randy Mallory

Tyler State Park is at 789 Park Road 16. Call 903/597-5338.

My wife Sallie starts the fitness app on her smartphone, and we’re off on our hike at Tyler State Park. Its tree-shaded hills lie just eight miles north of our Tyler home, so the park has become our “go-to” getaway. The two-mile Lakeshore Trail makes for an easy stroll along the park’s cool, clear 64-acre lake. We follow that with a challenging hike across the rollercoaster ridges of the two-mile D Loop Trail. If we want to push it, we ramble another 1.5 miles on the connecting C Loop Trail with an elevation rise of 131 feet.

We walk for fitness and fresh air, but also for stopping, looking, and listening. Maybe it’s a ramrod-straight loblolly pine vaulting 100 feet in the air. Maybe it’s the rat-a-tat-tat of an unseen woodpecker boring for a bug. Maybe it’s the wind rattling leaves on the oaks, sweetgums, and hickories.

Inevitably, our hikes end lakeside with a sunset picnic. When our kids were young, we picnicked near the playground. These days we simply spread a blanket or set our camp chairs on the grassy slope by the boat ramp for dinner with a view. To our left, anglers reel in their lines from a narrow pier. Straight ahead, paddle-boaters and kayakers zigzag across the cove. To our right, RVers lounge beside their rigs as the smell of cooking wafts through the campground.

Golden shafts of light cast a spell across the shoreline trees and tall grasses, signaling the end of a very fine day.



Spanish Governor’s Palace, San Antonio

Spanish Governor's Palace

Photo © Randall Maxwell

The Spanish Governor’s Palace is at 105 Military Plaza. Call 210/224-0601.

When I stroll through the rooms of the Spanish Governor’s Palace on Military Plaza in San Antonio, I can’t help but think, if only for a moment, “Gee, maybe the city would let me live here. I really wanna live here.”

That flight of fancy, though impossible, is still simpatico with the romanticized history of the site. Its first four rooms completed in 1749, the diminutive Casa de Capitan initially served as the office and domicile of the Spanish presidio commander. The building became a private Mexican home in the 1820s, and then in the late 19th Century, it housed a series of stores and saloons, and fell into disrepair. In 1915, conservation pioneer Adina de Zavala led a campaign to save the modest structure from the wrecking ball, and the city purchased it in 1929.

Decorated with Spanish Colonial furnishings, the 10-room home today reflects architect Harvey P. Smith’s 1930 restoration and reconstruction. Historians view Smith’s restoration as a nod to the then-new Southwestern style, which incorporated picturesque features from the Hispanic heritage of California and New Mexico.

Remarkably, the double-eagle keystone dated 1749 above the building’s entrance has remained intact. Though the walnut doors below it appear of similar vintage, they were crafted by master woodcarver Peter Mansbendel for the 1930 restoration. My other favorite features include an unplastered section of the interior north wall, revealing the portion of the home originally constructed of adobe, and a rear patio and enclosed courtyard—an inviting spot to linger and let my mind wander



La Especial Bakery, San Benito

La Especial Bakery

Photo by Kevin Stillman

La Especial Bakery is at 350 W. Robertson St. Call 956/399-6829.

Empanadas plump with pineapple or pumpkin filling, soft concha rounds crusted with yellow sugar, crunchy sweet orejas (shaped like ears), pig-shaped molasses cookies. … The fragrance, artistry, and taste of authentic Mexican sweet breads, called pan dulce, at La Especial Bakery have captivated San Benito residents since 1941.

Sure, the neighborhood bakery makes breads, muffins, and 16 kinds of sugar cookies, along with masa for tortillas and tamales, but…

“Pan dulce is what people come for,” says Miguel Ornelas, grandson of the founder, who runs the bakery with his father and siblings. La Especial uses between 2,600 and 4,100 pounds of flour weekly but, nonetheless, quickly sells out of triple batches of sweet breads. “We tell customers to stop by in the morning, because in the afternoon, there won’t be any left,” Miguel says.

The bakery’s seductive, yeasty aroma sometimes mingles with other tantalizing scents. La Especial fires up its domed brick oven on weekends to cook barbacoa. In November and December, the eight-foot-deep oven roasts up to 47 turkeys at a time.

Miguel bags my choices: a croissant–like cuernito, anise mini-breads, ojos (tiny cakes circled by pie dough), and more. I don’t go far. Across the street on the resaca bank, shaded by hackberry trees, I bite into a pineapple empanada, one of life’s small pleasures.



