Family-Friendly Things to do in Waco, Texas besides Magnolia
I love the HGTV show Fixer Upper with Chip and Joanna Gaines. I love HGTV in general, a little bit too much…I will just put that out there. I’m sorry to see the show go off the air but I totally get wanting to live their lives with their kids away from the limelight. Fixer Upper has put Waco, Texas on the map and people come from all over the country to see the famous Magnolia Market, and, let’s be real, the hope of spotting Chip and Joanna. But, have you ever thought about things to do in Waco, Texas besides Magnolia Market that don’t center around our favorite TV couple?
Our family was hosted by Waco Heart of Texas and their partners. All opinions are mine.
While we have stopped at the famous Magnolia Market on each of our three trips to Waco Texas, all things Magnolia have never been the focal point of our visit. There are so many fun things to do in Waco, Texas and it’s a growing city that is definitely worth visiting on its own merit.
Related reading: Tips for visiting Magnolia Table (AKA Best. Breakfast. EVAH.)
The draw might be the Magnolia Market, as it is for many people, and, since getting to Waco is a little bit off the beaten path, taking some time to explore things to do in Waco Texas besides Magnolia is worth your time.
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Things to do in Waco Texas (besides Magnolia Market)
Take a tour with Waco Tours – one of the BEST things to do in Waco Texas besides Magnolia
Even though Magnolia is probably the reason driving your visit, there’s plenty of things to see and lots of things to do in Waco Texas besides Magnolia Market. Waco Tours can help orient you to the city and give you some behind the scenes info on some of the Fixer Upper houses that are in Waco…if you’re a big fan of the show, it’s really fun to see the projects in person.
Waco Tours offers three different tour options: Classic Waco Tour, the Texas Experience Tour, and the River Cruise Tour. I recommend the Classic Waco tour and I recommend scheduling this on your first day – before you go anywhere else. It definitely gives you the lay of the land and great suggestions for places to eat and play. The tour includes a coffee drink or an ice cream treat, bottled water and Dr. Pepper, and a discount coupon book.
Learn more about Waco Tours here.
The Texas Sports Hall of Fame
The Texas Sports Hall of Fame is located on the Baylor University Campus and it’s both a great place for kids and for people who love Texas sports. The facility doubles as a reception and conference space so there is plenty of space in this central area with the exhibits being off to the side.
There’s an area dedicated to noteworthy Texas athletes of all types. Yes, it’s Texas but there is more than just football. Also a fun area dedicated to the Southeast Conference, an area dedicated to high school football (hey, it is Texas and we’re all about our Friday night lights, right?) and an interactive children’s area with an electronic soccer game, jump ropes and other exhibits dedicated to youth physical fitness.
The Texas Sports Hall of Fame is open Monday through Saturday from 9 to 5. Admission is $7 for adults $6 for seniors and $3 for students in 1st – 12th grade. Active military are free.
Note: The Waco area is close enough to both San Antonio and Killeen to have a substantial military connection in the community. Many places have posted military discounts and we were asked at other places if we were military. So, if you are and you don’t see a posted discount, ask!
Waco Mammoth National Monument
This was one of our family’s favorites. Most people don’t think of the National Parks System when they think of Waco, but this place is a real gem. The Waco Mammoth National Monument is one of the bestthings to do in Waco Texas besides Magnolia. We went on a crisp, cold January morning and it was perfect.
We spent about three hours at the Waco Mammoth National Monument and honestly, we could have stayed longer. We had to pry our kids out of the dig pit as it was.
I’ll admit I didn’t do good enough research before we went and I told my husband “This will just be somewhere we stop for a quick look and a picture.”
The Waco Mammoth National Monument is an active dig site and park that is managed by the National Parks Service. A herd of Chilean Mammoths (kind of like a warm-weather and larger version of the Wooly Mammoth) died in what is presumed to be a flood and their fossils are still being uncovered, along with some other surprises.
Guided tours are available. They last about 30 minutes and include history of the site and entry into the active dig site. The fee is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, military, educators and students, and $3 for children pre-K to sixth grade. Kids under three are free.
There are also self-guided trails – we loved the Eagle Scout Trail, which was about half a mile long and an easy walk – and activities at the welcome center. My kids loved the dig pit and talking to the park rangers. They completed a few activities from a book that was being given out and were sworn in as junior rangers.
