15 Years of Reasons To Love Waco

By Jennifer Naylor-Gesick

A Look Back At Our Favorites

For 15 years we’ve asked Wacoan writers, staff and readers to ponder the reasons they love living in Waco. And while a lot has changed over the years, thankfully some things never do. Following are some of our favorites that we think best represent the hundreds of submissions we’ve printed. Some have been edited for length and to update information. Enjoy!

(2008) Lake Shore Drive and Lake Waco. Wouldn’t it be nice to see it again for the first time? So pretend that this is your first visit to the city. You’re driving west on Lake Shore Drive, catching the odd glimpse of Lake Waco between the houses to your right. You pass the Mt. Carmel Water Treatment plant, and the road veers slightly to the southwest. Suddenly, you’re at the top of a steep rise that apparently leads straight down into the lake! For a few too-brief seconds, the lake spreads out before you, shimmering, dancing, sparkling in the afternoon sun. It is an urban vista like few others in Texas, perhaps in the entire country. Lake Shore quickly morphs into Valley Mills Drive, and the view changes to franchise restaurants, dry-cleaners and car washes. But for the heartbeat that the lake filled the horizon, Waco is, indeed, a magical place. — Robert Darden

(2008) The Armstrong-Browning Library. Towering elegantly detailed stained-glass windows define the perimeter of this seems-to-be ancient building that looks as though it was transplanted from Cambridge University. The colors of the windows linger in the beams of sunlight. It is a mystical place, celebrating a great love story, housing famous poetry and literature and reminding us of a long-gone past that still haunts our memories and inspires eternal wonder. — Mary Landon Darden

(2008) The “Jubilee Corner” of Colcord Avenue. At the disjointed intersect of Colcord and North 15th streets, something wonderful is happening. Yes, that’s the home of Mission Waco — where the Rev. Jimmy Dorrell’s ragamuffin gospel has made a difference in the lives of the homeless and the marginalized not just in Waco but across the U.S. It’s also the home of a Mediterranean grill, the Jubilee Theater (where Waco’s wildest, funkiest, most honest bands perform), a divinely retro old school diner, a feisty little grocery store and more. And — all around it — the greatest concentration of new Habitat for Humanity homes in the city. The Jubilee Corner has spurred more development up Colcord, and when the new Providence-sponsored housing complex for low-income elderly people is finished, still more restaurants and services will further reclaim that stretch of pavement. A neighborhood is rising, Phoenix-like, right before our eyes. — Robert Darden

(2009) Common Grounds and Starbucks. Really, now. Remember back to 1993, when there wasn’t a single coffee house in Waco? How did we exist? Now we have Common Grounds, which I frequent for its ambiance and quality drinks in spite of the fact that all the 20-something baristi call me ma’am. Plus we have Starbucks scattered all over, except for the one I loved so dearly that closed. You go to these places to work, to read, to visit, to connect, to disconnect, to drink strong coffee — or to drink dessert in a cup, if you prefer. We haven’t quite recreated the salons of Paris here, but it’s certainly a literate alternative to the Big O’. — Martha Hopkins

(2009) Local theater. Taking our kids to the Waco Civic Theatre, Waco Hippodrome and “The Nutcracker” have stamped a lifetime of memories on our family. I will never forget the first time our daughter, Madeline, saw “Annie” at the Hippodrome. At 3, she was young enough to stand in her seat without bothering the person behind her. Her eyes sparkled when she watched the performance on stage. The next time she saw “Annie” was at the Civic Theatre. To Madeline’s delight, many of her friends were in the performance. All venues are just the right size so you can really enjoy the performances. It is especially fun to stay after for the meet and greet to interact with the performers. Waco is truly blessed to have a variety of art venues that can be enjoyed all year long. — Michelle Johnson

(2009) KWBU Radio. My favorite radio station in Texas is the local NPR affiliate KWBU-FM — 103.3 on the dial. It carries the finest available programming including “All Things Considered,” “Fresh Air,” “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me,” “BBC World Service,” and KWBU is increasing its production of local programming. Best yet, this is the people’s radio station — owned and supported by the public. My husband and I are Cornerstone members and give monthly to support this crown jewel of Central Texas radio broadcasting. All Wacoans should give regularly to ensure a healthy future for their station. — Mary Landon Darden

(2009) Dr Pepper Museum (and Free Enterprise Institute). Where else can you get a freshly mixed Cherry Dr Pepper from the fountain, a frosty Dr Pepper milkshake or a tasty Big Red sundae with Blue Bell ice cream? Not only is the Dr Pepper Museum one of my favorite places, it’s the whole reason my family lives here at all. In 2000, my father became the executive director and moved our family to Waco. I’ve spent a lot of time at the DP Museum over the years. I worked as a gift shop clerk, a tour guide and a soda jerk. It isn’t just something to love about Waco. It’s something to love about Texas and the United States. Travelers from as far away as Japan, Germany and Australia come to see the “real” America, and a popular stop is the Dr Pepper Museum. As a 1970s slogan used to say, it’s “the most original soft drink ever in the whole wide world,” and that’s something for Wacoans to brag about. — Kathleen Seaman

(2009) The Circle. Some people can’t handle the Circle, but I love it. Back in high school, a girl who had just gotten her license somehow got stuck on the traffic circle. She drove around it several times before she finally called her youth pastor, panicked and asking for advice. She didn’t call her father because he might have laughed at her or, worse, been angry since she probably wasn’t supposed to be driving in that area. Waco is where I learned to drive, so for me, the Circle is unique and interesting but also familiar. The Circle is as confusing as it gets. I’m very thankful for that — and I think the girl from high school should be, too. — Kathleen Seaman

