Last week, we catalogued the 10 most overhyped car-pointed destinations around Houston.
This week, we look at the road-trip spots that are actually worth the rising cost of fuel.
Once away from the madness of the I-35 feeder road chaos, these Hill Country spots, though growing and growing because of their convenient proximity to San Antonio and Austin, remain very much unchanged.
Along with the standbys like Wurstfest at Landa Park and the Faust Hotel and Brewing Company, the thrifting in NB is dynamite (half-off a $2 long-sleeve button-up shirt!), the eating/drinking is killer (including the farmers' market on Saturdays), and over in Gruene, there's the historic Gruene Hall icehouse meets barn meets honky tonk meets old-school German Texas.
The Comal River can be a madhouse in the summer, but it’s quite a long creek – plus there’s nearby Canyon Lake – so there are plenty of other cozy spots for kayaking, fishing and lazing.
Austin, one of the most saturated-with-BS spots ever, likes to claim that it has a stranglehold on quirk — with its pinkie finger extended, of course. That distinction has shifted 100 percent up to the relaxed, affordable Denton, where, in one night, you can:
Smoke in a bar booth that’s encased in a faux steel cage;
Walk around the corner on the square (where there’s free parking) to a speakeasy;
Walk by the courthouse and into the basement of a pizza spot to see a touring pop-punk act or a local skronk-guitar-fronted, anti-music group with a jacked-up name like Bukkake Moms, Baby Blood, Flesh Narc or Sin Evil;
Stroll to Recycled Books in between sets for a sweet selection of records and books;
And cap the night by paying a $1 cover charge to get into Rubber Gloves for another show that’s often accompanied by free train noises (because the industrial-ish-style space is, like, five feet from the railroad tracks).
Other than the book/record store splurge, you might spend $35 or $40 for the night.
Odessa (not Midland)
For the past few years, the scene in the better half of the Petroplex (Midland is the pits) is a bit downtrodden because of the oil, gas and energy crisis, but that’s a breeze for folks in the Jackrabbit Capital of Texas, and what makes Odessa Odessa.
If you insist on dorking out on a landmark from Friday Night Lights (the H.G. Bissinger book and the original movie, and not the TV series because that was shot in Austin), there’s Ratliff Stadium, home to the Odessa Bronchos and the Permian Panthers. But don’t bother if it’s not football season; instead, check out the drive-through Cowgirls Coffee or a wrecked dive bar (and there are plenty) such as Woody’s Lounge.
For an upscale vibe, head over to Highway 191 to the cocktail lounge Proof. Also on Highway 191 is Cork and Pig, obviously built for the oil-industry rich, and fill up on the full bar and wood-oven fired pizza. There’s an outdoor patio where you can drink and eat, look at the nearby upscale hotels and apartment complexes (which are mostly dark and abandoned these days), breathe in air choked with dust and hard work and broken dreams, and binge on crazy Odessa.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Santa Fe gets the kudos, but Albuquerque is the city in the Land of Enchantment (or Land of Entrapment, as the locals say) with the substance.
The weather in ABQ is near perfect year-round (four seasons, all mild, usually always sunny), so you can be outdoors all freaking day. Burque is bike-friendly, especially the Paseo del Bosque trail, which can be linked to Tramway Boulevard in creating a loop route around the sprawled city. The Sandia Mountains, a 25-minute drive from downtown, offer countless hikes, including a jaunt to the site of the TWA Flight 260 crash in 1955. (Mangled debris remains in “TWA Canyon.” Dark.)
But the thing about Albuquerque is the New Mexican food. It’s the best. It’s cheap. It lives up to every single superlative thrust upon it. And it needs to be eaten en masse before, during and after seeing an indie movie at The Guild or the KiMo Theatre, drinking coffee at Zendo or Michael Thomas, or at the private bar Albuquerque Press Club (don’t worry, there are ways for non-members to get in) and other downtown bars like Sister and Anodyne.
Inks Lake State Park
Most of Texas’s state parks are awesome. Inks Lake could be one of the most overlooked.
Located in the Hill Country in Burnet – and a less crowded Hill Country adventure alternative to Dripping Springs and Fredericksburg – Inks Lake is chill to the max. It’s quiet, and there are hikes to a waterfall and through shady tree growth, as well as fishing opps. When the weather is the perfect mix of warm-but-not-too-hot during the day, the Colorado River is insanely perfect for swimming and kayaking. And if you’re feeling lazy and don’t feel like campground cooking, Opie’s in Spicewood isn’t too far away for barbecue.
Cowtown is not part of Dallas. That’s partially why it’s worth a linger.
The small-town-in-a-bigger-city charm infuses spots such as the Kimbell and Amon Carter art museums, the Stockyards, and Billy Bob’s honky tonk that’s outfitted with an indoor rodeo arena. There’s also a lower-brow scene at the vegan Spiral Diner (yeah, we know there’s a location in Dallas, too; hush, Dallas), the 1919 Hemphill music venue, and Lee Harvey Oswald’s grave at Rose Hill Cemetery.
Unlike the eastern half of the Metroplex, the people here are darn friendly. And Complete, one of the weirdest all-time bands (think a male version of The Shaggs), calls Fort Worth its home.
All of the trash talk that’s heaped on El Paso is usually by those who have only driven on Interstate 10 and passed by ELP on their way into or out of Texas.
Y’all should actually stop and stay a minute. ELP is crazy safe, the food is cheap and delicious and sometimes found in non-traditional spots (for instance, the H&H Car Wash and Coffee Shop), and there’s heaps of nightlife, including shows at Lowbrow Palace and drinks at The Black Orchid Lounge.
Then there’s the Franklin Mountains State Park. 24,247 acres of desert and hiking and wildlife and camping outings? About 30 minutes away from the center of town? Wait, what’s wrong with El Paso again?
The history of Louisiana’s third-largest city is unbeatable.
The temporary Confederate capital during the Civil War. The birthplace of Lead Belly. The home of the Louisiana Hayride, a radio and television program that helped the careers of Hank Williams Sr. and Elvis, who, as a local once told us, probably lost his virginity at one of Shreveport’s many brothels in the red light district.
Today, the brothels on Texas Avenue have been preserved and turned into raw-looking living and culture spaces (such as the Minicine? art film and music venue). There’s also an abundance of street and mountain biking trails as well as supreme grub at Jack’s Bar-B-Q and Strawn’s Eat Shop.
Big Bend National Park
Big Bend isn’t overrated or underrated. It’s perfect. But the overrated thing to do is to stay for only a night or two.
The $25-per-vehicle entry fee gives you seven days in the park (or just fork over $40 for the annual pass). Take advantage.
One day and night, you can be in shorts and a tee along the Rio Grande. The next, up high in the Chisos Basin with long johns and a light sleeping bag.
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See where we’re going? You’re blissed out for about two seconds and then packing up the vehicle to the next campsite.
The Alamo and Riverwalk. Whatev. Texans know (or should know) that the nation’s seventh-largest city has a farther reach outside of the tourist traps.
The food (Taco Taco Cafe, Cascabel) is amazing and cheap. The handful of cocktail lounges (The Paramour, The Brooklynite) and beer bars (The Friendly Spot) rule. The art space complex on Fredericksburg Road (Nite Lite and K23 Gallery) is weird. Plus there’s 41 miles of developed anti-car paths for walkers and runners and cyclists.
And it’s not Austin.