Lubbock, Texas, might seem like an unlikely travel destination until you remember that it is home to both Texas Tech University and Buddy Holly. As you think about West Texas, recall Lubbock's cattle ranching heritage and its current status as a hub for wine grape growing. Add in Texas Tech's outstanding public art program and its commitment to preserving the heritage of the Lubbock area and you have a recipe for an outstanding vacation.
In fact, there's so much to experience in this West Texas city that you can easily spend several days here seeing the sights and enjoying delicious meals and local wines – and you just might end up falling in love with Lubbock along the way.
Here are nine reasons why your first visit to Lubbock, Texas, won't be your last.
Buddy Holly, Lubbock's most famous native son, died in a plane crash in 1959. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J. P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson and Roger Peterson, the pilot, all died when their airplane crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa. Buddy Holly's meteoric rise to fame lasted just 18 months, but the music he created continues to endure and inspire.
The Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock includes a museum packed with guitars, artifacts and Holly's iconic glasses, the home of Crickets drummer J. I. Allison, two art galleries and a gift shop. Across the street, you'll find the City of Lubbock's Buddy and Maria Elena Holly Plaza and the West Texas Walk of Fame. A bronze statue of Holly stands in front of the Walk of Fame's tribute wall. Honorees include Roy Orbison, Tanya Tucker, Waylon Jennings and many other talented West Texas performing and visual artists.
You can visit Buddy Holly's gravesite in the City of Lubbock Cemetery, just a short drive from the Buddy Holly Center. Once you enter the cemetery, signs direct you to Holly's grave.
While West Texas is known today as a cotton and wine grape growing center, cattle ranching made this part of Texas famous. The National Ranching Heritage Center, part of Texas Tech University, brings the past into the present with 49 historic structures, a 44,000 square foot museum and bronze sculptures of Longhorn steers.
The outdoor park contains historic buildings from cattle ranching country – Texas, Kansas and New Mexico – and give visitors an idea of how cattle ranchers lived and worked from 1780 until the 1950s. A free mobile app that provides background information on all the buildings is available for Android and iPhone users.
In the museum, you'll find exhibits on ranch life that range from an antique chuck wagon to a collection of rifles. Don't miss the western art on display.
Lubbock Lake Landmark is more than a museum and better than a nature center. It's a window into the natural and cultural past. Archaeologists from Texas Tech University conduct annual digs at Lubbock Lake Landmark. They have discovered artifacts dating back 12,000 years, to the Clovis and Folsom periods, when Native Americans hunted ancient mammoth and bison and made tools from bison bones.
In addition to its museum exhibits, the Landmark offers visitors a chance to walk along a half-mile, wheelchair-accessible boardwalk trail to view native plants and wildlife. This trail is a wonderful place from which to watch the sunset. You can also hike or bike a 3.5-mile trail. Once a month, the Landmark staff offers night hikes that are free and open to the public. On Dig Day in mid-July, you can tour the archaeological dig and see how scientists uncover the past.
The Silent Wings Museum honors the World War II glider pilots who risked their lives flying combat gliders in the European and Pacific Theaters. Because combat gliders did not use engines during their missions – hence the name "silent wings" – they were stealthy but difficult to fly. The glider launch procedure, which involved towing the glider into the air using another airplane, added to the danger. Once the glider pilot landed his airplane behind enemy lines and delivered his cargo of troops or equipment, he had to fight alongside infantrymen and paratroopers in order to survive and escape.
All of the American glider pilots who served in World War II volunteered for this dangerous duty. Many gave their lives or became prisoners of war. The Silent Wings Museum, which was created by the National World War II Glider Pilots Association and the City of Lubbock, tells their story.
The museum's collection includes a restored CG-4A combat glider, photographs, artifacts contributed by glider pilots and special exhibits. Don't miss the 15-minute film that shows combat gliders in action. You'll come away with a new respect for the brave, daring glider pilots of World War II.
This unique museum showcases the history of windmills and wind power in the United States. With over 100 windmills on display inside and outside the museum building, the American Wind Power Center is the perfect place to learn about wind-generated power and see the many styles of windmills used in the US over the centuries. An interactive wind turbine, working model trains, exquisite miniature houses, a mill stone exhibit and an enormous windmill mural round out the collection. The beautiful West Texas sky is a perfect backdrop for viewing and photographing the outdoor windmills.
Public Art at Texas Tech University
Since 1998, the Texas Tech University System has maintained a strong commitment to public art. Each capital project at a Texas Tech campus includes a one-percent set-aside for public artworks. A walking tour brochure is available online so that visitors to each Texas Tech campus can locate and view the artworks and learn about the artists. The public art at Texas Tech's flagship campus in Lubbock includes murals, statues, mosaics, fountains, photographs and more. Texas Tech professor Robert Bruno's untitled steel sculpture, created in 1974, became one of the highlights of the public art collection when it was moved to the Lubbock campus. This sculpture inspired Bruno to build his fantastical Steel House on the rim of Ransom Canyon.
Robert Bruno's Steel House
Steel House defies description. It doesn't resemble a traditional house at all, yet it was designed to be lived in. It was never finished, but its creator, sculptor and architect Robert Bruno, lived in it anyway. Steel House looks like something out of a crazy science fiction movie that happened to plop down on the edge of a canyon.
Inside, Steel House is dizzying. There are many curves and almost no corners. The steel walls are punctuated by leaded glass windows that look out over Ransom Canyon. As you might expect, the windows are not square or rectangular. The balcony does not have a guard rail. The staircases feature curved steel railings that are hard to grasp. But the views are spectacular, and Bruno's vision of a sculpted house – or maybe it's a house made from sculpted forms – is compellingly clear.
Bruno worked on Steel House for 34 years, but died of cancer before he could complete the project. Bruno's daughter now owns the house. The caretaker, Bruno's friend and former employee Henry Martinez, loves showing visitors around Steel House and telling them about Bruno's life and art. He sees Steel House as a living memorial to the artist, not a static tribute.
Steel House is rarely open to the public, but even a glimpse of the exterior will make a lasting impression. Don't miss the Rock House, also designed by Bruno, across the road.
Steel House Address:
85 E. Canyon View Drive
Ransom Canyon, TX 79366
Bring your appetite when you visit Lubbock. Like most college towns, Lubbock has plenty of restaurants to choose from. Be sure to have breakfast at the Cast Iron Grill, which is famous for its big breakfasts and its delicious homemade pies. (Yes, pie for breakfast is a thing in Lubbock.) For a Texan-Italian dinner, head to Orlando's, Lubbock's oldest full-service restaurant, where green chile chicken pizza and pasta are served right next to traditional Italian favorites. If you're looking for an upscale dining experience, try the Funky Door Bistro & Wine Room, which features fondues, steaks and international specialties, or The West Table Kitchen and Bar, where local, seasonal ingredients take pride of place and menus change daily. (Tip: If you order chicken-fried steak at a Lubbock restaurant, expect to receive a plate filled with food.)
West Texas Wines
You'll find wineries throughout Texas, but 80 percent of all the wine grapes grown in the Lone Star State come from the Texas High Plains and Panhandle region. With five wineries and an equal number of wine festivals, Lubbock is at the center of the local wine scene. Llano Estacado Winery hosts three of the annual wine festivals and offers tours and tastings all year. McPherson Cellars also hosts a wine festival; the fifth festival takes place at the American Wind Power Center.
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