Explore the Heart of Texas in Waco
In recent years, Texas has experienced a surge in population growth, as well as a significant increase in visitors to the state. The rise of the major cities like Dallas, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio have brought new entertainment, and new ideas, and created multiple dense population centers within the large and wide-open spaces Texas is known for. However, to really learn and appreciate the state, you have to go to the heart of it. And in Texas, the heart of the state is the sometimes-overlooked city of Waco. For travelers driving between Dallas and Austin, Waco has become a perfect midway point to break up the drive. The fact that the city is less than two hours from both major metropolises makes it a great destination for a day or weekend trip.
When driving into the city especially on a fall Saturday, the first thing that you will undoubtedly notice is the lights of McLane Stadium, the home of the Baylor University Bears football team. It’s well known that football is king in Texas, and Waco is no exception. A city with around one hundred and thirty-five thousand residents, of which nearly twenty thousand are students, has a stadium that can hold a third of the city. If you like football, or just want to see a big game, make sure to visit when the University of Texas or Oklahoma are in town.
Fixer Upper Phenomenon
While college football is exciting, the reason Waco has drastically increased visitors over the last few years is their biggest national celebrities: Chip and Joanna Gaines. The celebrity couple who had a hit TV show renovating houses in and around their home city have turned their success on TV into a brand that attracts tourists to Waco in droves.
If you get to Waco early enough for breakfast or brunch, make sure to try their restaurant Magnolia Table. The restaurant is in a historic building in the city, and the renovation was featured on the TV show. The large building has been converted into a communal-style restaurant serving some of the family’s favorite recipes. Try the freshly squeezed juice flight and the “Our Favorite Chicken Salad Sandwich,” served on a warm croissant.
After breakfast, take a short ride to the Magnolia Market and Garden at the Silos. The historic silos that were built in the 1950s are the anchor to what is now known as the Silos District. The silos were purchased and converted a few years back by Joanna Gaines. She converted them and the area around it into a two-block complex that includes the market, silos, Silos Baking Company, herb garden, coffee shop, and a large park area surrounded by local food trucks. The market alone might take you a few hours to explore and getting your hands on something from the bakery will likely cause you to stand in a significantly long line, but it will be worth it.
Before the recent rise to popularity from the Gaines family, Waco was especially famous for being the birthplace of one of America’s favorite soft drinks, Dr. Pepper. In fact, a few minutes’ walk down the street from the Silos District is the Dr. Pepper Museum, located in the original bottling building for the soda. Inside you can find many fun facts about the drink, as well as have one hand made for you by the old-time soda operator in the gift shop. If you are looking for a place to grab a beer after you have had your fill of soft drinks, a block down the road is the cozy Barnett’s Public House. You won’t miss Barnett’s because the side of the building has one of the more popular murals in town, “WACO.” Inside, you will find delicious food and a very impressive list of hard-to-find whiskeys.
Across from the Hilton Waco and along the Brazos River, you will find Indian Spring Park. The park is significant because it holds the Branding the Brazos Sculpture, as well as the entrance to the Waco Suspension Bridge. The bridge was significant for the cattle drive industry and the city because it was the only such structure allowing cattle to cross the river safely for hundreds of miles. The sculpture of men corralling the cattle towards the bridge does a wonderful job depicting what the scene might have been during that period. Below the bridge, you will also find an entrance to the city’s river walk, which spans all the way to the Baylor University campus.
Finally, no trip to Waco is complete without visiting the city’s hidden treasure. The Waco Mammoth National Monument, a large area on the outskirts of Waco, has produced numerous archaeological finds to date, most importantly dozens of mammoth fossils. Discovered in the late 1970s, and recently pronounced a national monument, the site is famous for the largest concentration of mammoth remains. While on the visitor tour, you might even be able to witness archaeologists working on the site. The workers are adamant that only a very small percent of the area has been explored, so who knows – you might witness a discovery in person.
During your next visit to the Lone Star State, make sure you take a trip to Waco – you won’t know Texas unless you really get to know its heart!