Nearly everyone enjoys going to the beach or the mountains for a vacation, but today, surveys show that many travelers want more than just sun and outdoor fun. They want to understand the places they visit. They want to experience a culture different from their own. They want to take home something new that adds to their appreciation of the world around them–and still enjoy beautiful scenery. Texas was made for this kind of traveling.
For starters, nearly 30 different ethnic, national, and cultural groups from many parts of the world settled in Texas, bringing their traditions in everything from crafts to cuisine. Today that translates into a cultural landscape as varied and fascinating as a fine antique quilt. Czech, Chinese, German, Vietnamese, French, Mexican, Spanish, Italian, all these cultures and many more have made their mark in Texas, enabling a visitor to experience a whole world in just one state. This rich culture also contributes to the state’s excellence in the arts. Whether you yearn for French Impressionists, a grand opera performance, or a gritty blues band, you’ll find it all in Texas.
The vast Lone Star state has been the stage where some of the most stirring and memorable chapters in American history have been enacted: the Siege of the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto, Buffalo Soldiers and Texas Rangers protecting the frontier during the settlement of the West, lonesome cowboys on the great cattle drives and wildcatters suddenly drunk on black gold. Few states can boast a history with such high drama and epic sweep. As Texans like to say, It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true.
Best of all, visitors will find plenty of this colorful history and culture in small towns and big cities all over the Texas map, combined with landscapes perfect for recreation and perfectly picturesque.
Stretching more than 600 miles from Port Arthur to South Padre Island, the Gulf Coast region offers everything from gorgeous beaches and glorious Victorian architecture in Galveston to Houston’s lively arts scene.
From its founding on a bayou 160 years ago to the broadcast of its name as the first word uttered on the moon, Houston blends laid-back Southern charm with the forward-looking energy of the twenty-first century. When two New York brothers navigated up Buffalo Bayou from Galveston Bay in 1836, intent on making their fortunes in land speculation, little did Augustus and John Allen know what a cultural powerhouse their Bayou City would become.
From the dazzling productions of the Houston Grand Opera to the wacky splendor of the annual Art Car Parade, Houston has become an internationally acclaimed center for the arts and a diverse, exciting city where more than 90 languages are spoken. This city is home to more than 500 cultural, visual, and performing arts organizations, and its museums and galleries alone could keep an art lover happy for weeks.
At the heart of it all is the Houston Museum District. Starting at the edge of Hermann Park, this district contains museums and institutions filled with everything from ancient tribal art to sparkling gemstones and real butterflies.
A good starting point is the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, which with the opening of its new Audrey Jones Beck Building last year became the sixth-largest art museum in the country. Within its more than 192,000 square feet of gallery space, works of art from cultures around the world span 5000 years of history. Need a Van Gogh or Cezanne fix? Browse through the Impressionist and Postimpressionist paintings of the Beck Collection. Interested in African heritage? Check out the Glassell Collection of African Gold. Other highlights include the new Pre-Columbian Galleries and an international array of works from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Just across the street is the Contemporary Arts Museum, or CAM, as locals fondly call this free museum. One of the oldest institutions of its kind in the United States, the CAM is known for its cutting-edge exhibitions of art made in our time by local, regional, national, and international artists. No doubt one of its most anticipated shows this year is “Yes: Yoko Ono,” the first retrospective of work by the pioneering artist who married the Beatle John Lennon (July 13-Sept. 16).
Other art institutions in the Houston Museum District include the Rice University Art Gallery, the Lawndale Art Center, and the Menil Collection, which permanently displays a wide array of aesthetic treasures ranging from ancient and Byzantine artifacts to paintings by surrealists and other modern masters.
Dedicated to educating people about the dangers of intolerance and prejudice, the Holocaust Museum Houston serves as a memorial to the millions of innocent victims of Nazi hatred. Its main exhibit, “Bearing Witness: A Community Remembers,” features photographs, artifacts, and film reels that present the stories of Holocaust survivors living in the Houston metropolitan area. Admission is free.
One of the most popular places in the museum district for young and old alike is the Houston Museum of Natural Science, a complex comprising the Burke Baker Planetarium, George Observatory, Cockrell Butterfly Center, Wortham Imax Theater, and the museum’s three floors of exhibits, ranging from the Cullen Hall of Gems and Minerals to the Life Through Time Paleontology Hall. At the butterfly center, visitors marvel as they watch butterflies hatch from cocoons or even land on their shoulders.
This year the science museum’s visitors can witness one of the greatest survivor stories of all time with “The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition.” More than 150 photographs and amazing film footage document the ill-fated journey in 1914 that few, out of a crew of 27, survived. Equally compelling, the “Secret World of the Forbidden City: Splendors from China’s Imperial Palace” unveils 350 priceless artifacts from the off-limits Imperial Palace domain in Beijing during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), popularly known as the Forbidden City (through June 3).
Folks fascinated by this exhibit might head out to Forbidden Gardens, just west of Houston near Katy. This 40-acre outdoor museum presents a scaled-down replica of the Forbidden City, complete with elaborately detailed miniatures of the palaces and their occupants. Also displayed is a one-third-scale re-creation of the 6000-piece terra-cotta army of the dynasty’s first emperor, a marvel many hailed as the eighth wonder of the world.
For families, no visit to the Houston Museum District is complete without stops at the interactive Children’s Museum of Houston and the beautifully landscaped Houston Zoo. On September 8, Museum District Day, all the museums in the district are free.
Of course, there’s plenty of art beyond the museum district, too. To see what upper-level art students are producing, check out the Blaffer Gallery at the University of Houston, which presents its Masters of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition May 5-20. Folk-art aficionados won’t want to miss the Orange Show, a wacky, walk-through shrine to the orange created by retired postal worker Jeff McKissack. The Orange Show Foundation’s most anticipated annual event is the Art Car Parade on April 28, where more than 250 extravagantly decorated car creations roll through downtown Houston, delightfully demonstrating the free-wheeling spirit of art. The Pennzoil Art Car Weekend is held in conjunction with the Houston International Festival, April 20-29, a multicultural extravaganza with ten outdoor stages in a 20-block area downtown.