(2009) Museums. One of the best investments we’ve made in the last couple of years was the family membership we purchased at the Mayborn Museum. A membership allows us free admission to the museum for a year. And Waco is chock full of other museums, some well known and others more obscure. There’s the Dr Pepper Museum, Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Texas Sports Hall of Fame, which we all know about, as well as the less-well-known Red Men Museum, Lee Lockwood Library and Museum and the Helen Marie Taylor Museum dedicated to the history of Waco. For fine art, there’s Art Center Waco and the Martin Museum of Art. Waco’s historic homes — operated under the umbrella of the Historic Waco Foundation — are all museums unto themselves. And though technically not in Waco, there’s always the dog museum located in the Antiquibles Antique Mall in nearby Elm Mott. — Kevin Tankersley

(2010) New Waco Mammoth Site. I admit that I haven’t seen it yet, but I have been anxious for this park to become a reality. Back in 1997, I toured the site along with several downtown businesspeople. I was wearing high heels and carrying a 1-year-old, so it was quite an adventure. But the story captured my imagination, and for years, whenever we rode bikes out Steinbeck Bend Road, I would look toward the site and hope that someday I could show it to my family. Now, I can! — Megan Willome

(2010) Ms. Vivian at the Central Library’s story time. She is famous among the under-5 crowd! Full of energy and love, Ms. Vivian greets babies, toddlers and preschoolers at the Central Library with a song, dance and a wonderful story or two each week. Sometimes she brings delicious homemade snacks — my son is still talking about the kitty litter cake! She brings smiles to children while educating parents about home literacy. She is a Waco treasure, and her sincere love of children and story is apparent in all that she does. — Stacey Morrow

(2011) Tanya and Tembo at the Cameron Park Zoo
I pretend that I take my son to the zoo for his enjoyment, but he’s so young that his favorite part of the trip is still the flags that fly out front. My favorite part is the elephants, Tanya and Tembo. No matter your age, they’re great playmates for an afternoon. — Anna Mitchael

(2011) Baylor Theater
Bringing Broadway-caliber shows to the Waco community, the Baylor Theatre department produces five to six shows during the regular season. With three gorgeous performance spaces, the department brings a wide range of shows to life — from Shakespearian tragedies to full-scale musicals. Every other year Baylor Theatre plays host to the Horton Foote American Playwrights Festival, bringing the brightest young playwrights to Waco. With numerous connections to the New York theater scene, the faculty members are world class and frequently stay after performances to answer questions from the audience. Baylor Theatre brings elite talent to Waco! — Michael Garfield

(2011) Baylor Lady Bears
I love that Waco is big enough to have the feel of a big city, but small enough to feel like you are a part of it and can make a difference. LOVE the Lady Bears! — Tpckathy

(2011) Disc Golf
Waco has not one, not two, but three disc golf courses. This is exciting because disc golf is a great activity for families and friends to enjoy that’s both fun and free. You can be as casual or as competitive as you’d like. I’m sure everyone has seen the intense disc golfers, often at Cameron Park, with backpacks and rolling cases that hold 20-plus discs. I’m more likely to carry my one disc and skip a few of the 23 holes, but it’s still a great way to explore the park! — Heather Garcia

(2011) Mountainview Park
This city park, located at Mountainview Elementary School, was one of our family’s treasures. The winding sidewalk, bordered by grass on both sides, was the perfect place to learn to ride a bike. Just ask my kids. — Megan Willome

(2012) The People
My husband and I have been Wacoans for more than 15 years now, and we still hear it from outsiders: “Waco? Why Waco?” We have found that what makes a person love a town is far beyond its name, location and, in our case, its misconceptions. I have also met plenty of people that live in Waco that still wonder why anyone would decide to stay here. All I have to say to them is this: ‘Get to know Waco.’ Get to know the people who risked everything to start a business and support them. Get to know the restaurant owners who have chosen to go up against the monster chains and eat there. Get to know the people who give of their time so that they can give to others and serve with them. I guarantee after you get to know the heart of this town, you will love it, too. It’s the local people that make the difference! — Joanna Gaines

(2012) Cameron Park
I have a whole new appreciation (and respect) for the park this year. In March, I ran the Bearathon, a half-marathon sponsored by Baylor University’s Student Foundation. The 13.1-mile course began and ended on the Baylor campus, but it also took us up and down the hilly roads of Cameron Park. The park is well kept and has trails for running and bicycling. We ran by areas for picnicking as well as playgrounds and splash parks. Exploring that much of the park on foot, rather than seeing it from a car or a motorcycle, was a nice change of pace. — Kevin Tankersley

(2012) Bluebonnets
Since Waco is the only city in Texas I’ve called home, it’s taken me a while to distinguish which idiosyncrasies I experience are due to being in Texas versus being in Waco specifically. This year I learned that not all Texans get to see the ground erupt into blue during April. When we drove to San Antonio for Easter, I was surprised to see a large field outside my in-laws’ subdivision that was simply… green. It was a little sad when I thought about how beautiful it could be if we just brought some of those vibrant flowers from Waco to spruce up the place. — Heather Garcia

(2012) Baylor Homecoming
We love Waco because it was the very first place our two boys experienced a college football homecoming parade and game. Visiting the bears and the funnel cakes are still a hit many years later. — Tara Tennant

