With over 38 Texas Historical Commission state historic sites , it’s hard to decide which popular destinations are the best to visit during the winter holidays. We’ve made it easier by narrowing the list down based on geographic location and, of course, any remarkable amenities and notable holiday events happening during your stay.
If you love history as much as we do, read on to discover more about the Texas Historical Commission’s seven best historic winter weekend getaway destinations.
Port Isabel Lighthouse State Historic Site
Texas Gulf Coast getaway tourists will find their beacon of historic bliss at Port Isabel Lighthouse, the last Texas lighthouse of its kind open to the public. Built in 1852, this towering 72-foot-tall building was designated as the necessary protector of sea captains navigating the ocean off the Texas Gulf Coast.
All Texas lighthouses eventually became obsolete in the early 1990s, but Port Isabel Lighthouse solidified its significance as a state historic site from top to bottom.
During your visit, ascend a classically winding staircase to its soaring 50-foot perch to catch a much-deserved breath of fresh air and rare aerial views of South Padre Island beaches. Its most noteworthy feature and the real star of the show was installed 117 years later, finally living up to its name as “light” house with the addition of a 3rd Order Fresnel Lens fitted into its lantern room.
Just like the original, this full-scale reproduction is a functional rotating light. It features famously distinct lighthouse-specific details for this type of composite compact lens, innovated by famous French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel in the 1820s.
Both Port Isabel Lighthouse’s history museum and rebuilt lighthouse keeper’s cottage can be explored on the grounds at your leisure. You can also reserve your spot on a guided tour of the lighthouse. Take in the ocean views and enjoy the sights and sounds amongst its pristinely kept grassy knoll or have a bite to eat at one of its picnic tables overlooking the bay.
Landmark Inn State Historic Site
Gather the caravan and journey to the majestic rolling landscapes of the Texas Hill Country to visit Landmark Inn in Castroville, only 20 miles west of San Antonio.
Stretched along the banks of the Medina River, this unique French heritage town named “The Little Alsace of Texas,” holds a special place in Texans’ hearts as one of our best-preserved European settlements. For those who are unfamiliar, “Alsace” is a historic region of northeastern France along the Rhine River Plain.
The history and preservation of the Landmark Inn is a true testament to building from the ground up, while utilizing innovative engineering of the time and succeeding in becoming a bustling city.
In early December, holiday travelers are invited to embark on the “Castroville Candelight Tour of Homes,” hosted by the Castroville Conservation Society. This special winter event begins its magical guided tour at Landmark Inn and ventures to five Castroville historic homes and the Castroville Living History Center. Enjoy musical merriment at every stop along the way, including a traditional bell choir and classic vocalists. Wet your whistle with provided refreshments and have fun shopping the museum store for holiday gifts.
Fort McKavett State Historic Site
Venture to West Texas to Fort McKavett, once called “the prettiest post in Texas,” by Gen. William T. Sherman.
Familiar songs like “Buffalo Soldier” by Bob Marley and the Wailers are named for the Black soldiers who fought during the Texas Indian War. Learn about the real stories of Buffalo Soldiers, infantrymen, women, and children who experienced life on this 150-year-old military post.
Make holiday travel plans for Fort McKavett in December for “A Very Military Christmas at Fort McKavett.” Enjoy living historians portraying soldiers, officers, and families during the holiday season on the Texas frontier. Sip balmy Christmas tea, craft historical Christmas vignettes, enjoy classic caroling, and snap your photo with Saint Nicholas. You’ll be amazed to see how members of the U.S. Army celebrated Christmas on an isolated military post from the mid-to-late 1880s.
Charles and Mary Ann Goodnight Ranch
North Texas winter tourists can find their holiday historic magic at Charles and Mary Ann Goodnight Ranch in the Texas Panhandle. Built in 1877, this became the first cattle ranch in the Texas Panhandle in the Palo Duro Canyon area. The architectural design of the home and the unique exhibits showcased at the ranch make it a popular site among historic landmark seekers.
December features two exciting holiday events at Charles and Mary Ann Goodnight Ranch. Experience a classic, prairie-style, home on the range concert at “Prairie Christmas Sing Along.” The historic home will be beautifully adorned in holiday decorations, cups of wassail will be served, and old-fashioned campfire sing-alongs will be hosted.
Get crafty this Christmas by recreating the stunning aesthetic of stained-glass windows at “Christmas Crafts on the Ranch.” There will be several programs held throughout the day, including an adults-only real stained-glass class taught by a master craftsman for a fee, and all-ages craft stained-glass replica programs for free.
Fulton Mansion State Historic Site
Make Fulton Mansion your holiday historic landmark must-see by heading to Rockport in the Aransas Bay area along the Southern Texas Gulf Coast.
This exclusive self-guided tour of a grand 1880s Victorian villa surrounded by windswept oaks preserves the legacy and lifestyle of the prestigious Fulton family during a simpler era in Texas history.
Walk through Harriet Fulton’s lush gardens and learn about George Fulton’s engineering skills. Get hands-on by participating in interactive exhibits at the Education and History Center. Lastly, shop for unique souvenirs and holiday gifts at the museum store before heading down to the bay to catch a gorgeous winter sunset.
Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site
Texas winter road trippers near the Dallas/Fort Worth area are invited to explore the Sam Rayburn House and the vast Texas Lakes Trail region. Catch a rare up-close-and-personal glimpse into the life of U.S. Congressman Sam Rayburn. Rayburn was an influential statesman, serving U.S. Congress for 48 years. His preserved home is a true Texas treasure for anyone who enjoys real stories and an intimate look into the lives of Texan politicians.
Celebrate Christmas at the Sam Rayburn House in December at “A Very Rayburn Christmas.” This unique holiday event stages a 20th-century Christmas with self-guided tours of the Rayburn home. Snack on Christmas cookies and sweet hot cocoa in the visitors center before joining in on fun family crafts with a very special appearance by Stinky the Donkey.
National Museum of the Pacific War
Located in Central Texas’ rural Hill Country, visitors will experience impressive exhibits about World War II, including the Japanese “Rex” Float Plane, the Pacific Combat Zone, and explore the spacious museum campus at their leisure. The Japanese Garden of Peace and Memorial Courtyard are two tranquil areas for rest and reflection during your visit.
Make history this holiday season and winter road trip to any of our 7 Best Historic Winter Weekend Getaway Destinations or visit Texas Historical Commission to discover each of the historic sites awaiting your arrival all year round.