Best Things to Do in Brownsville

Situated at the southernmost point of Texas, Brownsville is a gateway to a fusion of cultures, thanks to its proximity to the Mexican border. This vibrant city, with its thriving population of over 175,000, offers an array of experiences catering to diverse interests. Nature enthusiasts will be thrilled with the scenic parks and zoos, while cyclists can indulge in some of the finest trails Texas has to offer.

Brownsville’s rich cultural tapestry is evident in its plethora of museums, art galleries, and specialized exhibits like those showcasing textiles and costumes. The city’s historical heart, the downtown area, boasts a myriad of timeless structures, giving visitors a glimpse into its storied past. Younger guests, meanwhile, will find an engaging mix of fun and educational attractions tailored just for them.

1. Children’s Museum of Brownsville

When traveling with kids, a stop at the Children’s Museum of Brownsville is essential. This museum captivates young minds with interactive exhibits designed to enlighten them about the world. From hands-on workshops to a variety of programs, there’s something for every age group. Prioritizing collaborative play and active learning, the museum ensures an enriching experience that’s both entertaining and educational for the young ones.

Also Read: Best Things to Do in Bristol, TN

2. Old City Cemetery

Dating back to 1853, the Old City Cemetery serves as a testament to Brownsville’s rich history. As you wander, markers tell tales of adventurers who journeyed from distant lands to start anew in Brownsville. The city’s European lineage is showcased through intricate marble graves, headstones, and elegant ironwork.

Additionally, the cemetery displays Hispanic cultural touches with paper artwork, vibrant silk flowers, and handcrafted nachos. While the entrance is free, ensuring respectful exploration is paramount. Although the primary entrance is secured, you can obtain the access code from the Brownsville Heritage Museum’s curator or find an accessible path at the hill’s base.

3. Gladys Porter Zoo

Inaugurated in 1971, the zoo, both botanical and zoological, owes its establishment to the generous contributions of Earl C. Sam’s. Named in honor of his daughter, the zoo is a testament to Earl’s passion for wildlife. While he initially managed the zoo, he later gifted it to the community of Brownsville. Spanning 31 acres, it is home to 400 animal species, including several that are on the brink of extinction. With over 250 neotropical and tropical species, the zoo is a biodiversity haven. For senior high school students, the zoo provides annual academic programs and classes. If Brownsville is on your travel itinerary, a visit to Gladys Porter’s Zoo is highly recommended.

4. Experience South Padre Island’s Water Activities

Nestled close to Brownsville, South Padre Island stands as a tropical oasis in Texas and is a must-visit. This coastal haven is teeming with activities ranging from paddleboarding to engaging sandcastle competitions and vibrant festivals. One of its major attractions includes the pristine sand dunes, best experienced with a hat and ample sunscreen. As you traverse these dunes, you’ll find yourself on an almost secluded beach that might remind you of a scene from Aladdin.

A leisurely walk here offers opportunities to discover unique treasures along the shoreline. But a heads-up: stay vigilant as some beachgoers opt to drive on the sands, and the ocean’s roar might mask the sound of approaching vehicles. Additionally, the Sea Turtle, Inc., serves as a sanctuary for the rehabilitation and education of sea turtles, where visitors can gain insight into these majestic creatures and contribute to their preservation.

Also Read: Best Things to Do in Montalcino, Italy

5. Brownsville Farmers Market

Every Saturday morning, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. the Brownsville Farmers Market buzzes with activity at Linear Park, situated in the Mitte Cultural District. Though modest in size, the market is expanding, showcasing 15 to 20 local vendors weekly. These artisans and farmers offer everything from fresh organic vegetables to artisan teas, freshly baked treats, coffee, cheese, farm-fresh eggs, delectable honey, salsas, and the ever-popular tamales. Visiting the market is not just about shopping; it’s a commitment to supporting local enterprises and imbibing a healthier way of life. It’s an ideal way to kickstart your weekend in Brownsville, especially if you’re exploring the Mitte Cultural District.

6. Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site

The US-Mexican War holds a significant place in American history, with the Palo Alto Battlefield marking the inception of this two-year-long conflict. The battlefield stands preserved as a testament to a war that reshaped North America’s landscape. Visiting Palo Alto offers not only an immersive journey into history but also a serene retreat with nature, blending education with tranquility.

