A purple stock car races down a racetrack in front of a crowd of spectators
Grayson County Speedway in Bells. Photo by Sean Fitzgerald

Prairies and Lakes

The college town of Denton is hitting all the right notes

By Stacey Swann

Located just north of Dallas—Fort Worth, Denton manages to feel like a small town while offering the amenities of the big city. The population is near 140,000, yet the courthouse and historic square are still the true heart of the community. With two large universities—more than 45,000 students attend Texas Woman’s University and the University of North Texas—the city brims with the energy of a college town. Denton also has a long-standing, thriving music scene. The Denton Arts and Jazz Festival and the Thin Line Fest, both of which feature a wealth of music, film, and visual art, make it easy to forget this isn’t a bustling Dallas neighborhood. But just a few blocks from downtown you’ll find yourself on quiet one-way streets lined with stately homes, from Victorian to Mission Revival to Craftsman—some of which were built more than 100 years ago. Like the old Austin that Denton is often compared to, many students are seduced into staying long after graduation. But the charm is equally evident to those who are just visiting for a short spell.

STAY

The Brownlow House
Since buying this historic 1912 Victorian home in 2020, owners Whitney and Cuong Mai have given the property a major makeover. The lodging evokes the warmth of a bed-and-breakfast with the polish of a boutique hotel. Rates start at $200/night for one of the four bedrooms, all featuring claw-foot bathtubs and traditional décor.

An overhead view of a woman browsing in a large bookstore

Recycled Books, Records, and CDs in Denton. Photo by Michael Amador

EAT

Beth Marie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream
Located on Denton’s historic square, this popular ice cream parlor often has long lines winding through its 1950s-style interior. Flavor options abound—try a waffle cone with scoops of Texas Honey Whiskey and CinnFull Oats or the rotating Sundae of the Month.

Texas State Parks: Hidden Gems

EISENHOWER STATE PARK
Nestled on Lake Texoma north of Dallas, this park is the place for fishing or watching a spectacular sunset. Four miles of trails are available for walking and biking, and the backcountry woodlands make great courses for all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes (permit required). Swim at a pristine beach inside a cove surrounded by limestone cliffs. At night, visitors can sleep under the stars or reserve Ike’s Cabin, which has bunk beds and sleeps up to five.

OTHER HIDDEN GEMS
Fort Boggy State Park
Lockhart State Park

MORE PRAIRIES & LAKES STATE PARKS
Bastrop State Park
Bonham State Park
Buescher State Park
Cedar Hill State Park
Cleburne State Park
Cooper Lake State Park
Dinosaur Valley State Park
Fort Parker State Park
Lake Mineral Wells
State Park & Trailway
Lake Somerville
State Park & Trailway
Lake Tawakoni State Park
Lake Whitney State Park
Meridian State Park
Mother Neff State Park
Palmetto State Park
Purtis Creek State Park
Ray Roberts Lake State Park
Stephen F. Austin State Park

For more information, directions, and amenities, get your free mobile guide to all 80-plus state parks: texasstateparks.org

Spiral Diner and Bakery
The original diner opened 20 years ago in Fort Worth, and there’s a new location in Denton. Even the most skeptical of carnivores will enjoy comfort food with all-vegan ingredients. The cashew-based queso, soy milkshakes, and classic patty melt show the decadent side of a plant-based meal.

DRINK

East Side Denton
This bar has all the ingredients for a perfect afternoon with friends: a wooden deck and beer garden; lots of patrons’ pooches to pet; and games like darts, foosball, and cornhole. Head to the food truck park on-site and buy a banh mi sandwich from The Pickled Carrot. Make sure to sample some of East Side’s 80 beers on tap.

Music at Dan’s Silverleaf
This club calls itself “your favorite musician’s favorite live music venue.” Long known for its stellar sound quality, the previously Americana-focused venue has hosted singers like James McMurtry and Gary P. Nunn. Now it brings in a wide range of artists, such as the indie-rock band Yolanda Cruz and the Daydreamers.

SHOP

Recycled Books, Records, and CDs
There’s a special charm to local bookstores, especially one inside a former opera house. Opened in 1983, the shop has multiple levels containing thousands of used books, LPs, CDs, and games. Pick up a new-to-you novel and walk down the street to West Oak Coffee Bar for an espresso to sip while you read.

LEARN

Denton County Historical Park
This large park is home to two museums. The Bayless-Selby House Museum is a Victorian home that showcases Denton life in the early 1900s. Quakertown House focuses on Denton County’s African American history, including stories of residents of the thriving Freedman Town who were forcibly displaced in the early 1920s.

SEE

Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum
Located inside the Denton County Courthouse, the museum tells the history of the iconic structure. It was built in 1896 and restored in 2004 using blueprints from the original architect, W.C. Dodson. The courthouse serves as the gravesite of the city’s namesake: John B. Denton, a minister, lawyer, and soldier. The museum hosts talks on archeology, Native American history, and more. Admission is free.

Ray Roberts Lake
Swimmers flock to the beaches and coves of this lake. Hikers can experience oak woodlands, prairie grasslands, and floodplains with wetlands. The 20-mile Greenbelt Corridor has multiuse trails with options for cyclists, horseback riders, and hikers. There are two marinas, watercraft rentals, campsites, and lodging. H

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The March 2024 cover of Texas Highways Magazine

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