The Mayborn Museum Complex is located on the Baylor University Campus.
Here you will find hands-on discovery rooms, interactive natural science and cultural history galleries, including outdoor exhibits. There are also traveling exhibits – check their website before you visit to see what’s new.
If your kids complete the Junior Ranger Program at the Waco Mammoth National Monument, you will get free admission to the Mayborn. There is also a Mammoth exhibit at the Mayborn that ties into what your kids (and you!) will learn at the Waco Mammoth National Monument.
We spent a little less than three hours in the Mayborn Museum and honestly? It was not enough. We stayed until closing time and my kids were having a blast.
There are other things to explore on the Baylor campus, such as the Armstrong Browning Library and Museum or meeting Lady and Joy, the two American Black Bears that live on the Baylor campus.
Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for kids 2-12 and $7 for Seniors 65+. Check their website for hours, but note that they are open Sundays. The Magnolia Market and Silo Baking Company are NOT open on Sundays, so if you’re looking for something else to do on a weekend day, this might be it, especially if you need an indoor activity.
If you’re looking for inexpensive things to do in Waco Texas besides Magnolia, the Baylor campus has lots to offer.
The Dr Pepper Museum
If you’re ever been curious about the history of Dr Pepper and 7-Up and love a good dose of quirky nostalgia, the Dr Pepper Museum is worth a visit.
The Dr Pepper Museum is open Monday – Saturday from 10:00-5:30 and on Sundays from noon to 5:00. The Soda Fountain and Gift Shop are new and there are a lot of fun, interactive things for the kids to do there. Adult admission is $10, military and seniors is $8 and kids and students is $6.
We made a pit stop here in 2016 when we wandered in after our visit to the Magnolia Market and the highlight of our visit was one of our kids slamming his hand in an antique Dr Pepper cooler.
Texas Ranger Museum and Hall of Fame
The Texas Ranger Museum and Hall of Fame is open from 9:30-5:00 Monday through Sunday. Admission prices are $8 for adults and $4 for children. Ask about senior and military discounts.
We visited in 2016 and it took us about two hours to go through the entire museum. There was an interactive “spot the villain” sheet they gave out at the front desk that my kids really enjoyed doing. I’m not sure if that’s still an option but overall, we found this to be a really fun and educational time.
Cameron Park Zoo
The Cameron Park Zoo is a lovely, lush, small zoo that is open year ‘round. They are open Monday through Saturday from 9:00-5:00 and Sundays from 11:00-5:00. Admission prices are $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and $7 for kids. Ask about military discounts.
The Cameron Park Zoo is home to all kinds of animals. You’ll find the typical zoo animals (Tigers, giraffes, elephants) but there’s also a lot of exhibits with animals native to Texas. Cameron Park Zoo does a great job with balancing indoor and outdoor exhibits, which is nice considering how hot Texas is. The scene stealer here is Razak, a three-year-old Orangutan. He’s absolutely adorable and sassy in the ways that only a curious toddler can be.
Cameron Park also has lots of hiking and running trails to explore. There’s also a Lover’s Leap, which has a great view of the Brazos River.
There’s an Indian legend about Running Bear and White Dove who fell in love despite being from warring tribes. Intent on forcing them apart, their families chased them up this hill. The lovers kissed and leaped into the Brazos River and were never seen again. Legend or truth? Who knows, but this is a great spot to check out.
Suspension Bridge at Indian Spring Park with Cattle Drive Monument
This is the place to get great Waco pictures or just let your kids burn off some energy.
The bridge is a fun place to stroll and explore and there are some great sculptures of cowboys and cattle at the entrance to the bridge.
These sculptures represent the cattle drovers who accompanied herds of longhorns on the Chisholm Trail up to Kansas. These larger than life sculptures are an important piece of Texas history as well as being a fun spot for photos.
Homestead Craft Village
We ADORED Homestead Craft Village. It’s about 16 miles outside of Waco and full of shopping, learning and beautiful scenery (AKA photo opps.)
The food at Café Homestead is a don’t miss but you can easily spend three hours walking around and talking to the artisans, who are super friendly and willing to talk to you about their craft. We visited with the ladies who make pottery and baskets and a man who made beautifully handcrafted furniture. There was a working mill with an adjoining shop where you can buy bread and pancake mixes, plus other fun kitchen things.
