A strange thing happened when I entered my thirties: I found myself at brunch enthusiastically chatting about a local home tour. “I’ve always wanted to go!” gushed one friend, who was already in her grandmillennial era. “Let’s look and see when the dates are,” said another, mimosa in one hand, phone open to Google in the other. And that’s how, a few months later, I found myself huddled together with friends and strangers, dodging a torrential downpour under the porte-cochère of 5500 Swiss Avenue in Old East Dallas.

The Swiss Avenue Historic District Mother’s Day Home Tour celebrated 48 years this past May, complete with food trucks, live music, an art fair, free carriage rides, and visits to seven of the most impressive old-money mansions in town (and that’s saying something in Dallas). But were it not for a group of passionate neighbors, the Swiss Avenue Historic District might not exist today. 

Swiss Avenue, whose first home was built in 1905, was part of the first deed-restricted neighborhood in Texas. Homes built here were required to be at least two stories tall and had to cost more than $10,000 (around $350,000 in 2023) to build. Wealthy owners called on nationally renowned architects like Hal Thomson and the firm Lang & Witchell to bring their visions to life. For decades, Swiss Avenue thrived as Dallas’s most prestigious neighborhood, with amenities like easy trolley access to downtown and the first “paved” road in the city (The surfacing material of choice? Hearty crab apple tree wood). But by the early 1970s, many of the grand estates had fallen into disrepair. A group of concerned citizens rallied together and asked officials to designate Swiss Avenue as Dallas’s first historic district. “They laughed at us,” recalls longtime resident Harryette Ehrhardt. 

I first met Ehrhardt at 5500 Swiss Avenue, officially known as the Aldredge House. The 89-year-old had a wide smile and a soft voice, but instantly commanded the attention of our tour group that had crammed into the home’s breakfast nook to hear her stories. Ehrhardt was one of the people that lobbied to save Swiss Avenue. For more than fifty years, she and her husband lived nearby in a 1920s brick home once owned by a member of the family that founded Neiman Marcus. That Sunday afternoon, Ehrhardt recounted the many hurdles the group of neighbors faced on their preservation journey and how, ultimately, they won by running for office themselves (Ehrhardt served four terms in the Texas House of Representatives). Today, the protected 2.5-mile stretch features more than two hundred homes in nearly every style—from Spanish Revival and Georgian to Craftsman and Tudor—and it’s been hailed as one of the country’s finest intact neighborhoods of early-twentieth-century residential architecture.

Admittedly, before that weekend, I was somewhat skeptical of home tours. Maybe because I had them confused with a parade of homes, which typically features new builds and tends to be more commercial. Or maybe because it felt like a rich man’s show-and-tell. But I’ve since learned that these traditions are serious drivers for historic preservation, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars and ensuring these neighborhoods can be enjoyed for generations to come.

The tours themselves are as varied as the Texas terrain, spotlighting everything from desert minimalism, a.k.a. “Marfa Modernism,” to quaint Hill Country farmhouses to coastal turn-of-the-century mansions. Except for a few house museums or historic public spaces, most stops offer a rare glimpse into private residences. Plan ahead to experience these can’t-miss home tours that take place over the course of just a few days every year.

Candlelight Tours (multiple cities)

The holidays are a popular time for home tours and a chance to see many historic structures festively decorated and lit by candlelight. The Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex boasts evening events in Granbury, Weatherford, McKinney, Grapevine, and urban neighborhoods like Fort Worth’s Ryan Place and Dallas’s Lakewood. Houstonians can travel back in time with the Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park, while folks in San Antonio and Austin should buy tickets well in advance to experience the magic of Castroville at Christmas. Last but certainly not least, the East Texas town of Jefferson is known for going all out when decking the halls of its Victorian masterpieces. 

Galveston Historic Homes Tour (Galveston)

Every year, some six thousand people descend on Galveston Island the first two weekends in May for the chance to see inside beautifully restored residences on the Gulf Coast. “We have one of the largest collections in the country of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century houses, from roughly 1870 to about 1920,” says Dwayne Jones, CEO of the Galveston Historical Foundation, which puts on the Galveston Historic Homes Tour and uses the proceeds, in part, to support the upkeep of National Historic Landmarks like Bishop’s Palace and the tall ship Elissa. 

