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23 Must-See Landmarks in Texas (2022) | History, Art, & Science

Texas is a state that prides itself on its particular spirit in independence. Largely, it stems from the famous Texas Revolution, which liberated the state from the rule of Mexico in the 1800s.  

Lots of landmarks in Texas are in some way dedicated to this spirit. But there’s a lot more to Texas than just fighting. It also has proud traditions of frontier life (cowboys, anyone?), colonial heritage and influence, and space travel!  

Here are just 23 notable Texas things to see and do, based on landmarks that place you in the nation’s second-largest state.

the alamo

23 Landmarks in Texas Landmarks

Whether your interests are historical, military, scientific or purely trivial, there’s a landmark in Texas that should pique your interest.

1. The Alamo

The Alamo is a historic Spanish mission originally known as Misión San Antonio de Valero, in San Antonio. It is the site of a famous battle during the Texas revolution in 1836. During the battle, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna of the Mexican forces laid siege to the fort.  

the alamo
the alamo

Though under debate, it is estimated that around 189 people defended the fort, all of whom lost their lives. Around 600 Mexican soldiers died attacking the fort.  

The Texas revolution is so named for a rebellion of Texas settlers against the Mexican central government. The US would not provide aid or troops, as doing so would have been an act of war. Eventually, the State of Texas won its independence, as civilians rallied to the cause.

2. Cadillac Ranch

In 1974 Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels created a sculpture and public art installation garden. It was marked by a number of Cadillac cars seemingly half-buried in the sand. Notably, the art installation is in an open field and is free to anyone to visit, with no fences, lines or restrictive amenities of any kind.  

Cadillac Ranch
Cadillac Ranch PC Flickr.

Part of the charm of the location is that it sits off the stories Route 66. Visitors can also contribute a “tag” by spray painting one of the cars – spray paint is available for purchase.,

Cadillac Ranch
Cadillac Ranch PC Flickr.

3. USS Texas

There’s something quite intriguing about seeing the inside of a battleship, and the USS Texas was a museum that allows you the experience. Sadly, it has been closed to the public due to its slowly decaying state – it is more than 100 years old.  

USS Texas
USS Texas

But you can still see its hulking frame – it will be sitting anchored in the Galveston Dry Dock in 2022. It is undergoing repair work, and hopefully, it will be open to the public once more.

4. Strand Historic District

This National Historic Landmark District consists of Victorian-era buildings in the heart of Galveston. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places, noted for its remarkable architecture, especially for the island city.  

strand district galveston
strand district galveston

Visitors enjoy the five-block area as mostly a commercial hub, visiting shops, art galleries, restaurants, and clubs. Annually, the district celebrates a popular mardi gras festival, and the Christmas celebrations here are truly festive and special.

5. Fort Worth Stockyards

Texas has a place in popular culture that suggests cattle drives, among other things. The Fort Worth stockyards embody this idea, especially because you can attend and witness an actual cattle drive here twice a day!  

Fort Worth Stockyards
Fort Worth Stockyards

The entire attraction is akin to a retelling of what life in Texas might have been like during the frontier years, and many buildings and activities show off some of the old traditions. You can check out a rodeo, or simply admire the truly old-style buildings that seem to have been frozen in time. Best of all, admission is free for a general visit to the “town”!

6. Caverns of Sonora

This unique cave structure is known for incredible calcite crystal formations. The caves run about 90 metres deep. You can tour the caverns of Sonora in groups of six or twelve. A typical tour lasts around two hours.  

Caverns of Sonora
Caverns of Sonora

It is widely regarded as one of the most visually stunning cave structures in the region, well worth seeing and touring. The caves are estimated to have formed around two million years ago.

7. Fulton Mansion State Historic Site

The beautiful Fulton Mansion State looks like something out of the Caribbean colonial era, with its tall palm trees fronting a gorgeous Second Empire mansion. The house itself is famous for its architecture, especially the methods used in its construction and its remarkable advanced mechanical ideas for its time.

Fulton Mansion State Historic Site
Fulton Mansion State Historic Site PC Friends of Fulton Mansion

The four-story mansion started construction in 1872.  Among the notable features are gas-powered lighting, indoor plumbing and hot running water. The house can be toured today offering superb insight into the 1800s and early 1900s Texas living.

8. Bishop’s Palace

The ornate and unmistakable Bishop’s palace is a house built from granite, limestone and sandstone, jutting proudly into the sky on Broadway Avenue in Galveston. It was actually a residential home, serving as the seat of the Bishop of the  Catholic Diocese of Galveston-Houston for many years.  

