Amarillo, the largest city in the Texas Panhandle, is the perfect place to spend a weekend discovering the area's history and culture. Amarillo also makes a great home base for anyone wishing to explore nearby Palo Duro Canyon State Park and Lake Meredith National Recreation Area.
Although it is closer geographically to Denver, Santa Fe, and Oklahoma City than it is to Austin, Texas' capital, Amarillo is distinctly Texan. People are friendly, cowboy boots are everywhere, the sky is enormous and jalapeños are served with, well, almost everything.
Amarillo is well worth a stop if you are traveling through Texas by car. It's a great weekend getaway destination, too. On your first day in Amarillo, check in at your hotel, take a stroll along Polk Street to see the historic buildings and vintage neon signs and enjoy lunch at Napoli's (Italian), Acapulco (Mexican), Crush (salads, soups and sandwiches) or one of the other eateries in Amarillo's downtown district.
Then, head out to some of Amarillo's unique attractions for a true Texas Panhandle experience. Here are a few of our favorites.
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Route 66 Historic District
Route 66, also called the "Mother Road," connected Chicago, Illinois, and Los Angeles, California. Countless people traveled all or part of this US highway, either to make a new life in another part of the country or to see the western part of the nation by automobile. As interstate highways were built, Route 66 was no longer the fastest road, and the hundreds of hotels, businesses, and restaurants along the storied route began to go out of business.
Route 66 didn't die away, in spite of the drastic decline in traffic. Instead, local, state and national groups began working to preserve this historic highway and the iconic businesses, attractions and signs that defined Route 66. The Amarillo Route 66 Historic Association is doing its part to showcase the stretch of Route 66 that passes through the city, particularly on 6th Street in the San Jacinto Heights neighborhood.
Whether you enjoy shopping for antiques, eating in quirky restaurants or just taking photos of Route 66 signs and local landmarks, the Route 66 Historic District will capture your interest. The GoldenLight Café, Amarillo's oldest restaurant and the oldest continuously operating restaurant on the Texan stretch of Route 66, serves up hamburgers, burritos, sandwiches and hearty chili every day except Sundays. The Lile Art Gallery showcases the work of several local artists, but many visitors come just to see the unique Cadilite pieces artist Bob "Crocodile" Lile creates from the thick paint chips that fall off of the painted cars at nearby Cadillac Ranch. The gallery is also a great place to pick up Route 66 souvenirs. The Nat Antiques and Collectibles is housed in a 1922 natatorium that was first home to a swimming pool, then to a dance hall. Today you'll find over 100 antique and collectibles dealers in this vast building – a perfect place to find a Texas treasure to take home with you.
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This hidden gem is an Amarillo must-see. Jack Sisemore Traveland is an RV dealership on Canyon Drive. For many years, Jack and his son, Trent, have been collecting antique RVs and vintage camping accessories as well as classic boats, cars, and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Jack and Trent eventually decided that their museum-quality collection should be shared with the public, so they built their own museum on the dealership property. The 7,000 square foot RV Museum opened in 2012 and has proved to be quite popular with locals and visitors, particularly RV and motorcycle enthusiasts.
Visiting the Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum is like taking a trip into the past, particularly if you have ever camped in an RV or travel trailer. The Sisemores haven't just put some vintage RVs on display; rather, they have lovingly furnished every RV with antiques and accessories from that RV's era. You'll find old Coleman lanterns, board games from your childhood, buckets and toys your grandparents might have used and much more. You'll also see the 1948 Flexible Clipper from the movie RV, a 1936 Alma and one-of-a-kind Harley-Davidsons. It's a great place to stretch your legs and tell your children and grandchildren about your own road trip adventures.
If You Go to the Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum
The museum is open Monday through Friday, 9:00 a. m. to 5:00 p. m. and on Saturdays from 9:00 a. m. to 4:00 p. m. It is closed on Sundays and holidays. To get there, enter the Jack Sisemore Traveland showroom and ask for directions to the museum. Admission is free. If you are lucky enough to meet Jack or Trent in the showroom, introduce yourself and ask them to tell you about their favorite RVs on display in the museum.
Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum
4341 Canyon Drive
Amarillo, Texas 79110
Telephone: (806) 358-4891
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Bring a can or two of spray paint and be part of the art at Cadillac Ranch, which is located on the eastbound frontage road for Interstate 40, about two miles west of the Amarillo city limits. This iconic art installation consists of 10 vintage Cadillacs, planted nose-first in a straight line.
The architecture and design group Ant Farm created and installed Cadillac Ranch in 1974. Amarillo millionaire Stanley Marsh 3 commissioned the project after Ant Farm contacted him asking for funding for a documentary film. Marsh 3 decided that he wanted to create something unusual for the city of Amarillo, so Ant Farm members Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michaels dreamed up a tribute to tail fins of the cars of yesteryear. Marsh 3 loved the concept, the Ant Farm artists began collecting old Cadillacs and the rest is art history at its quirkiest.
