In downtown Denison, eighty miles north of Dallas and a stone’s throw south of the Red River that divides Texas and Oklahoma, there’s a stately red-brick building called the Katy Depot. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, this was the headquarters of the MK&T Railroad, and the adjacent train station was among Texas’s busiest, connecting North Texas to the rest of the country through six rail lines. A thriving rural community sprung up around the railroad, including a 1,200-person opera house, four banks, and nine elementary schools. The Marx brothers and gunfighter Doc Holliday stopped by. Versions of this tale played out in small towns across Texas, and most of them have sad endings. You know the story: wealth shifted to cities, the railroad industry shrunk, and family farms and small factories went bankrupt. Buildings not unlike the Katy Depot now sit crumbling on many town squares, and grand plans to restore them don’t often come to fruition.
In Denison, though, they’ve done it. Walking into the 23,413-square-foot depot’s lobby, passing under a massive arched window, is like traveling back in time to an era when railroad travel was glamorous. Gold paint shines on the ceilings, enormous chandeliers twinkle, and conversations echo across the cavernous space. Under renovation since 2020, the building now hosts weddings, and parts of it have been converted to apartments and coworking spaces. The trendy Stafford House Provisions serves wine and charcuterie plates; boutiques and a bakery are down the hall. On the morning of my visit, there was a photo shoot taking place on the lawn, while the smell of espresso and fresh pastries from Revolution Coffee Co. wafted outside.
Perhaps in part because it’s an easy drive from both Dallas–Fort Worth, which sits 75 miles to the southwest, and the boating and fishing destination of Lake Texoma, just north of town, Denison (population 25,000) feels lively. There’s a state park, a farmers market, a slew of bed-and-breakfasts, a winery, and several breweries. The region isn’t yet a major tourist draw along the lines of Fredericksburg or Round Top, but it seems headed in that direction. Better go soon, while it’s still uncrowded and affordable. Here’s how to enjoy Denison, Texas Monthly–style.
Eat + Drink
The aforementioned Revolution Coffee Co., a cozy nook inside the resplendent Katy Depot, brews strong espresso, and tea drinkers will be impressed by unexpected choices like the Edith Grey (similar to an Earl Grey, but with a touch of rose). Belgian waffles are also on offer, with decadent flavors, including strawberry Nutella, blueberry lemon and cream, and butterscotch banana walnut. To stave off a food coma, stroll around the depot and check out the vintage photos and maps displayed on the walls, or rest for a spell on a hundred-year-old wooden bench—a vestige from the railroad days.
The newly opened Stafford House Provisions, also on the depot’s ground floor, would make for a classy date night. Choose from thoughtfully selected wines, including several from local vineyards, and charcuterie boards that are (almost) too pretty to eat. The space is swanky, with leather couches and lots of natural light.
For a much more casual (but equally delicious) vibe, try lunch at the Right Spot, a Southern comfort-food joint, where our fellow diners included kids in baseball uniforms eating with their parents after a Saturday morning game. Along with burgers, wings, and fried fish, choose from fried green tomatoes, hush puppies, and something called Dragon Bites (battered and fried jalapeños). For dessert, there’s a mouthwatering array of cakes, including unexpected choices such as key lime and piña colada.
Our Airbnb hosts recommended the Point for its gorgeous view of Lake Texoma. We didn’t make it out there, but the photos look lovely, and there’s a covered patio. Reviews of the food (which is classic American, such as burgers and fish) range from middling to negative, so you might consider applying the same strategy many folks use at the Oasis in Austin: stop by for a drink and to watch the sunset over the water.
Speaking of drinks, Ivanhoe Ale Works calls itself “the first Brew-Winery in Texas,” since it’s right next to Homestead Winery. The Red River Ale and the Knight’s Latte (an imperial stout) have earned high marks from beer snobs. The brewery is located inside an old movie theater in downtown Denison, and the airy space often hosts events such as movie nights and concerts.
Hidden Hangar winery is named in honor of Denison’s former municipal airport, Gray Field, where a generation of pilots trained in barnstormers (biplanes) from the 1920s through the 1950s. Today it’s home to a fifty-acre vineyard that has produced award-winning vintages. Guests are welcome to fish on an eleven-acre lake, poke around the putting green, or play cornhole. Before your visit, read up on Denison’s rich wine history, especially the story of hometown horticulturist T. V. Munson, a.k.a. “the Grape Man of Texas.”
See + Do
Downtown Denison Farmers Market, just a few blocks down Main Street from the Katy Depot, was a nice surprise on a Saturday morning. Stroll down a long line of tents and browse fresh produce, handmade goods such as candles and soap, and even a booth dedicated to freeze-dried candy, which has a fervent following with the local elementary-aged set. We took home a hearty sourdough loaf from JoJo’s Bread.
Eisenhower State Park, named in honor of the thirty-fourth president (born in Denison in 1890), has a sandy swimming beach that’s popular with families. You can rent “Ike’s Cabin,” pitch a tent, or bring your RV, and there are two fishing piers from which to land bass, sunfish, or catfish. Adventure seekers with mountain bikes or ATVs can bump along on three trails designed for off-roading. At the Ammonite Crossing, low water reveals big, ancient marine fossils trapped in the limestone.
Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site honors Denison’s most famous son (the second-most famous is pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, of the “Miracle on the Hudson,” whom a downtown mural celebrates). Dwight Eisenhower was one of seven children born to Ida and David Eisenhower, the latter of whom worked at the rail depot cleaning steam engines. You can tour the family home and browse a small exhibition highlighting Eisenhower’s long military and political career.
Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, fifteen miles west of Denison, is a birding destination. Bald eagles and painted buntings are commonly sighted here, as are myriad waterfowl—terns, egrets, herons, geese—along the lake. Five hiking trails are open to visitors. If you get really lucky, you might even spot some of the resident river otters splashing about.
When I booked an Airbnb named Alpaca Adventure for my husband and our almost-one-year-old son, I figured the name was a little bit of a stretch. But as we pulled in at night, I could just make out the shadowy silhouettes of the four resident alpacas, lining up to greet us at the fence directly outside the guesthouse’s front door. In the morning, I got out of bed, peeked through the bedroom curtains, and saw a camelid with a poofy shock of white hair—I would later learn his name was Sven—placidly munching grass. The cozy, recently remodeled one-bedroom guesthouse, which can accommodate up to five guests, also has a big pool and a rolling lawn. On the second night of our stay, we ate dinner outside and watched a hawk swoop overhead. The quiet pastoral location feels like a rural getaway, despite being right in town.
Should you prefer your stay sans alpacas, the Cabin With the OK View sleeps six and offers a sprawling seventeen-acre property and a four-acre pond to explore. Guests can paddle on kayaks or stroll along private hiking trails. Older kids will enjoy climbing up to the sleeping loft, which has three single beds. Reviews rave about the stylish design, comfortable beds, and wraparound porch, from which you can watch deer and turkeys mosey on by.
The Farmhouse Estate is technically in Pottsboro, not Denison, but it’s close. The stately, white-trimmed stone building seems transported from a much older East Coast town, and the guest suites are formal and traditional without the stuffy, Grandma’s-attic feel common to many bed-and-breakfasts. I would love to get lost in a good book, preferably a cozy mystery, while holed up in the solarium. One review describes the breakfast, which includes a traditional tea service on formal china, as “to die for.”