20 Best Historic Things to Do in Texas

Everything is bigger in Texas, including the history books. As one of the few U.S. states that used to be its own country, Texas has a long and interesting history. Once under the rule of Spain, Mexico, France, and the Confederacy, many cultures and governments contributed to the evolution of Texas' proud culture and history buffs will find many interesting attractions from the Gulf Coast to the state Capitol. With ancient villages and iconic Spanish Missions, one in particular ever Texan is duty-bound to remember, these historic sites are worth visiting in person on your trip to Texas.

01 of 20

Walk Around Apollo Mission Control

The Apollo Mission Control Center at Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center on April 3, 2016 in Houston, Texas

Ronald Martinez / Getty Images

2101 E NASA Pkwy, Houston, TX 77058, USA
Phone +1 281-483-0123

Houston, we have a problem. If you're visiting Texas' largest city and not paying a visit to the Kennedy Space Center, you're missing out on a chance to visit the site of one of humanity's greatest historic achievements: the Apollo Mission Control Center. Tram tours guide visitors through the Johnson Space Center and the control room is a stop on the tour—although it may not be open every day. Other exhibits on-site provide the chance to learn more about the incredible feats of space exploration made in Texas by some of the country's brightest minds. This includes a gallery of historic spacecrafts including the recently flown SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket.

02 of 20

Set Sail on One of the World's Oldest Ships

Tall ship Elissa, Galveston, Texas

 Carol M. Highsmith / Getty Images

Pier 22 Suite, 8, Galveston, TX 77550, USA
Phone +1 409-763-1877

In the waters of Galveston on the Gulf Coast, you can board and set sail on a ship that has been sailing for over 100 years. Built in 1877, the Elissa is part of the Galveston Historic Seaport which tells the story of this historic tall ship from its construction in Scotland to her journeys in Scandinavia and Greece, to eventually being purchased and restored by the Galveston Historical Foundation. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, today the Elissa is a floating museum and one of only three ships of her kind that still sail.

03 of 20

Visit the George Washington Carver Museum and Juneteenth Memorials

Juneteenth Memorial Monument at the George Washington Carver Museum in Austin, Texas

Jennifer Rangubphai / Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 4.0]

1165 Angelina St, Austin, TX 78702, USA
Phone +1 512-974-4926

In Austin, the George Washington Carver Museum and Genealogy Center is dedicated to the preservation of African American culture, history, and art. In addition to the four galleries and facilities that include a dance studio and a darkroom, sculptures were installed on the grounds to commemorate the events of Juneteenth. Celebrated on June 19, this holiday marks the day that the enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned that they had been freed in 1865, two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

04 of 20

Imagine American Antiquity at the Caddo Mounds

Reconstructed Caddo dwelling, Caddo Mounds State Historic Site, near Weeping Mary TX

Keith Ewing /Flickr/ CC BY NC 2.0

1649 TX-21, Alto, TX 75925, USA
Phone +1 936-858-3218

Thousands of years ago, Weeping Mary, Texas was home to the indigenous Caddo people. This archeological site sheds light on their traditional ceremonies and political systems, as well as their interactions with other native groups who lived in similar cities as far away as Illinois and Florida. Archeologists have uncovered many artifacts at the Caddo Mounds Historical Sites.

In 2019, a tornado struck the site on Caddo Culture Day, which caused great damage to the park's visitor center and destroyed the replica of a traditional grass house. The mounds themselves were not damaged, but the museum is undergoing reconstruction. The site is still being reconstructed and the construction of a new grass house is underway.

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05 of 20

Remember the Alamo at the San Antonio Mission

The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas, America

Joe Daniel Price / Getty Images

300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, TX 78205, USA
Phone +1 210-225-1391

The site of one of the most notorious battles in Texan and American history, the Alamo, has been remarkably preserved throughout the years and is open daily to visitors from around the world. Named a World Heritage Site in 2017, the Alamo Mission and Texas history museum is located in downtown San Antonio. Guests at the Alamo can stand in the very spot some of the famous Texas defenders stood during the historic siege where Texans defended their claim to independence from Mexico in 1836.