The same imaginative, no-holds-barred energy that characterizes the Bayou City’s museums and visual arts scene infuses its performing arts. Houston is one of only a handful of American cities with permanent professional resident companies in opera, symphony, ballet, and theater. The curtain rises downtown in the 17-block theater district, which ranks second only to New York in the number of theater seats in a concentrated downtown area.
Now one of the five largest opera companies in the country, Houston Grand Opera mounts brilliant productions in the state-of-the-art Wortham Theater Center. Since its founding more than 45 years ago, this innovative company has garnered international renown for its commitment to performing new works as well as traditional favorites, and it is the only opera company in the United States to win a Grammy, two Tonys, and two Emmys. Cold Sassy Tree, Florencia en el Amazonas, Nixon in China, and Harvey Milk are among its many world premieres, and its 1996 production of Porgy and Bess at La Scala and Opera Bastille drew rave reviews. The lineup this year includes Verdi’s grand epic Don Carlo (set in sixteenth-century Spain and France during the Inquisition) and Florencia en el Amazonas (based on a Gabriel Garcia Marquez story about a legendary diva on a voyage down the Amazon) in April and May. The Wortham Theater Center is also home to the Houston Ballet, the nation’s fourth largest dance company.
Just a couple of blocks away in Jones Hall, the Houston Symphony Orchestra tunes up to celebrate its eighty-eighth anniversary with the 2001-2002 season. One of the oldest performing arts organizations in the United States, this orchestra plays more than 200 concerts every season, including classical, pops, and chamber ensemble series. In addition, it performs two free concert series every summer, including a rousing Fourth of July concert in Miller Outdoor Theater in Hermann Park, complete with fireworks and a sixteen-cannon salute. It has also been active in commissioning new music and has performed many world premieres. Its summer performance home is the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in The Woodlands just north of Houston.
From its beginnings in a dance studio at the end of an alley, the Alley Theatre has seldom swerved from its goal of presenting lively and innovative professional theater. Now playing in its own distinctive building with two stages, the Alley’s offerings have ranged from new work by Edward Albee to a Greek epic based on the plays of Euripides.
The Society for the Performing Arts is renowned for bringing some of the world’s best talent to Houston, ranging from the hot Cuban sounds of Buena Vista Social Club musicians to the Awaji Puppet Theater from Japan. The society’s roster also includes many American favorites, such as the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, American Ballet Theater, and Broadway blockbusters. Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) takes pride in producing its own Broadway-style hits. Though currently performing at the Wortham, TUTS and the society’s Broadway shows will soon make their home in the new Hobby Center for the Performing Arts when it opens next year.
Of course in a city the size of Houston, not all the performing arts action is downtown. The University of Houston is a dynamic incubator of talent and has drawn some of America’s greatest artists and writers to its faculty, including Edward Albee and the late Donald Barthelme. Its school of theater, whose graduates include Randy and Dennis Quaid, presents original dramas from throughout the nation during the Edward Albee New Plays Workshop (April 20-21, 27-29). It also hosts a spring dance concert (April 27-29) and the Houston Shakespeare festival in August. In addition, its Moores School of Music stages operas and a wide array of concerts and musical events.
The grand dame of Texas seaside cities, Galveston was founded in 1836 and soon became the belle of the coast with its opulent mansions, fine buildings, and countless Texas firsts: the first opera house, post office, public library, medical college, drug store, even the first electric lights (1883) and electric streetcars. Its busy international port, second only to Ellis Island as an entry point for immigrants, also made the surrounding Strand mercantile district famous as the Wall Street of the Southwest. By the late nineteenth century, Galveston was a Victorian showplace embodying commerce and civilization with a capital C.
Then the Great Storm of 1900 hit. In spite of the devastation, what’s remarkable is how much of this historic city remains. Today Galveston Island has more than 550 designated landmarks on the National Register of Historic Places and more than 1500 historic homes. In the aftermath of the great hurricane, Galveston not only built a seawall seven miles long and seventeen feet high but also undertook a project that raised the ground level of the main city, some 500 blocks, between four and six feet.
That same civic determination, led by the Galveston Historical Foundation, has restored hundreds of historic homes and landmarks, giving local citizens as well as visitors more than a glimpse of the grandeur that was Galveston during its Victorian heyday. Today you can stroll among the 100 picturesque shops, art galleries, and restaurants of the 36-block Strand National Historic Landmark District and tour the 1877 iron sailing ship Elissa nearby, thanks to this foundation’s efforts. Peek inside some of the island’s restored nineteenth-century homes during the foundation’s Galveston Historic Homes Tour (May 5-6, 12-13).
The Galveston Historical Foundation also developed the successful Dickens on the Strand Festival in early December, which re-creates a colorful slice of merry old England. The oldest historic preservation group in Texas operates nine museums and historic properties open to the public, including the elegant 1859 Ashton Villa, replete with Gilded Age splendor.
After exploring Galveston’s colorful historic side, you could take the new electric shuttle bus service to the Seawall for beach time or to Moody Gardens, a complex of three glass pyramids as well as a beach and lagoon area, Imax 3-D and Ridefilm theaters, hotel and spa, convention center, and a special rehabilitation center. The Rainforest Pyramid showcases the flora and fauna of Asian, African, and American forests, while the Discovery Pyramid houses more than 60 interactive space exhibits. The Aquarium Pyramid features several oceans of the world and their inhabitants, including the South Pacific’s Great Barrier Reef, shimmering with coral and tropical fish, and the frigid South Atlantic’s entertaining king penguins.
Come evening, you might catch a performance at the Grand 1894 Opera House, ranked among the nation’s finest historical restorations. Current shows include Bernadette Peters, April 7-8, and on April 10-15, Red, White, and Tuna, the hilarious third serving of the Greater Tuna trilogy.
