Spending a Few Sandcastle Days in South Padre

Saturday, October 19, 2013 by The Texas Travelin' Man







Last weekend, I crossed another item off my bucket list: I attended “Sandcastle Days 2013” on South Padre Island.

Sandcastle Days is a 3-day event which attracts master sand sculptors from around the world, all competing to become a “Master of Sand”. The annual event takes place the first weekend of October which fell this year on the 4th through 6th. It was started 26 years ago by Master Sand sculptors Walter McDonald (aka Amazin' Walter) and Lucinda Wierenga (aka Sandy Feet) and has grown from a local celebration to one of the most respected art events in the country.

“Sand Castle” is almost a misnomer for this event because most of the showpieces are not castles (though there are some). Designs typically include people, animals, buildings, mythical creatures. I’ve always been downright amazed by great sand art – it seems almost impossible to create such intricate detail in something as temperamental (and temporal) as sand. South Padre supposedly has some of the best sand for this art form so it’s a perfect location to host this event. I figured it would be entertaining to watch these sand sculptors at work. At the very least, how bad could a day spent on SPI’s beaches be?

I found out that it’s a bit more than just entertainment, this is true art. The skill of these sculptors is apparent in the minute detail of their work. I found myself mesmerized by the process of carving away the smallest bits of sand to create the fantastic detail in these pieces. At the end, I couldn’t believe that there would only be one first-place winner.

During the event, free sand sculpting lessons are available to anyone who wants to try their hand at it. I took one short lesson and I enjoyed it so much, I took another more “serious” class on my own with South Padre’s sand legend,  Amazin' Walter. Maybe “serious” is the wrong word, because Walter is not exactly a serious guy. He’s quite a character. He looks a bit like Santa on vacation, wearing his signature pith helmet and he had me chuckling at his funny comments and expressions. But he’s also a great artist, a wonderful teacher and very passionate about the environment.  I’m not much of an artist myself, but I did see that even without the inborn talent, there were many tricks of the trade and things I could learn to become at least a good amateur.

On the shores of South Padre, thousands of sand sculptures have risen up and been swallowed by the tides. But in some strange way, that is part of the appeal:  knowing that something so unique and beautiful is there in front of you for that brief moment and never again.

>> More photos

>> More info on South Padre Island

"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!

Win Tickets to "Main Street America" Park

Wednesday, September 25, 2013 by The Texas Travelin' Man





Ready for another big giveaway from TourTexas.com?
36 lucky winners will get a free pair of tickets to Main Street America!

Main Street America, located in Spring, TX, is a new concept in theme parks. The park is based around 12 model homes, all built with the latest materials, up-to-the-minute design inspirations, cutting-edge technological installations and some very cool and unique home-remodeling options. Visitors to the park can explore the homes and get detailed information on every element from the exterior siding to the audio system to the furniture. >> Read more about Main Street America here.
We're giving away 36 pairs of tickets for free admission to Main Street America.  Tickets can be used any time that the park is open to the public.
Coming up on Saturday, October 19, Main Street America will host their annual Fall Festival, a family-friendly celebration with trick-or-treating, face painting and more!  The entire park town will be decorated for Fall and children are encouraged to wear costumes. Winners can use their tickets for the Fall Festival, or any time at all.  Tickets are good any day the park is open and are valid through March 22, 2014!


Here's How to Enter:

1. Go to TourTexas.com and click on the Facebook "Like" button to become a fan of our Facebook page.
2. Send an email to Tickets@TourTexas.com with your name and mailing address.  
Addresses will only be used to mail tickets to winners and will be deleted when our contest ends.
The first 36 people to complete both steps will receive two (2) free tickets to Main Street America!  
**Don't forget, this is a two-parter!  In order to get your free tickets, you have to click the Like button on the TourTexas.com home page AND send your name and mailing address to Tickets@TourTexas.com!
  • Each ticket admits one guest.
  • Tickets are valid through 3/22/2014.
  • Main Street America is open most days of the year, 7 days per week.  On the day you plan to go, please check the Main Street America website to ensure they do not have any private events or unforeseen circumstances that require closure to the public.

