Updated in 2022.
Ahh, yes, one of the true Texas arteries: southbound on I-35. Texas country singer Pat Green even wrote a song about it. Whether you are taking a road trip to Waco or Fort Hood or College Station or Austin or San Antonio (or beyond!), I-35 will likely get you from point A to point B.
Over the many years, I-35 has become like an old friend who I know well. Combine that with a young family and their potty or snack needs, I get off for pit stops more frequently than I sometimes prefer.
A Guide to the Best Pit Stops on I-35 Between Dallas and San Antonio
Exit 386 | Monolithic Domes
You’ve seen that strange concrete caterpillar and those odd homes near the town of Italy on the east side of the highway. But what is it? This community boasts structures that are designed to be energy efficient, fireproof, and strong enough to sustain winds in upwards of 253 mph. Want to learn more? There’s an annual Monolithic Dome Headquarters Tour held every fall, and yes, there’s monolithic dome merch. 177 Dome Park Place, Italy
Exit 374 | Carl’s Corner
This town was founded by Carl Cornelius, a long-time friend of Willie Nelson, for the sole purpose of selling alcohol in an otherwise dry county. The truck stop (formerly known as Willie’s Place) at exit 374 housed the first site for BioWillie, the singer’s bio fuel product, and is a great stop for kids with large restrooms and a Dunkin Donuts. 101 Cornelius Rd N, Hillsboro
Exit 362A | Texas Department of Transportation Rest Stop
One of TXDOT’s more recently renovated rest stops, this stopping point puts your average state-run facility to shame. With lots of space, clean bathrooms, Wi-Fi, and fun jungle gyms, you aren’t going to mind pulling over here.
Exit 353 | Kolaches in West, Texas
Sure, you probably know about the Czech Stop/ Little Czech Bakery gas station and its newer kolache rival for the I-35 commuter crowd, Slovacek’s. Those kolaches are lovely and convenient enough, but take it from this writer who lived in West for her elementary years: Go into town for even better options. (D Magazine writer Zac Crain also grew up in West and has the skinny on where to go: The Best Kolaches in Texas Aren’t Where You Think They Are).
Exit 338A | Collin Street Bakery
The Collin Street Bakery billboards reel in your backseat passengers by advertising “Free Cookies for Kids.” I fall for the temptation and get a cookie, too. Free Wi-Fi, handmade sandwiches, fruit cake and bakery gifts for friends, clean restrooms, even Tesla charging make this stop a home run. This is my anti-fast food go-to for a lunch pit stop. 701 Interstate 35 Frontage Rd, Bellmead
Exit 335A | Magnolia Market (and Waco points of interest)
Opinions differ on whether Magnolia Market is good for kids, but there’s plenty to do beyond the actual store, which is just off the highway. If you’d rather avoid the crowds, check out a Waco hidden gem: Heritage Creamery dishes up organic homemade ice cream and handcrafted waffle cones. Need coffee? Check out their sister coffee shop, Common Grounds. Hungry? Milo All Day is the best and within walking distance of the silos!
Exit 304 | Buc-ee’s Store No. 35
The ultimate road trip convenience store and a road trip rite of passage, Buc-ee’s has every snack you can imagine, toys for the kids, and clean restrooms. Cult followers swear by the “Beaver Nuggets,” a sweet corn puff snack. And my husband has a tradition of bringing a rainbow-colored rice crispy treat back for the kids from any business trip that requires passage through Temple, TX. See our Guide to Buc-ee’s for everything you need to know! 4155 North General Bruce Dr, Temple (NOTE: there is another Buc-ee’s at exit 191 in New Braunfels)
Exit 294A | Schoepf”s BBQ
The town of Belton features one of Texas Monthly and Food Network’s favorite spots for Texas BBQ. Walk in and choose your brisket, sausage, ribs, and more right off of the hot pit. Add sides like potato salad, pinto beans, and coleslaw, and fortify yourself for the rest of your journey. “I’m hungry” never looked so good. 702 East Central Ave, Belton
Exit 281/282 | Texas Department of Transportation Rest Stop
One more of TXDOT’s more recently renovated rest stops, with the same space to stretch your legs, clean bathrooms, Wi-Fi, and jungle gyms. Plenty of parking!
Exit 285 | Robertson’s Hams
If beef jerky is your thing, Robertson’s is known as one of the best shops around for a variety of dried meat options. And heck out their sugar-cured hams, homemade sandwiches, and country store snacks on this pit stop. 1420 N Robertson Rd, Salado
Exit 262 | The Monument Cafe and El Monumento
I’ll admit bias here, but I went to college in Georgetown and routinely went to Monument Cafe when my grandparents came to visit. It’s exactly the kind of place your grandparents would love: plenty of veggie sides and hearty daily specials. Now, add Wi-Fi and a brand new building, and the place is posh, clean, and lovely. In recent years, the owners opened a sister restaurant, El Monumento, serving up interior Mexican food. The Mexican courtyard is worth any patio stop on a nice day. 500 S Austin Ave, Georgetown; 205 W 2nd St, Georgetown
Exit 259 | Inner Space Cavern
Right off the highway lies over 1.2 miles of underground caves, discovered in 1963 during construction of I-35. Inner Space cavern tours are available to the public. You’ll want to budget about an hour and a half of time for this stop. 4200 S I35 Frontage Rd, Georgetown
Exit 234A | Austin
Keep moving and be grateful you are moving in this wonderful, yet highly congested city. (If you must stop, may I suggest Juan in a Million on the east side of the highway for huge and wonderful breakfast tacos? 7am–3pm. Insider tip: Order one taco and extra tortillas.)
Exit 200 | San Marcos Premium Outlets
The mothership of outlet malls, stop at the San Marcos Outlets and let the kids run around. You can find deals at the outlet stores for brands like Lululemon, Restoration Hardware, Burberry, and Janie and Jack. 3939 S Interstate 35, San Marcos
Exit 191 | Gristmill River Restaurant
A little further off the highway than the other items on this list, the Gristmill is worth a short drive for a classic Texas experience. Plenty of outdoor seating overlooking the Guadalupe River and located in an adorable historic district with shops and a music hall. The kids can run around and get some energy out at this stop. 1287 Gruene Rd, New Braunfels
Bonus: I may or may not have memorized all of the Starbucks options on this route. If you don’t judge me, I will share my knowledge: Exits 415, 368A, 339, 333, 330B, 301, 294A, 262, 256, (there are various options in Austin), 221, 215, 202, 191, and 186 lead you to coffee.