Waco, Texas is a place I have always wanted to visit, even before Magnolia made it a tourist town. Recently my husband took me there on a parents-only trip. Between the shopping, eating, sightseeing, and simply relaxing, we couldn’t have had more fun.
Now I’m over here promoting Waco as THE perfect couples getaway, girlfriend’s trip, and family vacation spot. In fact, I’m already ready to go back with whoever is willing to tag along.
One person told us it used to be “when Baylor [University] goes home, everything slows down,” but today that isn’t really the case. Tourists flock from all over the country to visit the hometown of Chip and Joanna Gaines, from TV’s Fixer Upper and Magnolia Network. In this post, I’m recapping some of the highlights of our trip so you can start planning yours.
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I’ll start here. One of the main draws to Waco for tourists is all the shopping. Not for designer handbags and shoes, but for the handmade novelty items and home decor. The downtown area near The Silos holds some of the most popular shops, but the entire town has cute little boutiques dotted all around.
This is it. The place you came to Waco to see. Fixer Upper Mecca.
The Silos are essentially a large property with multiple shops of various sizes. There’s the larger, iconic Magnolia Market and Magnolia Home, and then there are 6 tiny little shops with themes like bath and body, men, women, and children’s fashion, books, and accessories. There’s also a coffee shop, Magnolia Press, as well as a garden shop called Magnolia Seed + Supply. Silos Baking Co. is mentioned below, and then there are several cute little food trucks with a variety of options.
I absolutely love the Silos, if mostly for the aesthetics and the draw to just sit and enjoy the day. But my unpopular opinion is that most things in the shops are kinda overrated. Definitely overpriced. I love Joanna’s style, but the quality of a lot of the Magnolia products isn’t quite up to par for what I expected from them, and most things we noted to be made overseas. The kitchen stuff seemed to be good quality but a lot of other products felt cheaply made. Not to be a Debby Downer, I still say all the shops are absolutely worth browsing. Just make sure to check out all the other locally-owned shops (like some of the ones named here) outside of the Silo area. They’re still expensive, but a little better value for your dollar if you ask me.
PS – I talk more about the Silos as a hangout spot below.
Little Shop on Bosque
This cute little shop, separate from the Silos property, is the first store Joanna owned and the beginnings of Magnolia. After closing and then reopening the shop, they renamed it The Little Shop on Bosque. This is where they sell all of their clearance and scratch and dent items. We visited after shopping at the Silos, which made it feel like you’re getting a much better deal. I bought more here than in any of the shops at the Silos
Spice Village was one of my favorites because of the sheer size, and the variety of products with so many different vendors. Getting to visit what is essentially 60+ different shops without ever having to move the car was ideal. And I, of course, wanted to buy one of everything.
I worked in a giant candy store in college, so I am now a self-declared candy connoisseur. Hey Sugar is a small shop, but still manages to have a wide variety of choices. They have all the novelty candies you’d expect, as well as the old trusties. What made them different and marked them as a must-see, was their ice cream selection. They have flavors like Big Red, Mudslide, Texas Honey Whiskey, and Apple Pie among so many others. I wanted to try them all!
The Findery and The Findery Marketplace
The Findery shops were by far my favorite in all of Waco for furniture and home decor, and both locations were within easy walking distance of one another. They sell new pieces as well as antique one-of-kind finds, and The Findery location has a women’s boutique upstairs. The quality of their products was also some of the best we found. Though they weren’t cheap, the prices were definitely on par for what you get. Now I’m trying to convince my husband we need to completely redecorate with the help of The Findery. Wish me luck!
There’s no lack of food choices in Waco, and there’s definitely no lack of originality either. We only got to scratch the surface of what there is to offer, so next visit I’ll have to add to this list. One thing to note, Waco is a college town, and thanks to Chip and Jo, these days it is a tourist town too. That doesn’t mean they have let go of their small-town values and practices. Many restaurants are closed on Sundays and close much earlier than you may expect. Be sure to check hours before making dinner plans!
