Six flags have flown over Texas.
Spain, France and Mexico all had their turn with the land, until Texas won its independence from Mexico through revolution. Then Texas joined the United States (then known as the Union) in 1845, painfully seceded into the Confederacy for a bit, before hopping right back into the good ‘ole USA after the Civil War.
This summer, why not take a less conventional road trip packed with Texas pride.
In this article, you’ll find suggestions on five cities to hit up if you want to feel like you’re traveling to each of the five countries that ruled over the Lone Star state.
Spain – San Antonio
OK, I’ll admit that setting foot in San Antonio is not like traveling to Spain. It’s a melting pot of a city, and tourism has drowned a lot of its original buildings and culture, but it is a historically important place in terms of Spanish colonization. Also, it only seems fitting to get the most touristy of the spots out of the way first.
Initially, the Spanish had a lot of trouble putting roots down in Texas. A few tries and years later, they struck gold with San Antonio in the 1700s. But it was not meant to be. The Mexican War of Independence led to the Spanish being pushed out of Texas. By the 1820s, less than 2000 Spaniards remained in Texas.
However, their language, architecture and general influence remained.
If you decide to visit San Antonio, don’t do all the touristy things. Focus on seeking out Spanish culture.
If you’re down to throw some money, try staying at the Hotel Contessa. Rooms do start at around $299, but the place has a Spanish flair that can’t be beat. It’s luxurious, and the amenities will certainly give you bang for your buck.
When going out on the town, start by visiting the Alamo. It is a Spanish mission seeping with history. Yes, it is an important place to those that built it, but it is even more sacred to any Texan that knows of the grand stand that took place in 1836 during the Battle of the Alamo.
Next, you can visit the Spanish Governor’s Palace, or any of the other historic Spanish missions in San Antonio.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite with all that exploring, take a walk down to the Riverwalk and head into Toro’s Kitchen and Bar for some delicious Spanish cuisine.
France – Castroville
You thought I was going to say Paris, didn’t you? But no, the point of this article is to get you as close to the real deal as possible. And Castroville, let me tell you, is as close to France as you can get without hopping on a plane.
Castroville was founded in 1844 by businessman and close friend of Sam Houston, Henri Castro. Castro settled his frontier town with people he’d brought over from France. The people kept their traditions, faith, architecture and language intact upon moving to Texas. To this day, a lot of the youth go out of their way to learn the traditional French dialect, wanting to keep history alive.
The historic homes look like they were ripped straight from 18th century France, and the town is surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty that can be taken full advantage of at one of the many parks.
Have a peaceful, luxurious stay at the Hillside Boutique Inn for around $120. While you’re in town, take a stroll around the historic neighborhoods, visit a local park, see the town’s first church, check out the Steinbach Haus Visitor Center or take a walking tour of the town.
Mexico – El Paso
El Paso is a pretty unique place in more ways than one. It’s a border town that lies right on the Rio Grande and looks across to Juarez, Mexico. Unsurprisingly, 82 percent of El Paso’s residents are Latin American/Hispanic. It is one of the most accommodating bilingual cities and is even home to the only bilingual Holocaust museum in the United Staes.
El Paso had been populated by indigeous people 10,000 years before colonization. It then survived the Spanish, the Mexicans and the Civil War. It was a hotspot for the Texas Rangers, politicians and Hollywood stars alike. The city is teaming with history.
If you’re looking to stay in El Paso, might I suggest that you splurge on a stay at the Hotel Paso Del Norte? A stay will run you around $180 on the lower end (breakfast included, if that helps), but a history nerd would certainly find the price well worth it. The hotel has blended Mexican, Texan and Native American designs into its decor. It also boasts that it’s hosted a handful of U.S. presidents and plenty of film and music stars. In addition, it has been the center of plenty of historical moments. During the Mexican Revolution, for example, the hotel was known to allow people to view the war from their rooftop for a small fee.
Once you’re done taking a tour of the hotel and enjoying all its amenities, go out on to the town and take in some of its vibrant culture. Go shopping! Catch a show at the historic Plaza Theater, appreciate the one-of-a-kind collection at the El Paso Art Museum, check out a history museum. The possibilities are endless.
Republic of Texas – Bandera
I can’t think of anything more Texan than taking a trip down to the cowboy capital of the world, Bandera.
Founded by Polish Roman Catholic immigrants, many of the current residents of the town of Bandera can trace their lineage back to the original settlers. As of 2020 the town’s population was counted to be just over 22,000 people. San Antonio bikers are known to drive into town on the weekends, searching for breakfast. In June, the Bandera Riverfest attracts plenty of out-of-towners to come tubing or kayaking on the Medina River.
If you decide to giddy on up to Bandera, feel free to stay on the Flying L Ranch for about $120. While you’re there, take a stroll on down to the Frontier Times Museum, ride a horse though some trails, watch a gun fight, or have some whiskey at the Arkey Blues Silver Dollar saloon, the oldest honkey tonk in Texas.
The United States of America – La Porte
When I think of small town Americana, I think of Main Street, La Porte.
La Porte is a small town with a tight-knit community, many of the residents having lived there all their lives. You can still find lovely old storefronts housing long standing family businesses, and the people that live there take pride in their community.
La Porte started as a business venture. When Colorado investors realized that the land was no good for agriculture, they pivoted into making it a resort town due to the growing popularity of Sylvan beach.
For a time, gamblers and party-goers could be seen strolling up and down the center of town, and local businesses catered to them. However, all this came to a halt due to the start of WWII and a series of hurricanes.
Luckily, La Porte is situated in an excellent place for shipping. Its port sees a plethora of cargo ships come in and out of its port every day. While the days of La Porte being a party town are over, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do.
If you decide to have a relaxing stay in La Porte, try the Scottish Inn And Suites. For only $60, you get a nice clean room, a continental breakfast and an excellent location.
When in town, run down to Battleship Texas. It’s surrounded by historical graves. Right next door is the San Jacinto Monument. Take time to stroll around the grounds, reliving the battle of San Jacinto and key events leading to Texas victory. And for old time’s sake, why not go down to Sylvan Beach for a day in the sun? You can even see a historic Catholic church right across the street and locally owned convenience stores are just a stone’s throw away.
I hope you’ve learned a thing or two about Texas history and some of the underrated small towns within. These towns and cities represent just a fraction of the insane amount of culture Texas has to offer. I know most of us don’t have the time (or money) to visit each of these towns in one single road trip, but consider going to at least one. It’ll certainly be an adventure on the road less traveled.