Every Texan knows that the U.S. looks like this…
1. The stars at night are big and bright.
The sky at the University of Texas’s McDonald Observatory in west Texas.
2. Clear eyes, full hearts.
Can’t lose. Friday Night Lights was based on a true Texas story, and the brilliant show was filmed in Austin, where Landry’s band still plays around town.
On Sept. 4, 1981, Houston, Texas gave the entire world the gift of Beyoncé Knowles.
4. Breakfast tacos
An essential part of every Texan’s diet. The New York Times once ran an entire story titled “Tacos In The Morning?” about how Austin loves breakfast tacos and we were all like, “YES, TACOS IN THE MORNING. Tacos all the time.” Get with the program.
5. Barton Springs
Barton Springs, the natural spring-fed pool in the middle of Austin, is where Robert Redford learned to swim when he was 5 years old. It’s also where Texas authors J. Frank Dobie, Roy Bedichek, and Walter Prescott Webb met every afternoon in the ’40s and ’50s for what was known as the Salon of the West — nowadays, there’s a statue of the three of them gracing the entrance of the pool. The sprawling pool remains a chill 68 degrees no matter the weather, and it is a home away from home for families, hippies, and hipsters alike.
6. The most authentic country and folk music.
Screw that buttoned-up Nashville stuff. Texas country is the real deal. This perfect man pictured above was born in Poteet, Texas, and christened George Harvey Strait. All his exes live in Texas. He is perhaps the finest living cowboy — evidence below.
Willie Nelson, who was born in Abbot, Texas, wrote his first song at age 7 and joined his first band at age 10. Ever since, he’s been the face of righteous outlaws everywhere, smokin’ dope and reppin’ Texas right.
Don Williams, the gentle giant of country, was born in Floydada, Texas, and his voice has been crooning Texas girls to sleep and serving as a surrogate dad-whenever-you-need-one for over 50 years. A friend of mine who spent time in Ghana, West Africa, told me that they love Don Williams there too. Texas country = universal feels.
Robert Earl Keen was born in Houston and has worked as a musician in central Texas since the early ’80s. He’s part of a wonderful scene of musicians such as Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely, Jerry Jeff Walker, Steve Earle, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Guy Clark, who have achieved success but manage to keep it real, constantly playing shows for the Texas music fans in Houston, Dallas, and Austin.
Townes Van Zandt was a genius singer-songwriter, born in Fort Worth, who never got the respect or fame he rightly earned while he was alive…except in Texas, where he is and always has been revered as the singular talent and poet that he was. TVZ also once gave the perfect answer to someone who asked him why all his songs are sad. “I have a few that aren’t sad. They’re just hopeless, they’re totally hopeless. And the rest aren’t sad, they’re just the way it goes. You don’t think life’s sad?”
The Dallas Mavericks, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Houston Rockets could just play one another every day and it would make for a pretty great basketball league. See the evidence below as Houston’s Olajuwon completely decimates one of the greatest basketball defenders of all time, the Spurs’ David Robinson.
The semisweet pastry comes from central Europe, but it has gained a curiously widespread popularity all over Texas. Kolaches haven’t caught on in the rest of the country, which is completely insane, because kolaches > doughnuts. Here’s an entire long-form article from America’s Test Kitchen about trying kolaches throughout Texas.
The coolest small town named after The Brothers Karamazov in the world. Pop art exhibit “Prada Marfa,” pictured above and located outside of town, is just one of the examples of culture that permeate the small-town-meets-art-town. Acclaimed minimalist artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa from NYC in 1971, and ever since, Marfa has been a small but bustling home for modern art despite housing only around 2,000 permanent residents. There’s also the mysterious lights in the sky on some nights, which clearly prove that aliens and/or ghosts exist.
10. Dr Pepper
The lifeblood of discerning soda drinkers even has a museum dedicated to it in Waco, where it was invented back in the 1800s.
The best French fries, the best milkshakes, the best taquitos available at 3 a.m. Essential.