Main Street America: A Theme Park of a Different Kind

Monday, September 23, 2013 by The Texas Travelin' Man

houston travel

In the town of Spring, TX, there's neighborhood that seems to have it all - beautiful houses, manicured lawns, all the trimmings of an upscale suburban community. So why, then, does no one live here?

This is Main Street America. Some call it a theme park, though you won't find any roller coasters or carnival games here.  Instead, the park is based around 12 model homes, all built with the latest materials, up-to-the-minute design inspirations, cutting-edge technological installations and some very cool and unique options. Visitors can explore every aspect of each home and get information on a broad range of products, from interior finishes to structural components to home services. And not just the basics like kitchens and baths, but the fun stuff too: man caves, game rooms, family dens, a backyard putt-putt course. One house has a secret room hidden behind a bookshelf. It really is a grown-up playground for anyone looking to design or remodel a home or even just interested in seeing what's new.

At the core of the Main Street America experience is the variety of products on display throughout the showcase homes. Visitors are given use of an innovative hand-held gadget called TED (Technological Education Device), used to gain instant access to information on selected products and services featured in each showcase home. Interested in a specific lamp, a brick exterior, swimming pool accessory, surround sound system component or kitchen appliance? TED will access its brand name, list of features, provide buying information and create a virtual shopping list. Order it on the spot or save it to a wishlist which you can later access online.

Main Street America begins with the showhouse shopping experience but it doesn't end there: The park provides many educational opportunities, entertaining events, seasonal festivies and fun stuff for kids:

  • Learn something new - Classes and demos are offered on topics like creating a sports court, outdoor grilling or how to build the ultimate garage.
  • Make a gourmet meal - Take a cooking class at the on-site culinary school, The Main Course.
  • Or just make reservations - MAIN Restaurant is a world-class dining experience, located in the Guest Center of Main Street America.
  • Attend a Special Event - Check the calendar for special celebrations like Family Day, Women's Day, the upcoming Fall Festival and "Christmas on Main Street". 

Main Street America is open year-round, 7 days a week.

Admission is $15.00 for Adults (16 & over), $5.00 for kids (4-15) and free for kids 3 and under.

Whether you're planning a new house or just like to see what's trending in home decor and technology, your whole family will enjoy a stroll down Main Street. 

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!

Lufkin, TX and The Ellen Trout Zoo

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 by The Texas Travelin' Man

Earlier this summer, a friend of mine convinced me to do the Neches River Rendezvous with him. Actually, it didn’t take much convincing because I love anything to do with being out on the water! The Neches River Rendezvous is a 15-mile canoe trip that takes you down the scenic Neches River, and it attracts people from all over the state to the town of Lufkin in the beautiful Piney Woods area of East Texas.

For a quaint town, it’s surprising how many things there are to see and do here, including top-notch golfing (the Crown Colony Country Club has been rated as one of the top 10 golf courses in Texas), bass fishing, dining at some really fine restaurants, shopping, visiting museums and spending a day at the zoo! Yes, I said zoo…and I’m not talking about the type of zoo you usually find in a town this size - you know, a place with a few squirrels, some local birds and if you’re lucky, maybe a raccoon or two! No, the Ellen Trout Zoo in Lufkin is home to over 700 animals and has received numerous state and national awards. 
The zoo is kept clean and the animals appear to be well cared for. The place has a lot of shade and seating areas where you can take a break and watch the beautiful peacocks strolling around. A major attraction is the train ride, especially popular with the kids, which takes you through the zoo and around Ellen Trout Lake. But keep in mind that the train only runs on weekends during the school year.
The Zoo is open every day of the year from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. The cost is very reasonable: $5.00 for adults, $2.50 for children (4 – 11) and free for children under 4.
For more information, visit the Ellen Trout Zoo website.


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. 


Matagorda County: Hardcore Relaxing in a South Texas Paradise

Monday, August 26, 2013 by The Texas Travelin' Man

I’ll tell ya’ll right now – I am seriously relaxed.  I've just spent 4 days in Matagorda County with my boots in the sand and a beer in my hand, watching the surf roll in and out. OK, I didn't really keep my boots on, but the beer and the relaxation part is true. There is just something about this place that makes all the worries of the “real world” fade away and leaves my mind at ease.

Located on the central coast of Texas, along miles of pristine beachfront, Matagorda County is a collection of historic towns, seaside villages, and miles and miles of soft sand and cool surf.  It’s a vacation retreat made for hardcore tranquility.

