Having lived in Texas for several years now, I’ve come to realize just how big Texas is. It’s a multi-faceted state with so many things to do and sights to see- and so many great cities. When considering Dallas vs Houston vs Austin for travel, it can be difficult to choose where to go. There is something for every traveler’s preference in each of these very different cities, so to make that decision easier, I’m sharing a full rundown on what each city has to offer.
Three of the most famous destinations in Texas are the bustling metropolises of Dallas, Houston, and Austin. Any Texas native will tell you that each of these cities is very different. And since Texas is such a big state, it can be nearly impossible to hit multiple cities in one trip, which might lead to just choosing one.
You can get a quick sense of Houston from this video I made from my visit:
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So: Dallas vs Houston vs Austin, which is best? Here, we’ll go over the highlights of each so you can better plan your next trip to The Lone Star State.
Dallas vs Houston vs Austin: Overall Vibes
Choosing between these three cities can be a tough call. However, your travel companions and your individual tastes and preferences can dictate where to go. And since each city has its own unique vibe, that might influence where you go. So, based on what you are looking for in your travels, you can decide which one will best fit your wants and needs. Here are the overall vibes you’ll find in Dallas, Houston, and Austin.
Dallas is a unique blend of quintessential Western culture with a vibrant arts scene. It’ll give you a small dose of Texas culture with a very modern feel. It’s super family-friendly but also has plenty of fun things to do for adult travelers as well. If you’re looking for fun western vibes, the nearby Fort Worth will satisfy that aspect of Texas. You can visit the Fort Worth Stockyards, take in a rodeo, buy some cowboy boots, and more.
The Dallas area is a great place for foodies with its diverse mix of eateries. Sports fans will also find a ton of fun things to do in Dallas. And with typically less humidity than south Texas, outdoorsy types will be able to enjoy the outdoors for longer.
Houston injects Western hospitality in a bustling metropolis. A sprawling area and the biggest city in Texas, there are tons of fun neighborhoods to explore and things to do. It’s the nation’s fourth-largest city, meaning there is bound to be something here for every traveler to enjoy.
The city of Houston has an emerging culinary scene and some cultural hot spots. It also has some amazing attractions for science lovers, young and old. It’s a great place to visit if you’re interested in accessing the Texas coast.
Austin is quickly becoming one of the most popular cities in all of Texas. The general vibe here is all about music, entertainment, and culture. In fact, it’s known as The Live Music Capital of the World. It’s a must-visit for those that are into any type or genre of music.
The Austin area also has some unique food offerings. Famous for breakfast tacos and barbeque, you could spend your time trying all that the city has to offer. Plus, it has a vibrant nightlife scene, meaning the fun doesn’t have to end when the sun goes down. You’ll find laid-back vibes and access to the gorgeous Texas Hill Country when visiting Austin.
Let’s get more into the specifics for Dallas, Houston, and Austin.
Why You Should Visit Dallas
As my home base, Dallas has become home to me. That doesn’t mean that I don’t find flaws in my city, though. While I love the museums, food, and fun things to do in Dallas, I do think that we lack beautiful nature. Don’t get me wrong- you can find beautiful places in Dallas. But as a whole, nature is lacking in this Texas city. Instead, most people visit for more urban activities. Here are just a few of the can’t miss spots if you choose Dallas for your Texas travels.
And don’t forget to check out the 53 most Instagrammable places in Dallas here!
The Dallas Sports Scene
Dallas is a great place to head if you are into sports. It’s home to the world-famous Dallas Cowboys. Time your trip correctly and you might get the chance to take in one of their games. If not, you can still tour their home at The AT&T Stadium for a behind-the-scenes look at where the action happens.
Dallas is home to national football, baseball, and hockey teams. We’ve got the aforementioned Dallas Cowboys, the Texas Rangers, and the Dallas Stars. Stadiums here are top-notch and very easy to get to from downtown Dallas.
If you are into soccer, you might enjoy a trip to The National Soccer Hall of Fame just about half an hour north of the city. There you can learn about the game’s biggest stars and check out artifacts from its rich history. Check out the interactive exhibits where you can design your very own kit or select a dream team of national heroes for yourself.
The Dallas Arts Scene
If you love all things art, Dallas is ready for you to explore! In fact, it’s home to the largest contiguous urban arts district in the US. With 19 blocks of museums and performing arts spaces, there are diverse spots to take in all aspects of the art world. Spending a day browsing the arts district is a treat for the eyes as you immerse yourself in culture.
Check out the Dallas Museum of Art for an eclectic collection of some of the world’s greatest artwork. The nearby Crow Museum of Asian Art is full of displays of works from the other side of the globe. There are also opportunities to take in world-class opera and orchestra shows at the Winspear Opera House. Plus, with eateries in many of the venues, you don’t even have to take a break from the rich culture to refuel.
The Dallas Nature Scene
Like I mentioned earlier, I’m not a huge fan of the nature around Dallas. Call me a nature snob, but I just want to be honest with y’all!
