Ahh, yes. One of the true Texas arteries: a road trip south-bound on Interstate-35. Texas country singer Pat Green even wrote a song about it. Whether you are traveling to Waco or Fort Hood or College Station or Austin or San Antonio (and beyond!), the good feels of I-35 will likely get you from point A to point B.
Over the many years, I-35 has become like an old friend who I know well. Combine that with a young family and their potty or snack needs, I get off for pit stops more frequently than I would sometimes prefer.
My gift to you: a guide to the best pitstops on I35 between Dallas and San Antonio.
Exit 386 – Monolithic Domes – You know you’ve seen that strange concrete caterpillar and those weird homes near the town of Italy on the east side of the highway. But, what is it? This community boasts structures that are designed to be energy efficient, fireproof, and strong enough to sustain winds in upwards of 253 mph. Want to learn more? Note that the visitors center is open to the public where one can watch a short video about the neighborhood and unique homes. 177 Domepark Pl, Italy
Exit 374 – Carl’s Corner – This town was founded by Carl Cornelius, a long-time friend of Willie Nelson, for the sole purpose of selling alcohol in an otherwise dry county. The truck stop (formerly known as Willie’s Place) at exit 374 housed the first site for BioWillie, the singer’s bio fuel product, and is a great stop for kids with large restrooms and a Dunkin Donuts. 101 Cornelius Rd N, Hillsboro
Exit 362A – Texas Department of Transportation rest stop – One of TXDOT’s newly renovated rest stops, this stopping point puts your average state-run facility to shame. With clean bathrooms, wifi, and fun jungle gyms, you aren’t going to mind pulling over here.
Exit 353 – West, Texas kolaches – Sure, you probably know about the Czech Stop/ Little Czech Bakery gas station and it’s newer kolache rival for the I35 commuter crowd, Slovacek’s. Those kolaches are lovely and convenient enough, but take it from this writer who lived in West for her elementary years: go in town for even better options. D Magazine writer Zac Crain also grew up in West and has the skinny on where to go.
Exit 338A – Collin Street Bakery – The billboards reel in the kids with the advertisement “Free Cookies for Kids”. I fall for the temptation and get a cookie here, too. Free wifi, handmade sandwiches, fruit cake and bakery gifts for friends, and clean restrooms make this stop a home run. This is my anti-fast food go-to for a lunch stop. 701 Interstate 35 Frontage Rd, Bellmead
Exit 335A – Magnolia Market and Waco points of interest – Amanda recently shared here how wonderful a day trip or stop at the Silos can be for a family. If you would rather avoid the crowds, check out a Waco hidden jewel: Heritage Creamery dishes up organic homemade ice cream and handcrafted waffle cones. Need coffee? Check out their local sister coffee shop, Common Grounds. Hungry? There’s a biscuit truck behind both eateries (and the Silos!).
Exit 304 – Buc-ee’s Store No. 35 – The ultimate road trip convenience store and a right of passage, Buc-ee’s has every snack you can imagine, toys for the kids, and clean restrooms. Cult followers swear by the “Beaver Nuggets”, a corn puff snack. And my husband has a tradition of bringing a rainbow-colored rice crispy treat back for the kids from any business trip that required passage thru Temple, TX. 4155 North General Bruce Dr, Temple (NOTE: there is another Buc-ee’s at exit 191 in New Braunfels)
Exit 294A – Schoepf”s Bar-B-Que – The town of Belton features one of Texas Monthly and the Food Network’s favorite stops for Texas BBQ. Walk in and choose your brisket, sausage, ribs, and more right off of the hot pit. Add on sides like potato salad, pinto beans, and cole slaw, and the husband will be thrilled with this choice. “I’m hungry” never looked so good. 702 East Central Ave, Belton
Exit 281/282 – Texas Department of Transportation rest stop – One of TXDOT’s newly renovated rest stops, this stopping point puts your average state-run facility to shame. With clean bathrooms, wifi, and fun jungle gyms, you aren’t going to mind pulling over here.
Exit 285 – Robertson’s Hams – If beef jerky is your thing, Robertson’s is known as one of the best shops around for a variety of dried meat options. Also, check out their sugar-cured hams, homemade sandwiches, and country store snacks on this pit stop. 1420 N Robertson Rd, Salado
Exit 262 – The Monument Cafe and El Monumento – I’ll admit bias here, but I went to college in the town of Georgetown and routinely went to the Monument Cafe when my grandparents came to visit. It’s exactly the kind of place your grandparents would love: plenty of veggie sides and hearty daily specials. Now, add wifi and a brand new building and the place is posh, clean, and lovely. In recent years, the owners opened a sister restaurant, El Monumento, dishing up interior Mexican food. The Mexican courtyard is worth any patio stop on a nice day. 500 S Austin Ave, Georgetown; 205 W 2nd St, Georgetown
Exit 259 – Inner Space Cavern – Right off the highway lies over 1.2 miles of underground passage in a cave, discovered in 1963 during construction of I-35. Tours are open and available to the public. You will want to budget about an hour and a half of time for this stop. 4200 S I35 Frontage Rd, Georgetown
Exit 234A – Austin- Keep moving and be grateful you are moving in this wonderful, yet highly congested city. (If you must stop, may I suggest Juan in a Million on the east side of the highway for huge and wonderful breakfast tacos? Insider tip: order one taco and extra tortillas.)
Exit 200 – San Marcos Premium Outlets – The mothership of outlet malls, stop here and let the kids run around. You can find deals at the outlet stores for brands like Lululemon, Restoration Hardware, Burberry, and Janie and Jack. 3939 S Interstate 35, San Marcos
Exit 191 – Gristmill River Restaurant – A little more off the highway than the other items on this list, the Gristmill is worth a short drive for a classic Texas experience. Overflowing with outdoor seating overlooking the Guadalupe River and an adorable town historic district of shops and a music hall, the kids can run around and get some energy out in this stop. 1287 Gruene Rd, New Braunfels
Exit 188 – New Braunfels Smokehouse – Although you are welcome to go inside for a quick bite or break, this smoked meat and sandwich eatery features this mama’s favorite words: Drive-Thru! The deli and country store have been cranking out quality food options since the ’40s. 1090 N Business 30, New Braunfels
Bonus: I may or may not have memorized all of the close-by Starbucks options on this route. If you don’t judge me, I will share my knowledge: exits 415, 368A, 339, 333, 330B, 301, 294A, 262, 256, (there are various options in Austin), 221, 215, 202, 191, and 186 lead you to coffee.