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Welcome to McAllen, Texas

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Everybody goes through a growing phase. Children, animals, plants … They all start from little seedlings and mature into their full potential.

The same can be said about McAllen, Texas, a city that when I first visited in 2009 was just a twinkle in the Lone Star State’s eye. Since that time, the city has come into its own as a rising star in Texas.

Located in southern Texas a little over a one-hour flight from Dallas along the 100 mile expanse of the northern bank of the Rio Grande River separating the United States from Mexico, McAllen is one of a handful of cities—South Padre Island, Brownsville, Harlingen, Alamo, Port Isabel, Phar, Edinburg, Mercedes, Mission, and Weslaco (pronounced wes-la-coe)—dotted along this east-west stretch.

The Aztec Indians were the original inhabitants of the region, the first mapping of the area following in 1519, some historians believe, by order of Francisco de Garay, the then Governor of Jamaica. Although others contend that he landed some 150 miles farther away, claiming that area as his territory.

Over the next four centuries, Spanish settlers established several distinct towns here, and it wasn’t long before these towns were integrated into one bustling region called the Rio Grande Valley, today known as the lower Rio Grande Valley—or “The Valley,” for short.

Soon other Europeans followed suit, among them settler James McAllen from Edinburgh, Scotland, who became a major landowner and investor here, eventually formally founding the city in 1909.

One of the biggest draws to the Rio Grande Valley at that time was the rich, fertile soil that fostered thriving agricultural production. Among the cornucopia of crops were a wide variety of vegetables, cotton, and sugarcane. However, because of the succulent lemons, oranges, grapefruit, and other citrus crops, McAllen and the surrounding area became known as the “Citrus Basket” of the U.S. 

McAllen: A Rising Star in Texas

Today McAllen sits as the heart of the Valley as the largest city with an estimated 140,000 denizens, 5,000 people in the larger Hidalgo County, and 1.5 million in the entire Rio Grande Valley, a sort of misnomer because the topography is even and flat.

Hispanic residents make up 87 percent of the population, most with ties to Mexico—its closest international neighbor—in addition large numbers of citizens from India, England, Canada, Ireland, Sweden, the West Indies, Lebanon, China, Scandinavia, Japan, Korea, and Thailand, just to name a few.

McAllen itself is narrow and deep: three miles wide from east to west, and 12 miles from north to south. And like most cities in the Valley, was laid out this way because in the land-grant days, every community wanted riverfront property, and this gave them all equal billing.

Despite some of the violence that has been occurring in several areas of Mexico, and the inaccurate news reporting that often paints McAllen and the surrounding cities as dirty, unsophisticated “border towns” punctuated with dirt roads and donkey carts, McAllen is a far cry from that and was recently recognized as one of the safest cities with some of the lowest violent crime rates in the country.

As such, each year McAllen plays host to over one million visitors, the majority of which come here primarily from Mexico, to take advantage of the area’s wealth of manufacturing entities which churn out some of the country’s best specialty boutiques and brand name retailers found in dozens of shopping malls and plazas.

In fact, McAllen is the number one U.S. destination for shopping for affluent Mexican Nationals (30 percent of all purchases here), and coming here is referred to throughout Mexico as “Vamos a McAllenar/McCaliando” (We’re going “McAllening”).

There are also huge numbers of “Winter Texans,” retirees—a great deal of whom arrive via RVs—from northern U.S. cities and Canada to Canada to enjoy the comfortable winter weather, low cost of living, and close proximity to Mexico (primarily on foot just over the border into Nuevo Progresso) for more great shopping deals and oodles of low costs medicines and procedures including dental and ophthalmic, among others. The Winter Texans are a huge driving force, bringing in close to $500 million dollars a year into the local economy.

Visitors also come to enjoy the wealth of dining and outdoor recreational opportunities here, which we will explore as we delve further into this warm and welcoming tourist destination situated along the beautiful Rio Grande Valley.

Written by Lysa Allman Baldwin
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