Skip the standard tourist fare in one of these four destinations, and you’ll discover the best vacation you’ve ever had, packed with experiences you can’t find anywhere else.

Without a doubt, vacations are enriched by the people, places, and shared experiences you encounter upon arrival at your destination. So, it makes sense that more and more travelers are shunning tacky tourist attractions in favor of a deep dive into local attractions and adventures.

Wondering what kind of insiders-only local hangouts you should seek out on your trip to  Austin, San Antonio, Houston, or San Jose? Here are our recommendations to escape the typical vacation itinerary in favor of a day immersed in the local life in four of the country’s most richly cultured cities.


The Summer Day that Never Ends [Austin, TX]

“Keep Austin Weird” might be the slogan that best proclaims this Texas city’s heart and soul, but beneath the quirky, hipster exterior, Austin is a city that is authentic and deeply rooted in Texas Hill Country culture. The year-round agreeable climate in Texas and the laid-back, chilled out vibe of Austin sets the stage for a playing-hooky-from-real-life summer day, no matter what time of year you happen to visit.

Take a Dip in Austin’s Best Swimming Hole

When in Austin, you must take a dip at Barton Springs Pool, a beloved three-acre spring-fed pool that stays a balmy 68 degrees year-round. Locals swear this is the best place to cool off in a quintessentially Austin fashion.

The Hippest (Free) Art in Town

Each Thursday, the entry fee is waived at University of Texas’ Blanton Museum of Art, considered by many to be Austin’s foremost art museum. With free access to art tours, lectures, film screenings, and even a yoga class in the galleries on the third Thursday of each month, this is a must-see on any insider’s guide to Austin.

Only Austin Could Produce Ice Cream this Cool

Cofounded by two sisters native to Austin, SPUN Ice Cream specializes in fresh, seasonal ice creams, spun to order using local organic ingredients (think grass-fed milk and cream, Texas pecan brittle, pickled jalapeño glass, caramel popcorn sprinkles) and liquid nitrogen. The result is the smoothest, most flavorful ice cream you may ever taste, free of emulsifiers, stabilizers, and preservatives.

It Wouldn’t Be Austin Without Live Music

Wednesday through Saturday, Lone Star Court’s very own Hill Country–inspired bar, The Water Trough, is ground zero for nightly live music by some of Austin’s most up-and-coming musicians and bands. Grab a seat next to the homey wood-burning fireplace inside or by the fire pit on the large outdoor deck, order up some of The Watering Hole’s signature Texas-style grub and one of their signature drinks (we recommend the Chill Cowboy), and settle in for some outstanding entertainment in the “Live Music Capital of the World.”

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Three Squares and Two Steps [San Antonio, TX]

Texas’ second largest city boasts an impressively diverse array of attractions for visitors. But for those looking to get a taste of an authentic San Antonio experience, focus your energy on a few spectacular meals and some high-spirited two-stepping.

The Breakfast of the Gods

At The Guenther House, the buttermilk biscuits with country gravy and sausage are legendary – and for good reason. Once the home of Pioneer Flour Mills’ founding family, The Guenther House is now a meticulously maintained, award-winning restaurant with a deep history in proper biscuit-making techniques.

Lunch Like Your Grandma Used to Make

Lunch at Hotel Valencia’s acclaimed Citrus offers two important benefits: first, to dine overlooking the scenic River Walk, and second, to order up your own serving of Citrus’ scratch-made chicken pot pie. Baked with love just like your grandmother’s pies but with gourmet twists like the sous vide organic chicken and truffle-scented puff pastry, Citrus’ version may become your new benchmark for all other pot pies.

Top-Notch Late-Night Snacks

For eight years, a mustard-yellow taco truck situated on San Antonio’s trendy St. Mary’s strip has been steadily growing in popularity and notoriety. Sometimes referred to as the “Hardbodies Taco Truck” because of its neighbor, Hardbodies Ladies Club (don’t worry – the taco truck is decidedly PG-rated), Tacos El Regio is one of the city’s most beloved spots for spectacularly good late-night eats.

