43 Reasons to Love Waco

By Richelle Braswell, Robert F. Darden, Revekah Echols, Heather Garcia, Jen Naylor Gesick, Brooke Hill, Michelle Johnson, Anna Mitchael, Lesley Myrick, Brittany Ross, Kathleen Seaman and Abby & Kevin Tankersley

Pictured: Photos by Cecy Ayala, Brianna Boreggo, Grace-Marie Brunken, Michelle Johnson, Taylor Mezger, Brittany Ross and Lindsey Wachsmann and provided by Third Coast Percussion and Courtney Yarbrough

It’s not uncommon these days to see an article circulating around the internet declaring the top places to visit when in Waco. And while our popular attractions are certainly worth exploring, they are simply the tip of the iceberg of all that our city has to offer. To get a better, richer depiction, the experts to consult are not travel writers but real Wacoans who live here, work here and raise their families here. That’s why each year we ask our contributors to tell us why they love our city. From talented musicians like Pat McKee to hot new food trucks like Churros’ Time, this year we present to you, in no particular order, 43 reasons to love Waco.

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1. Brunch on the patio of The Raleigh

The only thing better than a good brunch is a good brunch enjoyed al fresco. The Raleigh Diner at the Hippodrome has one of the best patios in town, with a great view of Austin Avenue. Just imagine sipping on a cup of coffee, eating some French toast topped with berries and enjoying the beautiful weather. That’s my kind of morning! — Brittany Ross

2. Dr. Kerry Burkley

Pastor of Greater Ebenezer Baptist Church, Dr. Kerry Burkley is a lovely human being and a talented preacher. He’s also one of the very best I’ve ever heard at reciting/interpreting — usually from memory — the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Kerry recreates every cadence, every pause, every rolled “R” and every resonance of King’s extraordinary voice. It’s inspirational, uplifting and a little spooky all at the same time. — Robert F. Darden

3. Hustle

For solo entrepreneurs and small-business owners, Hustle Co-Working on Austin Avenue is awesome. The space itself is beautiful and professional, but even more valuable than that is the community and support they’re creating and nurturing between Waco professionals. I love the focus and inspiration I find there when I need to get stuff done! — Lesley Myrick

4. Brew at the Zoo

A night at the zoo tasting craft beers and ciders, enjoying live music and food trucks — this is the perfect group date. We went with friends for the first time last year, and I have no idea why we waited so long to check it out. We had a great time, and I discovered a new cider I love: Locust Cider’s Dark Cherry. Plus, when you compare Waco’s event to similar ones at other zoos, ours is a steal. Here, admission is $45, and you get a beer passport for 20 samples. In Dallas and Houston you only get six! (Just a tip: if you want to see the animals, be sure to get there as soon as the event starts. The zoo lets them stay out until 8 p.m., but it starts getting dark around 7, and the animals either head off to bed, or they’re just hard to see because the enclosures aren’t lighted.) — Kathleen Seaman

5. 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

6. 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

7. Courtney Yarbrough at Salons by JC

I’ve always had the worst luck finding a hairstylist. I’ve had a few move; I’ve had some terrible customer service (once, I was handed a hair dryer and told to dry my own hair); I’ve dealt with arbitrary price hikes (every time I went to one stylist, it was $5 more than the last time); I’ve had stylists that you had to book months in advance, and then apparently, I have some crazy cowlicks that make my hair hard to cut evenly. Well, I’ve lived in Waco for almost 20 years, and I finally found a hairstylist. I’ve been going to Courtney Yarbrough for four years now, and she is amazing. She’s from Waco, so I don’t think she’s going anywhere (fingers crossed); she can always get me in within a week; she hasn’t raised her prices on me once; she rocks at cutting my hair (she does color, microblading and makeup, too!); and then, she’s just about the sweetest person you’ll ever meet. — Kathleen Seaman

8. 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

9. Rev. Ali Chappell DeHay

Since our children are both in middle school, that means they’re both in the youth group at Calvary Baptist Church, which is under the leadership of the (recently ordained) Rev. Ali Chappell DeHay, the minister to youth. She’s been at the church for five years and has had quite the positive effect on the youth programs. Our kids love her. “She’s funny, and she’s really nice,” Brazos said, while Sophie added, “She is very supportive.” A random poll of other parents of young people at the church brought about similar responses: “She isn’t afraid to step into the dark places where the answers aren’t easy, both in her ministry to us and in her exploration of the Bible and questions about faith with the youth.” “She is quirky and fun and never passes up an opportunity for a good belly laugh.” “She is not afraid to allow the youth to know her strengths, weaknesses, grief and hopes. She gives them a model to be their true selves and love themselves as they are.”
— Abby & Kevin Tankersley

