Posted 1/8/18 | © Photo by Jo Ann Holt
For many years and countless trips driving south to Austin and San Antonio, I've overlooked Belton. Sandwiched between Salado and Temple, there never seemed to be a reason to stop in Belton. Especially with the continuous construction on I-35 making it difficult to get on or off the congested highway.
But thanks to my son and his new bride moving there, I've discovered how much more there is to Belton. For those who might have made the same mistake of overlooking this central Texas town of about 21,000, here are a few things to do in Belton. I'll never think of it again as just another town on the way to somewhere else.
I spent a few days in Belton between Christmas and New Year's, and we drove through
Nature in Lights at Belton Lake. This enchanting holiday extravaganza covers five winding miles around the lake. There were only three of us in the car, all adults; and as we oohed and exclaimed our way through the 130 holiday displays and lights, we longed for a carload of children to share this wonderful light show with us. Next time we'll be sure to round some up! Admission is $15 a car.
Belton Lake, fed by the Leon River, has 136 miles of shoreline, and draws fishing and boating enthusiasts for fun on the water year-round. We had dinner one night at Dead Fish Grill (deadfishgrill.com), a casual dining restaurant overlooking the lake. Great views and good food, we especially liked the Oysters Gilhooley. The restaurant features live entertainment and brunch on weekends.
Belton was incorporated in 1850 and is the county seat of Bell County. The state's oldest family-owned department store, Cochran, Blair & Potts, is situated on a prominent corner of downtown Belton. Established in 1869, it pre-dates the beautiful Bell County Courthouse (1884-85), which is a great example of Renaissance Revival architecture.
CB&P covers an entire block on East Central Avenue. They have a friendly staff and great selection of boots and other items. I fell for a pair of Old Gringo boots and spotted a great buy on a denim shirt for my husband. Take time to browse through the upstairs museum, featuring historic photos from the early days of Belton and the store. It's now owned and operated by the seventh generation of the Potts family. A historical marker on the building credits all who have kept the store thriving for more than 14 decades. Open Mon.-Fri. 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Sunday; phone 254-939-3333 or visit cbandpotts.com.
Unique gifts and fun browsing were also available at another downtown Belton store, My Giving Tree Gift Shop & Art Gallery. This friendly store was opened in 2011 by Leila Valchar, who believes in buying
Made in America and Texas products. Loved watching my Marine veteran son buy handcrafted dolls made by a local artist to add to his wife's collection. This quaint shop is located at 121 N. East Street; call 254-939-TREE or email email@example.com.
With Fort Hood as a close neighbor, it's not surprising that Belton honors military heroes with Patriot Way Brick Walk. There's also a Police Memorial honoring public servants past and present.
Downtown Belton's popular plaza area is an inviting and picturesque place on the banks of Nolan Creek. Several restaurants like The Gin at Nolan Creek, originally an old Cotton Gin with early 1900's architecture, dot the plaza. We had deliciously fresh Tex-Mex with views of the creek during lunch at Coronas de Oro (coronasdeoro.com). Since it was nippy out, we decided to wait till spring to try the highly touted Hike & Bike Trail at Nolan Creek.
We enjoyed terrific BBQ at Miller's Smokehouse in downtown Belton, which has been rated one of the top 50 barbecue joints by Texas Monthly. Other highly rated restaurants include Schoepf's BBQ, Narunya's Thai food, Sarsaparilla Saloon and Cafe (now a deli) in downtown Belton, and Nami's Japanese Steakhouse.
My next visit to Belton will include visiting the Bell County Museum, currently featuring Dance Theatre of Harlem exhibit; and the Beltonian Theatre, which I'm told is a great place to meet friendly folks and see classic films or live performances in downtown Belton.
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