Now more than ever, the traveler is in control. The rise of Airbnb rentals, boutique hotels, and upscale camping has given us more options to customize our dream vacations, weekend getaways, and staycations. Long gone are the days of settling for generic hotel rooms. With that in mind, Texas Monthly staffers set out across the state in search of authentic experiences, staying at places that have opened or undergone major renovations since our last “Where to Stay Now,” in 2016. We selected lodging that truly reflected the location: we glamped across the Hill Country, lived large in Houston, got spiritual in Austin, and fell asleep watching the West Texas stars as they winked goodnight. We did it our way, too, from bringing the baby on a relaxing retreat to celebrating a romantic anniversary with a round of s’mores. Here are ten of our favorite new and improved hotels, lodges, tents, and more. (Also, check out our honorable mentions, Where to Stay Next, and our list of three great Dallas renovations.)
The first trip my boyfriend and I took together was a four-day backpacking adventure in the Northwest. Experiencing the highs and lows of braving the outdoors brought us closer together, so we decided to celebrate our second anniversary with another camping trip. Only this time, we could leave the iodine tablets and toilet paper at home. We chose Collective Retreats, a sprawling property with ten luxury tents that opened in 2018 along the Blanco River. Each site is named after a native Texas wildflower—ours was Indian Paintbrush—and offers the same immediacy to nature as camping, paired with amenities. Framed out front by two Adirondack chairs overlooking a valley enshrouded in mist was our tent for two, decorated in a rustic-chic style: a rough-hewn chest, beautifully patterned rugs and pillows, and a chandelier hanging from the central wooden beam. Behind our room was a fully separate private bathroom tent. The property offers in-tent massages and cooking demonstrations, but we channeled our first vacation by hiking along the ridgeline. Afterward, we headed to the dining tent for a chef-concocted dinner based on offerings from the neighboring Montesino Ranch: wild boar chili, grass-fed ribeye, and sweet potato soup. For dessert, we made s’mores over our wood-burning stove. Goodbye, backpacking—I propose glamping as our anniversary tradition. Rates start at $299; collectiveretreats.com—Charley Locke
The front porch of the Carr Mansion, in Galveston.
Photographs by Jeff Wilson
A sitting area inside the Carr Mansion.
I knew I was going to like the Carr Mansion when I arrived in early March and was greeted out front by two stately stone lions sporting purple-green-and-gold Mardi Gras masks. Turns out the regal pair have stood sentry before the Greek Revival structure since 1902, when they assumed their posts alongside newly added stairs during the grade-raising of Galveston Island after the 1900 hurricane (the estate itself was elevated eight feet). The majestic home has undergone many a transformation between its construction as a private residence, by Lewis W. Carr, in 1866, and its current incarnation as a bed-and-breakfast (including an unfortunate era that saw the installment of hot tubs on the verandas). Opened last year, after yet another large-scale renovation, the B&B is old-school elegant but radiates easygoing charm, thanks to a genial proprietor, Joellyn Moynahan, and decor that marries original details with flea-market finds and nautical treasures—and nary a doily in sight. Each of the eight rooms gives a nod to notable previous residents, like Governor Richard Coke, for whom the mansion was a summer retreat. Featuring refurbished claw-foot tubs, smart TVs, and cozy reading nooks, they’re the kind of rooms you could spend all day in, even though the mansion is smack-dab between the beach and the Strand (bikes and a golf cart are available). Do rouse yourself from your plush bed, though, for breakfast in the light-filled dining room. Etched in my memory is the experience of descending the creaky stairs to the faint strains of (I kid you not) “Beyond the Sea,” the pitter-patter of dog feet (a resident Yorkie named Jolie), and the aroma of coffee, bacon, and Joellyn’s truffle-infused hash browns. Get her laughing and regaling you with tales of misbehaving guests, and you’ll never want to leave. Rates start at $179; carrmansion.com —Courtney Bond
