Texas is big – really big. Bigger than many nations throughout the world. Yet, there’s more to the Lone Star State than Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Austin. With our Texas City Guides series, we’re going to explore some of the smaller and more far-flung parts of the state. We hope you come to appreciate the variety of local color you can find across Texas.
Let’s travel to the center of the Rio Grande Valley and pay a visit to McAllen. Nicknamed “The City of Palms,” there is much more to the city than I imagined. Being located just across the Rio Grande river from Mexico, McAllen’s growth is a direct result from its close proximity to Mexico.
Starting in the late 1800’s, McAllen became a rapidly growing agricultural town due to the introduction of irrigation, followed by the arrival of the railroad system in 1904. Because the town was located in the middle of the Rio Grande Valley, the land was successful for growing crops like cotton, citrus fruits, grapes, and figs.
While agriculture was good, the city improved further in the 1940’s when an old bridge linking McAllen to Reynosa (across the border in Mexico) was replaced by a new toll bridge. This created easier accessibility between the two cities , turning McAllen into a mini-tourist destination for residents of both countries.
In the 1970’s, the U.S. commissioned McAllen as a Foreign-Trade-Zone (FTZ) allowing for tariff-free trade between McAllen and Reynosa. Mexican citizens started visiting McAllen for shopping and tourism, while American companies began using McAllen’s port to ship products manufactured in Mexico to and from both countries through the city.
Today, with easy access between Reynosa and McAllen, McAllen is now more economically prosperous through trade, retail and tourism with less economic emphasis on agriculture.
What to Do
Shopping is simply one of the biggest activities for visitors to McAllen. And one of the biggest shopping destinations is La Plaza Mall. It features over 150 specialty retailers ranging from upscale to mainstream.
For those interested in art, science, or both, the International Museum of Art and Science is a must to visit. The IMAS is Smithsonian-affiliated, so it hosts many traveling exhibits as well possessing its own permanent collections you can see year-round. With over 50,000 square feet of exhibit space containing art exhibits AND science-related displays, you can view collections that include over 2,000 natural history and geology items. And the folk art exhibits showcase artists mostly from South Texas and Mexico.
McAllen also offers plenty of outdoor activities for nature buffs. First on the list to visit is the Quinta Mazatlan, a historic Adobe mansion and nature and birding center. Walk along beautiful trails including the thorn forest, butterfly and hummingbird gardens, and wooded meadow – it’s a bird watcher’s paradise!
For more nature fun, check out the McAllen Nature Center, a 20-acre site featuring a nature center, botanical gardens, and trails, all of which contain a variety of plant and animal species.
As one of the largest cities in the Texas Rio Grande Valley – and it’s still growing, complete with a low cost of living – McAllen is a great place to visit or live.
Up Next in our Texas City Guides series: Alpine!