Texas is big – really big. Bigger than many nations throughout the world. Yet, there’s more to the Lone Star State than Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Austin. With our Texas City Guides series, we’re going to explore some of the smaller and more far-flung parts of the state. We hope you come to appreciate the variety of local color you can find across Texas.
Our journey begins with a visit to the southern tip of the state – Harlingen! A mere 30 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, Harlingen lies in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley.
The State Fruit of Texas is grown in these parts, the ruby red Texas grapefruit. If you’re traveling during the winter or into the spring, be sure and pick up locally grown grapefruits. You won’t find them fresher anywhere else in the state.
For the true taste of South Texas, you can’t beat authentic Mexican food. And for the best breakfast in town, head to Las Vegas Café, open since 1964. With a rustic flare and pillow-soft tortillas, this bustling little restaurant serves breakfast all day, including their delicious breakfast tacos and Huevos Rancheros. Pepe’s on the Sunshine Strip is another Mexican restaurant we recommend, known for its down to earth vibes, and large tasty plates of Tex-Mex fare.
If you’re looking for some local shopping, head into the historical downtown area. Walkable by foot, visitors can stroll down Jackson Street, lined with palm trees and unique boutiques selling one of a kind artwork by Texas artisans, as well as handmade jewelry, antiques, gifts, and home décor. Harlingen is known for its vibrant and larger-than-life murals, so take those in while you stroll, too.
For more art and culture, head to The Harlingen Arts & Heritage Museum, the only one of its kind in the Rio Grande Valley. It includes three historical buildings on the grounds, including the original home of Harlingen’s founder, Lon C. Hill. The museum has a curated roster of rotating exhibitions include photography, paintings and sculpture. And if you didn’t find something to love while browsing through downtown, stop into the museum’s gift shop to find something to bring home.
For those looking to leave the city and head into nature, Harlingen lies just west of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge – over 98,000 acres of protected land that holds a generous habitat for birds and wildlife only found in this region.
Trails are available for fishing, hunting, and day hiking. You can also bring your kayak and spend the day on the water. Deer, coyote, bobcats, javelinas, and alligators are a few of the animals you may encounter, as well as thousands of ducks and songbirds that include green jays, cardinals, orioles, and turkey pheasants.
In 1985, the Peregrine Fund began reintroducing captive bred Northern Aplomado Falcons into the region, which had largely disappeared in the 1930’s. Today, it is said that there are 40 pair of these at the Refuge, and they remain on the endangered species list as they have since 1986.
Pack your bags, bring appetite and your bird watching binoculars, and head south, almost to the border, for a fun weekend in Harlingen!
Up Next in our Texas City Guides series: Brownsville!