Bryan, Texas, Has Small Town Charm and a Big Texas Spirit with Street Music, Wineries, and a Presidential Library
By Sharon Kurtz
GoNOMAD Senior Writer
It’s easy to see what makes Bryan special. One of the friendliest places you can visit, it’s a gem in the Lone Star State. Bryan is known as the “Heart and Soul of the Texas Triangle.”
It’s about a 3-hour drive from each of the three largest metro areas in the state, Houston, Austin, and Dallas.
More than just a small town on the Brazos River, Bryan is built on deep Texas roots. A community filled with authentic history, stories, people, and places, the City of Bryan celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2021.
What makes Bryan so unique? Perhaps it is the pride they have in their tight-knit community and a pioneer spirit of supporting one another. This underrated treasure provides Southern hospitality and a blend of Texas charm you won’t find anywhere else.
When you’re in Bryan, you’re in Texas A&M “Aggieland” Territory
Before I visited Bryan earlier this year, my only time here was when my husband and I moved our college-age son to Bryan in 2010. After his first year in the dorm, he and three Aggie classmates moved into a small house in Bryan.
Soon after, one of them fell through the ceiling. What they were doing in the attic, we don’t know; but we quickly decided the less we knew, the better. We left our visits to College Station football games and parent weekends on campus.
We were new to Texas A&M traditions and culture. It’s been said, “from the outside looking in; you can’t understand it. From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.” A true statement, that. Gig ‘em, Aggies!
Upon revisiting Bryan, I’ve discovered there is much more to experience than Aggie Football. Forever tied to College Station, Bryan shares a small college-town feel but with a history all its own.
A Rich History
Bryan began as a small-town stop along the state’s expanding railway system in the mid-1800s. Almost from the beginning, Bryan was different. It flourished as a vibrant center of business and trade.
William Joel Bryan, a nephew of Stephen F. Austin, sold a single square-mile tract to railroad directors. The $3,200 sale was the seed that grew into a city serving the railway. The townsite was named “Bryan” in William Joel Bryan’s honor.
Bryan continued to thrive through the early 1900s, partly due to its rich agricultural farmlands, the railroad, and the area’s abundance of cotton, cattle, and oil. The original square mile townsite has grown to encompass more than 54 square miles. Bryan’s original population of a few hundred settlers has grown to more than 85,000 residents.
Historic Downtown Bryan
“We’re known for our people and businesses,” said Abigail Noel of Destination Bryan. “Most Bryan businesses are locally owned and operated.
The majority of those have been in the same family for multiple generations. And those people, stories, and families make up what Bryan is all about.”
As a recognized Texas Cultural District, downtown is an ever-evolving cultural hub of the Brazos Valley. First Friday events transform the streets into one big stage for live music and high-energy performances.
In addition to the arts and culture scene, you’ll find scores of yummy eateries and locally-owned retail shops.
The Queen Theater is the crown jewel of downtown Bryan—literally. The structure is one of the tallest buildings in town and features a large, red, neon crown at the top. The Queen started life as a hotel in the 1800s.
The hotel began showing silent films on the ground floor in the early 1900s, and in 1939 it was converted into a fully operational movie theater. After a community revitalization effort for the space, in 2018, it reopened and regularly began showing pictures.
The Brazos Valley Farmers’ Market is open every Saturday year-round and is pet friendly. Located on Main Street, The market features over 50 vendors. It is a go-to spot for locally grown produce and artisanal products.
Dining on Tacos and BBQ in Bryan
Some of the best tacos in Texas are on the Bryan Taco Trail. Discover more than 40 of the best tacos spots, and remember to get your passport stamped.
Save room for another incredible dining experience at Ronin Farm & Restaurant. It serves as a prime location for food, fellowship, and nostalgia while preserving the culinary traditions of Texas cuisine.
Set in the beautiful, newly renovated historic Icehouse on Main Street, the open-air kitchen, salvaged wood, and floor-to-ceiling exposed brick in the dining room add an authentic ambiance.
I got a hot tip from a local and had one of the best brisket sandwiches I’ve ever eaten at All the King’s Men downtown. The aroma of fragrant BBQ smoke wafted out the front door as I entered.
Sitting at the bar, visiting with the locals, and checking out everyone’s dinner choices coming out of the kitchen was a fun way to spend the evening.
KinderHill Brew Lab Tour & Tasting
All the beers at KinderHill Brew Lab are handcrafted onsite using a blend of art and science, specializing in traditional and unique small-batch beers.
This Biergarten location has ample picnic table seating under the sprawling shade trees.
In the garden, the Wild Garlic pizza food truck serves artisan pizzas made with locally sourced ingredients baked in their mobile brick oven.
