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24 hours in Salado

Uncover this artsy town an hour north of Austin

Lauren Jones Special to the American-Statesman
There are plenty of quaint spots to sit and enjoy the day in downtown Salado. [Contributed by Lauren Jones]

Sunshine streams through the historic buildings on Main Street as patrons mill about, wooden floors creaking with each step as pleasantries are exchanged.

It’s an 80-degree mid-March day and the quaint town of Salado, an hour’s drive up I-35 from Austin, is preparing for Fourth Friday, a monthly event when shops are open late. Come nightfall at the popular Salado Glassworks, the team is twirling piping hot creations in view of a crowd seated on the on-site bleachers as Chelsea, the 15-year-old shop cat, meows quietly from the register.

Salado was different than I expected — smaller, maybe. Salado, which means “salty” in Spanish, covers a mere 2.2 square miles and has a population around 2,000. And yet, to me, it has more charm than many places 10 times its size thanks to its intriguing history and reputation as an artists' town.

If you want to spend the weekend, book a room at the Stagecoach Inn, the town’s most well-known landmark. Opened in 1861, the inn once welcomed the likes of Jesse James, Robert E. Lee, George Custer and Sam Houston. There are even rumors of buried gold on the property. The main guest rooms were built in the 1950s but were recently renovated by the development team, La Corsha Hospitality Group, and renowned Austin-based preservation architects Clayton & Little in a style that reminded me of Palm Springs circa 1970. My first-floor retreat featured striped blue-and-white textiles from India, a sunny yellow lounger, multicolored lanterns and aquamarine tile in the bathroom. I had a pool view, which made the stay even more relaxing.

After check-in, I set out to explore the town. I started at the Salado Visitor’s Center, 423 S. Main St., where I picked up a copy of the town magazine and a map of Main Street. First stop? Sofi’s, a gift shop overflowing with local art, vintage records and children’s toys. Ro Shaw Clay Studio is perfect for anyone wanting to book a workshop or date night or pick up a piece or two of handmade pottery. The gallery and gift shop Thingaderas, adjacent to Barrow Brewing Company, was my next stop and ended up being my favorite Salado find. From handcrafted local soaps to blown glass and artwork, I couldn’t help doing some shopping. The Sugar Shack, a retro candy store, and Rosanky’s on Royal Street, a beautiful, mazelike shop with home decor, clothing, jewelry and antiques, are must-visits, too.

On a nice day, having lunch outside Happy Pizza Company, the town’s only food truck, can’t be beat. As I enjoyed the sun, young families played near Salado Creek, the sound of laughter reverberating beneath the arching trees. There’s also Barton House, built inside an 1866 home; Lively Coffee House & Bistro, a health-centric cafe with gluten-free and vegetarian options; and Chupacabra Kitchen, serving up burgers, wings and other comforting fare.

For dinner, make a reservation at the restaurant at the Stagecoach Inn, which was featured in both Life and Time magazines back in the 1950s and 1960s. The building, which is separate from rest of the inn, is in its original structure and offers traditional favorites including hushpuppies, tomato aspic, banana fritters and Strawberry Kiss, a meringue dessert topped with fresh berries. Watch the sunset from a rocking chair on the balcony or sip on a cocktail by the fireplace.

There’s something special about small towns like Salado, where you get the feeling that living life at a slower pace may just be the secret to happiness.

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