10. Revamped Westview Lanes

Have you been to AMF Westview Lanes lately? This is not the sad, drab bowling alley from my high school days. It’s had a major facelift. The shoe counter has been moved, a huge arcade has been added, it has a legit bar, all the lane seating and monitors have been updated, and the entire back wall is now a giant video wall that plays music videos and sporting events. I went to a work event here recently, and we had so much fun. The atmosphere was great, and even our out-of-town guests were impressed. If you haven’t been in a couple years, now’s the time to check it out. And take advantage of AMF’s daily specials like Sunday Funday ($3.14 a game after 6 p.m.), Monday Mayhem (unlimited bowling and shoes for $13.79 a person) and $2.22 Tuesdays ($2.22 games and $2.22 food and drink specials). — Kathleen Seaman

11. The weather, aka No snow!

I have a running joke with my coworkers when they complain about any aspect of the weather here. Whether it’s about the rain or storm clouds rolling in, I always reply, “At least it’s not snowing!” We complain about the heat in the summer, and I get it. But as a native Wacoan and fifth generation Texan displaced by the U.S. Air Force (by way of marriage) to places like the Black Hills of South Dakota, I can tell you that if you have any romantic notions of the beauty and serenity of glistening snow gently falling and delicately decorating the ground and tips of tree branches, they’re overblown. Snow is nice on Christmas morning. And skiing, whether downhill or cross country, is pretty fun (sans the ton of gear to haul around and the air that hurts your face). But 70 mph winds and blizzards from October to May aren’t fun. The first snow of the year is always magical. When it’s still snowing in April — that’s another story. The snow gets dirty and gross, and shoveling the driveway and sidewalk gets really old really quick. In Waco, we enjoy mild winters (though by the looks of ya’ll bundled up in North Face gear when it drops below 60, you wouldn’t know it!), and the beauty of bluebonnets and green grass in March and April, like God intended, just further proves to me that Waco is actually heaven on Earth. So let’s enjoy these beautiful, sunny summer days to come, and get your snow in a cone flavored with the sugary syrup of your liking. — Jen Naylor Gesick

12. Picnics at Brazos Park East

This park has some of the most stunning views in town. There’s nothing better than gathering a few friends on a sunny day and having a picnic overlooking the river and cliffs. — Brooke Hill

13. Macadamia Nut Cappuccino from Café Cappuccino

Sweet. Creamy. Delicious. — Brittany

14. Churros’ Time Waco

I’ll be the first to admit that my sweet tooth has been a little out of control lately, so when I heard about a churro truck in town, I had to give it a go. My favorite is the churro cup with a scoop of ice cream, cajeta and whipped cream. Simple, but perfect. — Brittany Ross

15. Dr. Marla Hendricks and staff at Crossroads Animal Clinic & Hospital

My critters are my world, and Dr. Marla Hendricks and her staff helped save our Tuxedo kitty Puck. Most of last year, while she was still a kitten, she had feline histoplasmosis and a 10% chance of survival. Fast forward a year later, she’s healthy, playful and mischievous — properly so since she’s named after the sprite from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare. It was a long road to recovery for Puck, for us and for everyone at Crossroads. While I know my parents and I played a part in Puck’s recovery by being diligent in her daily care, I also know Dr. Hendricks helped tremendously. She made sure we knew exactly what we had to do. Dr. Hendricks was blunt from the very beginning, not sugarcoating anything, which I appreciated. She made it clear she would not tell us what decisions to make, though she would stick with us every step of the way. And she did. She researched as much as she could to help us over the months, and this February Puck was cleared as having absolutely no trace of the infection in her body. Without Dr. Hendricks’ investment in Puck and her health, I’m not sure Puck would still be here. When we took her to the clinic for checkups, we usually left her at Crossroads for the day, and the staff fell in love with her during those times. The close care and attention of Dr. Hendricks and her staff helped Puck survive. From the bottom of my heart (and Puck’s heart), thank you. — Richelle Braswell

