Austin

8 Reasons to Drive to Waco, TX

Barbecue, beer, Baylor basketball, and more.

davisdeatonphotography/Shutterstock
davisdeatonphotography/Shutterstock
davisdeatonphotography/Shutterstock

Located halfway between Austin and Dallas, Waco is a convenient stopping point for countless travelers. But it’s also a deserving destination in its own right, offering visitors plenty to see and do-and drink. Here are eight reasons to load up the car and head for the Heart of Texas, from exploring one of the state’s best parks to sampling the liquid wares at a top-notch distillery.

Sebastian Ruzycki/Shutterstock
Sebastian Ruzycki/Shutterstock
Sebastian Ruzycki/Shutterstock

Channel your inner fixer-upper Magnolia Market at the Silos

Whether or not you’re a fan of Joanna and Chip Gaines-the power couple behind Fixer Upper and the Magnolia brand-you can’t deny their impact, on Waco and beyond. They’ve turned a popular TV show into a lifestyle empire, which includes a swath of tightly curated concepts centered around two 1950s-era 120-foot-tall silos. Six boutique stores flank the flagship Magnolia Market, peddling everything from men’s provisions and women’s clothing to bags, books, and bath products. If you’re hungry, there’s a restaurant, bakery, and coffee shop on site, and if all that makes you tired, you can stay at one of the four Gaines-designed vacation rental homes located throughout Waco.

Balcones Distillery
Balcones Distillery
Balcones Distillery

Drink Some of the country’s best whiskey at Balcones Distillery

It wasn’t too long ago that the country’s best distilleries (and nearly all its distilleries) were concentrated in Kentucky and Tennessee. Today, liquor is produced in all 50 states, with Texas responsible for dozens of great brands churning out every spirit under the sun. Waco’s award-winning Balcones Distilling helped put Texas whiskey on the map, and continues to put out some of the best juice in the country, from single malts and straight bourbon to bottles made with blue corn. Book a tour in advance, then swing by for an up-close look at how the magic gets made before sampling a few of their esteemed products. There’s also a bottle shop, so go ahead and procure a couple souvenirs straight from the source-they make great gifts, even if the recipient is your own stocking.

Hundley Photography/Shutterstock
Hundley Photography/Shutterstock
Hundley Photography/Shutterstock

Explore all 416 acres of Cameron Park

Located near downtown Waco and the Brazos river, Cameron Park is one of the largest municipal parks in Texas, providing ample green space for locals and visitors to stroll and hang out. The park features 20 miles of twisting recreational trails, perfect for hiking and biking, plus a 23-hole disc golf course, a zoo, and a saltwater aquarium. For the best views, head up to Lovers Leap, which looks over the limestone cliffs to the river below, or hike up Jacob’s Ladder, a series of 100 zigzagging steps that leads to a scenic bluff. There’s lots to do here, so make a day of it, then retire to the grass with a picnic like so many others do when the weather’s nice (hint: it often is).

Guess Family Barbecue
Guess Family Barbecue
Guess Family Barbecue

Load up on celebrated barbecue

You can find mouthwatering smoked meats all over the state, in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and many places between. But if you’re craving ‚Äėcue in Waco, you don’t have to leave to get your fix-just head for one of two lauded favourites: Guess Family Barbecue and Helberg Barbecue (technically located a stone’s throw outside of town), which both landed on Texas Monthly‘s most recent top-50 list. Guess is praised for its old-school approach to Spare Ribs and Brisket, but don’t sleep on its Fried Baby Back Ribs, Brisket Melt Sandwich, and SmashBurger. Helberg gets top marks for its Pork Steak, Smoked Chicken, and Housemade Sausage. There’s no reason to choose one or the other when the two outposts are only a 15-minute drive apart, so skip breakfast and indulge in the double lunch of champions.

Tallmaple/Shutterstock
Tallmaple/Shutterstock
Tallmaple/Shutterstock

Visit a quirky local museum

Way before there was Magnolia or Balcones, there was Dr Pepper. The iconic soda was created in Waco in 1885 and today, the original bottling plant and the Kellum-Rotan building-one of the oldest in downtown Waco-house the Dr Pepper Museum, which opened in 1991. Take a tour to learn all about the brand and its history, slam a soda flight of six hard-to-find flavours guided by a “soda sommelier,” then try making your own. The museum’s “make-a-soda” experience lets you mix and match different flavors and bottle the results. The museum also holds one of the largest soft drink memorabilia collections in the world, with lots of Dr Pepper ephemera alongside obscure brands-looking at you, Kickapoo Joy Juice. End your day with a trip to the on-site soda fountain, where you can score a cool drink or an even cooler ice cream-laced float.

