Texas is so big and diverse; it’s like a country itself rather than one of America’s fifty states. It's no wonder millions venture to its sunny highways for memorable road trip escapes. We went behind the wheel and visited four of its most exciting cities.
Stop 1: Hectic Houston
What is it famous for? “Houston, we have lift-off!” – the city is best known for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration agency (NASA). We went behind the scenes at the Space Center Houston where you can touch rare moon rocks, see the original shuttle carrier aircraft NASA 905, and walk inside the Skylab Trainer. It’s best to pre-order the Houston cityPASS to your hotel. The nifty booklet gets you into the major Houston attractions with queue jump, including of course, the Space Center.
Where to eat and drink? Did you know that Houston is the hometown of a little known star called Beyoncé? Two eats fit for Mrs Carter are Lucienne and Eunice. Lucienne is Mediterranean cuisine with French flair and Chef Jose Hernandez knows how to wow. The upscale restaurant serves an unforgettable four to six course menu paired with wine. Even if you’re not a fan of snails, order the Escargots with Barigoule Sauce – they’ll take you back to Paris. Meanwhile local foodies are going gaga for new kid on the block, Eunice. Spearheaded by Chef Drake Leonards of Louisiana, the menu infuses flavours of Europe with the Gulf Coast. There’s Fried Quail, Seafood Gumbo (or stew) and our favourite, Jumbo Gulf Shrimp with green onion sausage gravy. Leonards’ well portioned dishes burst with flavour and you’ll pat your crazy satisfied belly with a seasonal pie (we had the lemon) like a good Southerner.
Where to stay? Houston is a hectic city, so we chose an urban getaway – the Houstonian. This giant hotel, club and spa is nestled within a wooded setting near Uptown Park – close to downtown yet just out of the noise and of course full of nature – 27 acres of it. Recreational activities offered include outdoor tennis, Pilates, yoga, cycling, rock climbing and more. Former president George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara Bush lived on the site’s Manor House estate in the 80’s and 90’s. The hotel even serves Mrs. Bush's famous chocolate chip cookies with her blessing. It may not be glitz and glam like hotels downtown, but retains old fashioned charm with a welcoming fireplace at its core.
Road trip tip? We picked up a car from George Bush Intercontinental Airport, and suggest pre-booking from one of the leading rentals such as Enterprise, Alamo or Avis. Our journey was mapped out using the latest edition of the Lonely Planet Texas Guidebook.
Stop 2: Quaint and quirky San Antonio
What is it famous for? The Alamo – a world heritage homage to the lives lost in a battle for independence from Mexico. Their call for aid and refusal to surrender in the face of overwhelming odds stirred the world, and resulted in the birth of Texas. The stunning 300-year-old former Spanish mission turned fortress is free to visit for all.
Where to eat and drink? The picturesque River Walk winds through the downtown area and is packed with fun which you can enjoy on foot or by boat. We kicked back at Restaurant Gwendolyn, a farm-to-table eatery where food is made without the use of electric tools – no blenders, mixers or deepfryers. In a country where fast food is famed, Restaurant Gwendolyn’s healthy, honest food came as a refresher to our palette. Perishables are all delivered within 150 miles, raised and handled the old way – so the meat is ultra fresh. Staying on the River Walk, check out the brilliantly named Esquire Tavern for post-dinner beers on their 100 ft wooden bar top. For classic Texan Pit BBQ, Alamo BBQ Co. reigns supreme in East Grayson. The casual dining restaurant has an outdoor playground, live music and of course, family sized Texan BBQ with big juicy ribs.
Where to stay? Mokara Hotel & Spa was our base for one night and definitely brings a touch of glamour to San Antonio (there was a Jacuzzi in our room!). The facilities all scream five glittering Asian stars, and it’s conveniently located steps away from the River Walk. Concierge staff is the most helpful bunch around, too.
Road trip tip? Thankfully cars in America have AC otherwise ours would have been a sauna of sweat and convenience store food at this point. We loaded up on air freshener from the gas station, our seven note set from Ooh La Lab, as well as disposed of food items immediately after consumption. The car became our second home after all – let’s keep it pleasant!
Stop 3: Vibrant Austin
What is it famous for? Barton Springs, a giant set of water springs including Barton Springs Pool where visitors and locals alike enjoy getting their toes wet. Wearing our super Texan ‘Holy Guacamole’ swims from Eubi, we cooled off from Austin’s scorching temperatures in the refreshing water.
Where to eat and drink? Nightlife is buzzing in Austin and you’ll take in glittering views from Geraldine’s among a trendy crowd. The Southern-focused restaurant had us jamming to local live music and gorging on a feast of shared plates including Short Rib Egg Rolls and unforgettable Smoked Carrots. The Ramen Egg with a coconut soy broth is worth a shot if you love Japanese food and the cocktails are dazzling. We also need to nod to The Carillon for brilliant wine back at the hotel.
Where to stay?
We decided to get down with the kids and stay at AT&T Hotel and Conference Center, by the University of Texas and in the heart of the city. The massive venue is a go-to for business professionals with over 80,000 square feet of event space, 297 guest rooms and three on-site restaurants. The technologically advanced centre has great views of the city, the UT Tower and the Texas Capitol, come with soft pillow-top mattresses and Paul Mitchell/Korres products. It’s like reliving college days but on a much, much more sophisticated level (and without the noise). One of our favourite stays of the trip, we love the understated luxury and its little campus quirks. A star!
Road trip tip? Gas is reasonable in the US – a full tank gets you from Dallas to Houston for approx SGD 60. On the route you’ll find Buc-ee’s convenience store style gas stations, which have everything from souvenirs to roast dinners.
Stop 4: Sports mad Dallas
What is it famous for? Dallas is home to big sports teams, such as NFL’s Dallas Cowboys and NBA’s Dallas Mavericks (also known as the Mavs). We caught the Mavs play the Charlotte Hornets at the massive American Airlines Centre. Even if you don’t follow the game, the vibe is infectious.
Where to eat and drink? While strolling through Klyde Warren Park we stumbled upon trendy hangout, The Savor Gastropub. The glass building bang in the middle of the greenery serves hearty locally produced meals and is combined with a beloved pub. Expect the softest Ancho Braised Ribs along with American staples including Mac ‘n Cheese and Blackened Gulf Grouper. We wanted to take our server, Robin, out for a drink with us after, but sadly she had to stay and bring her Southern sunshine to other customers.
Where to stay? With our final stay we headed downtown to The Joule and checked into a cozy little room on the 5th floor, filled with ultra soft linens and romantic lighting. The hotel is adorned with art including original Andy Warhol, and the best thing is the unique 8-foot cantilevered pool which gives you the sensation of swimming out beyond the hotel’s edge, overlooking busy streets below. Tea doesn’t seem to be a big thing in Texas so you have to ring down to get a brew, but that just means you get a friendly Texan for a gabble over your cuppa with. The Joule is also across the street from trendy hangout The Mirador.
Road trip tip? Southern chic isn’t all cowboy hats and boots, and in fact, Dallas fashion is known for high-end aesthetic yet comfortable attire. Our carry-on featured shirts from the cheery folks at Texas Standard paired with sweatpants in order to stay comfortable with long days in a car seat.