(2012) HOT Dog Park
Finally, Waco has an off-leash dog park, and it’s pretty awesome. The Heart of Texas (HOT) Dog Park just opened this past October, and it has three-and-half acres of open space for friendly dogs to play and run. With lots of trees, benches and pathways, it’s a lovely park that humans can enjoy, too. There’s really nothing like seeing my dog, Sirius, run at full speed, happy and free. The park is located on Steinbeck Bend just past Lake Shore Drive, and it’s open free of charge from dawn ‘til dusk. — Kathleen Seaman

(2012) Waco Civic Theatre
I love the Waco Civic Theatre! Last year we saw “My Fair Lady,” and it was so good! This year we are planning to see “Chicago.” What you might not realize about the theater is that almost everyone involved — from actors to production staff — are all volunteers. It is a blessing to have a local theater of this caliber! Great idea for something to do on a Friday or Saturday night. — Stacy York Isom

(2012) Baylor Sports
Baylor sports have recently experienced a level of success never before seen on the Waco campus. And the three sports with the highest profiles — football and men’s and women’s basketball — won a combined 80 games this year. Thanks to another part-time job I hold, I got to see those pretty up-close as well. With winning comes increased media coverage, as seen in Baylor’s profiles in The New York Times and Sports Illustrated, and it’s been interesting to see how all of that has been handled behind the scenes. Baylor’s athletic communications staff, the folks who deal with the media, did an outstanding job this past year. They have to balance the needs (sometimes demands) of the media with the schedules of the players and coaches. Kudos. — Kevin Tankersley

(2012) TSTC’s New Culinary Building
For years, the culinary program at Texas State Technical College was housed in a World War II-era building that had its shortcomings. Still, the staff and students there did an admirable job of not only handling the academic aspect of their program, but feeding the public the two days a week the cafeteria was open in order to showcase the culinary work of the students by serving gourmet lunches. This semester, however, the program moved to the new Greta W. Watson Culinary Arts Center on Campus Drive, a few blocks away. Three new professional kitchens replace the single workspace, the dining room is open, airy and bright and still serves lunch on Wednesday and Friday. — Kevin Tankersley

(2013) Lake Waco Wetlands
A hidden nature oasis! Our family loves to plan day and evening trips to the Lake Waco Wetlands. The kids love to hunt for frogs and watch the ducks. A little fishing, some hiking, maybe a picnic lunch along the way — what a great way to spend a beautiful day outdoors! There is no better way to learn about nature than being out in it. Educational and fun. Truly a Waco gem! — Heidi Dossey

(2013) Rowing on the Brazos River at Sunset
One of the best things about being on the Baylor Crew team is that we have an incredible venue for rowing: the Brazos River. It’s wide, usually clear and calm, and during sunset, it is one of the best views in town, possibly in Texas. — Caitlin Nowak

(2013) Hawaiian Falls
Never again will my children be able to say during the summer, “There’s nothing to do!” Oh, yes, there is. Last summer, we purchased four season passes to Hawaiian Falls, the then-new waterpark that replaced the city’s outdated one. That was a well-spent $281.40. We visited at least twice a week for the entire summer. Our kids loved the wave pool, and they spent plenty of time on the water slides as well. My wife and I were happy just to float on the lazy river. — Kevin Tankersley

(2013) Waco’s Future
What I love about Waco is that there is so much to look forward to! With a beautiful new Baylor Stadium coming soon and its positive effect on riverfront development, new hotels and restaurants being planned, exciting arts initiatives, a thriving downtown and the addition of new stores and new jobs with the expansion of the Central Texas Marketplace, Waco’s future has never been brighter! — Anna Edwards Henderson

(2014) Rooftop Deck at Dichotomy
The rooftop deck at Dichotomy, which offers a great view of downtown as well as the blue-and-white-striped “Waco” mural, is the perfect place to hang out and socialize over drinks when the weather is nice. Plus, dogs are welcome! — Chelsea Santos

(2014) Waco Civic Theatre
I always find it more enjoyable to see a live performance than the latest movie on the screen. Each time I’ve been to the Waco Civic Theatre, I’ve been captivated by the talented cast of actors. It’s even more impressive when I realize that these are everyday Wacoans with jobs and families who put so much time and effort into making quality performances. We are fortunate to have such talented and willing people in our midst. — Heather Garcia

Waco and Baylor University have become more and more well-known as our student-athletes continue to bring us national attention. I have been attending games with my mom and dad for as long as I can remember and to this day, I still love going. I even have my husband rooting for the Bears now — we joke he is a Baylor Bear by marriage. I enjoy seeing how supportive the community has been to our hometown school. What a great year it has been, and I look forward to the games in the gorgeous new stadium. — Angela Karr

(2014) Chocolate Mousse Pie
Grabbing a slice of chocolate mousse pie with my dad at The Coffee Shop in McGregor has become a biweekly tradition. I generally forget to order an entree to go with it, but there’s protein in chocolate right? — Cydney Waitley

(2014) Martin Museum of Art
There are other museums in Waco that get lots of attention and deservedly so, but sitting quietly just inside the Baylor campus is the Martin Museum of Art in the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center. It’s open every day but Monday and hosts several outstanding exhibitions every year. – Kevin Tankersley

