I arrived in Salado stressed out. I was in the midst of a flurry of travel, having driven 700 miles in the few days before I arrived, shuttling every which way across Texas for a mix of business and pleasure.
But after a restful night of sleep and a day of meandering about the shops and galleries of this two-exit Central Texas town off Interstate 35 north of Austin, my frazzled state of mind seemed a lifetime away.
I’m certainly not the first to notice that Salado, founded in 1859, has something special. “Ninety percent of people choose to move here—we could’ve gone anywhere, but we chose to come here,” says Charlotte Douglass, the former—and first—mayor of Salado, which was incorporated in 2000. And although it’s lovely year-round, unarguably the best time to visit for a real taste of what the village has to offer is Christmastime.
It all kicks off with the Christmas Parade, a hometown favorite that’s been growing in popularity with each passing year (this time around, it’s on December 2). That ushers in the crown jewel event, the Christmas Stroll. For the first two weekends in December, many businesses in the historic part of town stay open until at least 9 p.m. Horse-drawn carriages with jingle bells attached cart visitors to and fro, carolers dress up and sing holiday tunes, and shops offer treats like hot apple cider. Candle-lit luminaries provide the light, adding to the old-fashioned allure of it all.
“Because Salado doesn’t have very many streetlights or big buildings, you can really see the stars here,” says Douglass, the coordinator of this year’s Christmas Stroll and owner of home décor store Charlotte’s of Salado. “People enjoy strolling around and enjoying the crisp winter air and being together.”
The visually driven will like the Salado Historical Society’s Christmas Homes Tour, which takes tourists through artfully dressed-up homes old and new, including, for the first time, the historic Robertson Plantation. Art galleries abound as well; stop in the Prellop Fine Art Gallery for Western works, landscapes and sculptures and a pianist playing Christmas carols. “I just want to call it a magical time in a small community like ours,” says gallery owner Larry Prellop. “It’s what always attracted me to Salado.”
On the shopping front, you should be able to get something for everyone on your list. For the finest in jewelry and artistic accents, Gregory’s is the go-to place, while Horsefeathers carries all the reasonably priced home décor you didn’t know you needed until you set eyes on it (after which point it becomes a must-have). Mud Pies Pottery does handmade well—both Texas pottery and fudge—and book lovers can’t miss Fletcher’s Books & Antiques, a treasure trove of old tomes. Antiquing is legendary here, too, and when you need a break, former Army helicopter pilot June Ritterbusch at Salado Wine Seller can set you up with a glass or bottle of the best Texas wineries have to offer, including that from its own vineyard, which is on Bartlett Electric Cooperative lines.
You’ll need sustenance for all that shopping, so indulge in a nice dinner at The Range, where chef Dave Hermann creates Mediterranean-inspired dishes sure to please the palate. I recommend the three-cheese tortellini, but meat lovers have plenty from which to choose, including pork tenderloin, crawfish-stuffed quail and grilled Tuscan ribeye. For a daytime treat, schedule an afternoon tea session at Adelea’s on Main, where you can enjoy a spot of tea and a sweet in a quaint atmosphere.
If it’s entertainment you’re after, the Tablerock Festival of Salado presents “A Christmas Carol” for the 18th year in a row at its outdoor amphitheater the first two weekends of December. Just down the road, Salado Silver Spur Theater, an old converted grainery, presents “Boughs of Folly,” a comedic play suitable for the entire family.
After a wonderful night out, there are plenty of options for accommodations in Salado, but they fill up fast this time of year. Inn on the Creek, a 14-room Victorian bed-and-breakfast, hosted Jenna Bush’s bridal luncheon and will treat you like a VIP, too. Don’t miss the on-site Alexander’s Distillery, an amazingly sleek, high-tech bar more befitting of a big city but still charming.
Whatever you do, you’re sure to leave Salado a little more relaxed than when you arrived. “It’s a perfect getaway from the hectic pace that we all feel at Christmas,” Douglass says. “Going to the malls and chain stores, you lose your Christmas spirit in there. People always tell me they get that back here.”
Salado Chamber of Commerce, (254) 947-5040, www.salado.com
Haley Shapley, formerly of Coppell, now lives in the Seattle area and hopes to visit Salado this Christmas.