Tomball has lots in common with the Heights area; the Houston skyline looms to the south, there's a palpable appreciation of history and a friendly neighborhood feel to the place. There are a few differences. Things are a little more spread out in Tomball than they are in the Heights and then there's that Tollway which keeps traffic moving along.
German immigrants settled the area some 150 years ago so it's no surprise that one of the biggest events every year is the annual German Heritage Festival. The railroad kept the town afloat during its early years, thanks to intervention by Tom Ball, who made sure the train route included a Tomball stop. (Yes, there actually was a guy named Tom Ball.) The restored train depot is the site of festivals and family fun pretty much every weekend.
It might seem to be a sleepy little town to the folks who zoom by on the freeway as they head somewhere else but if you stop and look around, you'll find there's lots and lots to see and do, and, thankfully, to eat and buy. Here are seven reasons you should head north for a visit to Tomball.
Want to eat local? The produce at the Farmers Market Tomball is usually grown just a few miles away. The vendors at the market are small local farms, mostly family owned and operated, with organically grown fruits and vegetables that change with the season. Farmers sell in small quantities but if you pre-order you can usually buy in bulk (anything over 25 pounds.).
Along with fresh produce, several vendors offer meats, eggs, cheese and honey. Houston Farm to Home, for example, delivers grass-fed beef and lamb, pasture raised pork and poultry, raw milk, cheddar cheese and raw East Texas wildflower honey to buyers at the market (order online during the week and pick up your meat and other Houston Farm to Home products at the Farmers Market on Saturday with no minimum order and no delivery fees).
Della Casa Pasta has homemade pastas ready for cooking as well as prepared sauces, raviolis and lasagnes. Marchese Sausage Company offers Italian sausages made from recipes that have been in the family for generations. Artisans at the market sell hand crafted jewelry, ceramics, birdhouses and natural skincare products. Find a complete list of Farmers Market Tomball vendors here.
Farmers Market Tomball runs 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays, Main Street at South Walnut. For information, visit tomballfarmersmarket.org or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tomball's an antiquing mecca with dozens of antique and junktique shops in the downtown area. Granny's Korner (201 Market, 281-351-8903) is a good place to start with some 12,000 sq. ft of offerings.
Nana’s Main Street Cottage (314 E. Main, 832-639-8528) and Cherry Street Antiques (106 North Cherry, 281-516-9190) also offer a wide variety of goods from antique quilts, collectibles, furniture, vintage post cards, books, shells, dishes, jewelry, records (yes, the vinyl kind) and folk art. Lots, and lots of folk art. (Much of the folk art is done by local residents so ask the shop keeper if they know any details.)
Insider tip: Ask about delivery options before you buy a giant armoire or 50-book set of encyclopedias.
Main Street Crossing has a blockbuster line-up of country, blues and rock music stars. It also has a scant 150 seats. (All seats have unobstructed views and are less than 40 feet away from the stage.) The combination of big name talents and a small stage setting makes for intimate and intense performances that just aren’t possible in a large venue. A recent check showed Pam Tillis, Tony Castro and Gene Watson all on the concert calendar. Roy Clark stopped by recently for some reminiscing on stage.
Along with a short menu of food (chips, pizza and burgers), Main Street Crossing offers some 45 kinds of beers, including several craft brews. It also has a small but adequate wine list.
Tickets for national headliners like Pam Tillis or Gene Watson can run from $70 to $175; Texas artists like Gary P. Nunn are a much more reasonable $20 to $30. All seats are assigned. Most tables seat six or eight people, so unless you come with several friends, you’ll be sitting with strangers.
Insider tip: Get there early if you want to grab a burger; the kitchen opens a couple of hours before the show starts and stays open through the first part of the concert. (Translation: It’s all about the music here. Once the singing starts, you should stop chewing.) Drinks are available all night.
Main Street Crossing is at 111 West Main, Tomball. For information, call 281-290-0431 or visit mainstreetcrossing.com.
This year's Texas Music Festival was held in August with John Arthur Martinez and Shay Domann as the headliners. Coming up up October 22, 2016, the Bluegrass Festival features headliners David Davis & the Warrior River Boys along with The Border Town Ramblers and several local artists. As always, there'll be lots of impromptu picking, so bring your fiddle if you're so inclined, and sit it.
Both the Tomball Texas Music Festival and Tomball Bluegrass Festival have free admission and parking. Each is held at the Railroad Depot, Plaza & Gazebo, 201 South Elm, Tomball. For information, call 281-351-5484 or visit ci.tomball.tx.us.
Check out our story The 5 Best Restaurants in Tomball by Ashley Kinard.
