pilot point . texas
It’s early morning on a Saturday in mid March in North Texas. There is a chill in the air as the sun begins peeking through the tree limbs. When the meteorologist says it’s going to be the warmest day so far this year, you take advantage of it.
The work week is always hectic. Traffic, deadlines, meetings. The weekend is the perfect time to unwind and get away from it all. There’s nothing quite like the feeling you get when you are in a small town, and luckily Dallas is surrounded by them.
Pilot Point is about 30 minutes north of Dallas proper, “the Kentucky of North Texas” as labeled by locals. This becomes very apparent as you get further and further from the hustle and bustle of downtown, where horse farms tend to stretch for miles and the air seems less heavy. Taking a drive in the country makes you want to roll your windows down and forget that you even have a cell phone.
We began the day by stopping at the old downtown. The small storefronts are straight out of a movie…fitting, since Pilot Point was the backdrop in scenes from the 1967 film Bonnie & Clyde, starring Warren Beaty and Faye Dunaway. However, if you drive too fast, you may just miss it. Only a handful of the storefronts house a shop or business of any kind, most of which weren’t even open on a beautiful Saturday morning. The quiet almost gives you the feeling that the town itself has left for the big city. We took a stroll around the town center, and made sure to stop to take our picture in front of the “Welcome to Pilot Point” mural on the side of the town museum (if you don’t take your picture, did you ever really go?). As we posed, trying to get the perfect angle, many pick-up trucks passed us by, bringing life to the streets and proving that cowboys don’t take breaks on the weekends.
Across the street from the mural was Magnolia Station. If you ever research Pilot Point, this little restaurant will be in the top 5 list of things to do here. It’s little building is quaint and almost gives off an Austin-like vibe with the throw back feel, order up counter, and outdoor seating. Rumor has it, you’ll be waiting in line on a beautiful weekend day to place your order, synonymous with any popular Austin eatery. Unfortunately for us, they don’t open until 11, and we were about an hour too early. This is definitely a must try for a return trip to the Point.
Our next stop in downtown was the Old West Coffee Cafe. I’ll go ahead and preface this by letting you know that if you want to get to know the locals and have a good hour to spare, this is a must! We were originally intrigued by the sign that said “World’s Best Coffee”, but what we got was so much more. When you walk in (push the handle down as you push in the door…trust me, it’s a thing, you’ll thank me later), it doesn’t appear to be a coffee shop at all, but more like a living room / museum / store of archived western memorabilia. But, after a minute of confusion the sweet coffee aroma hits you and you know you’re in the right place. Don Decker welcomes you from the back of the store, sitting in an old creaky chair, wearing his boots and cowboy hat. He begins talking about the town and the horse farms, explaining that he actually owns the largest horse farm, and that if you drive 13 miles in any direction, it used to be his land. He brought his horses from Kentucky…explaining that he is the reason Pilot Point is the “Kentucky of North Texas”. He talks about all the Presidents he worked for and the Texas Governors he used to write speeches for, and personally has written 33 books himself. His stories seem like a tall tale your grandad would tell you, but then you walk around his store and realize that most of what he tells you is corroborated by pictures and newspaper clippings found hanging on the walls. We did eventually make our way to the back of the store and got our coffee…from the Arbuckle Coffee Co…”the World’s Best Coffee”…it says so on the sign. It was served in a plain paper cup, and I think he purposefully didn’t give us lids, because he wanted us to sit and stay awhile and listen to some more of his stories. We had other places to be, but we stayed anyway. It almost felt like something was telling us to slow down and experience what this town is all about. Who were we to not listen. During the hour or so we were there, a few people came in but quickly wandered back out. Assuming, like we originally did, that they were mistaken and no coffee was actually served there. Before we left, Don asked us to sign his guestbook with our names and to write him a message so he could remember us. He says that he keeps these leather bound journals to read on rainy days. As the conversation began winding down, Don walked us to the door and told us to come back for more chats. It felt like we had just been just been his house guests and he was being a gracious host. We stayed much longer than we anticipated, but we all agreed that it was the best experience and well worth the delay in our schedule. Oh, and as for the coffee….it is definitely top five for best coffee we've had. Enough so that we took a pound of beans home with us.
The city of Pilot Point sees an increasing number of tourists every March, due solely to the Texas Tulip fields that lay on the outskirts of town. What better spring time activity is there than picking tulips with your family and getting some pretty amazing family portraits at the same time. I will warn you though, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, be prepared to sit in traffic on the back country roads for a little while. We were stuck in our car for around two hours, so bring snacks and waters just in case!
After finally arriving and parking, we stood in line to get in for about another 15 minutes, we paid our $3 entrance fee, and then were free to roam. (travel tip: they do take credit cards, but you can get in much faster with cash). We grabbed a picking basket and headed down a somewhat less congested row to take some photos and pick a few stems. Please note, once you pick a stem, you must pay for it. It’s $2.50 for each one, and it goes back into supporting the business and field. We saw many people who would pick one just for a photo opportunity and then throw it on the ground and walk on…don’t be THAT person. Be respectful of the experience this business is giving you and follow the simple rules that they ask you to adhere to. It will only ensure that the fields are able to stick around for another season. Also note that during a busy day, you may want to oil up your photoshop editing skills, because there will be no way to avoid people in the background of your photos.
Once we were finished picking our tulips, we paid for our stems and they wrapped them with some tissue paper for our drive home. Overall, it was a little underwhelming, but worth the price and being able to get out into nature for a little bit. We went during the third week of their season, so the height of the full blooms had seemed to have passed. It’s a great activity for a family, a couple, or even a group of friends to do that you aren’t going to find anywhere in the metroplex.
After the craziness of the tulip field, we all collectively agreed we needed a beer. About 3 miles down the road is the Whistle Post Brewing Co, nestled right on the railroad tracks on the outskirts of downtown. As soon as you walk inside you can tell you are amongst the locals. Everyone knows everyone’s name, and there was a very low-key and laidback vibe throughout the taproom. The brewery carries a railroad theme throughout everything they do, from the decorations to the names of their beers. We got there about an hour before closing, but with still enough time to get a couple of beers and a flight to sample their wares. While all of their beers definitely held their own, the best of the bunch was the “Shoofly Coconut Lime Ale,” which was just hoppy enough and had just enough coconut and lime flavor to really stand out. By this point, we all realized how long it had been since we’d eaten, so we all started searching for a local establishment for dinner. There’s no way we could’ve been prepared for what we would find.
Live Bears, that’s what hooked us. Aside from the promise of gourmet pizza, The Bear’s Den held the opportunity for us to see live wildlife in this tiny little Texas town. Located on the Sharkarosa Wildlife Ranch, The Bear’s Den was exactly everything they advertised, a full restaurant that offered the opportunity to eat your dinner right next to a pen that housed Barnaby and Bailey, two rescued black bears who would also be eating their dinner 5ft from your table! This place was truly unlike anywhere else we’ve ever been. The food was outstanding and the experience was one of a kind. The Sharkarosa Wildlife Ranch itself is a must do when visiting Pilot Pint, but due to the rain earlier in the day, they had closed up shop early.
In the end, we were all pleasantly surprised at how much Pilot Point had to offer on a day trip. We went from only knowing about the tulip fields, to meeting a man who’s lived a thousand lifetimes, seeing a part of Texas that is criminally under appreciated, and making friends with a couple bears in the process. We highly recommend taking some time on a nice weekend day to journey up the Texas backroads and spend some quality time in Pilot Point.