Kwahadi Museum of the American Indian, Amarillo

Kwahadi Museum of the American Indian

Photo courtesy Amarillo Convention and Visitor Council

The Kwahadi Museum of the American Indian is at 9151 I-40 East. For a schedule of performances, call 806/335-3175.

Whenever I mention the Kwahadi Museum of the American Indian in Amarillo to fellow Texans, their typical response is something like, “I’ve never heard of that. What is it?” In my opinion, the relatively little-known museum is the best place in Texas to view the culture of the High Plains and Pueblo indigenous people through art, history, song, and dance.

Along with exhibits about Native American life, the museum features the paintings of Thomas E. Mails, an author and artist who captured tribal ways in oil paintings, and pastel and charcoal illustrations. Mails, who consulted with actor and director Kevin Costner on the film Dances with Wolves, helped start the museum with the donation of his art collection and archives. But perhaps the museum’s most compelling displays are the regular performances by the Kwahadi Dancers, who transform history and art into a swirl of color and motion.

Named for a band of Comanches who hunted on the Texas plains, the group dates to 1944 when members of the local Boy Scouts of America began performing authentic Native American dances. The “fancy dancers” of the Kiowa Clan look like spirits strutting their brilliant plumage, while the “Fire Hoop” dancers use a fiery hoop to dramatic effect and the “Kit Fox and Papoose” showcases younger dancers in training. The dancers tell the stories of the Plains Indians not with objects and art, but with energy and heart. It’s not just a museum, it’s a “must see ’em.”



Discovery Green, Houston

Discovery Green

Photo © Marc Tobin

Discovery Green is at 1500 McKinney St. Call 713/400-7336.

My daughter and her friend tie on their skates and venture onto the crowded ice rink. Fifty feet away, on a sunny expanse of grass and pavement, nearly 200 Zumba enthusiasts perform an aerobic dance routine. At The Grove restaurant, diners enjoy an al fresco lunch.

It’s a typical weekend afternoon at Discovery Green, a 12-acre park just beyond the shadow of Houston’s skyline. Since its opening in 2008, Discovery Green has emerged as a focal point of the revitalization of downtown H-town. Located across from the busy George R. Brown Convention Center, the park replaced a pair of parking lots the city purchased in 2002. In short order, the public-private partnership Discovery Green Conservancy raised $54 million in community contributions for the $122 million project. Today, the park hosts 400 free events and sees 1.2 million visitors annually.

But numbers don’t tell the whole story. The park pulses with an impos-sible-to-miss civic energy. Some of my favorite cultural experiences in Houston are the park’s free Thursday concerts each spring and fall, which showcase a mix of local up-and-comers, Texas legends, and diverse national touring acts. There are also public art installations, an artisan flea market, and movies on the lawn. On hot days, crowds of kids splash in the granite Gateway Fountain, which spouts 14-foot streams of water.

No matter if you prefer your fun hot or cold, Discovery Green is the place to be.



The Judd Residence Block, Marfa

The Judd Residence Block

Photo by J. Griffis Smith

The Judd residence block is at 400 W. El Paso St. in Marfa. Call the Judd Foundation for information about tours, 432/729-4406.

The burnished surfaces of influential artist Donald Judd’s fabricated metal objects invite speculation about the medium and the sculpture, as well as about the artist who designed them. To find the intersection of this speculation with the reality of the artist’s life, visit the Donald Judd residence compound in Marfa. There you’ll find rare insight into the enigmatic artist, along with a flash of the creative energy that fuels Marfa itself.

The Judd compound consists of an entire city block surrounded by a 10-foot adobe wall. The enclosure embraces a pair of arched-roof warehouses, a two-story house, and other structures. On tours offered by the Judd Foundation, visitors step through a nondescript door in the adobe wall into a new dimension.

Everything inside the buildings remains as it was in 1994, when a terminally ill Judd made his final exit from the compound, and from the town he had made his own.

Donald Judd lived and worked here when he was in Marfa, and touring its spaces is both eerie and inspiring. Drawings hint at works in progress. Private spaces suggest personal interests: Navajo weaving and silver jewelry; Pueblo pottery; an eclectic library.

Here it is possible to theorize about the progression of Judd’s work and imagine a connection between the private person and the very public persona that now inspires everything from internationally recognized art installations to bumper stickers.

The open galleries and collections hint at the energy behind Judd’s mission and legacy.

From the September 2014 issue

Get the Magazine

Save up to 62% off the cover price


Sign Up for Our Newsletters

Sign up for magazine extras, upcoming events, Mercantile specials, subscription offers, and more.