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What to Do Between Meals in Texas

From bourbon tasting in Dallas to fine art in Marfa, things to do — and where to stay — when you’re not busy eating

The Alamo
Photo: Shutterstock

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Face it: Great trips are planned around great meals. There are, however, a few things that even the most perfect plate of food can’t do for your vacation — like give you a place to sleep, or fill the hours between breakfast, lunch, dinner, and the myriad of snacks and drinks that make up a well-rounded trip. For that, we have our Eater-approved travel essentials — a pocket guide to the other stuff you might want to consider between queso and margarita breaks. For Texas, this includes a housing project turned art installation in Houston, a Dr Pepper museum in Waco, cave paintings in El Paso, and even a two-day brisket camp at Texas A&M.


It’s unclear which quality Austin is most proud of: its weirdness or its Texan-ness. But the result of both is that the Lone Star State capital is one of the country’s hottest destinations for everything from live music to outdoor adventures to, yes, food. For everything you need to eat well in Austin — brunch maps, neighborhood breakdowns, and more — check out our full city guide. Here are Eater’s picks for the rest of your trip essentials.


The pool at the Austin Motel
Photo: Austin Motel / Facebook

Austin Motel

Of all of hotelier Liz Lambert’s stylish properties, the Austin Motel is the most accessible. The funky establishment recently underwent a snazzy makeover, and is now full of poppy wallpaper and vibrant colors. The iconic signage remains, with its marquee urging passersby to “let love in,” and a bodega-like lobby store sells beer, wine, snacks, and other odds and ends. The prime South Congress address is in the middle of one of Austin’s busiest stretches, where people flock to restaurants both high-end and casual, from New York-style pizza at Home Slice to wine at June’s to karaoke at Ego’s to music at the iconic Continental Club. Average $135 and up per night |

The Driskill

The historic Driskill hotel
Photo: The Driskill / Facebook

The historic hotel is a classic choice. Open since 1886, it’s been the site of many a Texas gubernatorial inaugural balls (including Ann Richards’s), and late president Lyndon B. Johnson was a big fan. The hotel with Lone Star touches (think mounted longhorns) and elegant rooms offers an oasis in the middle of downtown Austin, bordered by the rowdy Dirty Sixth area and the political hubbub surrounding the Texas State Capitol. The Driskill’s own bar is a hypermasculine respite of plush leather and Western art, but it’s also walking distance from excellent bars like the Midnight Cowboy speakeasy, the Roosevelt Room, and Austin’s very first food hall, Fareground, which gathers some of the best chefs in the city into one easy location. Average $400 and up per night |

HausBar Urban Farms and GuestHaus

The FarmHaus at HausBar Farms
Photo: hausbarfarms

HausBar Farms, which provides vegetables and animals to a number of Austin restaurants, also boasts an adorable standalone bungalow on its East Austin property. Waiting in the fridge will be food from local purveyors and fresh produce grown on-site, and if you’re lucky, co-owner Dorsey Barger might take you on a tour of the farm, where donkeys, rabbits, chickens, and ducks — and resident goose Gustavo — run amok. Average $100 and up a night |


Swimming at Hamilton Pool Preserve
Photo: traxus4420 / Flickr
  • Cool off at Hamilton Pool Preserve: Watering holes are a time-honored tradition in Texas, and there’s no better place than the otherworldly Hamilton Pool, about an hour’s drive outside the city. The turquoise waters of the nature preserve are consistently cold, making them especially refreshing during the depths of the sweltering Austin summer. Reservations are required to visit the pool: entry is $11 , plus an additional $15 for parking. Go for a little hike around the area and then fuel up after swimming with pizza, beer, and pastrami from Pieous.
  • Catch a Show at Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater: In a city that’s all about music, there is no better place to watch it happen IRL than ACL Live. The sound is perfect (it’s where PBS tapes its concert series of the same name) and the views are excellent from the pit all the way to the balcony. This is where bigger names flock to play for Austin audiences, with legends like Willie Nelson, Kendrick Lamar, St. Vincent, Mavis Staples, and many others gracing the stage.
  • Go Two-Steppin’ at White Horse: At East Austin’s Lynchian dive bar White Horse, masterful dancers and brave souls twirl and stomp their way across the worn wooden dance floor. If your honky tonk skills are rusty, there are dance lessons offered almost every night, and plenty of cheap beers and whiskey are on hand for liquid encouragement.
  • Go Wine Tasting Along Highway 290: There are dozens of wineries within an hour of Austin — some as close as 30 minutes. Behold Eater’s ultimate guide to Texas’s wine tasting rooms.