In 2024, the tour celebrates fifty years. While details are still being worked out, it typically includes around ten houses—from Queen Anne–style showstoppers that predate the infamous hurricane of 1900 to mid-century modern bungalows from the 1960s. A committee selects homes that help tell the story of the port city from both the working and wealthy classes’ points of view. And, of course, a commitment to preservation is paramount. Often, the tour features a “restoration in progress”—a home that the foundation purchased to restore and help educate the public about various techniques. 

The Gingerbread Trail Tour of Homes (Waxahachie)

Nestled between Dallas and Waco, Waxahachie may be known as the Gingerbread City for its large volume of well-preserved Victorian architecture, but that’s not all you’ll see on this tour. Held the first weekend of June, the Gingerbread Trail Tour of Homes boasts a mix of residences and historic buildings—think a gilded library, 1800s theater, and Richardsonian Romanesque courthouse. The variety of styles may be one reason why Waxahachie has more buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places than almost anywhere else in Texas. Stop by the Ellis County Museum, the sponsor and beneficiary, to learn more about the history of the tour, now in its fifty-fourth year.

Outside Mansfield House.
Outside Mansfield House in Houston. Courtesy of Jan Greer
The Mansfield House sunroom.
The Mansfield House sunroom. Courtesy of Jan Greer

Good Brick Tour (Houston)

Since 1979, Preservation Houston has bestowed the “Good Brick Awards” on homes that demonstrate excellence in historic preservation. The annual tour by the same name started a decade ago and showcases some of the past and present winners. “Many people don’t think about preservation when they think about Houston because the city’s always had this kind of forward-looking image with NASA, oil, and new construction,” says Preservation Houston’s program director Jim Parsons. “We like being able to show people that you can live in a historic neighborhood and a historic home even in the middle of all this change.” 

This November, attendees can tour, among other properties, the iconic Mansfield House in Houston Heights. “It was built in the 1890s,” Parsons says, “and it’s a house that everybody knows because it’s kind of a storybook Victorian with turrets and porches and gingerbread details.” In addition to trained docents, someone who was directly involved with the restoration of each house—the homeowner, architect, or designer—is on site to answer questions.

Preservation Austin (Austin)

The program for Preservation Austin’s most recent home tour reads like a lively retelling from an in-the-know neighbor. There’s the “airplane bungalow” with a pop-up second story resembling a plane cockpit, once home to a Texas Supreme Court Justice, and an 1860s limestone cottage built by homesteaders that a century later hosted the city’s most exciting New Year’s Day soirees. A Texas folk-style boarding house played a pivotal role in the life of Heman Marion Sweatt, a civil rights activist who desegregated the law school at the University of Texas and influenced the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. In East Austin, the tour highlighted a former train depot turned private home. Supporting the advocacy efforts of Austin’s only historic preservation nonprofit, this tour is packed with stories of the past, but also includes plenty of quirky design elements—like a pond in the middle of a living room. Save the date for the next iteration, happening April 20–21, 2024. 

Smithville Airing of the Quilts and Tour of Homes (Smithville)

An hour outside of Austin, the small town of Smithville hangs handmade quilts along Main Street and outside homes on the second Saturday in November as part of the Smithville Airing of the Quilts and Tour of Homes. The event is an homage to an old pioneer tradition where families would “air out” their quilts in the sunshine ahead of a long winter. This year, attendees can take part in a quilt scavenger hunt, shop for keepsake blankets at area antique stores, and pop into one of five country homes—some on the Historic Register of Texas—along a route curated by the town’s garden club.

Treasures of the Past Home Tour (Victoria)

Next year marks the bicentennial for Victoria, a charming city with more than a hundred buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Sometimes referred to as “The Crossroads” due to its prime location—it’s two hours from Houston, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi—the city was once a hub for cattle drives before becoming a center for oil and gas. Those industries helped fund much of the impressive architecture still standing today, ranging in style from ornate Italianate to Art Deco. The best way to experience it? On the Treasures of the Past Home Tour, held the third weekend in April. Past lineups have included homes as well as historic churches, a turn-of-the-century convent, and buildings designed by Jules Leffland, a Danish architect known for his Neoclassical Revival work.