Bishop’s Palace galveston
Bishop’s Palace galveston PC Flickr

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, it can be toured today – it is also known as Gresham’s Palace, as it was built and once owned by Walter and Josephine Gresham. Some say the house is haunted, which makes for an even more exciting visit.

9. John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy looms large in the memory of the US. This memorial sits in the West End District of Dallas, the city where he was shot and killed. The site of the memorial is about 60m east of the exact site of the incident.  

John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza
John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza

The simple design is nonetheless iconic, said to represent the open and empty tomb of Kennedy’s spirit. Each of the granite squares that surround the memorial is inscribed with a passage, part of which reads: “It is not a memorial to the pain and sorrow of death, but stands as a permanent tribute to the joy and excitement of one man’s life.”

10. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park

You are able to visit the resting place of another president in Texas, as Lyndon B. Johnson’s ranch lies within the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in Stonewall.  

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park

President Johnson was born and is buried here, and you can obtain a pass to drive through the park to the ranch. The ranch is notable for its regular mention during LBJ’s presidency – it is estimated he spent 20% of his time there, leading to the ranch being called “The Texas White House”.

11. Marfa Prada

In 2005, artists Elmgreen and Dragset created this odd and intriguing permanent art installation, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, on route 90, about 2km from Valentine. It is said to be a statement on the luxury goods industry, symbolised by a luxury goods store placed in the desert.  

Marfa Prada
Marfa Prada

As such, it is a landmark in the true sense of the word, as it is unmissable as you drive past. The storefront features actual Prada wares, though you cannot enter as the doors do not work. Hilariously, the installation attained its guerilla status as the Texas Department of Transportation had no idea it was there until 2013

12. Mission San Jose

Lovingly referred to as the “Queen of the Missions”, this 300-year-old structure was used as a community hub by the early European mission settlers.

Mission San Jose
Mission San Jose

The mission was founded in 1720 by Father Antonio Margil de Jesús.   It is often described as one the best existing examples of Spanish colonial design, especially the facade and Rose Window. The church still holds services on Sundays.

13. National Museum of the Pacific War

Located in Fredericksburg, this is a playground for those interested in military history and materiel. Inside, visitors can marvel at exhibits like the Carrier Aviation Exhibit in the Pacific Combat Zone.  

National Museum of the Pacific War
National Museum of the Pacific War PC Visit Fredericksburg

Re-enactments of historic battles and demonstrations of various types can be seen in the Living History Battlefield area. The museum is heavily associated with Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, after whom the museum was originally named.

14. Pioneer Village

Gonzales Pioneer Village – a replica village that displays 10 historic sites and structures. Visit an 1892 Greek Revival house museum, or see what a colonial-era blacksmith shop might have looked like. Plan your trip to witness a famous battle re-enactment.  

Gonzales Pioneer Village
Gonzales Pioneer Village PC Tour Gonzales Jonathan Foster

You‘ll also notice a focus on the aforementioned Texas Revolution with a Texas: Forged of Revolution mobile tour, which can be accessed via a downloadable app.

15. Port Isabel Lighthouse

This iconic lighthouse was built in 1852 to support ships navigating the treacherous Brazos Santiago Pass on the Texas coast. In 1976, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.  

The structure stands as a beacon in Port Isabel. The port served a pivotal role in the war between the US and Mexico in 1846. Interesting note: when the initial light was installed in 1851, it was stationary but bright enough to be seen for up to 16 miles.  

Port Isabel Lighthouse
Port Isabel Lighthouse

The lighthouse was also used as an observation post by both sides during the Civil War. Another fascinating note about the area: it is widely believed that the very last battle of the Civil War was fought on nearby Palmetto Beach. That battle took place a month after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender. 

16. Reunion Tower

The observation deck known as Reunion Tower is certainly one of the most recognisable buildings in all of Dallas, if not Texas. The tubular spires topped by a round ball feels almost reminiscent of the two similar structure adorning the old World’s Fair site in New York, which features discs instead of a ball.  

Reunion Tower
Reunion Tower

The tower opened in 1978 and was named after “La Reunion”, a community of French, Belgian, and Swiss immigrants. It is the 15th tallest building in Texas as of this writing at 143 metres, but the elevator takes a speedy 68 seconds from the ground to the top.  

The deck offers 360-degree views of the Dallas skyline, yoga classes at sunrise and even painting classes!

