Winter 2023 #TexasToDos
A trip to Texas in the winter months is perfect for anyone looking for a laid-back time. Travel through the state’s wine trails or book a beach vacation, when there are fewer crowds, milder temperatures and endless opportunities to unwind. Winter is also the ideal time for birders to make the trip to Texas, where more birds have been identified than any other state! The excitement doesn’t slow down as temperatures drop, there are a slew of festivals and events to discover, from the 2024 College National Football Championship in Houston to historic celebrations in South Texas. See below for winter travel inspiration.
Texas Wine Trails
With over 400 wine producers and 1,474 acres of vineyards, Texas is the fifth largest wine-producing state in the U.S. The Texas wine scene offers a unique blend of character and charm along with award-winning wines. From the Hill Country to the High Plains, there are wine trails that make it easy for visitors to take in the scenery and taste local varietals.
From Fredericksburg to Johnson City, the Fredericksburg Wine Road 290 spans 30 miles of the Texas Hill Country with historic main streets, delectable restaurants and a collection of popular wineries. Visitors can enjoy a glass (or bottle) at some of the most established wineries in the state, including Becker Vineyards, Fredericksburg Winery, Hilmy Cellars and Narrow Path Winery. Invention Vineyards, a newer vineyard recently added to the trail, offers sweeping views of the Texas Hill Country.
The Texas Bluebonnet Wine Trail, located in the verdant countryside northwest of Houston, is an under-the-radar destination for spectacular views and delicious wines, including the likes of the award-winning Messina Hof in Bryan, Perrine Winery in College Station and Texas Star Winery in Chappell Hill. In February, visitors can take part in the trail’s Passport Event and visit all the wineries in the region for a discounted price while enjoying special events along the way.
More than 80% of Texas’ wine grapes are grown in the Texas High Plains AVA, and Lubbock is a central spot to start a wine-filled tour of the region. Among the most well known in the area, Llano Estacado Winery is Texas’ second oldest winery and produces an impressive 1.7 million bottles each year. Sip an award-winning wine in Brownfield at Triple D Winery or opt for a wine and food pairing for a well-rounded experience.
With a name like Grapevine, it’s no wonder the town is home to a vibrant and growing urban wine trail. Grape Vine Springs Winery has been a staple of historic Main Street for nearly 20 years, and many of their wines have received recognition from both national and international competitions. Landon Winery’s complex and inventive winemaking process, which involves stainless steel tanks and American and French oak barrels, lends itself well to the distinct flavor profiles of each varietal, ensuring there is a wine to please every palate.
Off-Season Beach Escapes
With average winter temperatures approximately 30 degrees warmer than the coldest parts of the northern United States, Texas’ expansive Gulf Coast is a great destination for snowbirds looking for a getaway. From relaxing on the shores of South Padre Island to setting out on a deep sea fishing excursion in Rockport, the weather at these Texas destinations allows for a variety of activities to enjoy year-round.
South Padre Island is a tropical oasis located at the most southern tip of Texas, boasting white sand beaches all year round. The picturesque destination offers a wide range of experiences, from outdoor adventure to relaxing escapes. Winter Texans can soak up the sun in a comfy chaise lounge chair at the Seabreeze Beach Resort, with amenities such as a heated pool, spa and private beach access. For those looking for a bit more thrill, parasailing, jet ski rentals and dolphin-watching cruises are available through SPI Excursions. Visitors can immerse themselves in sunset views as they stroll the sandy shores or explore the Sandcastle Trail, a collection of sculptures and castles throughout the destination curated by artists from all over the world. Some of the freshest seafood in town can be found at local favorites LongBoard Bar & Grill and Sea Ranch Restaurant and Bar.
Situated along Aransas Bay, Rockport is home to the only Blue Wave Beach in Texas where travelers can enjoy windsurfing, beach volleyball, picnic cabanas and beachcombing opportunities. Mild temperatures throughout the winter make fishing excursions enjoyable, whether casting from a pier or a boat. Visitors can tour the Texas Maritime Museum to learn of notable shipwrecks along the Gulf Coast. Goose Island State Park is great for hiking, paddling and camping by the bay. Those looking to unwind can stay at the newly renovated Reel ‘Em Inn, where guests can take in breathtaking views from the comfort of their own private pier. To show appreciation to the Winter Texans, the city of Rockport will be hosting its 5th annual Winter Texan Day on Jan. 19 with live music, coastal cuisine and interactive activities.