Photo courtesy of The City of Waco
Photo courtesy of The City of Waco
Photo courtesy of The City of Waco

Step back in time at the Waco Mammoth National Monument

Fun fact: Columbian Mammoths roamed across Waco approximately 65,000 years ago. Of course, being from Texas, they differ from the Woolly variety, standing taller (about 14 feet) and weighing more (up to 10 tons). In 1978, a few men stumbled across some well-preserved bones, and since then, more than 20 mammoths have been found at the site, with experts believing the herd died together in a single natural event. Many of the fossils were excavated and housed at Baylor, but six mammoths remain in the ground in their original position at a protected dig site, now part of the Waco Mammoth National Monument, located on 100 acres of wooded parkland along the Bosque River. Take a self-guided tour of the site, learning about the history of the discovery and the Pleistocene Epoch (or Ice Age, if you prefer) when these animals called North America home.

Brotherwell Brewing
Brotherwell Brewing
Brotherwell Brewing

Quench your thirst at ace craft breweries and coffee shops

One cannot (well, should not) subsist on whiskey and Dr Pepper alone. Fortunately, Waco has plenty of other options to sate your thirst, including a handful of craft breweries and quality coffee shops. Sip some local beers and take advantage of the full kitchens at Waco Ale Company and Southern Roots, where you can collectively eat pizza, wings, tacos, and sandwiches, then post up on the dog-friendly beer garden at Brotherwell Brewing. Along the way you’ll be able to sample IPAs, Pilsners, Belgian-style Tripels, and more. If you need a little pick-me-up to get through the afternoon, order something caffeinated at local favourites Dichotomy (which also serves booze), Pinewood (which also serves beer), or Common Grounds, which hosts occasional concerts on its tree-lined property.

davisdeatonphotography/Shutterstock
davisdeatonphotography/Shutterstock
davisdeatonphotography/Shutterstock

Witness Big 12 greatness at Baylor

Baylor University’s athletics program punches well above its weight, with nationally ranked teams across multiple sports. The school’s football team is a regular Big 12 contender, playing in a newly built stadium that seats 50,000 people. Tailgate before the game and wander around the campus afterward for the full experience. The baseball team is also solid, but basketball is where the school really shines. The mens’ and womens’ teams are two of the best in the country, with the mens’ squad winning the 2021 title and the womens’ team winning the title in 2005, 2012, and 2019. That’s a lot of championships for a small-market school with just 20,000 students. Snag tickets to a game, and you might just catch sight of another historic title run.

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Kevin Gray is a freelance writer and editor covering all things food, drinks, and travel. He’s written for¬†The Dallas Morning News, Forbes, Liquor.com, Men’s Health,and¬†Wine Enthusiast, and his extensive home bar is turning into a real¬†Hoarders
situation.

Austin

Get Lucky at These Irish Bars in Austin

Drink a green pint on St Patrick's Day at these Irish bars in Austin.

Photo by Melissa Vinsik, courtesy of Cork + Barrel
Photo by Melissa Vinsik, courtesy of Cork + Barrel
Photo by Melissa Vinsik, courtesy of Cork + Barrel

In the midst of all the SXSW chaos, it helps to remember that there’s a rainbow at the festival’s end-that is, the hangover-blessing we’ve been granted of having St. Patrick’s Day 2023 fall on a Friday. Whether you attribute this small win to the Gregorian calendar or the luck of the Irish, it’s sure to amp up the already liver-damaging activities associated with this cultural celebration. However, √Čire is more than just leprechauns and Colin Farrell-it’s a breathtaking land full of warm, welcoming, and good-hearted people. Fortunately, there’s a way you can get a taste of the Republic’s spirit, and a dark stout, at the same time by hitting up one of Austin’s various Irish pubs. From cozy, intimate spaces decked out like small taverns in Cobh, to modern dives with all the party energy of Temple Bar, our list has the best spots in the city to “erin go bragh” all out on March 17.