Quick, Quick, Slow – The Texas Way of Life

If you have a hankering to glide around a dance floor, San Antonio’s John T. Floore’s Country Store is the place to be. This quintessential Texas dance hall and beer joint (where you can also get some of the tastiest chicken-fried steak around) has hosted the likes of Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and some of Texas’ most popular local bands.

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A High-Class Night on the Town [Houston, TX]

Known as a hub for the oil and gas industry, Houston has evolved into a modern, diverse city with a plethora of cultural attractions, a thriving restaurant and bar scene bound to delight foodies, and plenty of ways to get a taste of Texas-sized luxury on the town.

A Taste of Texas’ History at the Houston Museum of Natural Science

The Houston Museum of Natural Science, tucked in Houston’s Museum District, is one of the gems of Houston’s arts and culture scene. In addition to exploring dozens of exhibits, visitors will find the Cockerell Butterfly Center, home to hundreds of species of exotic butterflies and insect, as well as a Rainforest Conservatory built around a 50-foot waterfall.

Marvel over James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace

For a meditative, contemporary take on watching the sunset, make your way to Rice University to visit the James Turrell Skyspace, just a few blocks from the Museum of Natural Science. Reserve a spot for the sunset light sequence at this commissioned piece of living art, and you may never see the sunset in the same way again.

Stop in to Bar Boheme for a Post-Sunset Cocktail

Tucked inside the lively Montrose area, inside a historical building surrounded by 6,000 square feet of gardens and stone sculptures, you’ll find Bar Boheme. With an extensive drink mix that includes beer, wine, and handcrafted cocktails, there’s a drink for everyone on the menu. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the White Flamingo, which is made with a Peruvian brandy called pisco, as well as apricot, tamarind, and lemon.

Modern Meets Traditional at Radio Milano

Authentic Italian cuisine is innovatively reimagined with clean lines and artistic flair at Radio Milano, where the freshest ingredients are paired with laser focus and precision cooking to produce a plate that will stun and delight diners. Tucked in the upscale Hotel Sorella in CITYCENTRE, Radio Milano is a fine example of Houston’s sophisticated and modern foodie sensibility.

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The Intersection of Art, Tech, and Quirky Intrigue [San Jose, CA]

At the southern end of Silicon Valley lies San Jose, a hub of high-tech innovation, rampant creativity, and community-fueled artistic expression. To capitalize on all that San Jose has to offer, we recommend a high-octane tour of the city’s highlights that would delight even the most driven venture capitalist.

San Jose’s South First Art Crawl Adventure

South First Area, or SoFA, is San Jose’s premier creative district and home to the city’s massively popular monthly art crawl, called South First Friday. Choose from art galleries and non-traditional venues to explore an eclectic mix of art on display the first Friday of each month. Because the size of the art crawl has ballooned, newcomers are advised to avoid trying to cram everything in on one night.

The Odd and Eccentric Winchester Mystery House

With staircases that go nowhere, miles of twisting hallways further complicated by secret passageways and false doors, and hundreds of rooms built only to be torn down and remade, the Winchester Mystery House, home to Sarah Winchester, of the Winchester firearm fortune, more than earns its unique reputation. Take a tour of the house of one of America’s most eccentric Gilded Age millionaires.

Be the Robot-Building Child in All of Us at the Tech Museum of Innovation

Known simply as “The Tech” to locals, the Tech Museum of Innovation is located in the heart of Silicon Valley in downtown San Jose. With exhibits like the BioDesign Studio that focus on biotechnology and the Social Robots area where visitors can build and program a real robot, The Tech is at the forefront of technological innovation and design.

Sitting on Top of the World at Cielo

For the full Silicon Valley experience, make your way to Cielo, the cozy and private rooftop wine bar at Hotel Valencia. Here, as you enjoy a stunning rooftop view of the Santa Cruz mountains, crackling fire at your back and drinks and small bites in hand, you’ll see why some of the world’s most visionary high-tech entrepreneurs call the area home.

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