While Glen Rose has The Promise Passion Play (5000 Texas Dr, 254-897-3926) from August to November and Fossil Rim Wildlife Park (2299 County Rd 2008, 254-897-2960), which is open year-round, and while Waxahachie has Scarborough Renaissance Festival in May and Screams Halloween Park in October (both at 2511 FM 66, 972-843-1940), Waco is actually where it’s at. OK, admittedly, Waco is where I have visited most recently, so that’s what I’m talking about. My boyfriend and I, along with our best couple friends, ventured there in May. #PartyofFour
Let’s start with accommodations. I had an awful experience with a brand-name hotel there and wouldn’t stay with them again. I’m still waiting on the refund. The newest hotel in town is Home2 Suites by Hilton (2500 Bagby Av, 254-752-4400), and that’s where I should have stayed instead. Having staycationed at the Home2 Suites location right here in the Cultural District (1145 University Dr, 682-707-9475), I highly recommend it. Branded as “suites,” your room includes a separate living area, kitchenette with a dishwasher, microwave, and full-size refrigerator. The kitchen amenity is great for when you want to do your own thing for meals. Breakfast is provided in the lobby.
Speaking of dining, we struck gold at three places we tried. Colloquially known as “The Con,” El Conquistador Restaurant (4508 W Waco Dr, 254-772-4596) has fantastic Mexican food. We had beef fajitas for two, and our friends had shrimp enchiladas. While the grub was excellent, the boys were a little distracted. Greg couldn’t get past a Mexican restaurant naming itself after conquering invaders. Dave had to stop the “happy, happy birthday” goings-on at the next table to help tune the guitar. Sigh.
Guess Family Barbecue (2803 Franklin Av, 254-313-3436) holds up against any of your favorite North Texas barbecue joints. We were there for Sunday brunch, and I had the brisket hash (chopped brisket, country potatoes, eggs cooked your way). Good stuff. I also enjoyed an order of deviled eggs from the appetizer menu made with pimento cheese and topped with a brisket jam.
Many places in Waco are closed on Sunday, so we were excited to find that Union Hall (720 Franklin Av, 254-327-1456) was still open when we got hungry again that evening. Not unlike our own Crockett Food Hall in Fort Worth (3000 Crockett St, 817-207-5588), each person finds their food of choice, then you meet back in the middle. I had a Caprese salad that was divine. The rest of the group shared a massive pizza.
As for entertainment, there are several sites to see. If you have a history buff in your inner circle — or anyone who saw the recent Netflix series Waco — it’s worth a drive-by/stop-in to check out the Branch Davidian Memorial Park (1781 Double EE Ranch Rd). While admission is free, parking is $5 per carload. On Saturday morning, we walked the property and saw the remains of the compound burned in the famous ATF raid in 1993 — the infamous school bus turned pantry can still be viewed peeking out from below ground. In addition, several official monuments are on-site. A cute donkey lives on the property (he did not want to be my friend), and there is an abandoned swimming pool with koi fish and a turtle. Also, watch out for the snake.
Another television-inspired stop is Magnolia Market at the Silos (601 Webster Av, 254-235-0603), owned by Chip and Joanna Gaines of HGTV’s Fixer Upper series. In 2015, the Gaineses refurbished and reopened the landmark property — the former site of the Brazos Valley Cotton Mill Company — as a multi-use area that includes retail shops, a bakery, garden store, and food truck park with picnic tables, and the Magnolia Table restaurant is right across the way. The items you see in the retail shop — many of them expensive — can also be found at Target stores. My favorite souvenir item was a Magnolia Table shopping bag with a black illustration of the property and its logo emblazoned on canvas for a mere $12.
Waco is the home to a third attraction with a television twist. If you’re a fan of the Lone Ranger or Walker, Texas Ranger, check out the Pop Culture Room at the Texas Rangers Museum (100 Texas Rangers Trl, 254-750-8631). To the bewilderment of our couple companions, this museum has nothing to do with baseball. From a display about Frank Hamer, the Ranger who took down Bonnie and Clyde, to a Wall of Fame showcasing current Texas Rangers, this building is chock-full of memorabilia. The owner of this paper has been wearing a bandana the whole pandemic as his mask, so I was glad to find the cheapest souvenir of the trip for him, an authentic Texas Rangers bandana for just $2.
As an equal parts foodie and pop-culture enthusiast, my favorite stop was the Dr Pepper Museum & Free Enterprise Institute (300 S 5th St, 254-757-1025). Admission is $10 — which includes a free soda or $1 off a float — and you can easily see all three floors of memorabilia in one to two hours. In addition, you can take photos with the green 1940s Dr Pepper delivery truck for free or visit the soda fountain and gift shop without paying the admission.
Should we revisit Waco — and I’m sure we will — I’ll be hitting some other attractions that we missed, including the Waco Mammoth National Monument (6200 Steinbeck Bend Dr, 254-750-7946) and Inner Space Cavern in nearby Georgetown (4200 S I-35 Frontage Rd, 512-931-2283). There’s only so much you can do in one weekend, after all.