Conroe's picturesque Main Street

If you’ve ever lived in Montgomery County, as I have, you may be guilty of thinking of Conroe as a destination only to be passed through, kicking and screaming, on your way to jury duty. Yet I ventured forth one recent Saturday with an open mind. And I discovered that the town has much to offer.

A friend and I started our journey wandering Main Street—coincidentally, just past the courthouse—where we found a delightful collage of local businesses: overflowing antiques shops, the historic Crighton Theatre, Cowtown Couture, and Wilke’s Badass Pits, which sells fire pits that are, by all accounts, badass. After popping in and out of the shops, my companion and I stopped by Beanpunk Coffee, where we enjoyed robust Americanos and house-made scones while admiring the quirky decor. (A cardboard cutout of Commander Riker, of Star Trek fame, watched over our table. We didn’t ask questions.)

Then we shot up the highway to Sam Houston National Forest, where more than 161,000 acres of loblolly pines and Southern magnolias tangle above a thick understory of yaupon holly and scraggly underbrush. Thru-hikers travel segments of the 129-mile Lone Star Hiking Trail—and you can, too—but we spent the afternoon wandering the beginner loops near the district office off FM 1375. That’s where we met a local who explained that Conroe first made its fortune as a lumber town, but that by the 1930s, much of the area had been clear cut or burned to the ground. Today careful management has restored the landscape, and we marveled at the birds, bugs, and critters scurrying around the forest.

Take a tour at Southern Star Brewing Company.

Our next stop was the nearby Southern Star Brewing Company. Founded in 2008, this outfit—started by a former Saint Arnold brew master—makes the popular ale known as Bombshell Blonde, and it’s well worth embarking on one of the brewery’s twice-daily weekend tours, where lucky visitors get to experience the olfactory bliss of standing in the fridge where they store all the hops. While this was the first Texas brewery to can craft beer, its palatial, wood-paneled taproom also offers rotating selections on draught, along with board games, fresh-baked Russo’s pizza, and the occasional karaoke night. Emerging into the parking lot just after dusk, we made sure to wave as we passed the two hops-loving donkeys who live next to the brewery.

Then it was barbecue time, of course. Locals swear by Vernon’s Kuntry Katfish and its relative, Vernon’s Kuntry Bar-B-Q (936-539-3000), just across the freeway. The latter is nothing fancy; on each green-checked tablecloth sits a big bucket of peanuts. Still, we luxuriated in the perfect moistness of the brisket plate and the tanginess of the potato salad, zhushed up with a wonderful mix of peppers. Cicadas were thrumming loudly outside on the patio as we sipped our Lone Stars and stared into the night.

As we finally made our way back to the car, I realized how wrong I’d been about this town, a lovely mix of Old Texas charm and natural beauty. And as we headed back toward Houston, I resolved that the next time a speeding ticket inevitably brings me back to Conroe, I might just make a day of it.

Hike one of the trails through Sam Houston National Forest's 161,000 acres.

What to Instagram:

  • Huddle up at the Lone Star Monument & Historical Flag Park (104 I-45 N.) where 13 flags of Texas (read the plaque) fly above a statue of Charles B. Stewart, the local credited with designing the Lone Star Flag.
  • Pose in front of the Harbour Town Lighthouse and trick your friends into thinking you’re visiting Hilton Head, South Carolina, and not its replica situated on the eastern shores of Lake Conroe. Catch the best view from the parking lot at The Landing at Seven Coves Resort (7031 Kingston Cove Ln.).
  • ’Gram your playbill in front of the historic Crighton Theatre (234 N. Main St.), est. 1934, where you can now catch regular performances from Stage Right Productions.

If You Stay the Night:

  • In nearby Montgomery, nestled among 300-year-old pecan trees, the three-bedroom, Antebellum-era Hodge Podge Lodge offers charming claw-foot bathtubs and four-poster beds along with chef Rick Adams’s excellent restaurant, The Eatery.

Where to Eat:

  • Hop off Main Street and into the Red Brick Tavern to quaff a Bombshell Blonde, enjoy live music, and munch on fried oysters.
  • The brisket’s the thing at roadside favorite Vernon’s Kuntry Bar-B-Q (936-539-3000). Get it with a sweet tea.
  • Locals go crazy for the focaccia and pizza and piccata and, well, everything at Joe’s Italian
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