The Most Romantic City in TX Helps Guys Channel Their Inner Gentleman

Friday, February 14, 2014 by The Texas Travelin' Man

Valentine's Day, Texas travel, TX travel, romance, romantic, be a gentleman

Guys, if y'all are anything like me, it wouldn't kill you to get a little help in the romance department. And the style department. And etiquette and culture, too. In fact, when it comes to things I could use help in, the list is not a short one. But it's Valentine's Day! It's the time to go all out and make the changes that my lady deserves (even though we all know I'll be right back at my uncultured and low-stylin' self by the next day.)

Yesterday, I wrote about San Antonio, the Texas city that's proud to be considered the most romantic in the U.S. (read yesterday's blog here.) This designation puts them in a prime position to become a noted authority on romance -- and they know that we guys need help, so they've put together "The Gentlemen's Guide to Valentine's Day", a website that shares their collective knowledge on how a polished gentleman should behave.

Think you've got what it takes to sweep your "significant other" off their feet? Take the quiz. Then brush up on etiquette and style

Whatever you do for Valentine's Day this year, even if you're just staying home, step up your game a bit and let your date know they're special. 

Valentine's Day, romance, romantic, how to be a gentleman, texas travel






Which Texas City was Named Most Romantic? You May Be Surprised...

Thursday, February 13, 2014 by The Texas Travelin' Man
valentine's day, valentines, texas, san antonio
San Antonio.  Any time of year, the city oozes romance.
A stroll along the moonlit River Walk under a canopy of cypress trees, a glass of wine at a waterside table, the serenade of a mariachi band, the beautiful 18th-century Spanish colonial architecture -- it's all the perfect backdrop for an amorous getaway with the one you love. The city is a hotspot for marriage proposals and a huge wedding destination. No wonder, then, that Travel + Leisure, Amazon and Open Table all have named San Antonio as one of the most romantic cities in the U.S.  
And San Antonio certainly knows how to flaunt its strengths. In February, the destination transforms into the “City of Yellow Roses” and amps up the romance factor. Huge yellow rose decorations adorn the sights and landmarks around the city. 

Barges on the River Walk are specially decorated while marimba and mariachi musicians serenade with live music. Horse-drawn carriages bring you and your love through the historic downtown, passing the Alamo and other romantic missions. 

Romance specials and Valentines packages are available this weekend from many participating locations.
Hotels are offering added amenities such as complimentary champagne and chocolates, breakfast in bed and of course, long-stemmed yellow roses. Here's a list of participating hotels
Restaurants are also conjuring up romantic dishes, unique drinks and Valentine's menus. Whether your idea of romance is white linens and fine wine or barbecue and beer, you're sure to fall in love with these dining deals.
And, because San Antonio has become the guru on all things "romance", they've opted to give us guys a little help. Check out their "Gentlemen's Guide to Valentine's Day." For a whimsical look at Dating, Etiquette and Style, get some pointers, take the quiz and dial up your style a notch. 
>> More about San Antonio at Tour

  Yellow Rose photo

Get Thee to the Texas Renaissance Fest!

Thursday, November 14, 2013 by The Texas Travelin' Man
             Texas Renaissance Festival
I really didn't want to go.
I put if off last year and the year before that, but sometimes, when you write a travel blog, you have to go places and do things you'd really rather skip.  This year, I decided I was going to suck it up and just go already! And that's how I ended up wearing a fluffy white shirt and leather sash at the Texas Renaissance Festival.
Texas Ren FestOnce I resigned myself to going, I called my good friend, Jax, who's been to many Ren Fests around the country and asked him to be my guide.  He was glad to do it. Jax told me if we were going together, I had to, absolutely HAD TO wear a costume. It was hard to refuse when I picked him up at his house and he answered his door fully decked out in some sort of manly swashbuckler costume and thrusted the billowy, lace-up collar shirt and sash into my hands. I begrudgingly changed into the clothes, then we hopped in the car and headed toward the town of Todd Mission, about an hour northwest of Houston.
Almost every state has a Ren Fest or Faire on some scale, but the Texas Renaissance Festival is the nation’s largest, comprised of over 55 acres of interactive theme park, hosting half a million visitors every year.  It begins in mid-October and runs through the end of November; this year, until December 1st. The festival features over 200 daily performances, 300 arts and crafts shops, 60 food and beverage shops, nightly fireworks and more than 3,000 costumed characters strolling the grounds. There is entertainment at every turn: crafters demonstrating their trade, musicians playing period instruments, actors and dancers, comedians (medieval-style), jousting, games and rides.  It is virtually impossible not to have a good time here and the more you get into the atmosphere, the better time you'll have. 
Every weekend of the faire, there's a different theme.  Some themes from previous weekends included "Oktoberfest" and "All Hallows Eve." Still to come are "Barbarian Invasion," "Highland Fling" and "Celtic Christmas."  Jax and I were there during "Pirate Adventure" weekend.
And now it's confession time: I'm really glad my friend made me wear the costume.  I decided somewhere along the car ride that I had to drop my curmudgeonly resistance and just give in to the lace-up white shirt. And, after a few cups of honey meade, I was really embracing my inner-16th century buccaneer, even using words like "prithee," "scurvy wench" and "Huzzah!" I realized that it really is just more fun to become a part of the action.
If you come - and you really should try to make one of the upcoming weekends -  try to get here early, not only for better parking, but to catch the gate opening ceremony at 9AM. Basic admission at the door is $26  Adult/ $13 Child, but it's a bit less if you order online. There are also family packs and group discounts available. Check their website to buy tickets and to check for discounts.  You could also try doing a quick online search for other coupons and promo codes.
Why was I so resistant to come? I can't remember anymore.  The Texas Renaissance Festival is good fun, great entertainment in a perfect setting, lots of enthusiastic, happy people.  I'm sure I will be back again. 
Huzzah, ya'll!

