As home to the World Birding Center’s headquarters, McAllen, Texas, has always been a favorite of avid bird watchers. But this Rio Grande Valley gem has much more to offer. Consider the city’s rich history as a border city with Mexico, a thriving arts community and an incredibly delicious culinary scene. Our Globetrotting Grandmom shares her favorite McAllen, Texas highlights.
McAllen, Texas is a place of surprising discoveries
Located just five miles from the US-Mexico border, McAllen, Texas, has always been well-known in bird watching circles. It’s also home to the National Butterfly Center, with over 200 species of butterflies, including many rare varieties. But McAllen isn’t just about things with wings. This is a community with a fascinating history, a nest for creativity, and a booming culinary scene. Here are a few reasons you should add McAllen to your travel plans.
The Old Hidalgo Pump House
Built in 1909 to channel water from the Rio Grande to thousands of nearby crops, the Old Hidalgo Pump House is a vital part of the region’s history. Its network of smoke stacks and steam-driven irrigation pumps transformed Hidalgo County into a year round farming phenomenon, producing crops of citrus, cotton, and sugar cane. Today, the old pump house has been restored and serves as a museum. Docent-led tours showcase the enormous machines along with a series of exhibits, photographs and artifacts depicting the history of the area.
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The lush grounds surrounding the Old Hidalgo Pump House along the banks of the Rio Grande serve as a wing of the World Birding Center. A stroll along the wooden boardwalk beside the river is a fantastic way to spot favorites. Eagle-eyed viewers will find tropical kingfishers, tiny hummingbirds with iridescent feathers and brilliantly colored butterflies.
The historic heart of McAllen is Quinta Mazatlan
A 1930’s hacienda that embodies the Spanish Colonial Revival architecture of arches, adobe and beams, Quinta Mazatlan is the historic heart of McAllen. Built by Jason Matthews who is as interesting as the property. Known as a true renaissance man who is said to have ridden the Sahara Desert with Lawrence of Arabia fighting the Turks, Matthews built this as his family’s home. But in building this extraordinary property, Matthews left McAllen a treasured gift. Guided tours are offered providing insight into the history and design of the mansion and entertaining stories about the family. Don’t miss the master bath with massive his and hers deep tiled bathtubs.
The Folk Art Room features over 1,400 pieces of Mexican folk art from the collection of local artist, Ann Moore. Providing a dazzling experience of color, the whimsical collection also offers a peek into Mexican celebrations and traditions.
Outside history literally rises from the estate grounds which have been transformed into a time table beginning with a prehistoric landscape and continuing through the present. And, of course, there are birds…lots of birds.
A Nest for Creativity
McAllen’s love of art is evident throughout the downtown art district. Here galleries, studios and restaurants thrive in over 30,000 square feet of space. In the middle of the district, the former public library has been repurposed as the McAllen Creative Incubator. The space includes several art studios, genres including painting, photography and music. It is a nest for creativity offering workshops in everything from drawing to violin lessons.
Recently the performing arts have taken center stage with the completion of the McAllen Performing Arts Center. The impressive 4-story tower building with a roof top terrace is artfully designed with elements evoking the feel of the surrounding Rio Grande Valley. McAllen is the “City of Palms” and the exterior of the building represents a graphic take on the trunk of a palm tree. The center has opened up a new world of entertainment for the folks of South Texas—and tourists too. You’ll find a wide variety of nationally recognized musical, dance and theater performances on the schedule.
McCAllen, Texas Highlights: A Booming Culinary Scene
The culinary scene in McAllen is hot—and not just because it’s in South Texas. Pleasing every palette is easy with options ranging from traditional Tex-Mex to innovative contemporary cuisine. It’s difficult NOT to have a fabulous meal in McAllen!
Immerse yourself in the culinary scene with a cooking class at the McAllen Culinary Academy. Entertaining and instructing are Chef Marcel’s gifts. Hailing from The Netherlands, Chef Marcel believes “Making good food is all about loving what you do, and doing the best you possibly can each and every day.” And that he does. He even helped me make good food and that’s not my talent. Full disclosure—I worked with a team and all they really had me do was slice beets.
When you’re not busy cooking up your own masterpieces with Chef Marcel, be sure to check out the abundance of dining options around town. One of my favorites was Il Forno a Legna’s. Founder, Pietro Senes continues his family’s tradition of authentic farm-to-table Italian cuisine. Why mess with perfection?
Tamales are a breakfast tradition in South Texas and Delia’s Tamales is the place to indulge. Choose from chicken and cheese, pork or spicy chicken and jalapeños. Sold by the dozen or the half-dozen, these foil wrapped treats will start your day off right.
Where to Stay
Providing an upscale vibe with décor showcasing elements of the Rio Grande Valley, Cambria Hotel & Suites is the ideal lodging choice. The hotel’s Social Circle bistro offers a fresh twist on comfort food and a selection of local beers. And you can work off the calories at the CustomFit gym. Choose from treadmills, free weights, elliptical machines, multi-workout stations, yoga and more. Or swim a few laps in the outdoor heated pool.