Central Texas is home to one of the best cities for a family road trip in the state. San Antonio is a great modern city with a vibrant downtown and incredible cultural diversity that is exceptionally visitor friendly. Graced with nice weather nearly year-round, there is no bad time to visit San Antonio. The downtown area has three major attractions. The exceptionally walkable nature of this city means all three can easily be visited on foot. If walking is an issue they have a great public transportation system as well.
The first of these sites is The Alamo. This is one of the most significant sites in Texas as well as US history. The brutal massacre that occurred here led to the defeat of the Mexican Army a short time later by the Texas forces during the Texas Revolution. This, of course, led to Texas independence and ultimately statehood. Visiting the site is free and includes the original church and several other buildings on the site. There is also a museum, gift shop, and outdoor movie pavilion which runs a film detailing the history of the site.
Within a block of the Alamo, you'll find the Riverwalk. The Riverwalk is a beautiful path that follows along the shores of the San Antonio River. This is a family-friendly area that is lined with shops, restaurants, hotels, and gardens which makes for a great afternoon or evening on the town. There are boat tours on this section of the river with river guides that provide great insight into the city's history.
A few blocks to the west is the Historic Market Square. Here you'll find a large Hispanic market and several great restaurants including the excellent Mi Tierra Cafe where you can dine on fine Mexican food surrounded by amazing stained glass windows and live Mariachi music. They also have an excellent bakery counter in the restaurant lobby where you can pick up some delicious treats for the walk back to the center of town.
On the south side of the city, you'll find the San Antonio Missions Historical Park. This park features several of the original missions build by the first Spanish settlers to the area. The main visitor center is at the San Jose Mission which is a great place to start your visit. There is a park service bus that can shuttle you to the other missions in the area.
On the north side of the city is the Pearl Brewery Complex. This is the site of the old Pearl Brewery, which has been turned into upscale shopping. The plaza inside the shopping area hosts a Saturday morning farmers market which is exceptionally popular. Here you'll find everything from fresh breads to craft beers to fruits, vegetables, meats, and food trucks. This is a first-rate farmers market with a great atmosphere. It's a fantastic place to pick up some local food items for the road trip to Lafayette.
The San Antonio / Alamo KOA Holiday is a good place to stay here. It is located just east of San Antonio off of I-10. This park provides a good basecamp to visit the attractions in San Antonio and easy access to our route to Lafayette.
The trip to Lafayette is very easy. Simply head east on I-10 and it will take you straight there. The only common issue on this route is traffic around Houston. Timing your passage through the city for a non-peak time can help get your through quickly and smoothly.
There is an age-old saying that “everything is bigger in Texas” and nothing smacks that thought home like a visit to Buc-ee's. Buc-ee's are known to be the largest gas stations in the world and when you stop here, you'll understand why. Picture a big box store surrounded by islands of gas pumps and you'll start to get a picture of what's here.
The gas station portion is very easy to get into and out of even with a large vehicle like an RV. There is also a large store with the cleanest and nicest bathrooms you'll ever find at a rest stop along a highway. The store is known to carry all sorts of great things including standard fare like drinks and coffee as well as a sandwich bar where they make sandwiches to order, and a jerky bar with dozens of flavors of beef jerky. There are also basic groceries, hats, t-shirts, and a whole lot more. This is truly a Texas institution and well worth a stop.
Space Center Houston is the public tour facility for the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston. Johnson Space Center acts as mission control for US space flights as well as the training center for the astronauts which man them. The available tours cover the mission control and training center complexes as well as the Apollo/Gemini era, the Space Shuttle, the Mars Mission, the International Space Station, and a coming-soon look at the Space X/Falcon 9 rockets. If you plan to visit make sure you have dedicated at least the full day to the trip. There is a lot to see here and you will miss a lot if you hurry through.
