Having visited a huge number of cities and towns across Texas in my lifetime, some of the smaller communities really stand out in my travels. Here are my picks for Top 5 Most Interesting Small Texas Towns. I think you’ll like them, too.
Terlingua – Population 82 – (Big Bend Region)
Few places I’ve visited in Texas and even outside of the state are more fascinating than Terlingua in the Big Bend Region of Texas, 11 miles from Big Bend National Park. Known as a ghost town, the community was a former mining town until the 1940’s. Many visitors can be found in the tiny town during the Terlingua International Chili Cook-Off Championship, held on the first Saturday of November.
From everything I have learned from the many times I’ve visited Terlingua, many of the residents of the little town in this vast expanse of Texas chose to leave the big city life and settle into this corner of the world where houses are few and far between. HOA fees are really non-existent, unless you’re helping to pay for road maintenance. People here like their solitude. And once you visit, you’ll realize how nice it is to be disconnected.
I’m one of those strange people that likes to visit old cemeteries. The Terlingua Ghost Town Cemetery is one of those places to pay your respects to the miners who passed away years ago and those who recently passed. The gravesites are beautiful and haunting at the same time. Photographers have captured incredible photos of the cemetery in this mountain region of Texas. The wooden crosses, candles, and even beer bottles strewn around the graves make a statement about the people of this community, who celebrate the dead with a cold one and a cheers to good memories. There’s something to be said about that.
Round Top – Population 91 – (Hill Country Region)
My first visit to Round Top, located 80 miles from Austin, was during the Original Round Top Antiques Fair. This small town of under 100 residents puts on quite the event. It’s especially beautiful over the holiday season. While visiting the first time, I learned about the Round Top Festival Institute. Founded in 1971, the institute is located on more than 200 acres. The architecture of the outside of the building is unbelievable. Unfortunately, I’ve never had a chance to actually attend an event but check out this video and enjoy more about the institute.
Buffalo Gap – Population 474 – (Panhandle Plains Region)
Located a few miles southwest of Abilene and just over an hour from San Angelo, Buffalo Gap is located along the Great Western Trail that went from South Texas to Nebraska. Visit the Taylor County History Center/Buffalo Gap Historic Village to get an idea of yesteryear in this area of west Texas.
Of course, no visit to Buffalo Gap is complete without a stop a the infamous Perini Ranch Steakhouse. You’ll know you’re there when you’re greeted by the giant armadillo on the dirt road to the restaurant. Recognized in 2014 as an America’s Classic by the James Beard Foundation, the restaurant doesn’t disappoint. From appetizers to main course to sides to dessert, the food is exceptional and the rustic atmosphere adds to the scene. Enjoy dishes including jalapeño bites, ribeyes, filets, or prime rib, the Today Show Award-Winning Hamburger, and green chile hominy. Make sure to save room for dessert. The Perini Ranch Bread Pudding with Maker’s Mark Whiskey Sauce is exceptional. If you’re really feeling daring, order the Jalapeño Cheesecake for a savory and sweet end to your meal. It’s always good to eat in the heart of Texas when you travel and Perini Ranch fits the bill.
Bandera – Population 901 – (Hill Country Region)
A few years ago, my husband and I camped in Bandera for a few days. We had visited a number of times before, as we were living in the Austin area and the town is a couple of hours drive away. In Texas terms, that’s not far. As the Cowboy Capital of the World, they have embraced the cowboy theme.
While it’s just a small town, Bandera is known for a number of events including Celebrate Bandera, 11th Street Cowboy Mardi Gras, and the Bandera Round-Up. You’re just as likely to see a pick-up along the main drive as you are someone on horseback.
New London – Population 1,001 – (Piney Woods Region)
Even though New London, located 30 minutes from Tyler, is not really known as a tourism destination nor would it ever be described as one, I grew up hearing about this community and had to visit it as an adult.
Though most people have never heard of it, the community experienced a disaster that played a major role in the future of the gas industry. On the afternoon of March 18, 1937, as the school day was about to end, an explosion rocked New London.
Prior to the school explosion, natural gas had no scent. After the explosion, legislation was put in place to add an odor to the gas so this never happened again.
A new school was erected after the explosion. Across the street is the London Museum Cafe & Soda Fountain. The cafe helps to cover the cost of running the museum so I highly recommend you dine before or after you take in the exhibits. Check with the staff, as the students come over during their lunch hour to eat and the space is extremely small. The locals know this so they only dine when they know the kids are back in class.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet the last living rescue worker, Marvin Dees, when he was 101 years old. You can find his story on one of my old blog posts from a year-long RV trip my husband and I took. He shared his experience and the major impact the explosion had on his life.
My Boys and Girls are in There: The 1937 New London School Explosion tells the story of several families who were affected by the tragedy. I highly recommend it.
While many people like to visit the larger, more known cities and towns when they travel, I encourage you to also consider the smaller communities. You may just find they have a lot more to offer than meets the eye. Safe travels!