Thankfully, Texas is home to many great destinations. Here are some of the best weekend getaways within a few hours drive of the city.
Houston might be the Bayou City, but its waterways cannot compete with San Antonio's Riverwalk when it comes to aesthetics. Located one story beneath the city's streets, the Riverwalk is lined with lively restaurants, lush vegetation, and scenic stone bridges.
Stay at one of the myriad hotels along the water's edge for a relaxing weekend, complete with moonlight strolls, dining under the stars, and window shopping. La Villita Historic Arts Village, nestled along the river, is one of San Antonio's oldest neighborhoods and features a collection of art galleries and boutiques where visitors can purchase art, crafts, and clothing from local artisans.
Texas Wine Country sits along a small stretch of Highway 290 about 80 miles west of Austin. Fredericksburg—a town of only about 12,000—serves as its cultural hub. Spend a weekend of indulgence staying in a bed and breakfast and touring some of the country's best wineries and vineyards. Choose one of the many tour operators available or splurge on a limo.
Grape Creek Vineyards, in particular, is not to be missed. This award-winning vineyard allows you to take a tram ride through the grounds and on a tour of the production facilities. In addition to tasting its delicious wines, you can also learn about the vineyard's history and the winemaking process.
When you have had your fill—responsibly, of course—you can explore some of the town's other cultural highlights like shopping, relaxing spas, and historical sites. There are even child-friendly activities like an alpaca ranch, skate park, and pick-your-own orchards.
Tubing is something of a right of passage for many Houstonians. When temperatures start to rise, families flock to nearby rivers to sprawl out on inflated tubes, beverages in hand. While there are several great spots near the city, clearer, cleaner waters can be found just a few hours drive from Houston in the stretch between San Antonio and Austin.
The Comal River, located just north of San Antonio in the town of New Braunfels, is one of the shortest navigable rivers in the United States at just 2.5 miles long—but don't let its small size fool you. Floating down the length of the river can take several hours. Be sure to pack plenty of water and sunscreen to protect you from the Texas sun, and water shoes to keep your feet from getting cut along the rocky riverbed.
Bolivar Peninsula—or to the locals simply "the peninsula—is a 27-mile strip of land that separates Galveston Bay from the Gulf of Mexico and consists of five towns along a single stretch of highway—Port Bolivar, Caplen, Crystal Beach, Gilchrist, and High Island—with beaches on both sides.
While some sections of the peninsula, like Crystal Beach, are packed with party-loving beach-goers, huge swaths—especially near Anahuac Wildlife Refuge—are calm and virtually empty, allowing for a variety of getaway experiences. Whatever your preference, a strong selection of luxury and budget beach homes are available to rent on Airbnb or Home Away. After soaking in some sun or playing in the sand, grab some fresh-caught seafood at Stingaree Restaurant while overlooking the water.
You can get to the peninsula by taking a short ferry ride from Galveston, where riders often see dolphins splashing just beyond the deck.
Inner Space Cavern was discovered in 1963 and is now considered to be one of the best-preserved caves in the state. Believed to be formed about 25 million years ago, the cavern has large cathedral-size spaces, beautiful rock formations, and tight crawl spaces.
Depending on the ages and comfort levels of those in your group, you may want to stick with a simple family-friendly adventure tour, which will take you on a leisurely walk through a well-lit section of the cavern. For adults or older teens who do not mind a challenge or small spaces, more physically demanding tours are also available. In addition to the cave tour, visitors can see fossils on display that were found on-site, visit a mining area, play on a playground, or shop at the gift shop.
The nearby town of Georgetown is about a three-hour drive from Houston. Several hotels, bed and breakfasts, and campsites are available, as well as a variety of other family-friendly or romantic activities. Take in a live show at the Georgetown Palace Theatre, splash in the town's scenic Blue Hole, or stargaze at the Fountainwood Observatory. With a myriad of parks, restaurants, and attractions, there is a little something for everyone.
Located less than an hour's drive of Houston near the town of Needville, Brazos Bend State Park is a favorite weekend camping spot among Houstonians. In addition to the hike and bike trails, fishing holes and breathtaking views, it is also home to some pretty incredible residents: alligators.
By some estimates, more than 200 alligators live in the park, often crossing nature trails or wading in the waterways—but do not worry, while the park encourages practicing some basic safety tips, alligators largely leave the humans in the park alone.
Campsites range from primitive with no electricity or water to premium sites that also have access to restrooms and showers. For those who would prefer a little more protection from the elements, screened shelters and limited-service cabins with air conditioning are also available. In addition to hiking and camping, you can check out a nature center and observatory.
Entrance fees are just $7 per person for those age 13 and older, and campsite and cabin fees range from $12 per night to $65 per night, making it a relatively inexpensive option for those looking for a weekend getaway on a budget. The park closes occasionally due to flooding or other natural events, so make sure it's open before planning your trip.
For a kid-focused excursion, many Houston families enjoy spending a weekend at Seaworld San Antonio, located on the west side of San Antonio, about a three-hour drive from Houston. With stomach-flipping roller coasters, soak-you-to-the-bone water rides and unbelievable animal show, this combination amusement park and oceanarium has enough to keep everyone happy.
In addition to the standard rides and shows, you can pay a little extra to swim with dolphins or dine with orcas for an unforgettable experience normally limited to trainers and those who care for the animals. Other extras, such as a quick queue pass to bypass lines and all-day dining deals can be purchased for additional fees. To get the most bang for your buck, two-park passes are available for entrances to both SeaWorld and its water park Aquatica.
Tip: For busy parents looking to just get away, hotel vacation packages where kids stay and play for free make it easy to book your trip and go without a ton of hassle. The packages also include discounts on restaurants and gift shops throughout the park. If you are planning on going all-out for your trip, these vacation combos could be a real cost-saver.