Clear Lake Area
On the way to Galveston and about 20 miles south of downtown Houston, Clear Lake is known as the home of NASA’s Mission Control. Though you can take a tram tour of the Johnson Space Center, the family-friendly exhibits of Space Center Houston are the stellar attraction. Nearby, the Kemah Boardwalk complex on the Kemah Waterfront has become another visitor magnet with its theme restaurants, dancing fountains lighted at night, a Ferris wheel and other rides, midway games, street performers, and plenty of shops.
The historic Spindletop gusher may have put this oil-rich region on the map, but today visitors are just as likely to go for the gumbo. Close to Louisiana, this East Texas corner definitely comes with a Cajun accent.
Orange, where the convention and visitors bureau hosts its annual International Gumbo Cook-Off May 4-5, also claims a gem of a free museum. The Stark Museum of Art, built by the Nelda C. and H. J. Lutcher Stark Foundation, holds an extensive collection of American Western art and artifacts, including bronzes by Remington and Russell, the original Birds of America by John J. Audubon, and twentieth-century paintings by artists associated with New Mexico, including Georgia O’Keeffe, Nicolai Fechin, and Ernest Blumenschein.
Port Arthur was the birthplace of Janis Joplin, and her story and those of other celebrities from the region (including the Big Bopper, George Jones, and sports legend Babe Zaharias) are unfurled at the Museum of the Gulf Coast, which also covers Gulf Coast history and has a gallery of works by the internationally renowned artist and regional native son Robert Rauschenberg.
Beaumont celebrates its petroleum-based beginnings with the Texas Energy Museum and Gladys City Boom Town, the latter a recreation of the town that sprang up after Spindletop erupted in 1901. Beaumont takes just as much pride in its arts community, apparent in its Art Museum of Southeast Texas, which mounts about ten exhibits a year, and the Arts Studio, which hosts exhibitions, art classes, and monthly Band Nights showcasing area musicians and their original compositions.
This city on Corpus Christi Bay has long been known for seaside fun at the beaches of adjacent Padre Island and the fabulous fishing just offshore. Corpus, as locals call it, also brims with cultural and educational attractions. Visitors observe the Gulf of Mexico’s marine life in the Texas State Aquarium, walk through the history of World War II’s most famous Navy aircraft carrier as they tour the USS Lexington, and gain insight into the Orient at the Asian Cultures Museum. Art buffs head for the Art Museum of South Texas, where the architecture is as impressive as the displays inside.
At the Corpus Christi Museum of Science and History’s new Discovery Hall, opening this summer, you’ll plunge into the European settlement of South Texas through “New World Exploration,” an exhibit featuring artifacts from the wreck of La Belle, the ship of French explorer La Salle that was recently recovered from Matagorda Bay by the Texas Historical Commission. A look at La Salle’s Fort St. Louis on Matagorda Bay, early mapping of the Gulf Coast, and early farming and ranching in South Texas are all part of this intriguing exhibition.
Rio Grande Valley
On Texas’ southern border, the Rio Grande Valley is imbued with Mexican traditions, from crooning mariachis to flamboyant fiestas. Among the most colorful celebrations here are Brownsville’s Charro Days in February, Hidalgo’s Border Fest in March, Cinco de Mayo (May 5) throughout the Valley (including a major Tejano music festival in McAllen), and Harlingen’s Rio Fest in April and Birding Festival in November. The long beaches of South Padre Island make it easy to combine seaside fun with cultural forays.
The Historic Brownsville Museum is a good starting point for learning about the past of this area. The Brownsville Heritage Trail is a series of short walking and driving tours that cover its most important historic homes and buildings as well as a historic battlefield and the superb Gladys Porter Zoo.
Another rewarding way to experience the rich traditions of this region is by exploring Los Caminos del Rio (The Roads of the River), a heritage corridor that follows both sides of the Rio Grande with a dual route stretching from Laredo and Nuevo Laredo to the Gulf of Mexico. In the free brochure guide available from the Texas Historical Commission, you’ll learn about the architecture, customs, history, and other regional legacies at stopping points along the way.
Come spring, the Piney Woods of East Texas are dappled with dogwood blossoms and wildflowers, while azaleas landscape many of the historic homes from antebellum days in the pretty towns. Scarlet and Rhett would feel right at home here.
The oldest town in Texas, Nacogdoches began with the founding of a Spanish mission, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Nacogdoches in 1721, and soon became a gateway for westward expansion of the United States. Today visitors learn about this past at the Stone Fort Museum, a replica of the town’s first permanent structure, a 1779 Spanish Colonial residence.
Marshall welcomes spring with its Stagecoach Days Festival, May 18-20, when activities include tours of restored antebellum homes. During its Christmas Wonderland of Lights celebration, this town lavishly decks out its graceful courthouse and more with tiny twinkle lights.
Likewise steeped in antebellum allure, Jefferson hosts its spring Tour of Homes May 4-6, the Second Annual Civil War Reenactment May 25-27, and the Jefferson Ark-LaTex Jazz Festival June 16-17. Considered the rose capital of Texas, Tyler draws thousands to its Texas Rose Festival in October.
Culture in Longview revolves around the Longview Museum of Fine Arts, a contemporary museum with a collection of some 300 works encompassing painting, sculpture, photography, etchings, and prints.
Promoting creative talents in two states in the town that gave birth to Scott Joplin, America’s king of ragtime, the Texarkana Regional Arts and Humanities Council organizes innovative gallery exhibits, performing arts events, and educational programs for students, teachers, and the community at large in the Perot Theatre and the Regional Arts Center in Texarkana.
PRAIRIES AND LAKES
Anchored by the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, this North Texas region brims with cowboy fun, sophisticated city pleasures, and prairies blooming with spring wildflowers.
From an 1849 frontier fort on the Trinity River, Fort Worth grew into a booming cow-town after the Civil War, spurred by its location on the Chisholm Trail, the cowboy highway. By 1881 more than five million head of cattle had trotted through Fort Worth on their way to the nation’s dinner tables.