Cadillac Ranch was moved to its present location in a pasture in 1997. Today, part of the fun of visiting Cadillac Ranch is adding your own creativity to the spray paint-encrusted cars. You can climb on the Cadillacs to paint or pose for photos. Remember to take your paint cans with you when you leave.
If You Go to Cadillac Ranch
Park along the road near the Cadillac Ranch entrance gate. Wheelchairs and scooters will not fit through the gate. Be aware that Cadillac Ranch is located on pasture land that is still in use by farmers. If it has rained recently, wear shoes with sturdy, non-slip soles that will not be harmed by mud. Admission is free during daylight hours; painting is optional.
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American Quarter Horses are known for agility, good dispositions, quickness, and that important quality ranchers call "cow sense." It's no wonder that American Quarter Horses became so popular on Texas ranches and cattle drives.
The American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum pays tribute to the humans and horses who have made this breed what it is today and commemorates the history and bloodlines of the American Quarter Horse through film, exhibits, and art.
Don't miss the Wall of Honor Plaza to the left of the main entrance. Take some time to admire the bronze statues of famous American Quarter Horses before you go inside the Hall of Fame and Museum.
The imposing Grand Hall showcases all the members of the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame, both equine and human. The floor of the Grand Hall is especially interesting, as it displays the Quarter Horse bloodlines in an enormous, etched chart. Children of all ages will enjoy the Joni Hegel Education Gallery, which is filled with hands-on activities. Don't miss the short film on the history and heritage of the American Quarter Horse; after the film, wander around the theater and look at the Orren Mixer Quarter Horse paintings. The Timeline gallery is packed with artifacts, photographs, and articles that explain why the American Quarter Horse is so important and so beloved.
If You Go to the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum
American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum
1600 Quarter Horse Drive
Amarillo, TX 79104
Telephone: (806) 376-5181
Admission: Adults $7, seniors $6, military veterans $4, children 6 to 18 years old $3, children under 6 and active duty military free
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 9:00 a. m. to 5:00 p. m. Closed Sundays and most holidays.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
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The Lee family opened The Big Texan Steak Ranch on Route 66 in Amarillo. It wasn't hard for hungry travelers to find their way to The Big Texan, thanks to an enormous sign featuring a grinning cowboy and an enormous collection of billboards. Not long after The Big Texan Steak Ranch opened, owner Bob Lee started offering a free 72-ounce steak dinner. The catch? You had to eat it – steak, shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad and a buttered roll – in less than an hour. If you didn't finish the meal, you had to pay for it.
The 72-ounce steak deal is still on. If you decide to take the challenge, you'll sit at a table under a countdown clock. You won't be able to get up from the table until you beat the clock or the clock beats you. If you lose, you'll pay $72 – and you get to keep the leftovers.
Of course, there are plenty of other delicious things to eat at The Big Texan. Steak, of course, takes pride of place, but you can also feast on ribs, sandwiches, chicken-fried steak, quesadillas, and appetizers. Don't forget to try one of the Big Texan Brewery's craft beers, brewed on-site in a variety of styles.
The Big Texan Steak Ranch moved to its present location next to Interstate 40 when Route 66 began to lose travelers to the larger, more convenient interstate highway system. Today, The Big Texan Steak Ranch boasts its own microbrewery, hotel, horse hotel, Texas-shaped swimming pool and, of course, a gift shop packed with Texas-themed items. You can also get a look at a 72-ounce steak, just in case you're thinking of taking that free meal challenge on your way back through Amarillo.
If You Go to The Big Texan Steak Ranch and Microbrewery
7701 I-40 East
Amarillo, TX 79118
Telephone: (806) 372-6000
Open 7:00 a. m. to 10:30 p. m. daily. Bring your appetite.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, TripSavvy believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.
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Although Palo Duro Canyon State Park is not technically in Amarillo – it's about 35 miles southeast of downtown – no visit to the Texas Panhandle would be complete without a stop at the second-largest canyon in the US. Whether you go when the park opens in order to watch the sunrise, spend an hour or two hiking or arrive later in the evening to see the musical drama TEXAS!, the canyon's vivid colors and spectacular rock formations will delight your heart.
You can spend the night in the canyon, either in a rental cabin or in your own RV or tent. If your time is more limited, drive to one of the parking lots on the canyon floor and go for a hike. You can also ride horses in the park.
If You Go to Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
11450 Park Road 5
Canyon, TX 79015
Telephone: (806) 488-2227
Camping reservations: (512) 389-8900
TEXAS! ticket sales: (806) 655-2181
The park is open from 7:00 a. m. to 10:00 p. m. unless you are camping overnight.
Admission is $5 for adults. Children ages 12 and under are admitted for free.
TEXAS! tickets must be purchased separately.
Be sure to bring plenty of water with you, especially during the summer months. Temperatures on the canyon floor can exceed 100 F on summer afternoons.
If it rains during your visit, you must pay close attention to water levels. If the water depth at a crossing exceeds six inches, turn around and move to higher ground right away.