“Journey” is a word you hear a lot at Miraval Austin, the 220-acre resort and spa that opened in February on the former Travaasa site. Bordered by the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve and Lake Travis, it’s the first Miraval resort outside the flagship, in Tucson, Arizona. “Let’s plan out your wellness journey!” my personal concierge had enthused on the phone a few weeks earlier. I had only 24 hours at a place designed for longer visits. Did I want to throw hatchets, engage in “mindful horseback riding,” or meditate in a floating silk hammock in the yoga barn? I was celebrating a milestone birthday—my “personal journey” was entering its fiftieth year—so I decided to take a more new-age approach and signed up for an astrology class and a Reiki session (a Japanese energy practice that involves touching is my best explanation). I was going to pass on other options in order to relax and enjoy both of the resort’s infinity pools (I’m such a Pisces), but when I stopped to buy sunscreen and wine on the way to Miraval, I was carded by someone who remarked on my “nicely aging” skin. So, yes, one Spiritual Warrior Facial for me, please! In addition to a marshmallow of a bed and a private balcony, my room came with a sleeping bag and wooden bed for my cellphone, a Tibetan singing bowl, and a meditation cushion. All food and nonalcoholic drinks are included, so I tried to pace myself by mindfully eating my delicious meals. My facial was one of the best I’ve ever had, and my Reiki session left me feeling centered, even if I didn’t quite understand what happened. I guess I’ll need to journey back there again soon. Rates start at $499; miravalaustin.com—Kathy Blackwell
The bathroom at Wahwahtaysee, in Kingsbury.
Photographs by Jeff Wilson
One of three tents at Wahwahtaysee.
Wahwahtaysee Resort was a serendipitous discovery for me and my travel buddy, who earlier in the day had frantically searched online for a nearby alternative to the tiny house that she, my dog, and I were supposed to spend the night in. It was a situation in which “tiny” was more like “infinitesimal” and “house” more like “shed,” rendering the question of “where to stay now” rather urgent. Coming to our rescue and accepting our last-minute reservation, Wahwahtaysee (“firefly,” from the Ojibwe waawaatesi) is about fifteen miles southeast of San Marcos and comprises three 650-square-foot sturdy safari tents on one hundred acres of pastoral paradise nestled up against the San Marcos River. Each tent is nicely spaced for privacy and decked out like a minimalist high-end hotel room. The bathrooms are beautifully tiled and stocked with Aveda products; the commode is tucked into its own closet, the better to enjoy the soaking tub and spacious shower. A little kitchenette has the basics, but in keeping with the whole experience, you’ll want to do most of your cooking on the Big Green Egg just outside your tent (for a few extra bucks, you can have the Yeti cooler on your porch stocked with victuals before you arrive; for a few more, a local chef will do the cooking for you). As for entertainment, fishing and tubing and barbecue junkets to nearby Luling and Lockhart are options, but we were blissfully happy bouncing along in our provided golf cart down the trail to the river, a curve of which has carved out a tall cliff that borders a gorgeous patch of green grass and tall pecan trees. Then it was back to the tent for a hot shower outside, s’mores at the firepit, and a restful sleep in a cloudlike king bed, where we were awakened, only once, by the otherworldly and not-at-all-unsettling-well-maybe-a-little fracas of coyotes somewhere beyond the canvas walls. Rates start at $300; wahwahtayseeresort.com—Courtney Bond
When it opened, in 1956, the Statler Hilton became a magnet for celebrities and business travelers, but it later fell into disrepair and, starting in 2001, sat empty for more than a decade. It reopened in 2017 after a three-year, $255 million renovation. From its aqua facade to the terrazzo-floored lobby, the 159-room Statler exudes mid-century-modern cool, with a splash of Las Vegas–style hedonism. It felt like we were on Mad Men but with Wi-Fi. You’ll find a sort of wink-nod naughty vibe at play; there’s a basement speakeasy and a sexy rooftop pool bar. Even the toiletries have cheeky names (“Happy Ending” lotion, anyone?). It might be perfect for adult getaways, but that doesn’t mean a family with a twelve-year-old can’t have fun too, right? After check-in, my daughter and I went exploring. We couldn’t get enough of period details like repurposed phone booths and a forty-foot abstract mural, painted by artist Jack Lubin, that was discovered during the renovation and now hangs near reception. In our cozy room, I let my tech-savvy tween figure out the smart touchpad that controls the lights, HDTV, and AC while I indulged in the soaking tub. I was tempted to take a nap but needed to sort out dinner. A sold-out concert in the ballroom promised crowds, so we felt lucky to get a table at Scout, a hopping sports bar with a bowling alley. It was fun, but we would have been happier with something more low-key (Fine China, the hotel’s quieter option, was booked solid). Next time, we’ll order room service—that’s my kind of hedonism. Rates start at $259; thestatlerdallas.com—Amy Weaver Dorning
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The swimming pool of the Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston.