This colorful Old West legacy is still alive and kicking in Fort Worth, especially in the Stockyards National Historic District. Though the big cattle pens and meatpackers are gone, you can still watch longhorns ambling down the brick-paved main thoroughfare of the district, herded by authentically dressed drovers. You can still attend a weekly rodeo or Wild West show in the 1908 Cowtown Coliseum, home of the world’s first indoor rodeo.
Shoppers hoping to round up souvenirs or urban cowboy gear are in luck, too. The world’s largest livestock pens have become Stockyards Station, a festival marketplace with more than 25 shops and eateries selling everything from antiques to bolo ties and barbecue. The Stockyards’ latest transformation has turned the original mule barns, Cinderella-like, into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame. This new museum features the Sterquell Wagon Collection of nearly 60 beautifully restored horse-drawn carriages, wagons, and sleighs, including a milk wagon, Welsh funeral hearse, and even a wagon said to have belonged to Jesse James. It also pays homage to Texas cowboys.
Around the Stockyards, all trails eventually lead to Billy Bob’s Texas, famed as the world’s largest honky-tonk and possibly its most legendary. All the greatest country and western stars have played here, as evidenced by their handprints and signatures along the wall of fame, including Willie Nelson, Tanya Tucker, and Garth Brooks. Besides the chance to do the Texas two-step beneath a rhinestone-studded saddle turning like a disco ball, you can watch live bull riding here on Friday and Saturday nights. No telling what famous musicians may show up to help Billy Bob’s celebrate its twentieth anniversary this year.
From the Stockyards it’s easy to catch one of the new, vintage-style Longhorn Trolleys to downtown or the Cultural District. The latter is the heart of Fort Worth’s ever-growing museum scene. Over the next few years, new museums are opening and existing ones expanding. One of the most dramatic changes will be the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, which moves to its striking new home, designed by the renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando, in 2002. The new building will make the new Modern second only to New York’s Museum of Modern Art in gallery space dedicated to modern and contemporary art.
One of the Modern’s most thought-provoking shows this year is “Ultrabaroque: Aspects of Post-Latin American Art,” on view through May 6. This exhibition presents sixteen contemporary North and South American artists who share a Latin heritage and, more important, a resolve to work across geographical and conceptual borders. Although the works of these innovative young artists share a common resonance, their paintings, sculptures, photographs, prints, video, and multimedia installations demonstrate a broad range of artistic styles, forms, and content.
Along with the debut of the Modern’s new home, the reopening of the Amon Carter Museum this October is eagerly anticipated. Also opening in 2002 is the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame and in 2003 the new facility for the Cattle Raisers Museum just next door.
One of the established treasures of the Cultural District is the Kimbell Art Museum, which hosts first-rate traveling exhibitions and has a collection ranging from antiquity to the twentieth century. In the same neighborhood, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History mesmerizes young and old alike with interactive exhibits and its Omni Theater shows. No family will want to leave the district without a walk through the Fort Worth Zoo, which unveils its new, eight-acre Texas Wild! theme area this year, showcasing our state’s native species in landscaped areas representing six regions of Texas.
From the Cultural District it’s just a short trolley ride to Sundance Square at the heart of downtown. This revitalized 20-block area, with brick-paved streets and renovated buildings filled with upscale restaurants, specialty shops, galleries, museums, movie houses, and live performance venues, has won praise from all corners for its innovative redevelopment. A popular stop here is the Sid Richardson Collection of Western Art, displaying 60 paintings (and currently 25 bronzes) by the masters of Western art, Frederic Remington and Charles Russell. Lively day and night, this is the place to dawdle at a sidewalk cafe or catch some live entertainment.
When it comes to performance, downtown’s crown jewel is the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall. In the tradition of Europe’s grand opera houses, Bass Hall has been called the “last great performance hall built in the twentieth century.” The Fort Worth Dallas Ballet, Fort Worth Opera, and Fort Worth Symphony all perform here. In Fort Worth, the combination of world-class culture and colorful Cowtown tradition guarantees a unique city experience as well as a down-home good time.
Sophisticated and urbane, Dallas has long been known for its cultural and artistic excellence. This commitment is apparent in its arts district. Covering 60 acres downtown, it is said to be the largest such development in the nation. It is anchored by the Dallas Museum of Art, the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, and the Arts District Theater.
Widely regarded as one of the top concert halls in the world and, acoustically, the greatest hall built in the twentieth century, the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center (designed by I. M. Pei) is the permanent home of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the site of many other musical performances. Here the Dallas Symphony (the eighth oldest orchestra in America) celebrates 102 years with the 2001-2002 season.
The upcoming symphony program includes some of the greatest music ever composed in addition to some of the world’s top artists and entertainers. Featuring such classical masters as James Galway, Midori, and Andre Watts, the symphony’s Texas Instruments Classical Series explores the works of Beethoven and Mozart. Its Audi Pops series presents such popular artists as Olivia Newton-John, Art Garfunkel, Lou Rawls, and Jose Feliciano. Led by music director Andrew Litton, the Dallas Symphony produces more recordings each year than any other orchestra in the country.
Adjacent to the Dallas Museum of Art, another bright star within the Dallas Arts District is the Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art, one of the most important collections of its kind in the United States. Inside the serene, light-filled galleries (some 12,000 feet) visitors marvel at exquisite art ranging from Chinese jades and Buddhist sculpture to Japanese crystal spheres and screen paintings. The Crows first visited China in 1976, before Chairman Mao Tse-tung died, and since then the family has also added pieces from Japan, India, and Southeast Asia. The Crow Collection’s current temporary exhibition, on view through September 9, is “In the Shadow of Dragons: The Robert Kresko Collection of Later Chinese Bronzes.” Admission is free.
A dynamic catalyst in the city’s arts scene is the McKinney Avenue Contemporary, which presents art in all disciplines, from stage and video to painting, and is known for its openness to experimentation. It is at the heart of a popular dining and antique shop district connected to downtown by the McKinney Avenue Trolley.