If you’re looking for a unique gift items or something cool for your home, you will find quilts, soaps, candles, pottery and all kinds of pretty things. I’ll warn you, most of these gift items are pretty pricey, but the craftsmanship is the real deal.
Hawaiian Falls Water Park
If you visit during the summer, consider an afternoon at Hawaiian Falls Water Park. This is a great choice out outings if you have kids that might find all the shopping and looking at houses boring. When we were wrapping up our most recent trip, I asked my kids what they liked best about our trip to Waco and Hawaiian Falls was their answer.
There’s a good mix of ultra thrilling rides and tamer things the whole family or families with younger kids can enjoy. We went on a July weekday and found plenty of seats in the shade – although there are a lot of seats in the full sun. If you want to be assured of shade, you can rent a Cabana for $75 on weekdays, $100 on weekends. This is a good price for a water park cabana, although they are a little on the basic side. What was surprising is that on a weekday afternoon when the park wasn’t terribly crowded that most all of the cabanas were occupied.
Hawaiian Falls also has an island area that has mini golf, badminton, corn hole boards, and a few other games. These activities are included in the price of your admission. They also sell food and some really legit Hawaiian shaved ice. They allow you to bring in a cooler for an additional charge. They have some specific restrictions on what kind of food can be brought in so make sure you check their website.
More things to do in Waco Texas besides Magnolia
Where to eat:
Aside from the yummy food trucks at the Magnolia Market, we have a few new favorites.
1. Vitek’s Barbeque and Meat Market
Vitek’s offers friendly counter service and has ample, comfortable seating in a sports-bar like atmosphere. They did have a bar in the back, but it didn’t appear to be open when we went, although I’m sure we could have ordered a drink if we’d wanted to.
Their Gut Pack (AKA loaded Frito Pie) was recommended to me, but it was too soon after the Demo Day dog and I just couldn’t. I did have regrets about not trying it, but I got a single-meat plate with jalapeno sausage and it was just delicious.
My husband got the double meat plate with jalapeno sausage and brisket, Zack got jalapeno sausage with mac n’ cheese and Kyle had a smoked turkey sandwich. I should have gone back and grabbed some jalapeno sausage to bring home with us since we all loved it so much.
Kyle’s smoked turkey was really good, too, and made me sorry I didn’t order a double meat plate but that Demo Day Dog kind of did me in for the day.
Don’t come to Waco without trying this one. It’s THAT good. I promise.
2. Cafe Homestead
Cafe Homestead is a little outside town and SO WORTH the stop. There’s a lot of fun, shopping, and photo opportunities out at Homestead Village but definitely come hungry.
Check in at Café Homestead before you start exploring and shopping. There will probably be a wait unless you get there right at opening. They will send you a text when they’re ready to seat you.
I recommend the sweet potato jalapeno soup. It was amazing, and I’m working to try and recreate it at home. I was big-time gawking at everyone else’s food and everything looked fresh, amazing, and homemade. I also loved the Virgil’s Black Cherry Cream Soda. It’s made with unrefined cane sugar (so definitely not a waistline friendly beverage) but it’s SO GOOD. I just found out my grocery store stocks it, which could be a dangerous thing.
The Café Homestead serves breakfast and lunch, and breakfast is served all day. They do not serve alcohol.
3. Twisted Root Burger Company
Although the Twisted Root Burger Company is not a Waco exclusive – there are locations elsewhere in Texas and Louisiana – it is still a place to get a good burger in a fun and quirky atmosphere.
You order at a counter and are given a “name” that will be called when it’s time to come and collect your order. That name might be Tina Fey or it might be Luke Skywalker. I got Lindsay Lohan. You have no say so in what name you’re given which is part of the fun.
Burger have names like “The Kevin Bacon” and “The Freshman 15.” I recommend “The Verde.” I got regular old Angus beef but there are some exotic meats available.
We went at 2:30 on a Sunday afternoon and waited in line for about 20 minutes to order and waited about another 10-15 minutes for our food. The food was good, and the atmosphere was fun and the quirky murals outside make for a good photo opp.
There is a full bar available.
Twisted Root is located on 2nd street, right off I-35.
