There’s something undeniable about the lure of the open road. It inspires possibilities. Discovering charming historic main streets. Sampling delectable pastries and regional cooking. Exploring nature’s wonders and man-made oddities. This year, transform the predictable I-35 trip between Dallas and Austin into a memorable journey by breaking up the 200+ mile stretch with stops to explore new sights and tastes.

The wonders of the Big D include Fairmont Dallas, with its Texas style and classic hospitality. A landmark in the Dallas Arts District, the hotel’s location makes it easy to visit The Crow Collection of Asian Art, catch a sporting event or major concert at American Airlines Center or browse upscale boutiques and cutting-edge galleries. Once you’ve wrapped up your visit to the city of diamonds and denim, it’s time to head south to explore these gems.

Architectural Wonders

Waxahachie, about 30 miles south of Dallas, is a charming small town with five National Register Historic Districts. Instead of bypassing it, take time to head Downtown for a selfie with the 9-story Ellis County Courthouse. Designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, this is one of the 100 most photographed sites in Texas. On the other end of the spectrum, the Munster Mansion Replica is a private home worth a slow drive-by. Private tours of the mansion can be arranged in advance if you’re a fan of the 1964 sitcom.

Heritage Celebration

Continue south on I-35E to Hillsboro, where I-35E and I-35W meet. The handsome town is the county seat and home to a number of outstanding Queen Anne homes and landmarks. The Cell Block Museum is the former Hill County Jail. Elvis once stayed in the jail while he was stationed at nearby Fort Hood. If you’re not in the mood for historic buildings, head south for another 15 miles to West, Texas to sample the best kolaches in Texas.

The small town of West is as famous for its Czech heritage as it is for kolaches, a buttery pastry filled with either a sweet or savory filling. Most people snag these treats at Czech Stop/Little Czech Bakery or Slovacek’s West, depending on which way they’re heading. While you may prefer one or the other, take a few minutes to stop by Gerik’s Ole Czech Bakery, where there are fewer crowds and plenty of tasty kolaches calling your name.

Mammoth Sites

Waco, Texas is well known by fans of that famous Fixer Upper power couple. Located midway between Dallas and Austin, it’s a natural stopping point to break up the drive. Magnolia Market at the Silos is a bucket-list destination for the lifestyle popularized by Chip and Joanna Gaines. Their “little corner of Texas” offers 20,000 square feet of seasonal inspiration and antiques among other things.

While Magnolia is a mega star in the lifestyle universe, there’s another mega-sized star in town. Waco Mammoth National Monument is the site of the only recorded ice age nursery herd of Columbian mammoths and other extinct critters. Discover the fun of a paleontological dig by heading to the Dig Shelter to see bones still in the ground. For a hands-on experience, check out the Excavation Station, where anyone can dig. And sorry, but if you find something you won’t get to keep it.

Natural Wonders

Located about halfway between Waco and Austin, Belton is the kind of small town you may never think of visiting. But six miles off the highway, Chalk Ridge Falls Park offers a scenic counterpoint to congested traffic. This free park has trails that lead you to a pretty waterfall. Go downstream a little way to cross the creek on the cable suspension bridge for an excellent view of the falls. On a sunny day, it’s a great way to stretch your legs and burn off a little energy for the kids.

Further along I-35, Inner Space Cavern in Georgetown is a familiar attraction for anyone who’s driven this section of Texas. There’s plenty to see and do here, with tours of varying difficulty, gemstone panning and the new Saber Tooth zip ride. The Wild Cave Tour is 3 to 4 hours in length and takes visitors deep into the cave’s maze of tunnels and chambers. Just be sure to bring a change of clothes and shoes for after the tour. You don’t want the cave’s sticky mud inside your vehicle.

The lesser known Blue Hole Park is a natural lagoon set amid limestone bluffs on the South Fork of the San Gabriel River. While you can’t jump off the cliffs, you can enjoy the three levels of water, ranging from 7 feet deep to just covering your feet. Not in the mood to swim? There are trails, picnic tables and places to simply stretch out and chill.

World-Class Austin

The state capital of Texas, Austin is home to a world-class university, an epic music scene and a vibrant food tradition. Fairmont Austin, overlooking Downtown, has earned three Forbes Travel Guide Four-star ratings for 2023. After your road trip, dive into the sparkling rooftop pool or schedule a session at Fairmont Spa Austin and then unwind in a lavish solarium with a saline soaking pool, eucalyptus steam room and dry heat sauna. The views from the floor-to-ceiling windows will refresh and recharge your spirit.

Park & Play

If you’re ready for a Texas-style road trip, bookend your trip with an offer tailored for the occasion. For your stay in Dallas, the Park & Play offer includes complimentary parking for one night. In Austin, book the Austin Adventure Package, which includes complimentary self-parking and a hotel credit per night.