Take a ride through Texas for rare birds, good food and centuries of history.
Texas is one of the few states capable of making this bold claim: You can drive for 10 hours and never leave its borders. Along the way the metronomic arms of oil drills punctuate endless vistas, and majestic longhorns dot the fields. Also en route is much to discover in the way of history, culture and natural beauty—from the boyhood home of our 36th president to some of the finest examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in North America. Venture south and you'll encounter the nesting sites of endangered sea turtles. In a mere three days, you can take in the landscape of the Lone Star State.
Morning: Drive about 50 miles west from Austin to Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. Located in the heart of Texas Hill Country and still known as the Texas White House, this 674-acre park is divided into two areas. Start your excursion 14 miles west of Johnson City at the park's visitor center, the site of the childhood home of the former president (who would have turned 100 in August). Then drive to the LBJ Ranch, near Stonewall, where Mrs. Johnson lived until her passing in 2007. Noteworthy stops along the way are the Johnson Family Cemetery, where visitors can pay their respects to LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson; the reconstructed birthplace of the former president; and the one-room schoolhouse he attended. Tours of LBJ's presidential office are now available.
Afternoon: From Stonewall, travel 16 miles west to Fredericksburg, one of the many German settlements in the area that was populated by immigrants fleeing the failed Revolution of 1848. Explore the bustling storefronts of Main Street, where you'll find more than a handful of authentic beer halls and antiques stores as well as the sweet smell of fresh pastries wafting from numerous bakeries.
For another taste of history, stop by the National Museum of the Pacific War. Besides an impressive collection of World War II aircraft and tanks, the museum hosts a tranquil Japanese garden and a memorial.
Evening: If you want to slip on your dancing shoes, get yourself to Luckenbach, the town immortalized by Texas legends Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. On weekend evenings an old dance hall offers live music and plenty of room for agile two-steppers. Spend the night at Das College Haus in Fredericksburg.
Morning: Head south to the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. You'll find the stone remains of four 18th-century Spanish missions, once staffed by Franciscan missionaries who converted the native Coahuiltecans to Christianity. All four missions—Concepción, Espada, San José and San Juan—offer exquisite examples of Spanish Colonial architecture, from colorful frescoes to ornate limestone carvings.
Start at Mission San José, the site of the park visitor center and the largest of the four compounds. On the scenic grounds dotted with mesquite trees, you'll discover the restored gristmill—the first water mill in Texas—that was built in the 1790s. Every Sunday at noon, the services at San José feature a live mariachi band. (All four missions remain active Catholic churches.) Before lunch, drive three miles north to see Mission Concepción, thought to be the oldest unrestored stone church in North America; many of the structure's original frescoes are preserved.
Afternoon: Travel three miles to downtown San Antonio for lunch at the Madhatters Tea House & Café. Before heading south to the more rural San Juan and Espada missions, walk along the wide boulevards of the King William Historic District, bordered with magnificent restored homes from the late 1800s. Then, at Mission Espada, see one of the oldest irrigation systems, or acequias, in North America.
Evening: Try the enchiladas made with Doña Mari's signature homemade mole (a popular Mexican sauce made from dried chili peppers and Mexican chocolate) at El Mirador restaurant downtown. After dinner, go for a stroll along the world-famous River Walk, a scenic pedestrian walkway bordering the San Antonio River, before turning in for the evening at the nearby Inn On The Riverwalk.
Morning: Wake up to breakfast tacos at Torres Taco Haven. Then drive to Padre Island National Seashore, a stretch of beach that encompasses more than 130,000 acres and carries the mantle of being the longest remaining undeveloped swath of barrier island in the world.
On this needle-shaped spit of land, bask in the warmth of the sun, splash in the Gulf waters and spot the nesting sites of endangered sea turtles; during spring and summer months, park rangers release hatchlings into the wild. Wander a trail that traverses habitats as diverse as grassland and sand dunes.
Afternoon: Avid windsurfers should check out Bird Island Basin on the Laguna Madre (Mother Lagoon)—a world-renowned pilgrimage site for the sport because of its shallow waters and steady winds. There's also bird-watching to be had, with the chance to see up to 380 species, including great blue herons and sandpipers.
Evening: On a clear night, the dark sky is perfect for stargazing. Adventurous visitors can camp out on the shores of the park, while those looking for a more elegant stay can "rough it" at the Omni Corpus Christi Hotel.
Transportation: All major airlines serve Austin's international airport. At the airport, all major car rental companies offer weekend travel possibilities. Affordable flights between Austin and Corpus Christi are available via Southwest Airlines.
Activities: For more information about the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, visit nps.gov/lyjo. For details on San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, visit nps.gov/saan. And to plan your visit to Padre Island National Seashore, go to nps.gov/pais. For information on the next hatchling release, call the Hatchling Hotline at 361-949-7163.
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