from dallas to austin and magnolia market inbetween...where to stay, places to see, and what to eat.
"You show me yours and I'll show you mine."
- Willie Nelson, A Texan Treasure
Nothing can better articulate how Texas betrayed my expectations than discovering the true origins of its quintessential, ubiquitous warning: "Don't Mess with Texas." Much to my shock, that phrase is and HAS ALWAYS BEEN simply the slogan for Texas' anti littering campaign, like how here in the northeast we have Woodsy the Owl and his "Give a hoot, don't pollute." While very clever, it's not exactly badass. And that's pretty much how I'd sum up my recent experience in that truly beautiful state: clever, but not exactly badass, and I was glad for it.
Why would our first family trip on airplane be from New Hampshire (actually Boston) to Texas? Two of our most favorite people in the entire world were getting married in Dallas, two people that our entire family loves, so the trek was a no-brainer. And there was no way I was going all the way to Texas without visiting Waco and all the Magnolia magic that goes with it. Here are the basics:
DALLAS, TX: Where to stay, where to eat, where to take the kids.
DAY 1: Arrival, Friday morning
HOTEL: The Fairmont Dallas
Located downtown and steps away from Warren Park (playgrounds! Food trucks!), this hotel is a perfect spot for families. As soon as we arrived, our weary kids were greeted by a super happy Bell Hop with an entire wagon filled with toys. Each girl picked out one (maybe two) items and we all excitedly checked into our room (early, and we are forever grateful). After check-in we hopped back into our rental car (BTW - the Enterprise at Dallas Airport is a ton of fun - great service, funny and efficient staff, all of whom are dressed surprisingly stylishly) and headed to Lockhart Smokehouse, a bright, fun, and well designed BBQ restaurant that serves hands down the best BBQ I've ever had. Is it still called BBQ when it's smoked? I don't know. Don't care. It's delicious.
After lunch, the girls and Tyson went to Perot Museum of Nature and Science while I went to the shady foot rub place next door to the restaurant. Tyson was attending the rehearsal dinner on his own that night, so I took the day to explore while he ventured out with the girls. They loved the museum, nicknaming it "The Funky Museum" because of its unique architecture. Every time we drove by it they'd shout, "DAD DAD THERE IT IS THE FUNKY MUSEUM!"
I spent the rest of the afternoon strolling around the Bishop Arts District, enjoying all the shops, especially DIRT, the renowned florist and events destination. This shop is beautiful and you will want to recreate many of their ideas in your own home but that will be tough....as they don't allow photos, so I guess you'll just have to sit there and sketch (I dare you). Kettledrum Allie was another favorite boutique, and I bought the necklace on the left in the photo, and I pretty much wear it every day. My final stop was Society, a beautiful candle shop whose curated collection is a far cry from the typical Apple Pie perfumed monstrosity. When all tuckered out from shopping, I called a Cowboy Cab and learned a fun fact about my driver: he has never actually eaten a human. Good to know!
DAY 2: DALLAS, SATURDAY
While the kids slept well in the hotel, Emma, our oldest mentioned a few times that her ear hurt. Every mom on vacation knows this means a massive ear infection is settling in, so our Saturday involved a trip to the Urgent Care center near the hotel. Antibiotics were prescribed, a crisis was avoided, and our scheduled trip to The Dallas World Aquarium continued.
It was easily 95 degrees outside and very humid, and the Aquarium was the exact same temperature if not hotter. I lasted about 3 hours, which is pretty good for me because fish just really aren't my thing (see picture on lower right above to understand why). I left at around 3pm and went back to the hotel to work out (I'm trying, OK?!) and then to shower. It was so wonderful. I can't say enough great things about The Fairmont. I suspect that many of their guests are there for business but I would absolutely recommend it for a family vacation (maybe in the month of January) because it's a very family friendly city and the hotel is wonderful for both kids AND PARENTS. The breakfast is heaven - they have a breakfast taco bar (this is apparently a thing in Texas) and it's everything you want it to be.
Saturday night was the wedding, and the babysitter we hired was a dream. We had a great, much needed night out and partied like we were 41 with two kids. Which means we partied like crazy for 3 hours and then went home and ate ice cream.
DAY 3: Visiting Magnolia Market, Magnolia Table, and where to stay in Waco, TX:
We spent Sunday morning having breakfast with friends and their two kids who live locally (unrelated to the wedding) at the hotel. The hotel was kind enough to give us a semi-private dining room, so our kids could be kind of annoying and we didn't have to pretend to care. It was the perfect way to cap off a great weekend in Dallas, and the fact that these great people live there strengthens my desire to return.
After breakfast we drove to Waco, and holy moly was I excited! I am not ashamed to admit it - I'm a HUGE Fixer Upper fan and I really admire the Gaines Family and what they've done for Waco. I mean I was excited to go to WACO Texas, and not because some self proclaimed prophet lured me there with the promise of a meaningful life (although it's widely known I'll follow just about anyone for the promise of a nap). I wanted to go and just hang out with my family and shop and eat cupcakes and biscuits and devlied eggs. And you know what? IT WAS AWESOME. I was a tad nervous about the hustle and bustle surrounding The Silos and Magnolia Table as I tend to be easily overwhelmed (and so do my kids). My fears were unfounded and it almost felt as though we weren't visiting so much as we were invited. As a mom with two rambunctious little kids, feeling welcome anywhere is 80% of what makes any experience great. The other 20% is great food, beauty (the natural and the manmade varieties), and music. The Magnolia Experience manages to deliver it all.
