Some Texans aren’t content with a life well lived, they want hard evidence: the family vacation photos, a souvenir to stick on the shelf, their name in a register at the highest point in Texas. To help you achieve those goals, we’ve compiled a list of only-in-our-state pursuits you need to check off before another summer speeds by.
Some of Texas’ greatest adventures require physical challenge (the world’s toughest canoe race) and some may require getting out of your comfort zone (goat yoga), while others are simply excuses to take advantage of all Texas has to offer (waterparks, museums, swimming holes, and old-fashioned Dr Pepper floats). This is a packed list—more than 100 ideas to fill the 93 days of summer—but the reward will be well worth the effort. Take note, then take off.
ON THE WATER
Hang 10, dude
Whether you’re a beach bum who can’t wait to wax up your board or a curious beginner, catching waves makes your Texas summer all the more righteous. Some of the best surfing destinations in the state include Matagorda Bay, North Jetty on South Padre Island, Boca Chica Beach, Jamaica Beach in Galveston, and the neighboring towns of Quintana and Surfside Beach. Most of these towns have vendors offering gear and lessons for beginners. If you don’t want to work for your waves, NLand Surf Park in Austin offers hourly rates (as well as seasonal and annual memberships) for access to its lagoon, which features a wave-making machine that creates consistent surf at three levels of difficulty. The facility also offers lessons, an observation area, a sand beach, brewery, and restaurant, so you can have a full day of fun. For those who want to engage in surf culture without getting on a board, the Texas Surf Museum features exhibits on Gulf Coast female surfers, surfing films, and photography.
Go with the flow
Fill up a cooler and grab your pals for a leisurely float down one of Texas’ refreshing rivers. Head to Concan to enjoy the Frio River, trek to San Marcos to check out the youthful spirit of the San Marcos River, or decamp to New Braunfels to float the Comal River. Riverside outfitters will prep you for the relaxing float ahead. Don’t forget to reapply sunscreen!
Jump off a cliff
Possum Kingdom Lake—the Brazos River basin’s first water supply reservoir—sparkles with blue waters and 310 miles of shoreline. But its most striking feature looms dramatically over the water on the southern edge of the lake: two towering cliffs that rise 90 feet on either side—appropriately named Hell’s Gate. Like flies to honey, the world’s best competitive cliff divers converge here in the summer for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series (June 2). The reservoir’s bone-chilling waters (about 53 degrees) aren’t reserved for thrill-seekers; spectators can watch the cliff-diving action from boats, kayaks, and paddleboards and beat the Texas heat with a plunge in the lake from a more sensible height.
Paddle the cities
Kayaking novices and experts will find much to love when going out on Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Buffalo Bayou in Houston, and the Trinity River in Fort Worth. No need to buy your own equipment or venture out into the wild unknown—rental shops provide boats, life vests, and instruction. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the cool urban views—oh, and paddle of course.
Laze on the river
Downstream from the Highland Lakes, the Colorado River in Bastrop winds through a quiet stretch of Texas’ Blackland Prairie that makes for relaxing paddling. Forests and pastures line the river, and several sandbars and islands provide overnight camping stops between Webberville Park and Columbus. Avoid camping on the riverbanks though, as almost all of them are private property.
Watch Jaws on the water
Even in the tame waters of Lake Travis, it’s easy to feel on edge when John Williams’ score for Jaws starts. That adrenaline rush is why movie-lovers head to Alamo Drafthouse’s annual Jaws on the Water events at Volente Beach in Austin. Each viewer gets a keepsake tube to float in while a giant screen plays the 1975 Spielberg classic. To keep things interesting, scuba divers have been known to pinch and tickle unsuspecting audience members underwater. Check website for dates.
Park it at a waterpark
Whether you seek out the most harrowing, jaw-dropping slides or enjoy the chill vibe of a lazy river, Texas water parks offer something for everyone. There are also cool times to be found at Typhoon Texas in Katy, Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in Arlington, and Wet ‘N’ Wild Splashtown in El Paso. With its 70 acres of tube chutes, slides, and pools, the original Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels is a Texas summertime rite of passage. Water-sport enthusiasts might find a refreshing challenge in wakeboarding parks like BSR Cable Park in Waco and Texas Ski Ranch in New Braunfels.
Take a deep dive
Scuba-diving, often associated with tropical destinations, is possible (and fun!) in Texas. In East Texas, Athens Scuba Park features a dive shop for equipment and training courses on everything from rescue diving to night diving, and 35 sunken wrecks to discover in both an indoor pool and an outdoor manmade lake. At Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary,with the help of a dive charter company, you’ll experience a variety of sea life as you delve into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico 100 miles offshore.
Can you truly experience summer in Texas if you don’t swim in a spring-fed swimming hole? Some of our favorites include San Solomon Springs in West Texas, Barton Springs in Austin, Blue Hole in Wimberley, Fort Clark Springsin Brackettville, and Hancock Springs in Lampasas.