If are planning your Texas travel stories for 2018, there’s a lot to love about Abilene. This prairie town is home to some of the best little guesthouses in the state, the perfect place to hang your hat after a day communing with spirits of the Old West, chowing down on steaks or barbecue, or taking in some of the country’s top country music acts.
Here are just six reasons to put Abilene on your road trip radar for 2018:
The best little guesthouses in Texas. Where most people just see an old house, Terry Browder sees the next great boutique hotel alternative. Indeed the prominent Abilene innkeeper is also a “house whisperer” of sorts, and he has transformed multiple historic homes in the Sayles Avenue area into luxury guest lodgings that meld vintage sensibility with modern sense. The latest of these — a Downton Abbey-inspired guesthouse – opened in late 2017. You’ll feel like English aristocracy as you settle in amid the Edwardian décor, including walls “papered” with 3000 vintage law books. Not far away is another star in Browder’s constellation — Sayles Landmark, a renovated Queen Anne B & B, with six uniquely styled rooms, an antique rose garden, and a Victorian fish pond-style swimming pool. If mid-century modern is more your style, you can opt to rent out his Mad Men-inspired guesthouse. www.saylesranch.com.
Guitars, Cadillacs, etc. etc. The Outlaws & Legends country music festival returns to Abilene’s Back Porch for its 8th year March 23-24, featuring more acts on one stage in two days than any other fest in Texas, and affording fans an up-close music immersion experience. This year’s headliner is the two-time Grammy winner Dwight Yoakam. www.outlawsandlegends.com.
The growing giraffe herd at the Abilene Zoo. In 2016, this little gem of a zoo opened its new Giraffe Safari, a habitat with a feeding deck that puts visitors eye-to-eye with the giraffes. And since then, the herd has grown to populate the 30,400 square foot space. Two new baby giraffes, Mtumishi and Chatata were born this fall, and another is due any moment. All will be on exhibit this summer.www.abilenezoo.org.
Bookish types welcome: Abilene has always been crazy about reading, so much so that it was recently named The Storybook Capital of Texas. It’s the home of the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, which will host its famous annual Children’s Art & Literacy Festival June 7 – 9. The 2018 honoree is Oliver Jeffers, a prolific Northern Irish, Brooklyn-based artist and writer and the author of Here We Are, which debuted this fall on the New York Times best-seller list and was named one of 2017’s TIME Top Books for Young Adults & Children. During the Festival, the streets of Abilene turn into a storybook fantasyland with parades, author meet-and-greets, storytelling and more. New sculptures depicting Jeffers’ most beloved characters will be added to downtown Abilene’s fanciful collection of storybook sculptures, thought to be one of the largest public displays of such art in the country. In September, Abilene is host to the West Texas Book Fair, a celebration of books and authors of all genres with a special tribute to cookbooks.
Barbecue’s the thing. Abilene is just as crazy for barbecue as it is books, and one could spend a long weekend and then some taste testing their way through the city’s many barbecue joints. This year, the West Texas Fair & Rodeo hosted its inaugural “Step Aside Fried: The Barbecue’s the Thing in Abilene” competition, and the contest will return in September, 2018. Dozens of vendors will vie for bragging rights with creative and classic barbecue dishes that the public can sample during the 11 day fair.
Let the spirits guide you. Abilene’s Frontier Texas is a living history museum, where guests can experience a virtual buffalo stampede, prairie thunderstorm, and salon shootout, and learn from holographic “spirit guides” about what life was really like on the frontier. In December, 2017, a new historical figure joined the existing cast of nine hologram “spirit guides.” Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie comes to life to answer questions from museum visitors about his life as a commander in the U.S. Army in Texas. www.frontiertexas.com.