“Fixer Upper,” the HGTV hit reality show starring husband-and-wife team Joanna and Chip Gaines, is the biggest thing to hit Waco since 1953, when a tornado ripped through downtown.
This time, like a happy perfect storm, a number of good things came together all at once, putting a fresh new “Fixer Upper” face on Waco, shining an international spotlight on all this already great Central Texas city has to offer. Since the show’s surprise success, suddenly Waco found its way onto tourists’ radar, and now the town welcomes throngs of visitors each month who come to get their “Fixer Upper” fix.
Five years ago, if you’d told the Gaines that today two old rusty out silos edging downtown Waco would draw 70,000 tourists in one week alone and that they’d be household names, they would have thought you were crazy. And if you’d told Waco residents that this young local couple, a friendly shop owner/blogger and her goofy loveable construction/real estate developer husband, would be megastars, they’d never have believed it either. No one could have predicted the Gaines’ meteoric rise, and now the couple gives thanks to God, feeling blessed and humbled by the success. The town is grateful, too.
Because most “Fixer Upper” episodes showcase a different Waco house, neighborhood, shop, and artist, an unexpected bonus was that Chip and Joanna were inadvertently renovating their hometown’s heretofore not-so-hot reputation while they were busy renovating houses. Waco’s name had for too long been connected with tragedies that unfolded there in the past, but today it is becoming better known as a beautiful place along the Brazos. The Gaines, with their fresh wholesome family vibe, became the fresh new face of Waco, and America fell in love with them — and their hometown.
The “Fixer Upper” pilot aired on May 23, 2013, to 1.9 million viewers, and soon the show was opted for five seasons; already there is talk of a season six. Along with the show, the couple’s Magnolia real estate business is booming, and their Magnolia Market at the Silos, a 2.5-acre complex with a broad lawn, swing sets and more where kids can play, is a huge draw for fans.
With food trucks, a butterfly-filled garden, the Magnolia Seed + Supply shop, yummy cupcakes at Silos Baking Company, and a 20,000-square-foot grain barn filled with home décor retail items, the Gaines’ popular headquarters now draws 25,000-35,000 visitors each week and even welcomed a record-breaking 70K people during spring break this year. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon.
But after seeing Magnolia at the Silos, there’s still a lot more to see and do in Waco. So, if you’re heading there this summer for a “Fixer Upper” trip, here are 10 ways to get the most out of your visit:
1.) Re-think going on a weekend. Saturdays are insane at the Silos. Unless you like huge crowds and long lines, forget going on weekends. Parking can be a nightmare, and it gets so crowded that you can hardly see the merchandise. Tuesdays are a better day to visit, and even though Thursdays are busy, several shops in town are open only Thursdays through Saturdays, so I’d suggest going on a Wednesday to the Silos and seeing museums and more, then staying overnight in Waco, and saving local shopping for Thursday.
2.) Go before you get there. There just aren’t enough bathrooms at Magnolia at the Silos to accommodate all the crowds, so plan restroom breaks accordingly.
3.) Stay nearby. Thanks to Baylor parents and alums, there are plenty of good hotels in downtown Waco, and if you’re coming to Magnolia at the Silos, be sure to stay in one downtown. We enjoyed the clean modern Hotel Indigo, where we could see the Silos from the parking lot. From there we could leave our car and walk downtown.
4.) Take the trolley. Waco has a free trolley service to shuttle visitors around town. Hop on and off anywhere you like—it stops right in front of the Magnolia at the Silos and the Silos Baking Company. While downtown, check out the good coffee at BRÛ Artisan Coffee Works and visit shops in its historic The Praetorian building, like Interior Glow, and Summer Ellis jewelry designs.
5.) Don’t stop shopping. On the show Joanna sources some of her best décor finds from local shops, and you can, too. For the largest shopping area in one less crowded location, featuring items like those you’ll find at Magnolia, the best not-to-miss shopping spot is Spice Village, a collection of hundreds of booths (think an antique mall but with new great home décor, jewelry, clothing and accessories instead). Set on the second floor of a building at 2nd Street and Franklin, just a couple of blocks from the Hotel Indigo, the Spice Village building is home to Cricket’s Grill & Draft House, DiamondBack’s Texas Steak House, Ninfa’s Mexican Restaurant, Olive Branch Bakery & Café, and other bars and shops.
6.) Find antiques, classic home décor and more. On Austin Street (near 16th Street) shop at the boutique shops at Sironia, with its Sironia Café. Across the street (open Thurs-Sat only) stop by Junque Queen’s resale/consignment shop, and then pop next door to Shabby La Chic Boutique. Down the street, stop by the high-end gallery of good taste and fine design at Honey’s Home + Style, with plush bedding, crystal chandeliers, rugs, furnishings, home décor accessories and more. Items here are classic, upscale, traditional and timeless. Then next door, (on Thursdays-Saturdays) visit the Salvage Sisters antiques and collectibles store. Fans will want to stop by Clint and Kelly Harp’s Harp Design Co. showroom, along with JDH Designs, showcasing the unique metal art of Jimmy Don, both featured on the show. Visit the blacksmiths at Homestead Heritage Village to get a custom dinner bell triangle like the one Joanna had made for one of the “Fixer Upper” families. Also not to be missed is the LaSalle Shoppes Antiques & Collectibles Mall.
7.) Stop and see the Bears. On the Baylor University campus, stop and see Lady and Joy, the two live bears that are the beloved Baylor Bear mascots. The bears are well cared for at the Bill and Eva Williams Bear Habitat, located near Bill Daniel Student Center on 5th Street. While on campus visit Baylor’s museums and libraries, like the Mayborn Museum Complex, the Martin Museum of Art and the stunning, ornate Armstrong Browning Library, home to the world’s largest collection of the works and letters of famed poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
8.) Be a Pepper. No trip to Waco would be complete without visiting the Dr Pepper Museum. The popular soft drink was originally called “The Waco” and got its start at a drugstore downtown. Another great downtown museum is the Texas Ranger Museum, and there are also several historic house tours, too, like the Earle-Napier-Kinnard House, East Terrace House, Fort House (with its regular exhibits), and McCulloch House.
9.) Go back in time. Visit the Homestead Heritage craft village, restaurant, general store, market and more, just eight miles from downtown Waco in a bucolic rural setting. There, an agrarian- and craft-based intentional Christian community lives in a simple, old-fashioned self-sustainable style, making pottery, building furniture in a woodworking studio, making cheese, milling grain for bread, forging tools in a blacksmith shop, farming the land and more. Be sure to dine at the Homestead Cafe while you’re there. Another way to go back in time is to visit the historic Waco Hippodrome cinema and stage show theater, or visit Hey Sugar, a vintage-style candy store and ice cream shop. After dark, walk across Waco’s picturesque pedestrian Suspension Bridge over the Brazos River. Nearby food trucks provide good options for a casual al fresco dinner.
10.) Grab a good book. Read about the Gaines family story and their longtime love affair with Waco in their new book, The Magnolia Story (written with Mark Dagostino). It’s an easy inspiring read that tells of the couple’s strong faith, loving relationship, and supportive community.
For more information about Waco and its “Magnolia Trail” of Fixer-Upper friendly spots, visit www.wacoheartoftexas.com.
By Janis Turk