Texas is a big state. No, seriously, it's really big, so big that the city of El Paso is closer to Los Angeles, CA, three states away than it is to Shreveport, LA, which is right on the Texas border in the other direction. We're talking a state that is larger than several European nations on its own. Seriously. So big, in fact, that it has several cities with very large populations, none of which are within 50 miles (80 km) of each other, some of which get mentioned in fiction.
Texas is so big that back in the 1950s through the 1970s when it was nearly impossible to get a license to operate an airline at the federal level (the major airlines already in business did not want new competitors), there were several smaller airlines which managed to make enough money to operate by serving cities within the state of Texas, which meant they did not need a federal license. After the government deregulated the airline industry in the late '70s, one of those carriers, Southwest Airlines, began expanding outside the state, and now carries more domestic passengers than any other U.S. airline. California was the only other state big enough to have successful intrastate airlines.
Abilene and SweetwaterNamed for a town in Kansas that it has surpassed in population, Abilene is a mid-sized city in the west-central portion of the state. Though somewhat similar to San Angelo (see below), inasmuch as they're both mid-sized college towns with an Air Force base within 90 miles of each other (not far by Texas standards), Abilene is the city equivalent of Always Someone Better — the population is a little bigger, the city has more universities (three to San Angelo's one), they have a zoo, and they have many chain stores and restaurants that San Angelo lacks.note This growth is due largely to the fact that Abilene is located right on Interstate 20, which connects directly to the DFW Metroplex to the east, whereas San Angelo is on its own without an interstate connection (though that may change should Interstate 14 be extended there as planned). Naturally, this has led to a bit of a friendly rivalry between the two cities, most frequently on display come high school football season.note
Despite this, Abilene loves its frontier roots, and prides itself on its educational merits. It's also very active in the energy industry; it's very close with the petroleum industry, and is not far from a plateau of wind turbines to its immediate south that is based out of nearby Sweetwater.
Speaking of Sweetwater, this smaller town shows up from time to time in media as a stereotypical Old West town, mostly due to its distinctive name.note Nowadays, it's best known for its annual rattlesnake roundup, and for the 1993 Sweetwater All-Stars. In professional wrestling, it's also known as the hometown of John Layfield and Barry Windham (not to mention Barry's brother Kendall and their father Robert, the latter better known as Blackjack Mulligan). Layfield also has connections to Abilene, having played college football at Abilene Christian.
AmarilloThe second-largest city in the Texas Panhandle, and the largest city between Oklahoma City and Albuquerque. The center of Texas' massive beef industry, and home to the largest reserve of helium in the world, wrestler Terry Funk, and actress Carolyn Jones.
AustinThe capital of Texas. Home of the University of Texas (or "texas university" to the Aggies of Texas A&M, who refuse to even capitalize it), which is the state's largest in terms of enrollment, as well as a traditional powerhouse in all of the Big Three sports (American football, basketball, baseball; although nationally it's most known for the former).
Primarily due to the presence of the university, Austin is famous for being a notorious pocket of liberalism and counterculture in what is otherwise still a fairly conservative (but rapidly changing) state; Patton Oswalt referred to it as "a bubble of sanity", while the rest of the state (including Austin itself) calls it the People's Republic of Austin with either derision or Self-Deprecation.
This actually sums up Austin quite well. It's a city of contradictions and quirks: A progressive city with conservative roots, a hub for cutting edge research with a thriving art and culture scene, a thriving local economy operating side by side with international corporations.
It is well known for all kinds of colorful characters. For instance, the late Leslie Cochran, who had become something of a beloved city mascot toward the end of his life. While many cities have flamboyant transvestites who run for mayor from a public shelter, in few cities do said individuals have a well-reasoned campaign platformnote , have a fully staffed volunteer campaign team with a respectable budget, participate seriously in public debates, and receive a small but noteworthy percentage of the city's votes in several mayoral campaigns.
Austin is also notable for its rapid growth, highly unusual for a state capital. Since 1940, its population has been increasing by roughly 40% every decade, and it has grown from a fairly modest government/college town to one of the largest cities in the United States; the 11th largest as of 2020, with a population just shy of a million, and the second largest capital behind only Phoenix.note
This population and size contributes to another notable part of the city: traffic. In terms of "most-congested traffic", Austin ranks 16th in the United States, and 25th in the Western Hemisphere. If there's such a thing as a city-wide Berserk Button, traffic can definitely be considered one for Austin. Biking has become popular not merely for health reasons, but because it is sometimes faster to bike somewhere than to drive there. The city has been working to improve its public transit for a better part of a decade to try to fix the problem.
