This modest small town in the high plains of western Texas has surprises for visitors, and many of the best tourist attractions and things to do are free. Amarillo is halfway on the historic Route 66 of the United States. You can get a glimpse of what has traveled in this region in the middle of the century by crossing the historic Route 66 district. Amarillo also has many unique museums related to the history and culture of West Texas, from the Quarter Horse Museum to the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum. For a bit of creativity, head to Cadillac Ranch and try graffiti or take in the unique state scenery along the nearby Palo Duro canyon trails. For a complete overview, here is our list of the best things to do in Amarillo.
1. Cadillac Ranch
This is a surprisingly fun and free ride at the west end of Amarillo, just off Interstate 40. The old Cadillacs, planted in the ground of a farmer’s field, stand up artistically . The tradition here is to take a spray of paint and create your own graffiti on the cars. Do not worry about bringing your own box, half-filled boxes are scattered on the field surrounding the cars. Choose some colors and work to create your artistic vision.
It is an incredibly popular family activity. Kids can climb cars, run through open interiors, and spray what they want. The cars are literally thick and dripping paint. Photographers will also appreciate the colorful and changing canvas before them.
The cars are about 150 to 200 meters from the parking area. The walk is along a flat and wide dirt road, which can be muddy and slippery after the rain. Near the always open door, you can often find a seller of souvenirs, peddling colorful paint chips caught in cars, put in key chains.
2. US Route 66 – Sixth Street Historic District
This section of the historic US Route 66 at Amarillo is a return to the beginning of the stumbling road in America. Many original buildings with traditional signs line the street. You can find atmospheric restaurants with unique patios and shops, which give the area a fun atmosphere. For an eccentric atmosphere and good Mexican cuisine, try Bracero, in a former garage of Route 66. At the end of the street is the Golden Light Cafe, an institution of Amarillo that has existed since the 1940s. The area is well signposted, and you can find a list of historic buildings on a street sign.
3. Palo Duro Canyon State Park
It may be surprising to note that the second largest canyon in the United States, after the Grand Canyon, is just 30 minutes south of Amarillo. The Palo Duro Canyon is approximately 120 miles long, up to 20 miles wide in some areas, and 800 feet deep. Palo Duro State Park is a popular area for hiking, camping, mountain biking, horse riding and geocaching. A round trip of 16 miles takes you from the canyon to the edge of the canyon. Off this road are several campgrounds, with a total of 150 campgrounds and many hiking trails. The most popular hike is the lighthouse trail, which leads to a dramatic rock of the same name. This is a six-mile hike back to the base of the lighthouse, but the best view of this towering rock pinnacle is 1.5 miles down the trail.
You can learn more about the history and geology of the area at the visitor center near the park’s beginning. Located high on a ridge overlooking the canyon, this place has some of the best views in the park.
4. Panhandle Plains Historical Museum
The largest history museum in Texas, the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum offers a glimpse into Texas history from the dinosaur era to the modern era. Often described by locals as the Smithsonian with an accent, the museum has one of the finest art collections in the Southwest. You can also learn more about the Native Americans who inhabited the land; the pionneers; oil; geology; water as a resource; the innovations that have shaped the development of the region, such as windmills and transportation; And much more. In addition to the outstanding permanent collection, the museum regularly hosts special exhibitions. The museum is located about 15 minutes outside of Amarillo.
5. Amarillo Museum of Art
Located on the campus of Amarillo College, the Amarillo Art Museum is open to the public, free of charge. While the museum houses an impressive collection of art from around the world, most of the artwork comes from the Far East. Sculptures from the South and Southeast Asia region, as well as Buddhist and Hindu pieces from the 2nd century BC are exhibited. Also spread over the 32,000 square foot building are photos of F.S.A. photographer Russell Lee and his contemporaries, as well as paintings from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century and paintings by early and mid-century American modernists.
6. Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum
Another of Amarillo’s free attractions, the RV Museum features recreational vehicles from the 1930s through the 1970s, along with a variety of other vintage vehicles and artifacts. Recreational vehicles include the first-ever Itasca motorhome and the oldest Airstream, dating back to 1935. These recreational vehicles give a glimpse into the era in which they arrived, as many have not been modified since they were manufactured. . Original appliances, furniture and flooring take you back to the past. The museum also sports an impressive collection of sparkling old motorcycles in perfect condition, several vintage cars on themed backgrounds, including an old-style restaurant and a retro gas station. Miscellaneous items, such as old pedal bikes, cameras and camping chairs, also add to the atmosphere.
