The 8 Best Small Towns in Texas

From desert art installations to kayak trips through the bayou, here's where to enjoy small-town charm in Texas.

With more than 268,000 square miles, Texas offers lots of room to roam. Seven different regions mean diverse topography abounds, including rolling hills, grasslands, and natural springs in beloved Hill Country; vast canyons and desert mountains in the Big Bend area; hundreds of miles of coastline, as well as estuaries and barrier islands on the Gulf Coast; and towering pine forests that mingle with swamps in the Piney Woods.

Throughout the state, small-town life still largely exists between buzzing metropolises. And though compact, these picture-perfect small towns pack in big-time appeal, with festivals, great hiking, wineries, art installations, historic edifices, and stunning beauty everywhere you turn. Here are eight of the best small towns in Texas.


Main road in Marfa, Texas

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In far West Texas, between the Davis Mountains and Big Bend, lies Marfa. Known as the filming location for the James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor movie "Giant" and the mysterious Marfa Lights, this small town offers plenty to see and do. Sure, check out the popular Prada Marfa sculpture outside of town for that iconic Instagram photo, but don't miss things like The Chinati Foundation, an internationally known contemporary art museum created by minimalist artist Donald Judd. Nearby, the Ayn Foundation includes works by Andy Warhol, while numerous other galleries in town create an art paradise. Learn about Jewish history during WWII at the Holocaust and Historic Model Ship Museum, grab a Texas-sized burrito at Marfa Burrito, or shop for local artisan goods at boutiques like Cobra Rock and Skóra Marfa. Meanwhile, thrill seekers can take to the sky with Marfa Gliders for a flight over the Marfa Plateau.


The small shops at Wimberley Square

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Between Austin and San Antonio, you'll find Wimberley, a nature lover's Eden. Depending on whether or not the natural aquifer has enough water that year — check the website before you go — you can take a dip at Jacob's Well Natural Area, a swimming hole created from an artesian spring and underground cave system. Nearby, Blue Hole Regional Park offers trails, picnic spots, and an amphitheater, among other fun activities you can enjoy whether or not the swimming hole is open. Road warriors will enjoy driving along the Devil's Backbone, a scenic highway that runs through Wimberley and the surrounding towns. For a panoramic view above Wimberley, climb 218 steps to the top of Old Baldy (Prayer Mountain) for spectacular Hill Country views. Looking for some culture? Head to town for boutique shopping, restaurants, art galleries, and live music.


Old historic building with a mural of the Golden Era in the city of Jefferson, Texas

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For history and charm, this pre-Civil War town in East Texas is just the ticket. Jefferson is home to nearly 100 historical landmarks, many of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Local self-guided walking tours show off historic homes, churches, and buildings throughout the town, including The Excelsior House Hotel and the Jefferson Carnegie Library, the latter of which was funded by American industrialist and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. Stop by the Jefferson General Store, built in the 1860s, for old-fashioned candy and root beer floats, or the Jefferson Historical Museum, housed in the former federal courthouse and post office. Here, you'll see a magnolia tree that was planted as a seedling by former first lady Lady Bird Johnson. The seedling originated from a tree on the White House lawn that was planted when former President Andrew Jackson was in office. For outdoor pursuits, paddle through bayous at Caddo Lake State Park, a 20-minute drive east.


Woman walking into small shop in Bandera, Texas
Courtesy of Travel Texas

Known as the Cowboy Capital of the World, Bandera was a staging area for some of the last major cattle drives of the late 1800s — the Great Western Cattle Trail ran from here to Dodge City, Kansas, in its heyday. Home to multiple dude ranches, Bandera is the perfect place to learn how to be a cowboy or cowgirl. At Dixie Dude Ranch, try horseback riding, enjoy a campfire sing-along, or hunt for fossils and arrowheads after a cowboy breakfast on the range. Visitors can also take a trail ride and dance lessons at Mayan Dude Ranch. Check out the more than 5,000 acres of plateaus and canyons at the Hill Country State Natural Area or spend the day kayaking along the Medina River. History buffs will enjoy learning about the area and seeing odd curiosities at the Frontier Times Museum, while those seeking a foot-stompin' good time will find just that at "the biggest little bar in Texas," 11th Street Cowboy Bar.

Dripping Springs

Hamilton Pool in Dripping Springs, Texas

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Just 25 miles outside Austin, Dripping Springs is a mecca for those who love spirit tastings, as the town is full of distilleries. Stop in at Dripping Springs Vodka for a tasting of its small-batch vodka and gin, or check out Treaty Oak Distilling to sample its whiskey. Deep Eddy Vodka also has a tasting room here. Wineries dot the area, and the Texas Hill Country Olive Co. offers orchard walking tours, olive mill tours, and olive oil tastings. For a bit of nature, check out the Hamilton Pool Preserve, formed by thousands of years of water erosion, which created the collapsed grotto, canyons, and 50-foot waterfall. A quarter-mile trail takes you to the pool, where you can spot golden-cheeked warblers and other bird species along the way. Looking for something a bit less strenuous? Boutique shopping, live music, and dining are plentiful.

Round Top

Round Top, Texas shopping
Courtesy of Travel Texas

Between Austin and Houston, you'll find the tiny town of Round Top, known for its epic antiques show that occurs bi-annually. In the historic district, Henkel Square Market has various shops housed in historic buildings that date back to the 1800s. Visitors will find fine art, jewelry, clothing, and beautiful artwork here. Don't miss Royers Pie Haven, which serves up some of the best pies in the state — the Texas Trash pie is positively sinful. You'll also find plenty of galleries, shopping, and dining, while the Round Top Area Historical Society tells the history of the town. Theater fans will love Shakespeare at Winedale, which holds performances of the Bard's plays in the spring and summer. Snap a pic at the world's smallest Catholic Church, and head out to explore the area's numerous wineries.

Port Aransas

High Above Port Aransas Condos and Real Estate Development on Padre Island Coastline
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With 18 miles of beaches, Port Aransas, located on Mustang Island on the Gulf Coast, is a haven for anglers and beachgoers. Fishermen can cast a line from the beach or a public fishing pier, or take an off-shore excursion for various fish species. If you visit in the summer, you're bound to see a fishing tournament, or you can try surfing, kayaking, or kiteboarding with a local guide. Visit Farley Boat Works to partake in building a boat, or head out on a bird-watching expedition — Port Aransas has six sites along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, with hundreds of bird species frequenting the area. The arts community here is also thriving, with numerous studios and galleries, along with the Port Aransas Art Center and the Port Aransas Community Theatre. Nightlife is also popular, with bars and restaurants regularly hosting musical acts.

Johnson City

The natural beauty of the Pedernales Falls in the Texas Hill Country.

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Known for being the home of former President Lyndon B. Johnson, Johnson City is a Hill Country escape full of beauty and history. Visit the former president's boyhood home, where he lived from the age of five until his 1924 high school graduation. Its 1920s-era furnishings offer a glimpse of what rural life in Texas was like at the time. At the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, visit the LBJ Ranch, which includes the Texas White House, where Johnson spent time during his presidency. Just up the road at the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site, meander down nature trails while passing bison and longhorn, tour historic cabins built by a German immigrant, and visit the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, where park rangers in period costumes show what life on the farm was like in the 1800s. Wine enthusiasts can head down State Highway 290 for numerous wineries showcasing Texas wines.

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