A Waco Staycation

By Emily Ober

8 local places to book now for truly remarkable experiences

Vacations are a much-needed break from responsibilities and day-to-day expectations, but they also require time and money. When the urge to get away hits but your vacation days are all used up, then it’s time for a staycation to get all the perks without the stress of travel.

Waco is a growing city. In the last 10 years it has expanded in several avenues, from the live music scene to dining to entertainment to — most importantly — places to stay. All of these big events coming to Waco have created a need for luxury accommodations, and there’s no reason Wacoans shouldn’t reap the benefits.

The rise of boutique hotels has created unforgettable experiences. There are also major hotel chains moving in downtown, so you can have a little luxury on your staycation, knowing that the service will not disappoint. Waco is also home to a growing number of resorts offering all-inclusive fun that feels more like a retreat.

Each accommodation in this article has its own unique flair, so no matter the reason for your holiday at home or what kind of weekend you’re looking for, you will find your perfect staycation. So stay in town this summer and make a quick little getaway to the familiar while creating new memories.

Hotel Herringbone

For the Socializing

Hotel Herringbone is one of Waco’s latest boutique hotels that opened this year in the shipping containers originally intended for retail space. The colorful setup was repainted to a sleek black finish accented with bright neon that welcomes guests to a hotel crafted in stacked steel containers.

Located at Fourth St. and Jackson Ave., the hotel sits right between Baylor and downtown Waco. Less than a 15-minute walk from Foster Pavilion, you can make a weekend of attending a basketball game and celebrating a Baylor Bear win late into the night without needing to travel far. Downtown’s main attractions are within walking distance, including Spice Village, Dr Pepper Museum, Fabled Bookshop & Cafe and more, though there are plenty of on-site experiences at Hotel Herringbone to fill your time.

With two restaurants and a rooftop bar, dining is easy. Red Herring is an elegant restaurant with an artfully curated menu consisting of small, shareable dishes, or you can order a mix of selections for a light dinner. The crowd favorites at our table were the confit potatoes and the chicken thigh skewers, and the most surprising dish was the chips and roe dip. Complete your meal with a specially made cocktail, such as the floral Paperback Romance or the vanilla Cursedly Fashionable.

For those who enjoy the nightlife, Lucky Buck’s is located at the top of the stacked containers, offering a stunning view of downtown. Rooftop bars are making their grand entrance in Waco, and Lucky Buck’s’ list of cocktails sets this one apart. No stay in Waco is complete without enjoying our city’s finest beverage — Dr Pepper — and The House of Learned Doctors is a bourbon with amaretto, cherry and lemon juice, topped with our famous soda. And while you’re there, I bet you’ll find many familiar faces as it’s quickly becoming the go-to place for a night out.

Live music is also a staple at Hotel Herringbone. Several local artists have begun a residency at the Song Bird, including Holly Tucker, Maya Piata and Nate Leonard, though you’ll find other familiar names on the live music calendar. Indulge in wine and charcuterie during the show. You can even create your own assortment of local fares for your basket.

As for the stay itself, there’s nothing else like it in Waco. Despite literally lodging in a steel container, it feels no different than staying at a five-star hotel. All the standard amenities are included, with few extras thrown in — you are welcomed to the property with a glass of sparkling wine at check-in, and electric Moke vehicles are available to rent and cruise through downtown.

Every part of this hotel is utterly eclectic maximalism. Bold colors with even bolder wallpaper and geometric shapes in the furniture give the rooms a 1950s feel, with a vintage flair. The extravagance of this hotel is undeniable — some of the king suites even include a Roman-style bathtub in the middle of the room. And the best part is that no room or suite is the same, so each stay provides a new experience. The rooms are loaded with a bar cart of selected Waco offerings, giving you the chance to sample some treats from local businesses. For breakfast, you can enjoy the coffee and breakfast treat cart, although you are only a walk — or cruise — away from some of Waco’s favorite brunch spots, including J.S. Barnett’s Whiskey House and Cafe Cappuccino.

Grab your girlfriends or your significant other and give your social life a refresh at Hotel Herringbone.

Hotel 1928

For the Nostalgia

When walking into Hotel 1928, it feels as if you’ve been transported back to 1920s art deco New York City. Or pre-1953 Waco. This upscale, refined space is like stepping into Waco’s past in the heyday of the downtown scene, when the city was bustling and full of promise and potential until the deadly 1953 tornado set it back decades. In 2013 the tide turned with the help of Magnolia, and Waco began to flourish. Businesses took a chance on Waco, and this article was made possible.

