15 Top-Rated Things to Do in Abilene, Texas
Besides the cheery and welcoming visuals in Abilene, this railroad town is filled with historical interest. From the interactive Frontier Texas! heritage center to the historic ruins at Fort Phantom Hill, Abilene is where you will learn about the transition from frontier life to modern railroad prosperity in the late 1800s.
Walk through downtown Abilene in the historic district beside the railroad tracks, where the shopping, dining, and entertainment spaces create new life inside the restored buildings. The SoDA district just south of downtown is one of the newest sections of Abilene, with buildings and warehouses that are being renovated into restaurants, lodging, and apartments.
A good place to start your Abilene visit is at the visitor center in the historic downtown, located in the T&P train depot. Here, you can pick up a map and walk to many of the local tourist attractions, or take a self-guided tour of the outdoor sculptures.
You can get an Abilene Round Up Pass for discounts if you plan to visit multiple attractions during your stay. Find out about the best places to visit with our list of the top things to do in Abilene.
1. Frontier Texas!
One of the top experiences in Abilene is at the interactive Frontier Texas! attraction, which brings the Old West to life. The exhibits take you through the beginning of the frontier settlement and chronicle the evolution of the region, which was home to Comanche Native American Indians, cowboys, buffalo hunters, and outlaws in the 1700s and 1800s.
Frontier Texas! has a collection of artifacts, including Clovis spearheads and flint daggers. History is immersive through the use of holograms and technology to introduce visitors to the people who played dominant roles in the development of the Old West.
One of the most popular exhibits to experience is the Frontier Experience Theater, where you get a front seat to history in a rotating chair with a 360-degree experience that takes you through the prosperity and struggles of frontier life, including a Wild West shootout and buffalo stampede.
Frontier Texas! is also the visitor center for the Texas Forts Trail, which covers 64 counties in the region. You can get maps and information about the trail if you want to spend more time experiencing local history.
Address: 625 North First Street, Abilene, Texas
Official site: http://www.frontiertexas.com/
2. Abilene Zoo
The Abilene Zoo is a must-visit for families. The zoo has more than 127 species, from giraffes and capybaras to reptiles and amphibians. Be sure to catch one of the daily Keeper Chats, where you can learn about some of the animals, their habitats, and feeding patterns.
There are several zoo regions, with animals from wetlands and the Americas, Africa, Caribbean, and South America. For an interactive experience, you can take part in a giraffe feeding for an additional fee, and get up-close to the tall animals as they take food right out of your hand.
A stroll on the zoo grounds will take several hours, but if you prefer to rest your feet, you can take a ride through the zoo on the Safari Express train. Another way to experience the zoo grounds is onboard a Swan Boat on Nelson Lake, where you get to spend time on the water and feed the fish.
Address: 2070 Zoo Ln, Abilene, Texas
Official site: https://abilenezoo.org/
3. Fort Phantom Hill
Adventurers who enjoy seeing historic ruins will want to visit Fort Phantom Hill. The fort was established in 1851 to protect local settlers against the westward movement of the frontier. You can take a self-guided tour through the 38-acre site, which is free and open to the public.
Walk the fort grounds and see ruins of the structures that used to be here. Fire destroyed much of them after the U.S. Army left the site in 1854. Pick up a brochure in the pavilion near the parking lot that shows diagrams of each of the ruins on the site to help you identify specific structures like the guardhouse, the commanding officers' quarters, and other buildings.
Fort Phantom Hill is part of the Texas Forts Trail, which extends 650 miles to historic forts in West Central Texas.
Address: 10818 FM 600, Abilene, Texas
Official site: https://fortphantom.org/
4. The Grace Museum
The Grace Museum in downtown Abilene is one of the cultural treasures of the city. It has five art galleries to explore, with permanent and visiting exhibits throughout the year. The galleries feature more than 2,500 works, from paintings and photographs to prints, books, and watercolors.
The history collection in the museum houses more than 12,000 items, like old photographs, railway archives, textiles, and vintage furniture. Some of the other key gallery collections in the Grace Museum are the Abilene Fine Arts Museum, Garments and Fashion, Mallouf Boots & Tools Collection, and Household Tools & Items.