The beaches along Matagorda’s coast are something of an insider secret.  A bit smaller and more reserved than neighboring Galveston and Corpus Christi, they’re also not as touristy.  In fact, one of the best things about Matagorda beaches is the quiet, unspoiled and undeveloped waterfront, making it perfect for days spent strolling the beach, swimming, collecting shells or building sand castles away from the big crowds. Or, in my case, just planting myself on a hammock with a cold drink and watching the horizon.

If you prefer a little more on your agenda than just vegetating all day, plan some time at the Matagorda Bay Nature Park, a 1,600-acre preserve situated where the Colorado River empties into the Gulf of Mexico.  This merger creates a unique and interesting ecology of river banks, coastal marshes and dunes, providing habitats for a wide variety of bird and fish varieties.  With over 300 different feathered species, including migrating and resident songbirds, shorebirds and waterfowl, Matagorda County is known as the "Birding Capital of North America", drawing bird lovers from all over the country.

If your idea of relaxation includes some good bait and a fishing rod, you won’t find a better catch. With over 50 miles of Gulf shoreline and hundreds of miles of waterfront along creeks, rivers and bays, Matagorda is a fisherman's paradise. Cast your line from the beach or wade in to catch redfish and trout, plentiful year-round. Other in-shore species include catfish, mullet, black drum and whiting. If deep-sea fishing is your passion, fish the Gulf for grouper, wahoo, red snapper, kingfish and shark.

In my past visits to Matagorda, I’ve enjoyed the birding, the boating, the fishing and all the area has to offer. This time around, though, I've left that hard work up to others; I've just enjoyed soaking in the serene and tranquil beauty of Matagorda and although I feel renewed and recharged, I'm finding it hard to put my boots back on and leave this beautiful place.


>> Read "Top Ten Things to Do and See in Matagorda County" <<

House of Blues: Gospel Brunch Experience!

Monday, August 19, 2013 by The Texas Travelin' Man

Kirk Franklin Gospel Brunch

Are you ready for a foot-stomping, hand-clapping good time?  The world famous House of Blues® is celebrating their 20th Anniversary in a big way and has teamed up with Grammy-Award® winner Kirk Franklin, to produce a Gospel Brunch® experience that you will not want to miss!

This is not the “dinner show” you have seen in the movies of 50’s – this is a “non-denominational, participative celebration of gospel music” that includes an all-you-can-eat buffet, filled with southern cuisine at it’s best!   Cornbread muffins, maple butter,  Creole chicken,  shrimp jambalaya, chicken and waffles --  got your attention yet? --   of course there will be more traditional breakfast favorites and  even a create-your-own Bloody Mary and Mimosa bar.

Curious about who might be there on any given Sunday? (Be sure to check the line up and get your tickets in advance so that you don't miss your favorites!)

  • Anna Boney-Brown & Friends
  • Dana Jackson & Friends
  • David Wyatt & Friends
  • Gene Moore Jr. & Friends
  • Jackie Smith & Youth Development Ministry Mass Choir


Add to the amazing menu a rotating cast of Gospel and R&B favorites and this sounds like a Sunday afternoon that you should be a part of and fortunately, the great State of Texas has two locations to choose from, Houston or Dallas!

This is a limited run show and the line-up does change, so be sure to check-in with the Houston location or the Dallas location for show times, availability and to purchase tickets.

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.

Free Tix for Texans Football Summer Training Camp

Tuesday, July 16, 2013 by The Texas Travelin' Man

It’s July, the time of year for BBQs, vacations and…FOOTBALL! 

Yeah, I know, baseball is supposed to be the main event in the summer, but being an ex-high school linebacker, I miss the thrill and excitement of  football.  Lucky for me, it’s July…and time for the Houston Texan's training camp practice sessions!   

Seven training sessions will be open to the public, beginning this Tuesday, July 30th.  The tickets are FREE but you have to act fast to get them!  Beginning at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, July 17, you can claim your free tickets from the Texan's website. There's a limit of four per person, per practice while supplies last.  TICKETS GO FAST so be ready at your computer or mobile device to claim tickets to the session you want!!!

