Travel can be a great opportunity to learn about new people, places, and food. So why not enhance your next vacation with a class that’s especially designed to help you take home a new skill? From building sand castles to beekeeping, here are eight learning experiences for you to consider for your next Texas road trip or staycation.
1. Build an epic sand castle in Galveston, South Padre Island, or Port Aransas
Here’s one to scoop onto your (beach) bucket list: a sand-castle building lesson for yourself or your family. On your next visit to one of Texas’ beaches, learn tips and tricks to wow beachgoers with complex and palatial sand creations that go beyond the modest dome. All the tools will be provided as you use your imagination to create beautiful castles under the guidance of a sand-sculpting expert.
Several companies offer sand-castle lessons for beginning to advanced builders. Check out DC Sandman in Port Aransas; Port Aransas Sandcastle Guy; Sand Castle Lessons in South Padre Island; and Sandy Feet Sandcastle Services in Galveston and South Padre Island. Prices start at $45, depending on the size of your group and the duration of the lesson.
Can’t get enough sand castles? Mark your calendar for this year’s Texas SandFest in Port Aransas, a three-day festival in October with intense competition among sand sculptors.
2. Make an Instagram-worthy flower arrangement, Houston
When you visit the stately AAA Four Diamond Houstonian Hotel, Club, and Spa, President George H.W. Bush’s former residence, you’ll notice the eye-popping flower arrangements that sprout up throughout the property. Those creations are made in-house by Sage ’n’ Bloom floral studio, which opened in fall 2020. Want to take home your own floral masterpiece? Sign up for a workshop with the masterful Wendy Du, who offers themed classes around seasonal bouquets like peonies and spring bulbs. Lessons start at $125, which includes all flowers and supplies.
3. Beef up your survival skills, Lost Pines
Hone your wilderness survival skills with a Family Wildlife Explorer Package tour, which you can book through the AAA Four Diamond Hyatt Regency Lost Pines. The engaging 2.5-hour family-friendly experience includes learning about animal skins, skulls, and tracks. Your kids can even plaster-cast their own animal track to take home. You’ll also go on a short hike to learn which plants are safe to eat and which are poisonous; learn how to build a fire using flint (kids love this part); eat insects—if you dare; and learn how to throw spears (another kid favorite). While you explore the McKinney Roughs Nature Park, you might even encounter live animals like alligators, turtles, and snakes. $40 for children and $50 for adults.
4. Dance the night away, Austin and Gruene
A night of two-steppin’ to a live country band at an old-school Texas honky-tonk is a rite of passage in Texas. On your next vacation, treat yourself to lessons with a pro. At Austin’s legendary Broken Spoke dance hall, instructor Terri White offers informative instruction to dancers along with a side of sassy commentary. Or swing over to Gruene Hall in Gruene, a historic district in New Braunfels, for swing dance lessons on select Tuesdays at Texas’ oldest continuously operating dance hall. $15 cover and $8 for lessons on Friday and Saturday evenings at the Broken Spoke; $10 per person for swing lessons at Gruene Hall.
5. Keep busy with the bees, Round Rock
Round Rock Honey offers a buzz-filled, intensive three-hour beekeeping course led by a master beekeeper, in which participants learn about the bees’ life cycle and then suit up for a close encounter with an active hive. Fun fact: Honeybees aren’t native to the Lone Star State, but hundreds of bee species are, including mason bees, squash bees, sunflower bees, and leaf-cutter bees, all of which are a crucial part of the ecosystem. Classes are offered on select Saturdays, and participants must be at least 7 years old. $50.
6. Become a better bird-watcher, McAllen
Tourists flock to the Rio Grande Valley during birding season, but year-round, it’s fun to spot local birds, such as the brilliantly colored green jay, the camouflaged Common Pauraque, and the chachalaca, with its signature piercing cry. Learn how to identify them at Quinta Mazatlan, a historic 1930s estate that doubles as an urban sanctuary for the diverse bird and butterfly species that visit South Texas. Depending on the season and staffing availability, classes might range from beginning bird-watching at this World Birding Center–designated site to nature journaling to learning about creating a more environmentally conscious landscape at your home using native plants. Starts at $5 per person.
7. Sculpt glass figurines, Salado and Grapevine
A hot orange bulb of glass inside an inferno-like oven is transformed into a beautiful piece of art before your eyes—a handmade souvenir you can take home to remember your vacation. Learn all about glass making with workshops at artist outposts such as Salado Glassworks in Salado and Vetro Glassblowing Studio and Gallery in Grapevine. At Salado Glassworks, you can sign up for hands-on classes that include a take-home wine glass, glass bowl, tumbler, paperweight, or glass ornament. Glass creations typically require a day to cool, so plan your glassblowing to ensure you have time to return and pick up your glass. Vetro offers a paperweight class, where the item will be available two days after the session. Salado prices range from $50 to $100; Vetro paperweight class, $175.
8. Choose your own cheese adventure, Schertz
Cheesemaking is an artform that requires patience, stirring strength, and a willingness to get your hands wet. River Whey Creamery in Schertz offers intensive cheesemaking classes that explore techniques for making fresh or aged cheeses. Some courses take place over multiple days (you might have to return after three months of aging) for advanced techniques. $75 for fresh cheesemaking; $185 for advanced cheesemaking.
Austin-based writer Cynthia J. Drake is a frequent contributor to AAA Explorer, Texas.
AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.