Regularly referred to as just "The Valley," this farming and citrus-growing region in extreme south Texas is a 110-mi/175-km stretch of fertile lands along the Rio Grande River, beginning 180 mi/290 km south of San Antonio. It runs from the small border town of Roma to the seaside community of Port Isabel.
The Rio Grande is, of course, the boundary between Texas and Mexico, and the area is strongly influenced by Mexico in terms of population, customs, religion and cuisine. The climate is pleasant in the winter, and every year thousands of northerners (known as "snowbirds") flock to the area to sit out the winter in trailer parks and other accommodations.
Even if you're not staying for the entire season, it's really an excellent locale for a winter vacation: Its proximity to coastal beaches and Mexico ensures that there's plenty to do and even more to eat. Although it's not exactly a secret destination, it's less crowded than Florida. From the valley, there's easy access by car to San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Port Aransas, Port Isabel Laredo and Mexico. The following cities are in the Valley itself:
Brownsville, a border town that's the largest of the Rio Grande Valley cities (and the closest of the border cities to the coast), has areas that can give you the feeling that you are across the border. Many of its citizens—and the citizens of its sister city across the Rio Grande, Matamoros—cross back and forth daily to work, shop or play. (If you plan to go into Mexico, be sure to take your passport.) While you're in Brownsville, visit the Historic Brownsville Museum housed in a 1928 Southern Pacific Railway station(http://www.brownsvillemuseum.org), the Charles Stillman House and Museum, the Brownsville Art Museum (http://www.brownsvillemfa.org) and Fort Brown (on the Texas Southmost College campus), which was built in 1846. Also of interest are the Gladys Porter Zoo and the Sabal Palm Grove Sanctuary, where the endangered native palm is protected by the Audubon Society in a preserve. http://www.gpz.org.
Harlingen (25 mi/40 km northwest of Brownsville) is a large town that's home to the Rio Grande Valley Historical Museum Complex, which provides insight into the history and development of the region. McAllen (30 mi/50 km farther west) is home to the McAllen International Museum of Art & Science, which has a fine collection of Mexican folk art (http://www.imasonline.org). Both cities have airports that service Houston and other cities. McAllen also has one of the largest medical centers in the U.S. Just south of McAllen, in Hidalgo, you'll find an 1886 courthouse and jail.
Across the border from Hidalgo is the Mexican city of Reynosa. Park your car on the U.S. side of the International Bridge and walk across to enjoy shopping for bargains at mercado central (the main market) or with the vendors around the zocalo. Reynosa also has two bullrings: Call the McAllen Convention and Visitors Bureau for information on bullfight schedules. Another option is Progresso, about the same distance from McAllen as Reynosa, but more touristy.
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