In this episode of our series about the landmarks of the USA, we will focus on the lone star state. From the Cowboys and Rodeos to the oil industry, there are many things Texas is famous for, but the landmarks in Texas are spectacular and well-known too. As usual in this series, we invited a few fellow bloggers to contribute to some of the most famous Texas landmarks to produce the best information possible.
Texas is one of the most popular destinations in the US. The state is well-known for its wonderful beaches, unique culture, big cities, and stunning natural sites. So, many of the famous landmarks in Texas are natural, but we have also included a few human-made landmarks, such as the Alamo and NASA space center.
Thus, let’s dive into the most iconic landmarks in Texas.
Famous Landmarks in Texas – Humanmade
NASA Space Center
Established in 1961, the Johnson Space Center (named after the US president) is responsible for designing, developing, and operating human space flight. It’s home to the famous Mission Control and astronaut training.
The Space Center in Houston has a museum and a Visitor Center, where you can see astronauts train missions, touch a real moon rock, and take a tour through NASA’s installations. You can buy a skip-the-line ticket here.
One of the highlights of this famous Texas landmark is the full-scale shuttle replica mounted on top of the original shuttle carrier aircraft NASA 905. The space center attracts about 1 million visitors every year and 100 000 students and teachers. Visiting the exhibits, attractions, and hands-on activities in this huge educational entertainment complex is an experience like no other.
San Antonio Missions
By Carole Terwilliger Meyers from Travel with Carole
People worldwide have heard of the Alamo, but pretty much only folks who live in Texas have heard of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. The Alamo is technically the first of these missions, and they were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015 and are the only UNESCO site in Texas. The missions are located approximately 2 ½ miles from each other.
You can visit them easily by following the Mission Trail, which begins at the Alamo and then follows the San Antonio River south for 12 miles to the other four missions. Transportation options include driving, biking, walking, or taking the city bus. Allow about 4 hours to see the missions. Easy free parking is available except at the Alamo.
Established in the 1700s by the Franciscan Order of the Catholic Church, each National Historic Park mission is still active and holds services. Architectural styles are diverse, and interiors feature art from the Spanish colonial period.
Mission San Juan and Mission Concepción were moved here from East Texas. The latter is the best-preserved of the missions, and it has the oldest unrestored stone church in the U.S. Mission San José is the largest and known as the “Queen of the Missions.” Mission Espada was also repositioned here and features an aqueduct built by the Franciscan friars to supply irrigation water to nearby land still in use.
The Prada store, Marfa
By Eddie and Kelli from The Vanabond tales
The Prada store, on the side of a desert road, 35 miles outside the tiny town of Marfa, Texas, is unlike any other Prada store in the world. You won’t find the newest pair of stilettos or their latest handbag here. Nor is there a salesperson waiting to swipe your credit card. The single, white-washed room advertising the high fashion brand Prada in fact, has no association with Prada at all.
Born out of the vision of Scandinavian artists Elmgreen & Dragset, Prada Marfa is an art installation completed in October 2005 as part of a pop architectural land project. With the help of Ballroom Marfa, a local art organization, Prada Marfa was designed to evoke minimalism and land art. Perhaps the piece better symbolizes the contrast between consumerism and minimalism, the “haves” and the “have nots”, the simple life with high society. An iconic high-end fashion store in an empty and desolate landscape, all dressed up, with nowhere to go.
The Prada Marfa has become emblematic of the quirky town of Marfa, which has a reputation for embracing the weird, wonderful, and artistic. Since the 1970s and the arrival of artist Donald Judd, this dusty corner of Texas has become a haven for artists and a beacon for travelers seeking something unique. Despite a population of less than 2,000, Marfa continues to draw tourists from all over the world with art installations, galleries, and exhibits, the nostalgic aesthetic of the town itself. While you’re unlikely to be ‘just passing through’ anytime soon, Marfa is a special place where the imagination is the destination and well worth a dedicated trip.
By Jessica Schmit from Uprooted traveler
Cadillac Ranch, one of Texas’s most unique man-made attractions, is located in Amarillo, right off the historic Route 66, making this a perfect stop during a Texas road trip.
The sculpture comprises ten Cadillacs, produced from 1949 to 1963, that are buried nose-deep in the middle of a barren cow pasture, a sort of commentary on the evolution of the cars’ tail fins throughout its production life. The installation came to be in 1974 when a hippie art collective from San Francisco called the Ant Farm allegedly sought out eccentric millionaire benefactors across the country to fund their art projects and found Stanley Marsh III of Amarillo.
