There is more to Texas that 10 gallon hats and George Bush. GUM’s native Texan acquaints us with the delights and eccentricities of the Lone Star State.
Everything’s bigger in Texas – the steak, highways, even women’s hair. If you’ve never visited the “Lone Star State,” just take my word for it. As the second largest state in America after Alaska, it’s nearly three times the size of the UK and it’s the only state to have been an independent republic – from 1836 to 1845, and it retains a distinctively patriotic spirit.
Austin, the capital city, doesn’t feel like the rest of the state. On the tail-end of many vehicles rests the bumper sticker “Keep Austin Weird.” Deriving its hippy-chic nature from places like San Francisco and L.A. and borrowing elements of funky-outdoorsy style from Vancouver the city embraces, even encourages, an eccentric vibe. After scouring the book shelves of “Book People,” an independent bookstore across the street from the Whole Foods headquarters, I found a roll of George Bush toilet paper for purchase. That’s when I knew Austin was unlike the rest of the state of Texas. Fantastically ironic, when George Bush was governor of Texas, he lived just miles from this store.
Nearly every band with a good record label has performed in one of Austin’s street venues, with the city as an accompaniment, buzzing through the day and into all hours of the night. The city has been called the live music capital of the world. It’s a young city, with one of the nation’s most prominent centres of learning – the University of Texas – which produced some famous actors we all know and adore like Matthew McConaughey, Owen and Luke Wilson, and Renee Zellweger. If you’re planning a longish stay, check out the “Driskill,” Austin’s original 1886 grand hotel, on lively 6th Street, home to many thriving restaurants such as the Japanese “Uchi,” an eatery in what used to be someone’s home. Last year, the chef/owner, Tyson Cole, was named one of America’s best new chefs by Food and Wine magazine. Brie, shiitake mushrooms, chiles, and pumpkins are among the items you can order tempura-style, a real Texan treat.
After Austin a trip to Houston should be next on your list. It is home to much more than big hats and big oil. From hip-hop to posh museums, and an internationally recognized medical community, Houston has it all. Partly because of the Texas Medical Center, the Health Museum has come into being. It contains an interactive exhibition called the “Amazing Body Pavilion,” where you enter through the mouth and proceed down the digestive tract, learning about various organs as you go. On the other end of the artistic scale, the Museum of Fine Arts boasts of strong holdings in Impressionist and post-Impressionist art, as well as baroque, Renaissance art, and 19th and 20th century art.
Maybe art is not your thing – you’d rather soak up a bit of authentic Texas history. If that’s the case, go to San Antonio, an hour’s drive from Austin, in the Hill Country. Here you’ll find the historic mission, “The Alamo,” where a small group of heroic Texans held out for 13 days against columns of Mexican soldiers led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Every year, 2.5 million people visit the site. And just around the corner is the famous River Walk, or “Paseo del Rio,” a public hot-spot where you can walk alongside the river or catch a boat ride while being entertained by a jubilant Mariachi band. Instead of perching close to the river though, make reservations at the “Brackenridge House,” San Antonio’s first bed and breakfast, in the historic King William district. Rooms are decked out in countrified Edwardian styles that breathe of times past.
After exhausting the adventures to be had in the cities, take a turn into the country – there’s a lot of country to see. If the water is your thing, head to South Padre Island, a thirty mile long barrier island just off the coast of the tip of Texas, or try Galveston Island, Port Aransas, or Surfside, Texas, which is an hour’s drive from Houston. Though temperatures get well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer months, the airy beach is within grasp. The thousands of species of plants and animals at Big Bend National Park is also a must, if you’re feeling adventurous, trek into the high mountains, where bears and mountain lions roam. After a long day, come “home” to the Gage Hotel in Marathon, Texas, an hour from the park’s entrance. Check out Café Cenizo, the hotel’s restaurant, it serves excellent Southwestern cuisine.
In Texas, there’s something for everyone. And just as the state is big, so are the experiences to be had. Crossing the state border, the words “Don’t Mess With Texas” loom above you in bold block letters. The sign is more a state motto than a warning. Did I mention that Texans are proud of where they come from? Don’t Mess With Texas. We like it just the way it is.