Texas seemingly has no end of small towns bursting with historical charm and quirky attractions, including these three within a few hours of Dallas-Fort Worth. Whether you’re desperate for an adults-only retreat, or looking for a drivable family getaway in the midst of COVID, Granbury, Mineola and Jefferson have you covered.
Here’s your guide to these three small-town getaways close to DFW.
Lakeside Views in Granbury
What to do: In the summertime, you’ll want to hit the sand at Granbury City Beach Park—sand imported from South Texas beaches. Any time of year, you can take a scenic walk for free at the Acton Nature Center—the Travis Hiking Trail leads to a pond and bird blind, while the accessible Crockett Butterfly Trail meanders through a butterfly garden. (Choose “aerial trail map” for the most up-to-date map.)
There’s plenty of history to explore in town, including the (possibly haunted) old jail cells at the Hood County Jail Museum. And for the ultimate socially distant date night, roll in for a double feature at the Brazos Drive-In, open continuously since the ’50s.
Where to stay: Take your pick—there are several B&Bs, including the romantic Inn on Lake Granbury, with a beautiful setting and gourmet breakfasts (both of which make it pretty popular, so book ahead). The Baker St. Harbour Bed & Breakfast, also on the lake, is more laid-back, with traditional breakfasts, afternoon sweet treats and friendly hosts; kids over 10 are allowed to stay too.
Where to eat: Be sure to stop at two places on the square: Ketzler’s Schnitzel Haus & Biergarten, which has a large outdoor seating area and authentic German fare (surprise, surprise), and Eighteen Ninety Grille, a high-end steakhouse with service to match—be sure to make reservations. Want something less fancy? Order at the counter (or pick up curbside) at Grumps Burgers on Highway 377—it’s often crowded, but the burgers, fries and shakes are worth waiting for.
Good Eats & Country Charm in Mineola
What to do: If you’re traveling with the kids, Mineola’s historic railroad depot with its miniature trains will be a hit. Find even more town history at the Mineola Historical Museum and the old Select Theater, where local thespians put on four shows a year.
Outside of downtown, you could spend several days and still not have explored every inch of the Mineola Nature Preserve—it covers more than 2,900 acres and has trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. Get on a remote trail, and you might not see another human for hours (but you may stumble upon birds or deer). Be sure to carefully scan Grandpa’s Pond for gators! From the website, click on “Map for phones” to find mobile-friendly trail maps.
Where to stay: Steps from downtown, the Munzesheimer Manor has a couple of cozy cottage rooms, or you can rent the entire three-bedroom Victorian main house—a popular option for families during the pandemic. Do yourself a favor and book an appointment with massage therapist Danielle Luther, whose spa is also on the property.
If you’d prefer to stay further away from the tiny but bustling downtown, you can’t beat the tranquility of Fall Farm Country Inn. The spacious main house is perfect for couples, while families (especially COVID-conscious travelers) will appreciate the self-contained Red Oak Cottage. Homemade breakfast is served on-site—and delivered to your door if desired.
Where to eat: At lunchtime, you’ve got your pick of places serving comfort food, including East Texas Burger Company. On Friday and Saturday night, reserve a seat at Kitchens Hardware & Deli, which converts from a casual breakfast/lunch spot to a more intimate steakhouse, usually with live music. Or be adventurous and reserve seats for a murder mystery show at The Vault Dinner Theatre. Everything closes early in Mineola, so don’t wait too late to try Bryan’s Cheesecakes.
The Waldo Way Dairy Farm is also worth a visit—before heading out of town, pop in to pick up probiotic yogurt and kefir, dark chocolate milk, grass-fed beef and artisan baked goods.
History, Ghosts & Gators in Jefferson
What to do: The pre-Civil War town is basically one big exhibit of historic homes. At least 50 have historical markers; some—including the stately House of the Seasons—offer tours by reservation. (And along with lots of old buildings come lots of ghosts, allegedly.)
I think it’s safe to say you’ve never been to a museum like the Museum of Measurement and Time, which is full of clocks, surveying equipment, calculators through the ages and 1,500 sets of salt and pepper shakers.
Or maybe trains are more your family’s speed—the Historic Jefferson Railway will take you on a short, narrated ride along the Big Cypress Bayou, with a stop to feed some alligators.
Near the depot, you can hop on the Port Jefferson History and Nature Center Trail (yes, this inland town was once a major port). Follow the trail and its informative signs to the gardens by the old train trestle, then under the bridge to the boardwalk along the bayou. If you want to get even more intimate with the swamp, a couple of local companies offer boat tours.
Where to stay: Hang your hat at the Carriage House Bed & Breakfast, where you’ll find 19th-century lodgings, homemade breakfasts to die for and s’mores around the fire pit at night. Or book a room at The Excelsior House Hotel so you can say you’ve stayed at the oldest continually operating hotel in Texas (also allegedly haunted).
Where to eat: Austin Street Bistro has yummy homemade molasses bread and a varied menu; the seating area is small, so be sure to make reservations. At McGarity’s Restaurant & Saloon No. 61, you’ll find a warm, noisy (and kid-friendly) atmosphere, as well as fresh seafood, steaks and burgers. And it’s worth the 15- to 20-minute drive to Avinger to dine at Five D Cattle Company Steakhouse—reservations are not taken, but the large, casual seating area can accommodate your family and your hefty appetite for steak or ribs.
Photo of Fall Farm Country Inn courtesy of Jumping Rocks Photography.