I’ll bet you’ve heard that Denton is one of DFW’s funkiest destinations since it regularly appears on “best of” lists and road trip guides, but what you may not know is that this active two-college town is just busting with something fun for everyone. I write for our local arts & culture blog We Denton Do It, so I can tell ya that keeping track of all the wacky weekly happenings is a struggle! Since everyone gets a case of wanderlust to leave town and explore new sites for adventures, here is my local insider guide to the top 10 must-see spots that are guaranteed to make the most of a day trip or even weekend getaway to Denton TX!
1. Downtown Denton Courthouse Square
The best place to start your Denton Daycation is the downtown Denton Square, which boasts one of the most beautiful historic courthouses in the state of Texas that is also home to an amazing museum. The Courthouse Museum has rotating exhibits and special collections, and a lot of local history. Just across the street is the Discover Denton Welcome Center, where you can get expert guidance on local happenings, places to eat or stay, local music venues, and a variety of other #Dentoning options. Yep, that’s right, we even have our own word for local adventuring. The rooftop view of LSA Burgers next door should definitely be on that list, but the Saturday Jazz Brunch at The Chestnut Tea House & Bistro for their mimosa bar is my favorite haunt.
2. Recycled Books
You could honestly spend an entire day just exploring the hidden gems within walking distance of the Denton Courthouse Square, but you definitely want to set aside an hour dedicated to just reconnoitering this crown jewel of Denton funkiness. Recycled Books has more than 2,000 used books packing every nook of this turn-of-the-century opera house, along with a stunning assortment of records and hidden vintage treasures, so it is a bookworm’s dream to browse. It’s outside mural is one of dozens that you can hunt for around town. Just over the crosswalk is Barley & Board, a delightfully unique cocktail gastropub, and local favorite Wine Squared.
3. Beth Marie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream
If you’re on the Denton Square and don’t stop in to sample the homemade amazingness of Beth Marie’s ice cream, then you maybe need to reexamine your lifestyle choices. This local landmark boasts over 120 flavors of ice cream that rotate seasonally in their retro-soda shop, and I can personally testify that it is flat-out impossible to settle on a single favorite flavor. Even better, just down the block you can indulge your inner child with a visit to Atomic Candy and our friendly neighborhood More Fun Comics & Games to complete your nostalgia trifecta! There’s even a Freeplay Arcade and Game Changers nearby for video game enthusiasts!
4. Denton Community Market
Saturday mornings absolutely must include a stop at the Denton Historic Park to take in the DIY wonders of the Denton Community Market. Vendors, artists, farmers, creators, and entrepreneurs fill this outdoor market with an eclectic assortment of locally-made goodies. Live music and free samples with friendly conversation are your rewards for loitering, and the Bayless-Selby House and Quakertown House museums are also open for free tours! While you’re in the neighborhood, scamper across the street to peruse Juliet’s Jewels, a bonafide hippy boutique filled with scads of magical coolness.
5. GDAC & Boca 31
Speaking of cool free things to explore, the Greater Denton Arts Council hosts amazing exhibits and artists in the refurbished building of what used to be Denton’s steam power plant. GDAC also hosts a slew of community events and programs, just in case you want to take in some culture during your visit. As an amazing bonus, just across the parking lot is Boca 31, which advertises itself as “Latin street food” but in actuality is nothing short of an exquisite culinary journey. I’m not even overselling it, but stop in and savor their flavors for yourself and just continue across the parking lot to sample the new Armadillo Ales brewhaus.
Today’s special: ARMADILLO GREEN BELT BRAISED CHICKEN TACOS (aji slaw, jack cheese and pico de gallo) – 3 for $9.50 #tacos #denton #dentoning #UNT #TWU #foodporn #chefslife #wedentondoit #dentoneats #dentonproud #boca31 #latinflavors #visitdenton #welovedenton #eatlocal #eatfresh #supportlocal #bestofdenton #foodiesindenton #boca31denton
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6. The East McKinney Taco Corridor
While we’re talking about savoring the local flavors, there is an embarrassing bounty of marvelous food in Denton that deserves its own entry. But since I’m keeping with the unique and adventurous Dentoning theme, then I’ve gotta urge y’all to explore our East McKinney Taco Corridor. These local taquerias require some elementary Spanish to navigate the menu, but if you take a chance and order something you ain’t sure you’re pronouncing correctly, then I promise the payoff will be so profound that you might just swear off eating at Taco Bell forever. From sweet melt-on-your-tongue Mexican pastries to spicy in-house salsas and unique variations of elotes, you’re bound to taste something that you’ll keep telling everyone about back home. On that note, I will also randomly recommend Bet The House BBQ because it is also that goshdanggoodif’n you can get some before they sell-out.
