A trip to Waco doesn’t have to break the bank. Explore the city on a budget with plenty of free things to do! From the many natural beauties of Central Texas to fine art and live entertainment, use this guide to make the most of your visit without spending a penny.
Catch Live Music and Events at the Bridge Street Plaza
The Bridge Street Plaza is “Waco’s Front Porch,” located just north of the Waco Suspension Bridge. This community gathering place is a frequent host to local events, from the Wednesday evening Farmers Market (usually open September – June) to live music.
One exciting event at the venue is the Levitt AMP Waco Music Series. This summer concert series is hosted by Creative Waco, thanks to a three-year grant from the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation and support from local partners. Bridge Street Plaza will welcome both local musicians and national performers for the Saturday night concerts, which run through July 8th for the 2023 season. Expect genres from blues to pop, zydeco to jazz, hip hop to gospel. You’ll also find live art, yard games, and a local vendor market to explore. Concerts are free and family-friendly, and will continue in the summers of 2024 and 2025!
Tour Waco’s Public Art
Waco has a thriving art scene. But you don’t have to go to hushed museums or fancy galleries to get a look at it. Much of the city’s art is on display for all to see, in the form of public sculptures and brightly colored murals that turn plain walls into larger-than-life canvases.
Your guide to Waco’s sculptures, murals, fountains, and more is the Waco Public Art Map. Created by three local high school students, this map marks the sites of many of our street-side treasures. Follow the map through downtown Waco for a self-guided art tour. There’s lots to see, particularly on Austin and Franklin Avenue.
Visit the Blek Le Rat section of the map to find six murals from this famed Parisian graffiti artist. Le Rat is considered the father of stencil graffiti, and was a major influence on that other stencil artist, the iconic Banksy. Le Rat shared his work with Waco on a visit in 2018.
Hike and Play in Spacious Cameron Park
Waco’s green space is for everyone! Beautiful Cameron Park is a 416-acre public park marking the convergence of the Brazos and the Bosque Rivers. Wander the walking trails among the towering trees for an immersive forest experience right in the city.
Inside the park, you’ll find three playgrounds, including a splash pad for cooling off in the summer. There’s also a disc golf course, a cross-country running course, and Miss Nellie’s Pretty Place, a 6-acre wildflower preserve with a fountain plaza.
Take in fantastic river views from scenic overlooks like Lovers Leap, Emmons Cliff, and Circle Point. At Jacob’s Ladder, climb an offbeat staircase with cedar railings to reach the top of a bluff with views of the Brazos.
The park is also home to Cameron Park Zoo, home to big cats, giraffes, rhinos, and much more. Zoo tickets range from free (for children under 2) to $14 for adults.
Discover a World of Color at the Martin Museum of Art
The Martin Museum of Art is a repository of works intended to support the scholarship of Baylor students and faculty. But all are welcome at this free museum!
The 1,500-piece permanent collection includes both historic and modern works, from 13th-century illuminated manuscripts to 21st-century sculptures. The museum also welcomes temporary exhibits, including internationally-acclaimed artists as well as student and faculty collections.
Cross the Waco Suspension Bridge
The recently renovated Waco Suspension Bridge has been a local icon since 1870 when it first connected the banks of the Brazos River. This historic bridge created a throughway for the covered wagons and cattle traffic that passed through Waco in the late 19th century. Now only open to pedestrian traffic, it’s a unique part of the city’s history.
Meet the Baylor Bears
The most popular attraction on the Baylor campus is the Bill and Eva Williams Bear Habitat, with an estimated 250,000 visitors each year. Long-time resident Judge Sue “Lady” Sloan retired to a comfortable, private bear habitat in mid-summer 2023. Her replacements are two precious bear cub cousins, Judge Indy and Judge Belle. These American Black Bears will spend their time playing together and splashing in the habitat’s waterfall.
The habitat is located near the corner of South 5th Street and M P Daniel Esplanade, and it is free to visit for all.
Explore the Lake Waco Wetlands
The Lake Waco Wetlands were created in 2001 after the city council elected to raise the lake level by seven feet. This freshwater marsh was designed to mitigate habitat loss from the higher water level.
There are now 3.5 miles of nature trails and raised walking platforms in the area for hiking, photography, and bird watching. Over 185 species of birds have been spotted here, so bring your birding book!
Wax Poetic at the Armstrong Browning Library & Museum
Find a bit of Victorian England right here in Waco. From the spectacular architecture of the library itself to the impressive collection of works by and about 19th-century writers, the Armstrong Browning Library & Museum is an Anglophile’s dream.
The library and museum are primarily dedicated to Victorian poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. While both husband and wife were successful poets, Mrs. Barrett Browning wrote one of the most famous lines in English poetry from her Sonnet #43: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”
In addition to memorabilia from their lives and works related to their poetry, the museum is home to the largest secular collection of stained glass in the world with 62 distinct windows. Step outside into the tranquil Garden of Contentment, with mature oaks arranged around a granite fountain.
Commune with Nature at the Carleen Bright Arboretum
Less than 20 minutes from downtown Waco, the Carleen Bright Arboretum in Woodway is 16 acres of natural beauty. As a certified Monarch waystation, the garden is planted with milkweed and nectar flowers to provide much-needed food during the butterflies’ annual migration to Mexico and back.
There are also cactus and rose gardens, bubbling fountains, hike and bike trails, and peaceful meditation areas. Visit this serene retreat by day for quiet, or come back on select nights for live music among the flowers!