Last Updated on February 6, 2023

I had my first taste of Bryan, TX on a trip to the Brazos Valley area in fall of 2022. I had no idea about what to do in Bryan, TX; all I knew beforehand was that it was the older sister city to College Station, hometown of Texas A&M University. It didn’t take long, however, to feel right at home amongst the warm and welcoming Texans I met there.

Bryan sits in the heart of the ‘Texas Triangle,’ equidistant between Houston and Austin and only 175 miles from Dallas. This central location has helped tremendously to spur economic and population growth here. But make no mistake, this is no urban center like Houston or eclectically weird like Austin. Whether you refer to the area as the Brazos Valley, Bryan-College Station, or Aggieland, Bryan and its environs are filled with people of different cultures, from different backgrounds and places, yet they have melded together around a shared vision and pioneer vitality that promotes prosperity.

In Bryan you’ll find residents whose outlooks reflect traditional values including independent thinking, strong work ethic, Southern hospitality, and lots of pride. What sets this town apart to me, however, is Bryan’s distinct entrepreneurial spirit that attracts people here to establish businesses, and how those who do come, stay.

What to do in Bryan, TX

Milton Parker House

Milton Parker House B&B
Milton Parker House B&B in Bryan, TX. Photo by Michael Kompanik

My acquaintance with Bryan began by staying at the lovely Milton Parker House, a stunning Victorian Bed and Breakfast built in 1885. It is currently owned and operated by former Texas Aggies Bob and Denise Barbier. After two highly successful careers, this intrepid husband and wife team returned to the area hoping to purchase a home with character. When they came upon the Milton Parker Home, they instinctively knew it was the perfect choice for their dream of owning a historic Bryan B&B.

The charming two-story gem situated on four acres was built by Milton Parker, a successful rancher and cotton producer whose family emigrated here after the Civil War. Lovingly restored, the home is filled with Parker family antique furnishings, china, period pieces and artwork, capturing the family’s memories and honoring their contribution to Bryan society. The house and its contents reflect the prosperity of hard, honest ranching and sound, savvy business which elevated the Parkers into the elite of Bryan society.

For Milton Parker, his wife Mollie, and the 10 children they raised, this was merely their summer home away from the ranch. Over the years, it was owned by the family and then gifted to Texas A&M. The property once served as a fraternity house before being purchased and restored by Dr. Van Walker who sold it to its current owners.

In 1987, the home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Zeitman’s Grocery Store

Owner Blake Zeitman of Zeitman's Grocery.
Owner Blake Zeitman of Zeitman’s Grocery- photo courtesy of Zeitman’s

Renowned in Bryan as their beloved Jewish Bakery, Zeitman’s Grocery Store is a downtown mainstay offering the best bagels, cinnamon rolls, and Jewish delicacies for miles around.

The walls of this delicatessen tell the remarkable tale of an over 100-year old family legacy started in eastern Europe. The story migrates to Connecticut, then Portland, Maine, before finally landing in Bryan. Owner Blake Zeitman proudly shares his family history, naming his forbearers and the role they played in furthering the fabled family-owned business.

With a big smile and passion for his work, Blake gave me a tour of his operation and its tasty, aromatic products. He made it abundantly clear that his family established their combined bagel shop, deli, and grocery store in Bryan because of the strong sense of community they found here. The locals are likewise thrilled because everything here from its traditional Jewish bagels and breads to fabulous deli sandwiches is utterly delicious.

Messina Hof Winery and Resort

Who would expect a winery when thinking about what to do in Bryan, TX? This beloved winery began as a one-acre experiment planting 50 varietals under the nurturing care of a Texas A&M graduate student. Success led Paul Vincent and Merrill Bonarrigo to establishing Messina Hof in 1977. Today, Messina Hof is the most award-winning winery in Texas and one of the largest producers of Texas wine, all from Texas grapes.

My tour of the winery and its well-appointed guest house included a tasting in the barrel room and a spectacular meal in the Vintage House Restaurant. I left amazed at the entrepreneurial accomplishments of the winery’s daring founders who created this enterprise where no winery had ever existed previously – that takes vision!

Catalena Hatters

Historic Downtown Bryan is filled with eclectic shops, boutiques, antique stores and restaurants, but what most stood out to me was Catalena Hatters. What’s more “Texas” than a cowboy hat? Here I learned about the hat that makes Texans, and the Texans who make the hat. All colors and textures, straw for the summer and felt for the winter, one patron proudly shared that he had over 20 lining his bedroom wall.

Owned and operated by Sammy and Carolyn Catalena of Bryan, the couple share the family business with their two sons, and everyone plays a role in their operation. The Catalenas always wanted to own a custom hat enterprise. Ultimately, they purchased a Florida hatter’s business in 1983 and moved it lock, stock, and barrel to Bryan. The rest is history.

I learned that a true Texas cowboy hat is custom formed and fitted for each customer’s distinctive comfort and style. Master hatters on site hand work each hat using steam to curl the sides, front and back suiting the customer’s desires. It’s a time-consuming affair. Mirrors abound. This is not vanity. It is a necessity for capturing and reflecting the self-image of each and every cowboy, er, customer.