Located only 30 miles southeast of Houston, Kemah is a family-friendly seaside getaway with ample winter activities. The Kemah Boardwalk offers rides, amusement, shopping and dining, and visitors can stay in the middle of it all at the Kemah Boardwalk Inn. To capture the “golden hour,” sunset cruises are available through Sailaway Clear Lake Charters. Outdoor exploration is abundant at Armand Bayou Nature Center, where visitors can kayak, join a guided firefly hike or observe wildlife during a safari tour. For family-friendly dining, The Lighthouse Fair offers yard games, drink specials and occasional movie nights.
Unparalleled Birding Opportunities
Texas’ national and state parks offer myriad opportunities to see beautiful birds flying overhead. Over 600 species of birds have been identified in Texas, from the deserts of west Texas to the Gulf Coast and beyond.
Big Bend has more than 450 reported bird species, more than any other U.S. national park, with the colima warbler, Mexican jay and painted bunting as some of the most sought-after birds. One of the best spots for birding is the Rio Grande Village. Located at the eastern park boundary, this large campground is located on the Rio Grande River, making it an oasis in the desert that draws in wildlife. Other popular birding spots in Big Bend National Park include the Chisos Mountain Basin and Sam Nail Ranch.
Year after year, Corpus Christi has been named “America’s Birdiest City” by the National Audubon Society. Hundreds of species can be spotted here all throughout the year, with plenty of protected habitats around saltwater lagoons, marshes and coastal prairies that make it easy to see the most interesting birds nesting, feeding and wading. Right in downtown Corpus Christi, Blucher Park is a beautiful stopping point for migrating birds and is especially lively in springtime. Come summer and winter, it’s a good time to venture toward the grasslands and waters for prime viewing. Easily accessible is the Hans & Pat Suter Wildlife Refuge, a gentle mile-long nature trail by Oso Bay where a boardwalk offers clear views of coastal and migratory birds such as pelicans, spoonbills and egrets.
Laguna Atascosa was established in 1946 near South Padre Island to provide a habitat for wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds, principally redhead ducks. Today, there is an expanded emphasis that includes endangered species conservation and management for shorebirds. The refuge is a premier bird-watching destination with more recorded species of birds than any other in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Popular species to spot include golden-winged warbler, magnolia warbler, northern and tropical parula, American redstart, palm warbler and yellow-breasted chat.
Caddo Lake State Park and The Piney Woods in East Texas
At Caddo Lake State Park in East Texas, yellow-throated warblers live in the tree-lined canals. Paddling silently through the cypress trees, guests will come across wood ducks, herons and egrets. In the forested areas of the Pineywoods in East Texas, birders will find breeding grounds for several species, including the wood thrush, Acadian flycatcher and Kentucky warbler.
Winter Festivals and Events
College Football National Championship - Houston (Jan. 5 - 8, 2024)
On Jan. 8, the winners of the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl head to Houston’s NRG Stadium to face off in the 2024 College Football National Championship. The weekend is set to be jam-packed with performances by Jack Harlow, Latto, Jon Pardi, Jake Owen and Megan Moroney. Starting Jan. 5, the George R. Brown Convention Center will be home to Playoff Fan Central, a free, family-friendly interactive experience that will include games and clinics, pep rallies and band performances, autograph sessions with special guests and exhibits that celebrate college football and its history. A media day will be held there Jan. 6, when fans can watch one-hour interview sessions with players and coaches from the participating teams. On tap for Jan. 7 is a Trophy Trot, which will feature 5K and 10K races through the streets of downtown, and a Taste of the Championship dining experience at Union Station, where attendees can enjoy gourmet food and drink prepared by Houston-area chefs.
Washington’s Birthday Celebration - Laredo (Jan. 13 - March 2, 2024)
As the oldest celebration in the United States honoring the first president of our country, Washington's Birthday Celebration features an air show, carnival, lavish pageants depicting the country's early history, the award-winning Jalapeño Festival, one of the country's truly 'international' parades and a patriotic fireworks show.
Mardi Gras - Galveston (February 2 - 4, 9 - 11 and 13, 2024)
The colors. The parades. The beads. The incredible food, music and crowds bursting with excitement - Mardi Gras has a lot to love. When you add the sand between your toes and epic beaches, Mardi Gras gets even better. Galveston hosts the nation’s third largest Mardi Gras celebration every year with several parades, live entertainment and abundant street vendors.