7 Texas Tips For Exploring Small Towns and Finding Hidden Gems

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Tony Maples Photography


Most folks pass through small towns while going someplace else. That’s a shame. These towns have just as much to offer, in their own way, as big cities. They have shops, restaurants, and unique histories all their own. Next time you find yourself driving through an interesting small town, you might want to stop and check things out. It may make for a welcome change-of-pace when you’re on the way to a tourist attraction. At least you won’t have to deal with big-city crowds. That’s a big plus right there.

Most folks start on Main Street, or the equivalent thereof. After checking out the post office, along with any shops or restaurants along the main drag, here are a few tips to help you along your way.

1. Look for a Tourist Center and Grab a Map.

7 Texas Tips For Exploring Small Towns and Finding Hidden Gems

Photo: @brittneyborowski via Twenty20

You’d be surprised how many small towns have tourist centers. While these centers sometimes have odd hours, they are useful for any traveler.

If your destination doesn’t have a tourist center, try reaching out to the local Chamber of Commerce. They may be able to provide a map, along with filling you in on points of interest. While your phone or GPS device can provide you with maps, they generally show the quickest way to get from point A to point B. That’s exactly the opposite of your goal when exploring a small town. You want to take your time and look around.

2. Visit Any Museums.

7 Texas Tips For Exploring Small Towns and Finding Hidden Gems

Photo: Joe Taylor, Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum 

Many small towns have museums. Usually, they’re tiny and take an hour or less to thoroughly explore. Sometimes the museums are in buildings of interest, or in the local library.

Again, the hours that these little museums are open tend to vary. You may want to do a little research and call first. Usually, these museums are worth the effort.

3. Have Reasonable Expectations.

7 Texas Tips For Exploring Small Towns and Finding Hidden Gems

Photo: @mechellebrooks via Twenty20

Some people tend to become a bit entitled and demanding when they’re on vacation. After all, most people only get one or two vacations a year.

However, vacationing in a small town isn’t as lavish as vacationing in a big city. Most likely, you won’t be eating top-notch ethnic food while sleeping in the equivalent of a five-star resort.

Instead, you may find yourself eating excellent diner food, while enjoying the company of the folks you brought with you. That experience is just as rewarding as vacationing in a big city, if you have the right perspective.

4. Talk to the Locals.

7 Texas Tips For Exploring Small Towns and Finding Hidden Gems

Photo: @hruskawd via Twenty20

In some big cities, if you try talking to someone on a street corner, you might be stared at as if you’re crazy. But in a small town, talking to the locals can be half the fun. Locals can tell you some of the town’s history and point out entertaining things to do.

Local people will probably be curious about you, no matter what. In a small town, every stranger is noticed. You may as well use that to your advantage and start up a conversation.

5. Explore the Cemeteries.

7 Texas Tips For Exploring Small Towns and Finding Hidden Gems

Photo: @mharborth via Twenty20

This tip may seem ghoulish, but cemeteries can reveal a lot about a town’s history. Looking at grave markers can reveal who the founding families are, how old the town is, and sometimes can even reveal a celebrity.

Also, some of the markers can be memorable, and the cemetery itself can be beautiful.

6. See Local Government Buildings.

7 Texas Tips For Exploring Small Towns and Finding Hidden Gems

Photo: @cdw21 via Twenty20

While local statuary and fountains may be nice to see, nothing says more about a small town than its government buildings. Many of them were designed by renowned local architects and are tourist attractions in their own right.

Also, many of these buildings have cornerstones, which can offer insights into the town’s history, such as the date of incorporation, and the materials used in building the original structures. Sometimes, even though the local government buildings may be new, the original cornerstones may have been preserved. So you can still get a lot of information about the original building from a preserved cornerstone.

7. Participate in Local Activities.

7 Texas Tips For Exploring Small Towns and Finding Hidden Gems

Photo: @marcdb via Twenty20

It’s rare to find a small town that doesn’t offer some kind of outdoor activity, whether it be hunting, fishing, or even just biking. You could probably have a conversation that lasts for hours with the folks at the local bait shop, or at a canoe rental. Everyone enjoys talking about their hobbies.

While vacationing in a small town may not be for everyone, it definitely has its advantages. With these tips, your offbeat vacation can be a lot of fun. Just make sure to take a deep breath, relax and enjoy the slower pace of small-town life. You probably will be better for it.