All training sessions take place at the Methodist Training Center, starting at 8 am and running about two hours.
Tuesday, July 30
Wednesday, July 31
Thursday, August 1
Friday, August 2
Monday, August 5
Tuesday, August 6
Wednesday, August 7
Gates open at 7 am.  Seating is first come - first served so get there early if you want a good seat.
After the practices, some of the players and Texan cheerleaders are available for autographs and photo ops.  It's a really fun way to spend a summer morning.
Hope to see you there! 

Giddy-up to Amarillo's American Quarter Horse Museum and Hall of Fame

Monday, July 15, 2013 by The Texas Travelin' Man
visit Amarillo TX
Many people think of Texas as synonymous with cowboys and the "Old West". While that stereotype doesn't necessarily hold true for the whole state, it definitely does in Amarillo.  Located in the center of the Texas Panhandle, Amarillo's Western heritage is still alive and thriving and plenty of the area's residents make their living as cowboys on the back of a horse -- most likely, an American Quarter Horse.  
The Quarter Horse is the only horse breed native to America and is the most popular in the U.S., highly valued as a ranch horse, race horse and the star of rodeos and other western riding events. You can learn all about the colorful history of these amazing horses and the people who were key in the evolution of the breed at The American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum, where you can try their interactive exhibits, view plenty of audio-visual displays and see historically-significant artifacts and incredible art.
The museum experience begins outside the building, where beautiful sculptures, showing the Quarter Horses in their various roles, surround the building. As you make your way inside, you'll enter the aptly named Grand Hall, a spectacular space with soaring rock columns. Here you can learn about the people and horses inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame. Make sure you look down, too, or you’ll miss the interesting mosaic on the floor depicting all of the bloodlines that make up the present day breed. 

At the Kenneth Banks Theater, you can see some beautiful paintings done by the late Oren Mixer, the celebrated Western artist, including his vision of the “ideal” American Quarter Horse, which he was commissioned to paint in 1968.

The Hegel Stables section of the museum is really geared toward kids, but you'll find it fascinating, too. It's very hands-on and educational, even for those folks who've never owned horses. There are many other areas to explore, including The Experienced Eye Theater, The Champions Gallery, the Outfitter Shop, offering a wide variety of items and souvenirs to help you remember your visit. You can learn more about the museum, including hours and admission policies at their informative website.
So the next time you’re in the Panhandle area of Texas, make sure you pay a visit to Amarillo and The American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum!
>> For more information on Amarillo, visit TourTexas.com.


The Best of Broadway in Texas

Thursday, June 20, 2013 by The Texas Travelin' Man

Texas brings you the best of Broadway, featuring many favorites in theaters across the state. San Antonio vacationLet’s take a tour of the great state of Texas and find out what’s on stage this summer and fall!

First stop – San Antonio, Texas, a place where modern attractions are combined with celebrated monuments of Texas history.  Here you will enjoy the grandeur of the ornate Majestic Theatre, one of the few remaining vintage vaudeville movie palaces. It’s been said that the twinkling lights and moving clouds adorning the ceiling are alone worth the price of the ticket. If you are a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants traveler, head to San Antonio this week (June 18-23) and catch a showing of "Flashdance" or if you need a little more notice, plan your trip for the fall and enjoy "The Book of Mormon", September 17-29.

Next we head to Houston, Texas, where you will experience a rich cultural fusion of world-class arts and award-winning cuisine. Located in the heart of downtown Houston, The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts is the premiere entertainment complex in the Houston District. This first-class setting features distinguished theaters, an impressive grand lobby, a contemporary American cuisine restaurant and convenient parking for their acclaimed theatrical performances and special events. Watch the untold story of the witches of Oz unfold in the musical “Wicked”, on stage July 10-August 11 at The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.


In Dallas, you will experience the largest contiguous urban arts district in the nation as well as top museums, performance halls and award-winning architectural designs, arts and culture. Nestled among this architecture is The Music Hall at Fair Park, a nationally recognized venue for Broadway musical touring companies, grand opera, ballet and other dance productions, concerts, national pageants and a myriad of other large and small-scale public and private functions. You won’t want to miss the upcoming performances of "The Lion King", a phenomenal musical taking the stage October 2-20 at The Music Hall at Fair Park.