We spent one full day exploring downtown Waco, and I do wish we had budgeted one more. We began our day early, 8am, at Magnolia Table. By the time we arrived the line was easily 30 people deep and a current of anxiety shot through my veins. OMG MY KIDS ARE STARVING! I hate that I have these moments, but I do, and it was totally unfounded. Once you give your name and party size, which takes about 2 minutes, you can spend time in the waiting area, which has a little green patch of terf where kids are encouraged to play. A simple set of wooden blocks, some open space, great coffee and a chocolate croissant made for a truly delightful experience. I wasn't stressed, I wasn't plotting the next 5 moves. I simply sat there and watched my kids play, enjoying the occasional inspired snuggle. The soundtrack set the mood, and when Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino began to play, my eyes welled up as they always do. This is the song my mom and brother danced to at his wedding, and the image from that celebration is as clear as day. I was overwhelmed by the sensation of simultaneously reliving a beautiful memory while creating a new one. That song, man. It gets me every time.
After breakfast we headed over the Magnolia Silos, an ideal family shopping experience. While one adult shopped, the other hung out on the "Green" with the kids, playing with the balls, blocks, and simply running around. Kids being kids, friends are made upon eye contact, and agreeable parents have each other to marvel at the limitless energy and heat tolerance gifted solely to the young. The shopping is great, although it is a little overwhelming (while there were lines they move so fast - that is not the overwhelming part). I found the noise level inside the main Magnolia store to be intense - fans are blaring and people are shouting to each other "SHOULD WE GET THIS FOR NANNA?" across enormous distances. It's still a great shopping experience, and I could have bought a ton of things (I settled on these candlesticks as they fit in my suitcase) but I didn't last long. Which, in the end, is probably a good thing for my bank account. It's well worth a visit, but I hear going at the end of the day is the best time to go, and I'd like to try that next time.
One strange effect that Waco had on me was this feeling that I wanted to be a better parent in case Chip and/or Joanna saw me. Isn't that so funny? Wouldn't it be devastating if Chip Gaines saw you yelling at your kid because she emptied a sugar packet on the table? I would die! Fortunately, they worked so hard to make Magnolia Table and the Magnolia Silos a relaxing place for everyone, so parenting was just easier and more pleasurable. Plus, let's face it, they are watching! And they know you can do better!
Waco isn't just Chip and Joanna Gaines, and there are countless other shops and destinations that are not to be missed. The Findery (recommended to us by the pedatrician in Dallas) is an air conditioned oasis of home goods, clothing, and jewelry. Even though antiques and delicate items dot every nook and cranny, they welcomed my kids, which seems to be a theme in Waco. Never ceasing to surprise me, my two year old Lucy was enamored, and we spent an hour looking around, with her leading the way. Every curated coffee table, dining set, and bookcase spurned an idea for how she wants to decorate her room back home. I can't wait to give her the Sheep painting I purchased for her for Christmas - she's going to love it.
Choosing a place to stay was one of the more challenging decisions because there are a lot of great options. You can stay in an actual Magnolia Fixer Upper, a cute boutique hotel right in town, or even Clint Harp's Fixer Upper. We decided to stay outside the city, in an Airbnb located on a 300 acre horse ranch, and I am still smug after this great decision. While it's only 18 minutes away from most of the downtown action it is truly a country retreat. Miles and miles of rolling hills, ponds, and trails offer a much needed respite after a day of shopping, eating, and admiring. I have said this before in this post and I'll say it now again - I want to go back to Texas, and I want to stay at this Airbnb again. You can learn more about the ranch on its own website, Brazos Bluffs Ranch. I also was fortunate to enjoy a guided trail ride, another activity I would love to do again (although possibly in January and not September when it is 99 degrees at 8am). Lem, my guide, was knowledgeable about both the area and hospitality. He has great visions for the future of the ranch and I can't wait to see where he and his wife Hannah take the property.
Brazos Bluffs Ranch abuts Homestead Heritage, an agrarian and craft-based intentional Christian community. I know what you are thinking but just get over it - this property is beautiful and open to the public, and while I am not religious at all, I can respect anyone who can dedicate themselves to a simpler life. It's a beautiful property which is home to the Heritage Cafe which was possibly the best dining experience we had in Texas (and Texas is full of great dining options).
After Waco we made our way to Austin, to spend the night at the home of an old friend of mine. We didn't do much in Austin other than reconnect, swim, and eat. As great as downtown Austin may be, it simply can't compare to some solid one on one time with my dear friend Sarka, someone who has known me since I was 12. The next day we had a few hours to kill, so we took a trip to the Capital building, a tradition from my husband's family (his grandfather took his children to all 50!). I wasn't sure about this idea but it turned out to be a fantastic way to spend an hour before a flight. The kids ran around, pretending the whole time to be busy at "work" (clearly too young to understand politcs). We all climbed hundreds of stairs and met some of the nicest people, even being invited into private offices. It was so much fun we might even make this a family tradition of our own!
I've made snide comments about Texas in the past, and by no means do I agree with some (a lot) of the politics, but I refuse to let that dampen what was a truly wonderful 5 days. If the past two years have shown us anything, it's that these United States of America are more interesting, complicated, and uniquely diverse then I'd previously understood.