Here are complete lists of suggestions we’ve made.
Listen: We Will Rock You by Queen
Rock climing and Bouldering
We love to climb rocks at locales such as Enchanted Rock State Natural Area near Fredericksburg, the Barton Creek Greenbelt in Austin, and Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site in El Paso. But those rocks can get hot in the blaze of the Texas summer sun. That’s where indoor climbing gyms, like Austin Bouldering Project, come in.
Numerous rock gyms around the state offer a variety of climbing wall options and types of climbing, all within air-conditioned, padded comfort. Climbers say gyms make a great place to start rock climbing or to hone your skills, because expert staff members can teach you proper technique and provide encouragement. Gyms also have the equipment you need, such as climbing shoes.
Besides being a lot of fun, climbing offers body strengthening and a cardiovascular workout. No particular fitness level is required to hit the climbing wall, although if you have some upper body strength to begin with you’ll find it easier to get started. Determination and a willingness to get bumped around a bit also help. Climbing coaches urge beginners to stick with it for a while, and to not give up when they fall or struggle. Making it to the top of a challenging wall provides a real sense of accomplishment, in addition to building up those muscles. Along with gyms, many Texas universities have climbing gyms in their recreation centers—hey, kids, another reason to go to college!
Search for rock gyms in your area, from Amarillo to Wylie, at www.indoorclimbing.com/texas.html.
Listen: Surf City by Jan and Dean
Wakeboarding at Cable Parks
Boats? Where we’re going, we don’t need boats! Cable parks have been popping up around Texas for a few years now, offering opportunities for participants of all skill levels to wakeboard and ski while being pulled by elevated cables., located on 130 acres near the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, sports a cable system that can pull six riders around the lake at one time, with a variety of rails, jumps, and obstacles for boarders. Two-hour, four-hour, and day passes are available, as well as rental equipment, including helmets and life jackets. Call 512/298-9370.
Texas Ski Ranch near New Braunfels has three cable systems, a boat lake, and land-based skate and artificial-turf snow parks, making it possible to do just about anything on a board here. The Ranch offers coaching and beginner cables for newbies, and various jumps and other challenges for advanced riders. Retire to the on-site restaurant and bar afterward to toast your exploits. Call 830/627-2843.
WakeSport Ranch, located 30 miles from Fort Worth in Cresson, offers the complete wakeboarding experience on a lake with six cables, jumps, rails, obstacles, and 590-foot-long straight shots for real speed. For those who feel the need for speed on land, check out MotorSport Ranch, a 1.3-mile racetrack next door. Its DriveXotic program rents a Ferrari, Lamborghini, and other sports cars to visitors for seven-lap test runs. Call 817/366-7473.
WakeNation Houston, a cable park on a 12-acre lake, provides plenty of aqueous terrain for visitors to wakeboard, water ski, kneeboard, or wake skate. Sign the kids up for lessons, or turn them loose on the lake’s inflatable play scape—and brace yourself for their resistance when it’s time to go home. Call 281/431-4444.
Listen: Rolling in the Deep by Adele
Scuba Diving Texas
The San Solomon Springs pool at Balmorhea State Park refills every six hours with clear, spring water, providing visibility up to 80 feet in the 25-foot-deep, nearly two-acre pool. The 75-degree waters will keep you plenty cool as you swim among bubbling springs, catfish, Rio Grande tetra, and endangered Pecos gambusia and Comanche Springs pupfish. Call 432/375-2370.
For an ocean diving experience, check out the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, where protected coral reefs swarm with fish, sharks, rays, and sea turtles. Board charters in Galveston, Surfside, and Freeport to make the voyage 100 miles into the Gulf of Mexico. Call 409/621-5151.
Dive sites at Amistad National Recreation Area—the lake that straddles the United States-Mexico border near Del Rio—include shore-access Scuba Cove; Castle Canyon, a 100-foot-plus rock cliff; and the old US 90 bridge site, complete with a submerged picnic area. Call 830/775-7491.
Outdoor theaters, concerts and films
Theater has been a summer tradition since old William was penning hits like Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Many a Texas thespian has cut his or her stage teeth in a summer production, as shows go on all around the state.
