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Waco, Texas: A Visitor's Guide

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Welcome to sunny Waco in the heart of Texas! We're glad y'all are here!

The ALICO Building towers over the Waco skies. Credit to Kimbo for the picture.
The ALICO Building towers over the Waco skies. Credit to Kimbo for the picture.

Chances are, if you read this website with any regularity, you've been to Waco before. You probably attended Baylor for four (or five, or six, or more...) years and come back every now and then for athletic events. Maybe you're one who is just driving down I-35 and needs a good place to stop for lunch. Perhaps you're here from hours away to visit a certain former cotton mill. Regardless, Waco has many things to offer in the way of amenities and has changed rapidly in previous years, so I think it's about time that we put together a guide!

I'll format the guide in two parts: Place to See and Places to Eat. Then I'll put together a couple packages at the end of the guide to give y'all some ideas on where to go if you're in town for a game, or to see Magnolia, etc.

Places to See

Baylor University

Address: 1301 S University Parks Dr, Waco, TX 76798 (Right off I-35)

Website: baylor.edu

This is a Baylor blog, thus I will begin with our favorite university. Founded in 1845, Baylor University is the oldest continually-operating university in Texas and was founded while Texas was still its own nation. Located on a gorgeously green plot of land next to I-35, the University is easily accessible for anyone passing through Waco.Take some time and stroll through the verdant landscape on Founder's Mall where one can admire the aureate dome of Pat Neff and take picture with Judge Baylor. Head on over to 5th Street to see the newly-renovated Fountain Mall (now with an actual fountain!) and to acquire anything and everything Baylor at the Bookstore. McLane Stadium is a must-see, of course. The stadium is a sight to behold. There are many more things to see and do on campus, but for the sake of time, I will move on to our next place.

Magnolia Market

Address: 601 Webster Ave, Waco, TX 76706 (a few blocks away from I-35)

Website: magnoliamarket.com

Ah, yes, Magnolia Market. Other than the University, the Market is by far the most recognizable place in Waco to out-of-towners. The brainchild of Chip and Joanna Gaines, Magnolia has put Waco on the map. With a main shop, a garden shop, a bakery, food trucks, and play space on the grounds, there are plenty of things here to keep one entertained for many hours. As one might imagine, this place is busy, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. The popularity of the Market combined with its location near downtown can lead to scare parking, so provide time to find parking. The neighboring church charges $10 to park in their lots and free parking is available on most nearby streets (except by the VA building, don't park there). The Market has been a stellar boost for Waco and I highly recommend visiting. Fans of Magnolia should also check out the antique shops on Austin Ave. and La Salle.

Downtown Waco

Address: Austin and Franklin Avenues are the main streets

Website: wacochamber.com

Headlined by the ALICO Building, Downtown Waco is a revitalized district of shopping, dining, and entertainment. I will highlight some of the places to dine in the next section and focus on places to see here. The Suspension Bridge was built in 1870, making it the first major suspension bridge in Texas, and served as a crossing for the Chisholm Trail. The bridge's cables were supplied by the same company that built the Brooklyn Bridge (completed thirteen years after the Waco bridge). Back in the main section of Downtown, the Waco Hippodrome is a classic dinner theatre where one can catch dinner and a movie. Spice Village is a collection of little shops (like a street market, but inside) with all sorts of cute and kitschy items for purchase. Don't forget to snap a picture with the "You Look Good Today Wacotown" mural, either. There are numerous antique shops on Austin Avenue as well. The first Friday of every month is the best time to visit as shops offer specials and usually stay open later.

Cameron Park and Cameron Park Zoo

Address: 2601 Sturgis Rd, Waco, TX 76708; 1701 North 4th Street, Waco, Texas 76707

Website: Cameron Park; cameronparkzoo.com

Located on the banks of the Brazos and Bosque Rivers, Cameron Park is Waco's outdoor getaway. With over 15 miles of some of the best hiking, biking, and horse trails in Central Texas, Cameron Park is a destination for hammockers and serious mountain bikers alike. And while I've never played it, I hear the disc golf course is excellent. For those wanting to work their legs, Jacob's Ladder is a staircase built into the side of the hill. Trust me, you should climb the Ladder. For the kiddos, there are numerous playgrounds throughout the park. Finally, don't miss the chance to look out across the Brazos from Lover's Leap and Circle Point. Both offer unparalleled views of the Central Texas sky.

Located inside the park, Cameron Park Zoo is a 52-acre zoo home to all sorts of animals, especially native Texas animals. My favorite are the black bears (Sic 'em!). An excellent way to spend of couple of hours and see a large variety of animals.

Waco Mammoth Nation Monument

Address: 6220 Steinbeck Bend Dr, Waco, TX 76708

Website: Waco Mammoth

As of July 10, 2015, this site is officially a National Monument. In situ sub-fossil remains of six Columbian mammoths and other Ice Age animals are located on the site. Take a walk through history with this inexpensive site.

I am sure I have forgotten or neglected something here, so let your suggestions be known in the comment section below.

Places to Eat

I am going to focus on local, #Wacotown restaurants here, rather than including national chains.