Dallas offers some quite specialized museums as well, such as the American Museum of Miniature Arts in the city’s historic West End. Here the country’s largest collection of English and American dollhouses and miniature replicas of historic locations includes a series of Texas rooms depicting life from the early 1700s to the early 1900s. The Sixth Floor Museum has a permanent exhibit on the life, death, and legacy of President John F. Kennedy.
When it comes to musical theater, Dallas gets its glimpse of the Great White Way through Dallas Summer Musicals, which has been bringing the best of Broadway to North Texas since 1941. In addition to presenting blockbuster national tours every summer, Dallas Summer Musicals presents the Broadway Contemporary Series during the fall and winter, a lineup geared more toward avant-garde performances of the latest Broadway hits. This year Dallas audiences look forward to Ann-Margret in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (May 29-June 10), Civil War starring Larry Gatlin (June 12-24), Les Miserables (June 26-July 8), Cinderella starring Eartha Kitt (July 10-22), Dame Edna in her own show (July 24-29), Rex Smith in Kiss Me Kate (August 7-19), Saturday Night Fever (August 21-September 2), and the big State Fair show Aida (September 25-October 21). The shows are staged at the Majestic Theatre and the Music Hall at Fair Park.
The Metroplex area surrounding Dallas and Fort Worth extends from Denton in the north to Waxahachie in the south. Here the varied attractions (everything from baseball stadiums and theme parks to picturesque courthouse squares lined by quaint shops) provide countless opportunities for day trips or longer stays.
Home to the University of North Texas and its outstanding College of Music, Denton is one of the liveliest performing arts centers in the Metroplex. This community celebrates spring with its Denton Arts and Jazz Festival on April 27-29, showcasing more than 1300 performers on six stages presenting the best in jazz, pop, rhythm and blues, choral singing, and full orchestra music. Headliners include the Fabulous Thunderbirds, John Scofield (a top jazz guitarist), the Rodney Booth Big Band (swing and jazz orchestra), and the hopping polka sounds of Brave Combo. In addition, there will be dance, storytelling, and theater performances. Visitors can also shop for art and crafts, purchase festive food and drinks, and participate in art activities in the Children’s Art Tent. Clowns, jugglers, and other roving performers add to the fun in the heart of downtown Denton. Admission is free.
This city also takes pride in the first-rate Denton Community Theater, which puts on at least five major productions every year in the carefully restored Campus Theatre, a historic moviehouse in downtown Denton. This summer it presents three toe-tapping musicals: Damn Yankees (June 21-24 and June 28-July 1), They’re Playing Our Song (July 19-22, 26-29), and You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown (August 9-11, 16-19).
Arlington attracts families with its theme parks, baseball stadium, and the Legends of the Game Baseball Museum. Mesquite’s big draw is its exciting Championship Rodeo, held every Friday and Saturday night from April through September.
If “office park” conjures up an image of featureless buildings adrift on acres of barren concrete, a monumental cultural surprise awaits just 25 minutes north of Dallas in Frisco. Here, set among the rolling lawns and serene lakes surrounding the Hall Office Park, is the Texas Sculpture Garden, containing more than 30 pieces of contemporary sculpture by some of Texas’ best living artists. This remarkable display comprises one of the nation’s largest corporate art collections open to the public.
SOUTH TEXAS PLAINS
At the southern edge of the Hill Country, limestone hills yield to the brush country and the coastal plain. Hispanic culture spices this region like Mexican salsa, including San Antonio and Laredo.
Say “San Antonio” to most people and two things come to mind: the Alamo and the Riverwalk. Together, the Shrine of Texas Liberty and this promenade enshrining the pleasures of riverside cafes have made San Antonio one of the most-visited cities in Texas. Although they deserve to be at the top of everyone’s list, there’s plenty more to explore beyond these San Antonio icons.
People are often surprised to learn that the Alamo is just one of five Spanish missions here. The other four follow the river as it winds south from downtown. Of these, San Jose, with its graceful wrought iron and lacy carved stone, has been dubbed the queen of the missions. The excellent visitor center traces the history and describes Spanish Colonial life in the 1700s, when San Antonio was little more than a lonely outpost of Nueva Espana (Mexico’s name before independence). The five missions comprise a national historical park, so admission is free.
The Hispanic culture that launched this city with five missions is one of the ingredients, like good salsa picante, that makes San Antonio San Antonio. It is in the Mexican-style mercado, or market square, downtown, its stalls stuffed with ceramics, silver jewelry, and folk art. It’s in the air as mariachis serenade shoppers at Rivercenter Mall on Sunday afternoons through August. It’s there flavoring the Alamo City’s biggest annual bash, Fiesta San Antonio, April 20-29.
Founded to foster this lively Latino culture, the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center is the oldest and largest institution of its kind in the nation. Focusing on the creative disciplines of music, dance, literature, theater, visual arts, and media arts, the Guadalupe offers classes and hosts many special events, from film festivals to book fairs. Its resident dance company performs Mexico’s traditional dances and sometimes reinterprets them with modern choreography, it produces original bilingual plays by Latino playwrights, and it teaches percussion to young musicians aspiring to Latin and Brazilian jazz. Among the Guadalupe’s upcoming events are the twentieth annual Tejano Conjunto Festival (May 9-13), the Fiesta de Verano dance concert (June 2-3), and the popular fine crafts show and sale, Hecho a Mano, opening in late November.
With the 1998 debut of the 30,000-square-foot Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art, the San Antonio Museum of Art has also become a major center for the appreciation and study of Latin American art, which encompasses pre-Columbian artifacts, Spanish Colonial religious treasures, folk art, and contemporary art. Spanning 4000 years of history, this huge collection ranges from royal treasures found in ancient tombs to expressive masks and decorative items made in media from metal to paper. Housed in a converted 1884 brewery, the museum displays the region’s finest collection of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities. European and American art, a comprehensive collection of Asian art, and a new gallery devoted to Oceania (South Pacific cultures) are likewise among the San Antonio Museum of Art’s permanent holdings.