(2014) First Fridays
On the first Friday of each month, businesses in downtown Waco stay open later than usual for an event called First Friday Waco. These businesses often provide drinks, appetizers and live music, all while giving customers an opportunity to browse their stores after work. It’s a great time to socialize, find great deals and grab an early bite to eat at one of Waco’s fabulous food trucks. — Rachel Whyte

(2014) Jacob’s Ladder
Depending on your level of fitness and sense of adventure, this might actually be a reason to hate Waco. Built in the early 1900s, this zigzagging staircase at the south end of Cameron Park has nearly 100 stone steps that lead through the woods to a green meadow and clubhouse. Some say the staircase is haunted and that if you climb it at night, you might feel something tugging at your clothes. But Jacob’s Ladder will leave your heart pounding whether you believe in ghosts or not. — Gretchen Eichenberg

(2014) Outdoor Opportunities
As an outdoors girl I’m so thankful Waco has really worked to highlight our area’s natural resources. Cameron Park is an incredible gem with over 20 miles of hiking trails (ranging from the easy green River Trail to double black advanced trails), well-developed picnic and scenic viewing areas, a disc golf course, children’s water park and playground and some of the best mountain biking in the state. Outfitter Outdoor Waco has recently stepped in to offer paddleboarding, kayaking and canoeing to help people enjoy the benefits of the Brazos River. Or one can stroll along our newly developed river walk that has soothing waterfalls and quacking ducks along the bank. Waco is also home to the Lake Waco Wetlands, a natural habitat for plants and animals. There’s also Woodway Park, Cotton Belt Trail and the beautiful gardens at the Carleen Bright Arboretum. Lake Waco can be seen frequented by sailboats, fishermen and swimmers with a fantastic view from the Twin Bridges. Nature soothes the soul, and the possibilities for discovery are endless in Waco! — Monica Mathis

(2014) Balcones Distillery
For several years, Balcones Distillery has been Waco’s hidden little secret — literally. It’s done business from a metal building under the 17th Street Bridge, a location you’re not likely to just stumble across. In the last couple of years, Balcones has made itself known around the world and in a big way. Founder Chip Tate was named distiller of the year in 2012 by Whisky Magazine and the Craft Distillers’ Association, and Balcones’ single malt scotch won the Best in Glass award that same year — the first win for an American distiller. Earlier this year, the single malt took a trifecta of awards at London’s Wizards of Whisky competition: the World Whisky of the Year, the World Single Malt of the Year and the American Single Malt of the Year. But with this success comes a challenge: Tate and his distillery can’t keep up with demand. It’s hard to find Balcones products on store shelves. That problem may be resolved — at least eventually — when the company moves into the former Texas Fireproof Storage building on South 11th Street, a 65,000-square-foot facility built in 1948. — Kevin Tankersley

(2015) Sheila and Walter Humphrey Bridge at McLane Stadium
Game day is a whole new experience thanks to McLane Stadium. It doesn’t start with kick-off in the new, state-of-the-art facilities, however. It starts with the walk. Whether you park near campus or get shuttled from downtown, eventually everyone joins together to cross the bridge over the Brazos River toward the stadium. If you weren’t excited before, this is the time to get swept away in green and gold fever. On a sunny day, you can look below and see couples paddling canoes as well as decorated pontoons sailgating on the river. Up ahead you catch a view of the stadium looming in the distance. And all around is a buzz of excitement and anticipation for another great game. — Heather Garcia

(2015) Sunsets At Lake Waco
One of the best images to fill up my news feed are pics of the dramatic fuchsia and fiery red sunsets over Lake Waco. Whether they are taken from the 10th hole at Ridgewood Country Club, the landing at Koehne Park or from on top of the dam, these pictures grab my attention and take me on a minivacation every time. Why do Lake Waco sunsets look so incredible? I thought a meteorologist might know, so I asked one. “The best sunsets occur on nights when there are cirrus clouds in the sky,” said Matt Hines, chief meteorologist at KXXV-TV. “They are thin, wispy upper-level clouds, and they contain lots of ice crystals that refract the sunlight onto the water. The reflection causes the sky and the water to appear as one. We seem to have a lots of those nights around here.” The only thing better than seeing these pics in my news feed is experiencing them firsthand. So, make plans and head to the water’s edge facing west. You won’t be disappointed. — Gretchen Eichenberg

Every other year the Waco Symphony Orchestra performs the music from “The Nutcracker.” In our house it is a standing tradition that the girls and I go to the ballet. We all look forward to attending at the beginning of the holiday season, each of us wearing new dresses. I can see all three of us still going when they are in college and even when they have kids of their own. — Michelle Johnson

(2015) Lavender Earl Grey Tea
In preparation for the April issue of the Wacoan, I met Waco Arts Alliance Coordinator Fiona Bond at Dichotomy Coffee & Spirits. Fiona ordered the Lavender Earl Grey Tea, and I followed suit because Fiona is from Scotland and I trusted her opinion. That was the best brew I’ve tasted since living in London, and our conversation was even better. — Caitlin Giddens

(2015) LIONS
The lions at the zoo! — Diane Denney Lipsey

Nothing beats the feeling of seeing McLane Stadium slowly appear above I-35 and knowing you’re home again! — Lauren Lara

(2015) Curry at Clay Pot
I absolutely love the curry from Clay Pot. It has the perfect amount of spice to warm up your body on a cold winter day. Even in the summer I go there at least twice a week. — Carrie Blain

