20 Things to Do in Waco, TX
By Janet Benoir – December 21, 2023
Waco, Texas serves as a vibrant hub in the heart of the state, offering an array of cultural and recreational activities. As the proud location of Baylor University, the city not only holds educational prestige but also provides its visitors with access to a plethora of museums and historical sites.
The city’s geographical advantage is undeniable, nestled midway between the bustling cities of Dallas and Austin, yet it maintains a tranquility provided by the Brazos River. This natural landmark, the 11th longest river in the United States, adds to the scenic beauty that characterizes downtown Waco, offering a shady retreat under the canopy of live oaks. Whether you’re looking for adventure or a peaceful escape, Waco provides a uniquely Texan experience that’s sure to leave a lasting impression.
Spanning over a thousand acres by the tranquil Brazos River in Waco’s core, Baylor University is home to a vibrant community of over 20,000 students. This distinguished private Christian university not only stands out for its extensive research initiatives and comprehensive master’s programs but also for its unique traditions and campus features.
The campus boasts a rich array of facilities, including the artistic hub at the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center, the bustling McLane Student Life Center, and the historic Burleson Quadrangle. To discover the campus’s extensive offerings, download the Baylor University app onto your smartphone and embark on a self-directed audio walking tour. Beginning from the Wiethorn Undergraduate Admissions Center, this journey spans over two miles and typically lasts 45 minutes.
Constructed with an impressive contemporary design, this arena, unveiled in 2014, cost $26 million and boasts state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment. When football is out of season, the venue transforms into a go-to destination for concerts and an array of other events. Its unique horseshoe configuration not only provides a striking architectural feature but also ensures that you have a scenic view of the river while immersed in the game’s excitement.
In a tradition that has become a beloved part of game days, “sailgating” offers a distinct pre-game atmosphere where boaters gather at the dock near the stadium. For the explorative fan, 90-minute guided tours showcase the inner workings, including a walk through the locker rooms and press box. Located a stone’s throw away, the cost-effective Red Roof Inn Waco offers cozy accommodations, right down to your furry companions—with no extra charge for a pet and a breakfast on the house.
Nestled at the merging point of the Bosque and Brazos rivers, Cameron Park spans an impressive 400 acres, replete with opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Your explorations can begin on the extensive 20-mile trail system recognized by the National Recreation Trail registry. The trails cater to both serene walks and vigorous mountain biking, surrounded by the park’s verdant landscape.
Imagine yourself picnicking amidst blooming wildflowers at Miss Nellie’s Pretty Place, especially during the vibrant spring season. For those seeking a more robust adventure, climbing Emmons Cliff offers panoramic views from a limestone bluff, while Jacob’s Ladder, a steep historic staircase with almost 100 steps, presents a demanding ascent. The park is more than a place for leisure; it is a competitive arena, hosting events such as triathlons.
Cameron Park Zoo
Spanning 52 acres and offering naturalistic habitats to over 1,700 animals, Cameron Park Zoo is a treasured sanctuary nestled on Cameron Park’s southern border. The shaded pathways provide comfortable strolls, whereas the habitats are observed to be sizeable and impeccably kept, ensuring a pleasing experience for animal enthusiasts.
Parking is complimentary, allowing for an unhurried visit. In close proximity, only a mile from the zoo, Courtyard Waco hotel extends an invitation to rest with family-oriented facilities like an inviting outdoor pool, perfect for relaxation after a day of exploration.
Envisioned for flood control and water preservation, this man-made lake lies just west of downtown and has become a central hub for outdoor enthusiasts. With the lake’s clear waters, you have the opportunity to indulge in boating, fishing, or even exploring the surrounding parks which boast inviting trails for hiking and hunting.
At the Lake Waco Wetlands, a 180-acre preserve that awaits your discovery, you can traverse nearly 3 miles of trails amidst an ecosystem thriving with native flora and fauna, including a vast array of bird species and butterflies. The lake itself is a fishing haven, stocked with species like largemouth bass, catfish, and crappie. If you’re keen on cruising the water in comfort, pontoon boats are for hire through Waco Lake Rentals.
Waco Mammoth National Monument
Within the serene forests near the Bosque River stands the Waco Mammoth National Monument, a testament to the rich prehistoric life that once roamed the area. Discovered in 1978, the site is renowned for unearthing a herd of Columbian mammoths alongside other ancient animals, such as a camel, a giant tortoise, and even a saber-toothed cat. Scientists speculate that these creatures, which are believed to have perished around 70,000 years ago, fell victim to natural calamities like floods or droughts.
During your visit, embark on the mesmerizing journey at the Dig Shelter, a hub of ongoing paleontological exploration. Here beneath a protective cover, you can appreciate an array of fossils without prior arrangements, as tours showcasing these prehistoric finds commence every half hour. While wandering the elevated pathways, you’re presented with not just skeletal remains but also informative exhibits that bring these extinct species to life before your eyes.