You won’t find much Mexican folk art in the McNay Museum, but the building itself, designed as the palatial private home of Marion Koogler McNay in the 19208, took its inspiration from Mexico’s Spanish Colonial architecture. What you will find in this graceful mansion-turned-museum is one of the best little collections of Impressionists and Postimpressionists in North America.
At the Witte Museum, be enlightened by Dracula and his friends at “The Atoms Family,” an interactive energy exhibit starring 1930s movie monsters showing the power of the atom, through May 6. Or see a real mummy and learn its ancient Egyptian secrets. Science, natural history, and Texas history and culture make the Witte a stimulating experience for all ages.
After exploring the Alamo City’s museums, missions, and other attractions, it’s time to relax on the Riverwalk, a vital part of San Antonio’s history and culture. Like the missions and many vintage buildings throughout the downtown, this cypress-shaded bend in the San Antonio River was saved by the San Antonio Conservation Society in the 1920s when the city fathers wanted to pave the whole thing over for flood control. Fortunately another flood-control solution was found, paving the way, so to speak, for the inviting restaurants, shops, and hotels that line the tropically landscaped Paseo del Rio today. Among the most inviting places to dine on the Riverwalk are Boudro’s, the Fig Tree, and Little Rhein Steak House, all in historic buildings with plenty of Alamo City ambience. Just steps from the Riverwalk, Adam’s Mark Hotel is the place to go for a gourmet Sunday Brunch.
History fans won’t want to miss Goliad to the south, home to Mission Espiritu Santo, founded by the Spanish in 1749 to convert the local Indians. Nearby is the Spanish fort, Presidio La Bahia, where Fannin’s men were imprisoned and massacred after their surrender during the 1836 Texas Revolution.
Gonzales, east of San Antonio, has been called the Lexington of Texas because the first skirmish of the Texas Revolution took place here. Its historic sites include a restored 1848 log house and its restored 1887 jail, complete with dungeon and gallows.
Likewise east of the Alamo City, Seguin is famous for its wealth of restored buildings, including many dating from before the Texas Revolution. More recently it has earned renown as the real-life setting for many of the pioneer women portrayed in True Women by Janice Woods-Windle, a native of Seguin.
On the banks of the Rio Grande, Laredo and Nuevo Laredo are fabulous places to shop for Mexican crafts and furnishings. They can also serve as starting points for following Los Caminos del Rio, the heritage corridor along the Rio Grande to the Gulf of Mexico. At Laredo’s Republic of the Rio Grande Museum, visitors learn about the seven flags that have flown over this historic building, once the capitol of the Republic of the Rio Grande.
Lovely cities beside rivers, rolling hills covered with a haze of bluebonnets in spring, and picturesque small towns settled by Germans and other Europeans make this Central Texas region a popular getaway.
On the Colorado River in the heart of the scenic Texas Hill Country, Austin is best known for the State Capitol, which in typical Lone Star style is higher than our nation’s capitol in Washington. Here history is everywhere, and no one should miss the flee tour of the renovated capitol building or its visitor center. Another great flee walking tour, of Congress Avenue and East Sixth Street, starts at the State Capitol steps but covers Austin’s historic downtown buildings, with stops to point out architectural details of the Governor’s Mansion and many other distinctive historic buildings. They include the 1886 Driskill Hotel, the grande dame of Sixth Street, with its sumptuously restored lobby and the largest arched doorway in Texas. A bust of the cattle baron who built it, Jesse Lincoln Driskill, presides over the south entrance.
Austin visitors have a flesh opportunity to experience the grandeur of Texas history when the new Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum opens. The grand opening celebration and dedication ceremony, with activities for all ages, will be April 28. With its multimedia Texas Spirit Theater, an Imax theater, and the best artifacts from around the state, learning about the state’s colorful past has never been so much fun. The first floor explores “Encounters on the Land,” with exhibits on native peoples, European explorers, Spanish colonization, immigration, and westward expansion. The second floor, which focuses on the 1836 Texas Revolution and events through the Texas Centennial in 1936, includes a video presentation in a theater built to resemble the Alamo the day after the battle ended. The third floor looks at cowboys and ranching, how oil changed Texas, and new frontiers in space, medicine, and technology. All in all, this new history museum promises to be one of Austin’s top draws.
History is not the only story here. Austin has a thriving arts community and music scene, too. From fine art museums and galleries to musicians singin’ the blues, the Texas capital rounds up enough culture to entertain folks a spell. Attesting to this richness is the Austin Fine Arts Festival, April 7-8, downtown at Republic Square Park. Celebrating its fifty-first year, this five-block party centers around the artworks of 180 jury-selected artists and includes a live auction of their donated works, a brew pub, food from Austin’s premier eating establishments, interactive art activities for children and adults, and two stages featuring local music headliners.
Austin’s Hill Country setting is at its most spectacular in spring, when wildflowers cloak the surrounding countryside with a crazy quilt of color. Scarlet Indian paintbrush, fuchsia wine cups, pink primroses, and the state flower, bluebonnets, are all there, and more. Dedicated to preserving wildflowers and native plants, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center on the southwest edge of Austin has nature trails leading through extensive gardens and wildscapes, as well as educational programs and a shop selling plants and seeds. Its Wildflower Days Plants and People: Ethnobotony festival takes place April 28-29.
The Hill Country
April is a wonderful month to tour the Hill Country, not only for the wildflowers but for the wine. During the third weekend in April, sixteen Hill Country wineries sponsor the Wine and Wildflowers Trail, featuring tastings of newly released wines, food and wine pairings, demonstrations, and tours. Similar events are held the third weekend in August, the first weekend in October, and the first two weeks of December.
Just about any time is a good time to visit the Texas Hill Country, a rolling landscape crossed by clear rivers fed by aquifers deep within the limestone hills. Well-tended farms and ranches dot this storybook land, along with picturesque small towns, many of them started by settlers who began arriving from Germany around the middle of the nineteenth century.