The Alamo isn't the only historic mission in the San Antonio area; Missions San Jose, San Juan, Espada, and Concepcion were built over the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries as outreach centers for Spanish missionaries to try to convert the indigenous people of Texas well before the first American settlers arrived in the state.

06 of 20

Learn the Law at the Texas State Capitol

Exterior of the Texas State Capitol

TripSavvy / Austen Johnson

1100 Congress Ave., Austin, TX 78701, USA
Phone +1 512-463-4630

Completed in 1888, the Texas Capitol was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986 and is open to visitors daily. Located in Austin, the Texas Capitol complex is a must-see for visitors interested in the current and historical politics of this southern state.

Touring the Capitol building allows visitors to get an up-close look at where the laws governing Texas have been crafted for more than 100 years. The Capitol is also decorated with pieces of historical artwork, including busts of former governors and important historical figures.

Points of interest inside the Capitol include the House Chamber in the west, where 150 house representatives meet to vote on legislation; the Senate Chamber to the east; the original Governor's Office, the original Supreme Court Courtroom, and the original State Library. The Capitol Complex covers 22 acres and also includes the Texas Capitol Visitors Center, and a gift shop.

07 of 20

Discover History at the San Jacinto Monument and Museum

San Jacinto tower

TripSavvy / Vincent Mercer 

1 Monument Cir, La Porte, TX 77571, USA
Phone +1 281-479-2421

One of the most revered sites in Texas history is the San Jacinto Battleground—the very place where Texas gained its independence. Today, the San Jacinto Monument and Museum sit atop the plot of land where General Sam Houston defeated the army of Mexican General Santa Anna.

Located on the Houston Ship Channel in unincorporated Harris County just outside of the city of Houston, the San Jacinto Monument is a 567-foot-high column dedicated to the Battle of San Jacinto. Although the historic battle of 1836 only lasted for 18 minutes, it drastically shifted the course of Texas history.

Top attractions at the monument and museum include the San Jacinto Battleground, where you can tour historic markers laid out by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas in 1912; the restored marsh and boardwalk nearby; and a recreational park complete with picnic tables and a grassy knoll.

08 of 20

Take a Tour of Bishop's Palace

“Bishops Palace, Galveston” by Dana Smith is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Dana Smith / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

1402 Broadway Avenue J, Galveston, TX 77550, USA
Phone +1 409-762-2475

Completed in 1892, the Bishop's Palace survived the 1900 hurricane and is now part of Galveston's Historic Homes Tour. Located on Broadway and 14th streets in the End End Historic District of Galveston, this historic Victorian-style home features over 19,000 square feet of decor and furnishings from the 1800s.

Also known as Gresham's Castle, this beautiful historic home was named one of the "100 Most Important Buildings in America" by the American Institute of Architects. Visitors to the Bishop's Palace can get a feel for life in turn-of-the-century Galveston—at least for those who had financial means at the time.

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09 of 20

Set Sail on the Battleship Texas

Battleship Texas State Historic Site

Purdue9394 / Getty Images

One Riverway Suite 2200, Houston, TX 77056, USA
Phone +1 832-841-3500

A veteran of both World Wars, the Battleship Texas is now moored at the San Jacinto Historical Site, where it is open for tours to the public and calls the Houston Ship Channel its home. Built in 1910, the ship played an important role in both World Wars, crossing the Atlantic where it attacked enemy-held beaches in North Africa. Later, it was transferred to the Pacific and provided support during the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. It was the first American battleship to use anti-aircraft guns and to launch aircrafts from the sea.

10 of 20

Relive History at Washington-on-the-Brazos

Waco, Texas, USA - Aug 4, 2017: The view from Emmons Cliff overlooking the Brazos River and Texas Hill Country beyond.

Steven Autry / Getty Images

23400 Park Rd 12, Washington, TX 77880, USA
Phone +1 936-878-2214

Washington-on-the-Brazos is the location where the Convention of 1836 signed Texas' Declaration of Independence from Mexico, and the site also served as the Texas Capitol off and on through the early years of the Republic of Texas. Nowadays, Washington-on-the-Brazos is home to a huge nature park, a living history farm, and a museum dedicated to early Texas history.