After Marsh agreed to support the project, the group purchased the ten vehicles in various states of disrepair and placed them in the field, supposedly positioned at the same angle as the pyramids of Giza. Over the years, visitors have defaced and spray-painted graffiti on the installation, which eventually became encouraged by the Ant Farm. The installation is now a cultural icon, featured in the music videos of James Brown and Cage the Elephant and even in the beloved Pixar movie, Cars.
If you’d like to spray paint the cars during your visit, there are several carts along the highway hawking cans of spray paint for $10 a pop- or, for a cheaper alternative, you could choose from the plethora of cans left behind by hundreds of other visitors!
Iwo Jima Memorial Museum, Harlingen
By Ava from Golden Country Cowgirl
You may be familiar with the Iwo Jima Monument at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC, but did you know that the original statue is in Harlingen, Texas?
When the sculptor, Dr. Felix W. de Weldon, saw Joe Rosenthal’s famous (Pulitzer Prize-winning) photo of the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima in 1945, he was so moved that within 48 hours, he constructed a scale model. After the war, Dr. de Weldon spent 9.5 years creating a model that would depict the inspiring event on a massive scale.
Three of the survivors posed for Dr. de Weldon. He used photos and descriptions to accurately depict the likenesses of the other three of the six Marines who raised the flag.
When completed, the plaster sculpture was dismantled and shipped to New York to be cast in bronze. Three years later, in 1954, the bronze statue was trucked to Washington, DC, where it was installed at Arlington by Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The original plaster statue was stored at Dr. de Weldon’s home until 1981, when it was gifted to the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen. There are several reasons that the MMA in Harlingen was chosen, including that the marine placing the flagpole in the ground was a South Texas native from nearby Weslaco.
After visiting the inspiring monument and paying your respects, be sure to stop in the museum. There you can see Marine memorabilia, view a very educational documentary about Iwo Jima, and meet friendly volunteers. Admission is free, but donations are gladly accepted.
Fort Worth Stockyards
By Melissa from Parenthood and Passports
The Fort Worth Stockyards is a historic district in Texas’ fifth-largest city. Located just north of Downtown Fort Worth, the stockyards are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With brick streets and old west architecture, the tourist district was once an important stop along the Chisholm Trail, which ranchers used to drive cattle overland from Texas to Kansas.
The district’s cowboy history is still very prevalent today. In fact, the Fort Worth Stockyards is the only place in the world where you can watch a real cattle drive through the streets twice a day. Cowboys in early 20th-century attire drive the herd of longhorns down the street as tourists line up along the curb to watch the Fort Worth Herd, as they are known, take their famous walk free of charge.
You can also meet the Fort Worth Herd in the stockyard stables. Each of the 17 Texas longhorns represents a decade of the city’s past.
It is one of the best places in Texas to visit if you want to get the authentic wrangler experience that gives Lone Star State its cowboy reputation.
Magnolia Market, Waco
By Mary King from Bucket List Places
Chip and Joanna Gaines may very well have put Waco, Texas, on the map with their smash HGTV show, “Fixer Upper.” Thankfully, they also built a landmark shopping experience to match Waco’s newfound fame and add to your list of bucket list places: Magnolia Market.
As Waco gains popularity, it is easier and easier to reach this charming town and visit Magnolia Market. For under $10, you can hop on a bus from Dallas and arrive in Waco in less than 90 minutes. Magnolia Market is easy to find, as the landmark silos and surrounding Gaines-selected shops take up two city blocks along Webster Ave in downtown Waco. Parking is available on 6th and Webster, and the surrounding area is easily walkable.
Magnolia Market opened in 2015 as a home decor wonderland. Since then, additional shops and dining experiences have been added, including a precious kids’ clothing store and a delectable bath and body shop. The complex is free to enter, but good luck leaving without buying loads of new home decor or at least a fresh-baked cupcake from Silos Baking Co.
The outdoor lawn is dotted with yard games, and food trucks often make rounds; the Magnolia Market even hosts live events! This adorable miniature village will surely delight you on your visit and inspire you to apply the famous Joanna Gaines’s modern rustic style when you get home.
Congress Ave Bridge
By Rebecca Mckellips from What ever packs your bag
The Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge is an iconic Texas landmark and one of the unique things to do in Austin, Texas. It is a beautiful arch bridge that crosses Lady Bird Lake and is used for both vehicles and pedestrians.