16. 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

17. Pat McKee

Waco is blessed with a host of talented musicians who play at various functions and restaurants around town, but the one who always stops me in my tracks is guitarist Pat McKee. I find myself being annoyed when people try to talk to me while he’s playing. At a function in March at the Hilton, his haunting rendition of “People Get Ready” brought me to tears. — Robert F. Darden

18. Club Sandwich

If you’re willing to brave the crowds at the Silos, Club Sandwich is a must try. The build-your-own style menu lets you choose base options, proteins and sauces. I recently tried the rice bowl with chicken bulgogi, and call me crazy, but I went with two sauces on top — cilantro lime and sriracha ranch. A-mazing. — Brittany Ross

19. Front desk staff at WRS Athletic Club

Sometimes you want to work out, and other times you end up walking through the front doors of the gym so that the guilt of your morning trip through the Shipley’s drive-thru — “’cause your kids wanted a donut” — won’t weigh heavy on your heart (or other, more visible body parts). No matter your mood or motivation, the front desk staff at WRS always manages to lift you up and make you feel like you CAN do it. Because you can DO it. You can do IT. YOU CAN DO IT. You’ve got this workout. And they’ve got your back. And your towel. And smiles to help you go the miles. — Anna Mitchael

20. Hewitt Park’s toddler-friendly playground

You don’t fully appreciate a toddler-friendly playground until you’ve ventured off to a new park with your 3-year-old and 1-year-old only to find “For ages 5-12” on the entrance sign. At that point there’s no going back, for once a playground is spotted by little eyes it must be explored. So you do what any good parent would do and walk precariously over the rail-less bridge, hunched over with two tiny hands grasping your own. You spot your preschooler while she climbs slowly and shakily up to the top level, heart pounding every second. And you make a promise to yourself to never return again — you’ll gladly make the trek across town to the nice, safe playground at Hewitt Park with the squishy flooring and gradually inclining ramps for a chance to sit back and watch the kids have fun. — Heather Garcia

21. Dr. Samuel Clark

Finding a pediatrician for your precious little ones can be daunting, but we hit the jackpot with Dr. Clark. I never feel rushed during our well-child checkups;
Dr. Clark takes time to check in on how we’re doing as a family and examines our kids in whatever way works best for that day — on the exam room table, in mommy’s arms, on the floor. He takes our questions seriously and offers simple, yet thorough, answers. But it’s his sense of humor that makes him especially endearing to our family. There’s always plenty of laughs, which makes our doctor visits something to look forward to each time. We love Dr. Clark! — Heather Garcia

22. Key Lime Pie from One Thirty Five Prime

I’m not sure if it’s possible to have a light and refreshing yet rich and creamy dessert at the same time, but One Thirty Five darn-sure accomplished this. I’m a big sucker for anything with coconut so I was sold the second I read “with a scoop of coconut gelato” under the Key lime pie on the dessert menu. It’s the perfect combination of flavors! — Brittany Ross

23. Unveiling mystery books at Hewitt Public Library

On a recent rainy Saturday I took our daughter, Katherine, and a friend, to the Hewitt Public Library. When we arrived, the display of the month featured dozens of wrapped books with a message instructing to unwrap a book and reveal a prize. “Prize” meaning to unwrap the book and actually start reading! What a clever way to get two 11-year-olds to read a new genre right away. Both girls thought this was great! They also picked out a new audiobook and started reading in Katherine’s favorite spot, a couch enclosed by books. — Michelle Johnson

24. 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

25. Diane & Kevin Barrera

We recently undertook the task of landscaping our yard. Diane and Kevin at Barrera’s Nursery & Landscape were incredibly helpful for us first-timers, from helping us design the simple style we wanted, to walking us through how to care for the plants we chose. — Brittany Ross

26. Waco Hippodrome’s new theaters & reclining seats

The Waco Hippodrome’s new theaters are superb with their giant, comfy, reclining seats. A food tray with a cup holder attaches to the right arm and can be stretched across the seat or moved to the side. Under the left arm resides a button to summon a waiter when you want to order food or a drink. The sound system was also fantastic and nothing like the one used in the older Hippodrome theater. I loved the experience so much I went back a second time and took a blanket to throw across my legs, which made everything even better. — Richelle Braswell