One of these is Fredericksburg, which celebrates its pioneer heritage with the Easter Fires Pageant (April 14) and its German heritage with Oktoberfest (Oct. 5-7), a festival of races, fairs, exhibitions, and, of course, copious food and drink. You might say every day is Oktoberfest in Fredericksburg, where you can clink Brunhilda-sized steins at an outdoor biergarten, admire the quaint German Sunday houses with their outside stairs to the second-floor sleeping loft, and catch a performance of the Sauerkrauts at the Fredericksburg Festhaus, a singing, dancing, prosting, and toasting show entitled “Oompah with Attitude.”
Fredericksburg was named after a Prussian prince, but Johnson City was named after the ancestor of a president, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Find out which one on a tour of LBJ’s Boyhood Home in Johnson City. From there a nature trail leads to the old Johnson Settlement, a group of farm buildings that includes an 1856 dogtrot cabin owned by the president’s grandfather and great-uncle. The Johnson Settlement and LBJ Boyhood Home are part of the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. From the park’s visitor center near Stonewall, about fifteen miles away, visitors board a bus for a tour that includes the reconstructed Johnson birthplace, family cemetery, LBJ’s Texas White House, and a drive across the LBJ Ranch on the Pedernales River.
On the banks of the Guadalupe River, Kerrville has become known for art and music as well as the surrounding riverside scenery. Since its opening in 1982, the Cowboy Artists of America Museum has become the standard among Western art aficionados. Kerrville’s other claim to artistic fame is the official Texas State Arts and Crafts Fair, featuring works by 200 top Texas artisans, educational demonstrations, entertainment, food booths, and Texas wine tasting (May 25-28). The Kerrville Folk Festival opens about the same time (May 24-June 10), with concerts, jam sessions, workshops, children’s concerts, and more.
In San Marcos it’s the water, millions of gallons, gushing daily from an underground aquifer to form the crystal-clear headwaters of the San Marcos River. According to archeologists, Indians lived around this enormous spring more than 12,000 years ago, making it the longest continuously inhabited site in North America. The water’s clarity and year-round temperature of 72 degrees make swimming, scuba diving, canoeing, kayaking, and tubing popular here, along with the glass-bottom boats of Aquarena Center, an aquatic theme park that focuses on nature. For a taste of the area’s architectural legacy, stroll through the town’s two historic districts on the National Register: the oak-shaded nineteenth-century homes of Belvin Street and the downtown, where the newly restored turn-of-the-century county courthouse is surrounded by restored buildings of the same era.
Like Fredericksburg, New Braunfels proudly celebrates its German heritage, having been founded in 1845 by Prince Carl of Solms Braunfels and a small band of German colonists. The best place in town to learn about this heritage is the Sophienberg Museum, on the hilltop where Prince Carl built a log fortress. A portrait of the prince hangs on the wall as history exhibits tell the story of the German pioneers. In addition, displays and replicas give visitors a look at life in those early days. Along with examples of pioneer handicrafts and tools, the museum contains replicas and re-creations of an early doctor’s office, pharmacy, bakery, barbershop, general store, blacksmith shop, post office, and saloon. The museum recently added Sophie’s Shop, a gift shop and year-round Christmas store offering German hand-blown glass ornaments, feather trees, German collectibles, and Texana books. The Sophienberg Museum is a major participant in the New Braunfels Folkfest (April 7-8), which showcases Texas pioneer traditions and music with demonstrations, entertainment, and fun for all ages.
Wind-washed forts and easy-going towns with lively cultural communities punctuate these wide-open spaces. Abilene, the cultural hub of what is sometimes called the Big Country, has successfully used the arts to revitalize its downtown. At the heart of the action is Grace Cultural Center, in a restored historic hotel, housing the historical museum, the fine arts museum, and a children’s museum. Abilene can also serve as a starting point for the Texas Forts Trail, a 650-mile tour through the heritage of the Panhandle Plains, with a visit to Fort Phantom Hill, which burned in 1854, leaving behind a handful of evocative stone ruins.
Another stop on the Texas Forts Trail, San Angelo takes pride in what a military historian called “the best preserved Western fort in the United States.” At its prime in 1879, Fort Concho had 40 limestone buildings and a garrison of eight companies. Now a national historic landmark, Fort Concho hosts living-history events that sometimes include demonstrations by Buffalo Soldiers.
Lubbock, the birthplace of Buddy Holly, commemorates the rock `n’ roll legend with the Buddy Holly Center, in the historic Depot District. Showcasing memorabilia donated by the Holly family, this cultural arts facility also offers programs in the visual arts and Texas music and history.
An energetic international city on the Rio Grande, El Paso is rich in cultural attractions, including a superb art museum, a Native American cultural center that presents tribal dancing, and Chamizal National Memorial, an indoor and outdoor theater and art complex that offers programs highlighting the heritage of Mexico and America. No doubt the quickest and most entertaining introduction to El Paso’s four centuries of history and the Native American, Spanish, Mexican, and Western American cultures that shaped this city is Viva El Paso!, a musical show held in McKelligon Canyon Amphitheater during the summer.
Marfa, at the edge of the Davis Mountains in far West Texas, has become as famous for art as for the sublimely dramatic scenery that surrounds it. This quiet small town is home to the Chinati Foundation, started by the late Donald Judd, an internationally acclaimed American artist. Judd’s large abstract sculptures (including 100 large aluminum cubes laid out in perfect rows in two converted artillery sheds) appear to share a haunting resonance with the landscape.
TEXAS HISTORICAL COMMISSION
The Texas Historical Commission (THC) works to promote cultural and heritage tourism in Texas, primarily by preserving the architectural, archeological, and cultural landmarks that make travel in Texas such a rewarding experience. Ever stopped to read one of those historical markers alongside a highway or on a building? It’s there courtesy of the THC, as are more than 11,000 others across the state. Or perhaps you’ve picked up a travel brochure on the Texas Forts Trail. Again, thank the Texas Historical Commission.
