If you’ve ever driven from Collin County to Waco, Austin or even San Antonio, chances are you took the 35E south out of Dallas. If you did, you will have passed a sign for Cleburne, Texas. On a weekend adventure we decided to take that road and found a very Texas town with the world’s tiniest burger joint (probably), a fabulous Gone with The Wind museum and The Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum and Big Bear Native American Museum. When we went—a miserably hot weekend in July—the town was also celebrating their annual Dragon Boat Festival.
Cleburne is an easy one hour and 30 minute drive from Plano: straight through Dallas, past the Dallas Zoo and on to Cleburne. Here are a few highlights of our weekend in Cleburne, Texas.
Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum and Big Bear Native American Museum, Cleburne
The Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum sits on the Chisholm Trail, which was used in the late 19th century to drive cattle overland. The museum includes life size cattle drive silhouettes, Johnson County’s original courthouse, a working blacksmith shop, a stagecoach station, teepees and more. The Big Bear Native American Museum, also on site, features a collection of Native American artifacts that provide a complete overview of Native Americans in North America from their arrival over 13,000 years ago to the present.
We begin by exploring the Big Bear Native American Museum which is pretty small but jam-packed with history and native artifacts, all of which my toddler wanted to grab. It also has a big, big bear which is pretty cool.
Outside we wander past a giant model buffalo and explore inside some traditional tipis. We find a small garden that’s alive with butterflies, has some fun wooden stepping stones and a cute photo op.
After that we have fun climbing on a traditional coach and a train, but probably our favorite part was the blacksmith. The blacksmith himself put on quiet a show as he forged a little keep sake that we could take home with us. Our little boy was mesmerized.
The Burger Bar, Cleburne
The Burger Bar in Cleburne isn’t world-famous but it probably should be. In Cleburne it’s iconic and a must-stop if you’re in town.
The Burger Bar is nestled inside a 12 ft x 12 ft brick building on the corner of a parking lot, it’s tiny which is why most patrons choose to take-away. We decide to squish inside and nab two of the four available barstools. Additional seating is available outside, in the parking lot, at a slightly-rundown yellow picnic table.
I order a bacon cheese burger and Philip gets a cheese burger. Theo, our toddler, has fries and some questionable homemade baby food. He prefers the fries.
Philip’s verdict: “This is one of the best burgers I’ve had in Texas!”
Yes, that’s right ladies and gentleman, a pretty darn incredible burger experience is hiding inside a building the size of the average closet in Plano. Of course, whether or not the burger at The Burger Bar is The or even one of the best burgers in Texas is highly debatable, after all, while my darling husband has certainly had more than his fair share of burgers, he’s certainly not had them all and can be more accurately described as a burger enthusiast rather than a connoisseur.
My verdict: It’s a good burger, a very good burger. We wanted to return Sunday but they were closed. In fact, we’ve had a hankering to head back ever since.
Gone with the Wind Remembered Museum, Cleburne
Gone with the Wind is one of my all-time favorite books, so, for me, this museum is fascinating. This museum contains one of the most comprehensive and extensive Gone with the Wind collections in the world, including one-of-a-kind and extremely rare pieces. The entrance to the museum is a replica of the Tara door.
Warning: It’s so comprehensive that it’d be a total spoiler if you hadn’t already read the book or seen the movie.
The Depot Stadium, Cleburne
In Cleburne, the new stadium is a big deal, the town’s pride and joy and where everyone (or at least that’s how it feels) spends their Saturday nights. The recently unveiled minor league ballpark, The Depot Stadium at Cleburne Station, is the new home of the Cleburne Railroaders baseball team, which joined the American Association of Professional Baseball league in 2016. In addition to baseball games, the new stadium hosts professional soccer games, concerts, events and more.
When we visited we watched a game and even got to meet The Cleburne Railroaders mascot, Spike. Much like going to see the Frisco Roughriders at Dr Pepper Stadium, watching a ball game at Depot Stadium is as much fun and games as it is baseball.
Liberty Hotel, Cleburne
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There are a handful of different places to stay if you decide to overnight in Cleburne, but Liberty Hotel on South Caddo Street is probably the best. It’s large traditional and the service is great. Breakfast was great too. They have a small pool out back which was nice to cool off in after a long day out exploring.
The location is convenient too. It’s within easy walking distance of a few restaurants and the Gone with the Wind Remembered Museum. Just don’t try walking anywhere in the afternoon in July. We did and it wasn’t a good idea.
RK Café II, Cleburne
On Sunday, before heading home, we were told we absolutely had to have lunch at RK Café II where they serve traditional southern food, nor frills, lots of flavor. When we arrived there was a line out of the door of folk dressed in their Sunday best stopping by for lunch after church. Luckily, we had reserved a table.
Despite being rather large, the restaurant feels quaint. With cowboy memorabilia on the walls, it’s cute and fun, and the kind of place that makes you want to overindulge.
I decided to go with a brunch option: chicken fried steak with hash browns, eggs, biscuits and gravy. It tasted just as good as it sounds. Philip ordered a burger which, frankly, was a bad idea after having had what he deemed “one of the best burgers in Texas” the day before. It was still a good burger though and the onion rings were supersize, crisp and delicious. We all ate too much, even little Theo who insisted on trying everything.
Other Cleburne highlights
We couldn’t do everything, so a few other Cleburne highlights include:
A hands-on interactive museum for children (and their parents and grandparents) with a giant sand box, arts and crafts room, water table, music room, vet’s office, construction room and more.
Cleburne’s 1,500-acre lake is easily accessible and offers opportunities for swimming, boating and fishing. There are four boat ramps conveniently located around the lake for easy boating access. The Cleburne Golf Links golf course and Grille restaurant are conveniently located off on the lake’s shores.
This 10-acre botanic park has walking paths, a pavilion and gazebo, a pond, and a children’s area. The park is also home to McGregor House, which is available for parties and special events.
Cleburne annual festivals
At Cleburne, they’re all about celebrating and this little Texas town knows how to host a good festival. Here’s what they have going on:
Each summer, the players of Cleburne’s acclaimed Plaza Theatre Co. take to the stage under the stars to perform a Shakespeare play in Winston Patrick McGregor Park. The most recent offering was “The Taming of the Shrew.”
A fun family event held each July with races, vendors, entertainment and more is the Dragon Boat Festival. Teams race down Lake Pat Cleburne in traditional Hong Kong Buk-style boats. The participants compete in a variety of races, ranging from 250m – 1000m.
This annual charitable event brings more than 2,500 riders from across the country to Cleburne. The Goatneck Bike Ride is a rolling hill course featuring 69.5 mile, 41 mile, 27 mile and 10 mile bike races.
This September festival features a variety of Texas wineries, vendors, food, art displays, and live entertainment. It takes place at Market Square and all proceeds are donated to charity
Travel back in time to 1854 and celebrate the history of Texas and Cleburne at Pioneer Days, an annual festival held at the Chisholm Trail Museum. See displays at the Native American museum, Terry’s Texas Rangers re-enactors, Ghosts of Buzzard Flats gunfighters, a Civil War encampment site, and enjoy food and craft vendors.
For more than two decades, Hulen Park has dazzled during the holidays at Whistle Stop Christmas. This display of more than 3.5 million lights provides a sparkling backdrop for entertainment throughout the season. Themed displays include Santa and his sleigh, Christmas trees, horse-drawn carriages and more. The park livens and lights up every evening from a few days prior to Thanksgiving to the end of December.