It’s the dog days of summer, but don’t let that stop you from experiencing everything our city has to offer. We have 10 family-friendly activities you can add to your summer-end bucket list. Several are Waco traditions, a few are new to town, and a couple are only available for a limited time. You still have time for a few more last-minute hurrahs before summer comes to an end — so get out and enjoy a little piece of Waco.
1. Watch the Sunset from Woodway Park
At the end of a long summer day, when the weather is just starting to hint at cooling down, sit back, relax and take in the Texas sunset. One of the best vantage points in town is from Woodway Park. Right at the end of Estates Drive, you can walk the dogs, hike or bike along the new trails, and then soak up uninterrupted views of the fiery sky as the sun fades over Lake Waco.
2. Make a Friend Over Breakfast at the Farmers Market
The Waco Downtown Farmers Market has its own unique culture that fosters an incredible sense of community between its patrons and vendors. People show up at the farmers market not just to shop and eat, but also to see friends, talk with vendors that have become friends or support friends that have become vendors. And if you can snag a picnic table, it’s a great place to people-watch (and dog-watch!) as you savor a breakfast burrito from Sergio’s or Happy Harvest, sip on your Waco Cha and listen to some local live music as the kids run around nearby. Summer hours at the market are Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Skip sleeping in to avoid the heat, jumpstart your Saturday and reward yourself with one or two of Nightlight’s glazed cronuts.
3. Feed a Giraffe at Cameron Park Zoo
Have you ever fed a giraffe before? The Cameron Park Zoo has a feeding deck where you can not only visit our resident reticulated giraffes during snack time, but you actually get to feed them yourself. Located in the zoo’s African Savanna, the deck is open Wednesday through Sunday from 1-2 p.m. this summer, and for $5 (cash or credit), you’ll receive three leaves of lettuce to share with Jenny, Penelope and Dane.
4. Go SUPing on the Brazos River
Grab a paddle and get out on the Brazos River! Whether it’s stand-up paddleboards (SUPs), kayaks or pedal boats, this is a family activity that’s fun for all ages, and even your four-legged kids can tag along (younger children and dogs can easily sit on a paddleboard or in a kayak with an adult). If you don’t have your own gear, Pura Vida Paddle has got you covered. It’s located on Buzzard Billy’s bottom deck right on the Brazos River, and there’s hourly, two-hour, half-day and full-day rental rates for equipment as well as tours, classes, SUP yoga and more.
5. Buy Your Season Tickets to Support the Local Arts
Have you bought season tickets for your favorite arts venue yet? The 2019-2020 season is already in full-swing for Waco Civic Theatre — the hit musical, “Matilda,” kicked off the season in July — but there’s still five more shows to see, including “The Drowsy Chaperone,” Jane Austen’s “Emma,” and “The Music Man.” Waco Symphony Orchestra’s five-concert season opens in October. This year’s guest performance line-up includes pianist Drew Petersen, saxophonist Branford Marsalis, violinist Elissa Lee Koljonen, and classic-rock group America. Baylor Theatre is introducing its Gold Series season tickets with four traditional, elaborate productions. Tickets will be sold separately for the two smaller Green Series productions, showcasing student creativity and innovation.
6. Catch the Summer Menu at Magnolia Table
Beyond its everyday menu, Magnolia Table also has a summer menu for you to try. The fried green tomatoes are delicious, and the watermelon caprese salad (which swaps out the traditional tomatoes for the summer fruit) is light and refreshing. Regardless of the season, I’ll definitely have a side of Jo’s Buttermilk Biscuits and strawberry butter with my order. Insider Tip for Locals: According to my inside source, Tuesday is the slowest day at Magnolia Table, and your best bet for avoiding a long wait. Or, you can also just go super early. The restaurant opens at 6 a.m., and if it’s a weekend, you better be there pretty close to that. If you do get caught waiting on a table, you can grab a coffee from the kiosk, browse the Magnolia Table gift shop or play some lawn Jenga.
7. Ride the Train at Lions Park
Since the 1950s, Lions Park has been a fun and affordable place for family fun. There are go-karts for older kids and adults, a miniature golf course for everyone and several KiddieLand rides for younger children and families, like the carousel and Ferris wheel. But a trip to Lions Park just isn’t complete until you’ve taken a ride around the complex in the 55-foot-long red, black and yellow miniature train. The amusement park doesn’t have an admission fee; you just pay per ride or activity. To ride the train, it’s $3 per person, but kids ages 4 and under ride free with a paid adult.
8. Splash, Play and Dream at the Mayborn Museum
You should check out all the hands-on activity rooms at the Mayborn Museum, but the room that everyonewill love — the young and young-at-heart — is the water and bubble room. You can splash around in the water works exhibit while you learn about river currents or use a pulley to create a giant bubble wall. For a challenge, step inside the round bubble maker and see if you can get a bubble to reach above your head before it pops. While the activity rooms are fun to visit any time of year, the “Be the Astronaut” exhibit is only here in Waco until September 8. Older kids dreaming of space will love this traveling exhibit that’s designed by actual NASA engineers. First, they’ll learn about spaceflight and then have a chance to try their hand at steering spaceships, landers and rovers in the interactive exhibit.
9. Grab Lunch at Helberg Barbecue
After just one year of operation in Waco, Helberg Barbecue has built quite the following. I’ve heard even the snobbiest of my die-hard barbecue friends claim Helberg is the best barbecue in town, and it’s also attracted the attention of Texas Monthly’s barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn. Helberg, along with Waco’s Guess Family Barbecue, made the magazine’s Top 25 New Barbecue Joints list in May. Bottom line, if you haven’t tried Helberg yet, you’re really missing out. Luckily, you have two different opportunities to grab some Helberg barbecue. The newly opened brick-and-mortar, Helberg Barbecue, is out on Highway 6 just past North River Crossing inside Valley Mills Vineyards’ former tasting room. If you have the chance for a longer lunch or a free Saturday, this is where you’ll want to go for the full menu experience. The pesto-stuffed and butterflied turkey breasts, house-made sausage links, Mexican street corn and smoked gouda mac and cheese are crowd favorites, and the beef ribs (and free beer!) are a Saturday special. This location is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until sold out, and since it currently has only one pit, that can be as early as 5 p.m. on a Saturday. Now that the brick-and-mortar is open, the food trailer, Helberg on Austin, has a more limited menu and focuses on pub fare, such as brisket burgers and pork steak tacos. The food truck is parked in front of Pinewood Roasters and is open seven days a week from noon until 10 p.m. (or sold out).
10. Enjoy a Float at the Dr Pepper Museum
You can’t call yourself a true Wacoan unless you’ve enjoyed a float made the old-fashioned way by the soda jerks at the Dr Pepper Museum. Waco purists can grab a Dr Pepper, but the museum also has Diet Dr Pepper, IBC Root Beer, RC Cola, Sunkist, 7UP and Big Red (another Waco-born soft drink and my personal favorite). All these floats are, of course, served with Blue Bell ice cream. At long last, admission includes a free Dr Pepper soft drink (or $1 off another item on the menu — like a float!), so while you’re there, catch a Liquid Lab show, which is a fun, hands-on way to learn about soft drinks, or enjoy a Gallery Talk where the staff dive into the history of Dr Pepper, the museum itself and its collections.