Editor's note: A native Texan once told me, "When you live a state this big, why would you ever leave?" This year's top travel stories very much reflect this sentiment. Sure, it's exciting to know Austin has a new nonstop to Mexico (story No. 8), but readers are more excited to explore Texas' (very big) backyard.
Though past years have been dominated by stories of West Texas and the treasures to be found there, this year was all about sticking closer to home. Readers wanted to escape to one of Central Texas' charming small towns or indulge in a staycation near Austin. And with that, let's journey through our 10 most popular travel stories for 2019.
1. 9 festive Texas towns to visit for a magical holiday experience. Sometimes sitting on the sofa watching the Hallmark Channel doesn't cut it. When in need of real Christmas cheer, it's time to hit the road. From the nearby Hill Country to the Gulf Coast, these nine towns promise festive fun from November through the New Year.
2. Sleepy San Antonio suburb transformed into Texas' newest dining destination. Talk about a sleeper hit story. Sure, we thought people would be interested in learning more about Cibolo, a small town northeast of San Antonio, but didn't think it would go viral. This sweet suburb, once considered a bedroom community, has boomed in recent years, thanks to rising housing costs in Austin and San Antonio. What's developed in its wake is a dynamic, creative food scene worth the journey.
3. Luxury Central Austin resort revives historic estate with restaurant and private club. For more than two years, the Commodore Perry Estate in Central Austin has been furiously undergoing renovations to transform into a luxury resort. Earlier this month, owners revealed a first look at the project, including new guest suites, a restaurant called Lutie’s, a cocktail bar, a solarium, breakfast and dining rooms, an organic farm, a private club, and an outdoor swimming pool.
4. Austin airport wants to add 8 nonstop flights to Paris, Tokyo, and beyond. Austin, we're growing up. This year, we got more than a dozen new nonstop routes such as the city's only direct service to Los Cabos, Mexico. But the city deserves more — lots more. In August, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport said it's considering financial incentives to connect Austin directly to the world's most exciting cities, including Amsterdam, Beijing, Dublin, Paris, Seoul, Shanghai, and Tokyo.
5. Virgin steers talk of high-speed trains between Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. Sure, flying nonstop to Paris is nice, but imagine traveling to San Antonio without spending a moment on I-35? Virgin Trains USA, a transportation startup, is exploring two high-speed routes in Texas — one tying together Austin, Houston, and San Antonio, and the other between Dallas and Houston.
6. New Dripping Springs retreat hits bull's-eye with stylish cabins, yurts, and more. Lucky Arrow Retreat shot onto our radar this spring, offering unusual accommodations and fun activities just 40 minutes from downtown Austin. The stylish retreat offers yurts and cabins featured on 15 acres, complete with an event center, beer garden, swimming pool, communal fire pits, and a bathhouse.
7. Charming small Texas town provides perfect fall getaway just 90 minutes from Austin. Like so many of the small towns we covered this year, Brenham is just a quick drive from Austin. Best known as the headquarters of Blue Bell Creameries, this quaint town offers charm galore, from its picture-perfect downtown to the Washington on the Brazos State Historic Site.
8. American adds 3 new nonstop flights from Austin to national and international hot spots. American Airlines is making a big investment in Austin in 2020. The commercial airline is expanding at ABIA, eventually having five gates in the Barbara Jordan Terminal, and bringing three new nonstop flights to Boston; San Jose, California; and Los Cabos, Mexico.
9. West Texas ghost town bubbles up with luxurious new glamping experience. You had us at West Texas glamping. This extraordinary site offers a Lotus tent, tipis, casitas, and see-through bubbles, which offer 360-degree views of the West Texas sky.
10. Ethereal West Texas attraction among best places in U.S. to see the stars. Speaking of West Texas sky... As travelers increasingly look for vacations that combine relaxation with memorable experiences, stargazing has become a popular endeavor. Lucky for Texans, the McDonald Observatory offers one of the best places to see the stars in the entire country.