For a look back at the life of the last president of Texas, Anson Jones, you can stop by the Barrington Living History Farm, which the former leader of the Republic of Texas owned and operated in the 1840s. The farm includes the original home of Jones as well as reconstructed outhouses and other structures. While there, interpreters dressed in period-style clothing guide guests through the day-to-day activities of life on the farm over 150 years ago. Another site that's not to be missed at Washington-on-the-Brazos is the Star of the Republic Museum, which is dedicated to the history of the short-lived country known as the Republic of Texas.

11 of 20

Overlook the Sea at the Point Isabel Lighthouse

Port Isabel Lighthouse Museum

Richard Cummins / Getty Images

421 E Queen Isabella Blvd, Port Isabel, TX 78578, USA
Phone +1 956-943-0735

Located in Port Isabel, one of the oldest towns in Texas, the Port Isabel Lighthouse served mariners along the Lower Texas Coast throughout the Civil War and into the 1900s. Today, the Lighthouse and surrounding grounds are part of the Texas State Park system.

Although there were 16 lighthouses constructed along the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, the Port Isabel Lighthouse is the only one open to the public. Visitors are allowed to climb the spiraling stairs to the top where they are treated to a spectacular view of South Padre Island, Port Isabel, and the Lower Laguna Madre Bay. Nearby, you can also stop by the Port Isabel Historical Museum and the Treasures of the Gulf Museum for more information about the maritime history of Port Isabel.

12 of 20

Go International at the French Legation

French Legation

Wikimedia Commons 

802 San Marcos St, Austin, TX 78702, USA
Phone +1 737-226-1399

From 1836 to 1846, the Republic of Texas was officially recognized as its own nation by countries around the world and many began establishing legations in the state to coordinate international relations. One such legation was established in Austin by the French in 1841 to serve as the home for their chargé d’affaires, a diplomat in charge of an embassy when an ambassador isn't present. While the temporary embassy only stayed in operation for five years, the French Legation is open to the public as a State Historic Site maintained by the Texas Historical Commission.

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13 of 20

Explore an Early Settlement at San Felipe de Austin

San Felipe de Austin

Ken Lund / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 

220 2nd St, San Felipe, TX 77473, USA
Phone +1 979-885-2181

Back when settlers were first establishing homes in Mexican Texas in the early 1800s, settlements and colonies began to spring up across the region. One such location is San Felipe de Austin, a State Historic Site maintained by the Texas Historical Commission where Stephen F. Austin established a headquarters for his colony in 1823. 

Although the colony itself was burned down when residents fled during the Runaway Scrape of 1836, visitors to San Felipe de Austin can now take a tour of the on-site museum, wander the historic grounds, and see replicated cabins like the ones used by the original inhabitants of the colony.

14 of 20

Discover Political Influence of the Sam Rayburn House

Sam Rayburn House

Nicholas Henderson / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 

890 W, TX-56, Bonham, TX 75418, USA
Phone +1 903-583-5558

Known as one of the most influential statesmen of the 20th century, Sam Rayburn served in the United States Congress representing Texas for 48 years and held the Speaker of the House position for 17 years. Now, his 1916 home in Bonham, Texas, the Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site, preserves his legacy and life for all to see. Guests can take guided tours of the estate, where all of Rayburn's original furniture, photographs, and personal belongings remain. Throughout the year, the Sam Rayburn house also hosts a variety of events, particularly around the festive holiday season.

15 of 20

Take a Stand at Fort Lancaster

Fort Lancaster

 Wikimedia Commons

Fort Lancaster, TX 79781, USA

Established to protect the Lower El Paso-San Antonio Road from Native American raids in 1855, Fort Lancaster is one of many military outposts built in the establishment of Texas that played an important role in the successful expansion west to California.

Although it was once home to over 30 structures including a hospital, blacksmith shop, provisions store, and bakery, Fort Lancaster now largely consists of ruins and recreated buildings. Located on 82 acres in the Pecos River Valley near Sheffield, Texas, Fort Lancaster also hosts a variety of events throughout the year including Western Frontier Days, formerly known as Jubilation on the Frontier.

