Austin has hogged the Texas tourism spotlight for too long.
Home to famous music festivals like SXSW and ACl, Austin has long enjoyed a reputation as Texas’ trendy, quirky capital and top tourist destination. Unfortunately, crime rates are skyrocketing almost as quickly as prices, while an influx of tech workers from California alter the social fabric and soul of the city.
So where should travelers go instead?
From saloon-spotted ghost towns to the rolling hills of Texas wine country, there are countless off-path destinations to headline a terrific Texas adventure.
Here are five hidden gem destinations in Texas, according to locals:
We’ve all heard of “Keep Austin Weird.” But it’s about time for the Lone Star capital to make room for the next big thing in seriously quirky Texas towns: Denton.
Denton’s idyllic downtown square manages to embody old-school Texas charm and embrace the fresh creative energy of its two university campuses.
For a taste of the traditional, cool off with some retro ice cream from Beth Marie’s on the steps of Denon’s 19th-century courthouse before entering its museum. If the time is right, you can join friendly locals on their monthly wine walks around town.
When the old Denton spell has sucked you in too deep to leave, stay a few nights in the Brownlow House, a 1912 historic landmark Victorian home converted to a bed and breakfast.
Most things in Denton don’t fit neatly into an “old” or “new” box.
Ghost-hunting retirees and curious college kids cross paths at the legendary Old Alton Bridge. At the intersection between down-home and on-trend sits Paschall Bar, a trendy speakeasy with dark wooden bookcases and time-honored classic cocktails that draws a seriously eclectic crowd.
For a more youthful itinerary, enjoy a specialty coffee at Jupiter Coffee House, browse the books & records store on the corner of Locust Street, and try out the local vegan favorite Spiral Diner. When the sun goes down, hang out at Eastside or Harvest House for craft beer and food trucks, or go bar hopping on Fry Street.
Visitors don’t even have to go as far as the Denton Wall of Art and Union Art Gallery to enjoy this town’s artistic soul (although you definitely should). A simple stroll around the historic center offers enough street art to give travelers a genuine sense of Denton’s unique character.
Who doesn’t love a funky ghost town?
Terlingua, Texas sits just a stone’s throw from both the Mexican border and Big Bend National Park. Often overlooked in favor of its more Instagrammable neighbor, Marfa, this historic Lone Star town is the definition of a hidden gem.
Terlingua got its start as a mining town in the early 1900s, but was left in the dust when its residents packed up for greener pastures.
Today, this ghost town is getting a second wind from creative small businesses. Some, like the funky Starlight Theater saloon and Holiday Hotel, have been around for decades; while others, like Basecamp Terlingua glamping, are part of a newer (dare we say hipster?) wave of tourists.
Visitors can enjoy hiking Santa Elena canyon, kayaking the Rio Grande, soaking in hot springs, and stargazing in some of the lowest light pollution in the country.
For adventurous travelers willing to get a bit off-path, a budget-friendly double-destination mission is in store – so pack your passport. The Mexican town of Boquillas awaits you just across the river, with a little help from the on-site U.S. Park Ranger and friendly Boquillan guides rocking “Your Ride To The Other Side” t-shirts and tiny rowboats.
After filling up on margaritas, stacked enchiladas, and the wonders of Area Natural Protegida Maderas del Carmen state park, you can take that 30-second “ferry” right back over to Terlingua to continue your Lone Star adventure.
Pronounced “green”, the historic district of Gruene is a true hidden gem with a few more tricks up its sleeve than just its spelling.
This storied town is technically part of the city of New Braunfels, an 1840s German cotton farming settlement that is best known today for its Schlitterbahn waterpark.
Visitors in Gruene should explore:
- Gruene Hall – The oldest dance hall in Texas, built in 1878 and frequented by stars like Willie Nelson.
- Gruene Coffee Haus – The heart and soul of social life in town, plus some darn good coffee.
- The Birdhouse Fancy Chicken & Fine Wine – What more could you ask for?
- Tubing – Grab a friend, a beverage, and an inner tube. Now you’re ready to float down the Comal and Guadalupe rivers, affectionately known by locals as “the Hill Country Coast.”
- Gruene Antique Company – With thousands of items in 6,500 square feet, this is more of a museum of central Texas life than a typical antique shop.
Fredericksburg shares its German roots with Gruene, but stands out for its unique reputation as Texas’s wine country. With more than 100 vineyards in the area, you can’t go wrong with any of Fredricksburg’s wine tastings.
Timing a trip to Fredericksburg on the first Friday of the month means a special after-hours experience in the art galleries along Main Street.
Visitors can also explore the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area just a few minutes from town. This pink granite monument gets its name from the 19th-century legends of the Tonkawa, Apache and Comanche tribes, who believed it was imbued with mystical powers.
To an outsider, West doesn’t seem like much. With only about 3,000 residents and no major tourist attractions to speak of, why would visitors go out of their way to see it?
But ask any born-and-raised Texan about the town of West, and you’ll surely hear the reason – kolaches.
In the 1880s, a wave of Czech immigrants settled in this tiny pocket of north-central Texas, and brought with them the delicious buttery goodness of recipes from the old land. In the 1960s, Interstate 35 put West on the map as a highway stop, and Lone Star travelers first got a taste of Czech gold.
Today, The Czech Stop is genuinely a Texas institution. Travelers from all walks of life meet at the highway intersection connecting Dallas, Waco, Austin, and San Antonio for a beloved one-of-a-kind snack. The bakery offers all kinds of Eastern European inspired treats, including its infamous kolaches.
Adapted from the Czech koláč, a puffy dough pastry traditionally made with fruit jam or poppy seeds, today’s most popular kolaches are cream cheese flavored. Since local Texas tastes lean heavily on the carnivorous side, jalapeńo sausage klobasnek and “hot chubby” sausage and cheese rolls are crowd favorites.
The city of West has also been recognized as the “Czech Heritage Capital of Texas,” and hosts an annual Westfest celebrating Czech culture and traditions. Visitors can learn more at the History of West Museum.
For spending the night or taking a multi-day trip, it’s best to make it an extended stop on an epic road trip or combine it with a trip to nearby Waco. This university town is home to unique historic inns, modern hotels, quirky coffee shops, and plenty of southern comfort food.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com