I’ll never forget the day I went to Target and said goodbye to one of my favorite employees there, telling her we were leaving Fort Hood and this would be the last time she’d see me. She asked if I was sad to leave, and then raised an eyebrow when I nodded my head. She replied:
“Why? There isn’t anything to do here!”
It’s an easy mentality to have, and an easy reality to create for yourself if you don’t intentionally explore and find fun things to do in the places you live.
While it would be nice if someone handed you a list of all the best things to do when you move to an area, that rarely happens– so, as a military family, you will have to learn to find joy in the process of exploring new territory and creating new memories together.
As we recently departed Fort Hood – I wanted to share a list of all of our happy places for anyone who is looking for a good central Texas adventure, or who want to carry on some of our family’s favorite traditions in the Fort Hood area:
The Creek & Candy Store (Salado, TX)
When we moved to Texas, everyone kept telling us to “go to Salado.” We went, leaving feeling rather disenchanted the first several times. It took us a while to figure out the best things to do there – and then we couldn’t stay away!
Our very favorite place to go in Salado was Barrow Brewing. Usually on a Friday or Saturday afternoon, we’d pack up the car with our picnic blanket, some water shoes, swim trunks, a fishing net, and change of clothes for our son, and spend the evening down by the creek. Our son would splash around for hours, throwing rocks and playing with his trucks while my husband and I sat on boulders along the creek edge drinking cold beers. We’d get dinner from the food trucks and eat it on our picnic blanket, and then end the evening at Sugar Shack, an old-fashioned candy store on the corner of the shopping area. The ride home was always silent as our son munched on gummy dinosaurs and legos, as I tried not to eat the entire bag of malt balls, snow caps, and sour blue bottle gummies I’d gotten for myself.
We spent two of our anniversaries in Salado. My husband took me to a Bed and Breakfast on the creek, a fancy dinner at the Barton House, and we enjoyed the rare leisure of shopping around the town at the sweet little boutiques. This is a wonderful place to shop for unique gifts for loved ones.
Chalk Ridge Falls Park (Belton, TX)
Just a 25 minute drive from post was Chalk Ridge Falls, a scenic nature trail featuring waterfalls and suspension bridges along the Lampasas River. It is a short and relatively flat trail that makes it ideal for a family with little ones. Our two-year-old son absolutely loved this place, so I’d usually take him once a week as a fun way to get out of the house. He loved throwing rocks and sticks in the water and looking for bugs. We’d often get smoothies or snow cones on the way home for a little treat!
Miller’s Smokehouse (Belton, TX)
One of the best restaurant vibes and some of the best barbeque you’ll find in the central Texas area (trust me, we tried a lot of other places!). Run by sweet Mr. and Mrs. Miller themselves on the corner of Penelope and Central Ave in downtown Belton, You’ll most likely have to stand in a [very quick moving] line out the door. If you’re a first time visitor, I always recommend trying the Fire in the Bowl (a plate of brisket, pulled pork, sausage, mashed potatoes, baked beans, and covered in sweet barbeque sauce and Fritos, a Caleb’s Cola, and to finish–Mrs. Millers homemade banana pudding.
On nice days, we’d get our Miller’s to-go, and take it to the Harris Community Park just about a mile away for a picnic by the creek, playground and splash pad.
Overlook Park (Belton, TX)
We encountered this place for the first time when we had a family photoshoot done one Spring. A photographer recommended it to us, and it was an incredibly breathtaking landscape on an elevated plateau overlooking Stillhouse lake, A great place for a walk, a picnic, or family photos inthe bluebonnet flowers in April.
Temple Lake Park (Belton, TX)
A little pebble lake beach area on Belton Lake, and free entrance for military! Some summer days, we’d pack a picnic lunch and grab our floats and flip flops and head to Temple Lake Park for the day. It might not be the ocean, but you sure can pretend it is as you look out at the beautiful light blue water and waves crashing along the shoreline.
Whistle Stop Playground (Temple, TX)
A fenced-in playground in downtown Temple, made almost entirely of wood, and nestled under shady trees – and sits right beside a large railroad junction where you can be sure lots of trains will pass through with lots of chugging and lots of choo-choo-ing!
This was one of our favorite playgrounds, and was a good way to get out of the Killeen area (which is much needed some days!).
Waffle Cone (Copperas Cove, TX)
To cure the Sunday blues, our family would often jump in the car after dinner on Sunday evenings and head to the Waffle Cone for some homemade ice cream. It looks like a complete hole in the wall, but has some of the best ice cream you’ll ever eat. You can find unique flavors like Cookie Monster (blue vanilla ice cream with cookie dough and oreos mixed in), spearmint n’ chip, and cake batter with rainbow sprinkles. This place will always be special to us, because it’s where both of our children tried ice cream for the first time!
Sweet Berry Farm (Marble Falls, TX)
This was one of our very favorite places! In the Spring, you can go there to pick tulips and strawberries. They sell homemade strawberry ice cream and the best strawberry popsicles I ever ate. There is no entrance fee, and they have a great system with very reasonable prices for purchasing tickets to the different activities. In the Fall, they have a big pumpkin patch with hayrides, painting pumpkins, corn mazes, flower picking, barrel rides, the Berry bounce, and more.
We love to stop in at the famous Blue Bonnet Cafe. just about 10 minutes down the road, afterwards for a delicious diner-style lunch. They are known for their pies, so make sure to save room for a slice! And be prepared for a bit of a wait on weekends. They can get pretty busy.
Magnolia Shops at the Silos & Cameron Zoo (Waco, TX)
I must have gone to the Silos almost a dozen times the first year we lived in Texas. Everyone who visited wanted to explore the new restaurant and shops created by the famous Chip & Joanna Gaines, get a treat from the bakery, and of course document the experience for Instagram ;) The Silos are a fun place to bring children on a nice day. There is a huge lawn with bean bags, yard games, and endless food trucks. You can get some sweet kettle corn to munch on, a mason jar of sweet tea, and lots of unique eats. If you don’t mind a crowd, you can venture into the store where they sell home decor, Magnolia apparel, and much more.
We also loved the Cameron Zoo in Waco. They offer military discounts, and the park is easily navigable. I do recommend bringing lunch, because food is very expensive, and limited with options.
We would often stop at Torchy’s Tacos on our way out of Waco for some mouth watering queso and made-to-order tacos. This was another Texas eats favorite of ours!
Big Bend National Park
If you’re into hiking, this should definitely be on your Fort Hood Bucket list. Located in Southwest Texas, Big Bend National Park has it all… from the Chisos mountains to the Chihuahuan desert, you’ll find hikes with all different typographies and landscapes. I wrote an entire blog post on this place, so be sure to check that out – especially if you want to learn how we did the trip with young children.
It’s a bit of a drive from Fort Hood, but I mean it when I say it was one of the most memorable things we did in the four years we lived in Texas.
I hope this list at least gets you started on your Fort Hood adventures. Central Texas is a place you have to get creative, because there aren’t a lot of “destinations.” But if you’re like us, you’ll find that an ordinary place can quickly become a gem just by the familiarity and the memories you create there with your family.