The last stop on our Texas Road Trip brings us to the dynamic city of Waco. Once a quiet college town that later made national headlines for the 51-day Waco siege, this Texas city is now a thriving tourist destination.
Waco has found an international fan base, thanks to Chip and Joanna Gaines. Beloved local residents and hosts of HGTV’s Fixer Upper, the Gaines’ have created a movement of community investment, faith and family, and the comfort of home. A TV show might be the initial introduction to Waco, but the Gaines’ real estate ventures are what truly continue to draw in visitors. The couple continues their renovation adventures as they tackle homes and other structures, including abandoned cotton seed silos and the surrounding grounds.
The Gaines’ have effectively created a retail empire that sits on nearly 5.5 acres in downtown Waco. Since the opening of Magnolia Market at the Silos, a massive shopping complex, the city sees more than 2 million visitors each year. Though the majority of them flock to Magnolia Market, Waco has a number of other attractions:
- Waco Mammoth National Monument: Paleontological site & museum – the only nursery herd of Columbian mammoths in the United States
- Cameron Park: 400 acre park packed with all kinds of recreation
- Homestead Craft Village: Intentional Christian community with an 18 acre complex of shopping, dining, and self-guided tours
- Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum: State-designated official historical center of the Texas Rangers law enforcement agency
- Branch Davidian Compound: The site of the 51-day siege that resulted in the deaths of 4 ATF agents and 82 Branch Davidian members
- Dr Pepper Museum: Three floor museum housed in a 1906 bottling plant – explores the history and memorabilia of Dr Pepper and other soft drinks
While Brian and I planned to look around Magnolia Market, the ‘suburban mega-mart‘ was definitely not at the top of our to-do list. We had other interests, one of which was out of historical (macabre) curiosity and the other was specifically grounded in childhood appreciation and nostalgia.
Branch Davidian Compound
Brian and I chose to begin our day in Waco at the furthest point of interest: the site of the Waco Siege, located about 20 minutes outside of the city center. We caught the Waco miniseries on Netflix a couple of years ago and found the story fascinating. After a little light reading and research, we discovered that the compound is open to the public as a memorial of sorts. There isn’t much to see on the 77-acre property other than the small memorial, a few remnants of the original compound, and a modest church. The grounds are well-kept with beautiful fields overlooking a pond. Unfortunately, though, Brian and I did not have the greatest opportunity to take in the scenery…
We ventured to Waco on the coldest day we experienced on our entire road trip. That morning, we exited our vehicle and walked the unpaved land in wet and blustery 35°F weather. Poor Brian completely forgot his jacket at HOME, so this day was particularly miserable to be outdoors. We took a quick spin around the property, stopped to look at the memorial, as well as the buried school bus, old swimming pool, and the vault where the women and children perished.
It was an eerie, but peaceful visit. Too cold to explore any further, we decided to hop back in the car and venture off to our next stop!
Dr Pepper Museum
Now, for the main reason behind our trip to Waco: The Dr Pepper Museum!! I, of course, find Dr Pepper delightfully delicious (especially with its signature 23 flavors!), but the true fondness I carry for the soft drink hails from memory.
Each day my dad would pick me up from school in the 1st and 2nd grades, he would have a cold can of Dr Pepper waiting for me. It became the end-of-day Super Dad treat I came to love and appreciate. Now, after many years later, the taste and thought of Dr. Pepper brings me back to sitting in the car with dad, drinking some Dr P!
Did you know Dr Pepper is the oldest soft drink in the country? One year older than Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper made its debut in 1885 in Waco, TX. The soft drink was created by pharmacist Charles Alderton in Morrison’s Old Corner Drug Store. Originally known as a “Waco”, the drink was later named Dr. Pepper by the drug store owner (the period was removed in the 1950s). Unfortunately, no one knows where the name actually comes from!
1906 Bottling Company Building
The Dr Pepper Museum and W. W. Clements Free Enterprise Institute are housed in a historic bottling company. Though the building originally opened to the public in 1991, only a small section was accessible. The entire building became accessible six years later upon complete restoration.
The museum features three levels dedicated to the history and marketing of Dr Pepper and other soft drinks. With plenty of exhibits to explore, this museum offers interactive education and entertainment.
Located on the third floor, the W. W. Clements Free Enterprise Institute is designed to educate the public about the free enterprise economic system in America. Using the soft drink industry to illustrate free enterprise economics, the institute explores and teaches product development, production, and marketing.
