Unless you’re from Waco (or are a Baylor Bear), you may not have frequented this Central Texas hub off I-35. I decided to spend a day in Waco and explore beyond the access roads.
9:00 a.m. I kicked my day into caffeinated high gear with coffee and a muffin at Common Grounds, a coffee shop and student hangout across the street from Baylor University. The house “Bear Blend” makes for a good strong cup, but if regular drip isn’t your style, I’d recommend the “Cowboy Coffee,” an iced mix of brewed coffee, ”secret sauce,” and half-and-half.
9:15 a.m. I grabbed my coffee to-go so that I could sip it while strolling the Baylor campus. Past Pat Neff Hall, the golden-domed icon of Baylor, I stopped at the recently renovated Williams Bear Habitat. As of this year, the two bears (Joy and Lady) can no longer travel to games, so this is the only way to see them.
10:00 a.m. I spent the rest of the morning exploring the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, one of Waco’s many museums just a stone’s throw from campus. The venue honors Texas athletes across the sports spectrum. I may never join the likes of Emmitt Smith or George Foreman, but maybe I have a shot at matching the skills of Ad Toepperwein, an early 1900s marksman who, over a span of 10 days, shot 72,500 small wooden blocks in mid-air with a .22 rifle … and only missed 10 times. If you’re more history buff than sports fanatic, there’s the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum and the Mayborn Museum, which also draws science and natural history lovers.
12:30 p.m. I drove to the famous Waco traffic circle to grab lunch at one of the many surrounding restaurants. I devoured a greasy yet delicious cheeseburger and fries from the iron-ally misnamed Health Camp, a local burger joint that’s been around since 1949. But, if you need a more diverse menu, head to the Elite Circle Grille, which has been around since 1919 and even served Elvis. Don’t miss the Shiner Bock-battered onion rings.
2:00 p.m. I skipped the Hot Fudge-Peanut Butter Malt at Health Camp to hold out for my next stop, the Dr Pepper Museum. The muse-um resides in the Artesian Manufacturing and Bottling Company Building, and a recreated Old Corner Drug Store spotlights the pharmacist who invented Dr Pep-per in 1885. After taking the tour, I slurped a fresh Dr Pepper-ice cream float, gloriously unit-ing Dr Pep-per syrup and carbonated water over Blue Bell Home-made Vanilla.
4:00 p.m. I brought my mountain bike to take full advantage of Cameron Park, one of Texas’ largest city parks (416 acres), with 20 miles of trails, playgrounds, and limestone bluffs along the Brazos River. On foot, climb to the top of Jacob’s Ladder with its 80-something oddly shaped steps, or drive to the top of Lover’s Leap for sweeping views of the Brazos River.
7:00 p.m. For dinner, I drove to Poppa Rollo’s, a local pizzeria packed with dimly lit booths, delicious pizza, and secret passageways. While you wait on your food, try to find the restroom (hint: you may want to ask for the phone). My “Rollo’s Special” pizza came piled high with tasty toppings, including pepperoni, sausage, and jalapeños to give it some kick.
With my legs tired, my stomach full, and my mouth burning, I pronounced it a good day. Waco’s museums, cafés, and parklands hold more than a day’s worth of diversions. So whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope to see you on the road.
The Waco Tourist Information Center is next to the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, along the Interstate-35 access road (Exit 335B). Call 254/750-8696 or 800/922-6386.
Chet Garner is the host of The Daytripper® travel show on PBS.