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20 Spontaneous Day Trips From Houston You Need To Go On This Winter

Let’s face it: #Adulting is hard work — especially around the holidays. The struggle can be so real between crazy work schedules and even crazier shopping sprees, not to mention all those Christmas soirees and home-for-the-holidays fam-jam drama.

Sometimes you just need an escape from it all — and a spontaneous day trip is just the thing if you can't hop a flight. You can run away from reality and still be home in time for dinner — or for work on Monday, as the case may be.

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These 20 places are a perfect wintertime getaway, what with chill scenes and cool festivities — and even some hot barbecue — that is well worth the drive. Not that you’ll have that far to drive, as many of these places clock in at an hour in the car — or less.

George Observatory

Where: 21901 FM 762, Needville

45 min drive

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It’s time to get star-struck. Every Saturday, the Houston Museum of Nature and Science’s George Observatory at Brazos Bend State Park comes alive with celestial stargazing. And, you may want to head there on Wednesday, December 12, too, for a special night to spot the Geminid Meteor Shower from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. If you want to do something else while you’re in Needville during the day, explore the state park itself with its 37 miles of trails across 5,000 acres of prairie land, forest canopies, lakes and marshes, and more.

Moody Mansion

Where: 2618 Broadway, Galveston

1 hr drive

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Go behind the scenes of this mega-manse that rings in at 28,000 square feet. Tours will take you through 20 rooms of the circa 1895 structure that was once home to one of Texas’ most powerful families in American finance. Plus, it’s all decked out for Christmas, too.

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The Inn at Dos Brisas

Where: 10000 Champion Dr., Washington

1 hr drive

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Escape the holiday madness and treat yourself with an overnight stay at this luxurious Relais & Chateaux resort that’s nothing short of an idyllic getaway in the rolling meadows of Texas Hill Country. It’s just a short drive from H-Town, but you’ll feel worlds away. And, the festive decorations will warm your heart and soul, too.

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Sam Houston National Forest

Where: 394 FM 1375 West, New Waverly

1 hr drive

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Take a hike and become one with nature here — especially with the cooler temps now. This is one of only four national forests in the United States and it boasts the 128-mile-long Lone Star Hiking Trail along with loads of scenic areas — one of the most popular is the Big Creek Scenic Area in the eastern portion of the forest. You can pick up the trail at three major sections: Lake Conroe, Central, and Winters Bayou/Tarkington Creek.

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Texas Bluebonnet Wine Trail

Where: Locations vary

1 hr drive

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Raise a glass to the winter season and follow the Holiday Crystal Wine Trail during the first two weekends in December. It’s a unique event experience with the Texas Bluebonnet Wine Trail’s seven wineries and features two specially-selected wine tastings paired with holiday food samples at each. Of course, if you don’t make during those weekends, any time is a good time to say cheers at the wineries that include Bernhardt, Cork This!, Messina Hof, Peach Creek Vineyards, Pleasant Hill, Saddlehorn, and Texas Star — all located within close proximity to the greater Houston area. Just remember, no drinking and driving!

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Schlitterbahn Waterpark

Where: 2026 Lockheed Rd., Galveston

1 hr drive

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If you’re having the winter blues, you can still make a splash at Schlitterbahn’s heated indoor waterpark which is open on weekends and select holidays until December 30. In addition to all the normal poolside fun, you can float in tubes through a giant, holiday-themed snow globe, surf with Santa, or watch the Bahn Borealis indoor light display.

The River Walk

Where: San Antonio

3 hr drive

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The world-renowned urban waterway is always a destination worth exploring. But, it’s especially festive in the winter with all the holiday lights that decorate the River Walk through the first of the New Year along with Ford Holiday Boat Caroling that runs from November 30 to December 21. And, the Ford Fiesta de las Luminaries adds even more enchantment; it’s a century’s old tradition with more than 2,000 Mexican Christmas lanterns that line the banks of the river on weekends from November 30 through December 16.

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San Jacinto Monument

Where: One Monument Circle, La Porte

30 min drive

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Go sky-high at the dizzying observation deck of the world’s tallest monument column — all in, it soars 567.31 feet into the air. The monument commemorates the battleground that became the birth of Texas independence, so you’re getting a history lesson, too.

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Mercer Arboretum and Botanical Gardens

Where: 22306 Aldine Westfield Rd., Humble

25 min drive

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Get out of city limits at this oasis of serenity and nature along Cypress Creek. Filled with 300 acres of hiking trails, expansive gardens, and native and cultivated plants, it’s a lush place to go au naturel.

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Sugar Land Holiday Lights

Where: Constellation Field, 1 Stadium Dr., Sugar Land

25 min drive

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With more than 2.5 million lights, it’s nothing short of lit at this fifth annual event. The glittering wonderland features all sorts of thematic displays along with holiday shopping opportunities, great food, holiday cinema nights, Santa Claus, and more. So, the magic of the season shines even more brightly — and sweetly! — here. The light show begins November 23 and runs through January 1.

