Top 10 Things to Do in Abilene
In Abilene, you’ll discover cowboys, characters and culture. This progressive mid-size city celebrates its Old West history, even as it races toward a bright future. We’ve made a list of the Top 10 Things every guest should do to live like a local. When exploring indoor spaces, be sure to social distance and mask up before you head out. Most Abilene venues offer room to roam, and all are limiting capacity per Texas mandate. Safety protocols are a top priority to ensure the comfort of all guests. Enjoy!
Get up close and personal with giraffes and meet the newest member of the family, Congo, the male giraffe.
1. Go wild at the Abilene Zoo
The 32-acre Abilene Zoo is home to more than 1,000 animals representing 250 species, ranging from lions, camels, tigers to rhinoceros. Get up close with giraffes on the feeding deck, where you get a chance to hand feed them lettuce. Slither into the Reptile House to meet resident vipers, cobras, tortoises and many other species. Wander through Elm Creek Backyard to see the wonders of Texas; everything from native fish, turtles, vultures, cougars, ringtail cats, and river otters. The new Madagascar section opened in April 2021, showcasing species from that genetically diverse island.
For the adventurous ones, sign up for an affordable VIP tour to get a behind-the-scenes peek of select species. Hop on the Safari Express Train and Wildlife Carousel before heading to the gift shop. In the summer, you can rent a swan boat and paddle around the adjacent Zoo Lake. Don’t forget to hydrate yourself with a cup of freshly-squeezed lemonade available at the Watering Hole.
Frontier Texas! is a 14,000-square-foot museum of the American West in downtown Abilene.
The museum also serves as a visitors information center for the Texas Forts Trail
2. Meet legends of the untamed west at Frontier Texas!
Experience the big picture of blood and treasure on the Texas frontier as the story comes to life in this multimedia facility. Frontier Texas! is one of the few museums in the world to feature life-size holographic figures. Meet “spirit guides” from the past, a Comanche warrior, a buffalo hunter, a former slave and a frontier woman and relive early Texas through their stories. Sit in the full-sensory 360-degree theatre to experience the frisson of frontier life and lastly, see the "Guns of the West" exhibition featuring a large collection of historic firearms.
Spot Duck on a Bike sculpture outside of Candies by Vletas
3. Picture yourself in the Storybook Capital of America
You will find characters of every kind in the downtown cultural district, home to the largest public collection of storybook characters in the country, if not the world. With 25 sculptures (and counting), these earned Abilene bragging rights as the Official Storybook Capital of America.
Picture yourself with the six iconic Dr. Seuss sculptures at Everman Park. Then, find all of William Joyce's "Guardians of Childhood" sculptures scattered throughout downtown. Keep your eyes peeled as you walk down the Storybook Way and Santa Calls Lane as the tooth fairy, Toothiana and Nicholas St. North awaits you. Head to Adamson-Spalding Storybook Garden next to Abilene Convention Center to meet all the iconic storybook characters from Charlotte's Web, The Three Little Pigs and more. Get an Adventure Guide, download the handy Goosechase app and photograph them all!
Come back year after year and watch the collection grow. The annual Children’s Art and Literacy Festival is a three-day family-friendly event celebrating art, children, and literacy. It transforms downtown into a magical storybook land. A new sculpture is unveiled each year.
The NCCIL opened 'Yuyi Morales: Sonadora' exhibition with performances by Folklorico dancers
and dramatic reading of Yuyi's immigration stories and childhood experiences.
4. Book time at the National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature
The National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) is dedicated to providing children the opportunity to fall in love with art through exhibits of original illustrations from some of the most beloved children's books and their artists. Spend an hour or two here to take a glimpse of the artist’s work-in-progress and inspiration through rough sketches from initial ideas to the final work at the exhibition. The NCCIL offers educational programs that are designed to stimulate creativity, promote literacy and increase appreciation for the arts. Every Saturday afternoon, it offers art activities for youngsters. Admission to the NCCIL is free, so it’s a perfect place for those who are on a budget.
The Center for Contemporary Arts features the work of a variety of member artists and guest artists.
Pictured here is painter Ruth Jackson giving a tour of her studio inside the Center for Contemporary Arts.