7. Amarillo Zoo
For a pleasant afternoon and a glimpse of exotic wildlife, Amarillo Zoo makes the perfect outing. Some of the most popular animals here include lions, tigers, bobcats, catta lemurs, foxes, bears, kangaroos and monkeys. And while these could be show stoppers, you’ll also find irresistibly cute miniature horses and miniature donkeys, a Texas longhorn, skunks, and a host of other hairy creatures. Perhaps less cute but equally interesting are spiders, amphibians and reptiles, including the huge Burmese pythons, along with a variety of other snakes, as well as turtles and salamanders in the Herpetarium.
8. Amarillo Botanical Gardens
Amarillo Botanical Gardens are easily identifiable by the magnificent diamond-shaped winter garden overlooking the park. Spread over more than four acres, the gardens feature a local flora on the outside, including a fragrance garden, while tropical plants are housed inside the lanai. During the Christmas season, the gardens are illuminated in a kaleidoscope of colors and are a fun place to visit after sunset. The Amarillo Botanical Gardens are located just down the street from the Don Harrington Discovery Center, and in between is Medi-Park, with a children’s play area and a splash pad.
9. Texas Air & Space Museum
A small but inspiring collection of aircraft and related parts, along with a passionate and friendly staff of volunteers, make it a great stop for pilots or those interested in aviation. One of the best features of the Texas Air & Space Museum is that visitors are allowed on planes for a complete practical experience. Located near the airport, the museum is housed in indoor and outdoor spaces. In the main hangar, the centerpiece is a 1945 DC-3. You can walk to the cockpit to see the instruments. In the hangar there is also a house spreader built in the late 1960s and interesting parts, such as an ejection seat of a B-52 bomber and a basket of balloons.
Outside, there is a 1958 C-7 Caribou and a plane used as a training vehicle for astronauts landing on NASA space shuttles, which you are invited to board. Astronaut Rick Husband, who was killed in the Columbia Space Shuttle as he was destroyed at the entrance to space, was from Amarillo. Another small area of the museum displays aircraft models and information about the husband and his career.
10. Downtown Amarillo
Amarillo is revitalizing downtown, where you’ll find a mix of old and new buildings, both of which are intriguing. Some historic buildings remain, like the old Fisk Building of 1927, now one of the best hotels in Amarillo, the Courtyard by Marriott. Other remnants of a bygone age are neon signs, although many modern signs are LEDs, but reminiscent of the age of neon. Dining rooms are growing more and more. Numerous independent restaurants open into the city center, creating a new atmosphere and what appears to be the beginning of a more vibrant downtown in Amarillo.
Where to Stay in Amarillo for Sightseeing
The attractions are spread throughout the city, but the distances are relatively short. If you spend a few days, downtown is a good choice. You can also find quality hotels spread along I-40, which runs from east to west across the city.
- Luxury and Mid-Range Hotels: For ambience and history, you can’t beat the Courtyard by Marriott Amarillo Downtown, set in the historic Fisk Building from 1927. One of the city’s first tall buildings, it is well positioned in the heart downtown, surrounded by restaurants, and just a short hop from historic US Route 66. One of the most recent additions to the city is the newly opened Embassy Suites by Hilton Amarillo Downtown, directly across from the Amarillo Civic Center Complex. Large, modern suites and an indoor pool, whirlpool, and sauna are some of the highlights. Another good choice, with a pool and hot tub, is the Drury Inn & Suites Amarillo, west of downtown, with easy access to I-40.
- Budget Hotels: At the top-end of budget, on the western edge of Amarillo just off I-40, is My Place Hotel-Amarillo, a popular, pet-friendly property featuring modern rooms, comfortable furnishings, and kitchenettes. On the east side of Amarillo, also off I-40, is the Baymont Inn & Suites Amarillo East, with reasonable rates, free continental breakfast, and a seasonal pool. Close to downtown, but still close to I-40, is the pet-friendly Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham Amarillo, with budget prices, complimentary breakfast, comfortable rooms, but no pool.