This extra bridge is special because it is home to North America’s largest urban bat colony. The Mexican free-tailed bats’ maternity colony, meaning it is where the females come to roost and raise their pups from mid-summer to fall. They leave the bridge every evening at dusk to go hunting at night.
To get the full bat experience, you need to plan ahead. The best experience is to rent a kayak or take a boat tour to see the bats from the water. You will need to make sure you rent in advance as the evening rentals can book up incredibly quickly.
If you haven’t had a chance to rent in advance, you can still get the bat experience by standing on the bridge. The area can fill quickly, so plan to get to the bridge about 30 minutes before sunset. Check out this post if you are looking for more exciting things to do in the Austin Area.
Texas Capitol Building
By Kate Storm from Lone Star Travel Guide
Located on Congress Avenue in Austin, the iconic Texas Capitol Building is easily one of the most recognizable landmarks in Texas.
Built between 1882 and 1888, the Texas Capitol Building was designed by Elijah Meyers in the Renaissance Revival style. Today, it is a National Historic Landmark and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Like so many U.S. states’ capitol buildings, the Texas Capitol Building design was inspired by the national capitol building in Washington, DC.
Texans are quick to tell you, though, that the Texas Capitol Building is actually larger than the national version!
You can tour the Capitol building either via a tour or a self-guided audio tour. The building is open most days for limited hours.
Tours are free, and for government and history buffs, well worth taking during a weekend in Austin.
The capitol grounds are open daily and function as a beautiful shaded public park. There are also several memorials on the grounds, as well as a beautiful tree-lined path to photograph the building from.
By Victoria Yore from Texas Travel 365
You can’t have a list of Texas landmarks without including the Alamo! As mentioned above, the Alamo is the most well-known of the missions in Texas and was also the first built in Texas. While it started as a mission, in the early 1800s, it became a military fort, and in 1836 the famous Battle Of The Alamo happened, where Texas soldiers fought against the Mexican army. Of course, we now realize that colonization is a dark past but still important in Texas history.
You can take a free tour of the Alamo or a guided tour and see demonstrations. The Alamo, also known as Mission San Antonio De Valero in colonial times, is located in San Antonio, Texas, and should be a stop on every Texas trip, especially if you love history.
The San Antonio Missions, including the Alamo, are deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you want to see other missions along with your visit to the Alamo, you can bike along the 7.7-mile stretch of the San Antonio River Basin to see them all.
At the end of the day, while it has a dark history, the Alamo is one of the most famous and well-recognized landmarks in Texas and a popular spot in any San Antonio day trip.
Natural Texas Landmarks
Caverns of Sonora, Sonora
Located only 8 km from the city of Sonora, Texas, the Sonora Caverns is a unique cave famous for its remarkable display of calcite crystal formations. The helictites, in particular, are extremely abundant and have an impressive rare purity and complexity. For this, the Sonora Caverns has often been called “the most beautiful cave in the world.”
Between 1.5 and 5 million years ago, the cave was formed along a fault that allowed gases to rise and mix with water in an aquifer. This water became acidic and dissolved the limestone, forming the cave. Later, the water drained from the cave, and the mineral formations formed. The Sonora caverns were only discovered in 1905 in ranch land, though only a few decades later, it was fully explored, and the entire range of stunning speleothems was seen.
The cave is divided into different sections with their own tunnels and features. To visit it, you need to enter one of the tours. The most popular tour (Crystal palace tour) leads you through the famous Crystal Palace, which contains stalactites and stalagmites in varying shades of white and amber. On the other hand, the adventurous tour involves rappelling, exploring a maze of off-trail passageways, and other more challenging parts of the cave. This is the Discovery Challenge Tour, and an experienced caver leads it.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park – Amarillo Texas
By Mary Chong from Calculated Traveller Magazine
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located within the Texas panhandle, approximately 25 miles from Amarillo, Texas. Nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of Texas” because it shares similar geological features, Palo Duro Canyon opened as a state park in 1934. The canyon is approximately 120 miles long, six miles wide, and 800 feet at its deepest point and is the second-largest canyon in the United States.
Like other national and state parks in the USA, Palo Duro Canyon makes an excellent visit for those who love nature and the great outdoors. Facilities are plentiful with a Visitor Interpretation Centre, shaded covered picnic areas, over 100 campsites (tents, RVs, and cabins), 16 biking /hiking/ horseback riding trails, and a well-maintained paved scenic driving route with overlooks. An amphitheater is also on-site with entertainment in the summer.
Palo Duro Canyon is open year-round, but the weather is most comfortable in spring and fall.