Among the rolling hills just down the road from Round Top, the University of Texas’ Shakespeare at Winedale program makes its home in an 1894 barn that has been renovated as a theater. The program stages plays by Shakespeare and others year-round. This summer, July 16 to August 9, catch Twelfth Night, Henry V, Pericles, or John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi on Thursdays through Sundays. Tickets cost $10, $5 for students. Call 512/471-4726.
Miller Outdoor Theatre in Houston (pictured) offers free outdoor entertainment, including movies, music, and stage performances, multiple nights of the week throughout the summer. Catch the Houston Grand Opera’s presentation of The Magic Flute on May 22 and 23, or one of the frequent matinee children’s performances, such as the Journey Through China V dance show on June 29. Bring your own food and drink, as well as blankets or lawn chairs for the amphitheater lawn. Reserved seats under an awning require tickets, available for free on a first-come, first-served basis the morning of a performance. Call 281/373-3386.
Since 1959, the Beverly S. Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theater has presented free Broadway musicals under the stars near Barton Springs Pool in Austin. This year, Hairspray runs Thursdays through Sundays from July 10 to August 15, with shows starting at dusk (about 8:30). This musical comedy features big production numbers and soulful rhythm and blues. Bring a blanket and a picnic; no worries about the kids spilling the popcorn here. Call 512/479-9491.
“Music has charms to soothe a savage breast,” wrote William Congreve in his 1697 play The Mourning Bride. It apparently has charms to soothe the overheated brow as well, if outdoor concerts across our state are any indication. Let music soothe you at KGSR’s Blues on the Green, a series of free concerts held periodically on Wednesdays from late May to early August in Austin’s Zilker Park. Large crowds spread out over the park’s expansive soccer fields for a mix of music styles from local and regional bands. Bring blankets, lawn chairs, ice chests, and cash for treats like local coffees, sodas, and ice cream. Call 512/832-4000.
The Fort Worth Symphony Concert in the Gardens pairs the city’s symphony orchestra and its botanic garden near downtown for an eclectic selection of music—pop, bluegrass, symphony, and rock bands with symphony backing—starting at 8:15 on 16 weekend nights in June and July. Lawn seating costs $22 in advance and $27 at the gate for most shows.
The Dallas Arboretum’s Cool Thursdays concerts (pictured below) are held on a grassy, sloped lawn overlooking White Rock Lake, a crown jewel of the city. Gates open at 6 p.m. and music plays from 7:30 to 9:30 on Thursdays during the summer. Shows this May and June include tributes to Bruce Springsteen, Buddy Holly, and Bon Jovi, and on July 2, the Dallas Winds’ “Patriotic Tribute to America.” Guests are encouraged to bring picnic baskets and ice chests or take advantage of food trucks. Tickets are $27 for adults, with discounts for members, seniors, and children. Call 214/515-6615.
Cinema al Fresco
At drive-in theaters back in the 1950s and ’60s, screens were outdoors, but viewers mostly stayed in their cars. Many even watched the movie. Only a few drive-ins remain in Texas, but today, a new breed of outdoors movie theaters provides opportunities for watching stars on the screen beneath stars in the sky.
Trees lining the wooden fence around the walk-in Corral Theatre in Wimberley seem to jostle for a better view of the screen as they rustle in the breezes from the Blanco River. Grab a retro metal lawn chair or bring your own to catch $5 family-friendly movies—along with a river breeze. The gate opens at 7 p.m., and movies start at 8. Popcorn costs $1. Cash only. Call 512/847-5994.
In Port Isabel, the broad, white wall of the historic Port Isabel Lighthouse usually doubles as an outdoor screen for summer movies, but this year, renovation of the 1852 structure has moved free movies to the nearby lawn of the Port Isabel Event and Cultural Center. Movies take place at 9:30 p.m. on Fridays in June and July. Concessions are available, or you’re
welcome to bring your own. Call 956/943-7602.
At various locations statewide, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s Rolling Roadshow turns movies into theme events. Think of watching Jaws while floating in a lake—all the better to freak out—or listening to a live band appropriately paired with the movie. The summer 2015 roadshow schedule was pending as of press time. Call 512/861-7084.
Riding Texas’ Rivers
Texas has nearly 191,000 miles of rivers and streams, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, providing adventurous travelers with plenty of opportunity to explore new perspectives of the Lone Star State. From the Neches River to the Colorado, Brazos, Devils, and Rio Grande, outfitters can recommend trips of various lengths and difficulties for those who want to navigate these public waterways beyond the sprawl of our cities and towns, past farms and ranches, and into the wilderness where roads just don’t go.