27. Ginger tea at Clay Pot

A steamimg pot of ginger tea at Clay Pot. Incredibly soothing and self-indulgent. Is this dessert? Or something … more? — Robert F. Darden

28. The miracle of the Drug Emporium

Last year, I wanted to try an electrolyte supplement with a specific ratio of magnesium and sodium. I fully intended to order it online but happened to be on Bosque Boulevard, so I made a stop at Drug Emporium with managed expectations. I ended up walking out with exactly what I was looking for and a new curiosity as to this Pandora’s box of health supplements. Magnesium threonate was a yes, as was sulforaphane and even grass-fed collagen gelatin. (Am I starting to sound like a hypochondriac or someone with an aggressive fear of aging?) Need a random volcanic rock salt? This is your place. Seventeen varieties of seaweed snack chips? A resounding yes. You can even find an assortment from local dairy Mill-King without making the worthwhile, but long, drive out to its McGregor creamery. It’s all a bit like Jesus feeding the 5,000. You reach into the basket, and the fish or loaf just keeps materializing. Maybe a Mary Poppins analogy is more appropriate. Either way, it’s no secret, but it’s one of the wonderfully surprising and consistent things about this town that I love. — Revekah Echols

29. Alba’s Pupusas

Every time we go to the Waco Downtown Farmers Market it’s a new adventure. I never know who will be strumming their guitar under the tree, what smells might entice me to check out a new booth, who we might spy across the market (out-of-town college friends we haven’t seen in 10 years? Sure!) or what perfectly ripe fruit might trigger me to pull out my wallet. However, the one thing I can count on is that we’ll always start off with some pork and cheese pupusas from Alba’s Pupusas. This stuffed flatbread is warm and delicious right off the griddle, but it must be eaten with the curtido slaw and salsa for the full experience. — Heather Garcia

30. Dr. Herb Cox

Both of our children are at Midway Middle School this year, and we could not be more pleased with the experience they’ve had there so far. And the reason that things have gone so well start at the top. Dr. Herb Cox has been the principal at Midway Middle School since 2012, and, unlike most middle school parents, he loves spending time around middle school students. Every year at the parent meeting before the school year, he emphasizes how much he enjoys the 1,200 or so students at his school. His passion for getting his students to read and his mission to keep the school safe and bully-free brings me to tears every time I hear him speak. On Twitter, he’s constantly encouraging lawmakers in Austin to make decisions that are in the best interest of public schools across the state, and he’s quick to call out those who don’t do so. — Abby & Kevin Tankersley

31. Art classes at Paper Crown

Fifth grade girls love art! Cindy Winter at Paper Crown recently offered art classes, and our girls were all over it. At this age they can mix different materials without too much supervision, and art and friendship just go hand in hand. — Michelle Johnson

32. $10 bag day at the book sale

The Friends of the McLennan County Library book sale typically takes place the first weekend in November, a notoriously busy Waco weekend. If you possess any sort of self-control when it comes to buying books and can wait, the best day to go to the book sale is the last day, Sunday, aka $10 Bag Day. As soon as you walk in the door, a volunteer will hand you a paper H-E-B sack, and then you walk around cramming in as many books as you can fit, all for just 10 bucks. You can get more bags if you need them and fill those puppies up, and each one of those will also be just $10. But, if you’re like me when it comes to bargain books, you can just give in and go during your lunch break on Friday, a couple of hours on Saturday and still walk out with a bag or two on Sunday. Whatever your little bookworm heart can handle. — Kathleen Seaman

33. Michelada & mimosa at Milo All Day

First let me say, if you haven’t taken a selfie or a photo in the bathroom at Milo — do it! You’re welcome. But on a different visit, Robert and I sat out on the patio at the end of the bar. That Saturday as we enjoyed our Michelada and mimosa, it felt like the first official sign of spring. It was the perfect way to spend our afternoon. — Michelle Johnson

34. Tortilleria Santana

The tamales were my entry point and the burritos are a solid choice, but my regular purchase is a large pack of the freshly made flour tortillas. They take meals up a notch. But the real treat is taking one out of the bag as soon as you get in the car and eating it — warm, plain and perfect — on the drive home. — Anna Mitchael