Obviously, this one has to be the first I mention. The Table is definitely a more touristy spot, popular mostly because it’s a part of the Magnolia conglomerate. I’ve heard people say Joanna has the Midas touch, but really, they’re just really good at what they do. Same applies to the restaurant.
Getting a table here takes some strategy though. Or at least, some patience. They’re open at 6 am Monday – Saturday, but they close by 3 and the waitlist fills up much earlier than that. They don’t take reservations at all.
If you’re there at opening, you’ll definitely get a table. But if you’re the average tourist (like us), you’ll show up for brunch and be given some ridiculous wait time. We got there about 9 with the plan to just wait. After a while we had to leave because we had somewhere else we had to be. We came back at 1 pm with plenty of time before they closed, but their waitlist was full long before that.
They do have a take-away counter for those not willing and/or able to wait for a table, and most menu items are still served there. But we came for the full experience, so we decided not to use this option.
Luckily we made it there much earlier the next morning and got a table without too much of a wait. Again, for the sake of research, we ordered a little bit of everything.
First, we did a juice flight with Fresh Start, Fresh Face, Fresh Veg, and Merry Berry to go with a big-as-your-face cinnamon roll. I’m not exactly a huge fan of lavender but I’d heard the lemon lavender donut holes were delectable so we had to try those too. Then there were the biscuits with strawberry butter, biscuits with sausage gravy, avocado toast with an egg, and housemade tater tots. Oh! And hot chocolate. Obviously.
It was delectable. Every last bite. Even the lemon lavender donut holes that were served cold and I clearly expected them to be warm. Delicious. Still, and I can’t quite put my finger on why, but this wasn’t my favorite restaurant in Waco. Maybe it was the hoops we had to jump through to be able to eat there, maybe it was just too much hype, but this wasn’t my number one pick. Still, how can you go to Waco and not eat at Magnolia Table?
Silos Baking Co.
Okay, this one isn’t technically a restaurant but it’s still a must for dessert. Located in one of the back corners of the Silos property, you’ll know you’ve found the bakery when you see the huge line. People wait hours sometimes for a taste of Joanna’s sweet treats.
We really wanted to try a little of everything, so we used the excuse of “bringing them home to the kids” to buy entirely too many cupcakes. Because we were there just after Christmas, they still had some of their holiday flavors available. We ended up taking home a Wonderland, Cup O’Joe, Campfire, Silobration, Lemon Lavender, Red Velvet, The Classic, and Shiplap cupcake, and we had a little taste testing party once we got home. We each had a different favorite but every single one of them was finger-licking good. Of course, I didn’t tell the kids I’d already devoured a Cranberry Orange Biscuit as well as a Gingerbread Cookie Pie. All I keep hearing though is how much I missed out by not ordering The Silo Cookie. So I guess I need to start my order now for next time.
When we got into town on a Sunday night, we quickly realized a lot of Waco restaurants were closed. George’s was one of the few restaurants on my list that was actually open, so the decision was easy.
George’s has been around since 1930, and is everything you’d expect from a typical college town restaurant and bar. They became known for their “Big O” beers in fishbowl glasses, but now they serve “Big O” everything.
Dustin and I shared the Pepper Poppers (which weren’t fried like we expected, but tasted better than we expected), Big O Onion Rings, and Smoked NachOs. As Dustin said, “They had great food and better prices.” This was very much a locals hangout, with college students and full-time residents alike, which is always a sure bet.
We alllmost missed out on this one and it would have been a shame. Vitek’s is one of those great BBQ places that rarely makes it to closing time before they’re out of food. They’re known for the “Gut Pak” so we packed it into our guts, again, for the sake of research.
For this one, think BBQ shack does Frito pie. The Gut Pak is chopped brisket, your choice of sausage, beans, pickles, onions, and jalapeños, piled onto a bed of Fritos corn chips. With a slice of bread on the side, of course.
