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Four cities that define Texas

Courtesy Austin CVB

Forget about the 10-gallon hat — the new face of Texas is colorful, cultural and creative.

From the Hill Country to the coast, Texas towns treat groups to great art, culture, history, music and nature.aAustin’s eclectic vibes reverberate in its politics, arts and music. San Antonio’s Spanish-Mexican heritage remains deeply imbedded in the city’s soul, evident at its five historic missions. Kerrville’s thriving artistic communities satisfies art lovers.

And groups that head to the Texas coast will find Galveston a wondrous spot to explore nature and historic architecture.


In Austin, the epicenter of Texas politics, the state Capitol commands attention. The city’s strategically planned streets fan out like wagon-wheel spokes from the granite structure that was completed in 1888. And along the diamond-patterned Capitol’s Great Walkway, statues commemorate state heroes.

Inside, visitors can marvel at intricate wainscoting, which covers walls on five stories of the building. The first floor’s 30 layers of High Victorian-style woodwork incorporate five native woods. Each successive floor is less elaborate than the one below. Groups can access three of the four balconies in the soaring rotunda. Oil paintings by William Henry Huddle, one of the state’s most recognized painters, and Italian marble statues of Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin, originally created for Chicago’s 1892 Columbian Exposition, flank the entry.

Five blocks from the Capitol, the impressive Bullock Texas State History Museum tells Texas’ compelling story using multimedia, more than 700 artifacts and hands-on exhibits. “The Star of Destiny” film is a multimedia experience that uses seven screens and a variety of 4-D special effects. Audiences feel the rumble of a cattle stampede, experience a Texas-size hurricane and witness the buzz of crop-eating locusts.

Tours of the governor’s mansion give groups a glimpse into early Texas life. Sam Houston lived in the house with his wife and eight children, which was built between 1854 and 1856. Many elements of the historic building have been preserved to reflect Houston’s period.

For night owls who enjoy the music scene, the Continental Club features an eclectic lineup of local bands. The Broken Spoke is known around town as the last true Texas dance hall. At the Belmont, groups can enjoy the rooftop patio and look down on live musical acts as they perform in the club below.

“We’re known as the live music capital of the world,” said Shilpa Bakre, senior communications manager at the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Throughout the city, we have more than 250 live music venues.”

In Texas, Kerrville is known for the arts. Numerous visual and performing artists have come to work and live in this charming town that sits about 65 miles northwest of San Antonio. It’s a peaceful place of natural beauty that inspires creativity.

The Museum of Western Art was originally established as a cowboy art museum. It has expanded to include a variety of artists who follow in the traditions of Remington and Russell and celebrate the Old West. The building itself resembles a fortressed hacienda. Heavy timbers and rugged retaining walls of stacked limestone flank the outside. Inside, floors of end-cut mesquite wood and Saltillo tile, polished to a warm glow, compliment the works. The ceiling’s 23 arched bovedas, give visitors a glimpse of artisan work rarely seen today.

The permanent collection includes approximately 150 sculptures, 250 paintings and many artifacts. The museum also holds an extensive research library that includes more than 3,000 volumes and an equal number of periodicals. They cover everything Western — history, art, railroads, cattle drives — plus the specific histories of the artists whose works are stored in the museum’s vaults. The gift shop sells bronzes, prints and books on Western art and artists.

Downtown’s Kerr Arts and Cultural Center represents more than 600 member artists. Media include painting, ceramics, woodwork, jewelry, photography, sculpture and more. The center’s Southwest Gourd Show appeals to groups who want a different creative experience. Gourd artisans turn the hard-rinded fruit into unique baskets or figurines of people and animals. In autumn, the Texas Furniture Makers show features furniture handcrafted by Texans, ranging from rocking chairs to full bedroom sets and from functional to fun.

“This amazing gallery continually rotates their exhibits,” said Julie Land, deputy director of the Kerrville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They’ve always got something displayed, and their gift shop is filled with handcrafted, local art.”

The scenic Hill Country Arts Foundation sits along the Guadalupe River. When motorcoaches arrive, they pass by Stonehenge II, a replica of the British landmark that took nine months to build and is 90 percent of the height and 60 percent of the width of the original. Artists of all media types teach and learn in the creekside studios. The Duncan-McAshan Gallery hosts exhibitions from classroom work to national juried shows. Music, dance, sculpture, photography and crafts are taught in summer workshops.

Under the summer stars, the Point Theatre puts on productions. The Guadalupe River serves as a backdrop for the 722-seat outdoor amphitheater. When the weather turns cooler, shows move indoors to the Coates Theatre, which seats 150.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.