12. Austin City Limits
A PBS program featuring intimate, beautifully filmed concerts from a variety of musicians, ranging from Willie Nelson to Radiohead. Above, legendary Texas group The Flatlanders perform on the show.
13. The State Fair of Texas
The State Fair of Texas, held in Dallas, which features a full-blown auto show, a “Birds of the World” show, several rides, dog and pig races, and a bike show. Big Tex, the fair’s lovely mascot of sorts, pictured above, burned down last year but will live in our hearts forever. Most importantly, the fair is the site of countless innovations in deep-frying, featuring deep-fried Oreos, deep-fried Twinkies, deep-fried s’mores, deep-fried PB&J sandwiches, deep-fried Coca-Cola, deep-fried ribs, deep-fried cheesecake, deep-fried Girl Scout cookies, deep-fried sundaes, and DEEP-FRIED BUTTER. That’s called “doing it right,” y’all.
14. These uniforms
Don’t listen to anyone who tells you these vintage Houston Astros uniforms are tacky. They are objectively wrong. These uniforms were a rainbow’d gift from Texas to baseball lovers everywhere, and they are the greatest sports uniforms of all time.
15. The Texas Ruby Red grapefruit
When it mutated in the ’20s, it earned the first-ever patent delivered to a grapefruit. Texas: officially inventing grapefruit since 1929. It is also the juiciest and most delicious fruit ever.
Texas Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrushes are pictured above, but there are dozens of gorgeous wildflowers native to Texas, scattered in fields and on the side of the highway all over Texas, painting the landscape with color.
17. Rock ‘n’ roll, then and now.
Born in Lubbock, Texas, on Sept. 7, 1936, Buddy Holly went on to become “the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll” (according to critic Bruce Eder) before his untimely death in a plane accident on Feb. 3, 1959.
The most infectiously catchy rock ‘n’ roll music of the aughts was made in Austin, Texas, by Spoon.
ZZ Top, the greatest beards in rock history, formed in Houston.
Explosions in the Sky: creating the most beautiful “post-rock” instrumental music on the planet since growing up in Midland, Texas, and forming in Austin.
Janis Lyn Joplin was born in January of 1943 in Port Arthur, Texas. She went on to rock the pants off of life and music for 27 years, becoming rightfully known as “The Queen of Rock and Roll” along the way.
18. Impressively bearded dudes are never in short supply.
The Austin Facial Hair Club are the stars of the IFC Channel’s Whisker Wars reality series for a reason. The men of Texas take their beard and mustache grooming very, very seriously, and the world is obviously a better place for it.
More species of bats live in Texas than anywhere else in the U.S., and one of the largest bat colonies in North America resides right in the middle of downtown Austin underneath the Congress Bridge. During peak bat-viewing season, 1.5 million bats live there, making it the largest urban bat colony in North America. Watching them pour from under the bridge for their nightly feed is one of the most intense natural experiences one can have in the middle of a city.
20. The Bush gals
Barbara, Laura, and Jenna: the Texas women who turned up the Southern charm at the White House during the GWB’s term. This photo was apparently taken to accompany that ZZ Top jam above.
The best water park in the world is in New Braunfels, Texas. Featuring, like, a half-dozen water roller coasters, a spectacular array of bad tattoos, and the freedom to bring your own cooler packed with sandwiches and, uh, “juice.”
22. The prettiest ladies.
Farrah Fawcett, born in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Sharon Tate, born in Dallas, Texas.
23. The handsomest dudes.
Dennis Quaid, born in Houston, Texas.
Steve Martin, born in Waco, Texas.
Calling Buc-ee’s what it technically is — a gas station and convenience store — doesn’t feel like doing it justice. The road stop sells its own jerky and beautifully packaged nuts, dried fruit, and candy. It also has the cleanest restroom in America, as voted in a nationwide poll. On any one of the long road trips that Texans find themselves on to get from point A to B, stopping at a Buc-ee’s is a heavenly respite.