The city is known as the "Live Music Capital of the World". Describing its live music scene as "massive" would be an understatement: it's possible to walk around several blocks downtown (particularly its historic Sixth Street) on any given night and find at least four bands/artists of four different genres playing in four different clubs at the same time—on weekend evenings, it's hard to find a restaurant, pub, bar, or club that doesn't have some sort of live performance going on. As previously mentioned, Austin is a place where the mainstream and underground mix, and the music scene is no exception. A number of bars have become especially known as places for huge name acts to get back to their roots—it isn't unheard of for groups like Coldplay, ZZ Top, or The Rolling Stones to drop into a Sixth Street bar for a one night performance with little to no fanfare. The Austin music scene spans several genres, from country to blues to electronica to indie rock. Some of the best known acts to hail from the city include The 13th Floor Elevators, Daniel Johnston, Spoon, Explosions In The Sky, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gary Clark Jr., and Townes Van Zandt.
This reputation is further augmented by multiple annual music festivals, including but not limited to Austin City Limits, Fun Fun Fun Fest, and Chaos in Tejas. The biggest of all, however, is South By Southwest (or more simply, SXSW; locals typically refer to it as "South By"). This massive event goes beyond a music festival, serving as one of the premier film festivals in the nation and even hosting exhibits of cutting edge technology. SXSW shuts down several parts of the city for the duration, and parts of the rest become next to impossible to navigate for days on end thanks to the pedestrian and auto traffic. City officials and local businesses are more than happy to put up with this, however, thanks to the amount of money it brings into the city: unless you're attending free shows or hitting up the back of the line hoping to get into shows where people with badges/wristbands have priority, you're going to be shelling out hundreds of dollars for the badge alone. If you can't find a couch to crash on, good luck - almost all area hotels sell out months in advance, and places just outside of city limits jack up the prices... a lot.
There are a number of other festivals and events for just about anything in Austin year-round. Kite Festival? Check. Hot Sauce Festival? Yep. Bat Fest?note Oh yeah. You name it, and Austin is very likely to celebrate it.
Austin also has a thriving business side. Organic supermarket chain Whole Foods Market may be one of the quintessential emblems of Austin: what started here as that grocery store where you could get the "hippy" vegetables like kale has become an international corporation (and now part of Amazon) without quite ever changing its basic premise. A host of high-tech companies such as Dell, 3M, and Google have sites in Austin, making it something of Texas' Silicon Valley—Austin and the surrounding area are sometimes referred to as "Silicon Hills".
Combined with Austin's rich creativity-friendly culture, this has led to it becoming especially known as a hotspot for Video Game Companies: historically, it has been the home of Origin Systems, one half of Ion Storm (the other half was in Dallas), and a branch of Looking Glass Studios (coincidentally, Warren Spector had worked at all three). Nowadays, Retro Studios (known for the Metroid Prime and Donkey Kong Country Returns series) and Devolver Digital are based in the city, while a number of other AAA game developers, including Arkane Studios, BioWare, Blizzard Entertainment, and Electronic Arts, have branches in Austin that either currently employ or have employed a bunch of Origin, Ion Storm, and Looking Glass veterans. Meanwhile, over in the tabletop scene, the city is also home to Steve Jackson Games.
BryanCollege StationTwo cities adjoining one another, located around 100 miles from both Houston and Austin. Bryan was historically larger, but College Station caught up just before the turn of the current century and is now noticeably larger. College Station is home to Texas A&M University, the Aggies, and the George Bush Presidential Librarynote , which has a statue of horses leaping over a real chunk of the Berlin Wall, depicting the fall of the wall when Bush was President.
Corpus ChristiCoastal city located about two hours south of San Antonio. A major port and growing tourist attraction, with a subtropic climate that shares more with that of Florida than what most normally associate with Texas. Notable for its significant Mexican-American population and for being the hometown of slain Tejano singer Selena. Home to a branch campus of the aforementioned Texas A&M.
El PasoTexas's answer to Sacchin—it gets mentioned less in fiction than many other Texas towns, probably due in part to its isolation (at least from anything American; the closest major American city is Albuquerque, with Houston, Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio all 8-10 hours away by car). Located on the far western tip of the state, El Paso is in the Mountain Time Zone, while the rest of Texas keeps Central Time. It's a very large city (22nd largest in the country at nearly 700,000 people) that's right across the border from the even bigger Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, known to anybody who reads/watches the news as one of the most violent cities on earth due to all those drug cartels fighting for control of cross-border smuggling channels. For what it's worth, crime rates in El Paso itself do not seem to be too far above the norm for an American city its size; if anything, reports suggest that crime (violent crime especially) is unusually low in El Paso. In addition to its geographical isolation, it also has a noticeable lack of suburbs; most folks who live in the metro area live in the city proper, meaning its metro is disproportionally smaller than most other cities of its size (another reason its not brought up as often).
