Main Street in Frederiksburg, Texas

8 Most Quaint Small Towns in Texas

Texas may be the second-most-populous state (behind California), but it is also the second-largest state in terms of area (behind Alaska). So while it has its share of frenetic cities, it also has wide open countryside as far as the eye can see, gently dotted with small towns. These places make excellent getaways for unplugging from the noise and other unwanted intrusions of modern society, but also effective basecamps from which to visit national and state parks, drive scenic roads through fields of bluebonnets, or attend unique cultural events that don't hit the cities in the same way. With a place as big as Texas, it's hard to know where to begin, but you can't go wrong with these eight quaint towns. 

Port Isabel

Aerial view of Port Isabel, Texas
Aerial view of Port Isabel, Texas, via Roberto Galan /

This historic fishing village is tucked away on the very tip of Texas, just North of the Mexican border, on the Gulf of Mexico. Cameron County's Port Isabel is also just a stone's throw from the beaches of South Padre Island. But don't stray too far, for the waterside town square is the epitome of quaint – with the Port Isabel Lighthouse (the only lighthouse on the Texas Gulf Coast and a Texas Historical Commision State Historic Site) at its core, and cute souvenir shops and a mix of seafood and Mexican restaurants marking the perimeter. This summer resort town was founded back in the 1770s (albeit, under the name "El Fronton"), but its history trickles back to the days of the Spanish settlers. Port Isabel adds some refreshing blue to the Texan desert connotation. 


The Main Street in Fredericksburg, Texas
The Main Street in Fredericksburg, Texas, via ShengYing Lin /

The seat of Gillespie County traces its roots to 19th-century German settlers. Fredericksburg, or "Fritztown," as it is locally-known, is also the heart of Texas Hill Country, and Wine Country. The Urban Wine Trail gives connoisseurs a taste of the 60 wineries/vineyards that are spread across the county (distilleries have also carved out a name for themselves), and the wholesome Pioneer Museum provides a hands-on glimpse into the 175-year backstory that makes this little spot tick. The heartwarming heritage adds some international charm, while the Central Texas landscape keeps that unmistakable Lone Star State aesthetic. To get better acquainted with the simple natural beauty, scoot a touch North to the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, or walk down to the edge of town, for a peaceful afternoon at Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park. 

Marble Falls

Marble Falls, Texas, visitor building in the city center
Marble Falls, Texas, visitor building in the city center

Forming the Northern apex of an equidistant geographical triangle between Fredericksburg (Southwest) and the hip state capital of Austin (Southeast) is the laid-back lake town of Marble Falls. Built on the North bank of the Colorado River, this small Burnet County city is very pedestrian friendly – especially its downtown core. Here, Marble Falls continues the libation spirit of Fredericksburg with equal attention paid to its cafe and culinary scene. Be sure to check off Blue Bonnet Cafe – a delicious pie shop named after the famous Texan wildflower that blooms each spring throughout Hill Country. Public art displays keep the intermittent strolls interesting, and beckon creative types to poke their heads in the local galleries. If the indulgences have gotten the better for you, try renting a kayak and paddling around the attractive reservoir. 


Summer time above Lake LBJ in the Texas Hill Country near Burnet , Texas
Summertime above Lake LBJ in the Texas Hill Country near Burnet , Texas

A mere 13 miles North of Marble Falls sits yet another delightful Hill/Lake Country town (or rather, as is the Texan pattern, super small city). Burnet (pronounced "Burn it") is the seat of the county by the same name. It enjoys close proximity to the sizable Buchanan Lake, the small but elegant Inks Lake State Park (both just a few miles West of town and both part of the Highland Lakes chain created by the damming of the Colorado River), and the captivating and tourable cave system at Longhorn Caverns State Park (about ten miles to the Southwest). This relaxing community is a welcomed retirement retreat, with a moderate climate that's great for golfing, bird-watching, or enjoying sunny days at the lake(s). There is even an adorable commuter train called the Hill Country Flyer that shuttles passengers to and from Cedar Park every weekend. 


People enjoying the water in Salado, Texas, via
People enjoying the water in Salado, Texas, via

Salado is as quaint as it comes. Where else in Texas (or anywhere) can one sculpt pottery, blow glass, and see Japanese-style stoneware creations in the same place? Built on both sides of Salado Creek, just 50 miles North of Austin, this Bell County community and its 2,400 residents (as of 2020) shows what small-town Texas is all about. The independent spirit of Salado naturally fostered a quietly expressive personality, with everything from the niche practices previously mentioned, to the everyday favorites like photography, craft beer, antique shops, used books, consignment shops, and even a sculpture garden. For a change of scenery, Stillhouse Hollow Lake and its surrounding parks (Dana Peak, Stillhouse, and Chalk Ridge Falls) are all just a few miles North. 


Street view in downtown Alpine, Texas, via  jmanaugh3 /
Street view in downtown Alpine, Texas, via  jmanaugh3 /

Popping over to the West, this classic town puts the quintessential Texan aesthetic on full display. The Brewster County city of Alpine sprinkles in a dash of low-lying mountains (Davis to the North, Chisos to the South) amidst the arid plateau of the Chihuahuan Desert. Further South, Big Bend National Park, and Big Bend Ranch State Park are just a short scenic drive away (via the Big Bend National Park Driving Loop). Alternatively, do a walking tour of Alpine, paying particular attention to the collection of pretty murals, painted over many decades, spread throughout downtown. Other local attractions include the Hancock Hill hiking trails, quaint city parks, and the regular live performances put on by this designated "Music Friendly Community."


View of downtown Nacogdoches, brick covered streets and old historic buildings
View of downtown Nacogdoches, brick covered streets and old historic buildings

East-Texas' Nacogdoches is known as the "Oldest Town in Texas" as well as the "Garden Capital of Texas." While the former is factually problematic (although it's certainly one of the oldest towns in the state) and the latter is subjective, these reverential tags paint a clear picture of what visitors can expect. This seat of the eponymous county has a historic old town paved with red-brick streets, those beloved saloon-style buildings, some Victorian mansions (all renovated with a light touch to keep things shiny and strong), as well as lots of maintained greenery to add pop to the rusty-orange foundation. There is always lots of low-key fun to be had, both on a daily basis thanks to the eclectic mix of local businesses and museums, and then especially on weekends, thanks to a year-round events calendar that rarely leaves a blank slate. For a dip into nature, be sure to drive Southwest to the Davy Crockett National forest. 


The Blue Bell factory in Brenham, Texas, via Nina Alizada /
The Blue Bell factory in Brenham, Texas, via Nina Alizada /

Brenham may be overshadowed on the map by Austin (to the West) and Houston (to the East), but it plants an appealing flag of its own. This modestly-sized (17,369 residents as of the 2020 census) Washington County city is not afraid to show off its goods. For starters, just this past weekend, the annual Texas Arts and Music Festival once again took over downtown Brenham. Pop up stages supported a diverse array of music that makes up Texas' soul, and talented street mural artists created gorgeous displays throughout the festival. The Arts Village filled in the remaining gaps, selling handcrafted goods to the scores of wandering pedestrians. But this is just the most recent family-fun highlight. Before this, the Washington County Fair (the oldest of its kind in the state) kicked off its weeklong festivities with a parade through downtown Brenham. There's always something going on throughout the open, colorful streets of Brenham that involves community, good vibes, and relaxing entertainment. 

These goldilocks towns strike a perfect balance between entertainment and relaxation, culture and privacy, and untouched nature and modern comforts. Like it or love it, Texas has a distinct personality – an essence that permeates its one-horse towns and metropolises all the same. But what the economic centers can't match is the grounding quality of a place where you smile at strangers leaving the post office, and then raise a glass to those same folks from across the barbeque restaurant. So hit the old dusty trail, and visit a few of these quaint Texas towns. 

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