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15 Top-Rated Things to Do in Waco, TX

Written by Anietra Hamper
Mar 3, 2022

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The city of Waco, Texas, in the central part of the Lone Star State, is a small town compared to its northern and southern neighbors of Dallas and Austin, but it has great attractions and things to do and some quirky stops that make a visit here fun and memorable.

The Brazos River, which runs through town, makes a nice view both morning and night, especially from the iconic suspension bridge that was built in 1870, flanked by the famous "Branding the Brazos" sculptures.

The Baylor University campus is a central part of the city, as evidenced by its large footprint in Waco and by the number of buildings, attractions, research facilities, and sporting venues that are here to enjoy.

It is easy to spot one of the top visitor experiences, Magnolia Market at the Silos, from almost anywhere downtown. Waco also has impressive sports, science, and historical attractions, like the Waco Mammoth National Monument and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. The more whimsical side of Waco appears at places like the Dr. Pepper Museum, where you can experience everything related to the iconic American soft drink brand.

With the Brazos River and Lake Waco in close proximity, you can enjoy outdoor recreation on the water, or birding at the nearby Lake Waco Wetlands. A Waco Adventure Pass can save you money on admission to six of the major attractions.

Start planning your Waco itinerary by reviewing our list of the top things to do in Waco, Texas.

1. Shop in Magnolia Market at the Silos

Magnolia Market at the Silos
Magnolia Market at the Silos | Photo Copyright: Ian Henderson

The Magnolia Market at the Silos is one of the highlights of Waco. The complex is owned by the television celebrities Chip and Joanna Gaines of HGTV's Fixer Upper TV series. The complex is easy to spot from anywhere in town by the two 120-foot-tall historic grain silos that stand above many of the local buildings.

The Magnolia Market complex is an upscale outdoor venue, sectioned into areas that feature small shops in a village-style atmosphere, outdoor sitting space, a bakery, a home store inside a renovated grain building, and green space for family activities.

The historic area was the site of the Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Company in the 1950s. The area around the market is being renovated, and the site itself is a destination, where you can plan a day shopping, grab a coffee, or just sit in the outdoor pavilion next to the fireplace in comfortable patio chairs.

There are spaces for visiting families to entertain the kids, like a small softball field and cornhole games. Food trucks and picnic tables are located throughout the complex, so it is easy to stay for a while and grab a bite to eat.

Address: 601 Webster Avenue, Waco, Texas

2. Dr. Pepper Museum

Dr. Pepper Museum
Dr. Pepper Museum | Photo Copyright: Ian Henderson

You might find yourself singing the old Dr. Pepper jingle "I'm a Pepper, You're a Pepper..." as you walk through the nostalgic Dr. Pepper Museum in downtown Waco. The outside of the building is as interesting as the inside. Walk the grounds before to see Dr. Pepper murals and an original 20,000-pound concrete advertising sign that was painted in 1940 then salvaged and moved to the museum.

Also outside is an original 1940s Dr. Pepper delivery truck and one of the only remaining neon signs from a Dallas production plant. The Dr. Pepper Museum has three floors of memorabilia, collections, and exhibits covering the historical milestones of the famous soft drink.

The soft drink was discovered in Waco by a pharmacist at the Old Corner Drugstore on 4th Street in Waco in 1885, and it still has an important presence in the city today. You will find many unique novelty items in the gift shop, from Dr. Pepper flavored Jellybeans to retro T-shirts.

Address: 300 South 5th Street, Waco, Texas

Official site: https://drpeppermuseum.com/

3. Waco Mammoth National Monument

Waco Mammoth National Monument
Waco Mammoth National Monument | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper

Long before the city of Waco became a thriving Texas town, it was a prominent landscape for Columbian mammoths during the Ice Age. The relics and fossils discovered in the region make the Waco Mammoth National Monument an exciting place to visit.

The National Park Service site has two main buildings that showcase information and artifacts that have been uncovered during archaeological digs. Since it is a working paleontological site, you can see the bones of mammoths from a suspended view into a dig site in one of the climate-controlled buildings.

You can also see bones from other animals that were either discovered in the area or that were known to inhabit the region during the Ice Age. These include animals like saber-toothed cats, ground sloths, and even camels that once roamed North America.

