For more Best Things in Texas coverage read about how rural Republicans stood up to their party’s leadership in the school voucher fight and how state representative Andrew Murr ran the prosecution of Attorney General Ken Paxton. For less illustrious achievements, read Bum Steers of the Year, 2024.

Texans saw hope in the way a runner with Down syndrome crossed a finish line, in the way a scrappy turtle made her way from the Gulf Coast to the UK (and back!), and in the way a handful of Republicans stood up against corruption, big-money influence, and extremism in their party. Texans are making our state more fun, more hopeful, and more charitable than—well maybe not ever but more than last year, we’re sure of it.

Simone Biles, a Spring resident and the most decorated gymnast in the history of the sport, successfully performed the Yurchenko double pike—long considered all but impossible—at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships, held in Belgium this year. The skill is now codified as the Biles II because she had another vault named after her in 2018.

The Dallas Cowboys drafted running back Deuce Vaughn, the son of one of their scouts, Chris Vaughn. “Look here, man, do you want to come to work with me next week?” Vaughn senior, his voice cracking, asked his son from the team’s draft room.

After the six-man Gordon Longhorns high school football team scored its fifth touchdown during an away game against Waco’s Live Oak Classical School Falcons, field goal kicker Juan Cabrera booted the extra point attempt through the uprights, over the fence, and into the arms of Kennedy Irwin, a 23-year-old Baylor grad who was sitting in the passenger seat of a passing car. 

Austinite Kayleigh Williamson completed the New York City Marathon just a year after becoming the first person with Down syndrome to finish the Austin Marathon.

One of Mr. Pickles’s hatchlings.
One of Mr. and Mrs. Pickles’ new babies. Jackelin Reyna/Houston Zoo

The Houston Zoo’s oldest resident, Mr. Pickles, a 90-year-old endangered tortoise, welcomed three babies—Dill, Gherkin, and Jalapeño—with his 53-year-old wife, Mrs. Pickles. 

The Royal Air Force flew Tally, a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, the smallest and most endangered sea turtle species primarily found in the Gulf of Mexico, back to Texas two years after an ocean current swept her across the Atlantic to Wales, where she was rescued by a dog walker. She was released back into her natural habitat from a Galveston beach in September.

In the middle of a 52-day streak of 99-plus-degree high temperatures in the Central Texas town of Hutto, a local H-E-B created an apology cake that read “I’m sorry for what I said when it was 109 degrees outside.”

In an attempt to break a Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people with the same first name, 1,490 Kyles flocked to the Austin exurb of Kyle, but came up 835 Kyles short of the record, which is held by 2,325 Ivans who gathered in Kupreš, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 2017. 

Nearly 10,000 residents of Bexar County received letters notifying them that the New York nonprofit RIP Medical Debt and the California financial services company EarnIn had paid off their collective $13.9 million in debt.

In October, San Antonio’s Eric and Valerie Castillo visited Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve, completing a three-year mission to take their now three-year-old daughter, Journey, to visit all 63 national parks. Journey is almost certainly the youngest person to accomplish the feat.

Stephanie Brantley, of Edinburg, 35 miles west of Harlingen, hired a coffee vendor to serve at her wedding, but when the vendor found out it was a same-sex marriage, it canceled the contract. After getting married, Brantley, apparently taking a page from Curb Your Enthusiasm’s “spite store” episode, started her own business, Match Made Coffee Bar, to directly compete with the vendor.

North Texas’s Starship Bagel won Best Bagel at the fourth annual New York BagelFest. 

In Kingsland, an hour west of Austin, the Texas Chainsaw Massacre house has been turned into a restaurant called Hooper’s, in honor of the film’s late Texan director, Tobe Hooper. 

Harlan High School senior Lexi Owens constructed a Texas-shaped homecoming mum that measured six feet tall and five feet wide.

Around the World at 80 Best Things
Ellie Hamby and Sandy Hazelip in Egypt. Courtesy of @aroundtheworldat80

Octogenarian best friends Ellie Hamby, of Abilene, and Sandy Hazelip, of nearby Eastland, traveled around the world in eighty days, visiting eighteen countries and all seven continents and along the way became social media stars known as the “traveling grannies.”

Corpus Christi’s Jason Grosboll went viral after being filmed serving up a gigantic box of popcorn with some dexterous flips and twirls at his job in Century 16 movie theaters. “No such thing as unskilled labor,” read the caption of the video, which has drawn more than 30 million views on X.

Two escaped show goats traipsed through a Houston-area Target before Harris County deputies safely corralled them. 

Australian James Webb, a competitive eater, staked his claim as an honorary Texan after completing several Texas food challenges in a week. He ate a shrimp cocktail, a baked potato, a salad, a buttered roll, and a 72-ounce steak at Amarillo’s Big Texan Steak Ranch; a five-pound burger and a pound of fries at Bebo’s Cafe, in North Texas’s Aubrey; loaded fries, a milkshake, and a six-patty burger at a Sky Rocket Burger in Frisco; two hoagies loaded with six pounds of cheesesteak and a side of fries at Fred’s Downtown Philly in Plano; and a five-pound bowl of loaded tater tots at Rogers Roundhouse, in Fort Worth. But Webb met his match at Fort Worth’s Ol’ South Pancake House, where he failed to become the fourth person to consume an eight-pound stack of pancakes.  

best things in texas hot wheels
Texas Toot, the eleven-foot-tall monster truck. Courtesy of Craig Meaux

Hot Wheels released a toy version of Craig Meaux’s passion project, an eleven-foot-tall monster truck called Texas Toot that features eyeball-like headlights and a set of welded teeth on its front fender. Meaux, who lives in Nederland, spent nearly two years and more than $30,000 building the original by hand.

Willie Nelson marked his ninetieth year with the release of two albums and a book and a two-night birthday celebration at the Hollywood Bowl featuring performances by fellow Texans such as Leon Bridges, Gary Clark Jr., the Chicks, Norah Jones, Lyle Lovett, and George Strait—plus, of course, the birthday boy himself.

UT–Austin researcher Steve Mays paid homage to the beloved Buc-ee’s mascot when he named an extinct beaver species, a fossil of which was found tucked away in a file cabinet in a campus museum, Anchitheriomys buceei, or A. buceei for short. 

To teach his class how to recognize disinformation, UT–Austin journalism professor John Schwartz assigned students to write a letter using ad hominem attacks on him—and the students didn’t hold back. One of Schwartz’s favorites: “I just find you too short physically and find it hard to entrust my academic standing to someone who isn’t even tall enough to ride a roller coaster.”

A petit basset griffon Vendéen named Buddy Holly, after the rock and roll pride of Lubbock, won Best in Show during the 147th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York.  

This article originally appeared in the January 2024 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “The Best Things in Texas.” Subscribe today.