Don’t pretend you haven’t pictured yourself speeding down Route 66 in search of Cadillac Ranch and other fabled roadside nostalgia; kicking up dirt in Hill Country back roads; joining the queues in Austin for legendary barbecue; following in the footsteps of real cowboys at the Fort Worth Stockyards or stepping into a pair of boots and kicking up your heels at a roadside honky-tonk. The Lone Star State has all that and so much more. Sure, it’s daunting in size (five New Yorks could fit inside Texas), but we’ve criss-crossed the entire state and so can you. Starting in dusty Amarillo and ending seaside in Galveston, here’s the perfect six-day itinerary for a nose-to-tail Texas road trip.
Day 1: Amarillo
Route 66 stretches some 2,200 miles from Chicago’s Grant Park to the Santa Monica Pier in LA, and an Amarillo starting point means you’ll be smack at its halfway point — almost. Grab a set of wheels and make a beeline for the kitschy Midpoint Cafe about 50 miles west of dusty Amarillo. Made famous as the inspiration for Flo’s V-8 Cafe in the Pixar film Cars, here you can snap a selfie in front of the diner (and brag to friends that you’ve driven half the Mother Road even though you haven’t), grab some grub and snag a Route 66 souvenir or two.
Afterward, make a U-turn and head straight back to Amarillo and be on the lookout for the biggest roadside prize of them all, legendary Cadillac Ranch. The work of San Francisco-based art collective Ant Farm, this Route 66 collection of spray-painted vintage Cadillacs nosediving straight into the mud is probably the most famous public art installation in America, and only about 15 minutes west of downtown Amarillo. Want more? About a half hour away is Combine City, a colorful spoof on Cadillac Ranch only using, you guessed it, tractors.
Hungry yet? The perfect roadside restaurant awaits. A large steer and a banana yellow facade properly announce the Big Texan Steak Ranch, a combination steakhouse, motel, brewery and gift shop that sits on Route 66 on the east side of town. Its signature item is the 72oz steak which is free if you inhale the entire thing, plus side dishes, within an hour (Spoiler: You won’t). Mostly the menu consists of more manageable victuals including signature dishes like mountain oysters and baby back ribs. We love the servers for their Texan hospitality.
Where to Stay: Stick close to the Mother Road and stay at the Courtyard Amarillo Marriott Downtown, which is close to the city’s charming Route 66 Historic District.
Day 2: Amarillo to Wichita Falls
Rise and shine early, you’ve got plenty to see and do today and a formidable amount of road to cover. Ye Olde Pancake Station and Scratch Made Bakery are probably the two most famous breakfast joints in town. Scarf down some bacon and eggs and on your way out of town and hit up Jack Sisemore Traveland, a giant warehouse on the south side of town containing more than a dozen vintage and restored RVs and airstream trailers dating back to the 1930s. Sisemore’s is also an RV dealership, but you probably don’t need one, right?
You’ve got a little more Route 66 to cover before swinging off the road and heading south to Wichita Falls. About 20 minutes east of Amarillo is VW Slugbug Ranch, which may elicit a yawn after Cadillac Ranch and Columbine City, but those little VWs sure are cute. In Groom, be on the lookout for an excellent photo op in the form of The Leaning Tower of Groom, a slanted water tower and a sort of Texas version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The Mother Road is littered with abandoned gas stations that have been lovingly restored, so park your wheels in front of the perfectly orange pumps at the 66 Station in McLean for a photo op. An even bigger prize is the U-Drop Inn, a retired service station (turned visitor center) and Art Deco masterpiece in Shamrock. This Texas town boasts Irish heritage, so be on the lookout for a monument that includes a piece of the original Blarney Stone.
In Shamrock, wave goodbye to the Mother Road and swerve south onto Rte 83. About halfway between 83 and Rte 287 lies tiny Wellington, whose claim to fame is that just outside of town, robbers Bonnie and Clyde drove their getaway car off the road and into a river (a plaque marks the spot). A museum in Wellington salvaged Clyde’s ammo clip and one of Bonnie’s gloves. There’s not much else to see, so put pedal to the metal and connect with 287 to Wichita Falls. A small city by Texas standards, it’s nevertheless big enough to boast a decent food scene. Stick with the retro theme for dinner and roll up to Scott’s Drive In for a Big Scottie Burger washed down with Cherry Limeade.
Where to Stay: For easy hop on/hop off access, stay at the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Wichita Falls Northwest off 287 or the budget-friendly Comfort Inn.
Day 3: Wichita Falls to Dallas
Grab some morning grub at the family owned and operated Hwy Cafe or at downtown’s 8th Street Coffeehouse and get ready for singlet heaven! The Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame traces the roots of pro wrestling back to the Civil War era (no joke) through the advent of television and onward to present day via displays of photographs and memorabilia. Everything is bigger in Texas except the world’s littlest skyscraper, a downtown building proposed by a con artist who promised 40 stories but only delivered three.
