Waco has seen its share of national attention over the years, for better and for worse, but the current attention afforded the sleepy Central Texas town is of the positive variety. It comes courtesy of HGTV’s wildly successful Fixer Upper series, now in its last season, featuring the reliably sunny Chip and Joanna Gaines flipping local homes for reliably sunny Waco families.
But there's more to Waco than the couple's empire (Exhibit A: Dr Pepper). And a long weekend here is the ideal amount of time to explore the town’s abundant tourist destinations while—yes, of course—also hitting the Silos.
Do: Get up early to beat the crowds to the Silos, which now attracts more tourists than the Alamo. Here, you’ll find home goods and kitchen items chosen by Joanna Gaines in one part of the market, and Fixer Upper favorites (Garden Mama T-shirts, #DEMODAY hats) in the other. A garden shop sits across a faux-grass lawn, spread with chic beanbag chairs for relaxing in the sun.
Eat: Skip the hours-long line at Silos Baking Co. in favor of the homemade pastries at nearby Lula Jane’s, which offers a garden and patio in which to enjoy its bacon-cheddar scones and breakfast cookies.
Do: Learn the history of the world’s oldest major soft drink, invented here in 1885, enjoy an authentic Dr Pepper from an old-school soda fountain, and find out why there’s no period after the “Dr” in the drink’s name.
Eat: Refuel by popping over to 102-year-old Vitek’s BBQ and grabbing a Gut Pak, a Waco classic on offer since 1983 and consisting of a Frito pie topped with a tower of Vitek’s chopped beef, smoked sausage, beans, pickles, onions and jalapeños.
Do: The distillery, located inside the 1923-built Texas Fireproof Storage Co., makes its whiskey with Texas-grown malted barley. A $15 tour lasts 90 minutes and allows for plenty of sampling. Short on time? Walk-ins are welcome for $10 tasting flights featuring three award-winning whiskeys.
Eat: Soak it up with some surf-and-turf a few blocks away at Diamondback’s, long the town’s top steakhouse. A Coravin system offers top-dollar wines by the glass, while the chicken-fried venison and miso-glazed salmon offer tempting departures from the chop menu.
Do: Take a guided stroll through the surrounding live oaks to the site, where the nation’s only recorded discovery of a nursery herd of Columbian mammoths took place in 1978. It was designated a National Monument in 2015, and today, a climate-controlled building protects a literal treasure trove of in situ fossils for public viewing.
Eat: The town’s best breakfast tacos are found at Taqueria Zacatecas (2311 La Salle Ave., 254-753-1665), conveniently located down the street from Baylor University’s Mayborn Museum, where more mammoth remains and other natural history exhibits await.
Do: Waco was born out of Fort Fisher, a Texas Ranger camp erected here in 1837; the famed fort has been home to the Texas Ranger Museum for the last 50 years. Make a visit, forget what all those episodes of Walker (wrongly) taught you, and learn the real story of the legendary state police force.
Eat: Burrow into a burger and shake (or, even better, a cherry malt) from an equally legendary camp: Health Camp, whose neon signs have beckoned from the Waco Traffic Circle since 1949.
Stay the night
Hotel Indigo is the town’s only boutique lodging option, located within walking distance of the Silos and boasting a fabulous brunch at its in-house restaurant, Brazos Bar & Bistro. Rooms from $150.
Other area destinations
Visit what has been rightfully dubbed the Most Beautiful Town Square in Texas in Georgetown, explore the subterranean wonders of Inner Space Cavern, and cool down on a hot Hill Country day with a dip in the clear, aquamarine waters of the Blue Hole lagoon on the South San Gabriel River. Book a cozy apartment in the Love Building on the square, and you’ll be steps away from Galaxy Bakery & Coffeehouse and 600 Degrees Pizzeria and Draughthouse.
The drive to Gatesville may be worth it just for The Last Drive-In Picture Show (254-865-8445), the kind of classic movie-going experience everyone should have at least once. Keep up the time-traveling theme with a visit to the Old West–memorabilia–stocked Coryell Museum and the stunning, Second Empire Victorian–style Coryell County courthouse. The adorable, colorful, tiny-home-style Peacock Cabins (254-218-4156) are within walking distance of the town square.
Historic downtown Bryan boasts an assortment of restaurants and bars befitting the town’s recent reinvention. In adjoining College Station, the Bush Presidential Library remains an absolute must-see for all Texans of all ages. Stay at The George, dine on surf ‘n’ turf al fresco at in-house restaurant Poppy, and finish with a nightcap at 1791 Whiskey Bar.