Sure, sports and sugar are great, but Waco has more than Baylor University and the Dr. Pepper Museum. With Magnolia Market, Chip and Joanna Gaines of HGTV’s Fixer Upper give San Antonio’s Pearl District a run for the money. The city also has — and we’re not making this up — surfing. Waco Surf makes the midway point between Dallas and Austin, home to America’s only public surf park. Beyond this, one of America’s eight mammoth sites comes alive at Waco Mammoth National Monument. Throw in a weekly farmer’s market, a historic vaudeville theater, and a heaping side of ghost stories, and you’ve got plenty to write home about.
One man’s spooky seance is another’s campy satire. In red contacts and a skeleton suit, the Brazos Tours’ Ghost Tour guide weaved history with dad jokes on a recent visit. “Waco was settled by the Huaco people,” Adam declared, saying it three times slowly, “Hhhhhhew-ahko.” By way of explanation for all the ghosts, he mentioned the 1952 tornado, which hop-scotched through the city in one of the worst such weather disasters in Texas.
His tour stopped at The Hippodrome, a 1928-built vaudeville theater. Box Office Manager Michelle Proctor later told us how she had recently spoken to the kind child ghost there named Mary. She said the theater was the only one of four to survive the 1952 tornado, and resident spirits grew to a community of 33 as surrounding buildings were torn down. Proctor told us how a live seal was one of the theater’s first acts, pointing out original features like chandeliers and gold-flake paint above. Today, patrons come to see live music acts.
A short walk away, the famed Dr. Pepper Museum is a humble collection of facts printed beneath photos illustrating the brand’s history. Entertainment past the free soda that comes with the price of admission starts with the separately ticketed Make-A-Soda experience. Mix three or fewer syrups into a small bottle of carbonated water and tote it home with an interactive memory of your favorite drink, or just grab an ice cream float.
Nearby, the Waco Downtown Farmers Market runs every Saturday morning from 9 AM to 1 PM at the foot of the neoclassical revival McLennan County Courthouse. Fresh produce is heaped high here, and besides the home-taught tincture makers, and local jewelers, vendors offer hot eats and treats of all kinds. Try an espresso with horchata, a sweet Mexican rice milk, or with mazapan, a peanut candy, from Kurbside. Dumplings, banh mi, pupusas, and boba teas represent the multicultural foods people prefer, and a live band play covers and jazz from the shade beneath a tree.
A short walk away, Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Market nestles beside two enormous, historic white silos. The Gaines’ empire rose from tasteful home remodeling know-how, and Magnolia Market is a crisp manifestation of it. Hundreds of manicured tulips surround a picturesque outdoor green area. Visitors picnic with treats from food trucks offering classic American fare like pizza, burgers, and hot dogs. Kids in formal wear parade by taking photos as their parents peruse Fixer Upper-approved home goods and decor. Reserve for a weekend spot at Magnolia Table, the dine-in restaurant, a week in advance, and prepare to wait for entrance to the bakery. The cookies, cupcakes, and scones are worth it, but lines stretch far down the block by afternoon, thinning considerably in the last hour of the day.
For amateur paleontologists, Ice Age trivia facts served over the skeletons of real prehistoric mammoths await at Mammoth National Monument. Two boys playing in the Bosque River found the bones of what proved to be the remains of over 25 such beasts in 1978. Today, site guides talk about differences in male and female tusk length, how those tusks can be read like tree rings, and why female mammoth bones are buried in herds while males lie solo.
Want to chill out and catch some waves? Waco surf has got you covered. Beginner surf lessons book four weeks in advance, and hour-long surf slots start at 9 AM and end at 11 PM in the peak of the summer. Sandy shores and cabanas surround the surf pool, while a narrow lazy river — the country’s longest per Marketing Director Amy Hunt, loops it and the hot tub. A wedge slide shoots swimmers in the air before plunging them into a pool 16 feet deep. Lemurs watch the cable park, wakeboarding circuit, and wakeboard lessons on one side of the property. On-site cabins, hotel rooms, and RV spots make a good excuse to make a weekend of it.
When in Waco, do as the Wacoians do and enjoy the variety of activities this growing city has to offer.