My friend Julia and her boyfriend, Declan, had recently moved to Brenham, a small town halfway between Austin and Houston. When they told me they were moving, I was surprised. We’d all gone to college in Austin, and I just couldn’t picture them in a small town. Julia said I’d understand as soon as I saw it for myself. I was curious, I missed her, and I had a few unused vacation days, so I enlisted my boyfriend, Adam, to join, and we made the short drive.
As a rule, I eat ice cream every day when I’m traveling. Julia knows me well, so the first place she took us on our weekend getaway to Brenham was Blue Bell Creameries. Blue Bell is the holy grail of ice cream for Texans, and I have to say it lived up to the hype.
The ice cream parlor at the creamery offered dozens of flavors, an observation deck overlooking where the ice cream is made and packaged, a country store, and a visitor’s center. Scoops in the large parlor were only a dollar. Adam had to stop me from ordering twelve.
After the Blue Bell tour, we headed into historic Downtown Brenham, where I was surprised to discover a combination of old-world and modern charm. Each building had its own classic character, from beautiful brick structures to colorfully painted facades and murals.
We walked awhile, seeing the sights and enjoying the fresh air of a small town. Soon we stopped in front of a restaurant called 96 West, admiring the contrast between the gorgeous red bricks and the bright yellow-and-white-striped awning. We decided to have lunch out on the charming patio.
The industrial-chic eatery reminded me of a place Adam and I had stopped on a recent trip to New York City. It would have been right at home on the Lower East Side. The same is true for the menu, which featured small plates and flatbreads. We chose to share a few different things, family-style. A couple glasses of wine and a couple of local craft beers made it a meal.
After lunch, we continued exploring downtown. One of my favorite stops was Ballad of the Bird Dog. An adorable brown dog greeted us as we walked inside, with another following close behind. The dogs—along with the distinct scent of coffee—provided a cozy atmosphere. While the boys examined some fancy shaving products, Julia and I took turns trying on knee-high leather boots.
The shop was filled with specialty goods I wouldn’t have expected to find in a town the size of Brenham, from Mexican chocolate sugar and an Irish whiskey scented candle, to beautiful pour over coffee stands. They had a small café area in the back with an antique bar and some couches. We settled in for a coffee.
Julia told us that this place had inspired their move. The shop’s owners were from a big city, but they found the opportunity to do what they loved in Brenham. She and Declan didn’t want to run themselves into the ground in corporate jobs, Austin was getting expensive, they were talking marriage, and they were drawn in by the endless potential of starting their life in a town with so much to offer. I was starting to understand their decision.
It was only mid-afternoon, and my Instagram story was already out of control. But I couldn’t stop myself from capturing everything. Everywhere I turned there were incredible architectural details and inspiring works of art. The murals were my favorite. Julia told me that many well-known muralists had painted these massive masterpieces. There was one that was especially meaningful to me: a three-story mural of two owls painted on the side of a building. Owls are symbolic in my family, so I immediately sent a picture to my mom.
We stopped by Puppy Dawgs and Cat Tails, a quirky shop filled with pet goods, home goods, and more. After browsing their wares and fantasizing about pet ownership, Adam and I checked into the Ant Street Inn, a cozy bed and breakfast in the heart of downtown.
The Inn itself would be worth the entire trip, and was unlike any place I’d ever stayed. Housed in an 1890’s building, it was decorated with antique furniture, oriental rugs, and stained glass windows, but with modern upgrades and amenities.
Later in the evening, we met up at Home Sweet Farm Market & Biergarten. We ordered gourmet burgers from the food truck parked outside, and then made our way inside to taste some of their huge collection of craft beer. With beers, and burgers in hand, we followed the live music to the backyard and found a seat.
The music, the beer and the food were all incredible. A local band with real soul that defied all expectations, a relaxed and diverse crowd, and a genuine feeling of goodwill and belonging made us feel like we were in a more authentic version of Austin.
“We come here at least once a week,” Julia said.
I was jealous.
The following morning we had brunch at Las Americas, a restaurant housed in yet another photo-worthy building. We all had a hard time choosing between the authentic Latin dishes like pupusas and albondigas. I ordered the Chilean sea bass, and was not disappointed. Adam and Declan both had the albondigas, and Julia chose a classic Cubano. The food was insanely good and, again, it defied my expectations.
Julia insisted on taking me to Hermann Furniture, where she and Declan had bought a few pieces for their new house. She told me both the building and the business were more than 100 years old. I was starting to really fall in love with how Brenham so effortlessly combined history with modernity. It was awesome that we could walk into a place that had been a cornerstone of the community for a century, and at the same time discover a perfect accent piece for the living room.
Our final stop was Branded Boutique. I needed a dress for an event the following weekend, and Julia assured me this was the place to find it. Their take on Southern glam was just my style, and I found the most beautiful blush-colored dress with lace accents.
Declan suggested Adam and I grab a pie on the way out of town from Must Be Heaven.
“They have the best pies in Texas,” he said, easily convincing us.
Leaving town, pecan pie in the back seat, I asked Adam what he thought of Brenham. He agreed that it had the heart and soul of a small town, with friendly shop owners and walkable streets, and that the entertainment and amenities rivaled any big city.
“Maybe Julie and Declan will need some help when they open their dream business,” he said.
“Either way, we’ll be back.” I looked at the open highway out my window, and already missed Brenham’s charm.Plan Your Brenham Getaway