Long known as the glitzy home of big hair and bigger steaks, Dallas now boasts restaurants that specialize in everything from modern Middle Eastern to handmade soba to, okay, yes, steaks, but today they’re locally raised, dry-aged wagyu. Its neighbor, Fort Worth, might not get an equal share of the spotlight, but its unparalleled art scene and burger stops should definitely have your attention. For everything you need to eat well in the greater Dallas area — including taco and burger maps and an explainer on Whataburger — check out our full city guide. Here are Eater’s picks for the rest of your trip essentials.


The Joule

The lobby at Dallas’s the Joule
Photo: the Joule

A favorite of celebrities and plebes alike, the Joule is equal parts chic and trendy. In the morning, grab a latte and pastries at in-house coffee shop Weekend, then spend a while browsing the hotel’s library of TASCHEN books or hip accessories at retailer TenOverSix and clothing boutique Traffic LA. Across the street, Forty Five Ten awaits: It’s one of the city’s most fashion-forward, upscale department stores. On its top floor, find Mirador, a swanky eatery with delicate modern-American plates. Average $250 and up per night |

The Belmont Hotel

The Belmont hotel
Photo: The Belmont

This hotel near Oak Cliff offers incredible views of Downtown Dallas and proximity to some of the city’s most diverse dining options and cultural sites, including Dealey Plaza, the Bishop Arts District, and lots of tacos. Walk across the street to Sylvan Thirty for some of Dallas’s finest ramen at Ten, or enjoy breakfast at Whisk Crepes Cafe. If you feel like venturing out, both Deep Ellum and Greenville Avenue offer wide arrays of excellent restaurants serving everything from Southern cuisine to Chinese-American, and both are only a few short miles away. Average $150 per night and up |


Ham Orchards, a seasonal destination outside Dallas
Photo: Ham Orchards / Facebook
  • Check out Dealey Plaza: Yes, it’s a touch morbid, but the site of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination remains Dallas’s biggest tourist attraction. Take a walk on the grassy knoll, listen to conspiracy theories, and (if time permits) check out the nearby Sixth Floor Museum, which is housed in the Texas School Book Depository, from which Lee Harvey Oswald (allegedly) fired the fatal shot.
  • Visit the Dallas Farmers Market: Smack dab in the middle of downtown is the city’s largest daily farmers market. In addition to an open-air pavilion where local farmers, cheesemakers, and cattle ranchers hawk their wares, there’s a huge indoor food hall that’s home to an oyster bar and a coffee shop, plus vendors slinging banh mi, Afghani food, tacos, and Neapolitan pizza.
  • Make a Store Run: Dallas is the home of Neiman Marcus, and the luxury retailer’s flagship store is in Downtown. Even if the wares are out of reach, it’s still worth checking out for the excellent window displays and primo people-watching. Then there’s NorthPark Center, which functions as both an art gallery — pieces from Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, Jim Dine, and Jonathan Borofsky are on display — and a place to shop for both luxury goods and sweatpants from H&M.
  • Take Your Pick at Ham Orchards: Come summertime, people from all across DFW flock to Ham Orchards (a 45-minute jaunt eastward from downtown) to snag perfectly ripe peaches from one of the dozens of varieties planted on 100 acres, hit up the on-site bakery for fresh peach pies, and eat homemade peach ice cream at one of the many picnic tables.
  • Explore Fort Worth: It’s about a half-hour drive from Downtown, but Dallas’s sister city has a charm all its own. Do the touristy thing and check out the cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards, or head to the trendy West 7th, where excellent bars and boutique shopping await. Cowtown is also home to some of the area’s finest museums, including the renowned Kimbell Art Museum and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, all sitting in a row.
  • Tipple at Whiskey Ranch: Not far from Downtown Dallas lies a boozy wonderland: the largest whiskey distillery west of the Mississippi River. Visitors to the sprawling operation can stroll the grounds — then head to the on-site bar for a bourbon tasting, or cozy up next to one of the outdoor fire pits with a glass in hand. Starting soon, guests will able to tour the stillhouse and gawk at the massive copper machinery where the magic happens
  • Clog Arteries at the Texas State Fair: Starting the last Friday in September, the State Fair of Texas is a blessed temple of fried foods. Each year vendors compete to come up with the most over the top oil-crisped creations, ranging from classic staples like fried Oreos and Snickers to more inventive artery cloggers like deep-fried Frito Pie. Rides, midway games, and sweeping views of Dallas at the top of the Texas Star Ferris wheel round out the experience.