However, El Paso's unique character, history, and location have led to it becoming more regularly featured in recent years. In sports, it's Eddie Guerrero's hometown and also home to the University of Texas at El Paso, most famous for being home to the 1966 NCAA basketball championship team (back when the school was Texas Western College). They were a little known team famous for defeating the all-white Kentucky with the first all-black staring line up in NCAA history. This "Cinderella story" was famously depicted in the film Glory Road and made them the first (and for several years only) college men's team to ever be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.note In fiction, the Jaime Reyes version of the Blue Beetle is based here, a rarity for DC Comics (who tend to base their superheroes in fictional cities). The R&B artist Khalid spent much of his youth in the city and regularly mentions it in his music. Noted animator Don Bluth also hails from El Paso. Marty Robbins' 1959 smash "El Paso" became his invoked Signature Song.
Fredericksburg and Luckenbach
ain't nobody feelin' no pain.
The smaller counterpart to New Braunfels (see below), Fredericksburg shares much of the of the Texas German (or Texasdeutsch) heritage as its larger counterpart, as reflected in the town's architecture (and name), and is also just as active in the trendy San Antonio/Austin tourist scene. World War II Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz is from here, as is a museum about the Pacific War that bears his name. It serves as a gateway to the Hill Country wine scene, and hosts several wineries within the city limits itself.note And be sure to visit during the early-to-mid summer, when Fredericksburg's famous peaches are in season.
Nearby Luckenbach (population 3), which was once also a rural German settlement, is notable today as a tiny (but popular) Country Music venue. Outlaw country singer Jerry Jeff Walker's live album ¡Viva Terlingua! was recorded here, and the town got a very famous Shout-Out in the popular 1977 Waylon Jennings song "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)."note It consists of a general store selling souvenirs, the dance hall, and not much else, but is a nice little destination for country fans and native Texans alike.
GalvestonOceanfront resort town located on a narrow island about forty miles south of Houston. It was once one of the largest cities in Texas, and one of the busiest ports on the Gulf of Mexico, until it was destroyed in 1900 by a hurricane four times as destructive as Katrina. Although the city was rebuilt, development shifted north to Houston, Southeast Texas' economy shifted from cotton to oil, and the city never really recovered its former glory. It later became a Mafia-controlled Vice City from 1920 to 1957, when it lost the title to Las Vegas. The city is now known, in Texas at least, for being chock full of honestly nice people. In music, "Galveston" was a 1969 hit single for Glen Campbell.
The Golden TriangleNot what you may think if you're not from Texasit's not DFW, Houston, and San Antonio. In Texas, this refers to the conurbation of Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange in the southeast corner of the state, whose metropolitan area borders metro Houston. The term dates back to the early 20th century, originally referring to the enormous wealth that flowed from the monstrous 1901 Spindletop oil strike in what's now the southern part of the city of Beaumont. In more recent decades, the "golden" part is literal in a different way, as gas flares from the numerous oil refineries in the area give off a orange-gold glow at night.
to that home out on the range.
A real life Quirky Town that can't seem to stop getting attention for the oddest reasons. For instance, somebody went and made a play and a film about that little "restaurant" that used to be just outside town. ZZ Top described the town as one of their favorite places in the worldnote , so much so that they wrote a song about it. You might have heard it once or twice.
LaredoFamous border town across the Rio Grande from the drug-war-torn city of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. The southern terminus of Interstate 35, which runs all the way to Duluth, Minnesota. Also one of the three southern termini of Interstate 69, which will eventually run to Port Huron, Michigan. A major hub of transportation and shipping.
LubbockThe largest city in the Texas Panhandle, and also the largest city in an extremely flat, barren stretch of land called the Llano Estacado, or 'Palisade Plains'. It is the birthplace of Buddy Holly, a fact you are likely to be reminded of often if you visit. Home to Texas Tech University. Also home to a very large prairie dog town. As this entry might hint, it's memetically a bit sleepy.
One of the more noteworthy parts of Lubbock is a well-earned reputation for its somewhat eccentric climate. Sitting at the intersection of several major standing atmospheric patterns in North America means almost constant wind in one direction or another, and that periodic mudshowers and midsummer hailstorms are only the beginning of the whimsy.