25. The beauty of the desert.
Pictured above is Big Bend National Park, which is the largest protected area of Chihuahuan desert topography in the United States. People who think the desert is desolate and lifeless should know that it includes more than 1,200 species of plants and almost 600 species of animals. Also, it’s ludicrously beautiful (see above).
26. Paul Qui
The champion of Top Chef Season 9 was already well-known to Texans who love food (aka Texans). He was the executive chef at Uchiko, and is operator of a series of delicious food trucks parked behind popular bars. At the East Side Kings trucks, you can order super-fancy bar food, like fried Brussel sprouts and beet home fries (pictured below). He’s opening his own flagship restaurant, QUI, this spring.
27. The Menil Collection
Houston houses one of the greatest personal collections of art in the world, and it’s completely open to the public. The main building houses the art collection of John de Menil and Dominique de Menil, and includes work by René Magritte, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, Robert Rauschenberg, and Pablo Picasso, among others. The campus also includes a Cy Twombly Gallery (pictured above), a Dan Flavin Installation gallery, the Byzantine Fresco Chapel, and the [Mark] Rothko Chapel (pictured below). It’s a beautiful place full of beautiful art, and it costs zero dollars to explore.
28. Sweetened iced tea
Why on earth anyone drinks unflavored and unsweetened iced tea is beyond us. The sweet stuff is the nectar of the gods.
29. Athletes who inspire
This is Johnny Football [Manziel], born in Tyler, Texas, who attended Texas A&M University in College Station, and in 2012 became the first freshman to win the Heisman trophy.
Sheryl Denise Swoopes was born in Brownfield, Texas, and won an NCAA championship with the Texas Tech Lady Raiders. She was the first player signed with the WNBA when it was first created. For good measure, she’s also won three Olympic gold medals.
Earl Campbell has Texas running through his veins: He was born in Texas, went to school at the University of Texas (where he won the Heisman trophy), and was drafted first overall by the Houston Oilers. He’s a member of both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame.
Nolan Ryan was born in Refugio, Texas; played many years of his record-breaking professional baseball career with the Houston Astros and, later, the Texas Rangers; and is currently the principal owner, president, and CEO of the Rangers. He also threw over 100 mph on a regular basis, even when he was in his forties, and his 5,714 strikeouts are a record that seems unlikely to ever be broken. He threw an unthinkable seven no-hitters. The year he retired at age 46, he beat the shit out of 26-year-old Robin Ventura.
30. Space exploration
The Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston is the NASA’s center for human spaceflight training, research, and flight control. AKA, all the cool stuff.
31. Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez
Yes, the two former teen superstars are both from Texas and met when they were little kids. They both appeared on Barney & Friends and then went on to a career of Disney-Channel-turned-X Factor-and-Bieber–fueled (respectively) stardom. All accomplished with a robust amount of Southern-girl charm.
32. King of the Hill
Mike Judge based the character on King of the Hill — which was quietly the most consistently funny (and moving!) animated show on television from 1997–2010 — on people he knew while living in Texas, where he currently resides. The small-town Texas portrayed on the series is perhaps exaggerated at times, but lots of it is also hilariously familiar to anyone who’s lived in the greatest state. The show also explained the meaning of life for once and for all, through the words of the great philosopher Boomhauer.
33. Blues in Deep Ellum and beyond.
The blues spread to Texas from the Delta in the beginning of the 20th century and eventually morphed into its own style, known fittingly as “Texas blues.” Many early jazz and blues artists spent much of their careers at clubs in Deep Ellum, Dallas. A columnist is 1936 described Deep Ellum as the “one spot in the city that needs no daylight saving time because there is no bedtime … [It is] the only place recorded on earth where business, religion, hoodooism, gambling and stealing goes on at the same time without friction … Last Saturday a prophet held the best audience in this ‘Madison Square Garden’ in announcing that Jesus Christ would come to Dallas in person in 1939. At the same time a pickpocket was lifting a week’s wages from another guy’s pocket, who stood with open mouth to hear the prophecy.” Blind Lemon Jefferson (pictured above), was one of the first to make Dallas blues famous, is known as the Father of the Texas Blues, and was a huge influence on blues music for the rest o’ time. Whew.