So why not spend a night in the elegance of Hotel 1928. It’s not just for tourists — Wacoans can also appreciate the renovated Karem Shrine Temple, located at 701 Washington Ave. It’s still within the hub of downtown and is just a block from the beloved Waco Downtown Farmers Market, where you can spend a Saturday morning grabbing a freshly baked pastry or spice-filled tacos. You can also venture up Eleventh St. and visit Southern Roots Brewing for ale, pizza and trivia.

Of course, your staycation can all be enjoyed on property. Hotel 1928 offers everything you could possibly need without ever leaving the building. There are two restaurants to choose from: Bertie’s on the Rooftop, for more of those downtown views, or The Brasserie, for people watching. Whichever you choose, you’ll be filled with delicious food full of Southern charm with a little French inspiration thrown in. The menus change seasonally to keep the food offerings fresh, so even if you had lunch there last spring, the summer options will surprise you. Stop by The Brasserie for brunch for a savory option of biscuits and gravy, a true Southern staple, and the chicken salad croissant is a simple yet delicious selection for lunchtime. Get your dinner reservation at Bertie’s and enjoy the chicken paillard that is perfectly paired with the famous cowboy caviar.

The Café at Hotel 1928 serves up fresh coffee drinks, pastries and light fare. The 1885 is a cold brew mixed with vanilla syrup and Dr Pepper, but take my barista’s advice and add a generous helping of half-and-half to make it almost a Dr Pepper float. You can enjoy your coffee in the cafe area or head down one of the spiraling staircases to the famous library filled with the collection from author Larry McMurtry. This quiet space is ideal for catching up on work or just taking time for yourself with a good book.

When you stay in your room, you’ll find the comfort and amenities of a chain hotel but with the personal touches of a boutique hotel. You can see all the care given to the space in the vintage-style light fixtures and alarm clock-radios, banker’s lamps, along with the Hotel 1928 embroidered onto the sheets and in the bathroom tile. These details set it apart from the standard hotel.

You won’t find a coffee maker in your room, though. Coffee service is delivered straight to your door to start your morning with ease and a hot cup of joe. Fresh cream and sugar are included for your perfect cup. This little touch was the cherry on top of a truly memorable stay at Hotel 1928.

If you want to make this a weekend getaway with the whole family, or with just a group of girl friends, book the Washington suite that fits up to 12 guests in this impressive, all-encompassing set of rooms. You’ll feel like you haven’t even left your home. The suite includes separate rooms to fit your array of staycationers — including bunk beds for the kids — private kitchen and dining room, sitting room with shelves of books and even a pedicure station for that extra layer of pampering. And there’s no beating that view of downtown.

So, grab your fellow Wacoan and explore a side of Waco that’s remembered but never forgotten.

Cambria Hotel

For the Luxury

Alongside the boutique hotels are well-known chain hotels making their way to Waco. Cambria Hotel on Elm St. is a modern marvel of artistic beauty. The clean elegance invites guests to a luxurious stay in East Waco, with many hangouts to occupy your staycation. Notably, it’s right next to “Waco’s front porch” — the newly constructed Bridge Street Plaza, which welcomes visitors to spring and fall farmers markets and live music events. Be sure to catch a seasonal Levitt Amp Waco show featuring local talent.

Visiting the hotel is also an opportunity to explore an area of Waco that holds much history. Discover Elm St., traditional home to Waco’s Black population. Famous sites in the area include the former campus of Paul Quinn College, Texas’ first Black liberal arts college, which moved to Dallas in 1990. Check out the African American History tour, courtesy of wacohistory.org, for a complete list of all the historic sites in East Waco.

Cross the Suspension Bridge and see the famous bronze “Branding the Brazos” sculptures, then venture along the Brazos River towards Pecan Bottoms Park. You’ll pass by some familiar faces in the Waco Sculpture Zoo that lines the riverside. You can even hang out with the real creatures that inspired the statues at the Cameron Park Zoo. Along Elm St. you can also get some of the best barbecue in Waco at Tony DeMaria’s or Jasper’s BBQ. Meet some dogs looking for their forever home at Street Dog Cafe as you enjoy brunch. Later, venture down to Brotherwell Brewing to enjoy the beer garden.

During your stay be sure to secure a reservation at The BLVD Steakhouse, a fine dining experience like no other in Waco. The first thing you’ll notice is how elegant and beautiful the restaurant is, with black and white marble flooring, crystal light fixtures and art on every wall. If you’re visiting on a Friday evening, you’ll hear the musical stylings of pianist Dave Innis performing live during dinner. Then you sit down and get to the food. The steaks are the clear attraction, with offerings of Akaushi beef and premium Wagyu, but the other specials can also steal the show. The honey-glazed salmon offers something from the sea, and the gnocchi primavera is a hearty vegetarian option. Should you choose one of the steaks, add a topping of wild mushrooms and don’t forget the black garlic marrow butter. Be sure to order the truffle fries with your entree and end the meal with the Chef’s Cheesecake.