The first discovery of this archaeological site happened as two men stumbled on a bone by the Bosque River in 1978. Since then, efforts have been underway to unearth and preserve one of the largest concentrations of mammoths discovered from the Pleistocene Epoch.

There are several walking trails around the site that offer short walks, with the longest being the half-mile Eagle Trail. A kid-friendly dig site is available for younger visitors to experience what it is like to unearth their own fossils.

Address: 6220 Steinbeck Bend Road, Waco, Texas

Official site: https://www.nps.gov/waco/index.htm

4. Waco Suspension Bridge and Branding the Brazos Sculpture

Suspension Bridge in Waco
Suspension Bridge in Waco | Photo Copyright: Ian Henderson

A photo-worthy stop in the heart of Waco is at the iconic Suspension Bridge and the Branding the Brazos sculptures. The bridge itself was built in 1870 and is one of the most recognizable symbols of Waco. At the time of its construction, it was the longest single-span suspension bridge that existed west of the Mississippi.

Waco's suspension bridge is remarkable to see, not just for its architecture, but also for the "Branding the Brazos" sculptures that surround the entrance to it. The towering sculptures include three cowboys and 25 cattle in an artistic and life-sized cattle drive.

Two parks surround the suspension bridge: Indian Spring Park to the west and Martin Luther King Jr. Park to the east. The parks connect to the Waco Riverwalk along the Brazos River, which enables a view of the suspension bridge from below. The Riverwalk winds along both banks of the river.

Address: 101 N University Parks Dr Doris Miller Park, Waco, Texas

5. Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum

Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum
Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum | Photo Copyright: Ian Henderson

Many people have heard of the Texas Rangers but do not know their history or significance to law enforcement in America. As one of the oldest law enforcement arms in the country, the famed Texas Rangers have served the public for nearly 200 years. The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum pays tribute to some of the most notable rangers, and offers an educational visit through several centuries of their service.

During your visit to the museum, walk the Hall of Fame to see inductees, and browse some of the collections related to the Texas Rangers that are on display. The center has many related exhibits that showcase more than 20,000 artifacts, including photographs, artwork, and artillery.

A fun experience for kids is a program that enables them to become Junior Texas Rangers and become a permanent part of legendary Texas history.

Address: 100 Texas Ranger Trail, Waco, Texas

Official site: https://www.texasranger.org/

6. Cameron Park Zoo

Cameron Park Zoo
Cameron Park Zoo | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper

The Cameron Park Zoo is one of the Waco highlights, especially for families. It is a natural habitat zoo, meaning that the animal enclosures are designed with natural elements to mimic the native habitats. The zoo is located in Cameron Park, so it is easy to make a full day of your visit. Plan a half day at the zoo then the rest of the day visiting the recreation areas just outside the zoo grounds.

The 52-acre zoo features more than 300 species of animals. Listen closely as you enter the park, and see if you can identify the white-handed gibbons calling out from Gibbon Island. The African Savanna, with giraffes, white rhinos, elephants, and other animals, is a popular place to visit in the zoo. Get in the best position for a photo from the Treetops Deck, where you will feel like you are on an African safari.

Be sure to stop by the Brazos River Country area in the zoo to see the 50,000-gallon aquarium and learn about the wild animals that live in and around the river. Cameron Park Zoo has many more sections to explore with animals from North and South America and Asia.

Address: 1701 North 4th Street, Waco, Texas

Official site: https://www.cameronparkzoo.com/

7. River Cruise on the Brazos River

Brazos River
Brazos River | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper

Since the Brazos River is such a centerpiece of Waco, it makes sense to plan a river cruise along the waterway as a relaxed way to learn more about the history of the area and the importance of the river to the city.

The Waco-Tours Brazos River Cruise is a two-hour boat trip down the river. You will see local wildlife, like native birds, and experience some of the iconic Waco landmarks from a different perspective. During the day, see the beautiful topography along the Brazos River that makes the area unique, like cliff sides and lush forests.

An evening boat tour gives you the best of the sights illuminated, like the suspension bridge. The river cruise is a seasonal tour, so it does not run in the winter.