Directly across the border from Juarez, Mexico, El Paso feels like another country — or planet. Waves of Mars-like desert hills rise up out of the center of the city, and all around are outposts doling out the city’s particularly ruddy style of Tex-Mex. The finest fare can be found on our list of the state’s essential 38 restaurants. Here are Eater’s picks for the rest of your trip essentials.


The pool at El Paso’s Hotel Indigo
Photo: Hotel Indigo

Hotel Indigo

In 2016, a 53-year-old building in downtown El Paso underwent a $12 million renovation to become the Hotel Indigo — part of an international boutique hotel chain. The hip 119-room hotel has midcentury-industrial vibes, a pool, and lobby bar. Even better, it’s a block away the scenic San Jacinto plaza and one of the city’s most beloved coffee shops, Coffee Box, housed in a couple of converted shipping containers. Average $150 and up per night |

Hotel El Paso del Norte

(Opening fall 2018)

The lobby at Hotel El Paso del Norte
Photo: El Paso de Norte

The 17-story El Paso del Norte is one of El Paso’s most historic hotels. Originally built in 1912, the landmark building will reopen later this year after a $70 million renovation as one of the Marriott Autograph Collection brand of hotels. The new version will include a splashy rooftop pool and as-yet-unnamed restaurant, while the original mahogany carvings and famous 25-foot-diameter Louis Tiffany-style stained glass dome in the bar remain. Rates TBD |

The Hueco tanks
Photo: Texas Parks and Wildlife
  • Scope Cave Paintings at the Hueco Tanks: For more than 10,000 years, humans have been coming to this collection of desert rock formations 32 miles outside modern-day El Paso. Millenia ago, their natural depressions were reliable sources for fresh water for early humans who left their marks in the form of pictographs, many of which remain visible today. The rocks continue to be a destination, but less for thirst-quenching and more for bouldering, hiking, and exploring ancient human history.
  • Head Up the Wyler Aerial Tramway: The smooth, four-minute ascent to the top of Ranger Peak offers more than sweeping photo ops and a cool break from the sometimes-searing temps below. Looking out over the expanse provides a real sense of how closely El Paso and Juarez are intertwined, both physically and culturally. At sunset, the snaking white lights mark the border between the two countries. It’s also possible to hike up and take the tram down — a good way to work up an appetite for more caldillo.
  • Visit the National Border Patrol Museum: A museum for border patrol? Hear us out. The only museum in the U.S. dedicated to border patrol, this tiny local oddity traces the history of the U.S.’s sticky border relations, beginning in the Old West and covering the situation through Prohibition, World War II, and into today. You can’t truly understand El Paso without acknowledging its complicated relationship with its immediate neighbor to the south. Whatever your politics, the nonprofit gift shop sells some pretty sweet border patrol swag, from a stuffed drug-sniffing dog to a pair of USBP earrings for that very special someone.
  • Check out the Casa de Azucar: Though they look downright confectionary, the elaborate decorations surrounding this suburban El Paso residence are not actually made of sugar. They’re concrete — and the 25-year labor of love of Rufino Loya Rivas, a former Levi Strauss employee who built the fanciful, cathedral-like adornments as a gift to his wife and a tribute to the city of El Paso. The ornate pillars and pastel-hued shrine-like structures were inspired by the Catholic cathedrals Rivas remembers from his childhood in Mexico, and — along with the nickname “Sugar House”— have earned the house true roadside Americana status. 4301 Leavell Avenue, El Paso.


A recent study determined that Houston is the most racially diverse city in the country, and its unparalleled food scene reflects that. Vietnamese and Pakistani offerings are as easy to come by around these parts as top-notch Tex-Mex (of which there is much). For everything you need to eat well in Houston — from barbecue maps to an explainer on Montrose — check out our full city guide. Here are Eater’s picks for the rest of your trip essentials.