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Moody Gardens

Where: One Hope Blvd., Galveston

1 hr drive

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Between the pyramids and palms outside and the sharks and other sea creatures inside, there’s plenty to see on an ordinary day here. But, during the wintertime, the place goes totally festive with eight major holiday attractions including the frozen Ice Land, a one-mile Festival of Lights trail, holiday 3D films, train rides, an arctic slide, ice skating, photos with Santa, live entertainment, and more. The holiday magic lasts until January 6.

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Magnolia Market at the Silos

Where: 601 Webster Ave., Waco

2 hr 50 min drive

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Skip the malls and get thee to Magnolia Market! It’s the mothership for Chip and Joanna Gaines’ hit HGTV series Fixer Upper, and this place attracts all the mega fans and shiplap fiends. But, it also turns into quite the winter wonderland around the holidays. So, even if you don’t know a thing about the show, it’s still worth the trip. Plus, with the perfectly coordinated home décor, lifestyle goods and accessories, bakery, and more, you’ll find every gift you need — maybe even a few for yourself!

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Cypress Valley Canopy Tours

Where: 1223 South Paleface RR, Spicewood

3 hr 30 min drive

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You’ll never forget your first time — sleeping in the trees. Not just a destination for zip line adventures, Cypress Valley also has an even better treat: glamping in tree-top havens nestled in ancient cypress trees. The Yoki, Juniper, Willow, and Nest treehouses are all lovely — and so naturally cozy in the winter, too. And, the round Lofthaven treehouse even has a huge trunk growing right through the middle and features a whimsical canopy bed, hammock, and wraparound porch.

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The Salt Lick BBQ

Where: 18300 FM 1826, Driftwood

2 hr 45 min drive

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Driving close to three hours for barbecue may seem crazy to you. But, then again, you probably haven’t experienced The Salt Lick BBQ in the Texas Hill Country. The place has been around since 1967 with its world-renowned ’cue — with family recipes that date back to the wagon trains of the mid-1800s. Just remember: It’s cash only. We wouldn’t want you to get all the way there with only plastic in hand. And, if you’re craving the smoked stuff, but simply can’t make the trek to The Salt Lick, then head to Killen’s Barbecue. It’s only 25 minutes away from Houston in Pearland — a quick and delicious day trip if there ever was one!

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Kemah Boardwalk

Where: 215 Kipp Ave., Kemah

45 min drive

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The coastal theme park gets all Christmas’d up with ‘Jingle on the Boardwalk’ on weekends in December. With everything from cookie decorating, to festive music, stilt walkers, balloon artists, and movies, it’s a holiday playland. The place is worth the trip, regardless, for the kitschy, old-school amusement park rides — oh, and the hot cocoa, cotton candy, and caramel apples, too, of course.

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Longhorn Cavern

Where: 6211 Park Road 4 South, Burnet

3 hr 30 min drive

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Who knew there was this deep, dark secret underneath the Texas ground. It’s almost hard to believe the undulating drama that unfolds in this dreamy underground haven that was created by the dissolving and cutting action of an ancient river.

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Tejas Chocolate Craftory

Where: 200 N. Elm St., Tomball

45 min drive

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Sweet and smoky; it’s the best of both worlds. That’s what’s up at this decadent place that serves up rustic chocolate and urban barbecue. It’s been heralded among the top 10 barbecue joints in Texas Monthly. So, you know it’s going to be next-level good. And, of course, there’s chocolate.

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Blue Lagoon

Where: 649 Pinedale Rd., Huntsville

1 hr 15 min drive

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Iceland has its Blue Lagoon — and so does Texas. Seventy miles north of Houston, two limestone quarries are filled with warm, blue-green spring water shaded by pine trees, creating nothing short of a surreal scene. The spot especially caters to scuba divers, as there’s a training facility and full gear shop onsite. So, if you’re in the market to brush up on your scuba skills before a trip to the Caribbean, this is the place.

Gruene Hall

Where: 1281 Gruene Rd., New Braunfels

2 hr 30 min drive

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Texas’ oldest dance hall always has a show to see — almost any night of the week — with country, Americana, folk, gospel, and other legit artists hitting the stage. Plan to visit during the monthly Gruene Market Days (December 1-2) to see handcrafted products from more than 100 artisans and artists, too. Christmas shopping: Solved.

Six Flags Fiesta Texas

Where: 17000 IH-10 West, San Antonio

3 hr 45 min drive

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Chill out and thrill out at Six Flags’ special Holiday in the Park that transforms the park into a place of enchantment with millions of colorful twinkling lights , family-friendly interactive activities and holiday shows, s’mores fire pits, Christmas funnel cakes, Santa Claus sightings, the Holiday Express train, roller coasters (of course), and so much more. Holiday in the Park keeps the lights on until January 6.

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