3-day weekend in Abilene
A Weekend Getaway in Abilene
When people think of Texas, often cities like Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston come to mind. However, when it comes to a getaway, quiet destinations can be more appealing than bustling cities. Escape the noise and city traffic (human traffic too!), bust out of the I-35 corridor and head to Abilene. Find room roam and breathe.
Located 180 miles (2.5 hours drive) from Dallas and 216 miles (3.5 hours) from Austin, Abilene is a hidden gem waiting to be uncovered. This small city is known for its warm hospitality and eclectic attractions found in the heart of downtown, through the outskirts of the city and along the historic trails – Abilene is well worth a trip to explore. This is a comprehensive guide for the ambitious ones who want to knock out all the attractions on a weekend.
Start off the trip at Abilene downtown, which offers several attractions and eateries that are within walkable distance.
Relive the Old West through the magic of state-of-the-art technology at Frontier Texas!
Frontier Texas! is the perfect place to kick start the Abilene getaway. Located in downtown Abilene, Frontier Texas! is a heritage museum that allows visitors to relive the Old West through the magic of state-of-the-art technology. The museum offers an engaging and interactive way to learn about history during the 1700s – 1800s.
Watch “spirit guides” from the past, a Comanche warrior, buffalo hunter, former slave and frontier woman come as holograms that share stories about their lives on the frontier. The guides paint a picture of how the buffalo hide trade decimated Comanchera life and the conflicts that emerged from buffalo hunting.
The chronological exhibitions depict life from 15,000 years before the Texas Frontier was settled to the Comanche Empire and frontier towns. In the grand finale, guests meet the spirit guides once again in a full-sensory 360-degree experience theatre. Find yourself in the middle of an Indian attack, a stampede, a thunderstorm out on the prairie and a shootout in the Beehive Saloon.
Don’t forget a photo op with the giant buffalo skull and bronze buffalo before you leave Frontier Texas!
Get lunch at the “best country steakhouse in Texas,” The Beehive Restaurant & Saloon.
Ask the locals for the best restaurant downtown and they will probably say The Beehive Restaurant & Saloon. Established by two Iranian immigrant brothers 37 years ago at Fort Griffin, Merchandise Store in Albany Texas, The Beehive 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.” Their signature Long Island iced tea is everyone’s favorite! If you want a spicy kick, you will not regret getting a Friday special at Ann's Thai.
Take a glimpse of the artist’s inspiration through rough sketches from
initial ideas to the final work of a children's illustrated book at the NCCIL.
The National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature
Driving pass downtown Abilene you will notice that this beautiful city is decorated with bronze statues of familiar storybook characters. For those who don’t know, Abilene is the Storybook Capital of America. It all started when the city built a museum that was the first of its kind called the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL or “Nikel”). The NCCIL is a heaven for kids and adults who love illustration, storybooks and storytelling. Spend an hour or two at the NCCIL to read books from celebrated children’s book artists or 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. Admission to the NCCIL is free, so it’s a perfect place for those who are on a budget.
Hit a sweet spot: Stroll across the street from the NCCIL to Candies by Vletas, to grab some handmade taffy, chocolate and candies. The candy shop was founded by two brothers who migrated from Greece to the United States in 1912. Their credo was quality. The shop doesn’t use preservatives, and candies are still hand-dipped with techniques handed down through generations. Their famous pralines were selected to be served at George W. Bush’s inaugural dinner! Not sure what to get? Feel free to ask for a free sample!
Hidden Treasure: The 12th Armored Museum
The 12th Armored Division WWII Memorial Museum is a true hidden treasure. The humble-looking three-floor museum on N 2nd St. holds an extensive collection of WWII artifacts such as uniforms, letters and weapons donated from former servicemen.
The museum has a seven part diorama that presents a three dimensional view of the battles at Herrlisheim, France in January, 1945.
Start from the first floor of the museum to learn about the build-up to WWII, then walk through the first exhibit to understand the organization of the 12th Armored Division and how the Hellcats became the “Suicide Division.” Learn how that armored tank division advanced a siege that had never succeeded in history. It’s all in the audio guide device given to each visitor.
Unlike most WWII museums, the 12th Armored Division Museum focuses only on the stories of one unit's combat history in WWII. Handwritten letters and diary entries of soldiers provide the perspective of the guys who were on the ground and more personal experience on how events unfold. A few of the 12th Armored Division’s veterans are still scattered throughout the country, but those numbers are dwindling.
For dinner, you have many delicious options in downtown Abilene. Enjoy Ginger Citrus Quail at Cypress St. Station or The Mac Attack from R Sports Bar & Grill. For those who are craving for pizza, head to Vagabond Pizza for wood-fired pizza based on seasonality, new ingredients and enjoy a beer on tap!