Photo credits: MarkScottAustinTX via Flickr 

"Come and Take it!" in Gonzales, TX

Wednesday, October 2, 2013 by The Texas Travelin' Man
History buffs, listen up!  The story of Gonzales gives a little insight into why Texans are the way we are today:
Gonzales TX travelGonzales was established in 1825, about 75 miles east of San Antonio. It was the first Anglo-American settlement west of the Colorado River, and is known as the “Lexington of Texas” because the first shot in the battle for Texas independence was fired here.
So, here's what happened: in 1831, the Mexicans gave the settlers a cannon for protection against the Indians. When the Mexican government decided they wanted the cannon back, the settlers refused. So Mexico sent about 100 soldiers to retrieve it. And even though there were only 18 men in Gonzales, they still refused to give it back! Soon, other volunteers joined the settlers. They constructed a flag bearing the likeness of the cannon and the taunting words "Come and Take It”. They snuck up on the Mexican army, and fired the cannon. By the time the smoke cleared, the Mexicans were scattered and the Texas Revolution was on.
The story always makes me chuckle: "Come and Take It" is quite a bold challenge for a small, rag-tag group of colonists to make against 100 Mexican soldiers.  But those rough and tough ol' boys fired the first shot for our state's independence and were forerunners of the proud, brave and independent Texans we are today.
Gonzales celebrates this victory every year with the "Come and Take It" festival.  Join the party on October 4-6 and enjoy a parade, carnival, biergarten, food, live music, a cook-off, canoe race and much more.  Gonzales Texas vacation
On Oct 5, there's a re-enactment of the battle that started the Texas revolution.
Being one of the most historic towns in Texas, Gonzales has many fascinating sites to explore:
  • Gonzales Memorial Museum - this is where you can see the actual cannon that started it all. There’s also a tribute to the “Immortal 32” (32 men from Gonzales answered the call for help and hastened to the Alamo, joining 9 other men from Gonzales. They all died in the battle) and many other interesting exhibits and artifacts.  
  • Pioneer Village Living History Center - experience life in an early Texas town. The village features an extensive collection of buildings from 19th century Gonzales. Tours, demonstrations and battle re-enactments are offered throughout the year. 
  • The Old Jail Museum - houses the Visitors’ Center, where you can learn more about Gonzales and pick up a map for a self-guided walking or driving tour of this historic town.
There are also many gorgeous homes to see, cemeteries, a charming downtown, and if that wasn’t enough, the area boasts some wonderful parks (known for their wildflowers and wide variety of birds), golf courses, and lots of other outdoor activities.
Visit Gonzales and see where the fight for Texas liberty began!

Bird-Lovers Take Flight to the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge

Tuesday, September 17, 2013 by The Texas Travelin' Man

It's not just the proverbial snowbirds from the Northeast who are beginning to make their way south for the colder months; many actual birds have already begun their migrations, too. And one of the best places to see them (the real birds, that is!) is at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Alamo, Texas.

This place is a mecca for bird-watchers; over 400 species have been spotted here, and some you won’t find in too many other places in the United States. I enjoy being surrounded by wildlife, but to tell you the truth, I wouldn't know a Hook-Billed Kite from a Great Kiskadee!  That's why I took a tour.  My guide was able to point out several species for me and told me that occasionally they’ll get some rare birds from Mexico showing up at the refuge -- always a thrill for the die-hard birders!
If you are thinking about visiting (and you should!), now would be a great time to go because at this time of year, thousands of birds pass through the refuge on their way to Central and South America. This is one of the reasons that Santa Ana is one of the top birding destinations in the world!
But besides being a must-see for birders, anyone who loves nature will absolutely adore this place! There are 2,088 acres of diverse habitats to explore: woods (where you’ll see many trees beautifully decorated with Spanish moss), lush fields, ponds and the Rio Grande River. And you don’t have to go it alone because the guides lead nature walks, and canoe trips on the river.
Don’t forget to bring along your camera, even if you’re not a birder, because there are many other types of wildlife to shoot besides our feathered friends. I didn't get to see any of the park's endangered and elusive ocelots, but I did spot a bobcat! And if you love butterflies like I do, you’re in luck because many different types call the refuge home. (Plus, there’s a really nice butterfly garden right next to the visitors’ center.)
I’m sure that once you visit this natural wonder, you’ll know why the birds come back year after year!

Lake Jackson: The City of Enchantment

Tuesday, September 3, 2013 by The Texas Travelin' Man

Texas is home to many different types of cities – from large, bustling metropolitan areas to small western towns that many people associate with this great state. One of the most unique cities that I have had the pleasure of visiting recently is Lake Jackson. Situated in Brazoria County, the town was built where the old Lake Jackson Plantation house once stood, and was created by Alden Dow (son of Herbert Henry Dow, the founder of the Dow Chemical Company) as a planned community to meet the needs of the incoming employees of the Dow Chemical Company, which came to the area in 1940.

You can learn all about the history of this area by visiting the Lake Jackson Historical Museum. The exhibits and interactive displays are quite extensive and they don’t only cover the planning and building of the community; the displays go back as far as the prehistoric era and cover the opulent plantation era as well. From August 10 through September 22, the museum is presenting a special exhibit which explores how the ideals and philosophies of Alden Dow guided him in his establishment of this fascinating community.

Another nice trip to take while in the area is a visit to the Jackson Plantation Site. A Texas Landmark, the Jackson Plantation was a prosperous sugar plantation on the banks of Lake Jackson. It was destroyed by a hurricane in 1900, and today you can see just how destructive that hurricane was. You’ll learn how sugar was processed in the 1840’s, how slave labor gave way to convict labor, and much more. This year, their Plantation Day Celebration will be on September 7. There’ll be reenactments, craft displays, activities, games, refreshments…something for kids of all ages!  You can find more information on all of these locations at the website.

Sea Center Texas is also nearby and worth a visit. Here you’ll find an aquarium, fish hatchery and education center. On most days, tours are available which include going behind the scenes to see the hatchery were the fingerling redfish are spawned and raised until old enough to be released into the nearby bay waters. The admission price is free. 

Lake Jackson's location along the central flyway used by migratory birds, and its pivotal location on the Gulf of Mexico makes it a perfect place for the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory. This 34-acre sanctuary is dedicated to protecting birds and their habitats along the Gulf of Mexico. Offering education and community outreach, kids can participate in their Birding Day Camp, bird identification and photography. Special events are offered throughout the year.  Coming this month, September 14 and 21, is the XHX Event: Xtreme Hummingbird Xtravaganza, featuring hummingbird banding, Adopt-A-Hummer, nature trails and more.

Lake Jackson's natural beauty, quirky personality, and unique vision have earned it the nickname: “the City of Enchantment”, a well-deserved title. 


Corpus Christi: Beautiful Beaches and a Mighty Warship

Wednesday, July 31, 2013 by The Texas Travelin' Man
Corpus Christi is one of the most popular vacation spots in Texas, and if you have ever been there, you know why. Located on the Gulf of Mexico, it is a beautiful area with miles of wide open beaches, gorgeous scenery, lots of fascinating wildlife, and…a battleship!
That’s right, Corpus Christi is home to the USS Lexington, an Essex-class aircraft carrier built during World War II. The ship saw extensive action in the Pacific and made quite a name for herself; her crew was awarded 11 battle stars and the prestigious Presidential Unit Citation for heroism in action against the Japanese.
After her exemplary military service, the USS Lexington was mainly used as a training center. In 1992, after serving longer than any other Essex-class ship, she began a new life as a floating museum, The USS Lexington Museum on the Bay. And what a museum it is! There are 5 self-guided tours that take you all over the ship. If you need any help along the way, just ask one of the friendly and helpful yellow-shirted staff members. (Many of these volunteers actually served on the Lexington!)
Some of the things you’ll see include vintage fighter planes and choppers, torpedoes, old battle ship models, the engine room, the Admiral’s and the sailors’ quarters, personal effects used by our brave boys back in the day, plus many more fascinating artifacts and exhibits. There is a 3-D show every day, included in the price of admission. I would highly advise that you allow yourself a couple of hours at least because there really is a lot to see and take in. And if you work up an appetite, or are in need of a cold drink, no problem.  They have a nice, air-conditioned café right on board.
Besides her admirable service as an aircraft carrier and now a museum, the USS Lexington (which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2003) also served as a location for such films as “Midway”, and the 2001 film, “Pearl Harbor”. And in 2007, the TV show “Ghost Hunters” came aboard searching for evidence of ghosts. I don’t know if they found any, but I’m sure they saw a bunch of other things just as fascinating! And believe me, so will you!
You can find out much more (and print out a $1.00 off admission coupon) at the USS Lexington website.  They also have a very active Facebook page.

