Whether your interest is dinosaurs, museums, historic homes, bed and breakfasts, or innovative restaurants, wineries, breweries, art, and unique shopping, you’ll find it all within a couple of hours from Fort Worth, my hometown.
Explore with me the Dinosaur Capital of Texas, the state’s Best Historic Small Town in America, my grandparents’ hometown, with the new Magnolia Headquarters, my favorite Texas Frontier Town (where my sister lives), and Gingerbread City. Each town qualifies as a favorite weekend getaway.
1. Glen Rose
Hunt dancing dinosaur tracks lining the creek beds and riverbeds of Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, famous as the Dinosaur Capital of Texas.
If your grandchildren are as fascinated with dinosaurs as mine are, visit Dinosaur World, where they can wander among more than 100 life-sized beasts. The animatronic dinosaurs make little jaws drop. We love the dinosaur dig for fossils and the playground. Take a picnic lunch and enjoy the day.
Eagle Eye Ranch is a great place to experience a horse-drawn carriage or wagon ride. Saddle up and ride a horse through scenic trails around the state park.
You can’t miss the historic Courthouse of Somervell County, constructed in 1893, on the square surrounded by retail stores, restaurants, offices, specialty shops, and museums.
My Secret: I can’t pass up Pie Peddlers on the square, voted the best pie in the Lone Star State. Buy a slice or a whole pie. The top-selling prize is Strawberry Rhubarb, but I like the lemon or chocolate meringue piled high like Mom used to make. My husband gets the pecan pie topped with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream.
Nearby, don’t miss Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Glen Rose’s taste of Africa, with over 50 different species of animals covering 1,700 acres. We love the drive-through tour, plus add a unique overnight stay at Fossil Rim Lodge or Foothills Safari Cabins. Fossil Rim has saved several endangered animals, including Attwater prairie chickens, white rhinoceros, cheetahs, and red wolves.
Pro Tip: Stay at Inn on the River and have lunch or dinner at Riverhouse Grill. If money is no object, Rough Creek Lodge and Resort is a must with dinner by award-winning executive chef Gerard Thompson.
Historic Granbury, voted USA Today’s best historic small town in America, is the perfect place for exploring. Take the business exit to Granbury Square, where the 1890 Hood County Courthouse stands as the centerpiece of Granbury’s history.
First, we visit the Bridge Street History Center and the Granbury Doll House Museum. Have lunch at Christina’s American Table on the square, a hidden gem offering creative sandwiches, homemade soups, and fresh salads. Continue the history lesson at the Yeats-Duke 1858 Museum and the Hood County Old Jail Museum.
Tour the Local Goat Distillery on Friday or Saturday for a 30- to 45-minute tour. Charcuterie boards feature local craft cheese from Veldhuizen in Dublin, craft chocolate from Wiseman House in Hico, plus gourmet meats, crackers, nuts, and spreads.
Another reward awaits you: an Oasis Horse and Carriage ride around Historic Granbury Square, led by Valor, a 16-year-old Belgian Draft Horse, the “gentle giant.”
I love the Ghosts and Legends Tour of Granbury for haunted history.
After sitting idle the last few years, the historic Nutt House Hotel on the square is coming back this fall, under new ownership and after extensive renovations. I’m delighted to see her brought back to her original charm, comfort, and luxury with 11 unique guest suites, a beer, wine, and coffee bar, an elegant small plate menu, and spa services.
The Chip and Joanna Gaines Magnolia Market and the Silos, Magnolia Press, Table, Bakery, and Magnolia House, are some of the biggest attractions in Waco, drawing 1.8 million visitors annually. My grandparents lived here when I was growing up; they wouldn’t recognize Waco today.
Waco is home to the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, Baylor University, and Waco Mammoth National Monument, housing fossils of 24 Columbian mammoths discovered in 1978. If I were to choose a soft drink museum, the Dr. Pepper Museum in Waco is the winner. I remember when my grandfather made me hot Dr. Pepper with lemon when I had the sniffles.
Visit the zoo, the overlook called Lovers Leap, and my favorite: Jacob’s Ladder, where we climbed the 100 steps up the cliff (all these attractions are in Cameron Park, which you can read up on here). Take a luxury cruise on the Brazos River, see historic bridges, or stroll the Waco Riverwalk.
