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Want a charming destination that weaves together Texas’ legendary past with a modern, hip vibe? Look no further than Brenham, Texas, conveniently located halfway between Houston and Austin. It’s the perfect hub for a region full of callbacks to history and a forward-looking energy.

© Jacob Rhoades / Lonely Planet

Brenham’s downtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with buildings dating to the 1860s, but wandering the atmospheric streets you’ll find plenty of modern boutiques and shops – a perfect diversion. Afterward, no trip is complete without exploring the surrounding rolling landscape and small communities of Burton and Chappell Hill. Here are our must-do’s for this classic and authentic corner of the Lone Star State.

 While you’re admiring the art and history in downtown Brenham, make time for the local businesses © Courtesy of Visit Brenham, Texas

Historic Downtown Brenham

Brenham’s downtown is full of colorful murals that fill the streets – to be sure you catch them all, take a self-guided Brenham Art Walk tour. For history buffs, there’s also a self-guided Historic District Walking Tour that covers historic buildings such as the Brenham Opera House, Glissmann Pharmacy, Simon Theater, Toubin Park, and more.

While you’re admiring the art and history, make time for the local businesses – more than 25 shops fill the quaint downtown. Puppy Dawgs and Cat Tails is a must-see for those with furry friends looking for pet beds, treats, pet clothing, and natural pet foods. Woman’s Cave is great for gifts such as homemade soaps, candles, pottery, and décor. The Barnhill House Toys and Books is perfect for kids, with old-fashioned toys, books, puzzles, and loads of stuffed animals.

Chappell Hill, Texas

Founded in 1847, Chappell Hill is located just 15 minutes east of downtown Brenham. The town is a part of Stephen F. Austin’s original colony and in its early days was a popular stagecoach stop. It was also a steamboat port for cotton being shipped down the Brazos River to Houston.

There are 12 National Register spots in Chappell Hill, including century-old churches, the oldest continually operating bank in Texas, the restored Providence Baptist Church, and the Chappell Hill Historical Museum. For a bit of outdoor exploration, the Chappell Hill Lavender Farm has fields of lavender, a gift shop, classes and seminars, and even allows lavender cutting at certain times of the year. The town also holds the annual Official Bluebonnet Festival of Texas in the spring, and a Scarecrow Festival in the fall.

Texas Tidbit: Group tours are available for Chappell Hill’s Providence Baptist Church, the Rock Store, the museum, and the Chappell Hill United Methodist Church Wednesdays through Saturdays.

Old Cotton gin
Burton is home to the oldest operating cotton gin in America © Getty Images

Texas Cotton Gin and Museum, Burton, Texas

West of Brenham on highway 290 is Burton, a small town that is home to the oldest operating cotton gin in America. The Texas Cotton Gin and Museum is the home of the gin, which dates to 1914, and it’s visited by thousands of people every year. Museum admission is free and includes numerous exhibits, a gift shop, and a presentation on how cotton is cultivated today, from ground to bale. Tours of the gin are conducted twice daily for a small fee.

Texas Tidbit: The annual Cotton Gin Festival takes place the third weekend in April and includes a parade, a cotton-seed-pulling contest, food and craft booths, an antique tractor show and pull, a children’s barnyard, and folk-life demonstrations.

Historic Old Baylor Park and Antique Rose Emporium, Independence, Texas

About 15 minutes north of downtown Brenham is Independence, Texas, another charming small town full of history. Founded in the 1820s, it became a Baptist stronghold when it was selected as the site of the original campus of Baylor University in 1845. Visit the Antique Rose Emporium, an expansive nursery dedicated to roses that transport you straight to a fairytale. Eight acres are full of rose display gardens, and you can buy roses of all types and colors. Next door, you’ll find Old Baylor Park, the site of the original campus. Today, you’ll see the archaeological ruins along a walking/driving trail with signs detailing the history of the village of Independence.

Blue Bell ice cream began as the Brenham Creamery Company © Alizada Studios / Shutterstock

Blue Bell Creameries

Arguably one of the best products coming out of Texas is Blue Bell ice cream, which has its roots in Brenham. Blue Bell began as the Brenham Creamery Company, when the founders transformed an abandoned cotton gin into a creamery and made butter from excess cream supplies. Ice cream production began in 1911, and it’s been a favorite ever since. A visit to Blue Bell includes the Visitor Center, where you can take a self-guided tour of the company’s history through the Blue Bell Museum; the Ice Cream Parlor, where you can grab a scoop of your favorite flavor; the Country Store, where you can purchase Blue Bell swag; and the Observation Deck, where you can watch the ice cream being made.

Fireman’s Park and Antique Carousel

Just a few blocks from downtown is Fireman’s Park: 30 acres of park space includes playgrounds, a skate park, volleyball courts, a baseball field, the StoryWalk outdoor reading experience, and more. A park favorite is the antique carousel, called Brenham’s Flying Horses Carousel. It’s one of only five surviving classic wooden carousels that exists in Texas, and is the oldest one in the state. The carousel was found in 1930 by Hugh Durden in Clay, Texas, where it had been left in a pasture years prior. During the Great Depression, a carnival that couldn’t afford to pay rent on the land they used for their carnival was forced to abandon the ride. The carousel was moved to Brenham, restored, and has been the pride of the community for decades.

Today it’s the perfect emblem of this eclectic community: Fun and forward-thinking, with a deep respect for the past.

Brenham represents a classic and authentic corner of the Lone Star State © Courtesy of Visit Brenham, Texas

Sponsored by Visit Brenham, Texas

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