Family-Friendly Spring Break Ideas in Texas

Monday, February 18, 2013 by Anna Woita


Everyone knows that when March rolls around, thousands of college students from across the nation will flock to the coasts for a week of the three b’s: beaches, bikinis, and beer.  But while college students have a week off from their studies, so do the kiddos, and families begin an attempt to plan a fun vacation without the chaos of college kids.  Here at, we are happy to help you plan a memorable Texas vacation that won’t land your family in the middle of a keg stand contest.  Here are some great family-friendly spring break ideas in Texas!

1. Dixie Dude Ranch.  Located in the hill country of Bandera, Texas (an hour to the northwest of San Antonio), the ranch is a perfect venue for families looking for a one-of-a-kind experience in the Old West.  With horseback riding through the hill country, an outdoor pool, eclectic cottages and cabins, and real cowboys, Dixie Dude Ranch provides an authentic outdoor adventure for the whole family.   By the end of the week when all the fun has taken its toll, masseuses are available on site to relax and restore you before your return to the real world.

2. Great Wolf Lodge.  If your family hasn’t experienced the entertainment and thrill in store at Great Wolf Lodge, spring break 2013 is the time to take advantage of all the resort has to offer.  Located in Grapevine, Texas (nestled between Dallas and Fort Worth), the resort has more options for family fun in one spot than any other resort you can find.  With a full indoor waterpark, hot springs, MagiQuest® enchanted kingdom adventure, Northern Lights™ Arcade, Howly Wood XD Theater, a full kids-spa for manicures with mom, and an adult spa when mom needs a massage break from the kids, the possibilities for regalement or relaxation are endless.  Also check out the Cub Club® learning adventure to keep the kiddos’ minds sharp even while they’re away from school!

3. SeaWorld San Antonio.  Even if you’re not looking to hit up the beach, your family can still enjoy the excitement of the ocean all in one spot: SeaWorld! Experience the classic One Ocean show featuring Shamu, make a splash on the Journey to Atlantis water coaster ride, and feed the Atlantic bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions.  If you’re attending with young kids, be sure to check out the Sesame Street® Bay of Play®, a water park oasis designed just for the little ones.  After you’ve successfully explored all that SeaWorld has to offer, check out other San Antonio attractions, such as the historic Alamo or the river walk.

4. Natural Bridge Caverns.  Another attraction near San Antonio, Natural Bridge Caverns are the largest commercial caverns in the state of Texas.  The Discovery Tour, the caverns’ most popular expedition, takes your family 180 feet below ground on a guided tour full of stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones, chandeliers and soda straws.  For those of you with older kids, check out the Canopy Challenge – a 60-foot, four-tiered adventure course testing agility, balance, and strength facing 47 different obstacles, and ending with a 1,400 foot zip line through the Texas hill country.  After you’ve explored the caves and tackled the canopy challenge, get your safari hat on and your binoculars ready and head next door to The Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch – 400 acres of rolling hills riddled with over 500 animals from 40 exotic, native, and endangered animal species worldwide.

5. Schlitterbahn Galveston.  With numerous indoor water slides, pools, lazy rivers and other water adventures, Schlitterbahn in Galveston offers a full array of water fun.  Check the schedule before you go, however, as Schlitterbahn is mostly only open on the weekends in March.  Throughout the week, however, you can check out numerous other family-oriented venues that Galveston has to offer, including Moody Gardens, Texas Seaport Museum, and the Port Bolivar Ferry. 


Segway Tours of Houston: Your Segue to a Really Cool Experience!

Monday, January 21, 2013 by Anna Woita

Have you ever wanted to explore a new city but didn’t know where to start? Well (aside from visiting to obtain all the best travel suggestions) if you are visiting Houston, they have a new and innovative way of exploring all the sites and history of downtown without taking a step!  How is this possible, you ask?  One word: Segways!  

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: Aren’t Segways for mall cops?  Oh contraire, my friend!  These two-wheeled, self-balancing phenomena are now available to you as well at Segway Tours of Houston, and are a segue to a really cool experience. 

The tour we went on was called the “Buffalo Bayou Tour,” and started in downtown Houston at the Wortham Center.  Tip #1: Be sure you know where your tour starts! When I looked up the address for the tours, I followed the address given for where the Segways are housed, not where our tour would start.  It took a few minutes to reroute to the actual launch location.

Tip #2: Trust your Segway, and your tourguide.  I know it sounds simple, but despite my warnings about the initial “Segway shake” if I didn’t trust the Segway to balance upon stepping on, I soon became “that girl” with the shaking Segway.  But “come on!” I say, all logic, reason, and schooling tells me that two-wheeled objects should not be able to stand up on their own!  This is what makes Segways one of the most interesting developments of the 21st century.  Built with sophisticated tilt sensors, the Segway works similarly to the way your inner ear does in regards to balance.  When you start leaning forward too far and could potentially lose control, the Segway pushes back to slow you down.  It is modern technology at its finest.

The Buffalo Bayou Tour was a perfect taste of all that downtown Houston has to offer.  With the tour guide’s knowledge and leading, you will uncover historical sites, landmarks, statues, trails, popular venues, and a rich amount of history about the city.  Tip #3: Ask questions.  Your tour guide holds a wealth of knowledge right at your fingertips, if you’ll only ask.  If you are curious about one of the landmarks or statues, ask more about it! If you want to know the best Italian restaurants in town, inquire!  The best way to tailor the tour to you is to engage with your tour guide.   

While Segways can be a little intimidating at first, the only real danger occurs when your history nostalgia blinds you from seeing that the Segway in front of you has come to a halt.  Oh yeah, that happened to me a few times, too.  Tip #4: Avoid Segway collisions as well as pedestrians.  As rich and awesome as the history tour is, it’s important (just as in driving) to pay attention.  

With these tips in mind, and a love for undertaking new adventures, you will be set for the best possible Segway tour experience.  Whether you are new to the city or have lived in Houston for years, the Segway Tours of Houston have something for everyone.

Cowboys or Texans fan? Take an insider's tour of the Stadiums!

Friday, October 19, 2012 by The Texas Travelin' Man


Some people think of this season as Fall but to me, there's winter, spring, summer and football season.  If there's one thing I love to do besides travel, it's watch a good game. Here in Texas we have two of the best stadiums to do that.  If you're traveling near Houston or Dallas and you can fit a live game into your itinerary, I highly recommend doing so.  But if your travels don't coincide with a home game, do the next best thing and take a stadium tour!