You can easily spend several hours walking through the museum. There is a coffee shop on-site, which is a nice place to end your visit.
Address: 102 Cypress Street, Abilene, Texas
Official site: https://www.thegracemuseum.org/
5. Jacob's Dream Monument
The Jacob's Dream monument is a stunning 40-foot-tall statue located on the campus of Abilene Christian University. The bronze statue and the limestone blocks surrounding it are designed to create a quiet space for peaceful meditation.
The monument was dedicated during the university's Centennial year celebration. After you look at the monument, you can walk around campus on the pedestrian walkways to enjoy the beautiful landscaping and architecture.
Address: 1949 ACU Drive, Abilene, Texas
6. 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum
From street level, you would not know that the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum held such profound history and displays inside. While the museum's primary focus is on the 12th Armored Division and nearly six month period of combat, it contains so much more related to WWII.
The veteran-owned museum has three floors of exhibits and an outside area with military vehicles, including a Sherman tank. A section of the museum contains a Holocaust room depicting the 12th Armored Division's liberation of Landsburg concentration camp.
Another area houses a POW room, and there is a floor that includes exhibits showing facets of combat, like medical and communications systems. One of the most popular areas is on the lower level, where there are seven dioramas depicting the 12th Armored Division's biggest battles, with scenes that are recounted from veterans.
Address: 1289 N. 2nd St., Abilene, Texas
Official site: https://www.12tharmoreddivisionmuseum.com/
7. National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature
Since Abilene is the Storybook Capital of America, it makes sense that there would be a state-of-the-art National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature in town. This is a unique museum dedicated to children's literature and the authors behind many American classics.
Inside the center, you will find artwork showcased from collaborations with recognized illustrators, which display the unique appeal of this genre to young audiences and what makes their award-winning work so memorable.
A great time to visit the center is during one of the public events, like an exhibition opening, or at one of the free family art events held every Saturday with activities for kids. The Children's Art and Literacy Festival is a large event in Abilene, held each June. For classic children's books and gifts, be sure to visit the center's gift shop.
Address: 102 Cedar Street, Abilene, Texas
Official site: https://www.nccil.org/
8. Swenson House and Gardens
For anyone who enjoys discovering historic homes or local architecture, the Swenson House and Gardens is a beautiful example of the 20th-century homes in the area. The home is on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a living museum, as the docents are dressed in late 19th-century attire to make the experience come alive.
The home is furnished and decorated the way the Swenson family, a prominent family in the early settlement of Abilene, had it when they lived here. You should plan to spend about an hour touring the home, and leave additional time to walk the beautifully manicured grounds and gardens. There are seasonal public events held at the home throughout the year.
Address: 1726 Swenson Street, Abilene, Texas
Official site: https://www.swenson-house.org/
9. Morgan Jones Planetarium
A great side visit if you have time in Abilene is to the Morgan Jones Planetarium. The small planetarium opened in 1968 with a single aluminum ball, with pinholes that were used with projected light to inspire and educate audiences about the galaxy.
While the technology has upgraded significantly since then, the passion and dedication to educating about the planet remain the same as it did at its inception. The planetarium is primarily for educational use, but there are weekly public showings on the topics of geology, weather, galaxy, and oceanography. It is worth looking for a time to visit this small gem in Abilene while you are in town.
Address: 700 N. Mockingbird, Abilene, Texas
10. Dyess Memorial Museum
Just outside the Dyess Air Force Base is the Dyess Memorial Museum and Dyess Linear Air Park. The museum houses artifacts related to the local air force base and the Abilene Army Airfield.
The memorial park next to the museum is a nice area to walk around or sit to enjoy the activity surrounding the outskirts of the active Air Force Base. The Dyess Linear Air Park has a number of historic aircraft on display, including 34 planes from the U.S. Air Force and Army Air Corps, as well as fighters, cargo planes, and others.
The Linear Air Park is located inside the Air Force Base, so you can request tours and make arrangements to visit from the museum.
Address: Arnold Blvd. & Military Dr. Abilene, Texas
11. Take in a Show at the Paramount Theatre
When the lights on the outside of the historic Paramount Theatre are running, there is a nostalgic feeling that accompanies the performance taking place inside. The stunning Paramount Theatre in downtown Abilene is a great venue to take in an evening performance and enjoy the restored ambience of what started as a movie house in the 1930s.