MarfaA tiny town out in remote West Texas, and at first glance there's not a whole lot to it. But over time it's gained somewhat of a reputation as a Quirky Town; it has its own well-regarded arts scene thanks to the Chinati Foundation, has its own NPR affiliate, and has a tourist draw through the faux-mysterious Marfa lights. It was also the main filming location for James Dean's final movie Giant, and was one of the filming locations for There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men. It also has its own infamous Prada store, sort of.note
New BraunfelsGerman-founded town in central Texas, roughly equidistant from Austin and San Antonio. Named after the town of Braunfels in Hesse, it was mostly a German-speaking farm town until the United States cracked down on the use of German in public in 1917. note It later became a bedroom town for both Austin and San Antonio. Small Soldiers was filmed and set here.
Also the home of Schlitterbahn, a world-famous water park that consistently gets rated as the Number One water park in the world, alongside its sister park Schlitterbahn Beach in South Padre Island.
OdessaMidlandHome to Claire Bennet and the Permian High School Panthers (not to be confused with the Dillon High School Panthers) and was also the boyhood home of George W. Bush. Their economy is driven by the oil industry, so it follows the oil booms and busts. As such, they were hit hard during the 1980s, when the easily-accessible oil started to get tapped out, but in recent years they have have had a resurgence, with new finds and drilling techniques leading to more oil production, as well as the development of natural gas and wind energy. This has produced a vastly expanding economy and an exploding population in both cities. The downside of this is that the housing market is through the roof, with individuals with high-paying jobs barely able to keep a roof over their heads. In addition, the traffic has substantially increased on roads that were not intended to handle that amount. From 2012 to 2013, traffic fatalities increased over 300%. On top of that, the region is currently in a severe drought, so more people puts additional strain on nearly depleted reservoirs. Odessa itself has the dubious honor of being the most dangerous city in Texas and has twice ranked as the murder capital of Americanote . Odessa's Permian High School also has the unsavory nickname of "Predator High" due to the number of Teacher/Student Romance scandals in recent years.
The Rio Grande Valley citiesIn rough west-to-east order: Mission, McAllen, Edinburg, Pharr, Weslaco, Harlingen, and Brownsville. A major agricultural and manufacturing center and gateway to both Spring Break mecca South Padre Island and the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Pharr and Brownsville are the other two southern termini of Interstate 69. The Valley is the third largest producer of citrus fruit in America behind California and Florida. Despite the name, it's actually a flat, swampy floodplain. Birthplace of football coach Tom Landry, Iwo Jima flag raiser Harlon Block, musician Freddy Fender, replacement John Connor Nick Stahl, and wrestler Tito Santana.
San AngeloKnown as the Oasis of West Texas (it has three rivers and three lakes), and once known as the Mohair Capitol of the World, San Angelo is a mid-sized city in the west-central portion of the state, lies almost exactly halfway between Interstates 20 and 10, and as any San Angeloan will boast, is the largest city not on an interstate highway.note
In its original form in the late 1800s, the town was a Wretched Hive of saloons and bordellos for the soldiers across the river at Fort Concho to enjoy. That changed in 1882 when San Angelo had to clean up its act and become county seat after the original county seat was destroyed in a flood. Today, though it's a modern city, San Angelo pretty much flies under the radar. That said, it did come into some slight national prominence during the 2008 YFZ Ranch raid, as many of the associated criminal trials took place in San Angelo. It also briefly made international headlines (and a Leno monologue) in May 2009 when its popular and then-recently reelected mayor didn't show up for his fourth swearing-in ceremony, instead choosing to flee to Mexico with his boyfriend.note
San Angelo has a university and an Air Force base, a burgeoning art and live music scene (One-Hit Wonder bands the Cavaliers and Los Lonely Boys are each from San Angelo), and is somewhat cynically known by locals as a town of bad driving and horrible tap water.
San AntonioTexas's second-largest single city as of the 2010 Census (passing Dallas) and the seventh-largest in the US with 1.5 million people calling it home (though the metropolitan area is quite a bit further down the list). It's billed as Texas's premier tourist destination; there's Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Sea World, the Riverwalk, several Spanish missions, New Braunfels just up the road, and of course, the Alamo.note
Historically speaking, there's still quite a bit of Mexican influence in the town, as reflected in the local culture. San Antonio also has a huge military presence; at one point it was the home of four Air Force bases (Lackland and Randolph are still active, Brooks has been closed and Kelly was absorbed into Lackland) and an army post (Fort Sam Houston). If you were in the Air Force and not an officer, you very likely started out at Lackland.
Also notable for the San Antonio Spurs, who generally put up a good team year in and year out, and for being the home of Shawn Michaels, Michelle Rodriguez, Kevin Talley, Summer Glau, Shaquille O'Neal (in high school), and MarzGurl, and if you count people conceived in San Antonio, Marilyn Manson.
