For a well-rounded fall or late-summer sojourn, go east… to West Texas.
Dubbed the “Hub City” of West Texas thanks to its historical nexus of highways and railroad lines, Lubbock has evolved into a hub for health care, agriculture and education. And wineries. And public art. Just a few reasons to brave the mighty South Plains winds for a fall visit.
No. 1: It’s retro fun.
Students of rock ’n’ roll history know Lubbock as the birthplace of Buddy Holly. Its most beloved native son lives on all over town: in murals in the Depot District, at the Buddy Holly Center museum and art galleries (buddyhollycenter.org), in sculpture form at The West Texas Walk of Fame (civiclubbock.org/walk-of-fame) and at the new The Buddy Holly Hall of Performing Arts and Sciences (buddyhollyhall.com), where you can take in a touring Broadway show or see the Lubbock Symphony perform. His omnipresence gives the city a 1950s sheen.
There’s also a retro-cool vibe at Dirk’s (dirkslbk.com), a throwback to old-school West Texas diners devoted to Southern cuisine: fried chicken, steak fingers, gumbo and grits. It’s wallpapered in midcentury cartoons by Dirk West, a Lubbock journalist and political cartoonist who served as mayor from 1978-1980. Lubbock restaurateur Cameron West (The West Table Kitchen and Bar) opened the eatery in 2020 to honor his late grandfather, whose “Raider Red” mascot he created for Texas Tech University graces a mural on the side of the building. It makes for a fun photo op – heed TTU’s slogan and put your “Guns up!” for a souvenir pic.
Take it even further back in time with a visit to the National Ranching Heritage Center (ranchingheritage.org), a 27-acre museum and “outdoor historical park” that tells the story of ranchers in America through authentic historical ranch buildings that pepper the property. Docents are available for trolley tours (Thursday mornings at 10:30 a.m., $5 per person) and fans of Yellowstone can walk through a barn from the real 6666 Ranch on which the series is filmed, plus see costumes from it and its prequel, 1883.
No. 2: There’s great wine – and lots of it.
Like Arizona, Texas has a thriving, yet tragically underappreciated, wine industry. Though most of the Lone Star State’s roughly 400 wineries are clustered in the Hill Country near Austin, the bulk of the state’s grapes (around 90 percent) are grown in the High Plains in and around Lubbock. Llano Estacado Winery (llanowine.com) is the vino pioneer – it’s been in operation since 1976 and is the largest producer in the state. Sip a bold and fruity Marsanne or a dark and smoky Aglianico in its tasting room on the outskirts of town. In the downtown area, McPherson Cellars (mcphersoncellars.com) is set in a 1930s building that for decades housed a Coca-Cola bottling plant. Try the Carignan, an aromatic elixir redolent of raspberry and leather.
You’ll also find Texas wine at The Nicolett (nicolettrestaurant.com), which was named one of Bon Appétit’s Best New Restaurants in America in 2022. Chef-owner Finn Walter is a native Lubbockite who left home to cook in restaurants in Paris and Napa Valley. When he returned, he melded his classic French training with West Texas ingredients and approaches: caviar piled atop a plank of yucca; Wagyu flanken ribs with juniper and chiles; brisket-style lamb neck with Texas olive oil and nopales. Walter’s Lubbock love is working – he was a James Beard Foundation award semifinalist in 2022.
No. 3: The public art scene is top-notch.
Lubbock is definitely a college town – Texas Tech dominates the city culturally, economically and geographically. Sprawling more than 1,900 acres, it’s the second-largest contiguous college campus in the U.S. Dotted throughout it are more than 150 artworks in the Texas Tech University System Public Art Collection (ttuspublicart.com), which range from sculptures to digital work by artists from around the world. The university has a neat “1 percent” rule, wherein 1 percent of the budget for every new building on campus goes toward commissioning a public art piece for said building. Pro tip: Book an Art Cart trolley tour (suggested donation: $10 per person) to save your feet.
Lubbock artist Charles Adams wanted to invest in local working artists, so he started the Charles Adams Studio Project (CASP) in 2009 (casp-arts.org), helping artists secure living, studio and exhibition spaces in exchange for showing their work. Nearby Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts (LHUCA) is another driving force, with galleries, a theater, a clay studio and an outdoor plaza with a stage for performances (lhuca.org). LHUCA and CASP anchor the First Friday Art Trail, a self-guided studio tour/outdoor market/concert series that rivals First Fridays on Roosevelt Row – not too shabby for a city with a population of about 261,000.
— Leah LeMoine
Where to Stay
West Texas’ cotton industry permeates the Cotton Court Hotel (cottoncourthotel.com), a boutique hostelry designed to look like a cotton warehouse meets a revamped motor court. Botanical drawings of the staple fiber and bouquets of dried cotton stems hang on the walls alongside Buddy Holly quotes stitched on canvases. A huge courtyard boasts a fire pit, pool and bar, where you can order Lubbock’s signature cocktail, the Chilton – vodka, lemon juice and club soda with a salted rim – or its pan-Texan cousin, ranch water (tequila, lime and sparkling water).
American Airlines (aa.com) offers nonstop flights from Phoenix to Lubbock. It’s a roughly two-hour flight.