Heart O’ Texas Speedway
At the Heart O’ Texas Speedway, just north of Waco, you’re in for robust thrills with activities ranging from thunderous monster truck rallies to dynamic stock car races. You can immerse yourself in the excitement every Friday night from March to September, where the speedway becomes a beacon for motorsport enthusiasts. Revel in the diverse lineup of class types and the modern design of the racing track that enhances your experience.
As you plan your visit, consider the Fourth of July weekend, where the speedway hosts a spectacular fireworks show that has become a crowd favorite. Fuel up on classic American fare at the on-site concession stand, offering everything from juicy burgers to crispy fries and savory hot dogs, along with assorted snacks. For those over the age of 21, there’s also a dedicated beer stand serving a selection of adult beverages.
Hawaiian Falls Waco Waterpark
Located just a short drive from the heart of Waco, Hawaiian Falls Waco offers a refreshing escape with a variety of water-based activities spread across a 10-acre domain. You can immerse yourself in excitement with an array of slides, each given a thrill rating from 1 to 5, with 5 being the most exhilarating, on the “Shaka Meter.”
For a more relaxed experience, float along the lazy river or catch rhythmically rolling waves in the wave pool. Younger visitors have a space tailored to them at Keiki Kove, a gentle water playground designed specifically for children under 12. Your comfort is enhanced by features like shaded cabanas perfect for a break from the sun, and you can also engage in a game of miniature golf.
Waco Suspension Bridge and Riverwalk
Explore the Waco Riverwalk, a picturesque 7-mile trail that follows the tranquil Brazos River through the heart of downtown Waco. The path is well-suited for both walking and biking and seamlessly joins multiple urban parks. As you venture along the river, the storied Waco Suspension Bridge comes into view.
Adjacent to the bridge, encounter the “Branding the Brazos” sculpture series, which pays homage to the Chisholm Trail’s cattle-driving heritage post-Civil War. These bronze artworks have become a favored backdrop for photography enthusiasts. Evening visits reveal the bridge bathed in light, creating a captivating scene.
Waco Tours River Cruise
Experience the charm of Waco from a new vantage point aboard a pontoon boat with the Waco Tours River Cruise. Your journey spans two hours as you navigate the serene Brazos River cutting through the heart of the cityscape. Highlights on this aquatic adventure include a glide underneath the storied Waco Suspension Bridge and alongside the scenic vistas of Cameron Park.
Prepare for an engaging ride with guides celebrated for their humor and expertise, who will enrich your cruise with fascinating insights into Waco’s rich history and culture. Discover fun narratives about the city, such as the entrepreneurial journey of the tour founders whose homes were showcased on the notable “Fixer Upper” TV series.
At the bustling Magnolia Market, visitors explore an array of boutique shops set within a two-acre space in Waco, Texas. This shopping haven is the brainchild of Chip and Joanna Gaines, renowned for their work on the hit HGTV series “Fixer Upper.” The market offers diverse products, including home decor, gifts, garden essentials, and clothing. It’s complemented by the Silos Baking Co., where you can indulge in delightful cupcakes and refreshing lemonade, providing the perfect treat to enhance your shopping experience.
The venue boasts historic silos that were once part of a cotton oil mill and have now become a landmark of this district. Their presence contributes to an attractive scene for photographers and visitors alike. Beyond shopping, the area is designed for community engagement, featuring an outdoor stage for live performances, a variety of food trucks, and frequent events like farmers markets.
The Amazing Fixer Upper Adventure
If you’re an enthusiast of the celebrated home makeover series, Brazo Tours offers a hands-on exploration of iconic renovations and decor havens highlighted on the show. Your journey begins with a 2.5-hour comfortable drive, ushering you to the cherished Harp Design Co. and the notable JDH Iron Designs. Also on the itinerary, you might step into a newly remodeled abode featured on the screen.
Your guides are informed and genial, sharing intriguing tidbits about the show and its hosts. A ticket is $39, promising a comprehensive glimpse into a world of renovation wonders. Enhance your adventure by lodging at the famed “Three Little Pigs House” from the series, which includes a free spot on the tour.
Nestled within the downtown district, the 30,000-square-foot Spice Emporium invites you to explore its distinctive charm. Previously housing the McClendon Hardware Co., this historic 1908 structure now hosts over 60 independent retailers within River Square Center. Your shopping experience includes a diverse range of products, from handmade pillowcases and travel necessities to gourmet olive oil and rustic home decor crafted from reclaimed barnwood.
Duration is key; visitors often note that a few hours slip away effortlessly while perusing the eclectic mix of goods. For a well-rounded visit, consider staying at the nearby Pivovar hotel. Just a short stroll away, it offers a Czech-style beer garden and a rejuvenating spa—perfect for unwinding after a day of shopping.