Don’t worry- there are a few highlights though. My favorite nature spots in Dallas are the Dallas Arboretum, the Fort Worth Botanical Garden, Cedar Ridge Preserve (Cattail Pond, pictured above, is my favorite here!), and White Rock Lake. My favorite park in Dallas is Lakeside Park, which is actually where my husband proposed to me!
If you’re looking for pretty nature photography spots, don’t miss out on the seasonal flowers that bloom in the Dallas Fort Worth area! Check out this post for all the details– you’ll find tulips, bluebonnets, sunflowers, and more!
The Best Places to Stay in Dallas
There are some awesome places to stay in the Dallas area. You can either be super frugal or splurge on luxurious accommodations. Either way, you’ll be close to a bunch of the Dallas spots on your Texas to-do list.
Hostels are a popular choice for budget-savvy travelers, and in Dallas, this is no different. Here, the Deep Ellum Hostel is an awesome option that can save you some serious cash. Plus, the common spaces are adorable and the private bedrooms have some awesome decor. So if you don’t mind sharing space with other travelers, this is a fantastic option for staying at the heart of it all.
For those willing to shell out a little extra of their travel budget for posh accommodations, The Highland Dallas, a Curio Collection by Hilton property is a worthwhile way to splurge. Its super cushy rooms and luxurious spa are the perfect spots to recharge. Plus, the onsite restaurant and pool mean you can have a full day of fun without leaving the hotel.
My personal high-end hotel favorites include The Mansion, The Adolphus Hotel, Hotel Crescent Court, and Hotel ZaZa.
Why You Should Visit Houston
Houston is a stellar place to visit, especially when you are traveling as a family. It’s also amazing if you are into science, nature, and animal life. The Houston food scene is pretty much known to be the best in Texas! There are a ton of unique spots to add to your itinerary here.
As a Dallas transplant, I’ve noticed that Dallasites dislike Houston and say there’s not much to do. After visiting Houston a few times, I can say quite definitely that Houston has a remarkable amount of things to do! And its beauty blew me away!
The Houston Science Scene
The city of Houston is home to one of the premier science centers in the country, The NASA Johnson Space Center. The exhibits here will teach visitors young and old all about the space program. You can check out shuttle replicas and marvel at the gear in the Astronaut Gallery.
The area is also home to The Houston Museum of Natural Science, which has the dinosaur pictured above. Here, you can check out exhibits about cool things like Pompei and its volcanos. It also has educational exhibits on things like the human body and access to water. Purchase tickets to one of their planetarium shows to learn all about the world above, too!
If you visit the Houston Museum of Natural Science, I highly recommend the Cockrell Butterfly Exhibit! It costs extra, but is worth it to be transported to a magical world of butterflies! Other than butterflies, there’s a three story waterfall and an iguana named Nacho, too.
The Houston Parks & Nature Scene
Houston is a great gateway to the Texas coast. If you want to visit Galveston or do a road trip to South Padre Island, Houston is a great home base for that. It’s also near the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge and the McFadden National Wildlife Refuge.
You can check out the Houston Arboretum, Mercer Arboretum, McGovern Centennial Park, Hermann Park, and Buffalo Bayou Park for nature closer to the city.
My favorite thing about the parks in Houston is how many cool manmade waterfalls there are! McGovern Centennial Park and Gerald D. Hines Waterfall Park are my favorites in the city. The Dandelion Fountain at Buffalo Bayou Park is another cool water feature.
Fun Things to Do in Houston
For animal lovers, Houston is the place to be! The Houston Zoo is one of the top-ranked in the country and for good reason. It’s home to over 900 unique species of animals. Spend a day here to get up close and personal with everything from serene sloths to exotic okapi.
The Houston Aquarium gives you another chance for a wildlife encounter in the city. Check out the soothing tanks full of ocean life as you browse the awesome exhibits. You can even touch and feed the resident stingrays at the aquarium’s Stingray Reef.
If you want an epic view around Houston, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir will make you feel like you’re in another country! Reservations are required to visit at the time of writing, but hopefully, it’ll be fully open again soon.
The Houston Food Scene
Houston has some of the best food in Texas!
Here are some local favorites:
- El Tiempo, Hugos, Xochi, and Ninfas- these four are Houstonian favorites when it comes to Tex-Mex and authentic Mexican cuisine.
- Le Colonial- fantastic French and Vietnamese fusion with gorgeous décor.
- EggHaus- the prettiest croissants I’ve ever eaten!
- Tiny Boxwoods- perfect for brunch in a lush, green setting.
- Tinys Milk & Cookies- the best chocolate chip cookies out there! Their ice cream is amazing, too.
- Georgia James- steak house fine dining.
- BCN and MAD- two different restaurants serving upscale Spanish cuisine, created by the same owner and executive chef.
Where to Stay in Houston
Finding a great place to stay in Houston isn’t a tough task. The city has a wide variety of inns, hotels, and spas to fit any traveler’s preference. There are also accommodations to fit nearly every budget.
For a cheaper stay, the Wanderstay Hostel is right in the heart of downtown. Its cozy rooms and quirky decor make it the perfect place to stay. It’s an ideal budget-friendly choice if you plan to spend more time exploring the city than hanging out in a hotel room.
