The Sizzling Southwest Sideshow

Part 1: Waco

We have come a long way!

Is planning a summer road trip to a destination that has been in triple-digit temperatures for months a good idea? What are we thinking? This is not actually our first choice, but life has handed us some lemons and we need to make some lemonade. Andy’s time with Spotify has come to an end and he is starting his own podcast consulting business,

Starting a business from scratch at our age in wildly expensive Southern California might turn out to be difficult. We need to start looking at downsizing our living expenses, so we throw a dart at the map and start with Waco, Texas.

Well, not exactly. We love watching Fixer Upper with Chip and Joanna Gaines. I’ve been looking at houses on Zillow in Waco for months, so this seems like the perfect time to check it out. We’ll turn it into a road tip vacation and see if we can take the heat!

Andy As Travel Agent, Darcy Impressed

Six years ago, our first road extended road trip (The Relocation Reality Show from Portland, Oregon to San Diego) was filled with comical highs, lows, tears, and lighthouses. We would drive until we got tired and book a hotel for the night on-the-fly.

This time, we have a tight budget and a 10 day timeline with no room for drama. Andy surprises me by researching and planning every detail on a month ahead, then printing up the entire itinerary. Good job Andy!

And here We Go!

San Diego To Waco.

The drive to Waco is long. We’ll take it in two roughly 10-hour chunks, spending the night in El Paso.

This is not our first rodeo driving to El Paso, so we know it is not exactly a destination. Or at least not our style of destination.

We are prepared with plenty of snacks, and Spotify playing Yacht Rock and podcasts to help the time fly.

And God treats us to special weather: dust devils, rainbows, and downpour cloud formations adding a little variety to the endless miles of nothingness.

Hot Tip!

If you are traveling on Interstate 10, make a stop at The Cactus Café in Deming, New Mexico. The service is fast and friendly, and the brisket tacos are amazing!

We make it to El Paso about 10:30 pm. Since we are only here to sleep and shower, we don’t need to get fancy. The Ramada El Paso, just off Highway 10 for $72.97 will be our shelter for the night. The room is spacious and has air conditioning (it’s 97° at 10pm at night), but it smells stale! So out comes the chamomile essential oil! It will help freshen the room and help us sleep. A glass of wine from our picnic basket will help too.

On a high note, we give the included breakfast a thumbs up. The coffee is strong and and the mini waffles are great. Andy hits the breakfast burrito bar with all the fixin’s. We are ready for our 10 hour drive to Waco.

Waco, Like No Place Else

I am a little bit excited — or dingy from all the hours on the road — but Waco is the home of Magnolia and all things Chip and Joanna Gaines. I am such a girl!

Our home for the next several days is The Days Inn, Waco University Area. It’s a mere $333.80 for four nights. This is not luxury living in the fabulous part of town, but we will not be spending much time in our room. It includes breakfast, if you call coffee and a few prepackaged pasties “breakfast.” But it will do the trick on a budget.

Day 1: Things Get Good

It’s our first day in Waco, and we’re not wasting any time. We make a bee-line for The Silos!!! This is a dream come true. I am totally Fan Girling out! We get there early and saunter in with the first visitors of the morning. It’s midweek just before the hoard of parents are set to arrive to drop off their Baylor students. Oh, and our high today is a mere 98°!

It’s quiet and calm, with soft music floating through the air. The smell of cupcakes from the bakery is tempting us. I think I’m a little teary-eyed! We start by shooting a video on the grass in front of the Silos. I wonder if Joanna is watching? The lawn area is large with comfy bean bag chairs to lounge on, cornhole games and soccer balls to kick around. Families can relax while their kids run around. Painted on the side of Magnolia Market building: “Everyone Has A Story Worth Telling.” We definitely do.

The Silos were built in the 1950s, and are a centerpiece towering 120 feet over much of downtown Waco. Chip and Joanna Gaines bought the land the silos sit on along with the Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Company building. They lovingly restored the site, opening it to the public in 2015.