Fans of the powerhouse Texans head out to Reliant Field in Houston to show their support. This place is immense! It sits on 350 acres and consists of Reliant Stadium, Reliant Center, Reliant Astrodome, and Reliant Arena. It was pretty cool getting a behind-the-scenes look into the workings of the stadium and where the team works out and gets ready for a game.  One of the interesting things I learned on the tour is that they remove the field (which is real grass) after every game and store it in another facility. I also enjoyed seeing the differences between the Texans' and the visiting team's locker rooms…talk about home field advantage! Other stops include the Press box, weight room, cafeteria, gift shops and the premium seating areas (which, for a lot of us is the only way we’ll ever get to see them up close!)  Our tour guide also showed us how the stadium’s roof retracts. This way you can enjoy the nice weather outside, or if there’s too much of that famous Houston heat and humidity, the nice weather inside! 

Cowboys’ fans flock to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.  This relatively new football mecca (opened in 2009) is the largest domed stadium in the world and can accommodate 80,000 fans. Again, I’d highly recommend you take a tour if you want to really experience this amazing stadium.  If you can, take the VIP tour as opposed to the self-guided tour. It's $10 more, but really worth it! I had a great guide. He explained in detail everything about the building. A really cool stop was the VIP suite where Jerry Jones, owner of the Cowboys, watches the games. I loved seeing the locker rooms - I could imagine myself as a Dallas Cowboy, getting suited up and ready to take on all challengers! And to add to my fantasy, we even got to walk out onto the field exactly as the Cowboys do, under a long hallway underneath a huge, lit-up Cowboys star on the ceiling!

Another thing I have to mention is the amazing high definition video screen. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in any other arena. The picture is clearer than my HD-TV at home!  It’s so huge, so you get a spectacular view no matter where you’re sitting.

I highly recommend making a stadium tour part of your trip to the Dallas or Houston area.

For more information:

Reliant Stadium tours:

Cowboys Stadium tours:


Fort Davis: Immerse Yourself in Living History

Friday, August 10, 2012 by The Texas Travelin' Man


Can you imagine what life was like for a soldier in the 1800s whose job it was to protect our state from travel to Fort Davis, TXIndians? If you need some help with that, you need to visit the Fort Davis National Historic Site in Jeff Davis county. This restored fort is considered by many to be one of the best examples of a frontier military post in the mid-1800s in the Southwest. U.S. In fact, it is so authentic that military hobbyists and historians from all over the country visit the Davis Mountains specifically to see the Fort.
Fort Davis played a key role in the history of the region. During the mid 19th century, troops stationed here protected the West Texas frontier from Comanches, Kiowas, and Apaches. Soldiers also provided protection for wagon trains and mail coaches traveling on the San Antonio-El Paso Road. But by 1891 the Indian Wars in West Texas had ended, and Fort Davis was ordered abandoned by the army.  Seventy years later, in 1961, the fort was authorized as a national historic site, a unit of the National Park Service.
The fort is well maintained with partially and fully restored buildings, wonderful exhibitions, an excellent book shop and a museum. I’d recommend you begin your journey at the visitors’ center where you should definitely take in the 15 minute video explaining the history of the fort. This way you’ll be able to get the most out of your visit, since the tours are self-guided. If you have any questions, there are knowledgeable rangers throughout the site, ready to lend a helping hand. 
I found this place to be a truly immersive experience: I interacted with people dressed in period clothing, heard the bugle's call-to-arms, flinched at the loud cracking of the artillery demonstrations and smelled the gunpowder. All my senses had me convinced I was living in 1854.  I had an absolutely wonderful time here. And at only $3 admission per person, I'd say Fort Davis is a must-see destination.
Texas travel Fort Davis
For more information about the Fort Davis area, visit


Spelunking the Alien Underground of Natural Bridge Caverns

Friday, July 13, 2012 by The Texas Travelin' Man

As I am on the road, traveling through Texas fairly often, I am lucky to see so much of the natural beauty our great state is blessed with. But as much as I see, Texas still manages to surprise me. I recently visited the Natural Bridge Caverns, about 30 minutes north of San Antonio and was awe-struck at the alien world that exists below the Texas soil.  

180 feet underground, you enter a surreal, prehistoric landscape of magnificent limestone formations, san antonio vacationsix million years in the making.  All your senses are on edge: the air feels wet and smells of earthy minerals.  It takes your eyes a few minutes to get used to the dark.  Every sound echoes in the acoustical chambers formed by the stone.
Natural Bridge Caverns offers three different cave tours.  I took the "Discovery Tour", a 75- minute walk through awe-inspiring and beautiful stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones, chandeliers and soda straws.  The cave rooms are enormous and each one is more impressive than the one before it. Our tour-guide was so knowledgeable and provided fascinating narrative and cool facts about these ancient, natural wonders. I found it truly humbling to think of the eons it took for small drops of water to create this subterranean wonderland.
If you are considering a trip to Natural Bridge Caverns, here are a few tips you may find helpful:
  • You are not allowed to touch anything in the cave and they are strict about it.   Before you decide to bring small kids on a tour, be sure they understand "no touching"!
  • The cave is wet and the path is slippery at times. There is a handrail to keep you upright, but wear appropriate footwear, preferably with non-slip soles
  • It can get hot and humid in the cavern.  Really hot. Dress accordingly. Bring some cold water.
  • You don't have to be an athlete to take a cave tour, but there is a lot of walking and some climbing and, as previously mentioned, it gets hot. It's not extremely strenuous, but just know your own physical limits before going.
  • Stay near the front of the pack so you can hear your tour guide.  While seeing the formations alone is amazing, learning about the geology and ecology makes the trip that much more enjoyable.
In addition to a variety of cave tours, Natural Bridge Caverns offers several above-ground fun and educational activities for kids of all ages, including rope adventures, zip lining, and prospecting for minerals in a mining sluice.  There is so much here to explore.
If you are planning a San Antonio vacation, I highly recommend exploring the Texas underground at the Natural Bridge Caverns.

10 Fantastic Free Things to Do in Fort Worth

Friday, July 6, 2012 by The Texas Travelin' Man

As the 16th largest city in the United States and part of the No. 1 tourist destination in Texas, Fort Worth has come out from under the shadow of its "big sister" city, Dallas.  Fort Worth is an eclectic blend of cowboy-meets-culture: whetherTour Texas you prefer to spend your time in a museum or watching the world's only twice-daily cattle drive, this city offers plenty of things to do. And, if you need to give your wallet a little rest, here are 10 fantastic things to do in this city, completely free:

1. Amon Carter Museum of American Art  >> website
It's hard to believe that admission to this American treasure is free.  Housed in a beautiful, contemporary building, this museum offers a diverse array of exhibitions, publications, and programs that connect visitors to masterworks of American art in many genres, including painting, sculpture, illustration, photography and more. Don't miss your opportunity to view nearly 400 works by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, the two greatest artists of the American West.
2. See U.S. Currency Being Printed...Legally!
visiting fort worth texasThe Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s Fort Worth Currency facility is one of only two locations in the U.S. that print money (Washington, D.C. being the other). Come on a weekday and take a free 45-minute guided tour. The tour features the various steps of currency production, beginning with large, blank sheets of paper, and ending with wallet-ready bills! You'll see millions of dollars being printed.
3. Tap your toe to a Cowtown Opry Show
free things to do in fort worth texasDedicated to the preservation of country music as a part of Texas heritage, the Cowtown Opry is a group of performers who specialize in bringing back authentic western music shows. Concerts include vintage and contemporary western music, songs from the singing cowboy movies, old time cowboy ballads, and western swing (THE official music of Texas!). Weekly concerts are free, on the steps of the Livestock Exchange Building. Visit the Cowtown Opry website for an up-to-date schedule.
4. Take a Tour of Fire Station No. 1
A historic fire station near Fort Worth's Sundance Square District, Fire Station No. 1 is part of the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. The exhibit features interactive models (including a bucking bronco) that commemorate Fort Worth’s first 150 years, from its early years as a frontier outpost, through its raucous cattle-town years, and into the modern big-city era.
5. Watch Texas Longhorns Driven by Genuine Texas Cowhands
Relive the romance and mystique of Old West cowboys and cattle drives! Watch the world’s only twice-daily cattle drive where teams of real cowhands drive longhorn cows through the Stockyards on Exchange Avenue. 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily in the Stockyards.  And look for the Drovers before and after each cattle drive for photo opportunities and to learn more about life on the trail!  >>more info and schedule
6. Fort Worth Botanic Garden
Home to more than 2,500 species of plants in its 23 specialty gardens, the Botanic Gardens are absolutely beautiful and a great place to learn about nature. The general gardens are free; there is a nominal fee for the Conservatory and the Japanese Garden, where the koi-filled pools, sculptured hillsides, crafted stonework and dramatic waterfalls provide a view of exotic conservation.
7. Fort Worth Water Garden
The 4.3 acre urban oasis is located next to the Fort Worth Convention Center featuring three pools of water and over 500 species of plants and trees. The quiet meditation pool, the aerating pool and the active pool all have water cascading down terraces and collecting in pools below.  1502 Commerce St.
8. Monnig Meteorite Museum
travel texasMeteorites are the oldest materials known — older than any rock formed on Earth! The Monnig Meteorite Museum is one of the largest university-based collections with over 1,700 specimens. Explore the mysteries of meteorites, create your own terrestrial impact crater and even touch a piece of Mars at this “out of this world” gallery devoted to our visitors from space. Located on the grounds of the Texas Christian University campus. >> more info
9. Trinity Trails
texas traveTrinity Trails are the biking/cycling, running/walking and horseback trails of Fort Worth. The trails are named for the Trinity River, along which many of the trails are located.  There are over 40 miles of trails along the Trinity and its tributaries, connecting with 21 parks, the Fort Worth Botanic Garden and Japanese Garden, Log Cabin Village, Fort Worth Zoo, the historic Stockyards and downtown Fort Worth. >> more info
10. Kimbell Art Museum
The Kimbell's permanent collection contains works ranging from the third millennium B.C. to the mid-20th century, and includes major pieces by Fra Angelico, Velazquez, Bernini, Rembrandt, Goya, Monet, Cezanne, Picasso, Mondrian and Matisse. It is also home to Michelangelo's first known painting. The collection comprises Asian and non-Western as well as European art. The museum features special and traveling exhibits on display throughout the year.  >> more info





Oh, and one more thing in Fort Worth that's free:
"Molly the Trolley" is a vintage-style vehicle that offers a quick and convenient way to travel throughout the downtown area for free, from the Fort Worth Convention Center to Sundance Square.  Molly stops near every downtown hotel property, landmark, dining, shopping and entertainment venue.  Be sure to hop aboard for a free ride while exploring Fort Worth's free treasures.  >> more info

10 Weird, Wacky, Unique, Morbid and Cool Texas Museums

Friday, June 22, 2012 by The Texas Travelin' Man

I've got nothing against a good art museum or a sobering historical exhibit.  In fact, I think a great museum is one of the high points of a trip to a new place.  But, as Americans, I think most of us also love to explore the weird, the silly, the strange and the morbid.  With that in mind, I present to you ten of Texas' weirdest, coolest and most unique museums. 

Cockroach Hall of Fame
2231-B West 15th St., Plano  ∙  972-519-0355
I stumbled upon this place a few years back and I tell everyone who's going to be near Plano to pay it a visit, if only to get a laugh.  Located inside a pest control supply store and "curated" by owner Michael Bohdan, the hall of fame features plenty of information about roaches and mounted samples.  In addition to the "dead" cockroaches, Michael also displays live Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches which are three to four inches long and nearly an inch thick. My favorite part, though, are the displays of roaches in costumes, each in a diorama depicting a scene.  For example, there's "Liberoachie", sitting at a piano in a sparkling Liberace costume.  And there's also Marilyn Monroach - a dead bug wearing the signature white dress.  You'll leave with a smile on your face and a greater appreciation for the lowly roach.
travel texasTexas Prison Museum 
Huntsville  ∙
At the Texas Prison Museum, even the tour guide is a genuine artifact: retired warden Jim Willet, who oversaw 89 executions during his career,  walked us around and told stories about the exhibits detailing the history of the Texas prison system.  Highlights include the Contraband Exhibit, the Famous Prisoners exhibit and "Old Sparky", an electric chair that fried 361 prisoners between 1924 and 1964.   You can have your picture taken in a real 9' x 6' jail cell at the Museum for a great souvenir.  This very interesting museum is a bargain at only $4 for admission.
texas vacationThe Dog Museum
Waco  ∙
If you like dogs, this museum will get your tail wagging. With over 7,000 items on display, this collection includes all things canine: dog salt and pepper shakers, dog inkwells, dog buttons, dog figurines, dogs in photography and advertising -- some new, some vintage and some just downright antique.  The "slightly creepy" award goes to the taxidermied bulldog from the late 1800s.  The museum is free of charge and located in the Antiquibles Antique Mall about four miles north of Waco on I-35. 
texas vacationRipley's Believe it or Not! Odditorium
San Antonio  ∙
If you've traveled to many big cities, you're sure to have come across one of the several Ripley's attractions, showcasing weird artifacts, unusual relics and displays of world records.  The one here in San Antonio offers three floors of interactive displays including a piece of the Berlin Wall, the world’s largest tire, replicas of prehistoric beasts, Lee Harvey Oswald’s car, and iconic items of American and world history.  Tickets can be pricey, but there are almost always coupons available -- do a quick online search before your visit.
texas museumToilet Seat Museum
239 Abiso, Alamo Heights  ∙  210-824-7791
There's an expression that says "art is where you find it".  In San Antonio, you find it on toilet seat lids. This museum consists of over 1,000 toilet seats, but some might argue that the real treasure is its proprietor, 90+ year old Barney Smith, who can tell you the story of each seat. The toilet seat art covers historical events, newsworthy happenings, worldwide travels, hobbies, life  events, and celebrities (both famous and "not so famous").  The museum is located in the garage of Barney's private residence, but just give him a call and check that his doors are open when you want to visit.  He doesn't charge any admission, but you may find it in your heart to  purchase one of the small, handmade souvenirs for sale. 
National Museum of Funeral History
This is one of those museums that people invariably think is going to be boring or morbid and are then surprised by how interesting and cool it is. The National Museum of Funeral History contains the country's largest collection of funeral service artifacts and features in-depth exhibits on embalming, burial methods, mourning rituals and funeral practices of ancient civilizations through today. Artifacts include coffins, funeral vehicles from the early horse drawn variety to the modern hearses, authentic items used in the funerals of U.S. presidents and popes.  About a half hour outside of Houston's city center, but well worth the trip
texas vacation
The Salt Palace 
Grand Saline   ∙
Not only is this museum dedicated to salt, it's made of salt!  The Salt Palace, a small one-story building in downtown Grand Saline, is constructed of local salt blocks and features the salt industry, which dates back to 1845.  Displays inside the Salt Palace include salt mining artifacts, memorabilia and photographs. Morton Salt, which owns the actual mines, does not conduct an underground tour, but a museum videotape shows mining operations.  Every Salt Palace visitors takes home a souvenir salt crystal, so please, don't lick the walls.
The Art Car Museum
Houston   ∙
First of all, what's an "art car"?  Any motor vehicle that has been enhanced or transformed by the application of materials to express the artist's aesthetic or make a statement.  Installments here at the museum include several art cars, paintings and sculptures.  There are only a few cars on display at any given time so, don't expect a showroom filled with them, but the ones you will see will be beautiful and fascinating and definitely worth your time.  And there is plenty of other art here too to capture your interest.
Miss Hattie's Bordello Museum
San Angelo   ∙  Facebook page
Like many Old West towns back in the late 1800s, San Angelo was known for boozing, gambling, and prostitution.  Today, it's a nice suburban community, but remnants of its colored past live on in Miss Hattie's Bordello Museum, memorializing one of Texas's most famous "gentlemen's social centers".  Miss Hattie's was in operation until 1949 until it was closed by the Texas Rangers. Today, in its original location on historic Concho Avenue, Miss Hattie's remains furnished much like it was during its heyday, providing visitors a glimpse into the past.  (Tickets may be purchased next door at Legend Jewelers.)
Devil's Rope Barbed Wire Museum 
McLean    ∙
Their tagline says it all:  "Everything you want to know about barbed wire and fencing tools".  Maybe you think you don't want to know much about barbed wire, but trust me, you do!  Barbed wire is a lot more interesting than you'd think.  Located on historic Route 66, the museum reveals the history of barbed wire, it's effect on ranching and its darker roles in prisons and in war.  Still not convinced? Read these interesting articles about the museum here and here - then add it into your travel itinerary!
OK, so tell me, did I miss any??