7. Dean Porter Park

Encompassing 25 acres of verdant terrain beside the Resaca waterway, Dean Porter Park stands as one of Brownsville’s most expansive green spaces. Packed with amenities, visitors can plunge into the Sam’s Memorial Pool or frolic in the water playground to beat the summer heat. Those looking for a tranquil meal outdoors can take advantage of the picnic cabanas, while the park’s paved trails invite everyone, whether for a brisk hike or a relaxed walk. A particular highlight is the Butterfly Garden, and vast open meadows offer a perfect backdrop to lay back and soak in the beauty of the surroundings.

Also Read: Best Things to Do in Strawberry, AZ

8. Palmito Ranch Battlefield

The Palmito Ranch Battlefield, nestled in Southeast Cameron county near Brownsville, is a captivating site that history enthusiasts will find intriguing. Maintained in its pristine state, the battlefield remains as untouched as it was back in 1865. For those keen on diving deep into its historical context, tuning into the local 1610 AM station offers insightful narratives. Along the Boca Chica Highway, various markers and signs, including one on State Highway 4, indicate the battlefield’s location. Every year, the “Park Day” event gathers individuals to spruce up the site, ensuring it’s well-prepared for visitors.

9. Linear Park

Situated where the Southern Pacific switching yard once stood, Linear Park seamlessly integrates into the Brownsville Historic Battlefield Trail. This 10-mile paved cycling route links the Mitte Cultural District to the southernmost point of the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park. Perfect for a laid-back picnic, Linear Park is adorned with an amphitheater, seating areas, monuments, and even a convenient bike-sharing station.

10. History of Aviation in the Airforce Museum

For a deep dive into the legacy of World War II and a tribute to its heroes, the Commemorative Air Force Museum in Brownsville is a must-visit. The museum’s galleries chronicle pivotal moments of the war, guiding visitors from the early tensions in Europe to the fall of the Third Reich. Alongside the European narrative, the exhibits also shed light on the decline of the Japanese Empire. Notably, the section spotlighting the 201st Squadron’s Mexican fighter pilots and aircraft from the WWII era stands out as one of the museum’s most touching displays.

Read More: Best Things to Do in St Louis, Missouri

11. Brownsville Historic Battlefield Trail

For biking enthusiasts, Brownsville offers a delightful treat. The Brownsville Historic Battlefield Trail, spanning 9 miles, stands out as a prime cycling route. Seamlessly connecting the Palo Alto Battlefield to the heart of the Mitte Cultural District, this trail ensures a secure ride for cyclists. Intriguingly, this path traces its origins back to a 1904 railroad line that once stretched to St. Louis. So, kickstart your day with a ride from the Palo Alto Battlefield, culminating in the lively atmosphere of the Saturday morning farmers market at the Mitte Cultural District.

12. Fort Brown

Established as the inaugural military base in Texas, Fort Brown operated actively from 1846 to 1944 before its ownership transitioned back to the city of Brownsville. Today, much of its territory has been transformed into lakeside vacation rentals, allowing guests to indulge in modern amenities like water skiing and horseback riding amidst the backdrop of historical significance. Visitors can explore the remnants of the Fort and various other structures and training posts within the locale.

13. Monte Bella Bike Trail

If you’re seeking a gentle workout combined with Brownsville’s picturesque landscapes, the Monte Bella Bike Trail is your destination. Spanning 6.2 miles amidst verdant surroundings, this trail caters to novice bikers, courtesy of its predominantly flat terrain, interspersed with occasional gentle slopes. Seasoned cyclists can revel in the panoramic views while nature enthusiasts, especially birdwatchers, will be treated to sightings of diverse local species. For those who’d rather leave their bikes behind, the trail also welcomes joggers and walkers to soak in its beauty.

14. Stillman House Museum

The Stillman House Museum pays homage to Charles Stillman, the visionary who christened Brownsville. In the Mexican-American War era, Stillman and his associates played a pivotal role in facilitating the movement of U.S. troops and provisions deep into Mexico.

Post-war, they began amassing territories, laying the foundation for what is today’s Brownsville. During the Civil War, Stillman adeptly traded cotton with both the Union and the Confederacy, as well as the U.S. Government. By 1865, his astute dealings crowned him one of America’s wealthiest individuals. Banking became a significant investment for him. Having accumulated his wealth, he eventually settled in New York.

Also Read: Best Things to Do in Sikeston, MO

15. Sunrise Mall

If you’re in Brownsville and craving a top-notch shopping spree, you can’t miss out on the Sunrise Mall. Boasting over 700,000 square feet, the mall houses more than 100 diverse stores, making it a challenge to decide where to kick off your shopping adventure. Recognized as the largest shopping hub in the region, it’s a shopper’s haven where finding what you’re looking for is almost guaranteed.