Yes, there are actual falls in Wichita. They’re man made, but still pretty. The original falls washed away in a flood during the 1800s, but new ones were constructed in 1987. Head to the south bank of the Wichita River at Lucy Park to check out the 54-foot waterfall and snap away.
It’s about a 2.5-hour drive to Dallas-Fort Worth, where numerous treasures await, so best to make haste. But feel free to stretch your gams in Bowie, home to the World’s Largest Bowie Knife (that sucker is 14-feet tall and weighs 2,000 pounds!). Further down the road (about 30 miles) is the town of Decatur, which is home to a snappy town mural and the photogenic Petrified Wood Gas Station.
Ready to slick it, big city style? If you planned your day right, you should be able to motor into the Fort Worth Stockyards by mid-afternoon. A former livestock market that is now a National Historic District, the Stockyards wear their Wild West pride on their sleeve and these days have been spiffed up with shops, restaurants, bars and hotels with tourist appeal. Time your visit just right to watch the 4 p.m. daily cattle drive. The Stockyards are as good a place as any to gear up in Western wear. Try Cavender’s or Maverick Fine Western Wear.
Onward to Dallas. There’s much to see and do in the Big D, but with daylight quickly burning, head over to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza before it closes. Here you’ll take a sobering trip back in time to the fateful afternoon on November 22, 1963 when shots rang out from the sixth floor depository and killed President Kennedy.
From here, it’s only a short drive to Deep Ellum, a funky and spirited neighborhood covered in murals and littered with fascinating public art. Join the happy hour masses with a beer at the Deep Ellum Brewing Company, but save your appetite. You’ve waited long enough for Texas BBQ, so have your first taste a few blocks away at the Pecan Lodge which, in our humble opinion, has the best beef brisket in all of Dallas. While licking the sticky ‘cue from your fingers, head over to indie cool Bishop Arts District and watch the perfect buttery crust surrender to the will of your fork at tasty Emporium Pies.
Where to Stay: Hip (and affordable) hotel brand NYLO is headquartered in Dallas. The NYLO Dallas South Side will make you feel like a road trip rock star.
Day 4: Dallas to Austin/San Antonio
The morning calls for hitting a few downtown highlights before dashing out of town. Fuel up first with cheap and tasty breakfast tacos at Taqueria La Ventana, then check out a few must-see pieces of public art starting with the massive and sprawling cattle herd sculptures at Pioneer Plaza, a recreation of 19th century cattle drives. Next, head to the swanky Joule Hotel and snap a selfie in front of the three-story fiberglass Giant Eyeball sitting in the hotel’s garden.
Jump on I-35 and watch the Dallas skyline fade in your rearview mirror as you speed toward Austin. There’s a lot of ground to cover between the two cities, but also a couple of worthy roadside detours to keep things interesting. About 60 miles into the drive is the town of Hillsboro, whose claim to fame is the Hill County Cell Block Museum, a former county jail-turned-museum made famous because Elvis Presley was arrested here on drunk and disorderly charges and spent a night in the slammer. Another 35 minutes down I-35 is the city of Waco and the Waco Mammoth National Monument, which stands on the site where the bones of 24 Woolly Mammoths were discovered in 1978 and which joined the National Parks System in 2015 under the stewardship of President Obama. View the bones of a nursery herd of mammoths that died suddenly and, inexplicably, the bones of a camel that were also discovered at the site.
Another hour down the road, it’s worth pulling over in tiny Jarrell not just for fuel, but also for a photo op at an immaculately restored (but not in business) 1940s gas station.
If you got an early enough start, you should have no trouble arriving in Austin by early to mid-afternoon. Your stomach is probably rumbling, so join the seemingly endless (but worth it) queues at legendary Franklin Barbecue. Compare the brisket here to what you had in Dallas the night before or venture deeper into the menu and check out pulled pork or sausage links. Franklin opens at 11 a.m. daily and stays open until it sells out — which is usually by mid-afternoon. Also, they are closed Mondays.
Weird and wonderful Austin takes a full weekend to explore, but with a limited amount of time on the clock, stick to a few photo album (make that Instagram) worthy shots. Ai Weiwei’s beguiling “Forever Bicycles” sculpture was crafted out of 1,300 bikes and sits in Town Lake Metropolitan Park not far from the Four Seasons Hotel Austin. Other Instagrammable roadside gems include the Greetings from Austin mural at 1st and Annie Streets and the beloved “I Love You So Much” mural which is scrawled onto one side of Jo’s Coffee on Congress Avenue — a worthy place to grab a cup of java before jumping back on the freeway.