Finally, we arrive in Austin, Texas, the music capital of the world and one of the most unique places you will ever experience.  The city is also home to the Texas Performing Arts Center at The University of Texas at Austin, one of the most important contributors of cultural life in Central Texas.  Make plans to visit Austin this fall and catch "The Book of Mormon", showing October 1-13 in The Texas Performing Arts Center at The University of Texas at Austin.





Photo credits:
Majestic Theatre: sanantonio.broadway.com
Hobby Center: bcm.edu
Music Hall at Fair Park: liveatthemusichall.com
Bass Concert Hall Austin: texasperformingarts.org

Galveston Beach: Taking Sandcastles to a Whole New Level

Monday, May 20, 2013 by Anna Woita


Most everyone has childhood memories of building sandcastles either at the beach or in a sandbox.  But for the team members of the American Institute of Architects Sandcastle Competition, those childhood playtimes were primordial preparation for the big league. 

For over two decades teams of architects, designers, and engineers have “suited up” in Galveston with shovels and sculpting tools in hand to construct some of the world’s most elaborate sandcastles.  The competition really heats up as teams compete for the prestige of taking home the coveted 1st place Golden Bucket Award.  Second and third place winners receive Silver and Bronze Shovel Awards, respectively.  Numerous other honorable mentions are named, including Most Complex, Most Hilarious, Most Realistic, Best Architecture, and Best Traditional.  Recognition is also given for teams with the best t-shirt designs, costumes, and best signage, allowing numerous avenues for teams to exhibit their creativity. 

The creative sandcrafting you see is no impromptu affair, as most teams spend months preparing ideas, collecting tools, and assigning tasks for the day of the competition.  Aside from awards and a day of creative fun in the sun, the sandcastle competition is also a fundraising event for AIA Houston and ArCH Foundations, with proceeds going to support various public education programs sponsored by the Houston chapters.  The event is also one of the top five revenue-generating events for the City of Galveston. 

If this sandtastic competition is one you haven’t experienced yet, it’s time you pack up your beach gear and head down to Galveston beach Saturday, June 1, for a first class seat at this one-of-a-kind event, notably listed in Patricia Shultz’ book “1000 Things You Should See Before You Die”.  The assembling begins at 9 a.m. and continues for five hours, with awards presented late afternoon. 

For more information or to get involved in the sandy competition, visit the AIA website here.


Czech Out Ennis' National Polka Festival!

Monday, May 13, 2013 by Anna Woita


Ennis, located just 20 miles south of downtown Dallas, is a perfect weekend getaway for you or your family.  The town offers a unique and eclectic historic shopping district, recreational activities at Lake Bardwell, stock car races, family-oriented events at 85 Speedway, and 40 miles of bluebonnets on the “Official Bluebonnet Trail of Texas” in April.  But the most notable event in Ennis that you don’t want to miss is their annual National Polka Festival. 

The festival began 47 years ago as a means of celebrating the area's Czech heritage, and has grown to attract as many as 50,000 visitors!  Ennis’ National Polka Festival allows you to fully experience all that Czech heritage has to offer, including Czech traditions, religious customs, dancing, authentic Czech food,  and14 sensational live polka bands including the “Texas Dutchmen” and the Grammy Award-winning “Brave Combo”. 

Continuing its tradition of being held on Memorial Day weekend, this year’s festival is scheduled for Friday, May 24 through Sunday, May 26, throughout downtown Ennis, including The KJT, KC, and Sokol Halls. The festival kicks off Friday with a Czech dance at 7:00 p.m., featuring polka music and a King and Queen Dance contest.  All are encouraged to come decked out in full Czech “Kroi” costumes.  Saturday at 10:00 a.m. is a Czech parade, featuring elaborate floats, polka bands, clowns, costumes, and an appearance by the Shriners.  Throughout the weekend, traditional Klobase sandwiches, face painting, rock climbing, bounce houses, and a kolache-eating contest add to the fun.   

Whatever your cultural heritage, Ennis invites you to come “Czech out” the National Polka Festival for a weekend of fun for the whole family. 

The Pasadena Strawberry Festival: A Texas-sized festival of fun!