Official site: https://www.waco-tours.com/our-tours/all-tours/river-cruise-tour

8. Birding at the Lake Waco Wetlands

Lake Waco Wetlands
Lake Waco Wetlands | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper

One of the most spectacular and free outdoor experiences, especially for birding in Waco, is at the Lake Waco Wetlands Research Center. The small research facility is a tucked-away paradise that sits on the Central Texas Flyway, so it is a natural stopping point for many species of migrating birds. More than 186 bird species have been identified in the area, including great egrets and the American coon.

The manmade wetlands are not associated with Lake Waco, but its name is derived from the effort to replenish wetlands after Lake Waco water levels were raised in 2005. That project destroyed the natural wetlands that existed, so an effort was put in place to relocate, restore, and re-home the wildlife that relied on it.

Water for the wetlands comes from the North Bosque River. The wetlands cover 180 acres, with the rest of the 300-acre site being forest and tree farms.

The Lake Waco Wetlands has information on local plant and animal species, and details about the water research that is done at the facility. You can walk the three-mile loop trail through the wetlands to see wildlife and plant life.

Anglers can fish in the wetlands, as it is regularly stocked with rainbow trout.

Address: 1752 Eichelberger Crossing Road, Waco, Texas

Official site: www.lakewacowetlands.com

9. Mayborn Museum

Mayborn Museum
Mayborn Museum | Photo Copyright: Ian Henderson

The Mayborn Museum on the Baylor University campus is a great place to visit with kids. The natural history museum has many hands-on exhibits that focus on Central Texas, and cover elements like archaeology, geology, and paleontology.

The museum inspires discovery, much like those made that are on display in the engaging exhibits, like the large dioramas throughout the facility. What makes this facility fun to explore is that each of the 16 discovery rooms has a theme, shared through interactive exhibits like walking next to a dinosaur.

One of the best features of the museum is the Governor Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village on the banks of the Brazos River. There are several buildings in the historic village designed to bring to life what this community was like in the 1890s.

Address: One Bear Place #97154, Waco, Texas

Official site: https://www.baylor.edu/mayborn/

10. Cameron Park

Cameron Park
Cameron Park | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper

There's no doubt you will spend time in Cameron Park while in Waco, as it encompasses a significant amount of the city. The urban park is 416 acres and is one of the biggest municipal parks in the state. Cameron Park has a nice layout and ample signage, so it is easy to navigate.

You can access the Waco Riverwalk alongside the Brazos River, which has seven miles of multi-use paths. Cameron Park has an abundance of outdoor recreation, from hiking and fishing to frisbee disc golf. There are many playgrounds for children, designated fitness areas, and paddling areas on the river.

While enjoying the walk along the river take a close look at the various animal sculptures on display as part of the Waco Sculpture Zoo. The 28 animal sculptures were designed by various artists from around the United States.

For a spectacular overlook, go to the Lover's Leap section of the park, where you will get the vantage point from the high cliffs over the Brazos River. It is a nice drive through the park if you just want to sightsee, as the winding roads meander through many different areas, including the Cameron Park Zoo.

11. Texas Sports Hall of Fame

Texas Sports Hall of Fame
Texas Sports Hall of Fame | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper

Anyone who is a sports fanatic will want to plan a stop at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. With more than 6,000 items of sports memorabilia, it was the first such Hall of Fame dedicated to sports in the United States.

The Hall of Fame section honors more than 300 notable sports figures, from baseball legend Tris Speaker, the first inductee, to K.S. "Bud" Adams Jr., the founder of the Tennessee Titans. The museum is nicely laid out into several galleries that you can pick and choose to visit depending on your interests.

The Southwest Conference Gallery and the Cotton Bowl exhibit are some of the most spectacular sections. They are laid out like a football field, with multiple rows of exhibits. There are also galleries in the museum dedicated to Texas tennis and Texas high school sports.

Address: 1108 S. University Parks Drive, Waco, Texas

Official site: https://www.tshof.org/

12. Branch Davidian Memorial

Branch Davidian Memorial
Branch Davidian Memorial | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper

Your visit to Waco would not be complete without a visit to the Branch Davidian Memorial site located just outside of downtown. The site is privately owned and was the location of the deadly Waco siege in 1993 at the Branch Davidian compound, where 82 people died.

