As an OSU fan, I had to get over the fact that Waco, Texas is the home of the fearsome Baylor Bears. Fortunately, Waco has special attractions that override this fact.
History – from the Cretaceous to the contemporary – is on display in Waco’s mix of museums. Outdoor activities range from hiking and kayaking to strolling through the zoo.
And Waco has become a place of pilgrimage for all things Chip and Joanna Gaines. There truly is something for everyone that makes Waco a cool destination, even in the heat of a Texas summer.
It is possible to go back a long way in the history of this Texas town. In the Mayborn Museum complex on the Baylor campus, you can see the fossil of a turtle that swam in a shallow sea that covered the area 75 million years ago.
More contemporary exhibits cover other facets of natural and cultural history, including a recreated village from 1890. Another part of the museum focuses on science and discovery with plenty of hands-on activities for kids.
As you transition from the Cretaceous to the Pleistocene era—better known as the Ice Age—discover the fossil remains of 65,000-year-old Columbian mammoths at Waco Mammoth National Monument.
Protected by a permanent shelter, guests see the remains in situ from the point of view of a suspended walkway.
Stepping back in time, the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum showcases nearly two centuries of this famous law enforcement activity. Exhibits include weapons and badges, stories of individual rangers, and famous encounters like the murder of Bonnie and Clyde.
Among the most popular exhibits are those relating to a fictional character, the Lone Ranger.
Clayton Moore, the actor from the classic TV series, donated his mask to the museum. Memorialized in popular culture, “The Lone Ranger” lived on children’s lunch boxes and other merchandise.
Waco’s finest museum is the Armstrong-Browning Library on the Baylor campus. This shrine to poet Robert Browning and his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, is from the collection of Dr. A. Josepgh Armstrong, head of the English department from 1912 to 1952.
The building, constructed between 1948 and 1951, features exquisite marble, elaborate light fixtures, and 62 stained glass windows depicting passages of their poetry.
Included in this, the world’s largest collection of Browning materials, are personal artifacts and memorabilia.
A different kind of nostalgia is the order of the day at the Dr. Pepper Museum. See a recreation of the pharmacy where pharmacist Charles Alderton concocted the famous drink.
Learn the history of soft drinks and peek into the 30-foot-deep artesian well that provided what has been described as the “healthiest and purest” water used in the brew. Alderton.
I had visited all of these places before on press trips, but while passing through Waco last fall with my husband, Jack, and my daughter, Zoe, who was visiting from the UK, I wanted to share with them my passion for Dr Pepper.
I called the Convention and Visitors Bureau to make sure the museum would be open. The rep who answered my call reassured me that was the case and asked if we were going to visit the Magnolia Silos, a block away.
When I confessed that I had never heard of Magnolia Silos, I was told, “If you write about Waco and don’t write about silos, your readers will think you know nothing.
So we immersed ourselves in the world of Chip and Joanna Gaines and the Magnolia empire. Their fame began in 2013 with “Fixer-Upper”, a show on HGTV.
In 2014, they purchased a downtown parcel of land that once belonged to the Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Mill Company – complete with two 120-foot silos. It is now an attractive complex of shops, restaurants, open spaces and entertainment.
They now have Magnolia Silos, Magnolia Café located in a historic building where Elvis once enjoyed fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, four vacation rental properties and their own television network.
The number of tourists has skyrocketed since the Gaineses added so many attractions to the town.
Another great shopping spot is the Homestead Craft Village in a complex called Homestead Heritage, a Christian community that focuses on traditional farming techniques and crafts.
If you’re looking for handmade quilts, pottery furniture, baskets and more, this is the stop for you. The small cafe is also a good place for lunch.
When it comes to outdoor activities, Waco offers a surprising range of opportunities. Take an easy stroll over the Waco Suspension Bridge over the Brazos.
Built in 1870 as a toll bridge – the only one on an 800-mile stretch of the river – it not only carried people and vehicles, it was used by cowboys driving cattle on the Chisholm Trail.
Waco has designated river paddling trails for kayakers and canoeists and hiking trails in Cameron Park.
My favorite walk in the park, however, is visiting Cameron Park Zoo. A nice collection of animals and attractive landscaping make it fun – and, if you’re a kid, gliding through the exhibit of otters in an acrylic tube is the best.
Waco also has an incredible aquatic attraction: BSR Surf Resort. The US Olympic surfing team trained here, but there are also beginner waves. It also has a cable park for wakeboarding, a giant slide called The Royal Flush, and the longest lazy river in the world.
Waco has a lot to do. Lots to see and do. My only caveat: beware of bears.