McAllen, Texas: A Great Excuse to Head to the Border 

This hot tourist town boasts birding, shopping, water sports and authentic eats

The hottest ticket in town can be found at the McAllen Performing Arts Center, which books nationally renowned music, dance and theater productions. Photo Credit: ERO


Anyone who thinks San Antonio is the southernmost city in Texas is missing out on The Magic Valley. McAllen, Texas, is a thriving border-area town in the Lone Star State’s Rio Grande Valley. It's along a busy bird migration route, and it draws birdwatchers from all over the U.S. and the world. But The City of Palms also has a town lake, one of the Simon Property Group’s busiest malls, the largest single-floor public library in the U.S., annual festivals and a community that embraces its culture, its people and its visitors. With so many things to do in McAllen, it’s a great addition to anyone’s must-visit list.

The area is big on food and culture

Much of McAllen’s food and music are inspired by its friends and neighbors across the border—the city’s a short jaunt from the McAllen-Hidalgo International Bridge, which connects the city with Reynosa, Mexico. No trip here is complete without tamales from Delia’s, where you can find 18 mouth-watering varieties of the authentic Mexican favorite.

For delectable fajitas, enchiladas and caldo tlalpeño (a well-seasoned soup dish with chicken and vegetables), you can’t go wrong with a visit to Costa Messa, Palenque Grill or Koko’s. You’re likely to hear live mariachi musicians while dining; mariachi music is a cultural community highlight. In fact, McAllen High School’s Mariachi Oro band has been named state champion multiple times.

Sweet Temptations is credited with starting the community’s appetite for locally sourced dining, and the restaurant serves a great classic breakfast. SALT—New American Table has followed in its footsteps. Foodies also flock to the Patio on Guerra and for casual dining with lots of choices, the McAllen Food Park.

Bring your binoculars and gather your gear

Quinta Mazatlan is one wing of the World Birding Center, which has nine locations across the Rio Grande Valley. The architecture of Quinta Mazatlan—built in 1935 by composer and writer Jason Chilton Matthews and his wife, Marcia—was inspired by the couple’s frequent trips to Mazatlan, Mexico. McAllen purchased the property in 1998 and expanded the grounds to 20 acres. Since 2006, 230 bird species have been spotted along the nature trails here.

Fall festivals: Leave your parkas at home

It’s summer year-round in the City of Palms, so there’s no need to bundle up for the city’s annual festivals. The PalmFest International Folklife Celebration—which boasts history exhibitions, a car show, entertainment, shopping and food—is held the first weekend in October. The McAllen Holiday Parade, named the best parade in Texas by the Texas Festivals and Events Association, features 50 illuminated floats and more than 30 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade-style helium balloons.

Be ready to move it

Enjoy an afternoon fishing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding at Fireman’s Park. Photo Credit: Christine Ardis

There are more than 13 miles of trails weaving through the city, perfect for biking, jogging or walking year-round. No need to worry if you left your bike at home—McAllen has a convenient bike-share program. Additionally, Town Lake at Fireman’s Park puts out pedal boats, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards for water sports enthusiasts every weekend. Plus, runners can hit their stride every January at the McAllen Marathon.

Shopping and the arts

Snag a colorful souvenir from Vida, which specializes in South Texas-style home accessories. Photo Credit: Erren Seale

After eating, bird watching and working out, you’ll be ready for an evening of shopping and entertainment. Opened on the campus of the McAllen Convention Center in November 2016, the McAllen Performing Arts Center hosts entertainers of all genres. Tony Bennett, one of the center’s opening acts, said of the soaring four-level venue: “They don’t make them like this anymore.”

La Plaza Mall, an upscale Simon mall with more than a million square feet of shopping, is just two miles away. If you enjoy the flavor of local shops, you won’t want to miss Vida, Barn White, Leona and Maripoza.

Finally, make plans to check out the McAllen Public Library. The 123,000-square-foot library is the largest single-floor public library in the nation; it was converted from an abandoned big-box store in 2011. The design won the International Interior Design Association’s 2012 Library Interior Design Competition.

Ready to travel? Find hotels in McAllen.




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