Welcome to beautiful Texas Hill Country! Admire the pretty countryside outside of Austin as you follow Hwy 290 west about 75 miles to Fredericksburg. A small town famous for its German heritage and postcard-perfect Main Street, Fredericksburg is also the gateway to Texas wine country. Pair your visit with a swing through nearby Luckenbach. A tiny blip on the map (pop. 3 as of the 2006 census), this semi-ghost town is known for its general store (where you can scoop up a few T-shirts and key chains) and a neighboring dance hall that is now a famous venue for live country music.
The hour drive (via Ranch Road 1376 south to I-10) to San Antonio will put you in the Lone Star State’s second largest city by nightfall. Indulge your inner tourist by making a beeline to the famous San Antonio River and snagging a balcony seat at the Esquire Tavern overlooking the famous River Walk. Fun fact: Their wooden bar top is the largest in Texas!
Day 5: San Antonio to Houston
After scarfing down an order of bananas foster French toast (picture four thick slices of toast topped with a homemade banana rum praline sauce) at Magnolia Pancake Haus, remember the Alamo with a morning excursion to San Antonio’s famous historic attraction. Its claim to fame is the Battle of the Alamo (in which all Texian defenders were killed), but now stands as an integral monument to the state’s 9-year tenure as an independent nation. Both the grounds and church structure are free to visit.
It’s a straight 200-mile shot west on I-10 to Houston, and there’s little to see and do along the way, but one worthy detour between the two cities is a stop in charming Shiner. Dubbed the “Cleanest Little City in Texas,” it boasts a perfectly walkable collection of shops and restaurants on Avenue E and 5th Street. Most famously, it’s home to Spoetzl Brewery. Founded in 1909, it’s the oldest independent brewery in Texas and tours are offered twice daily in winter and four times daily during the summer.
An afternoon arrival in Houston affords plenty of time to get acquainted with Space City. The excellent and free Menil Collection in the Montrose neighborhood offers a sprawling urban art campus and multiple buildings containing compelling works ranging from the prehistoric era to present day. Don’t miss the Cy Twombly Gallery or the chance for a moment of quiet reflection at the Rothko Chapel.
Within walking distance of the Menil Collection is lovely Common Bond Bakery, probably the most celebrated bakeshop in town (it’s worth the lines). Grab a few sweets and some light lunchtime bites and make the short drive to Bethel Church Park for a picnic inside a burnt-out church that now houses a tiny, urban park! Afterward, finish up your art fix by making another short drive (Houston is nothing if not sprawling) to mural-studded Graffiti Park.
Houston is home to an excellent museum campus containing the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Children’s Museum of Houston, the Holocaust Museum and the Houston Zoo. If nothing else, take a stroll around the lovely Reflection Pool at sunset.
Dining choices in Houston are endless (the city is a vast culinary wonderland), but we love Coltivare Pizza and Garden, a simple, unfussy and always busy Italian restaurant located in the charming and walkable Heights neighborhood. Share a couple pizzas and a bottle of red wine and try to snag a table outside. Since it’s your last night of the trip (can you believe it?) it’s also time to live it up at a real Texas honky tonk. Head to the outskirts of the city to Firehouse Saloon and Badlands Radio. This rocking joint is pure country both inside and out, and hosts live acts seven nights a week. Leave your car at the hotel, take a ride share and get ready to really kick up your heels!
Where to Stay: Downtown Houston is making a comeback. Stay at the Hotel ICON (housed in an old bank building) to be in the center of it all.
Day 6: Galveston
Ready to go out with a bang? Here’s how to make your last day a doozy. Start with some soulful eats at the Breakfast Klub, a Houston institution serving up Southern comfort foods like wings and grits, biskits and gravy (their spelling, not ours) and green eggs and ham. Wash it all down with a cup of coffee and hit the road!
They don’t call it Space City for nothing. The excellent Space Center Houston is about 30 minutes south of town and boasts all kinds of cosmic attractions like the Apollo 17 Command Module (the last manned spacecraft to land on the moon), simulated shuttle experiences, meetups with a NASA astronaut (Fridays only) an interactive Martian exhibit and more. You could spend all day here and that’s just fine as you only have a little bit of pavement left to pound.
The road to Galveston from the Space Center is only about 30 miles. Follow I-45 south across the Galveston Causeway and make your way to either the Galveston Island Pleasure Pier (a combination pier and amusement park) or the less touristy 61st Street Fishing Pier. Afterward, head to Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant, an oceanfront icon that’s been serving up Gulf-captured chow like cornmeal-fried catfish or jumbo soft shell crab since 1911. Go ahead and enjoy a slice of their famous pecan pie for dessert; it’s the end of the road and you totally deserve it.
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