Hotel Zaza

The Hotel Zaza lobby
Photo: Hotel Zaza

Expect Vegas-style over-the-top glam at the 315-room Museum District hotel — a lot of chandeliers, a lot of zebra print, a lot of velvet, and a lot of a lot. The boudoir-esque crash pad is legit luxe, though, and an ideal home base from which to explore the city’s world-class art scene, or maybe take a dip, get a spa treatment, or snack on some ahi tuna tacos in the Monarch Bistro. There’s also a second Zaza near the Memorial City mall, because the “more is more” lifestyle extends to shopping, too. Average $250 and up per night. |

Hotel Icon

The penthouse at Hotel Icon
Photo: Hotel Icon

Back in 1911 this downtown building was a Union National Bank. Today it’s a chic respite for sleeping off one of Houston’s many amazing meals. The 12-story neoclassical structure features original Grecian-style architectural details, as well as 135 hotel rooms in the modern-airy-elegant vein (white linens, leather headboards, crown molding) and a fine ground-floor restaurant (Line & Lariat) with an even finer cocktail bar (L&L Bar). Average $200 and up per night |


Houston’s Rothko Chapel
Photo: Rothko Chapel / Facebook
  • Meditate at the Rothko Chapel: Houston’s art scene is as vibrant as its cuisine. The Menil Collection, a world-renowned, free-to-the-public museum, is currently closed for renovation, but the nearby Rothko Chapel is a real gem. Commissioned in 1964 and designed by American artist Mark Rothko, the nondenominational chapel is a deeply contemplative space that houses 14 large-scale black paintings. In the vicinity, the museum also has currently open galleries hosting work from Cy Twombly and Dan Flavin.
  • Wander Artist Rick Lowe’s Project Row Houses: In 1992, Rick Lowe — a painter, sculptor, and social activist — spearheaded the idea to renovate 22 shotgun-style homes in Houston’s Third Ward, a historic African-American community similar to New Orleans’s Treme neighborhood. The houses became art spaces, displaying revolving projects in art, photography, and literature. Project Row Houses has grown to 82 properties over six blocks, well-funded by many of the city’s corporations and foundations. Wander among the buildings between noon and 5 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday, to view artists in residence transforming the spaces — painting murals on the walls perhaps, or setting up evocative art installations around themes like food or image or memory — into visual celebrations of African-American culture.
  • Explore Montrose: Home to artists, journalists, and other creative types, Montrose is one of Houston’s few walkable neighborhoods. Vintage shopping, boutiques, and theater companies are aplenty here, along with a ton of great local bars. Start the evening at James Beard-nominated Anvil Bar & Refuge, then move on to popular local watering holes like Poison Girl and Boheme before winding down the evening with beer and bar fare at Chris Shepherd’s the Hay Merchant.
  • Go Green in the City: Mention the city’s profusion of concrete and highways, like Katy Freeway (which is 26 lanes at its widest stretch), to boosterish locals, and in response you’ll hear about the city’s recent push to reclaim some breathing room with dedicated green spaces. Downtown boasts Discovery Green, a verdant 12-acre oasis that opened in 2008 and features a lake, fountains, walking trails, a dog park, and weekly events like outdoor yoga classes. And the city has embarked on a $480 million project to develop 300 miles of trails along the bayous that meander through the city: Joggers and cyclists already frequent the footpaths through the gently rolling land comprising Buffalo Bayou Park just west of downtown. |


If one city in Texas is most associated with Tex-Mex than any other, it’s San Antonio. And yes, you should stop at the original home of the puffy taco, Ray’s Drive Inn. But there’s also one of the country’s best salumi boards being served here, and a groundbreaking tasting menu honoring the regional cuisines of Mexico. As a whole, San Antonio is quickly emerging one of America’s next hot cities, so now is the time to go. The finest fare can be found on our list of the state’s essential 38 restaurants. Here are Eater’s picks for the rest of your trip essentials.


The library at the Hotel Emma
Photo: Hotel Emma

Hotel Emma

There’s a reason this boutique hotel has racked up mentions on countless best-of lists — it’s a dream stay, from the rooftop pool to the complimentary Merit Coffee pour overs to the 3,700-volume library curated by San Antonio novelist and Harvard fellow Sherry Kafka Wagner. The former brewhouse (named after Emma Koehler, who successfully ran the brewery through Prohibition and beyond after her husband’s passing in 1914) also holds the Sternewirth, Supper, and Larder — a cocktail bar, New American restaurant, and picnic-friendly grocer, respectively. Grab a bottle to enjoy at Pearl Plaza and Park or stay in, in your custom-made guayabera robes. Average $400 and up per night |

Hotel Havana

The Hotel Havana
Photo: Hotel Havana

Pups are welcome at this Liz Lambert and Bunkhouse hotel that blends Mediterranean Revival with River Walk, and San Antonio with touches of Havana. Originally opened in 1914, the latest iteration begs to be Instagrammed. Start on the bright blue velvet sofa banquettes at Ocho, the hotel’s patio restaurant, and don’t skip the boozy Martinique punch at the downstairs Havana Bar. Average $200 and up per night |