Born in Brenham, Texas, and died 48 years later in Beaumont, Texas. In between, Blind Willie Johnson lost his sight, reportedly from his stepmother throwing lye in his face, and sang Texas blues blended with spiritual music in his instantly recognizable haunting bass tone.
Although she wasn’t born in Texas, the legendary Big Mama Thornton made her career in Houston. She was the first singer to record “Hound Dog,” later made more famous (although not as good) by Elvis Presley. She is a total soulful bluesy badass, forever and ever, amen.
Where else did you expect this perfect angel among men to have been born? Obviously it was Texas. Houston, to be specific. RIP Swayze — let’s hope heaven is as good as Texas.
35. The best grocery store in the world x 3.
The Texas (+ Mexico) supermarket chain H.E.B. is named for one of its founders, Howard Edward Butt, a source of great amusement for all Texas schoolchildren. Their “Central Market” offshoot provides a wealth of local and organic produce and specialty food items alongside normal grocery store stuff, and they are Texas’ best-kept secret — the most beautifully arranged grocery stores in the country.
Pictured: the OG Whole Foods Market in Austin, 1981. Yes, Whole Foods Market, the favorite grocery store of wealthy hippies nationwide, was founded in Austin. The flagship store downtown is basically a gigantic grocery store crossed with a really fancy food court serving everything delicious imaginable crossed with a food-themed amusement park. They have a chocolate fountain!
Fiesta Mart Supermarkets cater specifically to the Hispanic customer base, which is a huge market in Texas. That means they have piñatas next to their veggies, coconut popsicles, and a million different flavors of fruit soda in glass bottles. In other words, they are perfect.
36. The Texas Renaissance Festival
The nation’s largest Renaissance Festival is a place deep in the heart of Texas for super nerds and people curious about super nerds alike to gather and eat giant drumsticks and watch really good jugglers. What more could you possibly ask for?
37. Amazing movies made in Texas by Texas filmmakers.
Dazed & Confused, directed by Richard Linklater, 1993.
Houston-born director Wes Anderson roomed with Owen Wilson at the University of Texas, and they proceeded to write Anderson’s first feature film, Bottle Rocket, together. The film, made in Texas, was one of Martin Scorcese’s favorite movies of the ’90s and might remain the funniest film he’s made. It also launched the career of Owen and his brother Luke, who were both born in Dallas.
38. Selena lives forever in Texas.
The top Latin artist of the ’90s and the queen of Tejano music forever and always. She was murdered at the age of 23, but jams like “Dreaming of You” go on living, ringing forever and ever in the ears of every girl who was ever a tween with a crush in Texas.
39. Pecan pralines.
The official tree of Texas is the pecan tree, and pecans are plentiful in the Lone Star State. But Texans know that they can always take something good and make it great, and so pecan pralines were born. It’s pretty much just buttermilk and sugar mixed with pecans and equaling chewy sticky deliciousness.
40. The Houston hip-hop scene.
Forget about East Coast vs. West Coast and embrace the dirtiest, crunkest, screwiest rap music to ever grace your ears. Lil’ Flip, pictured above, claims to have been on over 1,000 mixtapes and somehow I don’t doubt it.
Another very important “Lil’” is Lil’ Troy, whose single “Wanna Be a Baller” is one of the very catchiest rap songs of the ’90s – the ultimate decade of catchy rap songs.
UGK (short for Underground Kingz) was the duo of the late Pimp C and Bun B, two rappers straight outta P.A.T. (Port Arthur, Texas). In addition to creating their own brand of explicit but weirdly accessible rap songs, the pair were famously featured on Jay Z’s “Big Pimpin’.”
Chamillionaire, who was born Hakeem Serikir, is a self-made multi-millionaire who, in addition to rapping, is an entrepreneur, actor, and record producer. He grew up in religious househould where secular music was highly opposed, and decided as a kid alongside fellow rapper Paul Wall that he would make music his career. We can declare that whole thing a success based solely on the perfection of “Ridin’ Dirty,” among other golden jams.
The Houston-based DJ Screw – aka The Originator – pioneered what is known as the “chopped and screwed” DJ method. It’s basically a technique of repurposing a song to make it SOUND exactly what being really messed up on drugs and alcohol and maybe a little dehydrated to boot FEELS like. DJ Screw jams are artfully wobbly and woozy and disorienting. He died in 2000 of an overdose of codeine, but his jams live on forever in the hearts of everyone who’s ever been really messed up in Texas.
41. Homecoming mums
Frankly, it was news to Texans that the rest of the country doesn’t celebrate Homecoming with giant ribboned mums. WHY WOULDN’T YOU? They are the best part of high school, obvs.
42. Ann Richards
Ann Richards, elected governor of Texas in 1990, was a hero to Texas girls who saw in her that they could do anything. Before being elected governor, she had a long political career including a notorious speech at the Democratic National Convention that included such zingers as “I’m delighted to be here with you this evening, because after listening to George Bush all these years, I figured you needed to know what a real Texas accent sounds like.” Later, she “retired” in Austin but campaigned ceaselessly for Democratic candidates throughout the U.S. She also appeared in this “no talking” advertisement for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin:
43. Topo Chico
The cure for hangovers, the natural partner of tacos, inexplicably much better and more refreshing than whatever mineral water that other parts of the country pass off as acceptable.
44. The Gulf of Mexico
Yo, California: Texas has beaches too, and they are pretttttttty gorgeous.
Gilley’s was a nightclub located in Pasadena, Texas, from 1970 to 1990. It was the primary filming location for Urban Cowboy and the best place to ride a fake bull and pick up a cowboy or cowgirl.
46. A music festival for anyone.
In Texas, where music is obviously a pretty big deal, it only makes sense to gather a whole ton of people together to listen to music for days on end. This can happen in a lot of different ways, depending on who you are. For families, the best bet is Austin City Limits Festival, a three-day outdoor fest in Austin where the headliners are mainstream, Texas acts are celebrated on some of the smaller stages, and a kid’s stage entertains the little ones. Above, Wayne Coyne floats above the ACL crowd.
If you are legitimately cool, Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin is probably where you’ll end up. Above, Ryan Gosling hangs out with New Orleans “sissybounce” musician Big Freedia. Does anything else really need to be said?
Wait, you’re too cool for Fun Fun Fun? Amazingly, there’s a festival for you: The Chaos in Tejas fest that’s spread among Austin venues is the best weekend of the year for the scruffiest punks, metalheads, and hardcore kids the world over.
For those seeking authenticity, “welcome home” to the Kerrville Folk Festival, which includes over two weeks of country, folk, and bluegrass music, hippies camping and playing around the fire, and other warm and fuzzy things that are right at home in Texas.
Are you a band trying to get signed to a label, a filmmaker seeking distribution, a start-up looking to network with others in the tech industry, or an actual Texan looking to find a bunch of parties with free booze, food, and music?? SXSW is two weeks of insanity here for your needs.
47. Blue Bell Ice Cream
Even though it’s sold only in 20 southern states, Blue Bell, made in Brenham, Texas, is the third best-selling ice cream in the U.S. overall. Why? Because it’s better than any other ice cream. Trust.
48. Luckenbach, Texas
Motto: ” Everybody’s somebody in Luckenbach.”
LOOK CLOSELY AT THESE LITTLE SCALEY MAMMALS AND TELL ME TEXAS ISN’T EDEN ITSELF.
Mexico meets Southern comfort food, resulting in the most idyllic marriage of all time. Tex-Mex is basically Mexican flavors with a boatload of cheese and beans, a focus on fajita-style grilled meats, and the all-important invention of chimichangas and queso cheese dip. How do people live without it?