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 a fantastic array of cultural and recreational activities. As the proud location of Baylor University, the city possesses not only educational prestige but also offers visitors a plethora of top class museums and incredible historical sites.

The city’s geographical advantage is undeniable, nestled midway between the bustling cities of Dallas and Austin, yet its Brazos River offers you wonderful natural tranquility too. This beautiful landmark, the 11th longest river in the United States, adds to downtown Waco’s characteristic charm, offering a shady retreat under the canopy of majestic oaks. Whether you’re after adventure or a peaceful escape, Waco provides a uniquely Texan experience that’s sure to leave a lasting impression.

Baylor University

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 excels with its extensive research initiatives and Masters’ programs but also through its unique traditions and world-class campus.

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The campus boasts a rich array of facilities, including the vibrant artistic hub at the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center, the bustling McLane Student Life Center, and the historic Burleson Quadrangle. Whether you plan on studying there or not, it’s a brilliant place to head to for an insight into Waco and the world. Excellent tours are offered that visit all the campus highlights and that allow you to stroll along Baylor’s beautiful riverside.

McLane Stadium

Constructed with an impressive contemporary design, this stunning arena, unveiled in 2014, cost $26 million and boasts state-of-the-art audio-visuals. When football is out of season, the venue transforms into a go-to destination for concerts and celebrations. Its unique horseshoe configuration not only provides a striking architectural feature but also ensures you enjoy a fantastic view of the river while immersed in the game’s excitement.

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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. Brilliant 90-minute guided tours showcase the stadium’s inner workings, including a walk through the locker rooms and press box. Located close by, the Red Roof Inn offers cozy accommodation at great value, including for any furry companions, with no extra charge for a pet and breakfast on the house!

Cameron Park

Nestled at the merging point of the Bosque and Brazos rivers, the vast Cameron Park spans 400 green acres and is replete with opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Your explorations can begin along parts of the site’s extensive and nationally recognised trails. The trails cater to both serene walks and vigorous mountain biking, surrounded by the park’s verdant landscape.

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Imagine yourself picnicking amidst blooming wildflowers at Miss Nellie’s Pretty Place, especially during the vibrant spring season. For those seeking robust adventure, climbing Emmons Cliff offers stunning panoramic views from a limestone bluff, while Jacob’s Ladder, a steep historic staircase offers a demanding ascent. The park is also more than a place for leisure; it is a competitive arena, regularly hosting triathlons and sports.

Cameron Park Zoo

Spanning 52 acres and offering naturalistic habitats to over an incredible 1,700 animals, Cameron Park Zoo is a treasured sanctuary nestled on Cameron Park’s southern border. The shaded pathways provide comfortable strolls to enjoy the many impeccably maintained habitats, ensuring a thrilling experience for animal enthusiasts. Its wonderful aquarium is a highlight of any visit, especially for children.

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Parking is complimentary, allowing for an unhurried visit. In close proximity, only a mile from the zoo, the Courtyard Waco hotel offers up an inviting outdoor pool, perfect for relaxation after a day of exploration.

Lake Waco

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. Across the lake’s clear waters, you have the opportunity to indulge in boating or fishing, or you can explore the vast surrounding parks, which boast excellent trails for hiking and hunting.

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At the Lake Waco Wetlands, a fantastic 180-acre preserve awaits you, where you can traverse 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 nationally renowned for unearthing a herd of Columbian mammoths alongside other ancient animals, such as a camel, a giant tortoise, and a rare saber-toothed cat. Scientists speculate that these incredible creatures, which are believed to have perished a staggering 70,000 years ago, fell victim to natural calamities like floods or droughts.

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During your visit, embark on a truly memorable journey at the Dig Shelter, a hub of ongoing paleontological exploration. Here you can appreciate an array of fascinating ancient fossils. Tours showcasing these prehistoric finds are well worth enjoying. While wandering the elevated pathways, you’re presented with not just skeletal remains but also some brilliant audiovisual 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 in the modern design of the racing track. It’s a deservedly famous night out!

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A true crowd favorite, on the 4th of July weekend, the speedway hosts a spectacular fireworks show. As you watch the skies and the speedway, you can fuel up on classic American fare, with the Heart O’ Texas’s brilliant variety of classic Texan burgers, fries and savory hot dogs.

Hawaiian Falls Waco Waterpark

Located just a short drive from the heart of Waco, Hawaiian Falls Waco offers a refreshing escape with a brilliant variety of water-based activities spread across 10-acres. Immerse yourself in excitement with an array of slides, each given a thrill rating from 1 to 5, with 5 being the most exhilarating. See if you can survive the level 5 “Shaka Meter”!

