July 27, 2011

A Texas six-pack: August is the perfect time to hit the (state) highway

You don't have to go far in Texas to add arty, sporty or culinary highlights to your 'what I did this summer' list.

Rants, raves, reviews and resources for Dallas-Fort Worth parents

With August's imminent arrival, summer vacation season may officially be winding down, but Texans know any time is a good time to travel around the state. Adventures can be found from the cultural institutions of Texas' biggest cities to the outdoor experiences on the state's vast coastline.

So whether you're itching to get out of town next weekend or next winter, make plans now to pack up the SUV and set out for some tantalizing, Texas-size adventures.

Here is a mini-travel guide to what's new to do around the Lone Star State.

For the foodie: Austin

Music may be keeping Austin weird, but its chefs have made it savory. Last winter, top celebrity chef David Bull opened a trio of new concepts, headlined by the fine-dining spot Congress (512-827-2760,

Not in the mood for three- or seven-course menus? Slide over to neighboring Second Bar + Kitchen (512-827-2750) where Bull takes casual food upscale (think fries with truffle oil and foie gras). Bar Congress next door splits the divide, offering beef tartare with oysters a la carte.

Danika Boyle, owner of Austin-based tour company Petite Peche & Co., recently launched culinary salons featuring dinner and local music arranged by her husband, producer David Boyle. Catch the next one Sept. 3 (512-799-2340,

Wanna go with a group? Fort Worth-based Texas Toast Culinary Tours heads to the capital Aug. 12-13 to visit nearby smokehouses on a barbecue tour including Snow's in Lexington and Smitty's in Lockhart (

Check-in time: Among activities at the new Travaasa Austin -- including horseback riding, high ropes challenges and harmonica lessons -- are culinary classes ranging from knife skills to mixology. Rooms from $480, all-inclusive; 855-868-7282,

For the culture vulture: Houston

Houston, long known for its visual arts, recently bolstered its performing arts credentials when the new Houston Ballet Center for Dance opened in April (713-227-2787, Passers-by can get a glimpse of the corps at the barres in eight glass-walled rehearsal studios. The 2011-12 season kicks off in September and includes In the Night with Jerome Robbins choreography set to music by Frederic Chopin.

Through Aug. 28, the Menil Collection (713-525-9400,, soul of the Houston art scene, is showcasing stylized, abstract sculptures from New Guinea in "Ancestors of the Lake." Its Rothko Chapel (713-524-9839, is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a slate of special events, including a live performance of Mural, a haunting composition inspired by the site's Mark Rothko murals, by flutist Jim Denley, guitarist Kim Myhr and percussionist Ingar Zach.

Check-in time: You don't have to leave the cozy confines of La Colombe D'Or, near the Museum District, to get your culture fix; the 1923-vintage mansion hosts its own art gallery. Rooms from $295; 713-469-4750,

For the adventurer:

San Marcos

Escape the summer swelter by diving into the perpetually cool San Marcos Springs in San Marcos. Headwaters of the San Marcos River, the springs draw scientifically oriented scuba divers to the Aquarena Center (512-245-7570,

Once a resort and amusement park known as Aquarena Springs, the center is run by Texas State University, which researches such endangered species as the fountain darter and the Texas blind salamander in the crystal-clear waters. Because of the springs' environmental importance, the university bans recreational diving but offers those who are scuba-certified the opportunity to assist researchers underwater. Its two-day Diving for Science program features lessons in and out of the water on the aquifer and underwater archeology (American Indian artifacts found here date back 12,000 years). Once training is complete, divers can volunteer for research expeditions in the springs. The next courses are Saturday- Aug. 7 and Aug. 20-21 ($230).

Check-in time: Back on dry land, guests may choose to roll along Hill Country byways with complimentary bikes furnished by Blair House Inn in Wimberley. Rooms from $150; 512-847-1111,

For the birder: Lower Rio Grande Valley

A narrow band of native vegetation lines the banks the Lower Rio Grande, drawing an estimated 500 bird species and making this one of the best spots nationally for birding. See the birds with a road trip to the nine birding sites that make up the World Birding Center (

Between Roma and South Padre Island, the nine centers preserve more than 10,000 acres of wildlife habitat. Highlights include Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, where vibrant green jays and orange-hooded Altamira orioles flock to feeders; the wetlands at Estero Llano Grande State Park, which attract roseate spoonbills and ibis; and the shorebird-centric South Padre Island World Birding Center, with a milelong boardwalk bridging marsh and bay.

If you can hold off until winter, from January through March, Friends of the South Texas National Wildlife Refuges operates canoe tours on the river, affording paddlers the chance to see kingfishers and ospreys (956-849-4930,

Check-in time: Look for hummingbirds and great kiskadees along hiking trails on the 40-acre property The Inn at Chachalaca Bend in Los Fresnos, 20 miles from South Padre Island. Rooms from $155; 956-233-1180,

For the golfer: Big Bend

Recovering from a hard winter freeze, Black Jacks Crossing Golf Club, designed by hall of famer Lanny Wadkins, reopened this summer. It is ringed by mountains near Big Bend National Park (432-424-5080,

Check-in time: In addition to the course, Lajitas Golf Resort & Spa offers horseback riding, clay shooting and, through summer, rooms from $149 with the third night free. 432-424-5000.

For the history buff: San Antonio

Re-enactors in period dress demonstrate cannons and cooking to mark the 175th anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo at Alamo Plaza. Catch the next in the monthly series Aug. 20 (800-447-3372,

Check-in time: Last year, Austin-based hotelier Liz Lambert opened the hip Hotel Havana in a vintage 1914 hotel complete with antique furnishings. Rooms from $115. 210-222-2008,

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