Waco Downtown Farmers Market
Every Saturday morning, the heart of Waco pulses with life as the local open-air market sets up shop across from the McLennan County Courthouse. Flourishing over the past decade, the Waco Downtown Farmers Market has expanded from a handful of agricultural stalls to a bustling hub with up to 80 vendors during peak event days. It’s become more than just a place to shop; it’s where you’ll find a sense of belonging and a festive family atmosphere.
The Texas climate favors a year-long parade of fresh produce and grazing, which allows the market to operate without pause, presenting a plethora of edible delights. Check out the artisan cheeses, homemade jerky, pickles, jellies, and freshly baked treats. Depending on the season, you’ll find a changing selection of fruits and vegetables. Don’t miss the vibrant flower arrangements from 6G Heritage Farm or the diverse food truck menu, where the tacos come highly recommended.
Dr Pepper Museum
In Waco, the birthplace of America’s oldest significant soda brand, the Dr Pepper Museum showcases the beverage’s rich history. Located in a former bottling plant in the heart of downtown, the museum spreads across three levels with a variety of displays. As you explore, you will encounter a wealth of soda-related artifacts, including a 1940s-era delivery truck.
At the Liquid Lab, you have the opportunity to create your own soda flavor. While there is a fee, it comes with a custom soda bottle and a keepsake hat. For enthusiasts eager to sample a range of flavors, the Taste-A-Soda event features a Soda Sommelier who presents a selection of six distinct soda samples. Those looking for adventure can undertake a supernatural guided tour or solve a mystery via the ClueKeeper app.
Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum
At the heart of Waco, Texas, sits a sprawling 30-acre complex dedicated to the storied history of the state’s celebrated law enforcement unit—the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. Since 1823, the Texas Rangers have been integral in shaping the Western heritage, a legacy that is meticulously chronicled through more than 20,000 artifacts. You’ll find an array of relics, covering everything from historic firearms and badges to the very saddles and uniforms that defined the Rangers’ iconic appearance.
Highlighting the valor of exceptional individuals, the Hall of Fame gallery proudly presents portraits of 31 rangers whose deeds earned them this prestigious recognition. To enhance the experience for the younger explorers, downloadable activity sheets offer an interactive element akin to a scavenger hunt, adding a playful twist to education. Allocate no less than two hours to absorb the wealth of knowledge here, which includes a 45-minute documentary screening hourly.
Mayborn Museum Complex
The Mayborn Museum Complex showcases the natural history and cultural heritage of Central Texas. Your admission covers access to a diverse array of five permanent exhibits which house meticulous reconstructions of fossils retrieved from the Waco Mammoth National Monument. A notable attraction at the museum is the Governor Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village, offering you the chance to experience rural farm life of the late 19th century through nine authentically-reproduced historical buildings.
You’ll find the Jeanes Discovery Center at the complex particularly appealing if you’re visiting with children, as it offers myriad interactive exhibits that emphasize hands-on learning, including exciting live animal displays. Spending two to three hours is recommended to fully explore all the educational offerings. The museum is closed on major holidays and when Baylor University holds home football games.
Armstrong Browning Library and Museum
As you explore the halls of the Armstrong Browning Library, you’ll find yourself surrounded by an extensive collection devoted to Victorian poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The facility boasts the world’s most comprehensive compilation of their work, including original books and letters.
Notably, the library’s Italian Renaissance architecture commands attention with its elegant design. The 62 vibrant stained-glass windows are among the treasures within the building, crafted with precision and artistry. Wander through the various rooms and galleries, each space revealing meticulous craftsmanship from the mid-20th century.
One of the earliest brick residences in the city, the Earle-Napier-Kinnard House, began its storied rise in 1858. Considered a landmark in local architecture, the home flaunts a Greek Revival facade that took its final shape in 1868. Similarly, the McCulloch House, grounded in a parallel architectural vein, remained a single-family domicile for over 100 years.
A testament to Italianate villa influence, the East Terrace House, finished in 1874, boasts an array of original components including a distinguished ballroom, contributing to Waco’s preservation of distinct 19th-century homes. To gain insight into the domestic life of Waco’s past, these historic sites offer visitors a chance to explore original household items, family treasures, and period-specific artifacts like antique lamps and artwork.
Waco Wine Tours
Embark on a journey through Central Texas’s picturesque vineyards with an expert-led excursion. You’ll traverse the landscape in a comfortable, air-conditioned shuttle, visiting up to three distinguished wineries in a single afternoon. At Valley Mills Vineyards, indulge in a broad selection of wines crafted from Texan-grown grapes—savor the bold flavors of tempranillo or the delicate notes of viognier.
Enrich your experience with the Red Caboose Winery, where sustainability marries award-winning taste. Discover their environmentally conscious techniques, from harnessing solar and wind energy to create renowned Old World-style wines. Your 3.5-hour tour also includes curated wine tastings, a refreshing picnic lunch, and hydration with bottled water.