In 2013, Chip and Joanna Gaines launched "Fixer Upper" on HGTV, and the show’s success breathed new life into the town of Waco, Texas. As they fixed up old homes around Waco and featured the breathtaking results on national television, the town basically became an extension of their home and lifestyle brand. Real estate prices shot up, and other businesses appeared as a result of renewed interest in this once-sleepy college town. Previously, Waco’s only other claim to fame was the raid and fire at the Branch Davidian Compound in 1993, so city leaders have been eager to embrace the town’s new image as a home renovation hotspot. While the show ended in 2019, Chip and Joanna Gaines still run thriving home decor and real estate businesses in Waco. The town is also home to Baylor University, the Dr. Pepper Museum, and a wealth of outdoor recreation destinations. Read on for the top things to do while in town.
Built on the site of an old cottonseed mill, Magnolia Market is a masterful representation of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ “shabby-chic” design aesthetic. Two rusting silos tower over the sprawling development, which includes a mix of old and new buildings, food trucks and a huge lawn. In the airy, beautifully designed market, you can buy everything from candles to throw pillows to framed art pieces. At Silos Baking Co., you can sample Joanna’s own recipes, including her famous bacon-and-cheddar biscuits. At Magnolia Seed and Supply, you can pick up stylish pots, gardening tools and kid-friendly flower growing kits. The expansive lawn is also a big hit with the kids. Cornhole and other lawn games are available to play for free. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, you can head to the food trucks. There’s usually a long line at the Magnolia Table truck, but it’s worth the wait if you want to sample some of the fresh fare available at Chip and Joanna’s restaurant across town by the same name. Other popular food trucks include Little Brisket, Cheddar Box Gourmet Grilled Cheese and 900 Degrees Pizzeria. If possible, try to schedule your visit on a weekday because Magnolia Market is packed every weekend.
Take a Tour of Fixer Upper Homes
Brazos Tours takes visitors all over Waco to see homes featured on the "Fixer Upper" show as well as other historic homes. There are several stops for photo opportunities along the way, and occasionally one of the homeowners will invite people inside their restored home. Heart of Texas Tours also offers a similar tour of homes from the show, with stops for lunch and a little shopping.
In 1978, two hikers found a huge bone along the Bosque River that turned out to be the femur of a Columbian mammoth. After several years of slow and careful excavation, workers have discovered an entire herd of Ice Age mammoths that apparently died due to a single catastrophic event. While some of the remains were moved to Baylor University, many of the fossils remain on site, and the excavation continues. Guided tours are conducted every 30 minutes, starting at the Welcome Center. The tour then leads to the Dig Shelter, where guides will teach you about the animals discovered, the Ice Age, and the ongoing scientific work at the site.
Located in a former bottling plant, the Dr. Pepper Museum tells the story of the soft drink’s origins in a small pharmacy in Waco. When the local soda fountain could no longer keep up with demand, a company was formed and large-scale production began in this building. You can view early memorabilia, buy t-shirts, check out old TV commercials and enjoy a hand-mixed Dr. Pepper at the on-site soda fountain.
The Cameron Park Zoo boasts large, well-designed habitats for the animals as well as prime viewing spots for the human gawkers. The mid-sized zoo also has a surprising large variety of animals, including giraffes, rhinos, bears and bison. Be sure to visit the orangutan family, which welcomed a new baby in early 2019. The zoo solicits donations from the public, asking for items ranging from wiffle balls to catnip — all in an effort to provide engaging activities for the animals. This past Easter, the Komodo dragon was treated to his own Easter egg hunt, complete with colored eggs. The bald eagle habitat is another must-see, along with the ever popular tigers and otters.
Affiliated with Baylor University, the Mayborn Museum features exhibits designed to get kids excited about history and ecology. Kids love Strecker’s Cabinet of Curiosities, an area modeled after early natural history museums that focused on the outlandish and the strange. The exhibit has a massive humpback whale skull and other eye-catching curiosities. The museum features an abundance of marine fossils because this part of Texas was once submerged under an ancient sea. In the Hall of Natural History, there’s a massive sea turtle skeleton as well as fossils from the nearby Waco Mammoth National Monument. The Governor Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village explores human history in the area with homes and other structures dating to the 1890s. For kids who demand constant stimulation, make sure your first stop is at the Jeanes Discovery Center. Each room has a different theme and interactive features, ranging from playing a huge piano to experimenting with colorful lights and eerie sounds. The Jurassic Augment Reality allows kids to see themselves side-by-side with a Tyrannosaurus Rex and other dinosaurs. In the Design Den, kids can explore their creativity, ranging from making skyscrapers out of cardboard to making up their own stories.
Located right next to downtown Waco, Cameron Park offers 400 acres of nature trails and wide-open spaces. Several spots along the trail offer beautiful views, such as Lover’s Leap, which is situated on top of steep cliffs, and Emmons Cliff, which is dotted with sprawling oak trees and overlooks the river. At the overlook at the mouth of the Bosque River, you can see both the Bosque and Brazos rivers at once. For the kiddos, there are also several playgrounds and splash pads around the park.