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  • Writer's pictureAmy Leggett

What is There to See in Waco, Texas? A lot!

Waco Texas  Common Grounds
Me standing on an iconic photo spot in Waco. Find out where in this blog!

I don't think many people have Waco, Texas on their travel bucket list. Most people associate Waco with its' unfortunate history involving David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. However, thanks to the popularity of Fixer Upper, the home renovation show hosted by Waco residents Chip and Joanna Gaines, Waco is shedding the negative association that people may have had in the past. .

I decided to make the journey to check out Waco after a cross-country road trip with my daughter Madison who was moving to Colorado. I had really been wanting to check out the Magnolia complex that Chip and Joanna had developed in downtown Waco and figured since I was already in Colorado why not take a quick detour to Waco before heading home? If I am being honest, I was a little unsure of what to expect and a little nervous about the fact that the politics and religion in the area do not really line up with my own. My left-leaning friends and family questioned why in the world I would choose to voluntarily immerse myself in a community that did not in anyway align with my personal feelings and beliefs. I replied that I really wanted to check out Magnolia Silos, but also I want my life experiences to expand my perspective by learning how people in other places live and think. That being said, I honestly wasn't sure how I was going to feel and I did have some moments of personal awkwardness (for example, when the tour guide said a prayer in the tour bus before we headed out to see the sights). However, I do firmly believe in the freedom of speech and freedom of religion, so given that deep faith and conservative values are a cornerstone of this part of the country I opened myself up to their way of doing things. I went in with an open mind and looked forward to exploring the area. My point to all this is to say don't let stereotypes and impressions close you off to new places and experiences. Be open to learning about what makes each place different and unique.

I am glad I took the opportunity to check it out, because Waco has some hidden gems that I am glad I got to experience. Waco is approximately an hour and a half drive from Dallas, an hour and a half drive from Austen and a three hour drive from San Antonio. So, if you find yourself in any of those Texas cities, consider taking your own detour to Waco to explore this revitalized city.

Here are the hidden gems you can discover in Waco:

Magnolia Silos (of course!):

Magnolia Silos Waco Texas
Entrance to the Magnolia Silos Complex

The Magnolia Silos complex is a major tourist attraction. Twenty years ago Chip and Joanna Gaines opened a small home decor retail store on Bosque Boulevard in Waco. Since that time, their business has grown to a full-blown empire and includes a hit TV show, a whole broadcasting network (the Magnolia network which has a lot of other home centered shows), a line of products at Target (Hearth & Home), a hotel (The Hotel 1928 opening this November), and of course the Magnolia Silos complex. Shopping at the Magnolia Silos was the main draw for my visit to Waco. It was everything I expected it to be and I LOVED it. Read about everything you can see and do at the Magnolia Silos complex in my recent blog.

A Bus Tour of Waco with Waco Tours:

Waco Texas Waco Tours
Waco Tours Logo

I love doing tours when I first get to a new place. They give you the history of the area and point out highlights so you can plan your agenda for the rest of your stay. Waco Tours has several different tour options, including a River Cruise which was rated #1 in North America by USA Today. I didn't have a chance to do that one, but I did their Classic 2.5 hour bus tour around Waco and it was fantastic! The tour guides were some of the best I have ever had. They got to know each person's name and were able to relate certain parts of the tour to personal tidbits we had shared when we got on the tour bus! They were energetic and friendly and knew their Waco history. The tour takes you through several Waco neighbors and tourist sites and explains the ups and downs of Waco history. In 1953 a violent and deadly tornado ripped through downtown Waco killing and injuring hundreds as well as destroying multiple structures. The city was devastated after this tornado and struggled for a long time to rebuild. That makes the financial infusion that Chip and Joanna Gaines have brought to the area that much more significant.

Some of the Tour Stops:

  • Fixer Upper Homes: The tour company was started by two couples who had their house renovated on the Fixer Upper show, so you know that drive bys of several of the popular Fixer Upper projects are included on the tour. I like the show, but am not up on each particular project. Some of my fellow tourists knew the specific houses from each episode and were very familiar with the ones we drove by.

Waco Texas Fixer Upper Magnolia
A Popular Fixer Upper House on the Tour
  • William Cameron Park: The tour also took us on a beautiful drive through William Cameron Park which is a 416 acre nature oasis in the middle of Waco. The Park is located alongside the Brazos and Bosque Rivers and has a zoo, playgrounds, a disc golf course, breathtaking cliff views, access to two rivers and miles of trails that are part of the multi-use National Recreation Trail system. Learn more about this amazing natural site here.

William Cameron Park Waco Texas
Cliffside View From William Cameron Park
  • Heritage Creamery and Common Grounds: A nice addition to the tour is a stop by Heritage Creamery and Common Grounds, two local businesses that provide the tour group with samples! Heritage Creamery and Common Grounds are located next to the Baylor Campus and are a popular student hangout. The iconic photo spot in the first picture of this blog is in the backyard area of Common Grounds. Make sure to stop and snap a photo and don't forget to sample the ice cream and coffee!

Heritage Creamery: Heritage Creamery is an independently owned and locally operated ice cream shop with two locations in Waco. They use locally and responsibly sourced ingredients in their ice cream and other treats. Getting a free sample of delicious ice cream was my favorite part of the tour! Learn more about Heritage Creamery here.