Monday, May 6, 2013 by Anna Woita


After 40 consecutive years of successful festivals, including a 2012 turnout of 50,000 attendees, you know the creators of the Pasadena Strawberry Festival are doing something right!  But really, where else can you find some of country music’s biggest stars, an epic mud volleyball tournament, an authentic Texan BBQ cook off, and the world’s largest strawberry shortcake all in one place?  Only in Pasadena, Texas!

It all began 40 years ago when Pasadena earned itself the proud title of “Strawberry Capitol of the South”.  To celebrate San Jacinto Day – the 1836 battle against Mexico which secured Texas’ independence – the city of Pasadena decided to host its first annual Pasadena Strawberry Festival.  Today, the festival has grown to fill the 106-acre Pasadena Convention Center and fairgrounds, with over 500 volunteers and 50,000 attendees!

If you haven’t attended before, this year’s 40th annual celebration is the year to join in the fun!  The excitement kicks off on Friday, May 11th at 10 a.m. with the Pasadena Strawberry Festival Parade, and fun for the whole family. The following weekend brings in the country music, featuring performances by Brian Evans, Casey Donahew Band, Keith McCoy, Pat Green Band, and numerous others.  For those of you with little ones, the Buzzberry Kids Adventure Zone provides endless entertainment with arts and crafts, a strawberry-eating contest, pony rides, a petting zoo, inflatable games, a live puppet show, and much more!  For those of a competitive nature who don’t mind getting down-and-dirty, the annual mud volleyball tournament is a competition of seriously messy proportions.  After you’ve exhausted your energy diving into the mud, dive into world-record holding deliciousness with a plate of Pasadena’s Strawberry Shortcake –the 2005 Guinness book of World-Record largest cake at 1905 square feet!

The best part of the Pasadena Strawberry Festival is the cause behind it all: proceeds from the Pasadena Strawberry Festival benefit The San Jacinto Day Foundation.  This foundation funds various projects including scholarships for area high school and college students, books for college libraries, preservation and promotion of Texas History, and fundraising efforts for local civic, youth and non-profit groups.  

Bring out the family and join in the Texas-sized fun that keeps on giving at this year’s 40th annual Pasadena Strawberry Festival! 

Cinco De Mayo: History Brought to Life, Texas Style

Monday, April 29, 2013 by Anna Woita


Because Texas was once a part of Mexico, many traditions and festivities of Mexican heritage are very much alive in Texas, the most well-known of which is the celebration of Cinco de Mayo.  “Cinco de Mayo,” as you may know, is Spanish for “the fifth of May,” and commemorates the anniversary of the 1862 battle between Mexico and France in the Mexican state of Puebla.  While the largest celebration occurs in Puebla each year, Cinco de Mayo is richly celebrated throughout Mexico as well as many cities in the U.S., especially cities throughout Texas.  Here is a list of some of the primary hot-spots for Cinco de Mayo festivities throughout Texas:

1. San Antonio is the largest Texas city closest to Mexico, and therefore maintains the strongest ties to Mexican heritage. Thus, San Antonio annually hosts quite a celebration for Cinco de Mayo at its historic Market Square.  Festivities include Mariachis, Tejano and Conjunto music groups, Folklorico dancers, arts and crafts, concerts, and of course a cornucopia of authentic Mexican food. The Cinco de Mayo events at Market Square usually draw between 30,000 and 50,000 visitors annually. 

2.In North Texas, Denton’s Cinco de Mayo celebration is “centered on the spirit of celebration and friendship” and showcases a parade, rich cultural traditions, songs, dances, art exhibits, and Mexican food, as well as a 5k run for all ages.  What started several years ago as a very small celebration has grown to include two entertainment stages and use of the whole Quakertown Park and Civic Center.  The celebration in Denton draws over 6,000 visitors annually.  

3. Austin’s celebrations give an extra incentive to attend: proceeds are donated to the Fiestas Patrias of Austin scholarship fund, as well as various community programs.  At Fiestas Patrias 8th annual two-day Cinco de Mayo celebration, Mexican traditions fill the air with a variety of Tejeno and conjunto bands that bring the heart and soul of Mexico to life.  Highlighting the event this year will be performances by: Gary Hobbs, Baraja de Oro, Joel Guzman y Sara Fox, Los Fantasmas del Valle, Yayo Castillo y grupo Rumores, and many more.  Chuy’s will also be celebrating their 30th annual Hot to Trot 5k and Kids 5k on May 5, with proceeds benefitting the Special Olympics. 