Natural Bridge Caverns
By Trijit Mallick from Dog Travel Buff
Located between San Antonio and New Braunfels, Natural Bridge Caverns is one of the most famous Texas landmarks and the largest underground attraction in the state, with huge formations that you shouldn’t miss while exploring Texas. If you drive north from downtown San Antonio on I-35, reaching this magical place will take around 30 minutes. Natural Bridge Caverns is famous for its large underground chambers and stunning formations.
They offer various types of tours, but I highly recommend booking their popular Discovery Tour and Hidden Passages tours if you have limited time. The Discovery Tour will lead you through a world of natural beauty and amazement. You can walk 180 feet below the ground. The place is humid and dark but bearable, and the knowledgeable guide will be there with you. Don’t forget to wear sneakers with good traction to protect yourself going up and down the stairs.
The Hidden Passageway Tour is another life experience. You will get to see some unusual and delicate formations during this tour. This place is also humid, but you will get water drops. This tour is not recommended if you are afraid of pitch darkness or have a walking disability. Among all these, the emerald spring is just incredible because of its color.
Tip: Make your reservations online ahead of time to avoid the heavy crowd and heat of the afternoon. Parking, souvenir shops, and snack bars are available there. If you buy the San Antonio City Card, the Natural Bridge Caverns are one of the included attractions.
Big Bend National Park
By Jennifer Melroy from National Park Obsessed
It is difficult to imagine a place more remote than Big Bend National Park. Spanning 801,163 acres of the Chihuahuan Desert in the bend of the Rio Grande along the Mexican border. The park is a 1-2 hour drive from Marfa, Alpine, or Marathon. The closest airports are in Midland and El Paso. You need a car to explore this National Park.
Big Bend National Park is renowned for its dramatic landscapes and a wide variety of wildlife. With an elevation range that includes mountains, desert terrain, and vast prairies with abundant water sources, this wonderland provides visitors with many opportunities for outdoor recreation, such as hiking trails on diverse terrains or kayaking down the Rio Grande River.
Hikers can hike in the desert, the mountains, or along the river. Popular desert hikes include Balanced Rock and the Grapevine Hills. Hikers love exploring the Window Trail or summiting Emory Peak in the mountains. The famed Santa Elana Canyon is a popular river hike.
For those who are not huge hikers or are done hiking for the day, the scenic Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is well worth the drive. It is said the park’s first superintendent designed the road to go past all his favorite viewpoints. If hot springs are your thing, take a short walk over to the Hots Springs and enjoy the warm water while sitting at the side of the Rio Grande River.
By Lance and Laura Longwell from Travel Addicts
Central Texas has dozens of historical, natural spring swimming holes for people to cool off on those hot summer days. In one of the hottest states in the country, these natural pools are a glorious respite from the relentless sun.
There are many such swimming holes in Texas, including the massive Barton Springs in Austin, the tiny (and deep) Jacob’s Well, and then there’s the Hamilton Pool. This beautiful swimming spot is the state’s most well-known and most photographed natural pool.
The pool was formed when the roof of an underground river collapsed, exposing the subterranean water. The result is a natural pool with a cave-like overhang to escape the hot sun. Since the 1860s, the site has been open to recreational bathing and swimming.
In the 1980s, the property was purchased from the private family who owned it. The site was turned into the Hamilton Pool Preserve, permanently protecting the land from development…and ensuring the swimming hole will remain for future generations.
Visiting is easy. It is close enough to the major cities that you can make come on a day trip from Austin or San Antonio. It’s located an hour west of Austin and north of the fun small town of Dripping Springs. This is a great spot to explore whether you come for the day or several.
Enchanted Rock State Park
By Jordan from The Homebody Tourist
Enchanted Rock State Park is located in the beautiful Hill Country of Texas. You can get here in just under two hours from Austin and just over four hours from Dallas. It is recommended to reserve your ticket in advance as they often sell out of day passes.
This state park features 11 miles of hiking trails, camp opportunities, stargaze, geocache, and of course, the famous giant pink granite dome. The Enchanted Rock rises 425 above the ground and covers over 640 acres!
You can choose to summit the rock (1.3 miles of steep trails) or walk around the entire rock (5.4 miles). Once at the summit, it is the perfect place for a picnic lunch while taking in the 360 views around you.
If you hope to extend your trip to Hill Country, head over to Fredericksburg (less than 20 miles away) to enjoy wine tasting, shopping, and all the small-town vibes.
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