Despite Houston’s remote and kind-of inconvenient location to the rest of the contiguous states, there are some killer driving destinations in and outside of Texas.
These aren’t it. Galveston
Driving time from Houston: Feels like three to 300 hours.
It’s cool to live so close to an enormous swimming pool, but when the water is a staging area for corporate oil, a kiddy pool in the backyard seems like a much better choice than burrowing your feet into Galveston Island’s grotty beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. The Strand isn’t a bad spot, but the supposed-to-be one-hour drive is always much longer because of the congestion and construction and chaos.
Driving time from Houston: It’s also about an eight-hour flight (with layover) to Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
West Texas is best Texas. But not here. Despite its remote location in the Trans-Pecos sticks, the irony-seeking playground of Marfa is basically Austin west and Brooklyn far west.
In this hipster colony, you’ll find a barista wearing a PBR mesh-back cap, visitors gawking over the clean-line architecture, and nothing to do, especially if it’s a weekday, after walking the town’s ten-minute perimeter. If you’re set on a West Texas excursion, swing through Marfa for a minute and then head 30 minutes to pretention-free Alpine. Or just save the eight-plus-hour drive and look at Marfa on Tumblr.
Driving route from Houston: Stay home in your jammies.
Here are the things to do in Dallas:
Shop (if you’re into that)
Get in the car and deal with road-raging freaks
Shop some more
More vehicular indignation
Get fed up with Dallas
For all of its curb appeal, there’s not much substance outside of the bling scene. The exact opposite is true in ugly-on-the-outside, beautiful-on-the-inside Houston.
Besides the State Fair of Texas in October, the best part about Dallas is seeing it in the rearview. So why are they building northbound bullet-train tracks to Big D?
Driving time from Houston: Take the one-hour flight.
NOLA is incredible, but it’s also pain-in-the-ass central. There’s often an obnoxious festival to fend off in both the humanity mass and the increased lodging prices. (Speaking of festivals, Jazz & Heritage Festival 2016? Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam? That’s jazz?) Parking is awful and not always safe. And aside from the sweet drive on the Horace Wilkinson Bridge over the Mississippi River, the five- to six-hour jaunt along I-10 is mostly forgettable.
Our advice: Go to NOLA. By plane.
Driving time from Houston: Driving a little more than three hours to eat at the original Whataburger isn’t worth it.
The self-anointed Sparkling City by the Sea must refer to the reflective scraps of plastic, busted glass and other trash shards that are in the water and on the beaches and in the parks. The novelty of the Texas Riviera wears thin shortly after you cruise Ocean Drive (and avoid all the potholes on the way) because if it’s not humid and windy, it’s dry, hot and windy.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Driving time from Houston: Far too long when Santa Fe is the destination.
Since you’re a Texas-bred road dog, you can tackle a double-digit-hour driving trip, no problem. You’ll drive 13 hours – probably in one go – through the edges of North Texas, pit stop at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo and cruise into New Mexico.
You’ll arrive at Santa Fe’s historic plaza, wreck your eyes on turquoise and kokopellis, ruin your ears on pan-flute jams, and eat overpriced New Mexican dishes adorned with off-season green chile.
This will take an hour and a half. Bored, you might drive for a bit and hike the forever crowded Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks or Bandelier National Monument.
We’ve only been here four, five hours. Now what? Friends, you have just experienced Santa Fe.
Advice: Go ahead and check out Santa Fe, but then drive an hour south and make Albuquerque and the surrounding hikes and hot-springs soaks and cheap, best-food-ever spots a solid home base.
Driving time from Houston: In this case, it’s all about the journey and not the destination.
This is the Hill Country’s version of Dallas, where shopping is the main attraction. It’s pretty and quaint, but boredom-filled after you check out yet another cheeseball gallery. The pace and excitement pick up a tad when festivals like Oktoberfest set up shop at the Marktplatz, but that scene can be exhausted in about an hour.
Oh, but there’s also nearby Enchanted Rock. But wait, there’s a long line of cars to get into the grounds, and the “hike” to the “top” takes minutes.
Makes sense. It’s a rock, after all, and not a mountain. Or even a hill.
South Padre Island
Driving time from Houston: Can a car outrace a drone?
If the frat party atmosphere, heaps of trash and douche bars don’t turn you off, how about drone spying?
That’s right. The South Padre Island Police Department recently introduced drone technology to monitor beach activity, and it’s not going to stop after spring breakers crawl back home.
What everyone wants during an ideal beach holiday: a nice drink, an 800-page-plus novel that can double as a pillow, and robot surveillance hovering only 250 feet above the sand.
Driving route from Houston: There’s plenty of sports/sideshows in Clutch City.
It’s home to the Dallas Cowboys, the Texas Rangers, Six Flags, the International Bowling Museum and The Parks at Arlington shopping mall.
Even locals hate it all.
According to Stratos Jet Charters, Arlington, which attracts around 10 million visitors each year, ranks as the country’s top “tourist-hating city.” The study analyzed disparaging tourist-related tweets and Arlington took the prize, finishing ahead of New York City, Las Vegas, New Orleans and San Francisco.
At least they’re number one in something!
Driving route from Houston: Take I-10 to Highway 71. Stop at Hruska’s in Ellinger for kolaches. Then turn the car around and go home.
It’s said all of the time: Austin isn’t like the rest of Texas. That’s not a good thing.
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Austin can be fun for a weekend, just like Disneyland or other manufactured “paradises.” Just be prepared for a bombardment of marketing slogans like “only in Austin,” insane claims such as “Austin invented food trucks” and locals talking over a band’s set (and sometimes even advising the onstage musicians on the room mix/volume levels).
Then there’s the traffic. Oh, that traffic. And the cedar fever allergy season that seems to last into the summer. And the nouveau riche tea-sips crowding the artisanal coffeeshops and pre-Prohibition cocktail spots. And so many “indie” businesses playing ’80s music over the PA because they think it’s hip and ironic.
Maybe Austin isn’t worth even a day trip.