When people begin to tiptoe out their doors to hit the open roads and explore, Abilene will be an ideal locale for a day trip or overnight excursion. An easy drive from the Metroplex, Midland, Lubbock, San Angelo, Wichita Falls, and everywhere in between, road trippers can choose from several routes, opting for drive-time efficiency or choosing to roll through small towns and sightsee along the way. The mid-sized city is friendly and affordable, and offers hassle-free navigation, big city amenities, and small-town charm.
Find pet-friendly lodging, too.
You will find characters of every kind in the downtown cultural district, home to the largest public collection of storybook characters in the country, if not the world. Scattered among dining, breweries, bakeries, coffee shops, and galleries, you’ll find 25 sculptures of your favorite childhood storybook heroes. Six iconic Dr. Seuss sculptures are favorites in Everman Park. William Joyce’s “Guardians of Childhood” sculptures are nestled throughout. Head to Adamson-Spalding Storybook Garden next to Abilene Convention Center to meet all the iconic storybook characters from Charlotte’s Web, The Three Little Pigs, and more. A new sculpture is unveiled each year.
A Texas must-do is to savor a mesquite-grilled steak from one of the many award-winning restaurants in town. All of the below restaurants are offering take-out and will open doors as soon as Texas gets back to business.
Located in Buffalo Gap, a 25 minute drive from Abilene, Perini Ranch Steakhouse is world-famous. It has been listed as one of the best steakhouses and burger places in the state, honored as an America’s Classic by the James Beard Foundation, selected to cook for the Congressional Picnic at the White House.
The Beehive Restaurant and Saloon has earned a top spot among the elite steakhouses in the Lone Star State. Texas Monthly names it as the “best country steakhouse in Texas.” The Beehive has two restaurants—one is conveniently located in downtown Abilene, and the other is located in Albany, a short drive away.
At Lytle Land & Cattle Co., you’ll find drool-worthy steaks and other options of mesquite-grilled sausage, tilapia, tuna, catfish, and pork chops.
Standing over a remote grassy plain, the brick chimneys of Fort Phantom Hill aren’t just a ghostly sight; they’re a living piece of history. It was here, in 1851, that the U.S. Army established the fort to protect the Texas frontier as it moved west. Walk around the grounds (admission is free) and you’ll see three of the fort’s original stone buildings, more than a dozen chimneys, and the fort’s original foundations. Take a moment to savor the peace and quiet and you’ll get a sense of what life was like for those stationed at the fort. Follow up your visit with a trip to Frontier Texas!, the regional information center of the Texas Forts Trail and the place to go for a deeper dive into Abilene’s frontier history. Keep your eyes open for songbirds and butterflies, like the variegated fritillary and red admiral that are attracted to the area’s colorful wildflowers.
Get outside and explore nature.
Spring’s arrival means it’s time to grab your binoculars or your long-lens camera and head to Abilene, the center of the Big Country Loop of the Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Great Texas Wildlife Trails. The season brings with it the arrival of migrating songbirds and butterflies, and there’s no shortage of places to see them near town.
Abilene State Park is the place to go to see black-chinned, ruby-throated, and rufous hummingbirds, while you might catch a glimpse of an American goldfinch at Will Hair Park. Explore the trails at Lake Kirby Nature Park for even more birdwatching, all while learning a thing or two about the local flora and fauna. Find more outdoor activities.
Meandering through 220 acres of verdant terrain near Lytle Creek, Diamondback Golf Club tees up 18 holes of magnificent golf that will put your short and long game to the test. The sand traps, water hazards, and sloping fairways will have you reaching for all the clubs in your bag, while the abundance of mesquite trees provides a scenic backdrop. Diamondback was founded by former Master’s champion and Texas Sports Hall of Fame inductee Charles Coody, who still owns the course. Ready to play? Tee times at Diamondback Golf Club are available on the course’s website.
Plot an adventure later.
Abilene has more fun, family-friendly venues to visit when more doors open for travelers.
Experience the big picture of blood and treasure on the Texas frontier as the story comes to life in this multimedia facility. Frontier Texas! is one of the few museums in the world to feature life-size holographic figures. Meet “spirit guides” from the past, a Comanche warrior, a buffalo hunter, a former slave, and a frontier woman and relive early Texas through their stories. Sit in the full-sensory 360-degree theatre to experience the frisson of frontier life and lastly, see the “Guns of the West” exhibition featuring a large collection of historic firearms.
The 32-acre Abilene Zoo is home to more than 1,000 animals representing 250 species, ranging from lions, camels, tigers to rhinoceros. Get up close with giraffes on the feeding deck, where you get a chance to hand feed them lettuce. The walkable grounds make it family-friendly, easy for pre-schoolers and senior citizens. For the adventurous ones, sign up for an affordable VIP tour to get a behind-the-scenes peek of select species.
The National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) is dedicated to providing children the opportunity to fall in love with art through exhibits of original illustrations from some of the most beloved children’s books and their artists. Spend an hour or two here to take a glimpse of the artist’s work-in-progress and inspiration through rough sketches from initial ideas to the final work at the exhibition. The NCCIL offers educational programs that are designed to stimulate creativity, promote literacy, and increase appreciation for the arts. Every Saturday afternoon, it offers art activities for youngsters. Admission to the NCCIL is free, so it’s a perfect place for those who are on a budget.
The landmark Paramount Theatre is not your typical theatre. First built in 1930, the theatre’s auditorium replicates a Spanish/Moorish courtyard at night, with clouds floating through a sky of twinkling stars. In 1987, the Paramount was renovated to accommodate live theatre. Today, the 1,200-seat auditorium is a place where locals and visitors enjoy a busy slate of events: contemporary and classic movies, local theatre productions, opera, concerts, ballet, and traveling productions.
Experience the unfolding of World War II events in this three-floor museum on N 2nd St. The 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum holds an extensive collection of artifacts such as uniforms, letters, and weapons donated from former servicemen, a dioramas gallery that depicts WWII combat grounds based on veterans recount and a Holocaust memorial.
Unlike most WWII museums, the 12th Armored Division Museum focuses only on the stories of one unit’s combat history in WWII. Learn about soldiers’ life at Camp Barkeley, an army training base in Abilene, to life on the battlefront through handwritten letters and diary entries of soldiers. Start from the first floor of the museum to learn about the build-up to WWII, then walk through the first exhibit to understand how the 12th Armored Division “Hellcats” became the “Suicide Division.”
Venture out of Abilene to the Taylor County History Center at Buffalo Gap to explore the West Texas frontier from 1875 to 1925. The Taylor County History Center is made up of a collection of buildings and artifacts from early civilization on the frontier, from the actual Taylor County Courthouse, Knight-Sayles cabin to a train depot built in the 1880s. The history center features an original bank, post office, and school preserved from the 18th to 19th century, and a blacksmith shop, barn, and print shop mimic living conditions from the past. Grab an audio guide for a self-guided tour!
Tip: Get the Abilene Round Up Pass and you’ll save on admission at the best attractions in town.