16 of 20

Walk Through War at the Fannin Battleground

Fannin Monmument Memorial in Goliad, Texas

iStock / Getty Images

734 FM 2506, Victoria, TX 77905, USA
Phone +1 512-463-7948

In 1836, the Battle of Coleto Creek between Texan forces and the Mexican army resulted in Texas Colonel James W. Fannin surrendering to Mexican General Santa Ana. Against the wishes of other Mexican commanders, Santa Ana ordered the execution of all Texan soldiers captured in the battle in nearby Goliad. This act of aggression sparked outrage across the fledgling state during the Texas War for Independence, and soldiers adopted the battle cry "Remember Goliad" throughout the rest of the conflict.

Now, the Fannin Battleground State Historic Site—located about 10 miles east of Goliad—memorializes the lives lost during the battle and subsequent executions. Visitors can walk through an interpretive exhibit at a small museum on-site, enjoy a picnic lunch on the 14-acre grounds, and witness the large stone obelisk erected on the spot where Fannin surrendered.

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17 of 20

Explore the Varner-Hogg Plantation

Varner-Hogg Plantation

Wikimedia Commons 

1702 N 13th St, West Columbia, TX 77486-2300, USA
Phone +1 979-345-4656

Originally established by early Texas pioneers Martin Varner and eventually owned by Texas Governor James S. Hogg, the Varner-Hogg Plantation State Historic Site in West Columbia, Texas, has been a part of the state's history for generations.

It is now open to the general public and invites guests to tour the historic plantation mansion, visitor's center, museum store, and grounds. Guided tours walk visitors through the history of the plantation, including ownership by Columbus Patton, who was the last to own slaves at the end of the American Civil War.

Enslaved African Americans play an integral part in the story of this historic site. In addition to working the land, they built the plantation house and sugar mill. After the Civil War, the plantation owners took advantage of the labor of convicted felons until a state investigation charged the owners of operating with "particular cruelty." In 2020, the historic site received a grant to create a digital collection of documents that recount the stories of African Americans in Brazoria County.

18 of 20

Relive the Civil War at the Sabine Pass Battleground

Sabine Pass Battleground

 Patrick Feller / Flickr / CC BY SA 2.0

6100 Dick Dowling Rd, Sabine Pass, TX 77655, USA
Phone +1 409-332-8820

The Texas War for Independence wasn't the only war fought on Texas soil; the state is also home to several important battle sites from the American Civil War, including Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site in Port Arthur, Texas.

Texas, which was part of the Confederacy during the Civil War, served as a major hub for Confederate forces, and Port Arthur was a major supply port for those troops. On September 8, 1863, Union troops attempted to storm the port at Sabine Pass where Confederate Lt. Richard Dowling and his 46 men successfully defended their ground by sinking two gunboats and capturing over 350 prisoners. Because of this event, the Union never managed to penetrate the Texas interior during the Civil War.

Now, the site serves as a reminder of the tragedy of the Civil War and memorializes lives lost during the battle. Visitors can explore the interpretive pavilion, which features a timeline of the battle, see a statue of Lt. Richard Dowling, or even witness a reenactment of the historic battle.

19 of 20

See the Longhorns at Fort Griffin

Admin Arch at Fort Griffin

Westtexasfish / Getty Images

Fort Griffin, TX 76483, USA

After the Civil War, indigenous groups that had been forced into reservations in West Texas began returning to their homeland, but the arrival of colonizers created tension. As a result, Fort Griffin was founded in Albany, Texas, and served as a defensive fort from 1867 to 1881.

Although much of the fort is now in ruins, remnants of the mess hall, barracks, first sergeant's quarters, bakery, powder magazine, and hand-dug well remain. Additionally, Fort Griffin State Historic Site is the home of the Official State of Texas Longhorn Herd and allows visitors to camp, fish, hike, and explore living history throughout the year.

20 of 20

Tour the National Museum of the Pacific War

National Museum of the Pacific War

 Wikimedia Commons

The only museum in America entirely dedicated to retelling the history of American actions in the Pacific and Asiatic Theaters during World War II, the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas, was also the childhood home of famed Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.

The museum campus now houses a Memorial Courtyard, the Plaza of Presidents, and the Japanese Garden of Peace as well as countless exhibits on the many battles that took place across the Pacific during World War II. Guests can explore the state-of-the-art, 33,000-square-foot exhibition or take a guided tour complete with information about Admiral Nimitz and his legacy in Texas.

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20 Best Historic Things to Do in Texas