The illuminated marquee and elaborate sidewalk ticket office have been a staple in Abilene for nearly a century. The inside of the auditorium was designed to replicate an evening in a Spanish courtyard, with clouds that are projected over a night sky. The Paramount Theatre is an iconic live performance venue hosting everything from concerts and ballet to films.
Address: 352 Cypress Street, Abilene, Texas
Official site: https://www.paramountabilene.com/
12. Center for Contemporary Arts
Located in historic downtown Abilene, the Center for Contemporary Arts supports the artistic culture of the region with regular exhibits and events. The center has a number of art studios and galleries that are free to visit, featuring a range of artistic expressions.
Artists' studios are located directly inside the center, and there are exhibits that change throughout the year. The five galleries feature regional art, short films, photography, and other genres of contemporary arts. This is a great place to visit if you are interested in finding out about regional art and artists.
Address: 220 Cypress Street, Abilene, Texas
Official site: https://www.center-arts.com/history
13. Historic Downtown Abilene
Historic Downtown Abilene is best explored on foot. The town emerged in the 1880s with the start of the T&P Railway. There is plenty of parking available, so you can find a spot to park then hit the local sidewalks to see the downtown area and visit many of the local attractions.
All the buildings downtown are historic, and are now filled with boutique shops, restaurants, coffee shops, and museums. A good place to start your downtown walking tour is from Frontier Texas! or the T&P Depot on North 1st Street, where you can pick up a downtown walking tour map so that you make sure to hit the highlights.
Take note of the sculptures around town, particularly the collection of Dr. Seuss figures in Everman Park by the Abilene Visitor Center. Before you head out of downtown, stop at Candies by Vletas, a locally famous chocolatier that has been a staple in Abilene since 1912. You can easily find them by the train depot with the large "Chocolate" sign on the top.
14. Abilene State Park
The Abilene State Park is a natural outdoor setting that not only offers a perfect recreational day in the region but also holds a great deal of history. The park is located near Buffalo Gap, which was home to the early settlers of West Central Texas, so this natural area played an important role to their survival and shelter.
Today, Abilene State Park preserves the live oaks, pecan trees, willows, and elms that make up a large part of its hills. The habitat at the park offers prime wildlife viewing for birds like hawks, wrens, and mockingbirds, and land animals like armadillos. Hike on some of the trails in the park or enjoy swimming in the historic swimming pool, biking, and fishing.
If you are traveling with children, a nice trail to take is the Eagle Trail, which leads to the one-acre Wallow Pond and was designed specifically for younger hikers. Camping is available at the park if you want to make an outdoor weekend out of your visit.
Address: 150 Park Road 32, Tuscola, Texas
Official site: https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/abilene
15. Taylor County History Center
In the late 1800s, the area in Buffalo Gap that currently houses the Taylor County History Center, was the county seat. The original courthouse remains there, along with other original buildings from the area that have been relocated to create a village experience for visitors.
The Taylor County History Center lets visitors connect to the area's frontier past and its transition, when the railroad arrived in Abilene in the late 1800s and changed the county forever.
There are more than 20 frontier buildings on the property, including a blacksmith shop, schoolhouse, chapel, and a buffalo hunter's cabin. The interpretive staff on-site can provide historical details and even a few great Texas frontier stories about the evolution of this region.
You can round out your visit with dinner at the nearby Perini Ranch Steakhouse, rooted in a family history of local ranching and serving cowboy cuisine in a ranch-style atmosphere.
Address: 133 N. William Street, Buffalo Gap, Texas
Official site: https://www.taylorcountyhistorycenter.org/
Where to Stay for Sightseeing in Abilene
Abilene has many places to stay, including luxury accommodations like the Abilene Warehouse in the chic SoDa District near the historic downtown, and more hotels are opening as the district evolves. Many of the additional lodging options are mid-range and budget accommodations.
- The Hampton Inn & Suites Abilene I-20 is located near the I-20 highway for convenient access, and offers free breakfast.
- The Hilton Garden Inn Abilene is centrally located between historic downtown and the commercial district, so you can get to everything easily.