Photo by Jane Yun, courtesy of BD Rileys
Photo by Jane Yun, courtesy of BD Rileys
Photo by Jane Yun, courtesy of BD Rileys

B.D. Riley’s Irish Pub at Mueller

Mueller
With a giant model of a beer tap literally decorating their front door, you can’t miss B.D Riley’s, nor doubt that this East Austin hang is a spot to down some serious brewskis. And its name, and perfect pours of Guinness, aren’t the only aspects they draw from the Emerald Isle-the entire pub itself was actually designed and built in Dundalk, Ireland, and shipped over for assembly in Bat City. Such authentic decor calls for equally authentic sounds, therefore, on St. Patrick’s Day, B.D. Riley’s will feature an all-day, four-artist bill of live, trad-inspired music. So, while you may not start the day knowing all the words to “The Galway Girl,” you are bound to sing along by last call.

Kelly’s Irish Pub

Bouldin Creek
Having only opened this past December, Kelly’s is the new kid with a brogue on the block. Occupying the space which formerly housed tapas restaurant Winebelly, this pub had big shoes to fill for South Austin barflies, but quickly won them over with an impressive whiskey selection and friendly atmosphere. A big reason behind the real deal √Čire vibes can, most likely, be chalked up to the fact that one of Kelly’s owners was actually born and bred in Ireland-and the dedication to delivering a true-to-life experience is evident in everything from the shepherd’s pie to the witty bartenders. For St. Patrick’s Day, they are getting the party started early with live music and an opening time of 8 am.

Photo courtesy of Jack & Ginger's
Photo courtesy of Jack & Ginger’s
Photo courtesy of Jack & Ginger’s

Jack & Ginger’s

The Domain
While The Domain may boast more bars than you can shake a shamrock at, there’s only one spot in the North Austin entertainment behemoth that can be properly called an Irish pub: Jack & Ginger’s. Start off the night with selecting a tasting flight from their over 82 beers on tap, then, move onto shots poured straight from their Irish Whiskey Tours-after loosening up with a round or two, you might just find yourself with the gift of gab. And, before snapping a selfie over Jack & Ginger’s see-through glass floor, balance out that buzz with food offerings like a giant soft pretzel or a round of fried pickles.

Photo courtesy of Foxy's Proper Pub
Photo courtesy of Foxy’s Proper Pub
Photo courtesy of Foxy’s Proper Pub

Foxy’s Proper Pub

Downtown
Here’s a spot that visibly radiates with Irish pride-at Foxy’s, the glow of green beams out from the bar’s lighted panels, and across their chandelier made of Jameson bottles. When it comes to cups and chow, their commitment to the theme continues-the use of the word,”proper,” in the pub’s name alone indicates you’re in for a heavy pour of the standards. Consequently, the taps are abundant with essential Irish sips, including Guinness, Magners, and Smithwick’s. With Lone Star on draft, there’s also a nod to Texas tradition as well. But don’t fear if you’re bored of beer-Foxy’s variety of whiskey-based cocktails will let you switch it up (and still keep it Celtic). March 17 will find them celebrating with live music, whiskey tastings, and swag giveaways.

Photo by LEVY Architects, courtesy of Cork + Barrel
Photo by LEVY Architects, courtesy of Cork + Barrel
Photo by LEVY Architects, courtesy of Cork + Barrel

Cork & Barrel Craft Kitchen + Microbrewery

Round Rock
Compared to a flight to Dublin, the 30-minute drive to Round Rock’s Cork & Barrel is much more convenient-not to mention, won’t require waiting in a TSA line. A mix between a modern Austin beer garden and a historical Irish pub, this spot’s spacious interior and expansive outdoor patio guarantees there will be enough room for the whole crew to cheer “sl√°inte.” And, their microbrewery’s signature beers are the ideal drinks to do such a toast with. The menu of specially crafted drafts includes a blueberry wheat, an Irish red ale, and a vanilla stout. This St. Patrick’s Day also marks Cork & Barrel’s two-year anniversary, and they are throwing down for the double-celebration with live music, yard games, Irish food specials, and plentiful amounts of green beer and Irish Car Bombs.

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Molly Moltzen is a Thrillist contributor.

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