Photographs by Jeff Wilson
A marble guest bathroom at the Post Oak.
The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston
If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to be a one percenter, schedule a weekend at Tilman Fertitta’s Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston. The Houston entrepreneur (Landry’s restaurant group, which includes the Rainforest Cafe and Saltgrass Steak House), reality show host (Billion Dollar Buyer), and Rockets owner knows from the maxim “More is more.” The Post Oak, which opened in 2018, sits on a campus just off Loop 610 that includes Landry’s headquarters. No doubt you’ve heard about the Rolls-Royce showroom adjacent to the lobby and the Bentley dealership a few feet away. But you don’t need to step outside the aggressively air-conditioned, 250-room high-rise hotel to feel special. (It can also be hard to leave: the glass front doors are kept so perpetually pristine that I walked into one and nearly broke my toe.) There’s the sprawling cathedral-like lobby with the bluest of blue-chip artwork by Frank Stella and Robert Motherwell. There’s the sports-bar-ish Craft F&B; the ladies who lunch–ish Bloom & Bee; and Bouchée Patisserie, for those who require a house-made bonbon in between meals. There is the lovely pool with a firepit at one end and a hot tub/waterfall at the other. There’s the spa, complete with heated loungers designed for maximum meditative states. And then there are the guest rooms, which really separate the Post Oak from other high-class joints. Choosing your pillow is so passé; here, you have a choice of personal lighting— “romantic” or “entertaining”? Work out in the state-of-the-art fitness center or with the weights provided in the room? Use your marble-clad shower or the marble-framed tub? (Okay, yes, I got a little cranky that there was only one tube of Acqua di Parma bath gel for both.) Congrats, I thought. I made it to the overclass. Rates start at $359; thepostoakhotel.com—Mimi Swartz
Back in Time
Newly reopened after an eight-month closure for renovations, Indian Lodge doesn’t boast many noticeable updates beyond maintenance-related ones, such as HVAC repairs and replastering of the older rooms. But I wouldn’t want it to. Built in the thirties by the Civilian Conservation Corps as a “mountain resort” so Texans could enjoy a cooler and drier summer vacation without having to leave the state, the 39-room Indian Lodge has everything you need and nothing you don’t. The ranger at the check-in desk gave my friends and me all the pertinent info for our stay. She told us about recently opened trails, what wildlife we might be able to see (including bears!), and where to find the best chance of cell service (under the woven shade structure by the pool). Then she pointed us toward the hot chocolate. With that, we settled into our pueblo-style rooms, complete with rustic Spanish Colonial–style furniture that was hand-built at a mill in Bastrop State Park, as well as newer pieces. A few outings were on our agenda, including the usual trip to the McDonald Observatory to peer at the few constellations we could see with a near-full moon and purchase more star-spangled souvenirs than anyone really needs. I took a solo bike ride on the Fort Davis Scenic Loop to soak up the views, while my friends reported doing a “partial” hike. Between those excursions, we settled into the quiet of the Davis Mountains—cozying up with books on couches by the fireplace in the lounge, ignoring our phones, and taking in the sunset on the lodge patio, sometimes talking, sometimes not. The last night of our stay coincided with the supermoon and lunar eclipse, so we stayed up past our bedtime, playing board games in the lounge and riding a sugar high from way too many cups of hot chocolate. When the time was right, we headed outside, where, wrapped in blankets and huddled together for warmth, we watched the moon slowly go dark. Rates start at $105; tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/indian-lodge—Victoria Millner
Contigo Ranch, in Fredericksburg.
Photograph by Wynn Myers
An outdoor dining area at Contigo Ranch.