The Saga at San Antonio’s San Fernando Cathedral
Photo: Main Plaza
  • See the Saga at San Fernando Cathedral: Down the street from cocktail haven the Esquire Tavern lives the city’s latest multimedia art installation. Unveiled in 2014, “The Saga” is a $1 million, 7,000-square-foot projection created by French artist Xavier de Richemont using music, drawings, maps, and photographs of the five missions — collectively a UNESCO World Heritage site that’s definitely worth biking — to tell the story of the Alamo City’s transition from a native settlement to growing modern city. The 24-minute show plays three times a night, Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, through at least 2024.
  • Sip Boozy Botanicals at Seersucker Gin Distillery: There’s more to gin than dry styles, and Azar Brand’s Seersucker Distillery, 25 minutes from downtown San Antonio, is showcasing the playful side of the botanical-forward spirit within its just-opened distillery. The 5,000-square-foot facility packs in the Willy Wonka vibes, where you can sample Seersucker on its own; enjoy it with a splash of Topo Chico that helps the mint, honey, citrus, and cardamom notes shine; or sip on the Cocktail o’ the Day while enjoying the expansive lawn and South Texas breeze.
  • Relish the Newer, Greener Hemisfair: At 50, Hemisfair (built for the 1968 World’s Fair) is enjoying a much-needed makeover that includes three phases, of which one is currently completed. Though Civic Park and Tower Park are still not finished, Hemisfair’s Yanaguana Garden is ushering in new life to the area with an all-ages park and splash pad, and the addition of three eateries, including Paleteria San Antonio, CommonWealth Coffeehouse & Bakery, and neo-Chicano eats (such as a pan dulce burger and “wheacharrones” with avocado mousse) by Con Safos Cocina Y Cantina.


Prada Marfa
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Head to the Hills: Driving through the Texas Hill Country, especially during peak spring, is highly recommended if only for the vast spans of wildflowers, including the ever-iconic bluebonnets, every which way. Expect gorgeous scenery, worthy hikes, refreshing swims, and barbecue galore. Work your way through the best wineries of Central Texas, or for elevated thoughtful cuisine that really hones in on truly local fare, pay a visit to Apis in Spicewood, where chef Taylor Hall makes use of the land around the restaurant. For dessert, head to Monument Cafe up in Georgetown for classic, comforting pies.
  • Go Far Out in Marfa: The famed Marfa lights may or may not be real (Are they aliens? Headlights? Stoner hallucinations?) but the arty cred of this West Texas desert town is bonafide. The new Hotel St. George is a clean, modern perch from which to explore the hard-to-describe-unless-you-see-it Chinati Foundation, a 340-acre former military fort turned meandering art installation, featuring the minimalist sculptural works of Donald Judd, neon installations of Dan Flavin, and others. A few miles east of town, Marfa Maid Dairy scratches both your artisan cheese-tasting and goat-petting itches, and tours are available by appointment. But then, what to eat? If you’re lucky enough to find it open, Marfa Burrito, in what used to be a small house, serves the tortilla-wrapped stuff of legend, and for falafel slung from a funky airstream, Food Shark is a must. Turmeric-spiked lattes, sourdough pancakes, and other modern-day delights can be found at the pop-up-turned-permanent Do Your Thing Coffee, while chef Rocky Barnette channels the region’s pre-conquest flavors in tasting-menu form at the Capri.
  • Drink in Waco’s Dr Pepper Museum: No matter your soda preference, the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco — which celebrates the unofficial soft drink of Texas — is a worthy stop. Take a tour of the original bottling facility, which dates to 1906, but the real draw here is Frosty’s Soda Shop, an old-fashioned soda fountain with egg creams, Dr Pepper ice cream floats, and chili-smothered hot dogs.
  • Bunk Up at Texas A&M’s Barbecue Camp: It’s summer camp for meatheads at Texas A&M University, which offers a three-day intensive course on the art of barbecue. Each June, meat-science educators and pitmasters gather in College Station for a master class in ’cue, covering everything from anatomy to pit-building to the chemistry of smoke. (There’s also a more focused Brisket Camp in January.) Guest speakers have included Aaron Franklin from Franklin Barbecue and Ryan Zboril from Pitts & Spitts. Registration takes place months ahead, so be sure to sign up early.

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