What an exciting year in Waco with the opening of the brand-new McLane Stadium and the reopening of the 100-year-old Waco Hippodrome. In case you’ve lived under a rock these past several months, the beloved building has been remodeled into a dine-in movie theater and event venue, complete with a restaurant and bar. The Hippodrome offers current box office films, but also features classic hits like “When Harry Met Sally” and “Top Gun.” While there’s a lot of cool things going on around town, I’ve found the Hippodrome has been the one thing that consistently attracts my husband and I to drive downtown for the evening, simply because there’s nothing else in Waco like it! — Heather Garcia

(2015) Jones Concert Hall
I never listened to or enjoyed classical music before going to college. That probably would not have changed, except for the fact that my friend was in the campus orchestra at Baylor, and being a good friend meant going to her orchestra concerts. I remember the first time I entered the breathtaking Jones Concert Hall. I was content to sit and listen to the beautiful music while staring at the grand organ pipes that formed the backdrop to the orchestra. It was in this room that I developed an appreciation for strings and realized just how powerful music can be (even without words!). — Heather Garcia

(2015) Carleen Bright Arboretum
I love the Carleen Bright Arboretum with its scenic trails and indoor art displays! — Carol Call

(2015) Friendly Biking Community
Since I was a kid I have loved the freedom and independence of being on my bicycle — hair blowing in the wind. I recently posted a pic from a heart-pumping bike trip across the Lake Waco Dam and back in 30-mile-per-hour wind. A friend commented that she’d been out there that morning, too, and that the dam was her shortcut on a 25-mile ride. Shortcut? I could have felt slighted by her remark, but she was genuinely interested in hearing about my biking adventures, and I would love to hear more about hers. And that’s something I love about Waco: There are fun and interesting places for anyone and everyone to bike, and cyclists are usually so friendly! I have a Trek hybrid — a kind of adventure-mountain-street bike. I take it everywhere, from the trails in Cameron Park to the streets all over town. I may not look like a pro, but I enjoy riding to clear my mind and as a way to hang out with friends and family. And I always get a nod or wave from a few of those serious, neon spandex-clad pros out there, maybe because we share a common respect for two-wheel transportation. Many streets now have bike lanes, which makes street riding safer and more comfortable. Whether you’ve got a cruiser with a basket and bell, a serious tri bike, or like me, something in-between, you can cover a lot of the same ground as others and feel really good doing it. — Gretchen Eichenberg

I enjoy all of the growing attractions in Waco along with an original, the Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo. My husband and I met in high school, and one of our date night go-to’s was definitely the fair. I don’t think you can go wrong with turkey legs and funnel cakes! — Cathie Tarango

(2015) Proctor Springs
I proposed to my future wife at Proctor Springs on a rainy night. — Roy Nash

(2015) Woodway Park
My husband, Luke, and I recently bought a new home in Woodway, and we’ve discovered the gem that is Woodway Park. What a pleasant surprise! The many trails make you feel like you are in a wooded adventureland. For my outdoorsy Coloradan husband, this was like hitting the jackpot! We can’t wait for the many walks to the park that are in our future. — Rachel Whyte

The musical pull Common Grounds brings to Central Texas is incredible and a true service to the community. The venue presents the perfect audience size, allowing for the feel of exclusivity and personal connection. With every concert announcement, I get more and more impressed. Oh, and did I mention ice cream is in the works? My three favorite things have officially united: coffee, ice cream and music. Hats off to you, Common Grounds. — Cydney Waitley

(2015) Stair Step Stream
The elusive Waco Waterfall is nice, yes. But everyone overlooks the trickle-down stair step stream that stems from the falls. It’s gorgeous! — Cydney Waitley

(2016) LED Lights on I-35
Riding back to work each evening, especially on rainy evenings, and seeing the glow of the new lights on the bridge to McLane Stadium. The stadium, of course, is stunning. But kudos to whoever decided to place the glorious LED lights along the bridge. It’s a lovely welcome to Waco. — Robert Darden

(2016) Melody Ranch
Melody Ranch for dancing your boots off all night long. — Desiree Harris-Casey

(2016) Sounds of SpaceX Tests
At first it sounds like a large truck coming down the street, but as the sounds gets louder and starts to rattle the dishes in the china cabinet, I realize it’s another rocket engine test at SpaceX in McGregor. Start the stopwatch on the phone; let’s see how long it lasts: 30 seconds, 60, 90, sometimes even 180 seconds.
As a child who watched Gemini and Apollo rockets on television take astronauts with names like Grissom, Armstrong and Shepard into space and then on to the moon, these rocket tests fill me with wonder and awe. How soon will we return to the moon? When will we go to Mars? Will space tourism become a reality for me? (Gosh, I hope so.)
To our local rocket scientists at SpaceX, keep on rattling my dishes. I love the sound of your engines and the future it announces. — James A. Karn

(2016) Change-Makers of Waco
I love the extraordinarily talented, creative, authentic, resilient, vibrant and diverse change-makers of Waco. I love those who work tirelessly founding and running grass roots movements and programs to create opportunities for visual artists, poets, musicians and makers of every form and fashion to thrive — programs like Central Texas Artist Collective, Waco Poets Society, Act Locally Waco and In the Words of Womyn-Heart of Texas. — Jenuine Poetess

(2016) Collaboration at the Chamber
From their collaborative work in economic development, public policy, talent development, special events, community partnership, education and mentoring programs (to name a few), the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce strives to help make Waco the most livable and economically vibrant midmarket region in Texas. — Kim Grayson Meadors