In East Texas, paddle 40 miles of the Neches River through the Big Thicket National Preserve. Eastex Canoe Trails provides canoes or kayaks, paddles, maps, shuttles, and their local expertise for the two-nights-plus outing. The outstanding scenery includes cypress and tupelo sloughs, oxbow lakes, and shores thick with mixed pine and hardwood forest. Camp on snow-white sandbars and watch for herons, egrets, and kingfishers on the shore—and if you’re really lucky, beaver or otter—as well as fish, turtles, and the occasional alligator. One-night Village Creek trips explore similar scenery, but are shorter and less remote. Call 409/385-4700.
For serious solitude and scenery, try a two-day float on the Rio Grande through Big Bend National Park’s Santa Elena Canyon with Big Bend River Tours. Day one reaches the mouth of the canyon to set up camp on the sandy shore while guides prepare a campfire supper. With no man-made lights for miles, prepare to be awed by the stars. On day two, navigate the river through this 10-mile slash in the park’s Mesa de Anguila, where canyon walls top 1,500 feet and sometimes narrow to a 30-foot gap. Conditions are best in mid-July through October.
If your appetite for adventure remains unsated, venture into Big Bend National Park’s lower canyons and the 83 miles of Wild and Scenic River beyond. That’s at least seven days on the water with only one way out—downstream. Call 800/545-4240.
SUP (Stand-up paddle boarding)
Stand-up paddleboarding combines the best of summer fun in Texas: sun, exercise, and easy access to swimming. Opportunities abound statewide for trying out the trend of paddling surfboards on lakes, rivers, and the ocean. At Lake Carolyn in Irving, Stand Up Paddle North Texas sells and rents boards for plying the Las Colinas canals—through tunnels and under fountains. Call 972/567-7871.
In Austin, the activity has exploded in popularity on Lady Bird Lake. Rent equipment at the Texas Rowing Center and paddle one-and-a-half miles upstream to explore scenic Red Bud Isle. Call 512/467-7799. Also, The Expedition School on the northeast shore of Lady Bird Lake leads full-moon outings on June 13, July 12, and August 10. Call 512/626-6282.
A few minutes of basic instruction will get you up and going, but a formal class will prepare you for handling wind and other challenges. Once you’ve got it down, maybe you’ll want to try another trend—paddleboard yoga.
Listen: Land Down Under by Men at Work
The Caverns of Sonora lie in remote West Texas, beneath arid ground dotted with stubby live oaks, prickly pear cactus, and limestone boulders. But you’ll want to make the trip underground to see what speleologists describe as some of the most highly decorated caves on the planet.
The sights include the jumbled rocks and pitted walls of the Devil’s Pit, surreal Halo Lake—with water so clear it looks as if it isn’t even there—and the delicate, helictite-covered walls of Crystal Palace.
Guided walking tours cover about two miles and require about 360 stair steps. The cave’s temperature of 71 degrees feels more like 85, thanks to 98 percent humidity. That’s cooler than outdoors in the summer, but hardly sweater weather. If you’re feeling more adventurous, reserve the four-hour Discovery Challenge tour, which includes a 50-foot rappel into Devil’s Pit. Call 325/387-3105.
Look to the stars
At night, soak up the stars shining in dark skies across the state. In Burnet, Canyon of the Eagles Resort hosts telescope viewings at the Eagle Eye Observatory, led by members of the Austin Astronomical Society. Lodging and camping on-site make it easy to stargaze to your heart’s content. Check with the front desk for the latest observatory schedule. Call 800/977-0081.
At George Observatory at Brazos Bend State Park in Needville, the Houston Museum of Natural Science operates three domed telescopes, and amateur
astronomers set up a dozen or so more around an outdoor plaza. Public viewings are held every Saturday, starting just after twilight. Indoor celestial-themed exhibits open at 3 p.m. Call 281/242-3055.
You haven’t really star-partied Texas-style, though, until you’ve taken in the skies at The University of Texas McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, one of the darkest places in the state. Star parties every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday night include guided viewing of constellations, planets, stars, and galaxies. Call 877/984-7827.