Deep in East Texas, situated among the pine tree forests, lakes, and historic sites of the region, lies the charming town of Nacogdoches. Its roots go back 10,000 years — the age of the earliest settlement evidence — and it was home to the Caddo Indians until the early 19th century. Along came the Spanish missionaries in 1716, followed by the French. More flags have flown over Nacogdoches than over the state of Texas.
Today, the outer parts of the town along Highway 59 are dotted with chain restaurants and fast-food joints, like just about anywhere. But the downtown center is a little treasure, with red-brick streets lined with some of the prettiest and most well-preserved historic buildings in East Texas.
While other small Texas towns — Fredericksburg, Wimberley, Jefferson, or Granbury — are popular for road trip getaways, Nacogdoches is often overlooked, perhaps because it’s not right off a major highway. But a drive through national forests along two-lane highways without traffic congestion makes getting there so much more pleasant. And, it's only a four-hour drive from Austin.
Once you arrive, it’s as if you’ve found an under-the-radar town that hasn’t quite been marked on the tourist trail.
Walk, shop, and snack downtown
The Historic Town Center is picturesque, and in spite of its small size, there is plenty to discover. Shop the numerous boutiques, from clothing and handmade jewelry to household décor, artwork, and gifts. For the antique hunter, this is the place to search for treasures in vintage and antique shops brimming with finds from the past.
A self-guided walking tour is also a great way to step back into the history and legends of the town. You can start at the Convention & Visitors Bureau (200 E. Main St.) for a free map and other information about Nacogdoches. The trail will lead you past beautifully restored architecture, both residential and commercial, as well as seven bronze statues that were placed around town to commemorate important individuals and their roles in the town’s development.
There are several fantastic places to refresh yourself along the way. For a retro diner experience with authentic Southern home cooking, go to Dolli’s Diner (116 S. Pecan St.). Co-owned by Dolli and her father, Jim, the atmosphere, friendly service, and really good food — much of it based on recipes passed down for generations — earn gold stars.
Another favorite is Liberty Bell (422 E. Main St.), a wine bar and restaurant serving upscale comfort food favorites. The setting is beautiful, with exposed brick walls featuring local artwork and a high ceiling. Liberty Bell also offers a great selection of craft beer and daily live music (some shows require ticket purchase).
Sip and stroll
Nacogdoches is quickly becoming a hot spot for small-batch, artisan wine, beer, and spirit makers. Enjoy multiple spots on the Wine, Whiskey, and Brew Tour, held about once per quarter, or visit them individually:
Fredonia Brewery, named after the Fredonia Rebellion and Republic of 1826, opened last year and features a taproom, patio, and beer garden.
Naca Valley Vineyard, six miles outside downtown Nacogdoches, was a longtime dream of Buzz and Wanda Mouton, who opened the winery with their son Scott and daughter-in-law Chelsea. Guests can visit the tasting room or take a walking tour of the vineyard and production rooms. Naca Valley wines are also available at the local farmers market on Saturdays.
Front Porch Distillery specializes in a variety of artisan craft spirits, ranging from rum to barrel-aged whiskey. Custom-built copper stills are said to be the secret to the high-quality spirits.
Enjoy the great outdoors
This region of East Texas boasts many great natural offerings, from three national forests to Caddo Indian sites and burial mounds. Visitors can hike miles of historic trails that once served as trade routes for Native Americans, and Stephen F. Austin University has easy access to a number of interpretive trails, an experimental forest, and an arboretum.
Nacogdoches is also known as the Garden Capital of Texas. Numerous gardens provide not only beautiful spots for walking but also for peaceful refuge or picnics.
Besides hiking, there is a wealth of other outdoor activities, such as fishing, bird watching, horseback riding, and golf. For an adrenaline thrill, go ziplining with Zip Nac, offering a zipline course spread across 60 acres. Summertime visitors can head to Splash Kingdom, a water park with everything from a tree house and a lazy river for younger kids to thrilling water rides like Buzz Saw and Timber Snakes.
Where to stay
There are a few charming bed-and-breakfasts peppered throughout town, but the best bet for a hotel is the Fredonia Hotel (200 N. Fredonia St.), located off the main square. It has a fun, retro vibe, and, true to the motor court hotels of the 1950s and '60s, the hotel is built around two outdoor pool courtyards. The rooms, from $99, keep the vintage feel going, but in a fresh and modern way.
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