4. George’s Restaurant and Bar
George’s comes highly recommended. I’ve never eaten here. We had intentions of having dinner here and the parking lot and the overflow parking was completely full. I take that as a good sign the food is pretty darn tasty.
5. And of course, Tex Mex
If you’re looking for Mexican food, I can attest to the deliciousness of Hecho en Waco and Ninfas.
6. Sweet Treats
If you want something sweet, we loved Sub Zero Nitro Ice Cream. This is Nitrogen ice cream that’s made right in front of you and it’s an all-around cool (see what I did there) experience. There’s also the Pie Peddlars which is just down from Hecho en Waco (directly across from Magnolia Market.) You can buy pie by the slice or by the whole pie. We went in and had a look around and vowed to return when we had room for pie and just never squeezed it in. It was a really cute place and the pie looked amazing.
7. Magnolia Table
Don’t leave Waco without eating here. It’s a popular place, so you’ll have to put some planning into your visit. I wrote a whole post on Magnolia Table. You can read it here.
Where to stay:
In 2018, we stayed at Home2 by Hilton, which is one of the newer Hilton Brands. Home2 is perfect for families or travelers who need to book an extended stay. Our room had two queen beds, a spacious bathroom and a kitchenette. The kitchenette has a fridge, microwave, sink, and a dishwasher. There’s also a full compliment of dishes and a note that a hot plate can be requested from the front desk.
We didn’t need to do that level of cooking but it was nice to have a place to store our snacks and drinks.
The décor throughout the hotel was colorful and modern and the staff was super helpful and friendly.
A great breakfast is included. There were waffles, cereals, oatmeal, fruits, yogurt and a variety of breads and pastries. There was “heat and eat” prepackaged hot breakfasts available that you could microwave. We found these breakfasts to be super tasty. During the two days we were there, we saw biscuits with gravy, omelets, and breakfast bowls.
On our July 2019 trip, we stayed at the brand-new La Quinta Inn and Suites by Wyndahm near Baylor University. It’s been forever since I stayed in a La Quinta and they’ve really elevated their game. This hotel offers modern, spacious rooms at a budget price. A hot breakfast is included.
We loved the indoor/outdoor pool. The pool is outdoors under an overhang so you can enjoy the warm weather and still be in the shade. There’s an attached seating/patio area if you want to get some sun. The lobby also has a full bar.
I’d compare this to a Hampton Inn or a very nice Fairfield Inn.
If you want something more upscale or want the option to book a suite or want to stay somewhere with an executive level, check out Hilton Waco or the Hotel Indigo. A lot of the Fixer Upper Houses are available as vacation rentals, which is something I learned on our Classic Waco Tour. If you’re interested in staying in one of them, just google “Fixer Upper houses on Airbnb, Fixer Upper houses on HomeAway or Fixer Upper houses on Vrbo. They’re easy to find and can be fairly reasonable if you have a larger group.
You also might want to check out the Silo House at Laughing Llama Farm in nearby Troy Texas. It’s a bit of a drive into Waco but I talked to a group of ladies who were staying here and they absolutely raved about this place. It’s available on Airbnb and they also have a Facebook page. It looks adorable and I could see myself planning a trip around their availability.
If you’re a Fixer Upper super fan and want to see the Magnolia Market in person, I strongly recommend you take an extra day or two and get to know the warm and friendly people in Waco and do some of the things on this list.
If you’re a Texas family as we are and you haven’t been to Waco, pick a weekend and go on up. Or down. Or over. Whatever, y’all. It’s a big state.
Also? There was a sweet looking spa in downtown Waco and several area wineries and wine bars in what was a surprisingly trendy looking downtown area. Already planning an return trip sans kids. I hope you’ve enjoyed our list of things to do in Waco Texas besides Magnolia. It’s a gem of a town and I hope you visit soon.
A big thank you to the Waco Convention and Visitor’s Bureau who arranged our trip and made us feel so welcome.
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Thanks for the share. These all look so much fun.
Eight things to do without going to Magnolia Market, then first up on the list? Magnolia Market!
Not everyone is in love with the Gaines. I’d rather not add to their already swollen coffers.
Thanks for sharing! Next time try the Waco Pedal Tours and ask for Mr. Danny. Super fun!
Love those pics of your boys!
That sounds so fun! Next time, we will check that out!
Wonderful article. Definitely will catch that next time. Thanks!