It’s like the most peaceful, idyllic town square you can imagine. Wander through the garden next to the seed company (which is open seasonally), watch families play on the baseball diamond, shop the cottages, and get design ideas at Magnolia home. Every thing smells good! I pick up some bath and body products so I can have a Magnolia spa moment at home.

Can’t Shop On An Empty Stomach

We step into the beautifully restored and air conditioned chapel to relax and decide what we want to eat for lunch. We decide the Concession Stand by the ballpark looks like the place for us. There are also several food trucks with enticing choices and a coffee shop too. Oh, and don’t forget the bakery!

Whatever you pick, there is plenty of outdoor seating. It’s hot and we want something healthy and cool before going whole hog on some cupcakes. Andy has a salad with all the good stuff, including bacon. I’m having avocado toast: creamy avocado with arugula, cherry tomatoes, and a light, sweet dressing. I love it, and our lemonades hit the spot. I am sipping peach lemonade, Andy does lavender.

Now that we are fueled up, we need to do a little shopping. We want to find a gift for LuLu who is back home watching Farnsworth for us. There is something for everyone: furniture, plants, seeds, tchotchkes, etc. I try on a dress that looks very Joanna. It’s pretty, but it is $275 and we are on a budget. How about some handmade coffee mugs and some t-shirts at Magnolia Market?

Hey Cupcake!

It’s time to hit the bakery and do a face dive into some of those beautiful cupcakes! This is a popular spot, so be ready to stand in line. But it’s air conditioned and smells like sugar.

I pick the Orange Cream topped with orange sprinkles. Andy stays with the Lavender Lemonade theme for his cupcake. These tasty little sugar bombs are soft and moist. I love the way they pipe on the frosting. Sitting outside enjoying these treats, you barely notice that it’s 98°.

Wouldn’t You Like to Be A Pepper Too?

Just a short block away from the silos is the air conditioned Dr Pepper Museum! Dr Pepper was invented in Waco in 1885, a whole year before Coca Cola. The folks in Waco are very proud of this fact! For $10 a person, you can step back in time and learn everything you ever wanted to know about this soft drink, then wrap up your visit with a complementary Dr Pepper.

After the museum, we attend a Wednesday evening church service and make some new friends. We just know they will be able to steer us in the right direction for some great Texas BBQ. We received quite a list, including a place they rave about that has the best “Gut Pak!” What?! Entrails?! Scary! More on that later. However, Texas BBQ places wrap up early, around 3pm except Sundays, so folks have more than an hour to enjoy Sunday BBQ after church.

Hecho En Waco

How about some Mexican food then? Hecho En Waco is perfectly located between The Silos and The Dr Pepper Museum. It’s popular tonight, with all the people arriving for the fall term at Baylor. Still, our wait is not too long and the service is fast and friendly.

Great chips, salsas, and margaritas to keep us going until the appetizer arrives. We opt for bacon-wrapped Camarones Diablos with a cool ranch dressing for dipping, served on a bed of lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, and cucumbers that make this a great salad course too. The bacon-wrapped shrimp has a spicy surprise: grilled jalapeno tucked under the bacon! Boom!

My entrée is Red Fish Tacos, each filled with with grilled red fish, pico de gallo, and avocado in a double-wrapped corn tortilla, served with rice and a spicy cocktail sauce. Tasty and filling!

Andy decides on the Mary Avenue Filet, grilled red fish topped with a delicious tomatillo sauce and served with rice.

Are They Eating Again?!

After sleeping off our Mexican food fiesta, and with a big day ahead of checking out properties in 100 degree weather, we need cool heads and full tummies. We couldn’t very well drive halfway across America and not eat at Magnolia Table, another Chip and Joanna destination, so here we come!

It’s best to get there early. They’re only open for breakfast and lunch, so the place fills up fast. We are quoted an hour wait, but because we are flexible about seating, our wait turned out to be only 10 minutes.