After dinner enjoy a poolside nap and the warm Texas weather. Take a leisurely swim or get a few laps in at the activity pool. You can even play a few rounds of corn hole.

The rooms themselves are crisp and clean, with all the amenities you would expect in an upscale hotel. The best touches are the bathrobes with the Suspension Bridge stitched onto them, making for a fun little indulgence. The rooms are spacious, with larger ones that can fit up to five guests. The prime rooms are definitely the corner suites that look out to the Suspension Bridge. Even as a Wacoan, it’s still a sight to behold.

Cambria Hotel is truly a setting for elegance — an escape from the ordinary into the extraordinary. It’s the perfect spot to relax after a day spent exploring Waco.

AC Marriott hotel

For the Lounging

If you want your staycation to consist solely of lounging away the day and not venturing out into the city at all, the AC Marriott Hotel on Mary Ave. is your place. But if you do want a break from lounging, the new hotel is within walking distance of several eateries and attractions. Visit a Love Waco favorite Segovia Wine Bar at the neighboring Mary Avenue Market, or for an indulgent meal, head down the opposite block to the new Terry Black’s BBQ. Venture out to Cultivate 7Twelve for an art show, or take a tour of Waco’s very own whiskey distillery, Balcones Distilling, though it is perfectly acceptable to spend your staycation right on property.

Nothing beats a good pool at your hotel, and the AC Marriott Hotel provides a perfect laid-back spot. The enclosed space gives the seclusion a getaway calls for, and with plenty of seating, you can get comfortable for the long haul. Catch some rays on a pool chair after taking a swim in the heated pool or bundle up as the sun sets around the fireplace while watching the big game on the screen. I opted for a book during the sunset in one of the large round beach beds big enough to seat three but oh so cozy for one.

If you prefer to spend your downtime among people, hang out at the bar. There are several seating options to provide whatever level of comfort you want. Couches tucked into the corners allow some quiet time while still getting to people watch, or find a seat by the windows to get a street view or grab a bar stool to chat with the bartender. Be sure not to miss the Beverage Ritual unique to every AC Marriott Hotel at 7 p.m. For Waco, witness a “tornado in a box” as the bartender regales the story of the 1953 tornado that struck downtown, and ends with a sample of the specialty cocktail on tap made with Dr Pepper. The presentation ends on a hopeful note as AC Marriott expresses its excitement to be a part of the newest chapter of Waco’s downtown scene.

Dinner at the AC Marriott Hotel can be enjoyed outdoors as you take in the quiet downtown buzz. The menu consists of tapas with small plates, such as crispy potatoes topped with aioli and meatball cazuela cooked in a clay dish. For a heartier dinner, the AC burger is set in a brioche bun with prosciutto and aioli for a Spanish twist on the classic meal. Pair it with the signature gin and tonic garnished with cucumber, lemon and star anise for a complete sensory experience.

Breakfast is an additional charge for your stay, but the European-style setup is worth the add-on. Croissant dough is flown in from France for buttery, flaky, fresh pastries, though the spicy jalapeño scone is that perfect kick in the morning. There are two hot dishes on the menu, and the cazuela with egg is definitely the winner — an egg is cooked in a clay dish over crispy Manchego cheese and topped with prosciutto and aioli sauce. Complete your breakfast with the serve-yourself bar that includes fresh fruit, parfaits, meats and cheese.

The simple yet chic rooms are cozy, with all the standard amenities, so comfort is guaranteed. The corner room gives a view of the stunning architecture of downtown sites, including the ALICO building and the McLennan County Courthouse. AC Marriott Hotel offers a quiet staycation in the heart of the city, your temporary home away from home.

The Fitzgerald

For the Neighborhood Feel

If you’re more of a homebody but still want the staycation experience, then an Airbnb is the perfect option. Waco is home to many Airbnbs, all with fun and distinctive flair. Landmark Luxury Stays offers four stylish, modern rentals — two right alongside downtown Waco and two a little further out in McGregor. In this article, The Fitzgerald gets the highlight, though you will find a comparable stay at The Armstrong next door. The Fitzgerald can host up to six guests while the Armstrong fits seven. The properties can be booked together or separately.

