South Texas, the Hidden Gem of the Lone Star State

For unexpected adventures, vibrant culture and a sub-tropical climate year-round, look no further than the Rio Grande Valley region of the Lone Star State. 
By: Texas Tourism
horseback riding, beach, south padre island, texas

horseback riding, beach, south padre island, texas

Photo by: Kenny Braun

Kenny Braun

For unexpected adventures, vibrant culture and a sub-tropical climate year-round, look no further than the Rio Grande Valley region of the Lone Star State. South Texas’ warm temperatures give travelers the opportunity to enjoy outdoor activities throughout the year and make it the ideal destination for vacations or longer stays during the winter months. A trip to the region, which includes McAllen, Harlingen, Brownsville and the beaches of South Padre Island, will show visitors that there’s much more to South Texas than amazing weather. From its unique music heritage to its flavorful culinary scene, learn why a trip to South Texas should be on every traveler’s list.

Aside from the music scene, the Rio Grande Valley region is home to a variety of fine arts, including the International Museum of Art and Science in McAllen, which houses the largest collection of Mexican crafts in the country. The local, handcrafted art and gifts are available for purchase at the annual McAllen Mexican Artisan Expo, where more than 80 artisans feature colorful pottery, textiles, trinkets, paintings, candies, salsas, hats, toys, candles and more. Visitors to the region will also enjoy performances from the Rio Grande Valley Ballet and the Valley Symphony Orchestra.

When it’s time to eat, South Texas visitors will find that the Rio Grande Valley is home to flavorful cuisine and a rich agricultural area that is unlike any other in the state. The area thrives through agribusiness and is the largest region in Texas for citrus production, including the famous local Ruby Red grapefruit. Authentic Tex-Mex food is found in more than 200 area restaurants, and some would argue that the Rio Grande Valley is home to the most authentic traditional Tex-Mex in the state. In South Texas, the molcajete reigns supreme to the blender for preparing traditional Mexican spices, including cumin, chili peppers and garlic. Culinary tourism is emerging as a popular travel trend for those interested in food and culture, and all visitors are encouraged to taste a number of the region’s favorite dishes, including barbacoa, enchiladas, tamales, fajitas and chiles rellenos, to experience their traditional, bold flavors.

bird watching, rio grande valley, texas

bird watching, rio grande valley, texas

Photo by: Kenny Braun

Kenny Braun

The warm climate of the Rio Grande Valley region also makes it an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts year-round. Anglers will enjoy casting their rods at Falcon Lake, one of the best bass lakes in the country. From legendary largemouth bass to catfish, it is rare to leave Falcon Lake empty-handed. Birding is another popular activity in the region, as South Texas is the most distinctive avi-fauna area in the contiguous United States. With 9 locations of the World Birding Center spanning from Mission to Edinburg to South Padre Island, birders will enjoy the challenge and the thrill of spotting the more than 500 bird species in the area while taking part in wilderness walks, float trips and hands-on, state-of-the-art educational exhibits. In addition, the Rio Grande Valley is home to the National Butterfly Center, the only butterfly park in the country boasting more than 300 different butterfly species.

South Texas loves its winter visitors. In fact, long-term visitors escaping the frigid winter temperatures of the north receive the honorary title of “Winter Texans” and are celebrated at the annual Winter Texan Appreciation Fiesta in Harlingen. The fiesta is a truly unique experience celebrating the culture of the region. It includes live music, Mexican artisan crafts, salsa-dancing lessons, mariachi performances and a classic car show. Throughout the winter months, Winter Texans will find a variety of events and activities to enjoy across the region, including golfing on more than 15 scenic courses within a 50-mile radius, with 2 along the banks of the Rio Grande. Whether Winter Texans drive down in their own RVs or take advantage of the special condominium rates extended to long-term visitors throughout the season, they are sure to enjoy spending the coldest months of the year in a warm climate, surrounded by warm and welcoming locals.

When people think of Texas, they don’t always think of relaxing beachside with their toes in the sand, but the Rio Grande Valley region’s beach getaway, South Padre Island, is home to 34 miles of uninterrupted beaches. The perfect destination for a family vacation, extended Winter Texan trip or getaway with friends, South Padre Island offers fun beach activities such as kayaking, parasailing, wind-boarding, surfing and deep-sea fishing. The island’s unique eco-system features a wide variety of wildlife, including bottlenose dolphins. Visitors who want to get up close and personal with these majestic creatures can do so through a variety of local businesses that provide excursions to see them in their natural habitat. For the kiddos, South Padre Island, known to many as “the sand castle capital of the world,” hosts Sandcastle Days each October, during which sand-sculpting masters from all over the world compete to create the best sand masterpiece. This free public event truly is bigger than life! Like any other South Texas location, South Padre Island welcomes Winter Texans. In late January, they are invited to trade frigid temperatures, winter coats and toboggans for sunshine, an ocean breeze and flip-flops at South Padre Island’s Winter Texan Music Fest, where bands play throughout the day, accompanied by an endless supply of fresh, Texas Gulf seafood. No matter the season, South Padre has an endless amount of activity to entertain visitors of all ages.

Whether travelers are seeking outdoor activities, flavorful cuisine, arts and culture or a relaxing beach vacation, they are sure to find it in South Texas, where warm weather and exciting adventures await. To explore the many great travel experiences in Texas, visit and find us on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram

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