If you want to experience the beauty, hospitality, and bonhomie of Texas, the bucolic Hill Country, nestled in the heart of the state, is the place to visit. The area officially covers a 25-county region, so the options are vast. Fly into either San Antonio or Houston, spend some time in Austin, the state's capital, then fan out from there, letting your family's interests be your guide. For information on the Texas Hill Country, click here.
While you're there
In Austin, explore the beautiful Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary, where many of the 350 bears, big cats, monkeys, birds, and reptiles on site have been rescued or adopted from other facilities. Check out Kiddie Acres, an affordable, family-run amusement park (there's an 18-hole mini golf course, too) geared to kids 10 and under; or follow the locals to Barton Springs Pool, the largest natural urban swimming hole in the country. The spring-fed pool covers three acres and stays a crisp 70ºF year-round. Around sunset, snag a table on the patio at The County Line on the Hill, the original 1975 outpost of this legendary BBQ joint. Enjoy the stellar views while feasting on baby back ribs, peppered turkey, beef brisket, juicy grilled burgers, and the usual suspects of sides.
Where to stay
Book one of the 137 rooms at Hampton Inn & Suites near Austin University. You'll be just blocks from the Texas State Capitol and downtown's famous 6th Street music district, and room rates (from around $160 a night) include free Wi-Fi, complimentary hot breakfast, and access to the fitness center. Best of all: The hotel's rooftop pool overlooks downtown Austin.
* All hotel prices are approximate.
Giddyup! Situated on 542 acres, Flying L Guest Ranch in Bandera has been showing visitors Texas hospitality since 1946, when John Wayne and Errol Flynn were regulars. About a two-hour drive from Austin, the resort offers horseback riding, an 18-hole golf course, hiking, tennis, fishing, a Western-themed pool, and one- and two-bedroom villas, some of which were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright's associates. Special summer rates start at $129 per adult per night and $60 for kids 3 to 12 and include meals, daily passes to the ranch's Lone Star Lagoon water park, pony rides for kids 3 to 5, children's activities, nightly Western entertainment, campfires, and s'mores. You'll have to pay extra for golf (prices vary) and horseback riding, which costs an additional $39 an hour for guests 6 and up.