These twin black-and-white homes sit at the corner of Seventh St. and Clay Ave. with a gated driveway for you to securely park your vehicle. The Fitzgerald is the white brick two-story that can be accessed by keypad for easy self check-in, so there’s no need to hassle with remembering that strange set of keys. As you enter the home, you’re greeted with the music stylings of Ella Fitzgerald to set the ambiance, as well as a selection of cupcakes from Silos Bakery Co. to indulge in.

The home has three bedrooms and three-and-a-half baths, so you can book your stay with a group of friends or bring along the family on your staycation. There’s no lack of luxury here. Each bedroom has its own TV, and the beds are made with Boll & Branch luxury bedding for the comfiest of nights. The outdoor patio is situated between the two homes and includes an outdoor table and a fire pit. Board games and books are available if you didn’t pack your own, and a basket full of blankets ensures you will always be just the right amount of cozy.

One of the main appeals of The Fitzgerald is the proximity to the Silos. Magnolia Press is a block away if you want to forego the Keurig for a specialty cup of coffee. The 1905 is worth the walk — with toasted marshmallow and vanilla, it’s a perfectly sweet latte for the start of the day. Take yours to go and explore Magnolia Market. If you fell in love with the scents of The Fitzgerald, you can bring home a reed diffuser from the Market that gives the home its fresh smell.

For lunch, Cajun Craft is only a few short blocks from The Fitzgerald. These Cajun dishes are so authentic and delicious you might even return for a hearty dinner of Bayou Étouffée. You can spend your afternoon at Art Center Waco, a free art gallery showcasing local and national talent. If you’re bringing the family along, fill the kids’ time with art classes offered during the summer to provide a fun activity that promotes creativity. As the day winds down, catch a show at The Backyard Bar Stage and Grill, where they’re serving up classics like mozzarella sticks and BLTs. You may just discover an artist right before they make it big.

Get comfort and privacy on your next staycation with Waco’s unique home rentals.

Camp Fimfo

For the Family Time

What do you do when your kids are begging to get away, but you don’t have the time to book a full resort vacation this summer? Load up the car and take a short drive down Lakeshore Drive, just down the road from McLennan Community College, and enter a resort without enduring 10 hours of “Are we there yet?”

Whatever size party you bring on your staycation, Camp Fimfo has you covered. Getting away with the spouse or partner? Book a Bosque A-frame for a cozy, one-bedroom cabin. If it’s just you and the kids, there’s the mid-sized Magnolia Cabin, with a master bedroom, a pair of bunk beds and a loft space overhead to sleep up to eight. Or book the Firewheel Cabin, which offers more space than the Magnolia and can sleep 10.

Got a big group or just need a little extra breathing room? The Mammoth Cabin is built with untreated wood for that rustic cabin smell and fits up to 11 guests. The space is open, with more privacy for the rooms than the smaller cabins. There are also RV hookups if you want to take the camper out for a weekend.

This staycation is for the doer. Camp Fimfo has something for everyone — waterpark for the kids, Wiffle Ball for the teens, No Dive Bar for the parents. Add a cabana so you can enjoy the pool throughout your stay. A full list of resort amenities is available on the website, and there are more fun things to come as Camp Fimfo continues expanding, bringing a full-size resort to Waco.

For food, Squirrely’s Tavern serves up lunch and dinner by the pool. Build your own pizza or enjoy a plate of spicy chicken tacos. For the kids, they have corn dogs, burgers, chicken tenders and plenty of sweets for dessert. If you prefer your own grilled burger using the family recipe, each cabin includes a private fire pit and barbecue for evening campfires under the stars. Full-size fridges are also available in the cabins, so be sure to stock up for your stay, though there’s no need to leave the property during your staycation, even if you forgot that one thing you told yourself you wouldn’t forget. Pop into the general store to grab a snack, necessities or just a fun new T-shirt.

Although the pool and waterpark are closed from late October to early March, you can still take a winter staycation at Camp Fimfo. There are more than enough amenities to keep the family entertained, but be sure to check the calendar for seasonal activities such as tie-dye, birdhouse building and special holiday-focused crafts.

Spend your staycation outside and book a cabin at Camp Fimfo, right here in Waco.

Waco Creekside Resort

For the Nature Enthusiast

One of the biggest appeals of Waco is the nature scene. Cameron Park is beloved by Wacoans and visitors, the Brazos and Bosque Rivers draw people to their shores and Lake Waco is the perfect place to sail in the sunshine. Immerse yourself in the quiet natural scene at Waco Creekside Resort in Elm Mott, just minutes outside of Waco. This is a true getaway without the long drive. The property is the most secluded out of this list and provides the most tranquil staycation.

