Day Trips

The best small towns in Texas

Old Yeller in Mason
Old Yeller in Mason (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

The best small towns in Texas cover a lot of ground. Rural communities around the state are struggling to survive in the modern economy. Many are either fighting for a piece of the wealth or defending against the encroachment of urban growth.

For residents of rural Texas there is nowhere finer to raise their families than in the tree-lined neighborhoods where everybody knows your name. Even though medical care, emergency services, and schools may be precious minutes away, they feel safer in communities where a helping hand is easier to find than a handout.

To visitors, these towns offer glimpses into the diversity that made our state proud and our country strong. By patronizing the locally owned businesses, we can all help the villages survive.

Of the thousands of small towns that are hidden treasures, these communities are listed alphabetically and were selected on the criteria of having some place to eat, some place to stay, and something to do. This is far from the definitive list, and I would love to see what your list would contain. Write me at

Albany seems lost on the prairie between Fort Worth and Abilene, but you would be surprised to see the vibrance of the seat of Shackelford County. Not only does the town have the world-class Old Jail Art Center museum, but also at the edge of town is Fort Griffin State Park, a frontier fort. The area's deep tradition in ranching is celebrated with Watt Matthews Cowboy Day on Oct. 16 and the Fort Griffin Fandangle in June. Stay at a ranch and enjoy nature tours or day hunts at the Stasney's Cook Ranch (888/762-2999), or stay in town in a former mansion at the Old Nail House Inn (800/245-5163). The best place to eat is the Fort Griffin General Merchandise Cafe on U.S. 180 (325/762-3034).

Carthage is in the thick of East Texas where the fall foliage is its most colorful. It is also the home of the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame and Tex Ritter Museum (903/693-6634). Take time to drive by the Jim Reeves Memorial three miles east of downtown on U.S. 79. Try Daddy Sam's BBQ & Catfish, 111 Maple, for some good home cooking (903/693-7400). Short of national chain motels, the best place to stay is 30 miles away in Henderson at the Heritage House (903/657-4797).

Del Rio calls itself the "Queen City of the Rio Grande." The historic downtown has all but moved to U.S. 90, but the town still has a lot to offer. Prime attractions include Lake Amistad; Seminole Canyon State Park; Val Verde Winery (the state's oldest winery); Whitehead Memorial Museum, where Judge Roy Bean is buried; and Brackettville, where John Wayne shot the movie The Alamo. Of course, no visit would be complete without crossing the Rio Grande to Cuidad Acuna, one of the cleanest and safest border towns. Stay at the Villa Del Rio Bed and Breakfast (800/995-1887, Check out the local cuisine at Don Marcelino's Mexican food restaurant (830/774-2424).

Goliad is one of the most historic towns in the state. Every fight for Texas included a battle for the fort across the river from town. Today, Presidio la Bahia is run by the Catholic Church as a museum and bed & breakfast (361/645-3752). This is where Col. Fannin and his men were killed by the Mexican Army soon after the fall of the Alamo. Also visit the state park that preserves the Mission Nuestra Señnora del Espiritu Santo de Zuniga. Don't forget to leave room for the excellent pie after a meal at Empresario's Restaurant on the square across from the old courthouse.

Mason was home to Fred Gipson, author of Old Yeller and Savage Sam. There is a statue and exhibit dedicated to him at the local library. Fort Mason was also the last command in the U.S. Army for Robert E. Lee before he joined the Army of Northern Virginia. During the summer see the bats come out of the Eckert James River Bat Cave (915/347-5970). Stay on a working ranch at the Hasse House on TX 29 east of town (888/414-2773) and eat at the Coffee Mug on the town square.

694th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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Albany, Carthage, Del Rio, Goliad, Mason, Old Jail Art Museum, Fort Griffin State Historical Park, Stasney's Cook Ranch, Old Nail House Inn, Texas Country Music Hall of Fame

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