Among the many reasons to visit Texas is its cities and towns. Here are brief introductions to Texas' biggest cities and some of its small towns.
The Dallas and Fort Worth metropolitan area includes 11 counties, dozens of cities and more than seven million people. It’s commonly referred to as DFW. And locals often call the region the Metroplex.
When you land at DFW Airport, you are in neither Dallas nor Fort Worth. Although owned jointly owned by those cities, the airport is located among the cities of Grapevine, Irving, Coppell and Euless. This fact speaks to life in DFW. You might live in Southwest Fort Worth, shop in Arlington and work in downtown Dallas. While borders abound in the area, life and travel in the Metroplex ignores them.
Dallas and Fort Worth each have their own charisma and attractions. Fort Worth folks are more down home and feel that they are overlooked compared to the more cosmopolitan Dallas. Upon landing, flight attendants often say, “Welcome to Dallas, ya’ll!” Dallas thrives as a major city with world-renowned arts and architecture. America’s Team is the Dallas Cowboys, though in a perfect illustration of the DFW area play in Arlington. And the Dallas Mavericks have won a world championship and several conference and division titles and have sold out more games in a row than any other American sports franchise.
Fort Worth cowboys move cattle through the city, compete at the Fort Worth Rodeo, and wear Stetsons and cowboy boots. Dallas socialites drive luxury SUVs through traffic jams. Fort Worth is proud of its middle-class lifestyle. Dallas lays claim to most of the big money in Texas. After all, the long-running TV show was called Dallas, not Fort Worth. (Though the show’s exteriors were shot at Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas, about 30 miles north of Dallas.)
And then you have all the many cities and town within the DFW area. And that area expands every year in every direction. A couple decades ago, Denton, our home, was separate from DFW. Not anymore. The city of more than 100,000 people located 40 miles from Dallas is now considered the northern edge of the Metroplex. The Golden Triangle of Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton make up the shape of DFW. Arlington is the third largest city in DFW and home to much of the area’s entertainment. And all the cities and towns in between with myriad businesses and homes serve the area. It’s hard to overstate the size and scope of the metropolitan area.
There are plenty of reasons to love Dallas. Most people come for the sports, shopping and entertainment. When we see concerts or plays downtown Dallas, we frequently stay at the beautiful Hyatt Regency Dallas. We easily walk to lots of nearby fun places. Dallas serves as the business center of DFW and has a bustling dining and entertainment scene.
Dallas hosts the State Fair of Texas at Fair Park. The fair, then known as the Dallas State Fair, opened in 1886 and is one of the longest running state fairs in America. In 2017, the Texas State Fair welcomed 2.25 million visitors to a nearly month-long extravaganza that offered trade shows, amusement rides, live concerts, agriculture exhibits, sports events and its famous selection of food. Texas invented corn dogs, and deep-fried foods abound.
Big Tex, a 55-foot cowboy, has welcomed visitors to the fair since 1952. The Texas State Fair, a nonprofit organization, promotes agriculture, education, and community involvement in a family-friendly environment. It boasts the largest new-car auto show in the southwest United States, along with daily and nightly musical entertainment.
Since 1929, the Cotton Bowl stadium has hosted the famous Red River Showdown, a 120-year tradition. The intense rivalry pits the University of Oklahoma Sooners against the University of Texas Longhorns.
Why is it called the stadium Cotton Bowl? The story is murky at best. Some say it’s because the stadium is built on land formerly used as cotton fields. Others say it’s because of the Cotton Bowl college football bowl game, now played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
The Cotton Bowl stadium has hosted many football teams over the years, including the SMU Mustangs (NCAA), Dallas Cowboys (NFL; 1960-1971), Dallas Texans (NFL; 1952), Dallas Texans (AFL; 1960-1962). It also hosted several FIFA World Cup games in 1994 and many other soccer matches. It’s famous for more than sports. Elvis Presley performed at the Cotton Bowl in the 1956. And it hosted many years of the Texxas World Music Festival (Texxas Jam) from 1978 to 1988, which saw rock bands like Rush, Van Halen, the Eagles, Aerosmith, Santana and many more.
Fort Worth locals take pride in themselves and aren’t afraid to poke fun at their Dallas brothers and sisters. At the Railhead Smokehouse (a great local barbecue joint), all of their plastic cups come printed with the slogan, “Life is too short to live in Dallas.”
Fort Worth prints money for the U.S. Treasury, one of only two locations that perform this service
Billy Bob’s, which is billed as the World’s Largest Honky Tonk, calls Fort Worth home. It was once a barn used to house cattle for the nearby Fort Worth Stockyards. Since 1981, it’s served as a gigantic entertainment and event space with over 100,000 square feet inside and 20 acres of parking outside. Features include 30 bar stations, pool tables a plenty, live music with country music’s biggest stars, live pro bull riding and a Texas-sized dance floor.