4. San Marcos joins in the fun with a three-day event featuring their "Viva"! Cinco de Mayo parade which takes place at 10 a.m. on May 5 in downtown San Marcos.  The festivities also include: a state-wide cook-off, a Miss and Little Miss Cinco de Mayo pageant, Folkloric dancers, and live music all at the Hays County Civic Center. 

Wherever you’re from and whatever your background, take time to join in the celebrations and excitement of Cinco de Mayo has to offer, bringing Mexico’s history and traditions to life.  Arriba! 

Buckhorn Saloon and Museum : Enter Now to Win Free Tickets!

Thursday, April 25, 2013 by Anna Woita


It’s that time again where we offer you the chance to win your free tickets to great Texas adventures!  Right now we are offering 9 pairs of tickets to the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum in San Antonio, TX

Conveniently located in the heart of downtown San Antonio, just two blocks from The Alamo and a block from the Riverwalk, a visit to Buckhorn Saloon and Museum provides you with the perfect starting point for a day of exploration of the city.

The museum’s lure is in part due to its intriguing origins.  In 1881, Seventeen-year-old Albert Friedrich, a bartender and bellhop at the Southern Hotel on Main Plaza in downtown San Antonio decided to roll up his entrepreneurial sleeves and start a saloon across the street.

After learning that many patrons passing through couldn’t afford to purchase a drink by conventional means at The Buckhorn Saloon, Albert decided to start trading horns and antlers in exchange for his beverages.  His collection grew to become one of the world’s largest and most unique collections of horns and antlers.

Today the museum – one of the oldest in the state – features wildlife from all across the globe, including fish from the seven seas and animals from every continent.  The halls of the museum comprise over 520 species of wildlife – many of which are record holders, including a 1,056 pound black marlin and a 10,000 year old pre-historic Irish elk.  Visitors of all ages continue to visit year after year and marvel at one of the most elaborate collection of animals in the world!

Enter now to experience The Buckhorn Saloon and Museum – for free!

Here’s how to enter:
1. Leave a comment here on the blog and answer this question: What is your favorite thing to do in the summer in Texas?
2. Send an e-mail to tickets@TourTexas.com with your name and mailing address.  We will need this to mail your tickets to you if you win.

The first 9 people to complete both steps will receive two free tickets to Buckhorn Saloon and Museum!

Don’t forget to complete both steps!  Good luck!! 


Enter to Win FREE Tickets to "Wildflower!" Music Festival!

Monday, April 22, 2013 by Anna Woita


While most Texans are familiar with SXSW and ACL - located in Austin, the “music capital of the world,”- many are unaware of the other music festivals available around the state.  Your music festival opportunities aren’t limited to two a year, nor are they limited to Austin!  One such festival, “Wildflower!,” is an award-winning, multi-day eclectic arts and music festival located just north of Dallas and features six performance stages, a Taste of Texas Food Garden, a family-friendly Kidz Korner, and a whole lot more!

Wildflower! arts and music festival began in 1993 as a small community event held in a local park in northeast Richardson.  It was designed as an event to celebrate the blooming of the wildflowers in the area as well as bring people together to ‘celebrate the impact of music… by creating access to a broad array of musical experiences and to encourage the education, development, and appreciation of diverse musical genres.’  Over the years, the festival has seen performances from some of the biggest names in the industry, including Lisa Loeb, Bowling For Soup, Peter Frampton, The Dixie Chicks, Blues Traveler, Ryan Cabrera, Smash Mouth, Sister Hazel, Miranda Lambert, Tanya Tucker, and numerous others.  In two decades, the festival has grown to become the area’s most recognized and anticipated musical event, spanning over 30 acres and featuring multiple stages, arts, music, exhibits, and family activities. 

The best part about learning of this festival now is: you still have an opportunity to get in for free!  More than just free admission to the festival, entering the contest (detailed out below) is an opportunity to win access to complimentary food and drinks in the VIP Hospitality Area, A souvenir festival poster, special seating at main stages, and free hotel accommodations – an ultimate fun-filled weekend package!

