Taking a stroll along Main Street, Salado, is like walking back in time, through history, to another world – and not just the world you might expect from the plethora of protected 19th century buildings that line the road; the saloons, jails, school, law offices that persuade any visitor a cowboy with a grudge could bump into them at any time. No, its more recent than that.
The bamboozling array of public art, quirky signage, hipster coffee spots and boozy breweries brings to mind the Fredericksburg of a couple of decades ago, before the sidewalks got jammed, parking became tricky and prices started soaring. And the locals are just as friendly, they just don’t seem to be so stressed, a good thing when you’re looking to escape busy life for a while and to take your weekend down a notch.
It’s the heady mix of history, art and fun that built the renaissance of this town, once appreciated as a pit stop for those traveling north or south on The Chisholm Trail of the old Wild West days, now appreciated as a great stop between Austin and Waco for lunch, or longer.
One constant in this time capsule of a town is Shady Villa Hotel, which dates back to 1861, and is the longest continuously running inn in Texas. Once an outpost for outlaws Sam Bass and the James Brothers, it’s still very much a hideaway, but in 2022, more for weary - and legally sound – travelers looking for a weekend escape. Now operated by the so hip it almost hurts Bunkhouse group (those behind Jo’s Coffee, Hotel Magdalena, Hotel San Jose, Austin Motel and Hotel Saint Cecilia) the property features 48 guest rooms and suites (with robes so beautiful and cool you’ll dream about them after you leave) surrounded by lush greenery and native Texas flora, a large swimming pool, and a poolside bar, which serves colorful frozen cocktails next to the cornhole area.
The hotel’s full-service, all-day restaurant, named The Stagecoach Restaurant (and yes, there is an Instagram-able historic stagecoach in the grounds, just waiting you visitors to go and pose next to), offers guests breakfast, lunch, and dinner options that stir in Old Texas treats with modern techniques. The menu pays homage to the restaurant’s history as one of the oldest buildings in Texas, with original items like the Strawberry Kiss – a delightful tumble of berries, meringues and vanilla ice cream - and to the locale with salty Southern favorites like hush puppies, fried green tomatoes and deviled eggs.
In keeping with Bunkhouse’s ethos of creating community-driven experiences, the Shady Villa Hotel celebrates the history of Salado and Central Texas culture through its programming, featuring live music, adventure maps, festive brunches and local partnerships with artists and creatives. Their lobby gift shop is filled with Texas-produced scented delights and must-wear fashion items. Stop by for advice on local happenings. I mean, you wouldn’t want to miss the Cowboy Poetry and Music Gathering or Crawfish Boil, would you?
Other places to enjoy while visiting Salado include the Lively Coffee House and Bistro, which serves the best cappuccinos on Main Street, with a stack of board games to entertain the children while you sip in peace, and Salado Glassworks, a gallery and working study producing gorgeous art pieces, and offering a year-round schedule of season specific glassblowing classes. The Sugar Shack, which sits kitty corner to The Shady Villa Hotel, is a treat for anyone with a sweet tooth, with a charming array of bottled sodas, gelato, retro sweets, snoballs and cotton candy served up daily. If savory is your thing, and you find spice nice, you can’t go wrong with a Rodeo burger or Rio burrito on the fairy-lit patio of Rio Salado Cocina y Cantina at sunset, before you head back to the Shady Villa for a good night’s sleep.
Address: 416 S Main St, Salado, TX 76571
For more info, go to shadyvillahotel.com