As big as it is, Billy Bob’s can get crowded, especially in the evening when big stars drop by. You might have seen the venue on TV or at the movies. Some of Dallas was filmed here, along with Walker Texas Ranger. Movies include Over the Top, starring Sylvester Stallone; Baja Oklahoma, with Lesley Ann Warren, Peter Coyote and Willie Nelson; Necessary Roughness, with Scott Bakula, Sinbad, Robert Loggia and Kathy Ireland; and Pure Country in 1992, starring George Strait. It’s not all about country music. Ringo Starr, .38 Special, Men at Work, the Go-Go’s, Steppenwolf, REO Speedwagon, Styx, Pat Benatar, Heart and Texas’ own ZZ Top have all performed at the World’s Largest Honky Tonk. Even Ray Charles and Bob Hope have featured at Billy Bob’s.
Madeline lived in Arlington for two decades during the ‘80s and ‘90s. She raised her three kids there, two graduating from Lamar High School. With Arlington lying in between Dallas and Fort Worth, no visit to DFW won’t include spending time in the heart of DFW.
Arlington could be considered the entertainment capital of DFW. It’s the home to NFL (Dallas Cowboys), MLB (Texas Rangers) and WNBA (Dallas Wings) teams. Two national amusement parks (Six Flags Over Texas and Hurricane Harbor) draw millions of visitors every year. And Arlington’s International Bowling Campus is home to the United States Bowling Congress, International Bowling Museum and the International Bowling Hall of Fame.
With nearly 400,000 people calling it home, Arlington ranks as the third largest city in DFW, the seventh largest in Texas and the 48th largest in the United States. The University of Texas at Arlington serves the state as a major research university. General Motors builds SUVs here. And GM Financial calls Arlington it home.
The Dallas Cowboys play at AT&T Stadium, the fourth largest in the NFL. The Texas Rangers play at Globe Life Field, their third stadium in Arlington since they moved there in 1972. The WNBA’s Dallas Wings play in Arlington at College Park Center, which they share with UT Arlington’s sports teams. And USL1 and XFL teams play home games in Arlington as well.
Combine this with major shopping opportunities and a vibrant arts scene, and any visit to DFW will certainly require some quality in Arlington.
Houston remains as the only major U.S. city without zoning ordinances. That doesn’t mean there is no planning. But it does lead to some interesting juxtapositions. In the West Loop South, for example, a sex shop crowds in an intersection next to Houston's third tallest building. You’ll see businesses and houses sitting next to each other on the same street. In other areas, disruptive buildings encroach on residential neighborhoods. The city’s website clearly states, "The city of Houston does not have zoning, but development is governed by codes that address how property can be subdivided. The City codes do not address land use." After nearly 200 years, nobody is sure whether Houston's lack of zoning laws is a point of pride. But it has created a unique and interesting urban landscape.
You probably won’t visit Houston to evaluate the zoning laws. You might visit for the diversity. Houston is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in America. Ethnic restaurants abound. Yes, you’ll find many Tex-Mex places. But you should also sample German, Spanish, French, Moroccan and Brazilian food throughout Houston.
Visit Houston in the winter if you’re tired of the cold and snow in your area. January sees temperature highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s.
You also should visit Houston for the Space Center and plenty of other things to see and do. Be sure to check out the Houston Rodeo; the season is from February to March. Tickets go fast, although resellers and tour companies can help you get a seat. And if you're a Beatles fan (like us!), you must stop at 8th Wonder Brewery for a beer and to see the giant Beatles Statues by David Adickes.
San Antonio is Texas’s second busiest city, with attractions like Six Flags Fiesta, the River Walk and the historic Alamo. It’s in the top 20 of the most visited cities in America. San Pedro Park is the oldest park in Texas and the second oldest in the nation. San Antonio declared it a public park in 1852. The park is home to much history. During the Civil War, the Confederacy used the park as a prisoner of war camp. Now, the park offers more than 60 hiking trails, a swimming pool and a skate plaza.
The San Antonio Zoo ranks as the third largest in the U.S., with over 3,500 animals and an aquarium. The Alamo is the most visited attraction in Texas, with more than 2.5 million people visiting annually. If you like to shop, visit historic Market Square, which is the largest Mexican market in the U.S. With a three-block outdoor plaza, the market offers a combination of 100 restaurants, shops, handicrafts and fresh produce stands.
No visit to San Antonio is complete without seeing the historic River Walk. The River Walk’s history dates to the 1500s, when a shipwrecked Spanish captain described the first account of the San Antonio River. In 1830, the Mexican government declared the river a part of the Mexican territory and regulated its use. In 1939 the Works Progress Administration began building walkways and bridges and added plants along the river. During the 1950s and 1960s, Texans who appreciated the enchanting beauty of the river expanded the walkways and added botanical gardens and wildlife areas. In the 1970s, the Army Corps of Engineers started a major river rehabilitation project and it’s grown since then.
