From Prada amid the tumbleweeds to the Rio Grande: 5 road trips from San Antonio
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Editor’s note: Please check with every facility when planning your trip. Some may have limited hours or even be closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, I was sheltering in place at my apartment in Baltimore. In April, I decided to drive to San Antonio to stay in my family home in the Hill Country.
Although Texas is a big state, there are plenty of places to visit for day trips, nearcations and longer stays. As the Lone Star State continues to slowly reopen, now may be a great time to get away. Dallas, Austin and Houston are great cities, but I decided to eschew them in this road trip guide. There are plenty of places to visit, including beaches, historical sites, national parks and more. Below are five destinations to consider, along with which credit cards to pack to help pay for them.
Best road trip credit cards
Before you prepare to hit the road, check the credit cards in your wallet. Most issuers have created limited-time coronavirus-based benefits in categories that are popular for car travel, plus there are cards that have attractive permanent benefits.
Related: The best travel credit cards of 2020
If you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or Sapphire Preferred® Card, you can earn 5x points or 3x points, respectively, per dollar spent for gas (up to $1,500), through Sept. 30. If you’re holding a Chase-branded Marriott Bonvoy card, you can earn a whopping 10x per dollar spent on gas (up to $3,500) and all dining, including takeout and delivery through Sept. 15.
When it’s time to stop and eat, you want a card that will give you top points in restaurants. If you travel by Sept. 15, you’ll earn a very generous 10x Marriott Bonvoy points on all dining, including takeout and delivery (click here to see if your card is eligible).
5% cash back on UberEats purchases when using the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, the Capital One® VentureOne® Rewards Credit Card, the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card or the Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card, respectively, through Jan. 31, 2021. And use your designated annual travel credit at restaurants for the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card and the Citi Prestige® Card. The information for the Capital One Savor and Citi Prestige card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
If you’re staying in a summer home and plan on cooking, Chase Sapphire Reserve or Sapphire Preferred cardholders can earn 5x points or 3x points, respectively, per dollar spent on Instacart purchases (up to $1,500), through Sept. 30.
You also have until the end of September to redeem a $50 credit toward an Instacart Express membership. Citi Prestige cardholders now earn 5x points per dollar spent on online purchases, including online grocery orders.
Citi Premier® cardholders earn 3x on air travel, hotels, gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants (including takeout). The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card not only gives you 2x points per dollar spent for gas, but you can also earn a 50% points bonus when you make 30 or more purchases with your card in a billing period. The information for the Amex Everyday Preferred cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Another solid option is the Venture Rewards credit card. Because it earns 2x miles on all spending, you don’t have to worry about miles per dollar spent on different categories. And you can redeem the miles you earn on the Venture One on future travel purchases made on the card during a road trip – all for an annual fee of $95.
The American Express® Gold Card allows users to earn 4x per dollar spent on dining at restaurants worldwide and U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per calendar year; 1x after). And the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express earns 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 in purchases per calendar year; 1x after that). Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed for statement credits. Terms apply.
Earn 3x points per dollar spent at U.S. supermarkets, up to $6,000 a year (1x after) with the AmexEveryday® Preferred Credit Card. Plus earn a 50 percent bonus when you make 30 or more purchases during a billing period. The information for the AmexEveryday Preferred card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Distance from San Antonio: 5 hours and 41 minutes
This arts town was originally put on the map in 1956 when actor James Dean shot his final film, “Giant,” here that also starred Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. It’s also known for the Marfa Lights, mysterious glowing orbs that appear in the desert outside the city, according to Live Science. In 1971, renowned minimalist artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa from New York City intending to permanently install his art.
What to do: Check out the town’s outdoor art curated by the Chinati Foundation/La Fundación Chinati, founded by Judd in 1980, including the now-iconic Prada Marfa permanent sculptural art installation. Visit the Marfa and Presidio County Museum, which celebrates the town’s history. Or play a round at the Marfa Municipal Golf Course, the highest course in Texas.