If the night is still young, check what’s showing at the historic Paramount Theatre or Town & Country Drive-in theatre for double feature night. The Mill Wine Bar & Event Center is also a great place for drinks, live music and dancing.
Get up close with wildlife at Abilene Zoo.
Start your day at breakfast hot spot, The Dixie Pig – Abilene’s oldest diner for Mr. Pig omelet. Expect a line. This place is popular.
Then head to the wild side at Abilene Zoo, which houses more than 1,000 animals of 250 species, reptiles to animals from the tropics. Get up close with giraffes on the feeding deck, where you get a chance to hand feed them lettuce. Keep your eyes peeled for lions, camels, tigers, rhinoceros and many other species. For the adventurous ones, sign up for an affordable VIP tour to get a behind-the-scenes peek of select species. 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.
For lunch, you don’t have to drive too far for delicious local food. From the zoo, drive 4 minutes to Lytle Land and Cattle Company for The Abilenian, their famous ribeye steak, or taste the Mesquite Grilled Tilapia. On nearby Judge Ely Boulevard, check out the fish platter at the Lone Star Diner. If you fancy some barbeque, Sharon’s Barbeque is not too far away, their chopped brisket is a must.
The top floor of The Grace Museum features a history collection of Abilene and West Texas.
Circle back to downtown for The Grace Museum if you don't want to miss the collection of American art with Texas connections and the history collection that tell the story of sociocultural evolution of late 19th and early 20th century Abilene and West Texas.
Get a chance to relive the old days at the Historic Period Rooms and witness the urbanization of Abilene home from 1910 to 1948, when the city first had electricity and secure water supply. The Grace Museum frequently has new collections of art exhibition, don't forget to check it out while you're there!
For liquid refreshment, grab a cup of joe at Monks or The Hallows.
A 20-minute drive to scenic Buffalo Gap takes you to the Taylor County History Center, a collection of buildings and artifacts from early civilization on the frontier. Grab a written guide or sound wand at the reception and step back in time in the Taylor County Courthouse, Knight-Sayles cabin or a train depot built in the 1880s. The history center features 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.
One of Taylor County History Center building collection, the Railway Express Agency depicts life in Texas during the segregation.
While you're at Buffalo Gap, nature is just around the corner, an 11-minute drive takes you to the Abilene State Park. Studies have shown that spending time outdoors has a vast range of health benefits, it also gives you a chance to unplug, and unwind from the stress of city life.
Before starting, pick up a guide at the visitor center to map out your hiking trails. The 529-acre park has 8 trails for you to choose from—ranging from easy to moderate. Observe the rich diversity of birds and wildlife at the Bird Viewing Blind and the Buffalo Wallow. Take a stroll or fish along Lake Abilene to relax and fully immerse yourself in nature. Don't forget to bring your fishing gear!
Located in Buffalo Gap, Perini Ranch Steakhouse has won numerous accolades including TODAY Show Award Winning Ranch Burger.
No Abilene trip is complete without visiting the World famous Perini Ranch Steakhouse. This award-winning restaurant is Buffalo Gap pride—tourists from all over the United States flock to this little-known town to try Tom Perini's mesquite-smoked peppered tenderloin and juicy ribeye.
Since its 1983 opening, Perini has earned countless accolades and achievements, from being listed is one of the best steakhouses and burger places in the state to being honored as an America's Classic by the James Beard Foundation, to cooking for the Congressional Picnic at the White House. Last but not least, Tom Perini even graced Texas Monthly's April 2011 cover for a story about traditional Texas fare, “Cook Like a Texan.”
Pro tip: Perini is so popular that it's strongly advised to book a reservation a few days beforehand. Make a reservation on their website.
If you have some time before dinner, stop by Perini Ranch Country Market for seasonal produce from Perini's garden and from other local farmers and souvenirs to bring home.
Sleep in on Sunday. Grab brunch at the Taylor County Taphouse, which offers a variety of brunch options from Shrimp and Grits to Southern Benedict.
Embrace your inner child at with a storybook characters scavenger hunt in downtown. Start from Everman Park, you won't miss the Childhood's Great Adventure sculpture from William Joyce's Santa Calls, then spot your favorite Dr. Seuss characters. Use the Storybook Sculpture Map to help you to locate all 25 sculptures, including Nicholas St. North, Jack Frost, The Three Little Pigs and Charlotte & Wilbur.
Lastly: Before you head the road, visit the rustic Historic Fort Phantom Hill, one of the most pristine historic sites in the Lone Star State. Established by the U.S. Army in 1851 and occupied until 1854, the post protected the trails to Sante Fe, the California gold fields and served as a sub-post for Fort Griffin. Shortly after abandonment, the fort burned to the ground. However, chimneys and a few ruins remain. Pick up a brochure on-site that includes the sketch of the original fort to help you navigate your self-guided tour.
See the traces of history at Fort Phantom Hill.