How to Plan the Ultimate Road Trip to Denton, Texas
From amazing live music to vibrant public art to craft beer for days, this underrated college town truly has it all.
You heard it here first: Denton is the new Austin. Perched 40 miles north of Dallas-Fort Worth and forming the tip of the Golden Triangle, the once-sleepy college town has blossomed into a destination city that masterfully merges small-town charm with a weirdness that many lifelong Austinites would probably give their firstborn to have back.
In addition to the creativity and energy spilling out of the campuses of two major universities—the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University—Denton features dozens of live venues where you can catch chart-topping rock bands, indie singer-songwriters, and performers of all genres every night of the week. It was the third city in the state to receive the Texas Music Office’s Music Friendly Community designation, which is no surprise given that UNT has the largest number of music majors of any university in the entire country.
The Courthouse-on-the-Square opened in 1896, and has been the landmark symbol of Denton ever since. It also anchors an entertainment district stocked with enough diversions to keep visitors and locals busy for days on end. So, if you’re looking for an easy, affordable, and action-packed getaway, add Denton to your road trip bucket list.
Immerse yourself in sound
Music fills the air in Denton thanks to a larger-than-average population of musicians. You’ll find live music venues lining several blocks near the courthouse square as well as surrounding the University of North Texas’ campus. Among the must-visits are Andy’s Bar in a circa-1877 building; Dan’s Silverleaf for local, national, and international acts; Harvest House for its outdoor stage in the beer garden; and Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios, where you’re just as likely to attend a proper live show as you are to overhear musicians practicing in the onsite rehearsal studios.
Drink your fill without breaking the budget
Even though it’s less than an hour from Dallas, Denton is a nostalgic reminder that expertly crafted cocktails don’t have to cost $18. Case in point? Paschall Bar, a speakeasy up a long staircase above Andy’s Bar that offers some of the most thoughtfully prepared concoctions in Texas, most of which ring up at a cool $10. Nearby, Miss Angeline’s occupies an old house (and the patio behind it), serving up a variety of perfectly balanced tipples on tap for a craft experience without the wait. Across from UNT, Flying Squirrel peddles $4 cocktails and wine to-go alongside all-day brunch and a huge selection of vegan dishes. But the party really starts when an actual (human-sized) squirrel pops out from the back and begins dancing with patrons. For craft beer, make sure to visit Denton County Brewing Co. (ask if the secret room is available) to sample the 22 house brews on tap. Afterward, pop across the street to Bearded Monk, a craft beer specialist with growler fills and refrigerators bursting with cans and bottles sourced from around the world.
Stroll through the Chairy Orchard
Take a walk through one of the most enjoyable and most bizarre attractions in Denton. The Chairy Orchard is filled with old, one-of-a-kind, and otherwise outrageous chairs, sitting on the ground and hanging from trees. Stop by for photos or during one of its special events, like the Boho Vintage Tent Sale, a pop-up market that makes frequent appearances.
Eat your way around the Courthouse-on-the-Square
Fuel your fun at several incredible eateries within spitting distance of the iconic square. Barley & Board is the go-to for brunch (don’t miss the Kind of Blue Pancake), while across the square LSA Burger serves up killer burgers, just as you’d expect—but don’t sleep on the Chicken Tenders with Attitude (honey mustard sauce included). For a nontraditional (but delectable) Japanese experience, work your way through the Bao and Ramen options at Komodo Loco. Fine dining awaits at Queenie’s Steakhouse from Chef Tim Love. And after an evening of music and bar-hopping, stop in for late-night doughnuts at the not-so-secret-secret Back Dough behind Queenie’s. When the neon sign is on, sweet pastries await. And if you don’t want to wait that long for your sugar fix, Beth Marie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream will satisfy you with one of its irresistible homemade flavors.
Unearth early Texas history
You’ve heard enough about Courthouse-on-the-Square by now that you should really schedule an in-person visit. The Denton County Office of History and Culture operates the 1896 landmark building, which is filled with artifacts as well as the grave of the city’s namesake, John B. Denton. Make a second stop at Denton County Historical Park, where the Bayless-Selby House Museum and the Quakertown House Museum showcase another aspect of the town’s rich past.
You haven’t seen Texas unless you’ve explored the gorgeous deserts and canyons of Big Bend National Park, one of the largest national parks in the US offering breathtakingly diverse landscapes for the outdoor enthusiast. Or, take in the San Antonio River Walk—a 15-mile stretch of walkways that run alongside the San Antonio River and parts of downtown San Antonio—by eating and drinking your way through it. Whatever it is you’re after, your next adventure awaits in Texas.
Embark on a mural-inspired photo crawl
Not only is Denton home to incredible musicians, but visual artists flock to this laidback community, too. Dozens of murals can be found throughout town for the perfect profile pic backdrop, and you can track them all down on this handy map. The Greetings From Denton mural is a great place to start, but the rest is up to you.
Spend the afternoon drinking with the Mario Bros.
Sure, you’ll find Free Play locations in other parts of North Texas, but Free Play Denton is easily the coolest of them all. It even has a basement, which can be hard to come by in Texas. For one low price ($12 with all taxes and fees), you’ll have access to more than 120 arcade games, from pinball and classic 1980s titles to the latest innovative gaming sensations. Pub grub, tons of beer on tap, and handcrafted cocktails make this a decidedly adult experience—especially after 9 pm on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays when Free Play is 21-and-over only.
Make like a cowpoke and wrangle up some four-legged transportation
Riding a horse is a right of passage for everyone who sets foot in the Lone Star State, and the Denton area offers several options for you to get your ranch hand on. Book private or group rides via RNR Stables, Black Mustang Ranch, Four Fillies Farm, and Hopper Ranch, then saddle up for a picturesque adventure that’ll have you seriously reconsidering renewing your lease on that Honda.
Peruse treasures new and old
Supporting local businesses is a key part of modern-day travel, no matter how close to home you find yourself. Thankfully, Denton is equipped with some really fun spots to drop your hard-earned cash. A massive sugar rush awaits at Atomic Candy, More Fun Comics & Games deals in collectibles and other nerdy delights, and you can snatch up souvenir tees at Norman Roscoe, a full-service screen printing shop. Elsewhere, get your hands on any number of literary- and music-based gems at Recycled Books, Records & CDs, a massive outpost spread out over three floors inside the historic Wright Opera House.