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For a more relaxed experience, float along the lazy river or catch rhythmic rolls 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. Family comfort is enhanced by features like shaded cabanas, perfect for a break from the sun, and there’s also superb miniature golf on offer.

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 walking and biking and seamlessly joins multiple urban parks. As you venture along the river, the historic Waco Suspension Bridge is an architectural highlight.

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Adjacent to the bridge, check out the the fascinating “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

On these cruises you experience the natural charm of Waco close-up from a pontoon boat. Your journey spans two hours as you navigate the serene Brazos River cutting through the heart of the cityscape. Highlights of your aquatic adventure include a glide underneath the famous Waco Suspension Bridge and the scenic vistas of the vast and verdant Cameron Park.

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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 famous “Fixer Upper” TV series!

Magnolia Market

At the bustling Magnolia Market, you can explore a fantastic array of boutique shops. 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 a brilliant variety of home decor, gifts, garden essentials, and clothing and is complemented by the locally renowned Silos Baking Co., where you can indulge in delightful cupcakes and refreshing lemonade.

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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 creates an attractive scene for photographers and visitors alike. Beyond shopping, the area is designed for community engagement, featuring a terrific outdoor stage for live performances, food trucks, farmers markets, and much more.

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 fun journey ushers you to the cherished Harp Design Co. and the renowned JDH Iron Designs. You might even step into a newly remodeled abode, as featured on the show.

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Your guides are informed and genial, sharing intriguing tidbits about the show and its hosts. This is an activity that promises you a thrilling deep-dive 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.

Spice Emporium

Nestled within the downtown district, the 30,000-square-foot Spice Emporium invites you to explore its distinctive and unique charm. Previously housing the McClendon Hardware Co., this historic 1908 structure now hosts over 60 amazing independent retailers within River Square Center. From handmade pillowcases, to travel necessities, to gourmet olive oil and rustic home decor crafted from reclaimed barnwood, there’s something for everyone.

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Hours slip away effortlessly while you peruse the eclectic mix of goods, so allow enough time! 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 original gift-buying.

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 become a bustling hub with up to 80 vendors. It’s become more than just a place to shop; it’s where you’ll find a sense of belonging and a festive Texan family atmosphere.

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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 delicious 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. And don’t miss the vibrant flower arrangements from 6G Heritage Farm or the diverse food truck menus. The classic 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 and fascinating history. Located in a former bottling plant in the heart of downtown, the museum spreads across three levels with an amazing variety of displays. As you explore, you encounter a wealth of soda-related artifacts, including a 1940s-era delivery truck.

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At the famous Liquid Lab, you have the opportunity to create your own soda flavor, and it all comes with a custom soda bottle and a keepsake hat too! 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. This truly is a one of a kind place and well worth your time.

Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum

At the heart of Waco, Texas, sits a sprawling 30-acre complex dedicated to the 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 an incredible 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.

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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 thoughtful and playful twist to your visit.

Mayborn Museum Complex

The Mayborn Museum Complex showcases the natural history and cultural heritage of Central Texas. Five permanent exhibits 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.

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You’ll find the Jeanes Discovery Center at the complex brilliant 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 the tremendous educational activities the museum complex offers.

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 renowned Victorian poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The Library boasts the most comprehensive compilation of their work anywhere on earth, including original books and letters.

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The library’s Italian Renaissance style architecture also commands attention, with its elegant design. Inside, 62 vibrant stained-glass windows are among the building’s astonishing treasures, crafted with precision and artistry. As you wander the various rooms and galleries, each space reveals meticulous craftsmanship from across the 20th century.

Earle-Napier-Kinnard House

One of the earliest brick residences in the city, the Earle-Napier-Kinnard House, began its historic story in 1858. Considered a landmark in local architecture, the home flaunts a beautiful Greek Revival facade that took its final shape in 1868. Like McCulloch House, grounded in a similar architectural style, it remained a single-family home for over 100 years.

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A testament to Italianate villa influence, the East Terrace House, finished in 1874, boasts an array of original features, including a distinguished ballroom. It is a major contribution to Waco’s preservation of its wonderful 19th-century homes. These historic sites offer visitors the chance to explore original household items, fascinating family treasures, and beautiful period-specific artifacts, like antique lamps and artwork.

Waco Wine Tours

Embark on a journey through Central Texas’s renowned picturesque vineyards with an expert-led excursion. You’ll traverse the landscape in a comfortable, air-conditioned shuttle, visiting 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. A truly special trip.

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Enrich your experience even further at the Red Caboose Winery, where sustainability marries award-winning taste. There you can discover environmentally conscious techniques, from harnessing solar and wind energy to create renowned Old World-style wines. Your extensive tour also includes curated wine tastings and a refreshing picnic lunch. It all makes for a truly civilized and memorable visit.