Texas—home of the Rodeo, legendary barbecue, and Matthew McConaughey—has quite a bit of history to be proud of.
For many who live life on the surface level, Texas history spans from the San Antonio Riverwalk to The Alamo. These sites, while filled with important history and endless photo-ops, are just the tip of the iceberg in a state filled with remnants of renowned leaders, architectural masterpieces, and stunning natural landscapes.
There are several places sure to give the history buff an exciting cross-country trip. Dust off your 7th grade Texas history book, and head to any of these Texas gems to get another side of the story.
San Fernando Cathedral
115 Main Plaza., San Antonio
It’s safe to say that most Texans remember the Alamo. But San Antonio has many other historical sites than that proved to be pivotal in Texas’s quest for freedom. In a time when Western movies were closer to reality, San Fernando Cathedral, Texas’s oldest functioning religious cathedral, was crucial during the Battle of the Alamo. While James Bowie was defending the Alamo, Mexican general Santa Anna took control of the church by raising a flag of “no quarter.” His declaration of taking no prisoners led to the deadly siege and inarguably the most memorable battle of Texas history.
Fast-forward to 1936, and some remains of soldiers were uncovered at the church. Charred bones and fragments of uniforms were among them, and while Alamo defenders didn’t wear uniforms, people began to recognize the remains as those of Alamo heroes James Bowie, Davy Crockett, and William Travis. Regardless of who the remains actually belong to, visitors can pay their respects at the marble casket in the left entrance of the stunning cathedral. Despite being built in 1731, the cathedral is still standing as a magnificent sight for travelers and marveled at by history fanatics and church-goers alike.
Sixth Floor Museum
411 Elm St., Dallas
After a major renovation that began in the late 1970s, the famous, and much resented, former Texas School Book Depository on Elm St. became the Sixth Floor Museum, a place dedicated to examining the fateful day in American history when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
While most museums primarily focus on exhibiting audio clips, documents, and footage of its subject, the museum offers an up-close and rather personal view of the events that transpired on the 6th floor. History buffs and conspiracy theorists get a chilling view through the window where Harvey Lee Oswald fired the fatal shots. The collection, which is 45,000 items strong, tells an impassioned story about the surreal day and how it changed the course of history afterwards. Make sure to take a trip up to the seventh floor, where artist Alex Geofend Cao’s incredible photo mosaic of President Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, are on display.
50th St., Lubbock
Ransom Canyon is one of the Texas’ tucked away treasures. The location of a 2013 Vogue photoshoot, Ransom Canyon is home to two architectural masterpieces—The Lawson Rock House and Robert Bruno’s Steel House. While the Steel House offers tours throughout the week, visitors can also spend the day enjoying the vast, hilly architectural oasis tucked away in the quiet plains of West Texas.
Japanese Tea Garden
3853 N. St. Mary's St., San Antonio
There are many beautiful tea gardens throughout the state, but few are as picturesque as the 90-plus-year-old Japanese Tea Garden in San Antonio. What was once a sly means of hiding a hole in the ground during a failed quarry project in the city, the garden has now blossomed into a place that’s a must-see for travelers looking to mix history with relaxation. The garden has certainly experienced some significant ups and downs throughout the years, including insufficient funds to sustain the facility at one point. In 2004, the City of San Antonio Department of Parks and Recreation issued a Request for Proposals for the repair and restoration, leading to a large and successful restoration. Although the gardens are open all year, springtime is a favorite for many visitors. Be sure to stop by the Jingu House Cafe for a cup of Moroccan Mint Tea.
Goose Island State Park
202 Palmetto Street, Rockport, TX
You haven’t truly enjoyed all of Texas history until you visit the Big Tree, Texas’s largest tree on the coast, near Goose Island State Park. The oak is a mere 1000 years old and has broken numerous world records. Standing at over 45 feet tall with a circumference of over 35 feet, the tree has survived dozens of major hurricanes, droughts, wildfires and floods to become one of the largest live oaks in the world.
When you’re done being amazed at Big Tree, Goose Island State Park is a great place to enjoy animals out in nature. The marshy island is home to hordes of cranes, making it extremely popular from November to March.