Where to stay: Number one on the list is the Hotel Paisano, which was the home to the stars of the movie “Giant.” It has 41 rooms; an outdoor, covered swimming pool that’s heated from late April through early October; and a “Giant” memorabilia room that plays the movie continuously. If you want to stay somewhere that’s a little quirkier, El Cosmico’s accommodations include 10 renovated vintage trailers, 15 safari tents and scout tents, three Sioux-style tepees, two Mongolian yurts and tent campsites. There’s also access to a hammock grove, an outdoor kitchen and dining area, a community lounge and mercantile, an outdoor stage and a reading room.
What to eat and drink: Start the day with a cup of your favorite coffee drinks at Frama. Fill your fix for authentic Texas barbecue at Convenience West -- but only on Fridays and Saturdays. Order brisket by the pound, Hatch Chile link sausage or honey citrus glazed ribs, with sides including chimichurri potato salad, elote or pinto beans, along with beer, wine and soft drinks. End the day at Al Campo Wine Garden, where you can enjoy classic Tex-Mex cuisine, along with a great selection of wines and craft beers.
Big Bend National Park
Distance from San Antonio: 5 hours, 55 minutes
This National Park Service (NPS) destination has something for everyone, including massive canyons, vast desert expanses, forested mountains and an ever-changing river in the Rio Grande. NPS says this park is where you can explore one of the last remaining wild corners of the United States. Big Bend's busy season is generally November through April. If you choose to come in the summer or late fall, beware of the high heat warnings.
What to do: Learn more about the park by doing a free guided tour with a National Park Service ranger. Enjoy the water with a day trip on the Rio Grande or the Santa Elena Canyon. Take a scenic drive on paved or dirt roads throughout the park for sights including gorgeous vistas and giant yuccas on the Dagger Flat Auto Trail. Do some amazing stargazing at Big Bend National Park, known as one of the outstanding places in North America to do it, thanks to its status of having the least light pollution of any other national park unit in the lower 48 states.
Where to stay: For those who like the camp Big Bend has three NPS-operated campgrounds that offer drinking water and restroom facilities. A fourth camping area, Forever Resorts, offers a full hookup RV camping area. Reservations must be made at least two days before arrival and can be made up to six months in advance at recreation.gov. If you want more comfort, book a room at the Chisos Mountains Lodge, which offers rooms and cottages. It’s open year-round and is the only lodging available within Big Bend National Park.
What to eat and drink: Enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Mountain View Restaurant located in the Chisos Mountains Lodge. The only full-service dining inside Big Bend, it has a grand vista of the Chisos Basin and surrounding peaks. If you want to dine outside the park, drive to nearby Terlingua for Texas and Mexican cuisine at the Starlight Theatre. Also enjoy live entertainment, along with local beers, wine and cocktails made with hand-picked single barrel Reposada Casa Noble Tequila.
Distance from San Antonio: 2 hours, 24 minutes
This area, located on the Texas Gulf Coast northeast of Corpus Christi, is known for its great sunsets, world-class fishing and beachside towns. It was voted among the 10 Best Coastal Small Towns by readers of USA Today. Visit here if you want a nice beach getaway, do some fishing or just enjoy a unique weekend retreat.
What to do: If it’s sand and surf you want, head to Rockport Beach, the first in Texas to be certified as a Blue Wave Beach by the Clean Beaches Coalition. You can lounge on the beach, go for a swim, take a walk on the .75-mile Bayside Walking Path or go fishing. Visit The Big Tree, at more than 1,000 years old, 44 feet tall, and nearly 90 feet wide from branch to branch Located at Goose Island State Park, it’s thought to be one of the largest live oak trees in the United States. Catch speckled trout, redfish and flounder in several spots, including the Copano Bay Fishing Pier or the Fulton Fishing Pier.