Though this was a somber event in American history, it is an important event that many people who remember the siege can put into context with a visit to the site where the compound once stood.

While there is little left on the grounds, the memorial just beyond the front gate gives insight into the vast number of casualties, including the many women and children who were followers of Branch Davidian leader David Koresh. A few people still live on the compound, but it is mostly a quiet place of reflection of the tragic events that unfolded on that site.

A rebuilt church sits on the back of the property alongside a few remnants, like an abandoned swimming pool. There are small markers and memorials discretely located off the sides of the dirt road, pointing out some of the debris that you can still see in the dirt. You are not likely to see many people while you are here, except for another occasional visitor.

The gates to the complex are open during certain hours, and there is a request for a $5 donation. The site is quiet and inspires contemplation. It is a profound and powerful place to visit. Doing some research on the siege events before you go will make your visit even more worthwhile.

Address: 1781 Double EE Ranch Road, Waco, Texas

Official site: https://branch-davidian-compound.business.site/

13. Waco Downtown Farmers Market

Fresh produce at the farmers market
Fresh produce at the farmers market

If your stay in Waco includes a Saturday morning, be sure to head down near the courthouse for the Waco Downtown Farmers Market. The lively market is a tradition, with local vendors set up outside selling everything from meats and cheese to jams, fresh produce, and specialty products.

Stroll the grounds to see the nearly 80 vendors that are set up each week. The market is able to operate year-round because produce can be grown in Texas throughout the year, as opposed to many states where farmers markets can only run from May to October.

The market vendors are all local artisan and agricultural merchants who come here from within 150 miles of Waco.

Address: 500 Washington Ave., Waco, Texas

Official site: https://wacodowntownfarmersmarket.org/

14. Outdoor Recreation at Lake Waco

Lake Waco
Lake Waco

Lake Waco is a great place to plan a day of water sports and outdoor recreation. The man-made reservoir is located on the western border of Waco. The lake is popular for bird-watching, kayaking, boating, fishing, mountain biking, and hiking. There are sandy beaches at Twin Bridges Beach and Airport Beach.

The Lake Waco Marina has paddleboards and inflatable kayaks available to rent. The lake is a great place to walk and look for local wildlife, or to stop for a picnic in one of the shelters. There are a number of camping sites available at Lake Waco if you want to make a weekend out of it.

15. Baylor University

Baylor University
Baylor University | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper

Baylor University makes up a large portion of the city of Waco, and its campus holds some fantastic things to do while you are in the city. It is a private research facility and the oldest continuously operating university in the state.

The university campus is beautiful for a walk. One of the best ways to see it, and learn about the buildings and Baylor University's history, is with a downloadable Walking Audio Tour app. If you search for Baylor University Guidebook and look for "Walking Tour," you can download a map to explore at your own pace.

Another highlight on Baylor's campus is the Armstrong Browning Library and Museum. It is a 19th-century research facility dedicated specifically to the history and study of Victorian poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The library is free to visit, and you can see rare collections of materials, from artwork to manuscripts, related to the poets.

Baylor University has many buildings and events that are available to the public, offering some nice additions to your visit.

Official site: https://www.baylor.edu/

Where to Stay for Sightseeing in Waco, TX

The downtown area is walkable, with many shops and restaurants all within a few blocks. If you stay at a hotel in the downtown area, you can walk to many of the top tourist attractions and have the best views of the river. You can find budget hotels just outside of downtown. Here are some suggestions:

Mid-Range Hotels

  • The Hilton Waco is centrally located by the convention center, with great views of the suspension bridge and Brazos River.
  • For families or business travelers, Home2 Suites is a downtown hotel that has suites, a pool, and free breakfast.
  • Hotel Indigo Waco - Baylor is a modern and pet-friendly hotel, with a pool, that is close to several restaurants and attractions.

Budget Hotels

  • The Super 8 by Wyndham Waco University Area, located near Baylor University, is a budget hotel that is pet friendly and comes with free breakfast.
  • The Comfort Suites Waco North is an all-suite hotel, located near several restaurants, with a pool and free breakfast.
  • The Red Roof Inn Waco is another budget and pet-friendly option, located within walking distance of Baylor University and within a mile of downtown.
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