Sure, Dallas-Fort Worth is full of action and entertainment, but let’s face it: Sometimes you need to get out of the city and explore. A few hours’ drive from the Metroplex, there are plenty of places to do just that, from historic small towns to scenic state parks. All you need to enjoy them is a tank of gas and a sense of adventure.
About halfway between Dallas and Austin on I-35 is Waco, where folks from all over Texas are flocking to its refurbished downtown area for unique experiences in dining, shipping and entertainment. Magnolia Market at the Silos, an old Cottonseed Mill on Webster Avenue, is partially responsible for Waco’s growing popularity, thanks to Chip and Joanna Gaines of the hit HGTV show "Fixer Upper."
Upon arrival at the Silos, shop the Gaines’ rustic-yet-refined home-décor store, play games on the lawn, visit the arden with a wooden teepee for children and grab a bite from food trucks serving a range of items, from crêpes to pizza to gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. The newest addition to the Silos is Magnolia Flour, a bakery slated to open in May.
Not far from the Silos is BSR Cable Park, previously voted “best cable park in the world.” With a six-tower cable system of custom rails, sliders, boxes and other obstacles, BSR’s bi-level lake will satisfy even the most serious wake shredders. A second cable system gives beginners and young wakeboarders a head start. Open daily, the state-of-the-art facility is also home to a lazy river, the Royal Flush super slide, volleyball courts, a sand beach and a full-service bar and grill.
For geology buffs, visit Waco’s Mammoth Site, which became a national monument in 2015. The site comprises the remains of 24 Columbian mammoths—the largest mammals in the world at the time, standing roughly 14 feet tall and weighing up to 20,000 pounds. The well-preserved site remains the only recorded discovery of a nursery herd of Pleistocene mammoths, which lived from about 2.5 million years ago until around 10,000 years ago. During the excavation, scientists also uncovered fossilized remains of a camel (Camelops hesternus) and the tooth of a young sabertoothed cat.
For history and museum junkies, the Mayborn Museum Complex is also a must-visit. Housing a 28-foot model of a Pliosaur and an in-depth look at Texas’ history and heritage, exhibits include an old settlers’ village, a log cabin and a Comanche tipi. Of course, don’t miss the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, the Dr Pepper Museum and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
For an off-the-beaten-path adventure, head to Mineral Wells, about 90 minutes northwest of Dallas. Legend has it that magic healing properties exist in the water of the small town’s natural springs. Enjoy the beauty of the state park or take home your own bottle of “Crazy Water,” just like folks did in the late 1800s. At the Crazy Water Bath House, indulge in a 20-minute soak in the magic water or a reasonably priced spa treatment.
A popular resort town in the early 1900s for affluent travelers seeking the healing magic of Mineral Wells would reserve their accommodations at the now-defunct Baker Hotel. Now undergoing full renovations with no reopening date in sight, the 14-story, Art Deco-style hotel is known for its ghost stories, which have become as legendary as the magic water for which the town was named.
Take US-377 80 miles west of Dallas to Granbury, home of the first town square in Texas to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Here, visitors will find boutiques, restaurants and tasting rooms, and charming bed-and-breakfasts. Built in 1886 and rumored to be haunted, the Granbury Opera House features imported chandeliers, twin curved staircases, its original limestone walls and balcony railings for a genuine, nostalgic and historic feel. Renovated in 2013, it plays host to a regular schedule of performances and productions. Visit local Barking Rocks Winery around the corner from downtown for a flavor of Texas grapes, or regional favorite Revolver Brewing for craft beer (locals love the Blood & Honey ale) and a brewery tour, plus live weekend entertainment.