35. Elegant Nails & Spa co-owners Tracy and Jade

I love when I get to treat myself to a mani-pedi. Elegant Nails co-owners Tracy and Jade go above and beyond to make sure your experience is the best it can be. They recently remodeled and expanded the building, and it’s now so open and beautiful. If you haven’t been to check it out, I highly recommend you stop what you’re doing and go treat yourself right now! — Brittany Ross

36. McLennan County Courthouse steps

Our courthouse is known for being an impressive building, and the steps out front are one of the best picture spots in town. The height of the steps makes it easy to stagger people for larger group photos, and they’re so tall that they give a cool optical illusion coming inward. — Brooke Hill

37. A reputation to take pride in

I was in fifth grade when the whole Branch Davidian thing went down. That means I spent my years in college, and for a while beyond that, answering questions from curious outsiders about the whole debacle. I know some native Wacoans might not feel the same way as I do, but I’m beyond grateful for Chip and Joanna Gaines and their show, “Fixer Upper.” Mostly because in the past few years while living in far-off lands making small talk with folks at Little League games — as a military spouse where almost no one is native to the place they live — I’d often be asked, “Where are you from?” Of course, I always anticipated this question, but since the Gaineses hit the scene, thrusting Waco into the national spotlight in such a positive way, I haven’t felt the same anxiety and need to defend my beloved Waco. This beautiful place has finally received the recognition it deserves for all the beauty and quaintness it holds. And the attention, for better or worse, has at least made it easier for those of us from here to stand a little taller and proudly say, “I grew up in Waco, Texas.” — Jen Naylor Gesick

38. H-E-B Blooms

What girl doesn’t love flowers? They are the best way to bring life and color into a room. H-E-B always has the best selection, from the beautiful white hydrangeas — my favorite — to the big sunflowers and the succulents. They never disappoint. — Brittany Ross

39. Breakfast at Vero’s

Waco has dozens of mom and pop Mexican restaurants. And I should know — I’ve tried most of them. It’s hard to pick a favorite. But if I want my eggs done over medium, the bacon crisped just right and the potatoes crunchy (not this side of raw), I always see the lovely folks at Vero’s (Veronica’s) at 17th Street and Franklin Avenue. — Robert F. Darden

40. Fred Gardner at Waco Cultural Arts Fest

We’ve been to Waco Cultural Arts Fest almost every year since it began in 2004. And no many how many times we visit or how much art we see, we always return to the tent of Fred Gardner, an artist based in Coppell. It’s always a pleasure to talk to Fred and his wife, Glo Dean. While Fred is on the quiet side, Glo Dean is eager to talk about her husband’s work and how he came up with the idea for a piece or how he executed it. We’ve bought two pieces of Fred’s art: a small, framed painting he calls “Black Santa,” which is a depiction of an African-American St. Nick. We thought about packing him away with the rest of the Christmas decorations but decided that he needs to stay out all year. And one year at the arts fest we splurged on one of our favorite pieces ever — the shape of a head in profile that’s been cut out of a piece of black wood; then 24 small bodies formed into a smaller version of the same shape are placed back in the opening. It’s an awesome, dramatic piece that, according to Fred’s website, took 13 steps to complete. More of his art can be seen at fredgardner.pixels.com. — Abby & Kevin Tankersley

41. 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

42. El Martini at DiamondBack’s

DiamondBack’s always has tasty-sounding seasonal drinks, but I rarely get to try them because I always revert back to my favorite drink in Waco, the El Martini. It’s one of the signature cocktails that thankfully you can get year-round. The perfect mix between a margarita and a martini, the El Martini is tequila, Grand Marnier, a splash of fresh lime and OJ, served straight up with an olive garnish. Pair it with the DiamondBack’s Roll during happy hour, and you’re all set. — Kathleen Seaman

43. First weekend in November

Every fall as I look ahead in my calendar I always block off the first weekend of November. I know it’s going to be full to the max and yet so much fun. It starts off Thursday with Ladies Night Out at Deck the Halls, the Junior League of Waco’s annual gift market fundraiser. Friday evening is reserved for the Friends of the Library Book Sale (and getting a crick in my neck as I walk along table after table with my head turned awkwardly to read the titles). Saturday is spent revisiting the book sale or going to the Baylor football game on the years when homecoming adds to the craziness. Sunday is the day to wrap-up at Deck the Halls with final Christmas gift purchases — or jewelry for me, of course. — Heather Garcia