And every Texan is a cowboy or cowgirl at heart, whether working on a ranch or in an office.

KinderHill Brew Lab

One of the most creative breweries in Texas, KinderHill Brew Lab is set in a small former country home with a quaint tasting room and outdoor biergarten picnic area. This microbrewery produces constantly changing small batch beers that push the boundaries of brewing styles and flavors.

Owners Laura Hill and Jason Kinderman both possess storied backgrounds in the industry. Hill has a Bioengineering PhD from Texas A&M focused on Food Engineering and earlier degrees in Food Science/Fermented Beverages. She also had experience in quality assurance at Shiner Brewery and a brewing diploma from the Institute of Brewing & Distilling.

Kinderman built upon his degreed background in business and marketing by expanding into the brewery industry. While working for Thirsty Planet, he learned every facet of the business, but his true passion began as a homebrewer. He works hand-in-hand with Laura producing their creative, small-batch brews.

Kinderman brings his inventiveness to the team, concocting new flavors inspired by his travels and artistic nature. Hill ads her science, assuring every glass is of the highest quality and maintaining brewing consistency.

My last visit to their website found eight new brews since my visit! Among them were Reign of Terroir, a cucumber Saison, Moon Tiara Magic, a Kettle Sour with blue butterfly pea, and Tiki Blinders,a Tiki IPA with guava, sweet cherry, passion fruit and orange.

Kyle Field

Tour of Texas A&M, home of the 12th Man
Tour of Texas A&M, home of the 12th Man. Photo by Noreen Kompanik

The Aggie spirit is alive and well in Bryan, so when thinking about what to do in Bryan, TX, you must include College Station, home of the sprawling Texas A&M University campus with its 50,000-plus students and Kyle Field. Tours of the iconic football stadium with seating capacity for 102,773 raucous fans introduce the uninitiated to Aggie traditions including the Corps of Cadets and “12th man.”   

Eight years ago, Kyle Field underwent one of the largest redevelopment projects in the history of collegiate athletics, expanding capacity, improving stadium amenities and luxury box seating, and creating one of the most upscale and enjoyable venues in college sports.

My tour covered the field of play itself, souvenir shops, restaurants, the Hall of Champions, private suites, and more. I also learned a few Aggie cheers and was introduced to the 12th man.

Back in 1922, in a key game against an eastern powerhouse, A&M was badly depleted of healthy players. This dire situation prompted a student and former player, E. King Gill, to leave the stands, don a uniform, and report to the A&M bench for duty. His willingness to sacrifice inspired the team to victory and established the “12th Man” legend that speaks loudly of A&M’s identity of teamwork and support. When watching the Aggies on TV, look for the player wearing the number 12 on kickoffs. This young man has earned the honor of wearing that number in acknowledgement of his upholding the program’s commitment to selfless sacrifice.  

George H.W. Bush Presidential Library

I have visited five presidential libraries including one of my favorites, California’s Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, but none moved me more than the presidential library and museum honoring our 41st president, George H.W. Bush. His record and legacy of public service, love for family and country, impressive war service, and spirit of generosity to others has no equals.

The library and museum on the A&M campus not only portrayed these attributes and accomplishments of this beloved president, it also hosted an impressive tribute to Nelson Mandela, the famed South African civil rights activist.

George H.W. Bush was not a Texas A&M alumnus, nor did he ever live in the area, but he was moved by the spirit of the university and its people. He identified with their values and character and adopted the University and area as his own. Perhaps there is no greater homage paid to this stellar institution and its surrounding communities than his fulfilled wish to locate his presidential library here.

These are, but a small sampling of the local businesses reflecting the independent, hard-working, entrepreneurial spirit of Bryan. Others include spectacular Ronin Restaurant embracing its farm to table ethos with its very own farm seven miles outside of town. Or the Traditions Wine Cellar with its excellent food, wine cellar membership and luxurious club amenities. I fondly remember mainstays like the Village Café serving awesome breakfasts and supporting local artists. So, too, does The Chocolate Gallery of Bryan-College Station whose luscious creations come from Chefs Josh and Ciana Neubauer, New Yorkers and Culinary Institute of America graduates.

They all came to Bryan with a vision and the inspiration and work ethic to achieve their goals. I’m sure glad they did.

Where to Stay in Bryan, TX

Bryan and College Station offer all the major brand name hotels you’d expect to find anywhere in America. Be aware that during the fall on home Texas A&M football weekends, availability may be scarce and prices jacked WAY up. Use the map below to start your search.

Booking.com

Author

  • Michael Kompanik

    Michael Kompanik is a retired Navy Captain, a managing editor of Rovology Online Magazine and a freelance travel writer. He currently resides in San Diego California with his wife Noreen who is also a travel writer and editor. Together they have traveled to such far off places as Europe, Thailand, Central America, Africa and more. Michael’s wide-ranging interests include history, nature, travel, photography, and, of course, military matters.