The mall flaunts five anchor stores: JCPenney, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Dillard’s, Bealls, and Sears. Additionally, there’s a Cinemark 16 movie theater for film enthusiasts. For those with an appetite, the 2000-added food court serves up delectable choices, including Chick-fil-A, Nestle Toll House Cafe, Marble Slab Creamery, Auntie Anne Pretzels, and Italia Express Pizza.

16. The Americas Museum

A delightful attraction in Brownsville is the Costumes of the Americas Museum, brought to life by the vision of Florence Griswold. Her aspiration was to capture the essence of cultural traditions, particularly from the Southwest and Mexico, using clothing and folk art as the medium. Over seven decades, this vibrant museum has broadened its horizons, now showcasing a plethora of exquisite costumes, intricate headpieces, and captivating jewelry from regions spanning North to South America.

17. Elon’s SpaceX at Boca Chica State Park

Nestled in the southeastern tip of Brownsville, Boca Chica State Park runs alongside Texas Route 4. It’s here that SpaceX, under the leadership of Elon Musk, has established its launch and control sites. With Musk’s thoughts on rebranding the village to “Starbase” after SpaceX’s space station, there’s an air of anticipation about what the future might hold for visitors.

Currently, the park doesn’t offer official launch tours, but with a strategic parking spot, you can still catch a glimpse of a launch. As you wait, Boca Chica Beach welcomes you with its pristine white sands, making it an ideal spot for sunbathing, fishing, and surfing. For bird enthusiasts, the park offers a delightful experience with sights of horned larks, brown pelicans in abundance, and the majestic Harris’s hawks.

Also Read: Best Things to Do in Mentor, OH

18. Sabal Palm Sanctuary

For those passionate about bird-watching and nature, Brownsville’s Sabal Palm Sanctuary is a top choice. Spanning 527 acres, this sanctuary houses the U.S.’s last remaining Sabal Palm forest, making it a breeding haven for various endangered bird species. This special destination ranks high among Brownsville’s attractions.

Visitors can explore the dense Sabal Palm Grove Forest Trail, stretching 0.6 miles. This trail is renowned for its rich tree population and diverse bird species. Along the way, you’re treated to a stunning vista of the Rio Grande River and a glimpse into Mexico. The 1.1-mile Resaca Loop Trail also beckons to avid hikers.

As you embark on this adventure, don’t forget essentials like sunscreen, binoculars, and mosquito repellent. For a truly immersive experience, consider staying in the sanctuary’s private Airbnb bedroom. This cozy space, nestled within the historic Rabb Plantation, offers guests a comfortable room equipped with a TV, private bathroom, and shared amenities like a mini-fridge and microwave. Staying at the Rabb Plantation ensures a unique connection to nature, particularly for those eager for early-morning bird-watching.

19. Brownsville Beer Fest

If you find yourself in Brownsville this October, don’t miss the much-anticipated annual beer fest. Held in the serene Dean Porter Park, it’s the perfect setting to unwind with friends and indulge in some top-notch brews. Adding to the ambiance, live music performances from sought-after bands will keep you entertained. Stay tuned to their website for updates, and remember to secure your tickets early to avoid disappointment.

20. Camille Lightner Playhouse

Operating since 1964, the Camille Lightner Playhouse stands as a testament to community theater in Brownsville. With over half a century’s worth of seasons, it’s no wonder it’s among the most cherished and recognized theatrical spots in South Texas. The playhouse prides itself on captivating Brownsville’s residents with a diverse mix of performances, from Broadway hits to classic musicals.

Also Read: Best Things to Do in Dallas

21. Vermillion Restaurant

Established in 1934, the Vermilion restaurant began as a family venture when the Vermilion family bought a piece of land and started a hamburger joint. However, due to Mr. Vermilion’s health challenges, Gib Davidson took the reins, ensuring the restaurant’s traditions remained intact. Over the years, it evolved into a popular social hub where folks gathered and dined. Eventually, the torch was passed to Gib’s son, Daniel Davidson. Later, George Perez, a dedicated employee of over 13 years, also became a stakeholder in the business.

22. Resaca De La Palma State Park World Birding Center

Resaca de la Palma State Park, spanning 1,200 acres, is the World Birding Center’s most expansive native habitat. This park is historically significant, having been the backdrop for the second battle during the Mexican–American War. Its rich ecological diversity draws a multitude of wildlife, making it a paradise for photography aficionados. Keep your camera handy for glimpses of rare migratory birds, vibrant green jays, chachalacas, and even alligators. Though situated within the boundaries of Brownsville, stepping into Resaca de la Palma transports you to a completely different world.

