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Follow these routes for a retro Texas road trip

Woman sitting on a bench outside Stone Wall Motor Lodge During Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency, Secret Service agents and the media would check in to the Stonewall Motor Lodge while the president stayed at his nearby ranch. Photo by Tim Henke

In 3 years, the U.S. will commemorate the 100th birthday of Route 66, the iconic cross-country drive that represents America’s enduring love of road trips and nostalgia. 

Though Texas claims just 186 miles of this route through the Panhandle (from Shamrock through Amarillo and over to the New Mexico border), there’s plenty of retro road-trip fun to be had throughout the Lone Star State.

These 2 itineraries are filled with throwback accommodations, classic mom-and-pop diners, drive-in movie theaters, and more. So get off the interstate and head down memory lane. 

3 days, 2 regions

Dallas to Fredericksburg, 300 miles

This trip starts in North Texas and takes you south into Central Texas, with overnights in Irving (in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex), Granbury, Salado, and Stonewall or Fredericksburg. Take the country-road alternatives west of Interstate 35 for a slower pace, making your way through quaint towns that embrace their old-time roots.

Day 1:

Texican Court Hotel fire pit

Community fire pits and outdoor corridors help give the Texican Court Hotel in Irving a retro vibe. Photo courtesy Valencia Hotel Group

Start with an overnight stay at Texican Court in Irving, a motor court–style hotel reminiscent of the days of Route 66 travel, with community firepits and outdoor corridors appointed with rocking chairs. Rates start at $145.

Sixth Floor Museum

The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas chronicles the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Photo courtesy Dealey Plaza

History buffs might already be familiar with the JFK assassination exhibits at the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Before leaving the area, also explore the lesser-known Ruth Paine House Museum in Irving. Lee Harvey Oswald spent the night at this humble home before assassinating Kennedy on that fateful day in November 1963.

Head about 70 miles southwest to Granbury. You’ll find a picturesque downtown and a duo of yesteryear-themed dining spots at the sites of old gas stations. Pearl Street Station serves up barbecue and Cajun eats inside a former Sinclair station, while the Fillin’ Station is a retro burger joint with classic-car memorabilia.

Pink drapery and furniture accent the Hey Sugar Suite at Hotel Lucy

The Hey Sugar Suite at the Hotel Lucy in Granbury features all things pink. Photo by Nancy Farrar Photography

If you’re in town on a Friday or Saturday evening, take in an old-fashioned drive-in movie. Brazos Drive-in Theatre has operated continuously since opening in 1952. Then hit the hay at Hotel Lucy, a new boutique hotel on Lake Granbury with midcentury flair. Rates start at $200.

You may also like: Top Texas drive-in theaters

Day 2:

Drive about 87 miles south to Waco. Along the way, stop in Glen Rose for a soda at the Shoo Fly Soda Shop, which also serves up Elvis’ favorite toasted peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

An old Dr Pepper branded truck advertising drinks at 5 cents each

You’ll find lots of memorabilia of Texas’ favorite soda at the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco. Photo by Cynthia Drake

Speaking of soda, don’t skip the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco. Journey through the birth of Texas’ favorite bubbly beverage, with plenty of retro advertising memorabilia and a tasting experience where you can sample unusual soda flavors—even hot Dr Pepper. For lunch, check out Waco Health Camp. This classic diner has been dishing up burgers, shakes, and frozen custard since 1948.

Stagecoach Restaurant pan-seared salmon

Dine on pan-seared salmon and other upscale dishes at the Stagecoach Restaurant in Salado. Photo by Jade Hammer


Continue 57 miles south to Salado. Shop for vintage treasures at the Salado Antique Mall and pop into Old Fashioned Burgers & Ice Cream for lunch. If you’ve had your fill of burgers, the historic 1861-era Stagecoach Restaurant offers an upscale alternative (think seared pork tenderloin and pan-seared salmon). Don’t miss its signature 1861 Hushpuppies served with whipped honey butter.

Overhead view of the Shady Villa Hotel pool

Take a refreshing dip at the Shady Villa Hotel in Salado, where the aesthetic is pure midcentury.  Photo by Nick Simonite

Stay overnight at the restaurant’s companion Shady Villa Hotel, a 1950s property formerly called Stagecoach Inn. The redesigned motel features a midcentury aesthetic, with Mad Men vibes throughout its 48 rooms and outdoor pool. Rates start at $82.

You may also like: Texas road trip cheap eats: Where to get tasty meals on a budget

Day 3:

People cruising in a vintage boat

With Retro Boat Rental, go sightseeing in Austin aboard a vintage 1960s fiberglass boat. Photo by Zaid Patel @shotsbyzaid

Venture south another 57 miles to Austin. There, cruise on Lady Bird Lake in a vintage 1960s fiberglass boat from Retro Boat Rental. Though many of the classic Austin diners and soda shops have disappeared, one remaining institution is Top Notch Hamburgers. Billed as a “hot rod hang since 1971,” it was featured in the films Dazed and Confused and Varsity Blues.