There are many different ways to preserve, protect, and promote the heritage-rich sites and landmarks that make Texas Texas. Here’s just a sampling of the THC’s wide-ranging programs and projects:
La Salle Archeology Project. The excavation of La Belle, French explorer La Salle’s 300-year-old shipwreck in Matagorda Bay, began in 1996, drawing worldwide interest and media attention. The project continues with the excavation of La Salle’s colony at Fort St. Louis. The state marine archeologist supports efforts to locate, investigate, and protect hundreds of historic shipwrecks in Texas coastal waters.
Texas Courthouse Preservation Initiative. Building on the success of a previous program to survey the state’s oldest and least documented county courthouses, this new initiative provides matching grants to assist courthouse restoration projects throughout the state.
Red River War Battle Sites Project. This project documents the significant battle sites of the Red River War in 1874-1875, when the U.S. militaw removed Native Americans from the Texas Panhandle and Plains regions. This collaboration with the National Park Service and the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum calls for museum displays and other educational offerings as part of the THC’s heritage tourism program.
Texas Main Street Program. The THC assists Texas cities and towns in the revitalization of their historic downtowns.
Texas Travel Trails Program. By providing training, education, and financial assistance, this program helps targeted regions restore and preserve their historic landmarks and cultural assets to increase tourism and thereby enhance their economies. The Texas Forts Trail Region, the Texas Independence Trail Region, and the Texas Forest Trail Region are the first three projects.
Los Caminos del Rio Heritage Project. The THC is an active partner in this binational effort, creating a heritage tourism corridor on both sides of the Rio Grande.
Texas Preservation Trust Fund. The THC provides matching grants for architectural and archeological projects.
Web Site. The information-packed Web site at www.thc.state.tx.us is a valuable resource, whether you want to plan a heritage tourism trip, research Texas history (check out “Texas trivia”), or learn more about THC projects and programs. The Travel section features articles on many Texas destinations and regions.
For more information, visit the Web site above or call the Texas Historical Commission at 512-463-6100.
TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE
Blessed with 120 state parks, Texans enjoy a bounty of places to play and explore the best of the state’s natural and cultural resources. In addition, 35 properties on the state park roster preserve hallowed monuments or landmark homes at a variety of historically significant sites.
For instance, one of the state’s most important cultural sites, San Jacinto Monument State Historical Park, occupies a 1000-acre slice of the coastal prairie just outside Houston. Hundreds of thousands of visitors a year make the pilgrimage to La Porte to ride to the top of the 567-foot monument that overlooks the site where Texas won its independence from Mexico. A special ceremony and colorful reenactment on April 21 will highlight this year’s anniversary of the 1836 Battle of San Jacinto. The $10 million restoration of the San Jacinto Monument is nearly complete. This state park is also the berth of the USS Texas, which saw action in both world wars.
For a little Old West action, aspiring cowboys can try their hands at punching cattle on the annual spring Longhorn Cattle Drive at Big Bend Ranch State Park, April 20-22. Spring brings lots of wildflowers to the majestic desert and mountain scenery at Big Bend Ranch, and guided horseback trail rides offer plenty of chances to photograph these natural splendors (April 6-8, 9-11, 13-15). Encompassing about 300,000 acres, this park near Presidio was once a cattle and sheep ranch.
Another West Texas attraction is the new Wyler Aerial Tramway at Franklin Mountains State Park on the edge of El Paso. The two Swiss-made gondolas whisk riders to the observation deck atop 5632-foot Ranger Peak for panoramic views encompassing 7000 square miles, including two cities (El Paso and Juarez) and three states (Texas, New Mexico, and Chihuahua across the Rio Grande). In the southernmost extension of the Rockies, this park offers thousands of ruggedly beautiful acres for hiking, biking, and relaxing.
For more information, contact Texas Parks and Wildlife at 1-800-792-1112.
TEXAS COMMISSION ON THE ARTS
The Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) is dedicated to promoting cultural tourism in our state. This kind of travel focuses on experiencing the arts and cultural events of an area, such as performances, exhibits, and festivals. As any Texan will tell you, this type of tourism fits Texas to a T; the state possesses a blend of cultures that adds to every visitor’s experience of the artistic.
Besides enriching the traveler’s visit, cultural tourism benefits Texas. According to research, such tourism is the fastest-growing market in the travel industry worldwide. These travelers spend more and stay longer than others. Texas is one of the two most popular states for cultural and heritage tourism, a trend that is here to stay.
Because visitors are so important to Texas (tourism is the third largest revenue-producing industry in the state), the TCA assists in the development, preservation, and promotion of cultural tourism in Texas through a variety of activities:
Community Development. The TCA helps communities identify their own cultural uniqueness and use it to attract tourism. This process can help communities discover themselves, breaking down barriers as they work together toward a common goal.
Financial Assistance. The TCA provides matching financial support for arts festivals and events to cover artists’ fees, equipment rental, and other costs. A TCA program also helps support Texas artists performing at special events or as part of a performing arts series.
Touring Artists. The TCA maintains the Texas Touring Program Company and Artists Roster, containing the names of more than 200 touring companies and artists ranging from storytellers to symphony orchestras. Presenters throughout Texas use this valuable resource in planning events and festivals.
The TCA has also developed www.artonart.com as the most comprehensive arts calendar Web site in Texas. Guests can easily maneuver through its user-friendly icons to find the information they want fast. For example, users can search for events by region, city, topic, arts organization name or type, or date. Besides obtaining detailed information, the user in some cases can even purchase tickets online. The Web site automatically removes events that have taken place.
Links to other agencies, including Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Department of Economic Development, provide even more resources for identifying additional attractions. After the search is complete, visitors can get written directions or a map to specific attractions. The Web site also contains a travel planner section that allows visitors to contact vendors so they can rent a car, make airline reservations, and book hotels.
For more information or a copy of Uniquely Texas, a video highlighting cultural and heritage tourism in Texas, call the Texas Commission on the Arts at 512-463-5535. Additional information on Uniquely Texas is available at the Web site www.uniquely texas.org.