Common Grounds: Common Grounds is a locally owned coffee shop located across from the Baylor campus (and next to Heritage Creamery). It has a definite college vibe including weekly concerts in their backyard outside space. The backyard has a rock that you stand on for that Insta-worthy picture. They have a full menu of caffeine loaded drinks such as their legendary Cowboy Coffee selections using Common Grounds' proprietary secret sauce. There is also a section of drinks called "Sleep Is Overrated". Perfect for those college students pulling all nighters during Finals Week. Check out all of the caffeinated concoctions here.

Waco Suspension Bridge and Bronze Cattle Drive Sculptures:

The historic Waco Suspension Bridge was completed in 1870 and at the time was the longest suspension bridge west of the Mississippi. It spans the Brazos River and was once used to drive cattle across the River onto the Chisholm Trail. The ability to drive cattle or travel easily over the Brazos River provided an economic boost to the Waco area. The Bridge is flanked by parks. The Indian Springs Park entrance to the Bridge has life size bronze sculptures of cowboys driving long-horn cattle to the Bridge. These statues took my breath away as I walked toward the entrance of the Bridge. They are a must see if you are visiting Waco.

Waco Texas Indian Springs Park
Life Size Bronze Statues at Indian Springs Park

The Bridge recently reopened after being closed for a few years for extensive rehabilitation work. I felt very lucky to be able to walk across the Suspension Bridge and feel like a part of history.

After crossing the Suspension Bridge, I walked along the Brazos River on a path you can reach from the Bridge. It was a nice peaceful walk on a beautiful day (and I even spotted some wildlife!).

Baylor University Campus:

Waco is the home to Baylor University, a private Baptist Christian research university. The campus is beautiful and is worth a walk around. Baylor's mascot is the Bears and there are two real life cubs that live o the campus! When we drove by on the tour they were hibernating, but I was lucky enough to catch them out waiting for dinner when I was walking on the campus. It is easy to tell when they are active as there will be a crowd gathered around taking in their cuteness!

Baylor Waco Texas
Pat Neff Hall on Baylor Campus

Dr Pepper Museum:

Dr Pepper Museum Waco Texas
Entrance to the Dr Pepper Museum

Before my visit to Waco, I had no idea that Dr Pepper originated there. I am most certainly a Pepper (and wouldn't you like to be a Pepper, too?). I know some of you are old enough to understand this reference and are probably humming a little tune right now. But I I am a Pepper I was very interested to go check out the museum and learn about the history of Dr Pepper. The $10 fee to get in is very reasonable, especially since it includes a Dr Pepper drink of your choice straight from the soda fountain!

Dr Pepper Museum Waco Texas
Imma Pepper, You're a Pepper, Wouldn't You Like to Be a Pepper Too?

I learned a lot of things I never knew about one of my favorite drinks. For instance did you know that when it was first developed it was promoted as a health drink? It was first formulated by Brooklyn-born pharmacist, Charles Alderman, while he was working at Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store in Waco. Initial promotion of the drink claimed it aided digestion and restored vim, vigor and vitality. Too bad for me that Dr Pepper is no longer promoted as a health aid.

The Museum follows the origination of the Dr Pepper from a local favorite at a corner drug store in Waco to an internationally distributed product. It has examples of the variation of the branding and labeling over the years as well as the history of the manufacturing and bottling plant in downtown Waco that was partially destroyed by that tornado in 1953. There are exhibits of the Old Corner Drugstore as well as a section memorializing the sit-ins that occurred at diners and soda fountains across the country during the Civil Rights movements.

Dr Pepper Museum Waco Texas
Civil Rights Exhibit at the Dr Pepper Museum

In addition to the general museum exhibits, the Dr Pepper Museum offers unique experiences such as Make a Soda, Taste a Soda, Paranormal Experience and Extreme Pepper Experience. These special experiences have an additional fee and require reservations. I didn't have a chance to add on any experience, but they sound pretty cool. Click here to read more about each experience and to make a reservation if you will be visiting the Museum.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I decided to visit the Dr Pepper Museum, but I can say I was pleasantly surprised with all of the history, memorabilia and exhibits it contained. Not to mention the delicious ice cold fountain drink at the end! As I said, you can get a free Dr Pepper drink (with flavoring added if you want) OR you can get a $1 off an upgraded drink like a Dr Pepper float.

Check out the website for the Dr Pepper Museum here to see all the experiences and options available to you if you decide to visit. And you're welcome for giving you a great trivia game answer to the question "Where did Dr. Pepper originate?". Your friends will be impressed.

So, Should You Visit Waco, Texas?

If you find yourself in Texas within a few hours drive of Waco, my answer to that question is unequivocally yes! I was pleasantly surprised with all there was to see and do in Waco and I thoroughly enjoyed every experience I had. I am glad I took the opportunity to check out Waco while I was out that direction. From the amazing Magnolia Silos complex to the interesting Dr Pepper Museum and all the sights in between, Waco was a great little getaway. If you don't find yourself in that neck of the woods, I hope you enjoyed this virtual visit!


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