(2017) Ethiopian Coffee Ice Cream at Heritage Creamery
If you want to find out the flavors of ice cream that are available before heading to Heritage Creamery, simply call up its Instagram page. There, you’ll see a lovely photograph of some of Heritage’s products and that day’s flavors. There are usually 11 or 12 varieties available, and, lucky for us, Ethiopian coffee ice cream is on the menu most days. We get one scoop in a waffle cone. The cones are thin and crunchy and delicate. They make for a perfect complement to the rich, delicious ice cream. The scoop of Ethiopian coffee doesn’t try to hold back. The flavor of the coffee is strong and pronounced but nicely balanced by the smooth, sweet cream. — Kevin Tankersley

(2017) Cultural Hub
Because as Texas’ newest cultural district, we are seeing Waco become a vibrant cultural hub of activity and innovation before our very eyes. — Fiona Bond

(2017) The Texas Food Truck Showdown
This relatively new event has quickly become one of my favorite things to do in Waco. Every year gets a little bigger and better. They’re prepared for the big crowds now with a wide-open layout and lots of picnic tables in the shade. The food gets better every year too. These trucks come from near and far, each offering one signature dish — staples like sliders and chicken to tantalizing treats like Hawaiian lau lau and Puerto Rican pollo guisado. Oh, and the desserts. Let’s not forget the gourmet donuts and cookie dough egg rolls. Everyone brings their A-game to win the big prize, and we get to benefit from their culinary creativity. It’s a fun atmosphere with live music, vendors and people milling about with their kids and dogs. I genuinely can’t wait til next April when we get to go again! — Heather Garcia

(2017) Sleepovers at Cameron Park Zoo
This past fall our brownie troop slept overnight at the zoo. With the glow of the aquarium as our nightlight, we put our sleeping bags on the floor after our personal guided tour of the lion and tiger dens. The best part was waking up to a beautiful sunrise at the zoo the next morning. — Michelle Johnson

(2017) Three-Cheese Macaroni from Vitek’s
If you’re a mac & cheese snob like myself, then you need to try this. It’s a must-have on my (frequent) visits to Vitek’s. Pair it with the homemade sausage and a sweet tea, and you will be in barbecue heaven. — Wacoan staff

(2017) The ALICO is our compass
When I first moved to Waco, one of my friends found herself downtown with no idea how to get home. In a panic, she called another friend whose first question was, “Can you see the ALICO building?” My friend locked eyes on the building and was instantly calm, assured she would be able to figure out where she was and make it back home. Every time I’ve seen those 5 red letters since, I’ve been reminded that I will make it back home. I love the idea that we have this one beautiful, historic landmark that can help us center ourselves and figure out where we are. — Becca Causey

(2017) Cameron Park Bike Trails
The bike trails at Cameron Park. — Reyna Perales Reyes

(2017) The Grocery Store Exhibit at the Mayborn Museum
Whether your child wants to play pretend or flex their organizational skills by rearranging the shelves, the grocery store is a delightful addition to the already fabulous Mayborn Museum. — Elizabeth Oates

(2017) Winding, Tree-Shrouded Drives in Cameron Park
Oh, I love Cameron Park – that rare jewel on the Brazos: Miss Nellie’s Pretty Place, the Pecan Bottoms, Lover’s Leap, the giant fields, the hidden parks and meadows, the bike trails, the views. But where the Cameron family’s gift to Waco is most special, most magical to me, are the tree-shrouded drives just to get from one place to the next. I’ve been driving the park since 1972 and I still get turned around (read: nearly lost) showing out-of-town guests this maze-like park. It’s like being in the West Country of England, nearly lost on back country secluded lanes, only instead of yew trees, you’re shaded by a canopy of mighty Texas oaks. — Robert Darden

(2018) Lemon Lavender Donut Holes at Magnolia Table
If you’re willing to brave the crowds and grab a seat at Magnolia Table, I highly recommend trying the lemon lavender donut holes. You can’t go wrong pairing them with a cup of their Texas Pecan coffee too. — Wacoan staff

(2018) Waco Custom Marketplace
Need to pick up a piece of fresh fish or meat for dinner but don’t want to deal with the grocery store crowds? Waco Custom Marketplace, recently opened by the same folks who own Waco Custom Meats, is the answer. And it’s not just for meat and seafood anymore. They offer fresh local produce, all kinds of spices and seasonings, pastas and sauces, craft beers and wine — and they even have an in-house bakery. It’s definitely worth the stop. — Gretchen Eichenberg

(2018) Pinewood Roasters
I’ve heard the vibe of Pinewood Roasters described as “very Austin,” which I think is a good thing. One of Waco’s newest spots to get freshly ground and brewed coffee, Pinewood Roasters is on the edge of the downtown scene, at 2223 Austin Avenue, so it’s not overcrowded with tourists, and it’s far enough from the Baylor campus that it’s not totally a student hangout. We first visited Pinewood when we needed some locally sourced coffee for a Coffee-Rubbed Cheeseburger recipe we were making for our Food & Drink column in the November 2017 issue of the Wacoan. The fellow behind the counter was patient with us as we described what we were doing, and he was spot-on with his recommendation. — Kevin Tankersley