Our Dr Pepper Visit
Brian and I had a GREAT time walking through the museum. There was quite a bit of history on the experimentation of carbonated beverages, which was interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the ways Dr Pepper was advertised through the years. The museum even has a theater-esque viewing room to watch vintage Dr Pepper commercials!
Another fun exhibit we liked was the display of the different types of soft drink failures through the years. We laughed at and questioned some of the flavors and creations 7-Up, Coke, Pepsi, and even Dr Pepper conjured up.
It took us just over 1.5 hours to tour the museum. Once finished, there is the option to venture across the courtyard to another building that houses additional exhibits, as well as a soda fountain. A museum admission ticket includes one free Dr Pepper (or $1 credit towards another item on the menu) from the soda fountain. If it weren’t such a cold day out, we would have HAPPILY tried the Dr Pepper Float! Once we finished our drinks, we warmed up the best we could to brave the cold. Freezing, but sugared up and happy, we started our walk towards Magnolia Market.
Magnolia Market & Spring at the Silos
We somewhat accidentally stumbled upon one of the most popular events of the year: Spring at the Silos. A multi-day spring festival that brings in tens of thousands of tourists, Spring at the Silos is a celebration of artisanal, small business talent, community, and food. Truthfully, we didn’t learn about this event until after we planned our Waco trip.
As we looked into it further, Brian and I became a little uneasy at the thought of major crowds, long lines, and feeling underwhelmed. The Spring at the Silos event shuts down city streets to create space for dozens of vendors and food trucks. We usually enjoy exploring craft and vendor markets, but not while having to navigate through heavy crowds.
Still, we kept a positive attitude and stepped through Magnolia Market’s doors…and it was pretty close to what we expected.
The crowds were tamer than we thought they’d be, which was likely due to the weather and it being a weekday. To be honest, Brian and I are not really Magnolia’s target audience. We sped through browsing the home decor collections, finding our way towards the rear within the silos. Signature apparel lined the back wall. Brian was so cold walking around in his t-shirt that he entertained buying a hoodie. At the cost of $58, he chose to remain cold!
We exited the silos and took a stroll through the vendor fair. It was nice to look around, but we were not in a buying kind of mood. Perhaps the Magnolia Market disillusioned us and we should have checked out the vendors first? In any case, we tried to swing by the famous Magnolia Bakery, but the line was out the door. No thanks! With the temperature still in the 30s and misting in the air, we kept on walking.
Brian and I returned to our car in less than one hour of entering Magnolia.
Pro Tip: Don’t pay for parking unless you prefer convenience. There is plenty of free street parking! We parked a block over from the entrance of Dr. Pepper and very easily made the walk over to Magnolia Market.
Magnolia Market is not our cup of tea. We aren’t much for shopping. I prefer to buy handcrafted or pre-owned (and vintage when I can!), rather than pay exuberant prices for imported product. Before we headed back to base camp, we decided to make one more stop at Magnolia’s Little Shop on Bosque, located 10 minutes away. This was the original Magnolia Market, before it became the enormous retail giant it is now. Small, though organized, Brian and I actually enjoyed browsing through this location more. The prices were fairer AND we noticed more diversity in item manufacturing. The selection was not as mass-produced in China like the one located at Magnolia Market. Unfortunately, I can understand this from their business perspective – It is more difficult to offer carefully curated product at the rate they are selling.
Magnolia Market has gained almost a cult-like following. I’m glad we checked it out. Now, we know! It was a very interesting experience from a sociological and socioeconomic standpoint. If you love rustic home decor and shopping with a generous budget, you might have a great time checking out Magnolia Market’s selection. Personally, Brian and I found it to be overcommercialized and deeply entrenched in overt consumerism.
Our experience is not at all a knock on the city of Waco or even the effect of Chip and Joanna Gaines. It takes immense vision and creativity to build a brand and help revitalize a city. The Gaines have transformed Waco into a sensational tourist spot. The local economy AND community absolutely feel the Magnolia Effect, for better or for worse.
Waco was worth a visit for me purely based on the Dr Pepper Museum. It was a nice way to wrap-up our last full day in Texas. However, Brian and I were a touch deflated after our Magnolia experience. Rather than pull over somewhere for a bite to eat, we decided to have dinner back at the resort. Our trip was coming to an end and we were looking forward to packing up! This budget breakdown includes expenses from Waco and our trip home from Texas.
Our Texas Road Trip was a fun ride, though more expensive than planned for because of gas prices! All in all, Brian and I look forward to traveling to the Lone Star State again. There’s still so much to explore!
Do you have any Texas must-sees? Feel free to share below!