Again, our service is fast and friendly. OK, everyone is very friendly and welcoming all over Waco. No one even minds that we are from California! We order up a couple of cold-brew coffees and some grub.

I am being dainty with a huge plate of fluffy French Toast tossed in crispy cornflakes and topped with whipped cream and strawberries, a Joanna favorite.

Andy orders the entire menu (only exaggerating a little): cottage fries, eggs, a huge biscuit, a side of bacon, and breakfast taco! He is in the zone.

House Hunters Waco

We want to get our eyes on some of the neighborhoods and properties we have checked out online. How about a little fantasy shopping too?

The historic Cottonland Castle was built in 1913 and renovated on Fixer Upper. It’s a huge four bedroom “castle” with a carriage house and a beautiful park-like setting. Turns out, we aren’t the only ones checking this place out! We meet a bunch of fellow Southern Californians snapping photos and peeking through the gates. It’s currently on the market for $1,000,050. We all agree it is a bargain by SoCal standards.

I think we are looking for something a little tamer though. I just heard Chip and Joanna have listed their 4 bedroom Bed & Breakfast house in McGregor for $995,000. Any takers? Again, I think we are looking for something a little more modest. There are so many great neighborhood and price ranges. The question is, do we want vintage charm, a new build, or country living? It’s fun to dream!

Date Night Waco

Heading down to the Brazos Landing for a glass of wine, some deep-fried pickles, and a romantic sunset walk along the river. Texas is known for their fabulous sunsets, and tonight is no exception. It is so peaceful and quiet!

We peek our heads over the rail on the river walk, and tons of turtles poke their heads out of the water. I think they are looking for treats. Maybe some deep fried pickles!

Last Day

It’s our last full day in Waco, and it is hot y’all! 109°! The car thermometer says 117°! We’re heading to homestead Heritage for the day. But first, it’s time to check that Texas BBQ box on our list.

Vitek’s BBQ wins: Home Of The Gut Pack! So it turns out, a Gut Pack is like what we call in California the ultimate “Pepper Belly” on steroids. Very cool! Maybe next time.

It turns out, Joanna Gaines designed this restaurant! Well, redesigned it. The business is over a century old, and it’s been on its current site since 1958… well before Chip or Joanna were even born.

I am going for a pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw and mac-n-cheese. Andy goes whole hog and cow with a plate full of beef and pork with a side of baked beans. Wow, it’s good! The pulled pork is so tender. We leave nothing on our plates, but we don’t feel heavy.

Homestead Heritage

We picked the hottest day to visit Homestead Heritage and wander the grounds. They’re a Christian community that shares their handmade goods with visitors. They’re often showcased on Fixer Upper.

There is a big beautiful and air conditioned restaurant, but we are full of BBQ, so we visit each of the cottages devoted to different crafts. The artisans are very eager to share their wares, show you around, and explain their community to you. The children are home schooled, and at age 10 begin learning pottery, weaving, blacksmithing, woodworking, and more. My favorites are the weaving, pottery, and tea house/gristmill.

I pick up some gourmet stone ground cornmeal for fall corn breads and polenta, and a cast iron sauce pot. Andy is all about the blacksmithing. Talk about dedication, it’s 109° and they are giving us a demonstration on how to make iron hooks!

Homestead Heritage is another Waco spot that feels very peaceful and idyllic. The people are so friendly, and we learn so much that we really don’t notice the heat. If you are visiting for a length of time, you can sign up for classes and learn pottery, woodworking, or weaving.

Last Stop

We are rolling out of town early, heading to our next destination. We need fuel for the 10 hour drive, so we swing by Common Grounds for some nice, icy cold brew.

This quirky coffee shop is another hot spot featured on Fixer Upper. Located on the Baylor campus, it’s filled with excitement as the students move in for the fall term. We have to dodge a few moving trucks squeezing through some narrow streets, but it’s worth it. I think I am hooked on cold brew.

Stay tuned for part two of the Sizzling Southwest Side Show: Santa Fe, New Mexico!