(2018) Lovers Leap
The view from Lovers Leap is one of my favorites in all of Waco, standing atop a sheer cliff overlooking the Bosque River. I also love the legend attached to Lovers Leap. Two star-crossed Native American lovers whose families forbade their love. They tried to elope but were cornered near a cliff over the Bosque. Instead of living a life apart, they leaped into the river below. The story may or may not be true, but I like to think of it as Waco’s own version of “Romeo and Juliet.” Regardless, I love the gorgeous view. — Richelle Braswell

(2019) Fresh flowers from the farmers market
One of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday morning is strolling through the booths at the Waco Downtown Farmers Market, and nothing brightens up my apartment like bringing a fresh bouquet of flowers home each week. I love them even more since I know they’re locally grown! — Brooke Hill

(2019) The view of the Alico from Z’s at the Curry
Whether it’s a girls night out or date night with your spouse, Z’s at the Curry is the perfect place to go for drinks and conversation while enjoying an awesome view of the Alico from the outdoor patio or inside while sitting in the plush chairs. — Michelle Johnson

(2019) Children’s area at Central Library
The library is my happy place. And thanks to the interactive kids room at Central Library, I think it’s become a happy place for my daughters as well. With lots of toys and puzzles to explore, my girls stay entertained while I browse the children’s books and movies nearby. It’s a win-win for everyone. — Heather Garcia

(2019) Cupp’s Drive-Inn
Though our kids are grown, I still love to stop by Cupp’s and sit at one of the barstools facing the controlled chaos of the tiny kitchen and remember our children’s wide eyes as they watched their hamburgers and French fries come together on that tiny grill. — Robert F. Darden

(2019) Performances at Baylor
One of the benefits in living in a city with a major university is the sheer number of events available to the public each year. In addition to the athletic events that Baylor University’s 17 men’s and women’s teams host, there’s a huge number of cultural events on campus as well. In the past couple of months, we have been to performances by Mandy Harvey, the deaf singer who gained national exposure when she finished in fourth place of the 12th season of “America’s Got Talent,” in 2017; the Grammy Award-winning Third Coast Percussion; as well as Baylor Theatre’s wonderful production of “Peter and the Starcatcher.” The Waco Symphony, which is housed at Waco Hall, hosts a production of “The Nutcracker” every other holiday season and brings in at least one big-name artist a year, including the superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma in 2015. —Abby & Kevin Tankersley

(2019) Slow Rise Slice House
The vibe at Slow Rise Slice House is the best for families. Beer, frosé, delicious pizza by the slice and a safe outdoor play space for kids? That’s a total parenting win. I love being able to socialize with friends (we all need grown-up time to keep our sanity) while our kids play. — Lesley Myrick

(2020) Fabled Bookshop & Cafe
I grew up going to the Book Nook, a bookstore located next door to Montgomery Ward in Lake Air Mall. As far as I can remember, that was the last locally owned store selling new books in Waco. So I was excited when Fabled Bookshop & Café opened at 215 South Fourth Street. There’s a wide selection of books in the bright, airy store; plenty of places to sit and read while drinking coffee from the café; and even a secret entrance to the children’s area. — Kevin Tankersley
As I sat one afternoon at the bar at Fabled with a new book open in one hand, a literary-themed drink in the other and listened to the baristas determine which “Parks & Rec” character they were, I couldn’t help but stop and think “What more could I want?” For this mom of little ones, I’ve found the perfect environment to get some alone time. — Heather Garcia
I’ve always been a sucker for the “kid” drinks. All of the drinks at Fabled have bookish names, and the Frobscottle is my favorite. In the book “The BFG” by Roald Dahl, Frobscottle is a fizzy soda pop drink that causes whizzpoppers (i.e. farts). Luckily this version does NOT cause whizzpoppers or the like, but it’s green, tart and has Pop Rocks in it. I’m here for it. — Kathleen Seaman

(2020) Blackberry Mojito at Brazos Bar & Bistro
A little minty, a little sweet and the perfect summertime cocktail. — Jen Naylor Gesick

(2020) Concerts at The Backyard
The last one I went to, it was a chilly night, but everyone crowded around the large fire pits. It turned out to be a perfect evening for Texas music and making new friends. — Jen Naylor Gesick

(2020) The Wise Elephant sculpture
Since having my daughter this past year, my husband and I purchased zoo passes and have spent a lot of time at Cameron Park Zoo. One of my favorite exhibits is the elephants, so when I spotted the elephant sculpture in the Waco Sculpture Zoo series, I was immediately drawn to it. Most of the other sculptures are realistic in nature, but this big guy sitting on the bench pondering life just makes me smile. — Wacoan staff

(2020) Revival Eastside Eatery
Revival Eastside Eatery was a nice addition to Elm Avenue, which has good barbecue at one end and good coffee, breakfast and lighter lunches at the other. The menu at Revival, 704 Elm Avenue, is heavy on sandwiches and burgers, with specials rotating frequently. A recent burger offering featured bacon-maple jam, cheddar cheese, hash brown and a fried egg atop a generous beef patty. The Prodigal Son sandwich, with steak and caramelized balsamic onions was also a winner. — Abby & Kevin Tankersley

(2020) Kettle Corn from Chuck’s Gourmet Popcorn
The right blend of salty and sweet, Chuck’s Kettle Corn is light, airy and the perfect treat. With its home base at the Magnolia Silos, Chuck’s main venue for sales was disrupted due to the pandemic but it quickly pivoted to offer pick-up and home delivery, which is free with a purchase of $20 or more. We had our favorite kettle corn delivered several times as a pick-me-up while sheltering in place. Chuck’s is also available on Saturdays at the Waco Downtown Farmers Market. This delectable snack also comes in cinnamon toast, salted caramel and homestyle flavors. — Gretchen Eichenberg