Where to stay: You won’t find luxury hotels here, but chains including Fairfield Inn, Hampton, Days Inn and Holiday Inn Express are available. For something different, check out Juicy’s Airstream Retreat, a glamping retreat that features a ship house and three vintage Airstream trailers.
What to eat and drink: It would be foolish to come to the Texas Gulf Coast and not sample the local seafood. Not only can you get your seafood fix at the Old Fulton Seafood Cafe and Deli, but you can also get steaks and sandwiches. Go a little more upscale with A Mermaid in Your Kitchen or down-home with Mac's Pit Barbecue & Catering.
Distance from San Antonio: 56 minutes
The lake, a quick hour-long drive north of San Antonio, has 80 miles of scenic shoreline and is located on the Guadalupe River in Comal County, Texas. It's one of the deepest lakes in Texas and has great fishing for largemouth bass, catfish and white and striped bass. There are also eight public parks in Canyon Lake -- Cranes Mill Park, Comal Park, Potters Creek Park, Canyon Park, Jacobs Creek Park, North Park, Overlook Park and Guadalupe Park. They all offer camping, trailer, picnicking areas and boat ramps.
What to do: Choose a river outfitter and go tubing on the Guadalupe River. Visit Natural Bridge Caverns, where you can view massive, otherworldly formations formed by single drops of water and the slow passage of time. Check out the AMAZEn’ Ranch Roundup, a 5,000-square-foot outdoor maze. Or mine for treasurers at the Mining Company.
Where to stay: Log Cabins at Jacobs Creek has furnished log cabins overlooking Canyon Lake with a free boat ramp two blocks away. Still Water Ranch Condominiums are right on the lake with easy boat access and free boat parking, plus an outdoor kitchen. Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Hill Country is a family-friendly campground with 28 acres of campsites, lodging and amenities for all types of campers. It also has 20 lodge rooms with private bathrooms and kitchenettes.
Distance from San Antonio: 1 hour, 6 minutes
This town in Texas Hill Country was founded on May 8, 1846, by German immigrants under the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas. When visiting, you can see and feel those German roots and view reminders of that heritage in the town’s historic buildings along Main Street and the German cuisine at local restaurants. The town, the epicenter of Texas Wine Country (which are surprisingly good), is home to more than 100 wineries and vineyards.
What to do: Take a tour of Altstadt, an authentic Bavarian brewery guided by the historic German purity law of 1516. It has a fine dining restaurant and offers brewery tours. The National Park Service operates the LBJ Ranch and offers public access to the ranch, the Texas White House (currently closed for renovations, LBJ’s birthplace, the Johnson family cemetery, old Junction School, LBJ’s grandparents’ home and ranch show barn. Take a self-guided walk at Fort Martin Scott Historic Site, a pre-Civil War military outpost.
Where to stay: Aviation geeks will love the unique Hangar Hotel, which features airplane memorabilia, model planes and USO history, all in an aviation-themed backdrop. Chain hotels include Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Fairfield, Comfort Inn and Best Western. Go upscale at the famous Inn on Barons Creek, mere steps from Main Street in downtown Fredericksburg. The on-site spa features services including massages, facials, manicures/pedicures, body scrubs and wraps.
What to eat and drink: You absolutely cannot visit Fredericksburg without partaking of German food. Considered one of the best restaurants in town, Der Lindenbaum offers German classics including schnitzel, Konigsberger Klopse (a dish of beef and pork meatballs in a caper sauce) and Sauerbraten, a roast marinated in a sweet and sour sauce. It also has one of the largest selections of German beers (bottled and draft) in Texas.
Backwoods BBQ specializes in mesquite-cooked pit BBQ and steaks, including brisket, tri-tip, beef and pork ribs, chicken, sausage, ribeye and New York strip steaks, plus live music on Fridays after 5 p.m and homemade pies, peach cobbler and cakes for dessert.
As the school year rapidly approaches, you have just enough time to get in a nearcation trip that doesn’t involve an airline flight. These five destinations are among the many places for you to visit on your next Texas road trip from San Antonio.
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