We definitely walked out of there with swollen guts, but man, it was worth every bite!
THIS was our favorite Waco restaurant, hands down. No question. Everything they make is either grown by their own farmers, or locally sourced and nearly all organic. Plus there’s obviously a lot of extra love put into their food. I mean, they grind their own flour for crying out loud!
Okay but really. They have a restored water-powered gristmill from 1760, where they grind their own grains. Aside from being a beautiful building with a working waterwheel, you can go inside and see the mill in action. They also sell their grains and mixes to take home.
The cafe is part of the Homestead Heritage village just outside the city. They are a religious farming and craft-focused community and dotted along their property are the various craft shops like basket weaving, pottery, woodwork, and blacksmithing, among others. They also offer classes throughout the year (which is also on my next-time list). Visiting the shops is a great way to pass the time while you wait, but making reservations through the restaurant or on OpenTable is your best bet to guarantee a table. Click here to reserve your table at Cafe Homestead!
For starters, we ordered corn fritters. There was some sort of a mix-up so they brought us their fresh chips and guacamole too. Both were consumed within minutes and I’m not sure I’ve had guacamole that tasted that fresh, even when we make our own! I had their famous quesadilla burger with chips and salsa and now I don’t think I can eat another regular burger again. I wondered the whole time why I have never thought of serving a burger this way and I still can’t forget that taste. Heavenly! Dustin ordered the cowboy coffee burger and says he feels the exact same way.
The service was also top-notch and far exceeded our expectations. They saw our needs long before we did and met them in every way (for instance, we never noticed our corn fritters were taking a while). Every employee we came in contact with within the restaurant and throughout the whole village was so kind and courteous. I was definitely curious about their religion and way of life, but afraid to be nosy. Still, I heard lots of guests asking and not one of the servers or craftsmen and women hesitated to answer anything about the community or about the crafts themselves. I don’t know if I have ever come across a more kindhearted group of people anywhere.
The location was just the icing on the cake – the Homestead Heritage property is right next door to our Airbnb property!
Some of the other popular restaurants we didn’t have time to try are Health Camp, Butter My Biscuit Cafe, Hecho en Waco, Franklin Ave Mac House, and Baris. If you’ve been, definitely let me know how they are in the comments below!
One more note about some of the popular restaurants I saw written about in Waco- Rudy’s and Torchy’s are both definitely good places to eat, but they aren’t exclusive to Waco. If you’ve never had them we definitely recommend them, but if you’re looking for something a little more “Waco” these aren’t it.
Things to do in Waco
There’s no lack of activities in Waco, aside from shopping and eating. We didn’t have nearly enough time to do it all, but if I can ever convince my husband we need to move there, we’ll never be bored. At the very least, we need to bring the kids back because I think they would have enjoyed this trip more than I’d ever thought before.
Just like every other woman IN THE WORLD, I love The Silos. The grounds and atmosphere are just so fun and adorable and I want this whole thing to be my backyard. That perfect turf, the food trucks, the bean bags, and the kids playing ball under the string lights and the whole thing. I just love it. All of it. I just wanna sit there all day and people watch.
I’ve already shared my opinion of the shops (though they are still worth visiting, even just to browse), but The Silos are still a great place to just hang out. Maybe grab a drink and a snack from the food trucks and just chill. Or take 100 million Insta shots because the entire place is beautiful!
Waco Mammoth National Monument
This was really just a quick stop for us, but still something we absolutely had to see. It’s not every day you get to see a real live dig site, and of woolly mammoths at that! The entrance fee was only $5 for each of us, then it’s a short walk down to the building that protects the site of the fossils still in the ground. Aside from the mammoths, there are even some remains from other animals that I’d never have expected to have lived in Texas.
