At first tip of the hat, Lubbock might not seem like the place for a weekend of arts and culture. But the windswept town, set in the stark High Plains of Texas, serves up so much quirky, unexpected fun that four days of exploring feels rushed.
Lubbock is a hotbed of cotton farming and home to Texas Tech University, but it’s grown up since I last visited 20 years ago. This time, I hung my Stetson at the new retro-vibed Cotton Court Hotel. Using that as my home base, I visited a slew of museums and discovered enough music, art, wine and Western heritage to make me want to return.￼
Here are a baker’s dozen of things worth experiencing when you visit Lubbock.
- The new Buddy Holly Hall of Performing Arts and Sciences opened downtown in January, and has ushered in a new era of entertainment. The venue looks a lot like Bass Concert Hall in Austin, with graceful lines and layers of balconies. I caught a touring performance of “Rent,” and during intermission, I found myself mesmerized by the orb-shaped lights hanging from the ceiling in the main auditorium. Upcoming shows include “Jersey Boys” on April 4-5, Travis Tritt on May 13 , and Dwight Yoakam on July 22. For a complete schedule go here.
- The National Ranching Heritage Center holds a treasure trove of Old West artifacts, from chaps used by cowboys a century ago to a replica of a Wells Fargo stagecoach, historic saddles and photographs depicting ranchers over the years. Walk the outdoor trail that winds through the 27-acre property to see restored ranch buildings and homes from different periods of time.
3. Hundreds of black-tailed prairie dogs live in a network of underground burrows at Prairie Dog Town at Mackenzie Park. Bring raw carrots or sweet potatoes to toss to the endearing little animals, which aren’t dogs at all, but a type of ground squirrel named for its barking call. Watch closely and you might see them “kiss” ––– they’re actually baring their teeth and bumping them in greeting.
4. I got my hands dirty at the Helen DeVitt Jones Clay Studio, which offers community classes, memberships, and workshops. Instructor Yvonne Garro Mendoza walked me through the process of molding my own flower vase, which reminded me of art class in elementary school ––– in a very good way.
5. The Lubbock Tornado Memorial commemorates the 26 lives lost on May 11, 1970, when an F5 tornado cut a 8.5-mile long, 1.5-mile wide path through downtown, bending light poles, tossing cars, and destroying homes and lives. It’s a sobering reminder of the power of nature.
6. Learn all about the city’s most famous son, born Charles Hardin Holley (with an “e”) at the Buddy Holly Center, where you can see the musician’s black framed glasses and Stratocaster guitar or tour the home where he and the Crickets once practiced. You can even see an early version of contact lens that Holleyyonce wore, but gave up because they were too uncomfortable. Holley’s work, which included “Peggy Sue” and “That’ll Be the Day,” influenced a wide range of musicians, from Bob Dylan and to The Beatles to, The Rolling Stones and Elton John. Be sure to trot across the street to see the larger-than-life statue of Holley, too.
7. Listen to the creaky song of nearly 200 windmills at the American Windmill Museum, where windmills of all shapes and sizes are displayed indoors and out, along with a dozen model trains and 69 doll houses. The tallest windmill stands 169 feet tall.
8. Starting in 1998, Texas Tech University began dedicating one1 percent of the money it spentspent it on new building construction to public art, and the result is a collection of more than 100 sculptures. For easy viewing, schedule a free tour on the motorized Art Cart. My favorites? Wind River, a bronze sculpture of a horse that you’ll swear was made with driftwood; Oblique Intersection, a wispy looking wall of wires that looks different from every angle; and Zephyr, a smooth green wave that creates a welcome shade structure on sunny days.
9. The fine dining scene in Lubbock blew my boots off. I had one of the best meals of my entire life at The Nicolett, where chef Finn Walter serves food inspired by his childhood growing up in the High Plains region. Walter is a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Texas, and after a four-course dinner served inside a greenhouse with a gravel floor and tiny lights, I’m rooting for him. Don’t miss the fry bread, seared foie gras, pozole, or Loup de Mer. (The menu changes based on what’s fresh.) Also worth a mention? La Diosa Cellars, a dark and sultry bistro that serves classic Spanish tapas in cozy rooms whose walls are adorned with portraits of Frida Kahlo.
10. Indulge in pie for breakfast at the Cast Iron Grill, where you’ll find 25 flavors to choose from. Blueberry banana split is the most popular, along with something called Texas Delight, but the coconut cream can’t be beat. Teresa Stephens opened the original location in 2007 and it becamegot so popular that she had to move to a bigger space.
11. Central Texans think that Fredericksburg is the wine capitaol of Texas, but more than 90 percent of the grapes grown in the Lone Star State are grown within 30 miles of downtown Lubbock. I visited two of the best known tasting rooms in the area ––– McPherson Cellars Winery, run by Kim McPherson, the son of Doc McPherson, who whipped up the first Texas wines in a chemistry lab where he worked at Texas Tech University in the 1960s, and English Newsom Cellars, once known as Caprock Winery.
12. It’s not all about wine in Lubbock. Drop by the Brewery LBK ––– where I particularly loved the Kerb Crawler, a Belgian-style tTrippel that tastes like sunshine in a glass. You might bump into brew master Sally Taylor, who not only makes the beer but designs the labels. The brewery also makes hard lemonade, including one called Unemployed Astronaut that’s made with Tang.
13. If you’re lucky like me, you’ll experience a real “haboob” –– – an intense dust storm that fills skirts, sends hats flying, and turns the Texas sky a moody shade of yellow-brown.