There are lots of great places to drive in the U.S., but Texas is one state that just seems made for it. There are 80,000 miles of highways, from little farm-to-market roads to wide and fast interstates, and many of them are smooth, wide and multi-lane…as big as the state itself. Along the way, you can experience cowboy culture, city slicking and everything in between.
We drive all around the state every summer when visiting family, taking in some of the best Texas has to offer. But there are always things we miss or places we don’t get to because they’re not on the usual itinerary.
That’s why I’ve been looking forward to using the Hertz US Road Trip Planner to spread our wings a bit. Hertz has plotted routes across the US to help drivers explore with ease. It passes through cities big and small(er) and each point plotted includes top sights and activities to do along the way. For my Jenography trip, Hertz covered the cost of the car, we chose the route.
Driving Deep in the Heart of Texas
When I looked at the Deep in the Heart of Texas route, I saw a lot of places I’ve already visited with the kids (Houston, San Antonio), some places that I’d seen from the window while driving through, and some places that I’d always wanted to get to but hadn’t got around to.
You can drive the entire circular route, or do what we did, following part of the route, taking a detour, then picking it up again.
Starting our trip
After picking up the car in Houston, we hightailed it over to Abilene, in the northwestern corner of the route. Now, Abilene is a familiar sight to me from my university days. I would blow through on my way home from University of Texas, blasting music, sometimes stopping for snacks and petrol.
Now, can I only say to Abilene: I apologise. I had no idea what I was missing.
Top family activities in Abilene
Abilene is situated right on I-20 and is a great road trip stop with kids. There are some great things to do in the city. Some of the most popular family activities include:
- Official Storybook Capital of Texas – Texas legislators named Abilene the storybook capital of the state. AS a result, you can find the largest collection of storybook sculptures of its kind in the U.S., a Children’s Art & Literacy Festival, an Artwalk every second Thursday of the month, storytime at the library year-round and more. storybookcapitaloftexas.com/
- 12th Armoured Division Museum – A museum dedicated to the members of the 12th Armored Division whose efforts helped bring victory in World War II, a great stop for budding military buffs. www.12tharmoredmuseum.com/
- Go swimming – Texas is hot in summer. Really hot! Cool off in a pool like Adventure Cove at Rose Park abilenetx.com/city-hall/departments/community-services/parks-recreation/aquatics/adventure-cove
- Abilene Zoo – For those who like zoos, Abilene’s is open every day for visiting the monkeys, lions rhinos, ostriches and more, including a giraffe cam for viewing the long-necked Grace Kellys of the animal world. abilenezoo.org/
- The Grace Museum – This museum is dedicated to art related to Texas and is situated in a grand former hotel building, built in 1909. www.thegracemuseum.org/#now
- Buffalo Gap Historic Village – The historic frontier town features buildings from 1880s to the 1920s; there’s a doctor’s office, barbershop, railroad depot, private homes and Nazarene Church. texasfortstrail.com/plan-your-adventure/historic-sites-and-cities/sites/taylor-county-history-centerbuffalo-gap-historic
Eating in Abilene
We love eating our way across the Lone Star State. Our favourite food experiences in Texas tend to veer between our favourites: Tex-Mex/Mexican and Texas food. The first is all about enchiladas, queso (a melted cheese dip), fajitas, soups and tacos. The second includes specialties like chicken-fried steak (steak hammered flat, dipped in batter and fried), biscuits and sausage gravy (a breakfast classic), mashed potatoes with cream gravy (which leaves my English husband and kids scratching their heads, asking: ‘But what’s in cream gravy?’ they keep asking. ‘Stick-to-your-ribs deliciousness,’ I say. And of course, meat — great hamburgers, sandwiches and steak.
First stop in Abilene was at the Taylor County Taphouse (details at bottom) after driving from Houston. “It was the perfect place because it was one of those great, friendly Texas joints,” said my 18-year-old stepson. The meal started with a bit of new Texas flair — bacon-wrapped quail, which was a specialty of the house. Then it was on to amazing burgers. (We were provided a complimentary meal at Taylor County Taphouse for the purpose of a review. Look for my post about it soon.)
We also ate Lytle Land & Cattle, where the servers wear cowboy hats and they grill their steaks over mesquite wood.
The Perini Ranch Steakhouse at the nearby Buffalo Gap is rated as one of the best restaurants in the state to eat prime ribs, cowboy rib eyes and their award-winning ranch burgers in Texas. Plus, my friend Scott recommended it, which is always a great sign.
We’ve now got a list of places to try for our next visit, including The Beehive, Copper Creek Restaurant and Belle’s Chicken Dinner House.
Exploring Frontier Texas
After a bit of research, I knew one of the things we had to do was visit Frontier Texas! (yes, the exclamation point is part of the name…and well-deserved).
Frontier Texas is a history museum and the official visitor centre for Abilene and the Texas Forts Trail Region.
I’ll let you in on a little secret that has surprised some people I’ve told : in secondary school in Texas we spent a year on world history, a year on U.S. history, and a year on state history. That tells you something about where the state fits in the Texan’s world view. Even after all that state-specific history, I found myself learning more about my home state and drinking in the details and stories.
When walking through Frontier Texas, you start with a 12-minute film that presents the background of the region and an overview of the exhibits you’ll see. From there you walk through, stopping to watch holograms of important historical figures, admiring sculptures and dioramas, ending up in the Frontier Experience Theatre, a 360 film experience with stories of kidnapped families, Indian attack, buffalo stampedes and more. Each of the segments is short, dramatic and fun to watch.
The stories range from the reign of the original Native American tribes to the arrival of European settlers to frontier culture, the massacre of the buffalo and beyond.
Texas history — specific and vivid
I didn’t know that the introduction of the horse escorted in an era of domination by the Comanche that lasted more than a 100 years or that the tribe blocked European expansion into their lands for more than 150 years, something no other tribe could manage. I was interested to hear that the Civil War altered the military’s strategy with Native Americans, changing it from peace-loving to war-making.
The museum does a good job of not choosing heroes or villains, instead painting a portrait of the complicated, warring forces at work on the frontier and the making of the West.
There’s so much to explore, learn and interact with here, plus the piece de resistance, which you should save toward to the end of the visit: out in the courtyard there is a 4,000-pound sculpture of a buffalo skull. And I mean it’s big. You can pose next to it, you can try to lean nonchalantly against it in the heat of midday and burn your hand like I did. However you do it, get your cameras ready. I promise it will be your most striking Instagram pic of the month.
625 North First Street
Abilene, TX 79601
There is a parking lot to park right outside the museum, for easy parking
Taylor County Taphouse
4002 Catclaw Drive
Abilene, TX 79606
Lytle Land & Cattle
1150 E. 11th
Abilene, TX 79604
Disclosure: This post is part of our #hertztrip, promoting the U.S. Road Trip Planner on Hertz’s website. The U.S. Road Trip Planner plots out routes in regions across the U.S. My family and I are following parts of the Deep in the Heart of Texas route, highlighting family stops along the way. Hertz UK has covered the cost of our vehicle rental; all opinions are my own.