By James Waterson
Hang out with a cowboy poet, watch a film at an old-fashioned drive-in theater, and come face to face with an enormous black rhino named Macho. Enjoy these, and many other unique experiences, when you visit Abilene this fall. Located less than three hours west of Dallas, the “Storybook Capital of America” offers a quaint, and thoroughly Texan, getaway from the big city along with its own range of unique experiences throughout the year. Whether you’re looking for the next destination for your fall road trip or somewhere fun to go with your family, your search is over.
Tour Texas Tip: Get your hands on the Abilene Round Up Pass and you’ll save on entrance fees to six of the town’s major attractions, including the Abilene Zoo, National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, and The Grace Museum.
Discover the Storybook Capital of America
Imagine a place where the Cat in the Hat stands pat, the Man in the Moon looms, and Yertle the Turtle poses like a crepe myrtle. Where else could you find these larger-than-life characters, plus 21 others, than the Storybook Capital of America? Downtown Abilene is home to the largest collection of sculptures inspired by timeless children’s stores, including The Lorax, Green Eggs and Ham, and Stuart Little. Quite a few of these eccentric sculptures reside in The Adamson-Spalding Storybook Garden, an essential stop on your walking tour of the area.
Of course, no visit to the Storybook Capital of America is complete without a visit to the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature. See works by famous children’s book illustrators and let your kids show off their inner artists every Saturday afternoon. So, whether you have children or you’re still a kid at heart, check out Abilene’s whimsical side while you’re here.
Play One of the Best Golf Courses in Texas
Fall in Abilene is marked by ample sunshine and temperatures no greater than 80 degrees. What better season to hit one of the best public golf courses in Texas? Meandering through 220 acres of verdant terrain near Lytle Creek, Diamondback Golf Club tees up 18 holes of magnificent golf that will put your short and long game to the test. The sand traps, water hazards, and sloping fairways will have you reaching for all the clubs in your bag, while the abundance of mesquite trees provides a scenic backdrop. Diamondback was founded by former Master’s champion and Texas Sports Hall of Fame inductee Charles Coody, who still owns the course. Ready to play? Tee times at Diamondback Golf Club are available on the course’s website.
If you’re looking to earn even more bragging rights, show off your short game at Play Faire Park. As the oldest continuously operated miniature golf course in Texas, Play Faire Park is a real throwback. Come on the weekends to enjoy live music by local bands as you play through a staggering 36 holes with loops, moving wheels, and other obstacles will put a smile on your face. Just make sure to pick the right color of ball, if you’re superstitious.
Go Behind the Scenes at the Abilene Zoo
Get up close and personal with a pair of camels, feed a giraffe by hand, and meet a real-life black rhino. These are just a few of the experiences that await on one of the VIP tours at the Abilene Zoo. While most zoos offer behind-the-scenes tours, few are as affordable as the Abilene Zoo’s guided excursions. Learn how the zookeepers care for the camels, giraffes, reptiles, and rhinos, and you’ll have the chance to interact with them directly. Choose the Rhino Encounter and you can even meet and hand feed Macho the 2,500-lbs. rhino, an experience that you probably won’t have every day. Fun and educational for folks of all ages, a VIP tour at the Abilene Zoo is a fantastic thing to do with your family this fall.
While you're here, don't miss out on the zoo's newest exhibit area: Journey to Madagascar. Get a close-up look at ring-tailed lemurs, fossa, panther chameleons, and many more animals only found on the African island, where 80 percent of all species are found nowhere else on the planet.
Stay in an Elegant Guest House
When you’re looking to enjoy some luxury, look no further than one of the Sayles Ranch Guest Houses. Ranging from one-bedroom units to an elegant four-bedroom house featured in Southern Living Magazine, each of these guest houses provides a unique getaway in Abilene. Some even have fireplaces ideal for cozying up when the fall air turns chilly. All the comfort of home is all par for the course at Eleven09, a beautifully renovated 1940's cottage with three bedrooms and an apartment above the garage that you can book separately. Another choice is Stardust on Sayles, a breathtaking house built in 1889 with six private bedroom suites and an abundance of Victorian-era charm.
Want to get away from it all? Stay in one of the yurts at Abilene State Park. Occupying that space between primitive camping and glamping, the park’s yurts offer one of the most unique places you can stay in a state park. Each can accommodate up to eight people and feature some creature comforts you wouldn’t have with a standard tent, including air conditioning, electricity, interior lighting, and a refrigerator. You even get your own grill right outside for when it’s time to cook up something tasty. Wake up in the morning and you’ll have first dibs on exploring the park’s hiking trails, fishing on Lake Abilene, and everything else the park has to offer.
Catch a Show at the Town & Country Drive-In Theatre
Whether you’re sitting in a modern theater or reclining on your couch, there are many ways to watch a movie these days. If you want to change things up a bit, head to Abilene’s Town & Country Drive-In Theatre. A true throwback, the drive-in theater screens the latest films on three different screens. Arrive early to get your pick of the best parking spot, visit the concession stand for some popcorn or a funnel cake, and settle in for the show. Settle into your car (or bring some of your own chairs) and savor the crisp autumn air as you watch a movie under the stars.
Tour Downtown Abilene with a Cowboy Poet
Native Americans, buffalo hunters, the 19th century expansion of the railroad, and the cattle industry are all part of Abilene’s history. See how the city’s past still informs its present on The Downtown Abilene Walking Tour led by a cowboy poet. Yes, you read that right. Wander from one site to another and learn a thing or two as Gus McDusty recites humorous and informative poetry, and a few jokes along the way. You’ll even get to enjoy complimentary samples from Abilene’s local eateries, a great way to get a taste for what the downtown area has to offer.
For a self-guided adventure, follow the Historical Downtown Walking Tour to significant landmarks like the T & P Depot, The Grace, and the Cypress Building that was originally built in 1891 as the Windsor Hotel. Both tours immerse you in Abilene’s history and enable you to appreciate its charming architecture, so you can’t go wrong with either one.
Enjoy All the Colorful Lights of the Holiday Season
Don your finest Santa hat and head to Abilene and you’ll be in the Christmas spirit in no time. The holiday season is serious business here, and there are many ways to celebrate it. Start at the Winter LightFest (Nov. 26 – Dec. 26), a vibrant display of more than one million of Christmas lights set on a 3/4-mile walking trail. Head to downtown Abilene for even more twinkling lights, as much of the area is decorated with yuletide cheer.
Throughout December, this part of town also hosts the annual City Sidewalks celebration (Nov. 27 – Dec. 31). It all kicks off with the lighting of a 62-foot-tall Christmas tree and continues with an extravagant parade you won’t want to miss. The event includes a beer stroll, screening of a classic holiday film, and a concert by the Abilene Philharmonic Orchestra, as well. For even more holiday fun, head to the Abilene Zoo for its festive events.
With its wealth of things to see and do, fall is a fantastic time of year to visit Abilene. Plan your next visit here.
About the Author: James Waterson is the head writer and content specialist for Tour Texas. When he isn’t writing about the many great places in the state of Texas, he’s planning his next epic adventure in the Lone Star State.