For those willing to pay more for high-end accommodations, the Hyatt Regency Houston has been newly renovated and is in the heart of downtown! We stayed here one night and loved how the rooms are sleek and modern with awesome city views. Head all the way up to the top floor and look down at the lobby for a cool view! For convenience, there’s an Einstein’s Bagels in the lobby, a lobby bar, and newly redesigned Shula’s for fine dining.
Looking for luxury? We loved our stay at the Four Seasons Houston! With a Top Golf experience, delicious cuisine at Bayou & Bottle, and stunning decor, you’ll feel pampered here. Looking for more relaxation? Request the in-room “Art of Charcuterie” experience where one of their chefs and sommeliers curate a cheese/meat board and wine pairings! Or book yourself a treatment at the on-site spa for a way to truly relax and recharge.
Why You Should Visit Austin
Austin is quickly becoming one of the most trendy spots in the nation. Honestly, it’s the city I’d recommend to most out-of-state visitors. Why? It’s fun, vibrant, and captures the beauty of Texas really well! It’s right next to the Texas Hill Country, which I consider to be the prettiest area of Texas. And with so many fun things to do, you might not even know where to start. I can help with that! Check out these can’t miss activities to add to your to-do list.
And don’t forget to check out the 51 most Instagrammable spots in Austin!
The Austin Music Scene
Austin truly earns its name as The Live Music Capital of the World. Its Red River Cultural District is an amazing area full of tunes of all kinds. You can hear some punk rock at the cozy spot Barracuda. Or listen to Austin’s latest and greatest emerging artists at Mohawk. Spending the evening popping in and out all of the great spots here is a must.
Austin City Limits at The Moody Theater is another awesome place for music lovers. Here, they host various artists of all genres. From large shows to intimate sets, you can enjoy just the vibe you’re looking for. Check their schedule to catch a performance or two here while in the area.
The Austin Food Scene
Austin is known for an unexpected dish: breakfast tacos. Taking a taco food tour of the best the city has to offer will please your palette. Each eatery offers a different twist on this all-day favorite.
Veracruz All Natural has earned a ton of awards with its wide variety of choices. Try the LaReyna with eggs and mushrooms or go with the El Trantionale featuring classic eggs and bacon. A stop at El Primo is also a must. Here, they not only create delicious breakfast tacos, but they take it up a notch with breakfast burritos and tortas.
The Austin Nature Scene
Generally speaking, Austin is one of the best cities in Texas where you can explore the outdoors. Even within the city itself, there is so much nature. Local favorites include Lady Bird Park, Lake Travis, and Barton Springs. You’ll find epic views at the 360 Bridge Overlook and Mount Bonnell.
But the biggest draw to Austin for me is the gorgeous Texas Hill Country. It covers a big part of Texas which means that you’ll have to do quite a bit of driving if you want to see it all, but there are plenty of highlights right around Austin. Some of my favorite spots include Krause Springs, Hamilton Pool, and the Hill Country Olive Oil Company. If you feel like venturing further or doing a mini trip from Austin, Fredricksburg (here are 20 hidden gems around Fredricksburg) and Wimberley (where my favorite Texas water hole is) are my favorite towns.
Where to Stay in Austin
The food, nature, and music aren’t the only great things about Austin. There are a ton of great places to stay scattered all over the city. Fortunately, it’s super easy to find the right one to base your adventure out of.
Hotel Indigo in Downtown Austin is a trendy little spot that is perfect for guests of all ages. It’s also incredibly budget-friendly for having such a convenient location. The rooms are neat and clean and just the right size. Outside, the spacious pool allows you to swim while taking in the beautiful city views.
If you’re willing to spend a little more and experience an out-of-this-world atmosphere, Austin Proper is the place to be. We stayed here and loved our room and the hotel ambiance. Here, the rooms are full of luxurious textiles and high-tech amenities. The expertly curated decor leaves no detail forgotten! You can also check out the swimming pool on the fifth floor to soak up the Texas sun in style!
Preparing for Your Trip to Dallas, Houston, or Austin
Once you select your destination, preparation for your trip is key. You don’t want to miss anything that any of these great places have to offer. Careful planning ensures that your trip goes as smoothly as possible and you get to see as many attractions as your time allows. This is especially true during Covid, where places might have a cap on visitors or require an online reservation.
It’s a good idea to make restaurant reservations whenever possible. If not, be prepared for a long wait or plan to go during less popular dining times if you’re trying to visit each city’s most famous places.
Check out the websites of the attractions that you plan to visit. Make sure their hours align with your itinerary. And purchase digital tickets online if at all possible so you can save some time and skip the line.
A little research can also save you some cash. Look online for valuable coupons or promo codes. You might also find that some areas offer passes that bundle admission to multiple attractions at one price, allowing you to see the most for a lower price.
Making the Dallas vs Houston vs Austin Decision
It can be hard to decide between Dallas, Houston, and Austin. Weigh the pros and features of each against each other and think about what you want out of your Texas trip. Are you looking for family-friendly attractions or are food adventures more your thing?
One thing is for sure, each city deserves a spot on your travel bucket list. Each has its own unique vibe and personality. So getting to know all of these Texas gems is a must for any adventure lover.