JUST OFF INTERSTATE 35 HALFWAY between Austin and Waco is Salado, population 2,353. What was once a sleepy little village is now a popular tourist destination. Salado is touted as an antique mecca with a mile and a half of shops lining Main Street. The town also brings thousands of people every year to annual events such as the August Art Fair, the October Christmas Bazaar, and the November Gathering of Scottish Clans. If you’re interested in a leisurely afternoon of shopping or even a weekend getaway, Salado is a must.

Salado was founded after the establishment of Salado College in 1859. The town grew up around the college and flourished as a result of its presence. But by 1885 Salado College couldn’t compete with state and church funded schools in the area and was forced to close its doors (the ruins of the college can now be found just off Main Street, and are open for tourists to wander the oak shaded grounds). At the turn of the century the population of Salado dwindled, and much of the growth and prosperity that Salado experienced was lost. It was not until the 1940’s that the town was revitalized through the popularity of the dining room at the famous Stagecoach Inn. Ever since, Salado has experienced a slow moving growth that has transformed the town into a thriving tourist and retirement destination.

As you make your way down Main Street the antique shops abound, and you are sure to find everything from a classic turn-of-the-century armoire to a yuletide postcard dating back to 1915. I found that Hutchens House Antiques, in particular, had a wonderful collection of items. The shop is situated in an old house built in 1921 and each room is full of unique pieces organized according to room, making it easy to peruse the myriad of collectables.

Although Salado’s reputation is built on antiques, it has much more to offer. There are a variety of fashion boutiques, art galleries, pottery and handicraft shops nestled amongst the antique stores. One particularly interesting spot is Salado Pottery, set in a charming old log cabin, where you can find handcrafted pottery by local artist Jim Dale. And just across the street from there is the Central Texas Area Museum (open Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm, and Sunday 11am-5pm) where you can take in some local history. If a tour of the museum does not satisfy your interests, you can pick up a Driving Tape Tour ($5 with a $5 deposit) at the Salado Civic Center located at 601 N. Main. Salado is peppered with historical markers and old wood-framed houses once occupied by such venerable characters as Miriam “Ma” Ferguson — Texas’ first woman Governor. The town boasts 18 buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and has 23 Texas Historical Markers.

If you are inclined to spend more than just an afternoon in Salado, there are plenty of cozy spots to stay overnight. One of the most well known in the area is the Stagecoach Inn. From its inception in the early 1860s,the Stagecoach was a stop on the Old Chisholm Trail, and brought in such notable individuals as Robert E. Lee and Sam Houston. The original building that once housed the Inn is now the restaurant of the hotel, and accommodations have been moved behind the original building into an 82-room hotel complex.

If you are looking for something a little more quaint, there are numerous bed and breakfasts scattered throughout the area. One of the more attractive ones I came across was The Inn at Salado, a converted wood-frame house built in 1872 that is carefully decorated with 19th century antiques. They offer eight rooms, all with their own individual charm, many of which are equipped with fireplaces or wood burning stoves. The front of the house is adorned with a covered porch where you can relax in a rocking chair and watch the shoppers wandering up and down Main Street.

Whether you drive in for an afternoon of antiquing or come to spend a relaxing weekend soaking up the local culture, Salado is a charming community that is worth the stop. The small population creates a relaxed atmosphere to shop and escape the more hectic pace of city life.