The city is located about eighty miles (roughly an hour and a half driving time depending on traffic) southwest of Austin, meaning that the two cities are sometimes conflated together. Between San Antonio's tourist spots and Austin's, well, Austin-ness, the two cities serve as a hub for those visiting the state.
TexarkanaNamed for the confluence of three states: Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. A mostly blue-collar rural town that has a bad reputation for being a criminal hotbed: in the 1946 the still unsolved Texarkana Moonlight Murders occurred here; in recent times, lots of drug trafficking crime and rivalries between white, black, and Hispanic gangs. On the plus side, ragtime musician Scott Joplin and golfer Byron Nelson were both born here.
WacoA small city located roughly halfway between Dallas and Austin on I-35 in the middle of the "Texas Triangle" between Dallas, Houston, and Austin/San Antonio, this town has had... a rough history, to say the least. In 1916, a black man named Jesse Washington was accused of raping and murdering a white woman, tried and convicted in a trial that lasted all of one hour, and was subsequently hung, castrated, and burned alive for two hours in front of the Town Hall. People took pictures and sold pieces of his charred corpse as souvenirs during and immediately after his death; the public images outraged most of the United States. In 1953, Waco was destroyed by the eleventh-deadliest tornado in US history (with a death toll of 114note ), which stalled its economic growth while cities of similar size like Austin boomed. Forty years later, it was doomed to have its name forever associated with the name of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, a group of disfellowshipped members of disfellowshipped members of the Seventh-Day Adventists (long story) who got into an armed standoff with the ATF and FBI at their compound right outside the city at Mount Carmelnote , making the word "Waco" a rallying cry for Right Wing Militia Fanatics for years; the raid was noted as being the reason why Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh would plot his attack on the Murrah Building (intentionally carried out on the second anniversary of the siege).
Yeah, poor town.
Today, George W. Bush's "ranch", formerly known as the "Western White House", is located a couple dozen miles outside the city. Steve Martin is from here; and Baylor University, established in 1845, has claimed the title of being the oldest continuously operating university in the state of Texas.note The HGTV series Fixer Upper is based here as well; Chip and Joanna Gaines' Magnolia Market is a popular tourist destination.
Wichita FallsAnother smaller city, located almost a hundred miles north-west of the DFW Metroplex, and definitely more of a "passing-through" town. Home to "The World's Smallest Skyscraper", (the result of a technicality/loophole on the blueprints for the building) and the Hotter'N Hell Hundred, a world-famous 100-mile bicycling race and ridenote taking place in the middle of the summer, when temperatures sit at above 100 degrees Fahrenheit daily. Wichita Falls is also the childhood home of Mia Hamm (who attended Notre Dame Catholic Academy, a fact the school would never shut up about until their closure in mid-2021), the music band Bowling for Soup, Phil McGraw (a.k.a. Dr. Phil), wrestler Keith Lee, and World Series-winning Boston Red Sox pitcher Ryan Brazier. Wichita Falls is home to Midwestern State University (a member of the Texas Tech family of schools), an extension of a college from a neighboring city (Vernon College), and one of three Air Force bases in Texas (this being Sheppard, the others being Lackland in San Antonio and Dyess in Abilene) that all aspiring pilots are required to attend. Sometimes included with the Metroplex, despite not technically being included according to the feds and being so far away.
Has something of an inter-city rivalry with the Oklahoma town Lawton about an hour north. The two towns are, in many ways, mirrors of each other, including having a large military presence, Interservice Rivalry (as just mentioned, Wichita Falls has a major Air Force base, while Lawton is at the gates of Fort Sill, an Army post) and universities that play each other in almost every Division II sport. It also, at times, feels like a sort of microcosm of the Oklahoma-Texas rivalry.
Made a direct appearance on an episode of King of the Hill, when Hank and Bobby visited to watch the Dallas Cowboys training camp, as the Cowboys really did have their annual training camp in the town until around 2002. Less known is the time Billie Piper wore a shirt from the city while filming the Doctor Who episode "The Girl in the Fireplace".
At the turn of The New '10s, Wichita Falls gained a reputation of being a Weirdness Magnet. During the 2011-2015 drought, Wichita Falls became known as the town that recycled toilet water, thanks to Jimmy Fallon sharing it on his late show. A few years later, the town became known nationally once again for a woman attempting to hide wine in a Pringles can, and after that, the town made national headlines again for the arrest of a man who wanted to bomb an Amazon data center so that he would disable "70% of the internet"note .