Distance: 100 miles
Driving time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Though it probably wouldn't come as a surprise to the Aggies among us, this Baylor Bear was shocked to learn a few years ago that downtown Bryan is downright adorable. All those years spent driving down Highway 6 to see my friends in College Station and I'd never thought to visit its sister town, the seat of Brazos County and site of a darling downtown that college-aged-me could never have possibly appreciated but that adult-me just adores.
First and foremost, I'd advise getting yourself situated in the LaSalle Hotel, an Art Deco masterpiece right in the thick of things on Main Street. Originally built in 1929 to accommodate the railway traffic that had Bryan bustling at the time, the luxurious hotel stood vacant for 20 years until it was restored and reopened to the public in 1999—right around the same time as downtown Bryan itself underwent the revitalization that's made it a focal point today. Even pets are welcome at this boutique hotel, which will provide dog treats and water bowls for your four-legged friends.
Pups or no, you're going to immediately want to take a stroll along Main Street after settling in. I suggest heading across the street to the Carnegie Public Library. Built in 1903 with money donated by famed philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the gorgeous Greek Revival structure is one of only a handful of Carnegie-funded-and-named public libraries left in the nation. Like the LaSalle, it too was restored and reopened in 1999 and now houses an extensive collection of Brazos County historical documents and photographs. It is also, however, closed on the weekends—but there's plenty more to see in downtown Bryan.
The historic district is rich with retail opportunities, from antique and consignment shops to cute clothing and home decor boutiques. You'll even find a haberdashery (Catalena Hatters, where you can get a custom-fitted cowboy hat), a stained glass studio (Brazos Glassworks, which also sells unusual beads for jewelry-making) and the terrific Ed's Bookshop, which specializes in Texas and Western literature.
By night, the streets are lit with the Deco glow from the newly restored Palace and Queen Theatre marquees. Though the Queen is still undergoing renovations inside, the Palace now hosts free community movie nights, live music, poetry slams and other events throughout the year.
First Fridays are the best time to catch downtown Bryan in full swing, with the next one coming up on March 4. That night, you'll find local band The Nightowls on stage at the Palace. Outside, street performers and food trucks line Main St. while shop and boutique owners offer late hours and great deals.
If you're not grabbing a bite off a truck, the area is thick with bars and restaurants: There's Bavarian beer and food at Murphy's Law Pub & Brauhaus, old-fashioned soda fountain treats at Corner of Time, burgers and tacos at The Proudest Monkey, or a meal in the LaSalle's charming cafe.
I suggest at least one meal at Madden's Casual Gourmet, where chef Peter Madden uses ingredients from local farmers and ranchers in his modern American menu. Look for chocolate, chile and coffee-rubbed beef tenderloin and seared snapper with shrimp enchiladas over tomato risotto.
Towards the end of the weekend, you may find yourself surprised to have left your car parked at the hotel the entire time—downtown Bryan is just that walkable. But if you find yourself itching for the open road at some point, you can always head over to College Station, where a whole other Wanderlust post's worth of activities awaits.