Medina River Kayaking: It'll Float Your Boat!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012 by The Texas Travelin' Man

You don't kayak the Medina River for a wild, whitewater, exhilarating day on the water. You kayak the Medina because you want a relaxing excursion, surrounded by pristine, natural beauty and wildlife, shaded by the arching cypress trees where you can just let the river do most of the work.

Still one of the best kept secrets in the Texas Hill Country, the Medina River in Bandera is about 20 minutes from Kerrville and 45 minutes from San Antonio. There are several kayak, canoe and river tube rental places in the towns of Bandera and Medina, and they can all advise you on good start and end places for your trip.  We drove south on Highway 16 from Kerrville and made a right on FM 2107. The road crossed the river once, then twice, then a third time, which was where we parked and hit the water. 
It was early May, the sun was shining, the sky was blue and the weather was a perfect  84°.  We started our trip on a wide open stretch of the river, but it wasn't long before we were paddling through a tunnel of bald cypress trees that lined both banks and created a leafy, ethereal canopy.  The Medina cuts through limestone bluffs and outcroppings with free-flowing springs that feed the river and the wildlife that live here. The sounds of birds, jumping fish and other hidden creatures could be heard echoing around us.
We paddled past a father and his son fishing for catfish and bass. Half an hour later, we passed some teens idly floating in tubes (whew! the water seemed a bit chilly to me, but they didn't mind a bit.) Other than that, we didn't pass anyone else on the river.  The Medina seems to be a hidden treasure, still undiscovered by tourists and weekend trippers.
Our three-hour trip was mostly a leisurely ride with Class 1 and under rapids, but we did encounter a few fast ripples of whitewater and stepped drops that made us gather up all our skills and recall what the pamphlets said about navigating the river.  It provided a few moments of adrenalin rush for our group of novice kayakers and a nice contrast to the dream-like state of the rest of the trip.
Floating along the crystal-clear waters of the Medina, serenaded by the calls of birds and the gentle sound of your paddle cutting the river's current, your soul is lifted and the real world is a million miles away.

50 Fantastic and FREE Things to do in Dallas

Tuesday, April 24, 2012 by The Texas Travelin' Man


Reality TV has done Dallas a disservice.  With shows like "Big Rich Texas" and "Most Eligible Dallas", folks might get the impression that this city is all about big hair, huge egos and massive bank accounts.  The real reality is that "Big D" is a cultural hotspot, brimming with art, music, great shopping and fascinating history -- and you don't have to be a wealthy socialite to enjoy the city.  In fact, many of the great things Dallas has to offer are FREE.
Below are my 10 favorites from the list:
1. Outdoor Sculpture Tour
Discover over 30 distinctive sculptures on the sidewalks of Downtown. Along with pieces from the 19th century, there are contemporary works, including a painter capturing magnificent Dallas on canvas - Can you find him?
2. Dallas Symphony Free Summer Concerts
Free things to do in DallasPack a picnic and a lawn chair and enjoy beautiful music under the open sky. Dallas' outdoors beckons lovers of nature and music. During the Spring and early Summer months, The Dallas Symphony Orchestra performs in area parks and you can also hear "Jazz under the Stars" at the Dallas Museum of Art on Thursday evenings. 
3. African American Museum
Located in Fair Park, the African American Museum is the only one of its kind in the Southwestern Region devoted to the preservation and display of African American artistic, cultural and historical materials. African American culture is experienced through entertaining and educational programs presented in the theater, studio arts area and classrooms.
For more info, view the full list of 50 Free Things to do in Dallas!
4. Free Behind-the-Scenes tour of the Original Neiman Marcus
Free Dallas toursTucked neatly in between various high rise buildings in downtown Dallas lies the original Neiman Marcus department store.  Dallas' outstanding shopping reputation began with the opening of Neiman Marcus in 1914. Take a free tour of this historical building and learn its many secrets and interesting stories. Store tours available by appointment only.
5. Pioneer Plaza Cattle Drive
free activities in dallas CAttle DriveA growing number of bronze, larger-than-life-size steers and their cowboy escorts moo've along Pioneer Plaza, adjacent to the Dallas Convention Center. This bronze cattle drive is located on the actual Shawnee Trail drive of the 1850s and is the largest bronze monument of its kind in the world.
6. Trinity River Audubon Center
The Trinity River Audubon Center features trails in the Great Trinity Forest as well as over 120 acres of restored wetlands and prairies. Operated by the National Audubon Society, visitors have the opportunity to explore hands-on exhibits, four miles of nature viewing trails, the Children's Discovery Garden, and a great nature store with locally produced gifts and educational items. Free admission on the third Thursday of each month.  
For more info, view the full list of 50 Free Things to do in Dallas!
7. A Nation Remembers JFK
JFK Memorial Dallas FreeDallas pays homage to one of its darkest times, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated during his 1963 visit. Designed by Kennedy family friend, Philip Johnson, the John F. Kennedy Memorial is an open-roofed, concrete walled monument symbolic of an open tomb. It is not unusual to find flowers and notes placed here. Nearby, the infamous School Book Depository and Grassy Knoll have changed little since that devastating day in our Nation's history.
8. Crow Collection of Asian Art
Free activities in DallasThe Crow Collection of Asian Art contains more than 600 paintings, objects of metal and stone, and large architectural pieces from China, Japan, India, and Southeast Asia. Over 300 works are on display in the galleries including precious jade ornaments from China, delicate Japanese scrolls and a rarely seen 28-foot by 12-foot sandstone facade of an 18th century Indian residence.
9. Thanks-Giving Square
Free in DallasThanks-Giving Square is a private, interfaith and educational venue that welcomes people of all nations, cultures and religious traditions. A unique chapel and exhibition promoting a spirit of Thanksgiving featuring a meditation garden, bells and fountains make this the "Home of American Thanksgiving."
Where: 1627 Pacific Avenue 
For more info, view the full list of 50 Free Things to do in Dallas!
10. Fountain Place
Waters dance and leap skyward at downtown's Fountain Place. At the base of this dramatically sculpted 1.2 million sq. ft. office tower of green reflective glass lies an oasis of colorful flowers, waterfalls, 172 bubbler fountains and central fountain. The latter is one of the world's most complex and consists of 360 computer driven water jets. Designed by the acclaimed architectural firm of I.M. Pei & Partners, Fountain Place has received international recognition.
Whether or not you're travelling to Dallas on a budget, give your wallet a break while exploring some of the best free things Big D has to offer!


