Photo by Skeebo

You know you're in Texas when Main Street is on the Chisholm Trail.

Valerie Fraser Luesse

The best way to experience tiny Salado, Texas, in southern Bell County is to stumble onto it. Cruising I-35 between Austin and Waco, look out your window and there it is—a little patch of Texas’ past, right off the interstate.

This village grew up around Salado College, established in the mid-nineteenth century, but the spring waters of Salado Creek were attracting Native American tribes for hundreds of years before that—even for hundreds of years before the Spanish showed up. And Salado was a stagecoach stop before it was a town.

Once the railroad bypassed it, Salado saw a decline, but it began a slow and  steady comeback in 1940, when the Van Bibbers family bought the Shady Villa Hotel, which they renamed the Stagecoach Inn. You can still have lunch, dinner, and drinks there (Wednesday-Sunday), and a current renovation aims to open guestrooms sometime next year.

With a population of just over 2,000, Salado is hardly a metropolis, but it has a thriving arts community that appeals to residents and visitors alike. The Texas State Commission on the Arts has designated Salado a state cultural district, and the community has attracted all kinds of creative talent, from sculptors, painters, and potters, to writers, musicians, and actors. The Tablerock Amphitheater hosts productions year-round, and Salado’s Sculpture Garden is a popular spot in town.

Shopping

Historic downtown is loaded with shops and galleries. Stop by Salado Glassworks to see artists at work. The Shoppes on Main is a marketplace with 5,000 square feet of retail. Go vintage at Antique Rose of Bell, and find fashion-forward women’s apparel at Christy’s of Salado, The Red Cactus, and Snickelbritches. Head to the Strawberry Patch for Texas specialties and gourmet coffee and Twenty-One Main for unique home accessories.

Dining

Salado has a surprising range of eateries for a small town. Locals flock to Barrow Brewing Co. and Chupacabra for craft beer;  Alexander’s Distillery at Inn on the Creek, a restaurant and cocktail lounge named for a distillery that once stood on the grounds; The Shed, casual food and drink also on property at Inn on the Creek; Johnny’s Steaks & Bar-be-que; The Salado Patio for Mexican fare; The Range at The Barton House for upscale dining and craft cocktails; and McCain’s Bakery & Café.

Snoozing

You’ll find all kinds of B&Bs in Salado, from a historic mansion to charming cottages. Check out Inn on the Creek, Baines House Inn & Gallery, Yellow House Bed and Breakfast, and other properties in the Salado Visitors Guide.

So You Want to Live There

Sisters Melanie Kerchmeier (broker/owner) and Sue Ellen Slagel (broker associate) work together to continue Century 21 Bill Bartlett, the Salado real estate company their father started 44 years ago.

“Salado used to be considered a retirement community, but no more,” Slagel says. “I would bet that our median age is mid-40s. The reason we can sell Salado is that it has that small town, laid back, peaceful atmosphere. The minute you exit I-35 and drive into town, you feel calm. Your blood pressure goes down.”

The town got a big boost from the completion of an I-35 expansion. Now that construction is no longer disrupting traffic, and the renovated highway is making it easier to travel the route from Austin to Waco to Dallas, Salado is booming. “Any decent home between $250,000 and $400,000 gets snapped up,” Slagel says. “And then we have properties with acreage that can go for over a million.”

Salado’s popular hangout, Slager says, is the area around Royal and Main Streets, where locals can hit Barrow Brewing Co. and Chupacabra for some refreshment and then ramble Peddler's Alley, which is just a block from Salado Creek.

“The people here are very welcoming,” she says. “And we have such a variety. There are locals who have lived here all their lives. There are others, like me, who left but decided to come back. And then we have residents who chose to move here—from as far away as California—because they want that small town life with convenient access to places like Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston. Our school superintendent is one of the best in the area—and he moved here from Plano because he wanted to live in a small town.”

WATCH: Southern Places You're Probably Mispronouncing

If some of those tongue-twisting towns threw you off for a minute, not to worry. At least you know how to pronounce Salado. Please tell us you aren't saying "salad-oh." That would be bad.