For whiskeys, bourbons, and rums, visit Balcones Distilling and get a behind-the-scenes tour. The Bare Arms Brewing taproom is home to a Jalapeno Cilantro Mexican Lager. Or find your favorite brew at Waco Ale Company.
Hop aboard the free Silo District Trolley to explore the Downtown Cultural District’s restaurants, art galleries, boutiques, wineries, and the farmers market. You could spend all afternoon shopping at Spice Village, The Findery, and Central Texas Marketplace.
Pro Tips: Stay at the Magnolia House, or Colcord House Bed and Breakfast, and go early to beat the lines at the Magnolia Table. Also check out these as seen on Fixer Upper: eight best vacation rentals in Waco, Texas. And coming soon: Watch for a new season of Fixer Upper on the Magnolia Network in 2021!
I always find something artistic or historical when I visit my sister in Salado, a famous stage-stop on the Old Chisholm Trail (PDF), where Sam Houston and Jesse James hung their hats at the Historic Stagecoach Inn, constructed in 1861. After a recently completed renovation, the Stagecoach Inn is a luxury destination.
Today, at the famous restaurant, order breakfast with homemade buttermilk waffles or steak and eggs and a great cup of coffee. For dinner, my favorite is the brown butter trout, or indulge in the eight-ounce bourbon mushroom sirloin.
Inn on the Creek, a series of Victorian homes, is an upscale bed and breakfast and trendy gourmet restaurant locally famous as the site of Jenna Bush’s bridesmaids’ luncheon. The presidential entourage besieging Salado from nearby Caldwell was the hottest news since Sam Houston delivered his speech from the Stagecoach Inn balcony.
Explore the Royal Street District for cork-and-create classes, handmade Mud Pies Pottery, hand-blown glass, and Japanese creative stoneware. Spend the afternoon shopping for clothes and jewelry in Salado Square and the Magnolias of Salado or 21 Main for unique home decor.
The Barrow Brewing Company, located in the revived old pole barn granary along Salado Creek, offers a Tipsy Vicar stout and Ski Boat Blonde Ale. Order six-packs and pizza to go.
Pro Tip: Stay at the Stagecoach Inn, Inn on the Creek, The Rose Mansion Bed and Breakfast, or Inn at Salado. Have dinner at the Stagecoach Inn Restaurant or the Hunter-Gatherer. Lunch at McCain’s Bakery and Cafe or Cathy’s Boardwalk Cafe.
Waxahachie, famous as the Gingerbread City and the Crepe Myrtle Capital of Texas, is one of 89 certified Texas Main Street communities backed by the Texas Historical Commission for the revitalization of their historic downtowns.
The Ellis County Richardsonian Romanesque Courthouse is the town’s most impressive landmark. Italian sculptor Harry Herley created intricate carvings in the enormous red sandstone stacks ranging from his sweetheart’s face to faces with frowns, turned-down smiles, toothless grins, some demons, and gargoyles, all the result of his romance rejected.
The town of 37,000 has more historic structures per capita than any city in the United States. My favorite event is the twice-yearly landmark home tour, the Gingerbread Trail Home Tour in early June. There’s also the Candlelight Tour that takes place for three weekends beginning late November.
Stroll the downtown square and relax amid the calm and friendly atmosphere. Do not miss lunch or dinner at the Doves Nest Restaurant for the famous Flower-Pot Chicken Pie or the infamous hot brownie souffle with vanilla ice cream sauce. Personally, I can’t pass up cupcake heaven at Bittersweet Bakery, either.
Visit the Historic Downtown District, where you’ll find the Sims Library with massive columns framing the entrance. Find irresistible pieces at Gingerbread Antiques. Learn the town’s history at the Ellis County Museum and see art exhibits hosted by the Ellis County Art Association. Enjoy the outdoors during a walk around Waxahachie Creek Hike and Bike Trail. Play at the splash pads at George Brown Plaza.
At Cork House Winery, I recommend the Rowdy Texan, a malbec, or Thee Cheers and a Charm, an apricot-peach chardonnay.
Pro Tip: Stay at one of many bed and breakfasts in Waxahachie. Have dinner at Doves Nest or Bistro 115.