There are three options when staying at Waco Creekside: RV, cabin or treehouse. All RV spots come with full hookups, and there are laundry and shower facilities. Each cabin and treehouse comes with a private shower, mini-fridge, Keurig stocked with pods and tea, microwave and air conditioning. Grills are available for cooking up some lunch and dinner, as there are currently no restaurants on site, though the Welcome Center does include a convenience store. Handicap-accessible cabins on site accommodate all guests.

Every cabin and treehouse is named for a type of bird, such as the Barn Swallow, the Mockingbird and the Goldfinch. The layouts are mostly the same for the cabins and treehouses, differing by the sizing. Standard cabins have a king bed to accommodate two guests, and for a group up to six, the larger cabins have a loft area to fit an additional bed. Small touches in the cabins help guests get familiar with their avian neighbors, including guidebooks on local birds and Adele Barger Wilson’s thoughtful “Bonding with Barn Swallows”.

Birdsong greets you each morning as you as you wake in the trees. The treehouses are truly magical as guests sit on the raised patio, built around the tree itself, and look out at the natural setting.

Waco Creekside is in a remote location, so it’s not for the sightseer or the thrill seeker. It’s a quiet, peaceful place to relax and unwind. There is a pond with bass and sunfish for some laid-back fishing and fire pits for roasting s’mores. If you’re eager to get out of your cabin for a bit, Homestead Heritage is only a 10-minute drive away. Stock up on farm-fresh produce for your stay or shop for handcrafted home products to take back as a souvenir.

There is more to come at Waco Creekside Resort. Phase 1 brought the treehouses and the fishing pond, but upcoming features will include a four-acre pond with a dock and paddleboarding, glamping yurts, a restaurant and even a clubhouse. With many additions planned for the location, this quiet resort is sure to become your go-to quiet getaway just down the road.

Waco Surf

For the Adventurous

What’s the most soothing sound to drift off to sleep to? For some, it’s the buzz of traffic. For others it’s rain. For others still, it’s white noise. But for those of us who crave the sound of waves lapping the shore, look no further than Waco Surf. More than just a place to catch a wave or soar sky-high on The Wedge, Waco Surf Hotel is open for an overnight stay by the sun and sand.

Waco Surf attracts plenty of Wacoans wanting to delve into surfing by taking advantage of the beginner lessons offered. Located outside the city on Old Mexia Road, it’s about a 20-minute drive from downtown. Ditch the drive and book a stay to fully enjoy the resort. The hotel offers either garden-facing or wave-facing rooms, though there’s no comparison to enjoying the lull of the waves right outside your door. The floor plan in the standard suites is open, with lofts available to hold additional guests, but larger suites can hold up to four or six guests with an additional fee to add one extra person.

If you want more privacy or even just a different view, there are cabins along the Cable Park with a fun little surprise on the island. Early in morning as you enjoy a coffee on the cabin patio, you’ll spot some black and white tails above the grass. Scampering around the island is a troop of lemurs who hang out as daredevils take on the obstacle course. The cabins themselves are cozy and more secluded than the hotel and include a microwave, fridge and coffee maker.

While it may be tempting to stay in your room during your staycation, Waco Surf is meant to be enjoyed. Rent a cabana and spend the day by the water, or bring an umbrella to one of the beach chairs and stay out from sunrise to sunset. A Jacuzzi is available if the surf pool gets too chilly. Or lounge on the water and enjoy a 45-minute cruise down the lazy river that wraps around the Surf Lagoon.

Seeking a thrill on your staycation? While you could catch a wave, there is much more to do. There’s the waterpark for casual swimming and the soaring waterslide, or you can take the challenge on the ever-changing obstacle course in the Cable Park.

Wherever you decide to spend the day at Waco Surf, you won’t have to go far for food. The Surfside Shack has freshly ground coffee from Pinewood Roasters, to be sipped with a Brekky Burrito loaded with eggs, hashbrown, avocado and topped with chipotle aioli. The Wedge Grill has classic burgers and snacks to enjoy while taking a break from the water. On weekends and holidays The Saloon offers full meals, like the Cheesesteak Sando and the Wedge-ish Salad. If you’re not ready to leave the pool just yet, enjoy the Dive Bar with a specialty cocktail. The Citru Vacay is the perfect drink, with its tangy, floral notes. For each eatery, be sure to check beforehand as parts of the resort require different passes. The waterpark is open May to September, and the Surf Lagoon and accommodations are available March to December.

If you are craving a beachside resort but don’t want to travel far, check into Waco Surf for a few days.