To enter the contest, visit TourTexas.com and click the “contest” tab at the top of the page.  At the bottom of the contest page, you will have an opportunity to fill out a brief amount of information.  Be sure to make note: You can enter once a day leading up to the drawing to increase your chances of winning!  GOOD LUCK! 

Texas: Justified Pride

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 by Anna Woita


In light of San Jacinto Day rapidly approaching (April 21), I set out to investigate the origins of Texans’ pride.  When it comes to state pride, there’s really no questioning that Texans are unparalleled in their love for their state.  I feel as though I’ve seen it all – from oversized Texas tattoos to a full set of longhorns on the front of a truck driving down the interstate.  When they say “everything’s bigger in Texas,” Texas pride is included.  

Where does this pride come from?  I did a little digging, and here are my top five reasons that justify Texas pride:

1. History.  This has to encompass the most substantial aspect of Texans’ pride.  Though most are familiar with the phrase “remember the Alamo,” many are unaware of what the battle fought there really consisted of.  Though it ended in a defeat for the Texans, the mere fact that the Texans persisted and that the battle raged on for nearly two weeks without surrender, fighting with only 100 troops combating Mexico’s 1,500 is a feat worthy of recognition. Colonel William Barret Travis’ words amidst the battle illustrate the men’s courage: “To the People of Texas and all Americans in the world,” “I shall never surrender or retreat,” and “Victory or Death.” 

If there is one thing that could ignite a surge of bravery to suit-up for battle throughout the rest of Texas, it was seeing the unwavering valiance of the men who fought at the Alamo.  Thus, The Battle of San Jacinto took place less than a month after The Battle of The Alamo in what is now the bay area of Houston, with much different results.  In a battle lasting only 18 minutes, hundreds of Mexican soldiers were killed, injured, or captured, compared to a mere 35 Texans.  General Santa Anna was captured, and negotiations were made for Texas to become independent from Mexico.  What other state can boast of such gallant history?

2. All the landscapes you need in one place.  When it comes to diversity of land, Texas seems to be a country unto itself yet again.  This is in part due to the fact that, quite frankly, Texas is huge.  Okay, our disjointed neighbors of the north (Alaska) may be the one state that has bragging rights on size bigger than Texas, but how often do you hear of people flocking to the tundra? Not when they find out that Texas has it all – from deserts and plains, farmlands and forests, to the rich urban culture of city life, there’s not much you can want landscape-wise that you can’t find in Texas... unless, of course, it’s tundra.

3. Southern hospitality and chivalry.  There’s just something about the “yes sirs” and “yes ma’ams” down here that I just can’t get enough of.  I’ve visited a great number of states, but few can hold a torch to Texas when it comes to the sweetness of the south.  It’s no wonder that Frisco, TX made Forbes’ list of America’s Friendliest Towns, or that San Antonio was listed as #1 on NBC Today’s list of Friendliest Cities in America.  It’s more than just a happenstance disposition; it’s a way of life that has been engrained in Texans for years.  And with universities like Texas A&M bringing up men of honor in the corps, it’s not hard to see why southern gentlemen are still alive and well in Texas.

4. Texas continues to produce greatness.  Starting from the top, three out of the last nine U.S. Presidents have been from Texas.  Texas can also boast of having its very own cuisine: Tex-Mex, a sensation your tastebuds can never seem to get enough of.  Speaking of tastebuds, Blue Bell ice cream, boasting with dozens of mouthwatering flavors, also originated in Texas.  Texas has also produced a number of the world’s top musical talent including Willie Nelson, Beyonce Knowles, George Strait, Buddy Holly, Jessica Simpson, Miranda Lambert, Pat Green, and numerous others.  But are any of these really as substantial as being able to boast of Chuck Norris, Texas Ranger? From the political scene to the music scene and more, Texas has been generating impressive talent since its inception.

5. The economy.  In terms of gross domestic product, if Texas were its own country, it would rank 14th in the world – just below Australia and above Mexico, with a total GDP of $1.3 trillion (according to 2011 stats).  I’d say that’s something to boast about.  Along with that, Texas has maintained a significantly lower unemployment rate than the national average, escaped the foreclosure bust that crippled other states, and tapped into even greater oil money than before through a process called “fracking”.  If ever there came a day when Texans felt the need to secede, combine the state’s self-sufficient economy with their love for guns and all I can say is, “don’t mess with Texas.”