Our pursuit of bliss got off to a shaky start. It was a Friday in February, and sleet pinged the roof of our SUV. We were in the heart of the Hill Country heading west on Ranch Road 1323. My wife white-knuckled the steering wheel as the darkness grew darker, the road turned serpentine-ier, and deer sightings became more frequent. I faced a far more precarious situation in the back seat—a restless ten-month-old. When we finally turned onto the gravel road leading to our cottage at Contigo Ranch, it appeared, quite literally, like a beacon upon a hill. Ours was one of ten farmhouse-style cottages clustered there; together they looked like a tiny village straight out of a Joanna Gaines fever dream (there are also three log cabins and one stone cabin available). The one-room cottage was rustic yet refined—light wood floors, reclaimed-wood cabinets, the bathroom tiled in colors ranging from white to white. There’s no on-site restaurant; instead, breakfast was delivered in a tote packed with tasty tacos that we munched on while ogling the four hundred acres of granjeno- and sage-dotted ranchland outside our window. Save for a wine-tasting excursion to Fredericksburg, there was little else to do, which is exactly the kind of family retreat Frede Edgerton planned when he bought and restored the ranch a few years ago. Our little one had the freedom to roam. And we had the time to capitalize on the pair of rocking chairs that adorn each cottage’s front porch, suitable for friends or lovers or exhausted parents eager for some post-storm fresh air while their tireless kiddo settles in for a nap. We’ll take a bit of paradise however we can get it. Rates start at $155; contigoranch.com—J. K. Nickell
My trips to Houston usually revolve around my favorite things: the arts, global cuisine, and sports. I try different hotels each time, always looking for something that not only matches my “living my best life” getaway goals but feels authentically Houston. After I stayed at the Alessandra on an impromptu trip last summer, my hotel-hopping ways are behind me. Opened by the Valencia Hotel Group (known for San Antonio’s Hotel Valencia Riverwalk and College Station’s Cavalry Court) in 2017, the 21-story Alessandra gets everything right, starting with its location. It’s a stroll away from the convention center as well as concerts and Rockets games at the Toyota Center (ELO was playing the night I stayed, and this seventies music fan still regrets not splurging on a last-minute ticket); the hotel’s Maserati will take you to other downtown locales. This hotel might be too good. I was there to check out the new Menil Drawing Institute and shop at the Heights Mercantile, but all I wanted to do after checking in was lounge with a cup of Nespresso on my room’s green velvet settee, soak in my deep tub, and relax by the rooftop pool. With its day spa, fine-dining restaurant (Lucienne), and Bardot lounge, this place has mastered the art of hotel-ing. That’s so Houston. Rates start at $292; hotelalessandra-houston.com—Kathy Blackwell
My three friends and I had it all planned out as we drove our truck toward the Middle of Nowhere, Texas, with reservations for one of the hard-to-get bubble tents at Basecamp Terlingua, one of the newest glamping options in this part of the state. Emily and I would sleep in the cozy, transparent bubble tent with air-conditioning and heat, a real mattress, and most importantly, a clear overhead view of the sky, while our other two compatriots would spend the night in their own tent at a site on Basecamp’s campground. As the mountainous landscape came into view, we got an alert that a windstorm was approaching. It seemed wise that my friends should try to squeeze their sleeping bags into our bubble, so as not to get blown over into Mexico. Once we zippered ourselves through the pressurized entrance chamber, which included a mini-fridge and coffee maker, we were standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a plastic orb with nothing in view but a handful of ocotillos and the distant Chisos Mountains. Together we made up what might have been the most densely populated area of far West Texas at the time. With the main room taken up mostly by the bed, the bubble doesn’t afford much space for company, but Basecamp, which opened in late 2017, has a number of beautifully designed casitas and tepees on the property that are better for, and actually made for, groups. Alas, we spent most of our hours outside our bubble, as it should be, taking the short drive over to the Starlight Theatre for chili and prickly pear margaritas and then, later, huddling around a campfire back at our site when the winds died down. We spent the rest of the night under the clear ceiling, pointing out the few constellations we could remember, falling asleep one by one. Rates start at $75; basecampterlingua.com—Victoria Millner
This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Where to Stay Now.” Subscribe today.