Small Town, Big Appeal

Why Denison, TX Should Be Your Next Weekend Getaway

By Ashley Bowen

I thought I’d always be a city gal and that I’d never want to leave Dallas’s energy, culture, and delicious dining. My husband Gary felt the same about city life, though we both wanted to travel someday too. Then, this past year, we both transitioned into working remotely. The rhythms of our lives started to change, and the restlessness set in.

It wasn’t our stressed-out office scenes we missed. It was adventuring, finding new gems to explore. But as Gary reminded me, a lot of those Dallas gems were feeling kind of similar even before we lost our “it’s on the way home” excuse. And with our new remote lifestyles, what if...what if we didn’t stay in Dallas all the time?

That night, Gary and I started googling nearby towns we’d always meant to visit. And what was on the top of our lists for an easy weekend getaway from Dallas? Denison, Texas.

We left “work” (AKA our living room) a couple hours early the weekend of our trip. As we set off, I could feel myself relaxing into the weekend. Denison is only 75 miles from the heart of Dallas—we were in town and checked in before we knew it. That left us plenty of time to explore.

First on the list? Dinner. Definitely dinner.

Small Town Flavor

As someone who owns a “Let’s Taco ‘Bout It” tee, I was immediately drawn downtown to Frank and Lola’s Bohemian Taco, where we drowned our workweek sorrows in salsa with an impressive Salsa Flight (5! Salsas!). We moved on to Shiner Bock queso with brisket and the extensive taco selection. It’s not fair to have to choose between smoked pork or chicken, crispy pork belly, Asian duck, fried chicken, and deep-fried avocado tacos—among others—but we were finally too full to try more.

We’d virtuously decided to walk off our tacos but were lured into Ivanhoe Ale Works because it was a live-jazz Friday—we take it as a sign when musicians start up as we arrive! It was time to unwind and enjoy life. I swayed to the music and sipped my Red River Ale while Gary enjoyed the Knight’s Latte stout. A local told us one of the owners enjoyed showing visitors around the brewing equipment, and I noted for future reference that the place shared space with a winery, too.

The following day, we were up early. We rushed to Main Street’s Café Blackbird, not wanting to waste a weekend minute. I found the stylish, homey, industrial-yet-airy architecture inspiring, and the food somehow matched. Gary was seduced by a quiche, and I couldn’t resist a crunchy and flavorful take on avocado toast. We also decided that breakfast dessert is totally a vacation thing, and hotly debated whether to share a buttermilk blueberry or chocolate chip muffin. Our solution? Why not both?

Downtown Energy, Upscale Vibes

Resisting the urge for a post-breakfast nap, we meandered through Historic Downtown Denison to get a feel for its shopping and foodie scene. After becoming hyper-saturated with design inspiration at 2 Chicks Home and Market, I fell 100% in love with Monsters on Main, where I adopted a fabulous one-eyed monster plushie named Bianca. We refueled on coffee at the 410 Collective, argued about our favorite finds at Kitsch, Please! and Kaboodles (quote from Gary: “Nah, we don’t need that,” and, two minutes later, “We DEFINITELY need THIS”), and, on a side-street detour, stumbled upon the bath and body store of my dreams, fittingly called Totally Addicted.

It turned out that our Saturday-morning timing was lucky. We were able to ramble through the bustling Downtown Denison Farmer’s Market. We found homemade bread and jam to bring back to the city and admired the local artisanal honey, soaps, crafts, and even free-range meat and eggs.

All in all, it was making me start to question my stance as a city-snob. The Denison restaurants, shops and boutiques were the fresh concepts and fresh flavors I had been craving. The only thing missing from a total “metro” feel was the heavy traffic.

Wandering Through History

We could tell that Denison is a town that values its past—not a rare thing in Texas. What surprised us, though, was how cool Denison’s past is! Not only is there a ton of railway history (we poked our heads into the Red River Railroad Museum and learned that Texas’s first intercity railway ran between Denison and nearby Sherman), it’s also chockful of pioneer history. A docent told me about some serious winemaking prestige that I’d love to sample—I mean, learn about.

The only problem? I was pining to visit Frontier Village and Museum, both of us wanted to take a tour and enjoy charcuterie and winetasting at Hidden Hangar Vineyard and Winery, and Gary wanted more time with his trains. There was way too much to fit into a single weekend, but we were determined to do the best that we could.

We voted to soak in the scenery and headed to nearby Waterloo Lake Regional Parkfor some outdoor adventure. We’d heard there were seven miles of hiking trails, and we eyed the loop-trail bikers with envy. We strolled along the shorter, paved track instead. The sun began to dip just under the horizon, and I gave Gary’s hand a tight squeeze.

Saturday ended with pepperoni pizza and, (with minor begging from Gary), bowling at HeyDay Entertainment. This all-in-one entertainment venue is a veritable playground for adults, complete with cocktails, mini-golf, arcade games and more. As I watched my ball “clean” the gutters yet again, I accepted that my bowling skills peaked when I was eleven. Guess we should have tried one of HeyDay’s other offerings—I’m good at laser tag!

A Deep Breath of Freedom

That last vacation day is always bittersweet. But we couldn’t miss Lake Texoma, just ten minutes north. It was created to manage flooding, but these days the lake is a giant aquatic playground with boat rentals, dinner cruises and even water taxis streaming across it. On the drive to Grandpappy Point Resort and Marina, Gary talked about coming back for some lakeside camping or a guided fishing tour, and I longingly imagined renting a pontoon boat with friends. But today, we had brunch reservations.

At The Point Restaurant, I made sure we were seated on the patio, almost close enough to jump in the lake. We were sad to hear that we could have had farm-to-table prime rib if we’d only arrived at dinnertime the night before but were quickly consoled by fried catfish for Gary, eggs benedict for me, homemade sides, and two-dollar mimosas. I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw the price—a typical Dallas brunch can cost three times that.

Looking at the sun-ripples on the lake, breathing in the fresh air and chatting lazily, there was no doubt in our minds: our first weekend getaway was a smashing success. If only we didn’t have to head back so soon… I would have liked to stay for a week. We could kayak, visit the vineyards, really experience what it’s like to live in a smaller town. And then, I think it occurred to us both at the same moment: We work online now. We can do all of that. We can explore this whole area if we want to. We can do our jobs from anywhere.

Our time is finally our own.
And…we might spend a little more of it here.

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