I guess everything has always been bigger here! Afterward, I learned there are more fossils from this site in the Mayborn Museum Complex at Baylor. ((Adds Mayborn Museum to the next time list))
Dr Pepper Museum
Texans are born with Dr Pepper in our veins so this is a big one. If you even just kinda like Dr. Pepper, the museum is worth a stop. Plus it’s only a block or 2 away from the Silos. It only takes an hour or so to go through the museum. They have lots of old machinery (which sounds boring but it’s actually pretty interesting to learn how they work), a look into the original well, and lots of plaques with info. They also give you a voucher for a free small glass of regular or specialty Dr Pepper at the soda fountain.
I will say the soda fountain line took forever but that’s probably due to low staffing as is the case everywhere you go these days. We decided to upgrade our vouchers for a Dr. Pepper float and a hot Dr. Pepper. Apparently, hot Dr. Pepper was once marketed as a holiday drink served with a slice of lemon. Definitely not what I expected, but somehow the warmth brings out some of the flavors. It was actually pretty good!
We were also able to book the Taste-a-Soda experience, where you go through a blind taste testing as if you’re trialing new soda flavors. They pour you a cup and you rate them based on several different factors, and try to guess what they were. Some were delicious and some were… not. The ones we trialed were not actually new, and not all Keurig Dr. Pepper brands so sometimes it was hard to pinpoint them. Many we had never tried anyway and I don’t think we correctly guessed a single one. Still, it was so much fun! They also offer a Make-A-Soda experience which we didn’t get to try, but I’m sure it would be fun too!
Fat Tire Bike Tours
One of our absolute favorite things to do in Waco was a fat tire electric bike tour with Waco Adventure Tours. I’ll be honest, I thought the “adventure” was just, you know, riding bikes through the city. But as I was flying downhill, around blind curves, trying not to bust it in front of a car and die, I realized this really is an adventure tour.
Rodney, the owner and tour guide, is also a professional surfer. He founded Ampsurf, a program where he began teaching adaptive surfing after he became an amputee himself. He was just a really cool guy to talk to and to hear his story about coming to Waco from California. From Rodney, we learned that Waco has a huge wave pool where beginners and professional surfers come from all over the world to train. So now we have to go back to learn to surf.
On the bike, we started about a block away from the Silos, over the Washington Avenue bridge, through Miller park along the Brazos to the far side of Lover’s Leap. Then back around and all the way up the hill, to the lookout at Cameron Park. The ride back down was definitely an adventure (insert wide-eyed emoji here) then we saw a few more downtown sights and got a funny little Chip Gaines story before the tour was over.
I started off thinking I was just gonna pedal. I needed the workout and the tour was only an hour and a half. But about 15 minutes in, my legs were dying trying to keep up with Rodney. I’m glad I got comfortable with the electric throttle because I never would have made it up the hill. Or down without the brakes. Hope those still worked for the next tour… Sorry Rodney!
Anyway, this is not the tour to go see the Fixer Upper houses. Don’t pay for that – you can drive by the houses on your own. This is the tour to see the other side of Waco. The side that will still be there when Chip and Jo aren’t the next new thing. This is the tour that made me want to move to Waco. …and to buy a Vespa.
Where to stay in Waco
Dustin booked us an Airbnb that was an old shipping container converted into a tiny house. It had everything we ever could have needed, but the biggest draw was the balcony up top. There were several of these tiny houses on the property and sitting out there at night with each of them lit up was so pretty and relaxing.
I have always been a hotel kind of girl, and there are plenty to choose from in Waco. But I’ve loved staying in Airbnbs lately, and Waco has some really cute ones that are different types of buildings converted into living spaces. You can also stay in an actual Fixer Upper house from the show! Book the same tiny home we stayed in right here!
Since I’m already planning a return trip to Waco, I just need someone to go with me! Comment below if you’re in and let us know what we need to hit up next time we are in Waco!
Thanks for visiting my little piece of the internet! For more vacation ideas check out some of my other posts: