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    20 Of The Best Small Towns In Texas That Are Absolutely Worth Visiting

    Let's avoid Elon Musk's ranch, OK?

    Texas is a huge and diverse state that's steeped in culture. You'll find everything from cowboys with Wild West lore to Vietnamese shrimping boats and gumbo along the southeastern Gulf beaches.

    With the recent stream of techies and millionaires flocking to the larger cities, let's not forget the charming, hidden gems that make up the Lone Star State. Here are 20 of the best small towns in Texas you should visit. (And if I missed your favorite, drop it in the comments!)

    1. El Paso

    El Paso, Texas
    Denistangneyjr / Getty Images

    Best for: Experiencing the old Wild West.

    Established in 1850, the desert border city of El Paso straddles the Rio Grande on the US–Mexico border. El Paso is the birthplace of many Wild West legends; Pat Garrett, Wyatt Earp, Pancho Villa, and President William Howard Taft all walked the city's first and oldest street, El Paso Street, during the infamous Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight in 1881. Roam around town under the 400-foot-tall manmade star on the side of Franklin Mountain and learn about tall tales of Billy the Kid making his way to Texas (and freeing the only man ever to escape from the old El Paso jail).

    2. Bandera

    Bandera, Texas
    Holger Leue / Getty Images

    Best for: Aspiring cowboys.

    Situated along the historic cattle-driving Chisholm Trail, Bandera is steeped in cowboy culture and features regular rodeo events and shoot-'em-up gunfight shows (Cowboys on Main). Pick out a belt buckle, boots, and a cowboy hat at the Bandera General Store and make your way to a dude ranch for a full cowboy experience. 

    3. San Marcos

    Kayaking in San Marcos
    Dlewis33 / Getty Images

    Best for: Water lovers.

    Situated just 30 minutes outside of Texas's capital, Austin, San Marcos is a charming town that houses Texas State University and the San Marcos River. During the summer months, you'll find locals tubing down the lazy river and sipping beers. San Marcos also has a thing for mermaids: There are more than 10 mermaid statues around the city, and current Texas Gov. Greg Abbott just named San Marcos "the Mermaid Capital of Texas." If you visit, don't miss great outlet shopping, driving through Hill Country, and taking a tour on a glass-bottom boat.

    4. Canyon

    Landscape of Canyon
    Photography by Deb Snelson / Getty Images

    Best for: Canyon trekkers.

    The eponymously named city of Canyon boasts America's second-largest canyon. But before you venture to Palo Duron Canyon State Park to explore the impressive natural landscapes, grab some food and learn more about Canyon's history at the Historic Downtown Square and the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. The state park features trails for horseback riding and hiking, and you can also camp overnight under a gorgeous spread of stars. Every summer the Texas Outdoor Musical extravaganza performs at the Pioneer Amphitheater against the backdrop of canyon walls. 

    5. Terlingua

    An abandoned old building in Terlingua
    Jay B Sauceda / Getty Images

    Best for: The gateway to Big Bend.

    On the fringes of Big Bend National Park in West Texas is Terlingua, a former quicksilver mining boom-and-bust town. Today it's mostly abandoned, but it retains a beautiful, almost haunting quality. Full of derelict buildings and rusted cars that make visitors contemplate the immutable force of time, Terlingua stays on the map because of its lively food scene. Have a hearty Mexican breakfast at Chili Pepper Cafe, stop off for a drink at the Porch, or chow down at the annual international chili cook-off festival. 

    6. Marfa

    Prada installation in Marfa
    Michel Arnaud / Getty Images

    Best for: Artists and creatives.

    Another must-see remote West Texas town is Marfa, a former truck stop that has been transformed into a hipster stomping ground, thanks to artists who have flocked to the desert in search of cheap rent and creative inspiration. Large-scale art projects like the Prada installation have been springing up around Marfa since Donald Judd's 1970s giant art installation. Intimate art galleries and thrift stores exist alongside squat casitas and stark skylines under the Marfa Lights — mysterious glowing orbs that regularly appear at night. 

    7. Georgetown

    Georgetown
    Aimintang / Getty Images

    Best for: Family day-trippers.

    Georgetown's proximity to the capital make it an appealing Austin suburb, but it's so much more than that. With its plentiful farm-to-table dining options and charming historic architecture, Georgetown is one of Texas's cutest towns. It actually boasts what is commonly called "the most beautiful town square in Texas." Georgetown offers lots of cute wineries and a pretty lagoon park just a stone's throw from downtown.

    8. Jefferson

    The Excelsior House Hotel in Jefferson
    Education Images / Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

    Best for: A romantic getaway.

    Driving through the quaint East Texas town of Jefferson feels like traveling back in time. The historic downtown area is stocked with rows of antique shops, and just about every corner boasts a charming bed-and-breakfast for couples seeking a quiet getaway. Grab some ribs and brisket at Riverport BBQ, and look for excellent souvenirs in the Jefferson General Store.

    9. Gruene

    A grand white building in Gruene with the US and Texas flags flying in front
    Fotografia / Getty Images

    Best for: Austin day-trippers.

    Gruene (pronounced "green") is located just an hour from Austin and was founded by German settlers. In fact, the architecture downtown still pays homage to its Bavarian roots. Dance the night away at the Historic Gruene Hall, where country music legends like Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard used to perform, tube down the Guadalupe and Comal rivers, and satisfy your sweet tooth with local handmade treats at the Great Texas Pecan Co

    10. South Padre Island

    South Padre Island
    Robert Hinojosa / Getty Images / EyeEm

    Best for: Beaches.

