Brenham, heart of the Bluebonnet region and County Seat, is the best place to start your tour of the area, whether it’s picking up a brochure to find the best wildflower trails or getting advice from the Chamber of Commerce on other historic sites and attractions in the area. Of which there are many.
But first, set aside some time to explore Brenham. It’s easy to fall in love with the charming little stage-set that is historic Brenham, with its many gift and antique shops, funky restaurants, Unity Theatre, antique carousel, and a great bar where all drinks are only $2.70 a piece.
And for visitors who prefer city to country, the sumptuously renovated Ant Street Inn, , in the heart of renovated Brenham, is the four-star place to stay. An amazingly beautiful venue, with its 12-foot ceilings and 15 guest rooms stunningly furnished with 19th century antiques you will feel as though you are bunking in a museum, but one with all the modern amenities. Even if you choose a Best Western or Holiday Inn Express, stop in at the Ant Street Inn just to gaze at the restoration of its public rooms.
Local Attractions and Places to Eat
German immigrants flooded into south-central Texas in the mid-19th century, which may help to explain the region’s prosperity as well as its appreciation for smoked meat, German potato salad and varieties of local beers. Blue Bell Creameries, founded in 1907 by the Kreuzes, is a third-generation family-run company, and its ice cream is wildly popular in the southeast. In fact, Blue Bell is the third best-selling ice cream in the U.S, (with Vanilla the top seller since 1969), even though it’s only sold in 22 states.
If you are traveling with kids, then taking a 35-minute tour of the Blue Bell Creameries production facilities is a must. (The tour winds up in an ice cream parlor with “as many as you want” free samples of their flavors.) About 11,000 people take the tour everyday, so plan ahead.
Texans are fanatically attached to their history, particularly the birth of the short-lived Republic of Texas, best known for the bloody battle at the Alamo. It turns out that much of that history took place in Washington County and if you are a history buff, you and your family will enjoy a trio of sites, within minutes of each other: Washington-on-Brazos: The Birthplace of the Republic of Texas, The Living History Farm – where everyone can wander through a typical farm house, and mingle with farm animals — and the surprisingly sophisticated Star of the Republic Museum, with an excellent film of the history of the state.
Down the road from the Lone Star’s past is a great little barbecue joint, R-Place, where you can have a down-home Texas-barbecue lunch. The melt-in-your-mouth brisket is slow roasted for 14 hours over a 250-degree grill (“Barbecue takes a lot of work,” says its owner, Randy Rogers). The entire meal – Brisket, German Potato Salad, Mac n Cheese, Peach Cobbler with Blue Bell Ice Cream – is as authentic as local cuisine gets.
If you are having lunch in Brenham, don’t miss the bustling Must Be Heaven Sandwich Shop, a husband-and-wife owned blast-from-the-past eatery, favored by locals. The portions are generous, the chicken salad their most popular sandwich, and the homemade pies – including a divine Chocolate Pecan — amazing. Another choice is the Funky Art Café, for more sophisticated dining. Their delicate, beer-battered Stuffed Chicken paired with a side dish of organic Quinoa, was first rate.
Don’t miss a surprisingly entertaining tour of the nation’s oldest operating Cotton Gin Museum, primarily due to the funny, fast-talking, knowledgeable Museum Curator, Jerry Moore, who sounds as if he’s an auctioneer from tobacco country. It’s ten miles west of Brenham, in the tiny town of Burton, and the drive in and around Burton — horse farm country — is alone worth the detour.
Finally, in Brenham, a very special treat awaits rose lovers and horticulturalists. Antique Rose Emporium is a nationally renowned eight-acre garden dedicated to growing and selling “old roses,” including varieties found through what passionate naturalist Mike Shoup calls “rose rustling,” primarily in cemeteries where he discovered hearty varieties thriving. (Unfortunately, a late spring frost temporarily denuded his garden of roses while I was there, but even the skeleton of his garden was worth visiting.)
Organically grown, his fragrant, beautiful and diverse roses are the exact opposite of what passes for a rose in most commercial flower shops today. Shoup has an online mail order business, holds weddings on his beautifully manicured property, has just published a beautiful coffee-table sized book, Empress of the Garden, about the personalities of roses, and is clearly a national treasure.
Crazy Texas Signs
To New Yorkers, Texas is still something of a foreign territory, and nowhere is this more evident than in some of the signs I came across criss-crossing the area. Below are some of my favorites.
Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag
Washington County Chamber of Commerce and CVB. www. visitbrenhamtexas.com or 1-888-BRENHAM.
Texas Ranch Life, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lillian Farms Bed & Breakfast, email: email@example.com
Southern Rose Ranch, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ant Street Inn, email: email@example.com
Blue Bell Creameries, phone: 979-830-2180
Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
R Place, phone: 936-878-1925
Must Be Heaven, email: email@example.com
Funky Art Café, phone: 979-836-5220
Burton Cotton Gin and Museum, phone:979-289-3378
Antique Rose Emporium email:firstname.lastname@example.org