Happy Trails

Salado is the perfect mix of shopping, culture, and fun.

February 2006By Comments

It’s a rare scenario that allows a wife’s zeal for shopping to coexist peacefully with her husband’s appreciation for the great outdoors. But there we were, in Salado, where a picturesque creek—perfect for skipping rocks, I might add—runs through a charming village of antiques shops, art galleries, and bed-and-breakfasts.

Founded by early Scottish settlers in 1852, Salado escaped big-city status when the railroad failed to materialize, trade declined, and the population dwindled. But that fate has not deterred Salado from evolving into a rich hotbed of Texas culture; authors Liz Carpenter and A.C. Green, as well as former state governors James E. Ferguson and Miriam “Ma” Ferguson have all called it home. It’s changed a bit since the old days, when life revolved around the now-defunct Salado College, but 2,350 citizens make sure their fair city never loses its Southern charm.

Jacob and I parked in a large dirt lot outside Charlotte’s of Salado, where former Salado mayor Charlotte Douglass sells a wide selection of home furnishings. I immediately fell in love with a striking pair of sheer cranberry-hued curtains, but I knew my shopping stops had only just begun.

Walking down Main Street, I spied clusters of antiques shops with whimsical storefronts and window displays. The Strawberry Patch, a quaint store filled with Texas-style gourmet food products, boasted a weary shop-hopper’s antidote: fresh brewed coffee. Despite the cool weather, I ordered a mocha Chill Out and felt instantly revitalized. Jacob, meanwhile, held out for something more substantial. He found it right outside, where a street vendor sold him a tortilla-wrapped sausage.

Several stores later, Jacob was ready to take advantage of Salado’s more natural wonders. We headed to the middle of town, where Salado Creek splits the city in half. Jacob and I wasted no time in locating the smoothest rocks on the creek’s bank. We competed for the next half an hour to see who could produce the greatest number of rock-skips on the smooth-as-glass creek surface. (For the record, Jacob’s boyhood talent was still intact as he effortlessly produced four or five skips to my measly double or triple skips). Walking through Pace Park, it was funny how unhurried and simple life felt here—not an iPod or cell phone in sight.

Back on Main Street, Jacob and I were reminded that we had ventured to Salado during the hubbub of its Christmas fanfare, and we saw a festive side of the city that only shows itself a few weeks of the year. Santa and Mrs. Claus had set up camp outside one particular store, magnetizing a steady stream of expectant children and their tired parents.

Throughout the year, Salado rarely takes a break from hosting such weekend events. Tourists flock to February’s A Mozart Festival in Salado, April’s Salado Wildflower Art Show, May’s Yard and Garden Tour—the list goes on. We missed the annual Christmas Stroll, a tour through the city’s historic homes, but we were lucky enough to catch a starlight performance of A Christmas Carol at the local amphitheater. Impressive acting added new zest to the Dickens classic, and we vowed to return again next year. Even though the play was accompanied by a well-stocked concession stand, Jacob and I saved our appetites for the stately Salado Mansion.

I adore a backdrop of Victorian architecture while I dine, but my husband usually eschews the dainty food that accompanies such a setting. Fortunately for us, the restaurant held the best of both worlds. We were seated on the veranda, where our waiter promptly introduced us to the restaurant’s hearty crowd-pleasers. As self-proclaimed Mexican food connoisseurs, Jacob and I weren’t disappointed by our spicy dishes. I sampled the combination plate, which included a delectable spinach enchilada and a melt-in-your-mouth tamale. Jacob, true to form, ordered his regular, grilled beef fajitas. Paired with tangy margaritas (mango for me, regular for Jacob), the meal hit the spot. We walked hand in hand into a vibrant street scene and, for the next hour, browsed through shops and galleries that had stayed open late to accommodate the influx of tourists. We passed several cozy bed-and-breakfasts, including the Inn at Salado, a historical home that looked as if had been transported from Gone with the Wind’s Tara plantation to Salado’s Main Street. Alas, we had to get back to Austin that night.

But that wasn’t the last Salado had seen of me. I’d had so much fun that on a lazy Tuesday a few weeks later, I headed back to the peaceful village to scout out any local haunts I’d missed on my maiden voyage. At the Salado Visitors Center, you can pick up a driving tape tour for $5 with a $5 deposit. I asked two friendly workers at the center if there was anything I’d bypassed on the first go-round. They both urged me to take in more of the local antiquing and art; with more than one hundred shops, it’s what Salado is best known for. But they also insisted that I come back later in the spring, when the owners of the Salado Silver Spur Theater would begin the 2006 season. The theater, I learned, was operated by a local couple who had transformed an old grainery into a venue for picture shows, Vaudeville performances, and live music. I was sorry I wouldn’t find entertainment at the Silver Spur that day, but I figured it would be a good excuse to return again soon.

Luckily, I found plenty to do with my afternoon. I stopped by the Wells Gallery, which showcases bronze sculptures created by local wildlife artist Ronnie Wells, and Mud Pies Pottery, which features functional stoneware molded by Texan hands. At Garden Spirits, I marveled at a tree limb that was growing through the middle of the store and perused a substantial display of soaps, candles, and Burt’s Bees products. Then I headed back across town to Horsefeathers. The bright yellow house with a red roof caught my eye, but the fabulous home decor pieces inside kept me browsing for the better part of an hour. By the time I had made my way through the store—which is laid out like a private residence, with merchandise expertly coordinated in a bedroom, living room, kitchen, and foyer—I had found artistic solutions for every shred of unoccupied wall and floor space in my home. Ah, another day.

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