When you’re craving an escape from city traffic and crowds, travel just beyond the outskirts of Austin’s bustle for a taste of the true small town Texas flavors that flourish in Taylor. This quintessential pint-size Texas town boasts finger-licking barbecue, a quaint Main Street lined with historic buildings being revitalized by independent, locally focused businesses, and hometown pride that radiates from just about every person you meet. On a recent sunny and scorching summer day, I sauntered through this less-than-20,000-population town with my family to discover a quieter side of Texas steeped in history and homespun charms and brimming with a burgeoning small town scene that is decidedly Taylor-made.
Distance from Austin: Taylor sits a little over 30 miles from downtown Austin. But if you feel like derailing from your typical mode of transportation, consider traveling by train. Amtrak departs from Austin at 9:31 a.m. and arrives in Taylor at 10:22 a.m. daily, dropping passengers just steps away from the shops and restaurants surrounding Main Street ($8.50 per reserved coach seat). There’s a return trip each evening that will get you from Taylor back to Austin in less than an hour for the same price.
Don’t miss: Get a feel for Taylor by meandering along Second and Main streets, sprinkled with everything from unique boutiques and vintage shops to a farm-to-market deli and a new but thriving local craft brewery. Stop into the Texas-owned, Texas-brewed Texas Beer Company (texasbeerco.com), which opened in the historic McCrory-Timmerman building just over a year ago and has already outgrown its three-barrel pilot brewhouse with the need for a bigger 30-barrel expansion brewery down the street. Sip on a pint of pale ale or porter while chatting with co-founder and CEO Ian Davis about how Texas Beer Company has been the catalyst for transforming Taylor’s once lifeless downtown, or while playing a board game with your kids — the windows of this family-friendly brewpub are lined with an array to choose from, and there’s root beer on tap. If there was such a thing as barhopping in Taylor, you could make it happen by swirling vino next door at Pilot Knob Winery’s tasting room (facebook.com/pilotknobtaylortx) or enjoying live music across the street at the new Black Sparrow Music Parlor (facebook.com/blacksparrowmusicparlor).
Duck into Cherry Tree Creative (facebook.com/CherryTreeCreative), where longtime Taylor resident and owner Curie Humphreys stocks her charming homegrown boutique tucked inside a 100-year-old historic building with locally made, one-of-a-kind finds that prove good things really do come from your own backyard. Pop in next door to her sister shop, the Nest Box (facebook.com/TheNestBox), to round out your shopping experience with a carefully curated collection of unique home decor spanning metal and wooden signs, high-end candles and gifts that ooze with nostalgia.
Pick up something healthy at 2nd Street Farm 2 Market, which beckons passersby with its selection of farm-fresh organic produce and provisions as well as made-to-order sandwiches served on house-made baguettes, sourdough and focaccia. Refuel and relieve fatigue, as suggested upon entry, at Curb Side Coffee House, where the espresso is strong, the milk is locally sourced from a creamery in nearby McGregor and the chocolate milk is the best on the planet according to my three kids — the baristas make it with their in-house ganache.
Eat here: There are more than a dozen places to eat in Taylor, all within walking distance, so come hungry. Located smack dab in the heart of the Texas Barbecue Trail, it’s best to work up an appetite inhaling the sweet, smoky scent of Louie Mueller’s legendary ’cue that’s been smoking since 1949 (louiemuellerbarbecue.com). Just as Franklin draws a line of devout barbecue fans here in Austin, this top-ranked Texas spot (No. 5 on Texas Monthly’s latest Top 50 Barbecue Joints in Texas) pulls in carnivores with an impressive line that pours out of the doors, streams along the sidewalk and wraps around the side of its Texas-flag-painted building well before noon. The line proves worth the wait once you sink your teeth into Louie Mueller’s pepper-crusted brisket, tender oak-smoked turkey breast and melt-off-the bone ribs. Just be sure to save a little room. Taylor Cafe, just a stone’s throw away, was established the same year by World War II veteran Vencil Mares and still pleases folks from near and far with delicious barbecue washed down with a cold beer.
Once you’ve piled enough barbecue in the belly, dine at Ricoco’s (ricocos.com) for Latin-inspired authentic Mexican plates and a margarita on the rocks. And if you’re craving an old fashioned greasy burger paired with the coldest, cheapest beer around, look no further than Ed’s Place.
Stay here: If you’re not ready to return to the big city, rest your head at Pecan Manor Bed & Breakfast (pecanmanorbb.com), the renovated 1905 home of Taylor’s founding Murphy and Dellinger families. The historic home-turned-B-and-B sits back from a sprawling green lawn shaded with century-old pecans, features five luxurious guest rooms and includes a traditional breakfast ($115-$165 per night).
Always free: Delve into Taylor’s history at the Moody Museum (moodymuseum.com), which retells the legacy of Texas’ youngest governor, Dan Moody, whose passion for justice led him to be the first to successfully prosecute a case against the Ku Klux Klan when he was district attorney for Travis and Williamson counties. Admission is free, and normal hours are Fridays and Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m., but donations are appreciated and private tours can be arranged.
Head to Taylor’s historic downtown for Second Saturdays, when downtown businesses host live music and special deals, and Third Thursdays, when shops stay open late, featuring door prizes, live music and local food.
Kids will love: Our kids loved running around Murphy Park, a picturesque green space fringing a pond teeming with ducks and geese that features a playground perfect for swinging and climbing and plenty of picnic tables. In the summer, cool off at Murphy Park Aquatic Center’s swimming pool and splash pad, open daily from noon to 8 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. and closed Monday (admission is $2 for children and seniors, $3 for adults and free for under 3).
Post-park and -pool, enjoy a scoop of your favorite Blue Bell flavor at LuckyLoo’s Sweet Treats (inside Lucky Duck Cafe). Beat the heat with your kids by reading books at Taylor Public Library or watching a flick at the Howard Theatre (howardtheatre.com) on Main Street.
Famous festival: Taylor’s Stomp ’n’ Holler (stompnhollerfest.com) blends delicious Texas barbecue, craft beer and live bands (June 2, 2018). Witness calf scrambles, mutton bustin’ and an open rodeo at the annual Taylor Rodeo (taylorrodeo.com) at the Williamson County Expo Center (third weekend in July). Flock to Taylor for races, a poultry petting zoo, chicken splat bingo and an epic confetti egg battle at Taylor’s annual Good Life Fair and 5K at Bull Branch Park (Oct. 14).
Not to miss nearby: Head to Granger Lake, just 15 minutes from Taylor on the San Gabriel River, to enjoy fishing for crappie, catfish and white bass, boating, camping and swimming (tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/granger).
For more information: taylorchamber.org