17. The Governor’s Mansion (Austin)

Most mansions are well worth a look if only because they’re the kinds of houses very few of us will ever live in. But there’s an extra appeal to mansions reserved for leaders like governors. In this case, the Governor of Texas’ own residence is a big, two-story pillared house marked by its historic design.  

The Governor's Mansion in Austin landmarks in texas
The Governor’s Mansion in Austin PC Flickr

The mansion was built in 1854 and gutted by arson in 2008. Since then, it has been fully restored, however. Visitors can tour the mansion on scheduled days, and manage on a first-come basis, lasting around 30 minutes. At the very least, you feel a sense of import walking the halls of state government.

18. San Antonio River Walk

This pedestrian street in downtown San Antonio is technically a city park. Walk along the banks of the San Antonio River (now structured as a canal system through the city). All along the walk, which is around 25 km, bars and restaurants line both sides of the shore.  

River Walk
River Walk

Of course, the walk itself is free, so even if you’d just like some fresh, vibrant San Antonio air, the walk is a must-do when visiting the city for any length of time. Taking a boat ride is also highly recommended, and a standard boat tour lasts around 35 minutes.

19. San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site

As you may have inferred by now, the Texas war for independence (The Texas Revolution) is held in reverence and memory in the state of Texas. This site includes a monument that commemorates that war but also includes a larger area of exhibits.  

San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site
San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site

San Jacinto battleground is where history records the final victory over the Mexican authority in 1836. Interestingly, it was a very short battle, lasting only 18 minutes. In part, the speed of the victory was made possible by General Sam Houston’s brave strategy and cunning attack in broad daylight. Reports reveal that only nine Texans died, while 630 Mexican fatalities were recorded. 

20. South Congress Bridge

This bridge is most famous for being a location from which to observe the famous Brazilian or Mexican free-tailed bats. They are also, not surprisingly, known as South Congress Bridge Bats. The bridge is home to these bats, and visitors walking across it claim you can smell their presence.  

South Congress Bridge austin
South Congress Bridge austin PC Flickr

Bat watching is a thing in Austin, so you won’t be considered weird if you just stand around to look at the bats on, under or in the bridge. The bats are said to be most prevalent in March. Officially, the bridge is called the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge.

21. Space Center Houston

While Florida might be considered a major location for NASA activities, Texas also has a claim to space fame. Space Center Houston is a museum specialising in science related to space exploration.  

Space Center Houston
Space Center Houston

This is also the official visitor centre for NASA Johnson Space Center, also known as NASA’s mission control. Houston was chosen for the centre in part because of its proximity to San Jacinto Ordnance Depo – lots of military hardware like engines and other tech is required to run NASA programs.  

This is a deeply detailed subject, so be prepared to spend upwards of half a day exploring the various exhibits and activities here.

22. The Capitol Building

Austin is the capital city of Texas, and the state capitol is the seat of the Texas Legislature and of the Governor of Texas. You can tour parts of the building unguided most days, accessible only through the North door.  

The Capitol Building
The Capitol Building

The capitol reportedly took seven years to build and contained an impressive 392 rooms. It was completed in 1888.   Interesting trivia: The dome of the Texas state capitol building is actually taller than that of the nation’s federal capitol.

23. USS Lexington

Finally, if you’re really into warships, and with the USS Texas possibly out of commission at least for a while, you may want to consider visiting the Lexington instead. “The Blue Ghost”, or “ Lady Lex”, as she is known,  is an aircraft carrier that was built during World War II.  

The ship is blue because it was rushed into service, with no time to paint it the standard naval camouflage that adorns most ships. Because of this, she is somewhat unique. The “ghost” part of the name has a more bizarre origin.  

USS Lexington
USS Lexington

During the war, inaccurate reports emerged that she had been sunk four separate times. The fact that the ship kept reappearing seemed perplexing to Japanese radio reports, which dubbed her a “ghost” ship as a result.  

In addition, the ship may now be haunted as well, as visitors often talk about meeting a tour guide named Charlie. According to the museum managers, there is no guide there named Charlie.  

Lex is now a permanent Texas resident, decommissioned and stationed in Corpus Christi. It is open to the public to tour as a museum.

Final Thoughts on Awesome Landmarks in Texas

Can you think of other landmarks worth visiting in Texas? No doubt there are hundreds of various reputations, sizes and importance. The main lesson here is that there’s something for everyone on the Lone Star state. Why not visit?     

I covered all of the costs involved in writing this post. Also, this landmarks in Texas post includes affiliate links. That means if you click through and end up making a purchase I will receive a small commission. I wanted to make sure you were aware of this.

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