Take an optional side trip about 46 miles south to Gruene. Pick up throwback candies and snacks at the old-time Gruene General Store, then visit Texas’ oldest dance hall (open since 1878), Gruene Hall. You’ll flip your lid for neighboring New BraunfelsStars & Stripes Drive-In Theatre, as well as its 1950s-inspired café, Rockin’ Eats & Tasty Treats.

"Where flowers bloom, so does hope" painted on the Stonewall Motor Lodge barn doors

The Stonewall Motor Lodge hosts food and wine parties and other live events at its SML Barn. Photo by Tim Henke

End your trip exploring the Stonewall, Johnson City, and Fredericksburg area about 72 miles northwest of New Braunfels. Here, you’ll find a few interesting overnight options. The Hangar Hotel in Fredericksburg is a re-creation of a World War II military hangar with a 1940s replica diner. Rates start at $169.

Or stay at Stonewall Motor Lodge in Stonewall, a refurbished 1960s roadside motel with ties to Lyndon B. Johnson (rates start at $129). Secret Service agents and the media used to stay here while the president visited his ranch and the Texas White House. The latter attraction was under renovation at press time, but the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park is open and worth a visit.

You may also like: 14 don't-miss things to do in Austin, Texas

2 days in the Texas Panhandle

Shamrock to Amarillo and Lubbock, 200 miles 

A retro road trip doesn’t get any more authentic than traveling the original Mother Road, the portion of Route 66 that crosses the Panhandle. As is the case with a lot of Route 66, the original road and many roadside stops from that era are lost to the past. But you’ll still find plenty of hints along Interstate 40, including road markers indicating when you’re on the old 66.

Day 1:

Start in Shamrock at the historic Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Café, a restored restaurant that was part of the original 1936 building, which was an icon along Route 66 in the 1950s. The station served as a model for Ramone’s House of Body Art in the Cars movie franchise. It’s now a visitors center owned by the city of Shamrock. The café serves a simple menu of salads, sandwiches, soups, and house-made pies.

Drive about 100 miles west to Amarillo, which gets a shoutout in Nat King Cole’s famous song about Route 66. The town still celebrates those roots. You’ll find several boutiques and restaurants in the Route 66 Historic District, which is a great place to take photos, relax, and shop for souvenirs.

A line of old Cadillacs sticking up from the ground

Cadillac Ranch, a popular attraction near Amarillo, is an eye-catching art installation from the ’70s with spray-painted Cadillacs partially buried in a cow pasture. Photo by mauritius images GmbH/Alamy Stock Photo

Head about 7 miles west to Cadillac Ranch, an iconic 1974 art installation featuring 10 Cadillacs plunged into a cow pasture. Visitors are welcome to leave a spray paint signature. Classic-car buffs will love Bill’s Backyard Classics, a privately owned car museum with vintage cars dating to the 1920s.

Midpoint Cafe and Gift Shop

Hungry road-trippers have been filling up at the Midpoint Café and Gift Shop in Adrian since 1928. Photo by Eva Worobiec/Alamy Stock Photo

For lunch, the Golden Light Café is one of the original Route 66 restaurants still standing in the historic district. Or, if you’re up for a drive, head 50 miles west to Adrian and check out the Midpoint Café and Gift Shop. Built in 1928, this restaurant has changed hands many times throughout the years and represented the halfway point of Route 66 between Chicago and Santa Monica, California.

Bring your heartiest appetite to the Big Texan in Amarillo. This 1960 eatery has become a legend for its oversize-steak challenge: Scarf down a 72-ounce steak and sides in an hour for bragging rights and a free gut-busting meal. Spend the night at The Barfield, a 1926-era property that reopened with midcentury styling in 2022 after sitting dormant for 30 years. Rates start at $165.

You may also like: Take a music road trip across Texas

Day 2:

Close-up on the face of a Buddy Holly statue

Remember a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer at the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock. Photo by Cynthia Drake

Drive about 120 miles south and spend the day exploring Lubbock. The Buddy Holly Center delivers a great overview of the brief but impactful life of this rock ‘n’ roll pioneer. Stop next door at the J.I. Allison House, the childhood home of the drummer of Holly’s early band, the Crickets. Built in the 1950s, it offers a fascinating glimpse into midcentury life here in the South Plains.

Sign welcoming guests to the Cotton Court Hotel

Lubbock’s Cotton Court Hotel is a contemporary property with a vintage vibe. Photo by Cynthia Drake

The Holly Hop Ice Cream Shoppe, styled as a 1950s diner, serves up shakes, malts, and ice cream treats. Reserve a room at the Cotton Court Hotel, the newest hotel from the Valencia Hotel Group, which operates similar vintage-style hotels such as Texican Court in Irving. Rates start at $139.

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