From bluebonnets and Blue Bell to burgers and the Birthplace of Texas, Brenham and surrounding Washington County should be on your A-list of day-trip excursions.
10:30 a.m. There’s no better way to kick off a day in Brenham than with a scoop of ice cream sprinkled with history in the Country Store at Blue Bell Creameries. Blue Bell started in 1907 as the Brenham Creamery Company, purchasing excess milk and cream from local farmers to make butter. Soon after, the creamery started making small batches of ice cream and delivering it around town by horse-drawn carriage. Word spread quickly and the rest is history. Blue Bell is now available in 20 states and in dozens of flavors. On one of the weekday tours, visitors get a behind-the-scenes look into the ice cream-making process and a delicious taste of the finished product in the newly renovated ice cream parlor. As a self-proclaimed Blue Bell connoisseur, even I was surprised by some of the new flavors available only in the parlor.
12:00 p.m. But as they say, “man cannot live on ice cream alone,” so I drove to the Brenham Municipal Airport to gobble down a “$100 hamburger” at the ’50s-themed Southern Flyer Diner, which serves up food so tasty that folks fly in just to eat it. Don’t worry, your bill won’t be anywhere near $100, but since many private pilots are willing to spend that much or more on jet fuel alone getting to the diner, they’ve voted it as the best “$100 hamburger” in the nation multiple times.
2:00 p.m. In spite of not having my own private plane, I was still able to sample the finer things at Pleasant Hill Winery, one of the stops along Texas’ Bluebonnet Wine Trail. Owner Bob Cottle accompanied me on a walk through Pleasant Hill’s vineyards while his wife, Jeanne, poured me samples in their tasting room, which is located inside a renovated barn on top of... a pleasant hill. I bought a bottle of Collina Bianca (Italian for “White Hill”) to take home.
4:00 p.m. After spending all day in Brenham, it was time for me to make a historic pilgrimage up the road toward the Birthplace of Texas, Washington-on-the-Brazos. Here, 59 men gathered in March of 1836 to declare independence from Mexico and frame a constitution for the newly formed nation of Texas. The acreage is a state historic site composed of three distinct areas. First, I stopped by the Star of the Republic Museum to view videos and artifacts that document Texas’ era of revolution and independence, and then I went to Barrington Farm, a living-history museum with actors and buildings that provide an experience of the era. And finally, I visited Independence Hall, a recreation of the building where those 59 men, including Sam Houston and George C. Childress, signed the Texas Declaration of Independence and original Texas Constitution. It was pretty astounding to stand at the site where Texas began and to seek to comprehend the bravery it took to rise up against a nation. I left awestruck, inspired, and... hungry.
7:00 p.m. Luckily, just outside the park sits R Place, a small restaurant inside an old renovated grocery store (open Fri-Sun). Walking through the swinging screen door and across the creaking wood floor, you’d never expect the fine food that Chef Randy Rogers whips up on Saturday nights when there’s no set menu, just fresh ingredients and years of culinary experience. On the Saturday night I visited, my dinner was excellent, from the bread-and-brie starter to my hand-cut rib-eye steak and Gorgonzola-topped garlic mashed potatoes. I can only hope that the original Texans got to eat this well. As the Homemade Vanilla Blue Bell melted over Randy’s peach cobbler, I sat back and relished what had been a truly sweet day trip. So, whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope to see you on the road.