Houston is a wonderful city, no doubt about it. But, it’s a wonderful city at the edge of a wonderful state, and if you’re living in Houston without ever getting outside the city limits, you’re missing out. So the next time you have a weekend with good driving conditions and no obligations, consider getting out of the city to explore. If you need some ideas, all of the destinations below should be less than a four-hour drive from Houston on a weekend, and most much less than that. They are listed in order of proximity, so you can plan your trip based on how much time you have.
Brazos Bend State Park (45 miles, less than 1 hour)
Just 45 minutes southwest of Houston, Brazos Bend is the perfect place if you want to get away from the city but don’t want to spend a lot of time driving. At nearly 5,000 acres, the park covers a range of diverse ecosystems, from coastal prairie and bottomland forest to transitional marshlands and open lakes, and boasts an incredible diversity of wildlife. Be prepared for alligators, as you will see at least ten.
Galveston (50 miles—about 1 hour)
As one of Texas’s most historic port cities, the question in Galveston isn’t figuring out what to do, but how to do it all in just one day. Fortunately, the island is so close to Houston that it’s an easy trip to repeat. If you love old homes, be sure to stroll or bike past the gorgeous homes of the East End Historic District. Shop and dine on the historic Strand. Check out the 1877 Tall Ship Elissa, an original three-masted ship now harbored at Galveston and open as a public museum most days. Walk along the Seawall, enjoying the ocean and the city at the same time.
Big Thicket National Preserve (90 miles, about 1 ½ hours)
This 112,250-acre national preserve was established to protect the forests of Big Thicket, one of the most biodiverse areas in the United States. The preserve offers 40 miles of trails for hiking, plus endless canoeing and kayaking through creeks, bayous, and the Neches River.
Austin (160 miles, about 2 ½ hours)
Maybe you’ve been to Austin before. If you’ve lived in the area a while, you probably have. That’s ok. Go again. There is always something to do in Austin. If you’ve never toured the State Capitol, do it. Likewise, the Bullock Texas State History Museum and the LBJ Presidential Library. Hang out at the beloved 350-acre Zilker Park, and if the weather is hot, take a dip in Barton Springs, the glacially cold, natural spring-fed pool where all of Austin goes to cool off.
River Tubing (Distance varies, many within 2 ½ hours)
Spending a lazy afternoon floating the river is a time-honored summer tradition in Texas. Luckily, rivers are plentiful—choose among the Guadalupe, the Comal, the San Marcos, and many more. Grab a swimsuit, a pair of water shoes, and some sunscreen—and a cooler filled with your beverage of choice, of course—and head out for a relaxing way to enjoy the great outdoors while expending a bare minimum of energy.
San Antonio (200 miles—about 3 hours)
If your aim is getting to know Texas better and you’ve never been to the Alamo, you’d better put this one high up on your list. This famous fortress was the site of a turning-point battle in the Texas Revolution, and holds a special place in the heart of Texans everywhere. Allow yourself plenty of time to wander through the museum and grounds. Then head over to the River Walk for a leisurely meal and excellent people watching.
Hill Country – Wineries (Distance varies, between 3-4 hours)
Even if you never so much as got out of the car, the view of the gorgeous Texas Hill Country scenery would be well worth the drive. However, the region also happens to be a great place for growing grapes, which means vineyards—lots of them. Check out texaswinetrail.com for a list of winery tours.
Longhorn Cavern State Park (215 miles, about 3 ½ hours)
While it’s a long drive, Longhorn Cavern State Park offers a unique opportunity to tour a beautiful limestone cave with an unusual history involving American Indians, Confederate soldiers, and Prohibition-era outlaws. No spelunking experience is needed, although some tours lead through very tight spaces and require headlamps.
Mustang Island State Park (240 miles, about 3 ½ hours)
Although one of the farthest destinations on this list, Mustang Island State Park is absolutely worth the drive. While there are of course many closer beaches, few offer the opportunity to experience the ocean as a part of nature. In addition to swimming and sunbathing, the park offers hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and birdwatching. If you’re up for more than a daytrip, camping is also offered.