Living in a big city like Austin, one can easily forget or only imagine what life in a small town is like. Each unique in their own way, there’s one thing small towns share: the bond of its residents. Many folks enjoy living the small-town life, where things are just a little slower, everybody knows your name, and there’s a real sense of community. Texas is home to lots of charming small towns that draw people from all over the country to experience their way of life. Here are our picks for the best small towns in Texas and why a visit should be on your list.
In Bastrop County, southeast of Austin is the small town of Smithville, established in 1827. You may have heard of Smithville as it’s home to the James H. Long Railroad Museum and one of the Central Texas railroad towns. Or it could be that The Tree of Life, starring Brad Pitt was filmed there, but most likely, you’ll recognize it from the movie Hope Floats starring Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick Jr. Today, with just under 4,000 people, this small town is worth a visit. Most notable points of interest include the giant Gingerbread Man, aptly named Smitty, he is featured in the 2006 Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Largest Gingerbread Man; the Railroad Depot where trains still run daily, and Main Street shops and restaurants including the Back-Door Café featuring boozy Belgian Chocolate Cream pie. Their annual Smithville Jamboree features musicians, food, beard contests, parade, pet show, livestock show and sale, and cornhole, horseshoe, and washer tournaments.
Like the residents, you’ll be saying, “Jefferson, it just makes me happy.” This pre-civil war town located in Marion County, between Caddo Lake and Lake O’ the Pines, is a popular tourist destination because of its scenic streets, unique restaurants, and adorable bed and breakfasts. Back in the 1800s, this charming town was a prosperous river port. Today, with many of its historic landmarks, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped back into the 19th century. Reminiscent of the South, homes adorned with plantation-style columns, horse-drawn carriage rides, and the historic Jefferson railway, are all part of what makes this town so enchanting. Several attractions including the Jefferson Historical Museum, the Museum of Measurement and Time, and the Gone with the Wind Museum, will keep you amused for days. The Howe Truss Lighted Bridge is a sight to see at night and the town, considered to be haunted by many, offers a Ghost Walk tour every Friday and Saturday night. Jefferson also hosts the Jefferson Candlelight Tour of Homes at Christmastime and a Barbecue Cook-off event annually, which are town favorites.
13 miles from Fredericksburg, Luckenbach is a popular spot for country music and festivals. In fact, there’s music just about every night in Luckenbach at the Dance Hall. At its height, in 1904, the population was 492 but in the 1960’s it was nearly a ghost town, today the population is three. Yep, you read that right. While the population is only three, the visitors are in the thousands. Visitors from all over come to watch live music and stop into the original General Store and former Post Office, standing since 1849. Back then, the local newspaper advertised the store as a “First Class Country Store” selling everything from “the cradle to the grave” including coffins and cowbells. Today, the General Store offers tasty bites that are worth just visiting the town for, including Frito Pie, fried cheesecake, and Cherry Limeades to wash it all down. Stopping here is like a step in time—a time where credit cards didn’t exist, the store is cash only. Come to Luckenbach and you’ll see why the town motto is “Everybody’s somebody in Luckenbach.”
This little town is situated just north of Waco and was established in 1892. Originally a farm town producing cotton, wheat, and maize, the addition of the railroad aided in its growth, attracting Czech and German immigrants to farm and open businesses. Because of its rich Czech heritage the town is appropriately named as the “Czech Heritage Capital of Texas.” With a population of less than 3,000, it’s a small town wearing big city pants, proclaiming itself as “the perfect blend of small-town hospitality and large city progressiveness.” West if famous for the bakeries producing kolaches, a Czech pastry filled with fruit filling or savory fare stuffed with melted cheese and sausage. It’s a favorite eat for both tourists and residents alike. In celebration of Czech heritage, the town hosts Westfest, an event held every Labor Day weekend that includes live polka music, entertainment, family fun, and of course, authentic Czech food and beverages.
Of all the small towns in Texas to visit, this town is by far the most unique. With a population just under 2,000, Marfa is a unique and unusual town that beckons to be explored and appreciated. It’s located in Presidio County in the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert in west Texas. Famous for the unknown phenomenon known as the “Marfa Lights,” a nightly display of fireball streaks across the desert, documented as early as 1883. It’s also received attention for Prada Marfa, a one-room replica of a Prada store, which is now technically classified as a museum. Marfa is best described as eclectic with a mix of old town charm and new, modern, and moderately weird culture. You’ll find modern art exhibits and trendy cafes amid century old ranches and a Main Street down the center of town. Still, you needn’t step foot inside an art exhibit to appreciate art in Marfa; art and clever architecture is all around town along storefronts and in other areas to surprise and delight.
Located in Central Texas, in Erath County, is the Irish Capital of Texas, with a population of just under 4,000. Founded in 1854, its biggest claim to fame is that it’s known as the home to Dublin Bottling Works where Dr. Pepper was bottled for more than 100 years. With a name like Dublin, it’s no surprise this little Texas town gets down on Saint Patrick’s Day with a festival to celebrate the Irish holiday. Events include pageants, a parade, craft and food vendors, and more. Residents enjoy the search for the Dublin leprechaun and pose for photos when they find him. Dublin is also home to Veldhuizen Cheese, a farmstead making over 60 wheels of raw milk cheese a week, by hand, using traditional farming methods.