(2020) Valley Mills Vineyards
When we drove to Valley Mills Vineyards new location last year, we felt like we were in Napa Valley. (I know — but, seriously!) Just outside of Waco, the vineyard sits beautifully between several hills. The newly opened tasting room and event venue sits atop a hill with stunning views of the vineyard and gorgeous sunsets. We’ve gone to several private events there, and the hospitality the Bagnasco family has put into this place shows. The wine has won several international awards as well. Open to the public, go enjoy! — Michelle Johnson

(2020) Kinetic wind sculptures
The proliferation of public art in Waco has changed the entire city, making it feel much more vibrant and unique. One of my favorites is the set of three metal kinetic sculptures on Austin Avenue across from the Alico building that were unveiled last March. They dance in the wind and are a beautiful yet sobering memorial to the 1953 Waco tornado and the power of mother nature. — Jen Naylor Gesick

(2020) Fried Pickles at Big’s Mayberry Tavern
The perfect ratio of crispy batter to pickle. And then there’s the ranch dressing — so, so good! — Jen Naylor Gesick

(2020) Koko Ramen
When Texas Monthly barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn visited Koko Ramen inside Union Hall at 720 Franklin Avenue, he tried two varieties of ramen: tonkotsu and shoyu. “I can’t comment on the flavor of the shoyu since I made the mistake of ordering spice level nine, which is their most punishing,” he wrote at TexasMonthly.com. “I can attest that it’s rough to power through the bowl of level nine ramen because the spiciness is dispersed throughout the fatty broth, which is served at an elevated temperature that heightens the burn.” The level three heat was plenty for us, but, like Vaughn, we powered through because the combination of pork belly, noodles, ginger and other ingredients was Just. So. Good. — Abby & Kevin Tankersley

(2021) Zeke at Cameron Park Zoo
Who can resist a baby giraffe? Zeke, born in January of this year, is just the cutest. The giraffes have always been one of my favorite exhibits at the zoo, but now it’s the first place I head to when we get there. — Wacoan staff

(2021) Lalo’s Coffee and Pastries
Lalo’s offers all the typical coffee drinks but adds variety to the menu with Horchata, available with or without a shot of espresso; Abuelita, a sort of Mexican hot chocolate; Abuelita Frappuccino; and other beverages not easily found elsewhere in town. In the pastry case, you’ll find cupcakes, small cakes and Mexican sweets like pan dulce. Lalo’s is located at 1500 Colcord Avenue. — Abby & Kevin Tankersley

(2021) Woodway Park
This park on Lake Waco is a beautiful place for playing disc golf, fishing, having picnics or just hanging out. We enjoy exploring the trails. It’s definitely one of the most peaceful places to visit in Waco. — Cecy Ayala

(2021) Doris Miller Memorial
This important installation, honoring African American WWII hero and Waco native Doris Miller, is worth visiting any time of day. However, I recommend timing your arrival right about when the sun is dipping behind the trees. As the sky darkens, you’ll notice the lights illuminating the ship from below. Make your way along the paved path around the memorial and you’ll hear the trickling of the water feature. It’s such a beautiful, serene scene that you might forget for a moment you’re still standing next to the Brazos River. — Heather Garcia

(2021) Yaki
You know you’ve found a good spot when you’re planning the next time you can visit before you’ve even finished your lunch. Yaki (short for Texas Teriyaki) is basic, but not plain, and that’s the draw. They layer slaw, meat or veggies, rice and a sauce of your choice into a takeout dish of deliciousness. The only hard decision you have to make is which picnic table you will sit at. So y’all, go get yourself some yaki. — Anna Mitchael

(2021) Splash Pad at Chapel Park
This is a go-to spot for us when the weather starts warming up. My daughter loves running from one sprinkler to another while they switch on and off. It’s a great way to cool down and burn off some energy. — Wacoan staff

(2021) Magnolia’s Whiffle Ballfield
The cutest little ballpark in town is downtown. Yep, at the Magnolia Silos. Take your entire family and play — seriously! Enjoy yourself like you are a kid again. Equipped with plastic bats, whiffle balls and a miniature scoreboard, this is free entertainment. The choice is yours if you want to spend money. I have walked by this charming ballfield (that connects the old market to the new) from the development stages until now, and it is darling, from the concession stand and mini food trucks to the stands behind home plate. I dare you not to participate, even if you are only people watching. — Michelle Johnson

(2021) Blackberry Pineapple Margarita at Buzzard Billy’s
Every time I go to Buzzard Billy’s I have to treat myself to this margarita. It comes with a large slice of pineapple as the garnish and muddled blackberries in the bottom. It’s so refreshing and a perfect sidekick for my go-to meal, Fettuccine Alfredeaux with blackened chicken. — Rachel Love

(2021) Poage Park
A Woodway favorite in our house. We love spending the morning at Poage Park, specifically in the little kid section toward the front. The slides and swings are perfect for my very adventurous, soon-to-be 2-year-old. My personal favorite spot is the mommy-and-me swing. We both have fun every time we go. — Wacoan staff

(2021) Special orders at Fabled Bookshop
Even if Fabled doesn’t have the book you want in store, the staff will special order it for you. I’ve stopped going to Amazon for physical books, and now I get them from Fabled. — Kathleen Seaman

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