San Antonio lies deep in the heart of Texas, as the famous song goes. It’s practically synonymous with both the Alamo, that famous shrine to Texas independence, and the lively Riverwalk filled with restaurants, bars and shops. Families also love its proximity to several theme parks like Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Schlitterbahn Waterpark and SeaWorld.
But its location smack in the middle of the Lone Star State also makes San Antonio the perfect jumping-off point for epic Texas road trips stretching in every direction. San Antonio lies at the point where the diverse regions of Central, South and West Texas all converge.
You’ll discover something for everyone, including food lovers, art enthusiasts, avid hikers and beachgoers.
Fun in the Sun on South Padre Island
This favorite Texas beach destination isn’t just for spring breakers. The southern portion of this barrier island along the Gulf of Mexico boasts miles of white sandy beaches and turquoise waters.
You’ll pass flat countryside vistas and working cattle ranches during the 300-mile drive through South Texas to the very tip of the state. Once you’ve arrived, stop at Ceviche Ceviche for marinated fish or shrimp topped with avocado, cilantro, green onion, pineapple or mango. Later, eat a plate of sizzling fajitas washed down with a margarita at Clayton’s Beach Bar.
Head to the southernmost end of the island to Isla Blanca Park, where you’ll find more than a mile of white sand beach lapped by calm Gulf waters. The water is typically warm enough for swimming even during the spring. Isla Blanca also offers access to a jetty that’s a favorite with anglers.
Not into lazing on the sand? Opt instead to see wild dolphins up close on a boat tour with South Padre Island Dolphin Research & Sealife Nature Center or learn about the island’s endangered sea turtles at Sea Turtle Inc.
You can also observe pelicans, white ibises and maybe even some alligators at South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, or go horseback riding through the sand dunes with South Padre Island Adventure Park.
The Best of Texas Barbecue in Lockhart and Luling
For those with big appetites but little time, this is an ideal itinerary. San Antonio is conveniently located less than 75 miles from several of the most storied barbecue joints in the state. They all specialize in Central Texas–style grub with meats like brisket, homemade sausage and pork ribs served on brown butcher paper with a side of white bread, pickles and raw onions.
Take a quick drive to Luling along Interstate 10, where pitmasters at City Market Barbecue & Saloon cut smoked meats to order inside a glass-enclosed pit room. Then continue north on US-183 to Lockhart, the so-called “Capital of Texas Barbecue.”
The town is home to three famous spots: Smitty’s Market, Kreuz Market and Black’s Barbecue. Buy a little brisket (beef is king in Texas) at each place and compare. Black’s is famous for its sides, like pinto beans and potato salad, while Kreuz takes a stand against using sauce. Be sure to get an early start because meats can sell out quickly, especially on weekends.
Art for Art’s Sake in Marfa
Get ready for a trip into the middle of nowhere and watch the Texas countryside slowly switch from rolling hills to arid desert. Marfa is home to less than 2,000 residents and is located more than four hours from the nearest airport.
It was once a run-of-the-mill Texas town planned along a main square, but today Marfa is a renowned artists’ enclave with world-class galleries and museums like the Chinati Foundation and Judd Foundation and permanent installations like Prada Marfa by Elmgreen and Dragset.
Designed to look like a Prada store in the middle of the desert, the famous Prada Marfa is just outside of town on Highway 90. The six-hour drive to Marfa will probably require a stop, so grab a chicken-fried steak at the Hitchin Post Steak House, a true Texas roadhouse in the town of Ozona.
Escape from It All at Big Bend National Park
Marfa’s not remote enough for you? Then head to Big Bend National Park. Spanning more than 800,000 acres, it’s one of the country’s largest, most remote and least-visited national parks. The name comes from the Rio Grande River, which wraps around this swath of land like an arm going in for a hug along the Mexican border.
Following the Mexican border for much of the way, drive more than 400 miles from San Antonio toward the western part of the state. Stop for a lunch or dinner of Enchiladas Suizas at El Patio Del Rio in the border town of Del Rio. Then be sure to stock up on water and snacks in the tiny desert town of Marathon before heading into the park.
Big Bend offers more than 150 miles of hiking trails of varying lengths and fitness levels. Wade into the Rio Grande in the Santa Elena Canyon (as long as you stay on the American side) or climb to the top of towering Emory Peak before returning to San Antonio.