Hidden Gems: Explore Often Overlooked Texas Small Towns


There’s a whole world of underrated charm beyond the well-trodden paths in the Lone Star State. Whether you’re an Austin local looking for a quick getaway or a curious traveler traversing the expansive Texan highways, consider this your insider invitation to slow down and enjoy the hidden treasures these small towns have to offer.

Bandera: Cowboy Culture Come to Life

Calling all cowboy enthusiasts to Bandera, the self-proclaimed “Cowboy Capital of The World.” With echoes of the late-1800s cattle drives, it’s a scenic 54-mile venture from San Antonio into cowboy country. Here, dude ranches offer authentic experiences, while old west gunfights play out every Saturday, adding to the town’s charm.

If you’re more into sips than saddles, Lost Maples Winery will cater to your palate. Keen on the great outdoors? Try kayaking on the Medina River or exploring the state’s natural areas. Don’t miss out on the Lone Star Motorcycle Museum—it’s a celebration of chrome and leather unlike any other.


Brenham: Much More Than a Highway Pitstop

Brenham might be the epitome of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’—or, in this case, a town by its highway exit. Surprises abound here, from the nostalgic fire museum with its vintage fire engines to the charming antique carousel that’s a hit with the kids.

Indulge in a scoop (or two) of Blue Bell Ice Cream, right where it’s made. And, if you’re a fan of the performing arts, Brenham’s theater scene is vibrant and inviting. There’s a wealth of craft breweries and wineries waiting to be uncorked. And within a short drive, historical sites like Washington on the Brazos proudly stand, ready to tell their tales.


Georgetown: A Nostalgic Escape Just Up I-35

When’s the last time you visited a town square that transports you back in time? Georgetown is such a spot—right off I-35 but a universe apart from the rush to Austin or Dallas. Proudly boasting the title of the “Most Beautiful Town Square in Texas,” it’s a 30-mile jaunt from Austin into a different era, with its quaint shops and the historic courthouse.

Get ready for some immersion in the past with a play at the local theater or a relaxing stroll along the San Gabriel River. Fancy a swim? The “Blue Hole” is your go-to spot. And don’t forget to explore the Inner Space Caverns—a hidden underworld adventure on the town’s outskirts.


Granbury: Historically Hip and Surprisingly Spirited

If a blend of history and lively culture is up your alley, Granbury should be marked on your map. It’s easy to see why it’s caught the eye of USA Today readers, taking the crown as the Best Historic Small Town in America. A pioneer in its own right, its courthouse square is a first on the National Register of Historic Places.

With over 40 eclectic boutiques encircling the square, the Granbury Opera House awaits with its 1800s appeal and live productions that dazzle. Intrigued by ghost stories? Their night-time tours will chill and thrill. Do you prefer sipping and savoring? Their wineries and breweries are sure to delight—just 35 miles from Ft. Worth.


Jefferson: A Hauntingly Beautiful Legacy

Jefferson awaits near the Louisiana border for a spectral step back in time. Its riverport legacy is palpable, with over a hundred historic markers beckoning you to explore. Hollywood great Steven Spielberg reportedly encountered something otherworldly at The Excelsior House Hotel—perhaps you will, too? 

This hotel has seen the likes of many famous people, including President Ulysses S. Grant, President Rutherford B. Hayes, and Lady Bird Johnson.

Shopping and dining are all part of the Jefferson experience, blending seamlessly with the legends and lore that make this town a uniquely spellbinding destination. Ensure you leave space in your agenda for an unplanned amble through its storied streets.

Photo from Excelsior Hotel FB page.

Texas — Brimming with Amazing Small Towns

Before you set off on another quintessential big Texan adventure, toss the itinerary out the window and be sure you’re ready for true discovery. These small towns embody the heart and soul of Texas with open arms—and there’s an overabundance of character, culture, and history just waiting to be relished. Whether you yearn for a peaceful day by the river or a ghostly tale to recount, it’s all here.

Take the scenic route and thank me later; exceptional memories are guaranteed.

This article was originally written by Bob Bales of The Traveling Fool in Feb 2022. It has been updated by staff in 2024.

Read more by Bob at:

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College Station, TX

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