Today, people stroll alongside the riverbanks and dine and shop. Boats cruise the river and tour guides explain the highlights. It’s a wonderful excursion and a definite must-see.
Rounding out the big cities of Texas is Austin, the state capital. Austin is home to Dell and other big IT companies. It is also well known for the music scene. There’s a reason: Known as the Live Music Capital of the World, Austin offers over 200 live music venues. Music lovers can catch a show at any time on any day. Musical genres vary beyond country music. You can enjoy jazz, pop, classical, blues and everything in between.
Austin is home to the Broken Spoke, which the owner claims is "the last of the true Texas dance halls." The world-famous honky-tonk boasts a long list of regular entertainers over the years, including George Strait, Willie Nelson, Ernest Tubb, Bob Wills, George Jones and Roy Acuff have all been regulars on stage at the world-famous honky-tonk. Garth Brooks recently popped in and did an acoustic show.
Austin City Limits hosts many famous acts and broadcasts worldwide. The city hosts South by Southwest Conference & Festivals. Every year, the SXSW puts on nine days of entertainment, including music, film, spoken word, art and technology. This is the largest music festival of its kind in the world, with more than 2,000 acts. And lots of tour operators help festival goers navigate the area see their favorite artists.
Bats are another famous Austin attraction. More than 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats live in the city between November and March, primarily under the South Congress Bridge. Some of the bats call Austin their year-round home. On summer nights, between eight and nine o’clock, the bats take off to search for their supper, which thankfully includes pounds and pounds of Texas-sized mosquitoes.
So Many More
Texas abounds with many more smaller cities and small towns. Rural Texas has its own charm. We love stopping in the small towns during our travels, some are county seats, like Stephenville in Erath County. Many have the original town squares and original buildings from the 1800s. Some towns have names associated with other places: Paris, Venus, Athens, China, Dublin, London, Detroit and Reno. Yep, they’re all in Texas.
Here are some of small towns worth a visit while touring Texas:
- Gruene is home to the oldest operating dance hall in Texas, built in 1878.
- Amarillo is the site of the Cadillac Ranch and the Big Texan Steak House, home of the 72 oz. steak.
- Dublin was a bottling site for Dr Pepper—with real cane sugar—for 120 years. Now, the site is run by Dublin Bottling Works making their own recipe. A small Dr Pepper museum displays the unique and tasty history of the 23 flavors.
- Fredericksburg and the surrounding area, known as the Texas Wine Country, is home to some of the best wineries in Texas, including favorites like Barons Creek Vineyards.
- Luckenbach features a historic building from 1886, a combination general store, post office and saloon. The town dates to 1849.
- West was started as a Czechoslovakian settlement. The Czech Stop serves the best kolaches in the state. Kolaches are a pastry filled with fruit, cheese or sausage.
- Shiner is home to the Spoetzl Brewery started here in 1909. Now, their Shiner Bock is popular nationwide. Take a tour of the brewery to see how it’s made.
- Laredo is one of the oldest border crossings in Texas. Located on the north bank of the Rio Grande maintains a well-preserved historic district. In Laredo you’ll also find the Cathedral of San Augustin, which dates back to 1872.
- Marble Falls is home to the Blue Bonnet Cafe, known for its pie happy hour. How good does that sound? The Blue Bonnet Cafe is one of the oldest running restaurants in Texas. It opened in 1929. People know them for their pie, but they also offer a large menu of southern comfort food. They serve over 400,000 people annually and sell more than 40,000 pies every year.
- New Braunfels is a tennis hot spot. John Newcombe, the famous Australian tennis champion opened in 1968 his Tennis Ranch, an academy and youth development center. With over 50 years of experience, Newcombe says “You take the best from Down Under, blend it with Texas flavor, and put it in the middle of the Hill Country. We call it Aus-Tex hospitality. You won’t find that anywhere, mate!” New Braunfels is also known for tubing. Thousands of tourists and locals alike flock to two pristine rivers, the Comal and the Guadalupe, to lazily drift in a tube. If you like the water, but not the tube cruise, visit the Schlitterbahn Waterpark, just down the road.
- Brownsville is at the southernmost tip of Texas. They have a historic downtown on Elizabeth Street.
- Terlingua is a ghost town. Boo! It’s often referred to as Ghost Town, Texas. It was a former mining community, part of the Study Butte-Terlingua group of communities in Big Bend Country, near Big Bend National Park. You can explore all kinds of abandoned buildings built by mercury miners in the mid-1800’s. When the mercury market crashed, the miners left to pursue gold and silver elsewhere.
These are just a few reasons to visit the cities and towns of Texas. We live in the state, so we are just a little biased. When you arrive, you’ll love the honest hospitality offered by Texans. When you leave, you’ll hear a hearty “Ya’ll come back, ya hear!”