5. See artists in action at The Center for Contemporary Arts
Get inspired by local and Texas artists at the Center for Contemporary Arts, a non-profit venue featuring original, contemporary art on a variety of media, as well as works by distinguished Texas photographers. The Center is home to more than 60 artist members and 10 working studios. If you're around downtown on the second Thursday of each month, don't miss ArtWalk, an art appreciation event hosted by the Center. Enjoy live music, free admission to downtown museums, street vendors and food trucks on ArtWalk night.
The Paramount Theatre was built in an era when movie-going was meant to be
a grand experience that transported you to another time and place.
6. Catch a star at the Paramount Theatre
The landmark Paramount Theatre is not your typical theatre. First built in 1930, the theatre’s auditorium replicates a Spanish/Moorish courtyard at night, with clouds floating through a sky of twinkling stars. In 1987, the Paramount was renovated to accommodate live theatre. Today, the 1,200-seat auditorium is a place where locals and visitors enjoy a busy slate of events: contemporary and classic movies, local theatre productions, opera, concerts, ballet, and traveling productions. Its long-running 24fps International Short Film Festival, in November, attracts hundreds of entries from throughout the world, and many selections earn Academy Awards and other accolades. Check the calendar for the monthly Paramount Film Series, guided tour and annual performance such as The Nutcracker during Christmas.
Learn how the 'Hellcat' advanced a siege that had never succeeded in history at the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum.
7. Reflect on WWII at the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum
Experience the unfolding of World War II events in this three-floor museum on N 2nd St. The 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum holds an extensive collection of artifacts such as uniforms, letters and weapons donated from former servicemen, a dioramas gallery that depicts WWII combat grounds based on veterans' recount and a Holocaust memorial.
Unlike most WWII museums, the 12th Armored Division Museum focuses only on the stories of one unit's combat history in WWII. Learn about soldiers' life at Camp Barkeley, an army training base in Abilene, to life on the battlefront through handwritten letters and diary entries of soldiers.
Start from the first floor of the museum to learn about the build-up to WWII, then walk through the first exhibit to understand how the 12th Armored Division "Hellcats" became the “Suicide Division.”
Steak grilling in Abilene by Two Pair Photography
8. Bite into a savory Mesquite-grilled steak
You've never been to Abilene unless you've tried a savory mesquite-grilled steak from one of our many award-winning restaurants in town.
Located in Buffalo Gap, 25 mins drive from Abilene, Perini Ranch Steakhouse is world-famous. It has been listed as one of the best steakhouses and burger places in the state, honored as an America's Classic by the James Beard Foundation, selected to cook for the Congressional Picnic at the White House.
The Beehive Restaurant and Saloon has earned a top spot among the elite steakhouses in the Lone Star State. Texas Monthly names it as the “best country steakhouse in Texas.” The Beehive has two restaurants, one is conveniently located in downtown Abilene, another is located in Albany, Texas, a 30 mins drive away.
Don't like steak? Well at Lytle Land & Cattle Co., you have the options of mesquite-grilled sausage, tilapia, tuna, catfish, pork chops and of course, steak.
Joe Allen’s Pit Bar-B-Que offers mesquite-smoked BBQ, seafood, hamburgers and brisket.
Exhibition of 'Hung Liu: The Long Way Home' at The Grace Museum.
9. Be amazed at The Grace Museum
Located at the heart of downtown in a historic building, the old Hotel Grace has been transformed into an American-Alliance of Museums accredited museum. Featuring best of Texas art, past and present, and works from internationally acclaimed artists. The Children's Museum on the second floor offers hands-on learning activities. The top floor features the Historic Period Rooms – which depicts life in Abilene between 1910 to 1948. The Grace Museum frequently has new collections of art exhibition, don't forget to check it out while you're there!
The rustic Taylor County History Center is located 25 minutes from Abilene at Buffalo Gap.
10. Step back in time at Taylor County History Center
Venture out of Abilene to the Taylor County History Center at Buffalo Gap to explore the West Texas frontier from 1875 to 1925. The Taylor County History Center is made up of a collection of buildings and artifacts from early civilization on the frontier, from the actual Taylor County Courthouse, Knight-Sayles cabin to a train depot built in the 1880s. The history center features an original bank, post office and school preserved from the 18th to 19th century, and a blacksmith shop, barn and print shop mimic living conditions from the past. Grab an audio guide for a self-guided tour!
Tip: Plan on sticking around for a while? Get the Abilene Round Up Pass and you’ll save on admission at the best attractions in town.