23. Boca Chica Beach

If you’re seeking an outdoor escape in Brownsville, the beach is a must-visit! While many travelers are drawn to South Padre Island, a renowned Texan beach haven, those craving tranquility and fewer crowds might find Boca Chica Beach more to their liking. Accessible by driving east on Texas Highway 4 from Brownsville, this 8-mile stretch welcomes visitors to drive right onto the sandy shores. Whether you’re keen on fishing, surfing, or simply relaxing, Boca Chica Beach offers a serene backdrop. But do note its untouched nature means no facilities are on-site, so come prepared with essentials like water, sunscreen, towels, and snacks.

Also Read: Best Things to Do in North Avenue Beach

24. The Arts Center

Situated in Brownsville, The Arts Center stands as a grand testament to the city’s rich cultural scene, closely collaborating with Texas Southmost College. For aficionados of the arts, this venue is a must-visit, offering a diverse array of performances and shows. Through partnerships with organizations like Chamber Music America and the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, the center promises a vibrant mix of theatrical acts and musical extravaganzas. Ensure you see what’s scheduled during your visit to fully experience Brownsville’s artistic side.

25. Johnny Carino’s Italian Restaurant

Johnny Carino’s Italian Restaurants have come a long way since their humble beginnings in 1997. From a mere five establishments, they’ve grown to over 70 locations across the U.S. and expanded internationally with an additional 10 in the Middle East. The founding chef, Mr. Carino, laid the foundation with a plethora of traditional Italian recipes.

As the culinary baton passed to Chef Chris Pietersen, he maintained the authentic essence while introducing a contemporary twist, infusing the menu with his signature “spiced” dishes. Committed to using only fresh, top-tier ingredients, Johnny Carino’s offers an unparalleled dining experience, embodying the warmth of an Italian family gathering. If you’re on the lookout for nearby eateries or attractions, consider Johnny Carino’s for a mix of tradition and innovation, set amidst other local wonders, be it nature spots or cultural getaways.

26. Caddo Lake State Park

Journey through the serene waters of East Texas’ Caddo Lake, adorned with majestic bald cypress trees cloaked in Spanish moss. Named in honor of the indigenous Caddo tribe, this captivating spot offers 10 quaint historic cabins, accommodating between two to six guests. For a more rustic experience, choose a screened shelter with nearby restrooms or one of the 46 diverse campsites. Boasting over 70 fish species within its vast 26,810-acre expanse, Caddo Lake promises an angler’s delight. Embark on an adventure through its 50-mile paddling trails in a rented canoe or your personal kayak. Tread the extensive hiking paths, always staying vigilant of the alligators that inhabit the area.

Travel back to 1835 and envision riverboats journeying from the neighboring Jefferson, navigating the Big Cypress Bayou all the way to New Orleans. The transformation of the lake began in the early 20th century when oil was found beneath. The Gulf Refining Corporation subsequently dammed the lake in 1914 to aid oil excavation. By July 4, 1934, the Caddo Lake State Park welcomed visitors. Today, you can enjoy facilities like the fishing pier and boat ramp. For the younger visitors, an exciting Junior Ranger Badge awaits completion of the activity journal.

Also Read: Best Things to Do Near Me in the USA

27. La Pale Frozen Fruit Bar

For a delightful Mexican treat, don’t miss out on a visit to La Pale Frozen Fruit Bar, a haven for ice cream and unparalleled paletas. For those unfamiliar, paletas are traditional popsicles crafted from either water or pure fresh juice, and always incorporate natural ingredients. La Pale prides itself on using fresh produce, sourced directly from the local farmers of the Rio Grande Valley. Stepping into their store, you’ll witness the fresh preparation as they meticulously peel and dice, say, a box of juicy mangoes.

Beyond just the fresh offerings, what truly elevates the La Pale experience is the heartfelt hospitality of the team, coupled with their unmistakable zest for crafting these frozen delights. With an expansive variety of paleta flavors like mango, strawberry, raspberry, strawberry-kiwi, and more, there’s a taste for everyone. A must-try is their renowned Paleta Dragon: a footlong mango paleta generously adorned with chamoy and tajin, introducing a tantalizing spicy twist.

But the allure doesn’t stop at paletas. Dive into their assortment of ice creams, ranging from timeless flavors like pistachio and mint chocolate chip to distinctive Mexican candy-inspired ones like Gansito and Mazapam. As their entrance cheekily suggests, “your diet starts tomorrow” because resisting the treats at La Pale is a challenge!