    Each spring break, thousands of young Texan teenagers and young adults make the pilgrimage to South Padre Island. This tropical island is just a short ferry ride from the southeast coast. While it gets a reputation as a rowdy spring break locale, there's plenty of room for families and tamer beachgoers, thanks to over 30 miles of sandy beaches. Take a sunset stroll along the Laguna Madre Nature Trail, explore the island on horseback, or hop over the causeway to the tiny, quiet town of Port Isabel

    11. Amarillo

    Cadillac ranch in Amarillo
    Josh Brasted / Getty Images

    Best for: A road trip stop along Route 66.

    Amarillo is located on historic Route 66, deep in the Texas panhandle (although Route 66 doesn't technically pass through Amarillo anymore, thus the word "historic").  The free-spirited attitude of the classic American road trip reverberates as you explore Amarillo's Sixth Street Historic District. After checking out the numerous quirky museums that line the town, bring a can of spray paint to Cadillac Ranch, one of the most popular roadside attractions along Route 66. You'll find 10 Cadillacs with their front ends buried in the sand, all lined up in the middle of the desert and coated in decades of spray paint.

    12. Dripping Springs

    Dripping Springs
    Michael Sugrue / Getty Images

    Best for: Texas swimming holes.

    Located about 40 minutes west of Austin, Dripping Springs is home to the Hamilton Pool Preserve swimming hole and lots of craft wineries, breweries, and distilleries. Take a short hike down to the Hamilton Pool Preserve, a lush oasis that is ringed with overhung maidenhair ferns and shady cliffs. If you're planning on visiting, always reserve a spot, because this place fills up! When you're done, quench your thirst at Twisted X Brewing Co. for craft beer. Learn about sustainable farming practices at Hills of Milk and Honey family farm, and then taste those farm-to-table offerings at Rolling in Thyme and Dough

    13. Ennis

    Beautiful bluebonnet flowers against a red sky in Ennis
    Dean Fikar / Getty Images

    Best for: Bluebonnets in bloom.

    Settled by Czech farmers, the town of Ennis boasts an adorable historic district, an annual polka festival, and great Czech food. If you visit in April, you'll see that Ennis is home to the Official Bluebonnet Trail of Texas. During Bluebonnet season, over 40 miles of fields are blanketed by Texas's stunning, iconic wildflowers. 

    14. Round Top

    An antique shop in Round Top
    Getty Images

    Best for: Antiquing.

    Round Top is a beautiful, small Texas town best known for its triannual antiques fair, where you can browse 30,000 square feet of antique shops. A large array of antique stores dot the town, including McLaren's, a whimsical spot with London-style double-decker buses out front. Stroll around Henkel Square and Rummel Square, grab a slice of pie from Royers, and drop by St. Martin's Catholic Church, the world's smallest active Catholic church. 

    15. Dublin

    The colorful, whimsical Old Doc's Soda Shop in Dublin
    TripAdvisor / Via tripadvisor.com

    As the name implies, the town of Dublin was founded by an Irish settler. Today it's still known for its many Irish-themed businesses and a huge annual St. Patrick's Day celebration. But the town's deep Irish heritage is not its only standout feature. Dublin is known as the home of Dublin Bottling Works, the original bottlers of the iconic Dr Pepper soda (sadly, the drink is no longer bottled there). 

    16. Port Aransas

    Pastel exteriors of houses in Port Aransas
    Donovan Reese / Getty Images

    Best for: Great fishing.

    With a population of just over 4,000 residents, Port Aransas is the largest town on Mustang Island. The beach town draws in fans of deep-sea fishing seeking its excellent fishing areas along the coast. If fishing isn't your thing, you can still enjoy the miles of beautiful beaches on the Gulf of Mexico: Go bird-watching or parasailing, or spot wild dolphins as you explore the ocean. 

    17. Lockhart

    Lockhart's historic downtown
    Donovan Reese / Getty Images

    Best for: Texas barbecue.

    Be sure to arrive in Lockhart with a big appetite and an empty stomach. This is the "Barbecue Capital of Texas," and it's home to an array of legendary barbecue spots, like Black's, Kreuz, and Smitty's, along with many craft breweries to quench your thirst after a big plate of brisket and pulled pork.

    18. Shiner

    A bottle of Shiner beer
    Medianews Group / MediaNews Group via Getty Images

    Best for: Beer aficionados.

    The birthplace of Shiner beer (a Texas grocery staple), this tiny, 2,000-person town was named after Henry B. Shiner, who donated 250 acres for a railroad right-of-way. The most popular tourist activity in Shiner is visiting Spoetzl Brewery, where the iconic Shiner beer is produced. After a trip to the brewery, check out the adorable little downtown area, which still holds traces of its original German-Czech heritage. 

    19. Luckenbach

    An old post office in Luckenbach
    Getty Images

    Best for: Live country music.

    With just 13 official residents, Luckenbach is the tiniest of all the small Texas towns on this list. Despite its minuscule size, Luckenbach is an established country music hot spot, with a well-known dance hall that boasts a regular rotation of high-quality live shows. Tear it up at the legendary Luckenbach Dance Hall, and stay overnight at one of the dozens of charming bed-and-breakfasts just 15 minutes away in Fredericksburg.

    20. Marble Falls

    A deer in Marble Falls
    Jeremy Woodhouse / Getty Images

    Best for: Outdoor enthusiasts.

    Marble Falls is a cute Hill Country town perched on the banks of Lake Marble Falls. It's an ideal destination for both outdoor enthusiasts and downtown day-trippers looking to browse local boutiques. Don't leave the town until you grab a slice of some of the best pie in Texas from the legendary Bluebonnet Cafe.

    What's your favorite small town in Texas? Share in the comments!

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