10 Things To Know Before Visiting Waco
As a Waco native, the influx of fame that our city has experienced in the recent past is shocking to say the least. I never thought Waco would be a “tourist town” and, in fact, I chuckled to myself last weekend when I saw a group of girls exploring downtown with matching “Waco Girls Trip” shirts on. I polled some locals and came up with a few tips, tricks, and advice for those visiting our area.
- Be patient with the locals: Look, y’all. We never thought Waco would be famous for anything but the Branch Davidians (p.s. this was not actually IN Waco), and other not-so-great run-ins with the law. We have enjoyed our diamond-in-the-rough city for many years and are still getting used to sharing it with the hoards of people coming in to visit. We live, love and work in Waco and this is new to us, so please be kind to our city and those of us who are still a little unsure of the appeal to out-of-towners. I’d also encourage you to remember that the famed Fixer-Upper houses usually have families in them, so please be considerate of that when driving by and taking pictures.
- Eat Local: It’s easy to stick with the big names around here, but let me tell you, the best food you’ll get in Waco is off the beaten path. Some of my go-to’s are Vitek’s Barbecue for a Waco-famous Gut Pak, Kitok’s for a burger and their famous fries, George’s for a Pat Green famed Big-O, and Kim’s Diner for an unmatched 50’s eating experience. Food is EVERYWHERE here, so don’t just go to the places where there is the longest line. Many of these local joints will seat you right away and fill your belly with Waco goodness.
- Traffic is weird here: Those of us who travel the area frequently will let you know that the Waco road system is REALLY JACKED UP in some places. Don’t panic. Just follow the one-way signs. I promise you will get to where you’re going if you look at the street signs and not your GPS. On that note, we still have tons of free parking here, so take advantage of that in areas where it is allowed. If you’re venturing down to Magnolia, I’d encourage you to pay to park in the First Baptist Church Waco parking lot, since the income they make from that goes toward their church.
- Appreciate our History: Waco is home to lots of things besides our TV fame. Dr. Pepper was made here, which basically means we are ground zero for greatness if you ask me. We have historic buildings, bridges, museums, and memorials that are just waiting to be explored. I never imagined that there would be tours of my hometown, but a Waco Tour is a great way to see a lot of these historic places that most people didn’t even know existed.
- Shop Local: Send your husband to Bare Arms Brewery on LaSalle Avenue or Balcones Whiskey Distillery on Mary Avenue, and grab their credit card on your way out. Ladies, we have SO MANY GREAT SHOPPING PLACES. I know you came here (most likely) to visit Magnolia Market, but after you hit up Joanna’s place, please do yourself a favor and keep moving around the downtown merchant areas. Some of my personal favorites are Bolt Boutique, Spice, and Sironia, as well as the “junk” and antique stores up and down LaSalle Avenue. Support our local businesses outside of the Magnolia bubble, and I promise you’ll grab some of the most unique finds!
- Bring your pup: Over the last few years, as we have grown, Waco has become much more pet-friendly than I can remember in my years growing up here. There are plenty of places to walk your doggo downtown and surrounding areas, and a ton of restaurants that allow pets on their patios. Many of the independent boutiques downtown love to welcome well-behaved dogs into their stores and some even stock treats for man’s best friend!
- Stay Local: We have more hotels than I ever thought Waco could need, but alas they are all full on event weekends. Short-term residential rentals like Air BnB and VRBO are so popular here, you can basically get a true local experience. With the growth of our city comes growing pains, and some of these home-owners have ventured into business with their rentals, or are renting them out to contribute to the increased taxes our fame has towed along with it. Check out some local options and I know you’ll be met with true Waco hospitality.
- See a local, speak to a local: We are proud of our city and want to share the goods with those who visit. If you need advice, directions, or just a friendly hello, ask a local! We are happy to share our favorite spots, as long as you are following the aforementioned traffic laws, and not asking us in the middle of a crosswalk somewhere.
- Get outdoors: Waco has so many outdoor areas to enjoy. Cameron Park boasts river-side disc golf courses, playgrounds, and a splash pad. Miss Nellie’s Pretty Place is the perfect place for an afternoon picnic and Lover’s Leap has amazing views. The Cameron Park Zoo is fun for the whole family with fantastic exhibits that rival zoos in bigger cities. The weekly farmer’s market sets up on Washington Avenue just across from the McLennan County Courthouse and has homemade food, drinks, and of course farm-fresh goodies. Hop on a Waco Safari River Tour for a little history and nature as you boat down the Brazos. Get outside and see the sights if your trip allows, and you will not be disappointed.
- Plan ahead: Waco boasts so many yearly events, and even though you may not make it to a big Magnolia shindig, you will find entertainment around every corner. Whether you enjoy the Summer Brazos Nights free concerts at Indian Spring Park, Waco Cultural Arts Festival, Waco Wonderland, Fourth on the Brazos, Deck the Halls Christmas Market, a concert at the Historic Hippodrome, or Downtown First Fridays, you are guaranteed to find something going on in Waco most weekends out of the year. I’d also encourage you to search the surrounding cities for their holiday and seasonal festivals to experience small town living at its best.
I hope your trip to Waco gives you a great feel for our big, small town. We are learning to grow as we become a travel destination, and not just the mid-way point between Dallas and Austin, so bear with us. Speaking of bears, better make sure and wear your green and gold to Bear Country! Sic ’em!