The San Jacinto Riverfront RV Resort is the closest place to stay along the route to Lafayette. This is a large, clean, and well-operated park located on the shores of the San Jacinto River off of I-10 on the east side of Houston.
Located in Orange, TX, just south of I-10 a few miles east of Beaumont, TX, is the Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center. This beautiful facility covers just over 250 acres along the Adams Bayou. This park includes several buildings and greenhouses which house indoor gardens, a theater, and other exhibits that are designed to teach visitors about the sustainable design and construction practices they use on-site. There is also a broad range of outdoor gardens including a children's garden to enjoy.
There is a number of indoor greenhouses including the very interesting, and very southern epiphyte house. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants but are not parasitic. There are many common varieties that grow in the south including the nearly ubiquitous Spanish Moss commonly seen draping the branches of Southern Live Oaks throughout the region.
There are several trails throughout the park. With its proximity to the bayou and the coastal waters of the gulf, the bird watching here is outstanding. To take advantage of that they hold a number of bird watching and bird photography events in the park throughout the year.
Oak Leaf Park Campground is located just off of I-10 a couple of miles west of Orange. If you want to stay overnight in the area, this a great place to stop
The Creole Nature Trail All-American Road originates in Lake Charles, LA at the visitor's center off of I-10. The road is designated as one of America's Scenic By-ways and includes miles of roads that run through the “Louisiana Outback” region of the state. This area falls between Lake Charles and the Gulf Coast south of I-10. Here you'll be able to see over 400 species of birds, alligators, and other wildlife. The road passes through vast areas of wilderness, marshland, and over 26 miles of beach. The website linked above includes itineraries, maps, and tour guides that allow you to create your own adventure in the area. This is a great way to explore a very unique region of the US.
Twelve Oaks RV Park on the northeast side of Lake Charles is a great place to stay. It's only a few minutes from the nature trail visitor's center and is convenient to I-10.
Lafayette, LA is a great small city in south-central Louisiana which is at the heart of the state's original Acadiana region. This region is the area originally designated as the French area of the state which we now refer to as the Cajun or Creole regions. To get a historical perspective, try visiting the Acadian Cultural Center. This is an outstanding facility with excellent exhibits covering the history of the region and the people who settled here.
There is no better way to experience the culture of an area then through their food. This is especially true in this region of the US. The Cajun/Creole foods popular in this area are probably the most distinct regional fare of anywhere in the county. So much so that many outside the region believe the term “Cajun” refers to the food style, not the culture of the people that live here.
One of the best ways to sample the food here is through a food tour like those offered by Cajun Food Tours. They take you on a tour of six different food locations on a custom bus where you can sample foods like boudin, etoufee, gumbo, and more. If you want to skip the tour and just visit a great restaurant or two then try Bon Temps Grill, The Crawfish Spot, T-Coons, LA Crawfish Time, The Cajun Table, or Vermilionville Restaurant | La Cuisine de Maman. These are all highly rated providing excellent examples of Cajun and Creole fare.
The environment in this area played a huge role in the lifestyle of the local settlers. As you may have seen traveling the Creole Nature Trail, this is an exceptionally wet area that posed some unique challenges for those living here. To get a deeper perspective you can get down into the water and explore the remote swamp back regions on a tour like Cajun Country Swamp Tours. They provide swamp eco-tours in Breaux Bridge, just a few miles east on I-10 from Lafayette. They offer two different two-hour tours. One covers the basin backwaters and the other covers the Atchafalaya River. These are two different regions within the Atchafalaya Basin Swamp’s 800,000+ acres. Each tour is guided by a knowledgeable local guide on board an open crawfish skiff. These boats can carry up to 24 people and have a shallow hull which allows you to get into the interesting parts of the swamp. In those areas, you'll see alligators, egrets, herons, cypress trees, nutria, otter, and other inhabitants of the swamp.
A great place to stay in the area is the Lafayette KOA Holiday. This park is located right off of I-10 is provides easy access to the local attractions.