The Best Places to Stop on a Drive Between Dallas and Austin
Ice Age fossils, giant caterpillars, and very good kolaches await.
The drive between Dallas and Austin is usually done with one thing in mind: getting it over with as quickly as possible without being pulled over, detoured by the endless construction, or devoured by a semi-truck. It’s three hours door to door if you’re lucky, but on this fickle stretch of Interstate 35, there’s really no such thing as “making good time.”
Lean into the inevitable slow-down and you’ll find plenty of fun, bizarre, and quintessentially Texan things to check out along the drive from Dallas to Austin. Some of I-35’s most beloved oddities are no longer with us -- like Starship Pegasus, a restaurant in Italy, Texas, that looked like a spaceship, or Willie’s Place, the truck stop in Carl’s Corner where Willie Nelson would occasionally drop in to perform. But the drive still has its gems, if you know where to pull over. From roadside attractions to restaurants, here are the best places to stop on I-35.
Just when you’re released from the clutches of Dallas traffic, along comes Hachie to tempt you with a detour. Venture into the town square to peruse the Webb Gallery’s eclectic, oddball collection of folk art and Mason memorabilia. Alternatively, conduct a stealth drive-by of the Munster Mansion Replica. Owners Sandra and Charles McKee have made a near-perfect replica of the Munster family mansion from the 1960’s hit sitcom, recreating the entire house inside and out, room by room. Although it’s not an open tourist attraction because they actually live there, private tours can be arranged and they host monthly murder mystery dinners.
The World’s Largest CaterpillarItaly, TX
At over 350 feet long, the world’s largest caterpillar is easily visible from the road as you cruise through Italy, Texas. He even has a cool Italian name, Bruco, but this friendly sight is more than your standard roadside kitsch. Bruco actually serves as the manufacturing facility for the Monolithic Dome Institute, a company that fabricates these funky dome homes that claim to be some of the most durable and eco-friendly structures in the world. There’s even a whole neighborhood of these dome structures along Dome Park Place available for rent.
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Tex-Czech Kolaches in WestWest, TX
If you make only one stop on your mad dash from Dallas to Austin, make it West, Texas (the town, not the direction, or the generally enormous part of Texas). You are here for kolaches. For the uninitiated, kolaches are buttery baked goods with sweet or savory fillings, brought to Texas by Czech immigrants. Driving north, hit the famous Czech Stop for classics like the spicy jalapeno sausage with cheese; driving south, check out Slovacek’s, which also has a small dog park. These are grab-and-go situations (with gas out front for a fill-up). Or drive two blocks to Gerik’s, a funky hole-in-the-wall where you can get incredible cinnamon rolls, beer on-draft, and a killer pizza pie all in one stop.
MORE: Things to do on a road trip through West Texas (the region, not the town)
Long before the buffalo roamed in Texas, there were herds of giant Columbian mammoths grazing the great plains of the Americas. Swing by this national monument to see the fossilized remains of 21 mammoths, first discovered here back in 1978 along with other long-extinct creatures from the Ice Age. The centerpiece is the dig shelter that displays these still-in-the-ground bones, a cool exhibit for all ages.
Post mammoth bones, get some fresh air in Cameron Park. Located along the Brazos River, it boasts a huge network of trails that even an Austin Greenbelt enthusiast would admit are pretty legit. Hike or drive to one of the scenic viewpoints from the limestone bluffs overlooking the river below; the 100 or so zigzagging steps up Jacob's Ladder is a park favorite.
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You’re halfway through, so it’s lunchtime, no? First you must brave the infamous Waco traffic circle (thrilling or terrifying, depending on your level of confidence in your driver). For a burger, shake, and onion rings, this cheekily named burger joint has been a Waco classic since 1948. (For real though, get the onion rings). Alternatively, you can wait two hours to dine with their new neighbors across the parking lot, Magnolia Table, owned by Waco’s most prominent power couple (need they be named?).
You have probably noticed the cute (if slightly unsettling) beaver on every other billboard. That would be Buc-ee, the patron saint of Texas road trips. This is not your average gas station experience, but a dizzying behemoth of roadside extravagance (the location in New Braunfels is literally the largest convenience store in the world at 67,000 sq-ft.) Buc-ee’s cult following is partially due to its immaculately clean restrooms for which they have actually won awards (yes, that’s a thing). They also have a legendary selection of Buc-ee’s brand road trip snacks, available in bulk (of course). Most popular are the Buc-ee’s Beaver Nuggets, a sweet corn puff of sorts, plus a huge array of jerky, sweets and prepared foods.
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If you didn’t already stock up on jerky at Buc-ee’s, you’re in luck. In addition to random odds and ends, Robertson’s sells bomb jerky -- beef, venison, and turkey, with an impressive selection of flavors you can sample. With a website like realbeefjerky.com, you know it’s legit. They’ll also make you a tasty (and cheap) ham sandwich on potato bread or Texas toast. This place is a treasure and has probably looked the exact same for 30 years.
Discovered in the 1960s during construction of the highway, this natural cave is super impressive and accessible. In fact it’s so close to the road that at points during the underground tour, you’re actually far underneath the Interstate. Aside from the epic rock formations formed over thousands of years, Inner Space Caverns get bonus points for being a constant 72 degrees year-round regardless of the weather above. Tours take a little over an hour and will set you back around $20 bucks, no reservations needed. Then it’s on to ATX, my friends.
MORE: Looking for things to do in Austin? We’ve got a whole travel guide for that