George's

Address: 1925 Speight Ave, Waco, TX 76706

Website: georgesrestaurant.com

As far as I am aware, this is the only restaurant/bar in Waco that has a song written about it. Home to tons of delicious fried food and the iconic 'Big O' (a large frozen goblet filled with your drink of choice), George's is a great place to meet with friends and relax for a few hours. Crazy Wings are a local favorite. Making a trip to Waco without going to George's is not a complete trip, in my opinion.

Vitek's

Address: 1600 Speight Ave, Waco, TX 76706

Website: viteksbbq.com

Since 1915 Vitek's has been serving up "The Best College Eat in America", the Gut Pak. A popular location with locals, this is a must-visit if BBQ is what you're looking for.

Tex-Mex / Mexican

We're in Texas. If Mexican food isn't on the list of food to enjoy, well, the list needs to be amended. La Fiesta has been serving up strong Purple Margaritas and fresh Mexican food for nearly 50 years off of Franklin Avenue. Head on over to La Salle Avenue for the Mexican food trucks and a Baylor student favorite: Taqueria Zacatecas, or Taco Z, as it is more commonly called. There are also a couple of other Mexican restaurants on La Salle and The Circle (the roundabout at the intersection of La Salle and Valley Mills), but I've never been to them, so I cannot vouch for them. Two other popular places are Ninfa's on Franklin Ave and Manny's on the River, which offers excellent riverfront seating.

Breakfast

Breakfast? Breakfast! Cafe Cappuccino is one of the most popular locations for the first meal of the day. Their specialty is massive, big-as-your-face pancakes. Often busy on weekends, be sure to plan for a bit of a wait, or get there early. Another great place is more bistro-like, Olive Branch. Their coffee is excellent (I prefer the 254 Blend myself) and their omelettes are tasty. Be sure to sub the side for a croissant.

Pizza / Italian

Who doesn't love pizza? Shorty's Pizza Shack serves up New York-style pizza and half pitchers of beer ("The perfect amount of beer" - Mattisbear) to hungry college kids year-round. Shorty's has $6 14-in pizzas on Sundays, which is a stellar deal. For a bit of a higher-end pizza experience, visit Portofino's downtown. If you're looking for a place to take your family, head down Valley Mills for Poppa Rollo's and Baris, both of which serve of delicious pizza and Italian food.

Asian

Clay Pot near campus offers Vietnamese food and bubble tea in a cute little building. Don't let the outside appearance fool you, the food inside is incredible. I recommend getting, obviously, a clay pot dish. For some spicy Thai food, I recommend Bangkok Royale downtown. Right next door is Teriyaki Park, which offers fast-casual sushi and some great green tea ice cream. I've heard Wako Roll is good as well.

Ice Cream

After a day of exploring in the Texas heat, what better remedy is there than ice cream? Located on The Circle of Death and serving up classic burgers and milkshakes since 1948, Health Camp is my go-to for old-fashioned milkshakes. For custard, my favorite is Katie's Frozen Custard over on Valley Mills by were Floyd Casey used to be (RIP). Finally, the recently-opened Heritage Creamery uses local ingredients to create some incredibly unique flavors. Pro tip: Get the waffle cone. They make it fresh right as your order.

Coffee

The lifeblood of America. Or at least college students. Located next to Heritage Creamery on 8th Street (and owned by the same folks) is Baylor's favorite coffee shop: Common Grounds. Get their Cowboy Coffee and you will not be disappointed. Dichotomy on Austin offers up a unique dichotomy of hand-crafted coffee and spirits. Finally, the recently-opened Pinewood Roasters is another location serving up locally-roasted coffee.

Drinks

Waco is a college town. There's bound to be places to imbibe. The best cocktails, in my opinion are at Dichotomy, listed above. My absolute favorite place is the Dancing Bear Pub. They offer a (largely-Texan) craft beer selection (and some wine) that is unparalleled in quality. For a classic college bar experience, Cricket's is a popular place. Trojan's Cork and Keg is right next door as well. Over on Austin Ave are Muddle and Austin's on the Avenue, an upscale cocktail bar and a live-music venue, respectively. The Hippodrome across the street also offers drinks.

Travel Packages

The New Student

Start your day off at Baylor (obviously), then head to Shorty's for lunch. Head to a coffee shop for an afternoon pick-me-up then on over to Cameron Park to get your daily dose of nature. Have dinner downtown followed up with a movie or a live band. End the night by throwing tortillas off the suspension bridge on to the pillars in the Brazos.

The Magnolia

Get to Magnolia before 9:00, when they open. Shop around for a few hours, have lunch at the food trucks on the grounds, then head to antique shops on Austin and La Salle for the afternoon. Have dinner at your restaurant of choice then spend the evening strolling along the Brazos River.

The Game Day

Tailgate and/or hit up George's, watch Baylor win the day, then head to a bar for post-game celebrations.

The Passing-Through-On-I-35

Park downtown and walk around for a bit. Find a place for lunch and follow up with some coffee at Dichotomy while taking in the rooftop view.

Alright, that is all I have for now. Feel free to offer up other suggestions in the comments below!