A little bit of Lone Star flair makes any meeting better.
Planners searching for fun ways to inject Western heritage or local Texas flair into their events should look no further than these five Texas towns that offer everything from historical reenactments and cowboy-boot-making demonstrations to Dallas Cowboys-themed events.
Abilene was created by the T&P Railway in 1881, and the oil and agricultural industries grew up around it. Today, the west Texas city embraces its historical past but is also home to three universities, an Air Force base, some first-class museums and a revitalized downtown.
Groups that want to get a fun taste of Abilene’s history can book a downtown walking tour with cowboy poet Gus McDusty, who gives his tour in rhyme, or host an event at Frontier Texas, an interactive history museum that also has meeting spaces. The facility is fashioned after an old frontier outpost, with a large parade ground in the middle that tells the story of the early settlement of Texas. Groups that host an event there or just come for a visit can tour the museum and listen to the stories of Abilene’s past.
The Perini Ranch Steakhouse, just south of Abilene, is one of the most famous restaurants in Texas. Visitors come from all around to sample its chuck-wagon-style cooking, like its Mesquite Smoked Peppered Beef Tenderloin and fried catfish. The facility has sprawling grounds that are fine for outdoor gatherings, and Tom Perini can give talks or demonstrations for visiting groups. If meeting planners just want to add a taste of Texas to their gatherings, they can bring in a cowboy poet or live music or book a barbecue dinner at Ball Ranch and stay to enjoy its live Western show.
Waco is home to two very Texas institutions: the Texas Ranger Museum and Hall of Fame and the birthplace of Dr Pepper.
The Texas Rangers are a symbol of not only Texas but also the American West. Meeting planners who want to add a taste of Texas to their events can host a banquet or a reception in the facility’s meeting hall that overlooks the Brazos River. While there, guests can learn about the history of the Texas Rangers and about infamous outlaws Bonnie and Clyde, who were eventually stopped with the help of a former Texas Ranger.
For teambuilding, groups can organize a horseback ride along the Brazos River through Brazos Bluffs Ranch or book a customized tour of the area through Waco Tours. The company takes groups on a visit to Baylor University, which was founded before the state of Texas, and the historic suspension bridge across the Brazos that was built to get Texas longhorns across the river during the Chisholm Trail cattle drives. Along with the tour of Waco, groups can learn roping, leather stamping and how to throw horseshoes to get a feel for Waco’s cowboy past. Groups can also take a historic river cruise on the Brazos or Bosque rivers or organize a soda tasting at the Dr Pepper Museum.
A relatively young city in Texas, Frisco was founded in 1905. One of the fastest-growing cities in the country, Frisco is home to the Star, the headquarters and training facility of the Dallas Cowboys football team. Meeting planners who want to incorporate the famous NFL team into their events can take a tour of its headquarters and practice facility or plan a meal or reception in the facility’s event spaces. The War Room, which the team’s owners use as headquarters for the NFL draft every year, is available for rent.
The Ford Center, an adjacent indoor football arena, can hold 12,000 people in its stands and has 100,000 square feet of space on the floor for trade shows and exhibits. The Star is the only NFL headquarters open for tours and events.
Another great Texas thing to include at a conference is a photo or autograph opportunity with the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, former players or the team’s mascot. Smaller groups could tour Lucchese, the local boot-maker that makes the trademark boots of the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders.
The Frisco Heritage Museum tells the story of Frisco from its pioneer past to cattle drives and the arrival of the train. Meeting groups can hold events there, enjoying a chuck-wagon dinner around a fire with a Texas storyteller and fun Western activities like armadillo races or gunfight reenactments in the street.
San Angelo was founded next to the Concho River in Texas and is best known for the fort that was built there in the 1860s. Meeting planners who want to tap into the Western heritage of the area should book an event at Fort Concho National Historic Landmark, with its restored buildings and historic artifacts. Attendees can enjoy a chuck-wagon dinner by Fiddle Fire Catering in the courtyard and then marvel at the fort’s cannons being fired.
The owner of Fiddle Fire will play fiddle music at the event and lead groups in Western swing dancing.
The Concho Cowboy Company has reenactors who perform Western skits, such as shootouts, for group events, at the fort and other meeting venues in the city. Groups that wonder how cowboy boots are made can visit M.L. Leddy’s boots, a family-owned business started in 1922. Small groups can come and get their feet measured with ledger paper, just as it has been done for nearly 100 years, and then watch the craftspeople hand-making boots next door.
Groups can also tour Miss Hattie’s Bordello Museum, a tribute to an institution that thrived when the fort was first built and the main street of San Angelo, Concho Avenue, was bustling with brothels and saloons.
Animals are a big hit for any group meeting. Attendees can take a flatbed ride out to the nearby state park and get up-close to an official herd of Texas longhorns and bison or tour the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, an organization that provides a home for abused, neglected and abandoned domestic donkeys.
Kerrville is considered cowboy country. Groups can hold events at the Gravity Check Saloon and Arena, a restaurant and bar that features live music and has an arena out back. Groups can take part in regularly scheduled events in the arena, or they can customize activities such as equine events, goat roping or a visit by the Bandera Shooters, a group of marksmen who ride through the arena shooting balloons in a set pattern. Other popular options to get a feel for the area’s Western past include ranch sorting, where a cowboy is tasked with isolating one animal from a herd, and barrel racing. The venue also offers country-western dance lessons.
At Y.O. Ranch Headquarters, which sits on 5,400 acres that were once part of the historic Y.O. Ranch, groups can get out into nature as part of a corporate retreat or meeting there. Groups can take a two-hour photographic wildlife safari through the property searching for exotic animals, including giraffes, that live on the ranch. The tour usually takes two hours and includes a home-cooked meal. Private tours are available for smaller groups, giving them a more intimate experience at the ranch, including feeding the giraffes.