Pure Western American Heritage in N. Texas Horse Country

Friday, March 30, 2012 by The Texas Travelin' Man


Would y'all be surprised to learn that Texas is the number ONE horse state in the U.S.?  We’ve got over 1 million horses within our borders, and the primary breeding and ranching areas are in Denton County, north of Fort Worth almost to the Oklahoma border. The area is a national equine breeding and training area with over 300 large farms and ranches.  Best known for the Quarter Horse, the area also turns out superior Thoroughbreds, Paints, Arabians, Appaloosas and more.  Many disciplines are practiced here, including cutting, halter, roping, western pleasure, dressage and reining. 

Until recently, this gem of Texas landscape was unknown to most people, but growing awareness of the area’s beauty, educational value and pure Western American heritage is making a visit to North Texas Horse Country a must-do for many travelers.  And now that springtime is here, you’re bound to see a few newborn foals.

There are two great ways to experience Horse Country.

Self-Guided Driving Tour –  I’m a guy who likes to get behind the wheel and hit the road, so my first time through Horse Country, I opted for the driving tour.  I like the idea of deciding my own agenda, visiting the ranches that interested me and making spontaneous stops at my own whim. Maps are available (contact the Denton Convention & Visitor’s Bureau) showing the ranches along the way. Ranch owners try to accommodate visitors and ask for a “heads up” phone call if you’re planning on stopping by. However, these are real, working ranches and sometimes the owners are unable to take time to entertain guests. For example, one ranch I stopped at was experiencing a medical emergency with one of their prized stallions. The owners, ranch hands and several veterinarians were understandably more concerned with the horse than with showing me around. They apologized and invited me back another time. Other facilities did have some spare time for me and I enjoyed watching the ranchers and horses at work.

Guided Tours -  The following year, I opted for the guided tour.  We met in Denton and settled onto a comfortable bus. A really knowledgeable guide made the trip both educational and entertaining as we visited 3 different ranches, all of which were expecting us and had made time to show us their horses, demonstrate the work they do and divulged the inner workings of the ranch. Midway through, a nice “cowboy lunch” was served and I got to chat with folks from all over the U.S. All this for $40!  It was definitely worth it. Reserve your spot through the Denton Convention & Visitor's Bureau.

If you’re traveling in and around the Denton area and want to experience the history and heritage of the American West, be sure to include North Texas Horse Country on your agenda. 

The Texas Junk Company: One of Houston's Best-Kept Secrets

Friday, March 9, 2012 by The Texas Travelin' Man


You won't find it in most travel guides and the locals are glad about that.  They would prefer that not too many people find out about the Texas Junk Company.Houston travel

Located in the Montrose neighborhood of Houston, the Texas Junk Company carries a huge selection of used items at bargain prices. You'll find tennis rackets, frames, vintage luggage, artwork and other knick-knacks, but the main event here is the rodeo wear and more specifically, the boots.  This warehouse-type building is well organized with rows and rows of "pre-owned" boots, arranged by size, from the very simple to really fancy, from practically new to very well worn.  I saw many pairs with a lot of miles still left in them, that were priced between $30 - $70.  The fancier ones with more detail and exotic leathers will naturally run higher.
The owner is Bob Novotney, a baby-boomer hippie kind of guy with long, gray hair and a soul patch on his chin.  He spends his weeks scouring his connections across Texas for the goods - nice used boots, denim jackets, cowboy hats and other miscellany that he can reload his shelves with.  And, because he is shopping during the week, the store is only open Fridays and Saturdays.  Bob says that over 30 years ago with just $50 to his name, he started the company selling various odds and ends, but he came to realize that the boots were a big draw for his customers.  As his selection of boots grew, so did his customer base. "I'll go just about anywhere to pick up some new stock.  I buy boots in any condition and I'll buy every pair I can find."  These days, there are plenty of "regulars" who come by to see what's new as well as people who include this unique stop on their itinerary every time they visit Houston, especially around rodeo season.
cowboy boots saleI decided to pick up some boots for myself and I figured I'd walk out with one of the $30 pairs.  Then I saw this pair of alligator boots for a little over $200, which I couldn't resist.  A friend who is a boot aficionado told me I got a steal.  I think I saw a gleam of envy in his eye.
Make time for a stop here on a Friday or Saturday during your next visit.  And bring cash or your checkbook  - no credit cards accepted.  You'll love browsing through this cool store and you just may walk about with a pair of "new" boots.
Texas Junk Company
215 Welch St.
Houston, TX 77006
(713) 524-6257

Come on to Kemah!

Thursday, February 23, 2012 by The Texas Travelin' Man

About 30 minutes south of Houston, right off I-45, is the small, coastal town of Kemah, part of the grouping of towns called Bay Area Houston.  Kemah is known for its bustling boardwalk, nestled along Clear Creek Channel which opens up into Galveston Bay.  The area is a charming Gulf Coast destination that gets millions of visitors each year.

Back in earlier days, Kemah used to be a rustic shrimping port on Galveston Bay where youKemah Texas travel information could buy some fresh shrimp and a beer and sit by the dock on an afternoon to watch the boats come in.  During the 90s, a developer built the boardwalk and brought in amusement rides, restaurants, shops and carnival games and turned it into a tourist attraction.  I do have to admit, it is somewhat "touristy", but to me, that's not a bad thing.  On a recent sunny day in early February, I was one of those tourists enjoying a stroll along the Kemah Boardwalk.

