Abilene is the heart of Texas’s “BIG COUNTRY.” It’s a region of our state with big skies, big prairies, and big, BIG legends. I suggest you jump right into its history at Frontier Texas. This amazing museum covers the entire story of the frontier, from the native Indians, to settlers, to buffalo hunters, all the way up to the steam engines that conquered the wild west. There are holograms, a 360 degree theater, and jaw-dropping first-hand stories of the struggles of living on the frontier.
When you get hungry from digesting all this history, you’ll want to digest some food so head over to Abi-Haus, a scratch-made craft diner that you would expect to find in trendy Dallas or hipster Austin, but it’s in downtown Abilene. You can eat dessert there (the beignets are awesome), or you can head to Candies by Vletas for some amazing candy, all made in house. Some of the recipes go back 100 years.
Other museums downtown include the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature (NCCIL “nickel” for short) and the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum. Both are definitely worth a stop. However, if you want to really dive into Abilene’s military past, I suggest you head to Dyess Air Force Base. They have a small museum open to the public. But if you can find an escort to get you inside the gate, you can walk around the aircraft park complete with a B-1 bomber, C-130, and B-17 flying fortress. They are amazing.
The truly adventurous, with a SCUBA certification, shouldn’t miss the chance to dive the Valhalla Missile Silo that once housed an Atlas nuclear missile in the 1960s. Today this silo is filled with ground water going 120 feet deep. And those that are brave enough to head into the darkness can SCUBA dive it. It is only open to private groups – so you’ll need to join up with a group to get inside. Family Scuba Center in Midland can give you the details.
While there are tons of great places to eat in Abilene, those that want to partake in a legendary Texas experience can head to Buffalo Gap (pop 463). The Buffalo Gap Historic Village is a great collection of old buildings such as the original Taylor County Courthouse and various others from the last 50 years of the frontier. And finally, you’ll want to polish off your day trip with a big hunk of beef at Perini Ranch Steakhouse. Folks routinely drive 2-3 hours just to eat here. So if you’re in the neighborhood, you should definitely stop by. Of course they have more than just beef, so enjoy! Just make sure you get some bread pudding for dessert.