Texas Traveler Austin
Storybook Getaway

Think of all the stories you can tell after a trip to this Texas town

Think of all the stories you can tell after a trip to this Texas town

Storybook sculpture in Abilene, Texas
Abilene is considered the Storybook Capital of Texas. Photo by Jenn ZIndler/Abilene Convention & VIsitors Bureau
NCCIL
The National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature honors illustrator Mark Teague during the 2016 Children's Art and Literacy Festival, June 9-11. Photo by Steve Butman
Grace Museum Abilene
Grace Museum offers a number of revolving fine art and photography exhibits, as well as a children's museum on the second floor. Photo by Steve Butman
Storybook sculptures, abilene, Texas, Cat in the Hat, Dr Seuss
Abilene has earned the moniker of Storybook Capital of Texas thanks in part to storybook character sculptures peppered throughout the historic downtown. Photo courtesy of IttyBittyFoodies.com
NCCIL, abilene texas
The National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature is a treasure for avid readers. Photo courtesy of IttyBittyFoodies.com
Monks Coffee Shop in Abilene, Texas
Monks Coffee Shop in downtown Abilene is a hipster hangout. Monks Coffee Shop/Facebook
Abilene Zoo
At just 16 acres, the Abilene Zoo is one of the state's most charming and walkable zoos.  Photo courtesy of Abilene Zoo
Perini Ranch Steakhouse burger
Perini has one of the best burgers in the country, according to Food & Wine magazine. Photo courtesy of Perini Ranch Steakhouse
Sayles Guesthouses, Cottage Clare, Abilene
Cottage Clare is one of the many historic options offered by Sayles Ranch Guesthouses. Photo courtesy of Sayles Guesthouses
Abilene I can Fly; abilene; abi haus
Chalkboard art at the trendy Abi Haus. Photo courtesy of IttyBittyFoodies
Abi Haus
Abi Haus serves simple comfort food. Photo courtesy of IttyBittyFoodies.com
The Mill wine bar in Abilene, Texas
The Mill — literally an old mill — is now a wine bar. Photo courtesy of The Mill
Candles from Frontier Texas General Store
Shop the Frontier Texas general store. Facebook/Frontier Texas
Storybook sculpture in Abilene, Texas
NCCIL
Grace Museum Abilene
Storybook sculptures, abilene, Texas, Cat in the Hat, Dr Seuss
NCCIL, abilene texas
Monks Coffee Shop in Abilene, Texas
Abilene Zoo
Perini Ranch Steakhouse burger
Sayles Guesthouses, Cottage Clare, Abilene
Abilene I can Fly; abilene; abi haus
Abi Haus
The Mill wine bar in Abilene, Texas
Candles from Frontier Texas General Store

Originally the end point of the Chisholm Trail, Abilene has come a long way from its frontier roots. The town about four hours from Austin has emerged as the Storybook Capital of Texas, but that's not Abilene's only tale to discover. 

What to do

Storybook Capital of Texas
Take a stroll through Abilene's historic downtown, and it becomes clear why it's considered the Storybook Capital of Texas. Start at the Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau (the former Texas & Pacific Railroad Depot) and delight in seeing the first of the storybook character sculptures peppered throughout the area. Favorites include the collection of Dr. Seuss sculptures, such as The Lorax, Green Eggs and Ham, The Grinch, and Cat in the Hat.

You can spy the Man in the Moon, Jack Frost, and other beloved characters outside the Grace Museum, Abilene Library, and National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature (NCCIL). The NCCIL, which features a rotating exhibit of works from illustrators of children's books, is worth a gander, and children get a kick out of the reading corner and arts and crafts room.

Children's Art & Literacy Festival
Now in its fifth year, the Children's Art & Literacy Festival (CALF) takes place June 9-11 and celebrates the work of illustrator and author Mark Teague, of the How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight series. NCCIL showcases Teague's original artwork all summer long, and a new dinosaur storybook character sculpture will be unveiled in Teague's honor at the Abilene Civic Center. 

The historic downtown also will transform into a storybook adventure with a costume parade, dramatic book readings, and arts and crafts themed around Teague's books; fans can ask the illustrator to sign books. Also expect food trucks, face painting, live music, magic shows, and movies at the historic Paramount Theatre.

Frontier Texas
Did you ever play cowboys and Indians as a child? Well this is like that — sort of. At the state-of-the-art museum, stories are told from the viewpoints of settlers and Native Americans alike. Meet lawmen, outlaws, Indian chiefs, and various other characters through a series of realistic holographic videos that appear with a click of a button.

Learn about settlements, military life, the Comanche empire, the frontier's buffalo-hide trade, and gun weaponry. The exhibit ends inside the Experience Theater, where visitors find themselves in the prairie in the middle of a Texas thunderstorm and observing a buffalo stampede, an exciting shoot-out at the Beehive Saloon, and an Indian attack.

Grace Museum
For an artful activity, the Grace Museum pleases with more than 1,500 pieces of fine art and photography, with a focus on American artists. The permanent collection features Ansel Adams, Vernon Fisher, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol, to name a few, and there's a floor dedicated to rotating exhibits. 

Kids will love the second-floor children's museum, a hands-on science and discovery center that includes a replica of the historical Paramount Theater, where theatrics are highly encouraged.

Abilene Zoo
At 16 acres, this is one the most charming and walkable zoos in the state. The Abilene Zoo is home to more than 900 animals, including black rhinos, lions, reptiles, birds, and amphibians. Don't miss the newly constructed giraffe safari, where visitors can feed these gentle, long-necked animals at eye level in their habitat.

Running at regular intervals is the Safari Train Express, which gives visitors a quick tour of the entire zoo. 

Buffalo Gap Historic Village
A cluster of frontier buildings at Buffalo Gap Historic Village offers visitors a glimpse of the past. Time hop to 1883 and wander the early days of a settlement, hail the arrival of the railroad from Texas and Pacific Railway company (T&P) in 1904, and then visit 1925 to see the emergence of industrialization and how the invention of the combustion engine brought an end to the frontier days. 

While in Buffalo Gap, don't skip an opportunity to visit Perini Ranch Steakhouse. Cowboy cook and rancher Tom Perini serves hand-rubbed grilled steaks and chuckwagon favorites like old-fashioned green beans and Jack Daniels whiskey bread pudding in a rural roadhouse setting. Oh, and the burger's pretty darn good too.

Where to stay

With Texas heritage decor — handmade mesquite furniture, antiques, hides, horns, and hats — Sayles Ranch Guesthouses cater to the cowboy or cowgirl in all of us. Ideal for families, guesthouses vary in size, from the one-bedroom Hideout, which fits three people, to the swanky City Slickers, which can sleep up to 10.

Sayles Landmark bed-and-breakfast is available for couples needing just one room.

Where to eat

Abi Haus serves simple comfort food and trendy craft cocktails. Its version of a BLT is the PBAT, with melt-in-your-mouth pork belly, arugula, and tomato. For dessert, have the lemon curd beignets.

Abilene has its own hipster coffee shop too. Called Monks Coffee Shop, it adequately caffeinates patrons while they Snapchat.

A fun place to end the evening is The Mill, which has been converted into a wine bar. For some scenery, grab a table among the grapevines. Or cozy up on one of the patios and enjoy some starters, desserts, wine, or beer. Check the weekly calendar for live music, special events, and food trucks.