The Kemah boardwalk is essentially an amusement park featuring some great rides, such as The Boardwalk Bullet, a 96' wooden roller coaster.  It reaches speeds of 51 mph and gets so close to the water's edge, it feels like it will fling you into the bay! You'll also find midway games, theme shops and souvenir stores.  There are plenty of restaurants along the boardwalk, and most have seats overlooking the water.  All of the restaurants are good and of course, they all offer plenty of seafood dishes.  You won't get a fresher catch anywhere else.  In addition to the rides and midway games, there are often events or festivals going on at the Boardwalk.  Check the Kemah Boardwalk website for up-to-date information.
Aquarium Kemah Texas info
I started my afternoon in Kemah with lunch at the Aquarium Restaurant.  This restaurant offers many attractions beyond its good food - they feature a 50,000-gallon, floor-to-ceiling aquarium housing more than 100 species of tropical fish and sharks, and Stingray Reef, where you can touch and feed live stingrays. They've also added a Rainforest themed exhibit with piranhas, snakes, scorpions, tarantulas.  Under the blue glow of the huge aquarium, I enjoyed a New Orleans Po-Boy with shrimp which was really fresh and tasty.   If you don't feel like a sit-down lunch, another great option is to check out the food vendors along the boardwalk.  You'll find the expected carnival type fare along with some unique items worth trying.  Just "graze" your way through and sample a few items from different carts.

After lunch, I thought about going on the Bullet, but decided that wasn't best done right after a big meal, so instead, I meandered along the boardwalk, enjoying the relaxing sight of boats floating slowly by.  I checked out some of the shops, which are what you'd typically expect to find in a touristy area - souvenirs, Kemah T-shirts, beach wear.

There's no entry fee for the boardwalk, but the rides cost $4-5 each.  If you think you will be going on several rides, your best bet is to get an all-day pass.  The cost is $20, but with a little pre-planning, you can sometimes get discount coupons.  In fact, right now in February, there's a Wintertime Blues promotion on the Kemah Boardwalk website which offers an all-day pass at $5 when you buy one at regular price. During other times of the year, check the Houston Chronicle for discounts coupons or search online.

Still in the neighborhood at dinner time?  You can certainly try one of the other many restaurants along the boardwalk, but what I'd recommend is walking a few blocks over to Highway 146 and eating at T-Bone Tom's, a down-home, family style restaurant where the food is really good and really plentiful.  You can get seafood here, but when a place has "T-Bone" in the title, your best bet is usually the meat and that's for sure true here.  I started with an appetizer of "Armadillo Eggs", which aren’t eggs and they're not from armadillos, either. These are large jalapeños, stuffed with brisket and deep fried.  Served with a creamy dipping sauce, they are really fantastic.  I could have made a whole dinner of these, but I also had to try their ribeye steak.  This was 14 ounces of choice, tender beef, bathed in some sort of magic marinade with a pineapple tang to it.  It was truly a memorable dinner. (we covered T-Bone Tom's a few years back during our quest for the best chicken-fried steak.  Read about it here.)

Overall, Kemah is the perfect family getaway. It's a paradise for children and a romantic date for couples.  There’s lots to do during the cooler months and it’s a great destination during the warm months when the water activities and refreshing Gulf breezes keep you cool.  Make a day of it!

>> more travel information about Kemah 

Find Romance in Texas Wine Country

Friday, February 10, 2012 by The Texas Travelin' Man

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and this time of year, there’s a lot of pressure onTexas winery guys like me  to be “romantic”.  Romance doesn't come naturally to me, but my lady is worth my best effort so, every February, I make sure to remember the flowers, the chocolates and the fancy restaurant reservation.  A bit predictable, I know, but she always appreciates it. Last year, though, I kicked it up a notch.  I surprised my wife with a weekend in Texas Wine Country.  She is a real wine-lover and it had been many years since we had done a winery trip so it seemed like the perfect Valentine's getaway.

There is a reason why wineries are often chosen for proposals, weddings and honeymoons: the romance quotient is over the top!  The grounds are always beautiful, overlooking acres of grapes, with secluded spots along the walkways and secret gardens.  The air smells earthy and fruity.  Each winery has its own look - rustic, modern, European – its own mood and its own story.   Many of them have B&Bs on the premises, adding another layer to the romantic atmosphere.  My wife and I have great memories of strolling hand in hand among  the vines, dancing to the music of a guitar duo and clinking our wine glasses together making a secret toast to each other. 

Texas winesThere are two ways to experience a winery tour: a self-guided driving trip or a professional tour company.   We were staying in Fredricksburg so, on our first day, we got a map (like this one) and decided to just drive east along Rt. 290.  We started out at Chisolm Trail Winery and had a great lunch, followed by a tasting of their wonderful reds and whites (tastings are usually priced at about $5 for 5 samples).  If you decide to drive in your own car, you need to have a plan.  Either select a designated driver or do what I did: spit!   First, you inhale the scent of the wine from the glass, then take a sip and swish it around your palette. Then, you *ahem* spit it out.  The first time, I admit I felt a bit self-conscious and wondered how this was fitting into my romance plan. But soon, you realize everyone else is doing it and you don't think twice about politely spitting out your sip of wine into the buckets provided.  We sipped and spat our way through about three more wineries that afternoon and really enjoyed exploring at our own pace, being spontaneous and taking as long as we liked at each location.

On the second day, we decided to try a tour company that specialized in the area's wineries. Heart of Texas Wine Country offers a choice of three routes leaving out of Marble Falls (about an hour northeast of Fredricksburg).  This is a full day trip and you will spend time at around 5 different wineries. Our tour guide, Dale, was friendly and reallyStone House Vineyard Texas knowledgeable about the area, the grapes that are growing there and the history of each of the wineries we visited.  We enjoyed all the stops on our tour, but our favorites were Stone House Vineyard, which overlooks Lake Travis and provides breathtaking scenery and Bella Vista Ranch, a Tuscan-style farmstead which not only produces grapes and wine but also grows olives and produces their own olive oil. Although we enjoyed the previous day’s driving tour, it was nice leaving the keys to someone else and feeling free to taste – and swallow – the wine without worrying about unsafe driving.

Guys, if you want to surprise your Valentine with more than just a heart-shaped box and roses -- or ladies, if you are in charge of the romance in your relationship -- there’s a “wine country” in most regions of Texas.  For starters, check this map to see if there’s a trail near where you live or plan to vacation.   There are all sorts of Valentine's Day events going on, from gourmet winery dinners, B&B "romance packages", to wine and chocolate pairings, even a special, limited edition wine called "Valentine" from Bernhardt Winery.

All the wines we tasted were fantastic.  We brought home many bottles of reds and whites, at least one from every vineyard we visited and, although I’m usually a beer guy, I have to say I have enjoyed opening each of those bottles throughout the year and revisiting the tastes, the memories and, yes, the romance of that Valentine’s Day vacation.