Brewers and owners Laura and Jason have over 10 years of professional brewing experience. Jason loves the artistic side and is constantly brainstorming new and interesting flavors. “We like a lot of weird ingredients— so we make a sour beer with prickly pears that we harvest from our family’s ranch., says Jason.
We call it Pink Energy because it turns it bright pink. It is a German-style sour with salt, which tastes like a prickly pear margarita. It’s cool, light, and refreshing on a hot day.”
Catalena Hatters in Bryan
Family roots run deep in Bryan. Catalena Hatters is owned and operated by the Catalena family, and they have been crafting custom hats since 1883. They are recognized by cowboys, celebrities, and hat connoisseurs for being the best handmade custom-felt hats in the world.
Truly one-of-a-kind, they sell hats to customers on nearly every continent. “For many of our customers, the hat they wear is ingrained in their identity and the culture of who they are,” relates Scott Catalena—Hatmaker.
Approaching the counter, I asked if I could touch one of the hats of a customer waiting patiently to have multiple hats steamed and brushed.
David of Bellville was happy to share with me about his hat collection and why Catalena Hats are the best. He has seven felts and at least as many straw hats, his first being a gift from his parents when he was 14.
“They will last forever if you take care of them,” he said. Always take off your hat from the crown, and never lay your hat down on the brim.” David graciously agreed to let me take his photo to show the proper way to wear a Catalena Hat.
Messina Hof Winery
The Messina Hof Winery planted its roots in Bryan, Texas, back in 1977—at what is now their Estate Vineyard. Today, Messina Hof’s Bonarrigo family is known affectionately as the “First Family of Texas Wine.” Messina Hof has been creating top-rated Texas wines for over 40 years merging Old World hospitality, New World ambition, and the potential of Texas grapes.
I was lucky to experience Harvest Fest when I visited in August. In the vineyard, I grabbed a basket and walked down the rows cutting ripe, juicy, bursting bunches of Lenoir grapes that would go into the 2022 port wine. Next, I made my way to the collection area. After disinfecting my feet, I climbed a ladder and got to stomp the grapes “Lucy Style,” the grapes squishy between my toes.
After stepping out, I carefully added my purple footprints to my keepsake T-shirt as proof. The cellar tour and sumptuous candlelight dinner, complete with Messina Hof wine parings, rounded out a memorable day.
The Milton Parker Home: Rebirth of a Historic Bryan Home
I love staying in Bed & Breakfasts and hearing the stories surrounding it. At the Milton Parker Home in the heart of downtown Bryan, you get the history, luxury accommodations, and a darn good breakfast.
The second oldest home in Bryan was built in 1885 by Milton Parker and his wife, Molly. They were wealthy Brazos River, bottomland owners. Innkeeper Denise shared this of the house’s history “There are different reasons why Mr. Parker built the home next to the railroad tracks.
One version was that Milton loved to watch his cotton bales pass by on the way to the Galveston market. The other is because Molly and her girlfriends would ride the train from her home to and from Houston. Who else could boast of door-to-door service to the big city via a large locomotive?”
Parker family members owned the home from 1885 until 1992. After changing hands a few times, it is lovingly renovated and cared for by Denise & Bob Barbier, who returned to Bryan after a 25-year absence, both A&M graduates. It was designated on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
Polite Coffee Roasters in Bryan
Steve Turner, Head Roaster and Owner of Polite Coffee Roasters, served in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger. He was homesick and knew he wanted to return to Texas and be a coffee roaster.
“Away from Texas, I realized how much I missed the culture here. People hold the door open for one another and give a friendly wave on the street. That gave me the inspiration for our name, Polite Coffee.”
One of Bryan’s legendary historical figures, Edwin Kyle, the namesake of Kyle Field, was a fixture at Texas A&M University and in the Bryan Community for nearly 50 years.
Steve shared, “Our goal is to make friends and family in our community —and do that through the medium of coffee. Once you’ve had good coffee, you never want to drink bad coffee.”
George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Bryan
College Station is known for many things, most of which are Aggie-related. But perhaps the biggest draw in town, aside from football, is the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Texas A&M University. It opened in 1997 on the west campus. Although former president George and the former first lady, Barbara Bush, were not Aggies, they were in spirit.
Visitors can get a behind-the-scenes look into the life of the 41st president, and the library hosts many traveling exhibits. The 41st president is buried at his Presidential Library alongside his late wife, Barbara, and daughter Robin.
The Twelfth Man
Texas A&M University has a big Texas spirit, which is never more evident than on a Saturday afternoon in the Fall when you can experience a football game in Aggieland. You’ll be greeted with a friendly smile and a charming “Howdy!” while you’re there.
The entire student body at A&M is the “Twelfth Man” – standing throughout the game to show their support. Called upon if they are needed, it’s a part of the many traditions of Texas A&M.
The Author’s trip to Bryan was sponsored by the tourism board, Destination Bryan, but the opinions are hers alone.