7. Rose’s Costumes
This selection may seem a bit out of place, but bear with me on this, because Rose’s is so much more than just a costume shop. Judy Smith started out selling vintage clothes and furniture in the ‘70s but soon became a go-to choice for theater costuming, and thus a Denton institution was born. It will be a bit of a drive to get to Rose’s Costumes on the north side of town but, once you step inside, you will immediately grasp why the journey is worth it. This warehouse workshop for costume clothing is also itself an elaborate theatrical stage, with each room uniquely themed to look like a Wild West Saloon, a pirate ship, Victorian salon, Sherwood Forest, or medieval castle (they even have their own ‘Iron Throne’ from Game of Thrones that you can get a photo in!)… it will feel like you are time-traveling through movies as you move through the store!!Nearby in the same shopping center you can also take the kids to Penny’s Playtown or visit the Explorium Denton Children’s Museum for hours of fun.
8. TWU Little Chapel in-the-Woods
You can bet that Denton is really proud of our two beautiful university campuses, with University of North Texas to the west and Texas Woman’s University to the north. You can tour both UNT and also TWU to really sample the full experience, but I’m here to recommend the best of the best, so that’d have to include TWU’s Little Chapel in-the-Woods. Constructed in 1938 and dedicated by Eleanor Roosevelt on November 1, 1939, the picturesque Chapel has been named one of Texas’ most outstanding architectural achievements and you can marvel at its quaint charm and striking serenity most days between 9am-8pm when they aren’t booked for a wedding. While you’re bumping around campus, you should also peek into TWU’s Blagg-Huey Library, a beauty all her own with public collections that include children’s books, vintage cookbooks, and the WASP archives.
9. Harvest House and Paschall Bar
My money says Denton has more bars and pubs per square mile than even Austin or Dallas, but you won’t have to test that hypothesis if you just start with these two gold standards. An easy stroll from the downtown Square down Hickory Street, Harvest House began as a passion project but has quickly become one of the liveliest outdoor patio venues in town hosting live music, comedy showcases, experimental local acts, diverse meetups, coffee & juice concoctions, and goodness knows what else you might stumble into. But if you’re craving a more intimate cocktail lounge, then Paschall Bar on the square has world-class mixologists hidden away in a upstairs steampunk speakeasy decorated like something out of Jules Verne’s absinthe-fueled dreams. The nearby social club Eastside and its sister Oak Street Draft House & Cocktail Parlor are the major hangouts of locals in case you’re scouting for intel on shenanigans.
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10. Dan’s SilverLeaf
I saved my favorite for last because this Denton institution is our major community hub and premiere music venue, which is saying something in a town already overflowing with live music. Dan’s Silverleaf is part hippie honkytonk and part community watering hole, with a smidge of artsy indy Texas Red Dirt incubator for the offbeat and experimental. Everyone from established music legends to local DIY upstarts perform on Dan’s unpretentious stage, usually surrounded with PBR or Lone Star cans. If’n you’re looking for something a little more “high end” during your time in Denton, then I’d say your best bets are Queenie’s Steak House (opened by legendary DFW Chef Tim Love for his momma who lives here), 940’s Kitchen & Cocktails (Dallas culinary swagger at Denton prices), or Hannah’s Off The Square (with an amazing gourmet seasonal menu and martini Happy Hour). I myself am fond of Hoochie’s seafood for their crawfish and oysters, but don’t go there ‘cuz I hate to wait in long lines.But if ever you find yourself in doubt about something to do, friends, see if you can catch a show at Campus Theater!
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is what I’d call a pretty good start if you’re out to explore the heart of downtown Denton. The best part, though, is never resist ducking into an interesting looking spot that you spy while meandering around town. If adventures turn into an overnight stay, my best recommendations would be the brand new Denton Convention Center, The Old Irish B&B Alpaca Ranch (no, seriously), or closer to downtown is The Heritage Inns. You can also check in on weekly #DEN10 events and the CVB calendar to survey your choices when you visit, but otherwise trust your wanderlust and you’re bound to find something interesting!