We already mentioned the annual Tomball German Heritage Festival, a weekend long celebration held every spring with four music stages, lots of food and beer, rides, games and entertainment. The same organization also hosts the Tomball German Christmas Festival, held in December. Also a three-day festival with music, beer and food with an added holiday focus. .
Food takes centerstage at several festivals including the Freight Train Food Truck Festival, a new addition in 2016. Some 30 food trucks are set to converge at the Depot for an afternoon of great eating. A couple of bands provide vintage rock music and there are kids activities. Free admission and parking.
The Fall Food Fest! The Taste of Tomball has more than a dozen locally owned restaurants serving up samples. Eateries are in competition for audience awards and bragging rights. This is one of the few Tomball festivals with an admission fee. $10.
The Beetles, Brew and Barbecue Festival, a sort of Texas style Oktoberfest, combines 150 Volkswagen beetles, Texas craft beers and barbecue with a full slate of music and family entertainment.
Insider tips: Bring cash. Yes, most festivals have free admission but you'll likely want to buy something to eat or a souvenir. Some festival vendors accept credit and debit cards for payment, but some don't.
Check the weather - the Tomball weather - before you go. It might be warm and sunny in Houston and wet and soggy in Tomball. Outdoor festivals are canceled in case of inhospitable or extreme weather.
Double check before you bring your dog. A location might normally welcome leashed dogs but a particular festival being held at that location might not.
You have your choice of green spaces to visit in Tomball. There’s the huge Burroughs Park (9738 Hufsmith) with 320 acres to explore. There’s a fishing lake, an observation deck and boardwalk along with 8 miles of hiking trails, several picnic areas, five playgrounds and a dog park.
On the other end of the size spectrum is Theis Attaway Park (13509 Theis) with just four acres. It includes a pond, walking trails and bird/wildlife observation blinds. The park includes picnic areas and a grassy amphitheater.
Insider tip: If you plan to spend any time outdoors, bring bug repellent. Lots of it.
The Matt Family Orchard lets visitors experience life on a farm, albeit without the early rising or clean up. The 40-acre farm has thousands of blueberry and blackberry bushes along with hundreds of fruit trees. (There’s usually a good sized pumpkin patch but unfortunately not this year.) You can pick whatever’s in season and carry your harvest home. Berries and fruits sell by the pound and the orchard provides all the equipment you’ll need. The Orchard also has local honey, jams and preserves for sell.
Fall is a busy time for the farm with Harvest Festival tours that include hayrides, picnics, games and more.
Oh, and if you’re into bow hunting, the Matt Family Orchard has you covered. Feed stands and hunting platforms are located in secluded parts of the orchard and feral hogs are available to hunt year round with no kill fee.
Call 281-467-9758 or check the Matt Family Orchard Web site for information on the current crop and conditions as well as available tours.
Trail riders make their way through Tomball on their way to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo every year and the town welcomes them with the Sam Houston Trail Riders Reception at lunchtime. Enjoy free hot dots and soft drinks while rodeo clowns show off their lasso twirling skills and the cow pokes take a break from the saddle. Lots of giveaways, photo opps and a big send off as the trail riders continue their trek to Houston.
Parades, complete with high school marching bands, beauty queens and local celebrities, are part of several holiday celebrations in Tomball. There's the 51st Annual Tomball Holiday Parade set for November 19. A two-mile long parade route winds its way through downtown Tomball. The Miss Tomball pageant crowns a new queen that evening.
The 5th Annual July 4th Celebration & Street Party presented by Allied Siding & Windows is going to be so big, Tomball is closing down part of Business Highway 249 for it. The day's filled with music, games and food with a spectacular fireworks show scheduled that evening.
The Railroad Depot is the site of Second Saturday fun every month, a family friendly gathering with games, food and music. The day ends with an outdoor film screening. (Bring your own lawn chairs.) In October, the celebration takes on ghoulish overtones with Zomball in Tomball. Wear your costume and get ready for some early Halloween fun (hint: there's lots of candy involved). Free trick-or-treat bags for kids, crafts and a screening of Hotel Transylvania 2 are on the schedule for 2016.
The Bunny Run 5K marks the beginning of spring with an easy run through downtown Tomball (there’s also a one-mile family walk option). Awards go to the top finishers in various categories and all the kids get prizes. There’s a Mascot Depot Dash, a contest for the best blinged out bunny ears and fun for spectators.
The Tomball Railroad Depot (201 South Elm, 281-290-1400) is the home to several area festivals and events, but it's worth a visit all on its own. The complex includes a restored depot with train memorabilia, art, exhibits and a model train. Tours are provided weekday afternoons.
There's also a park with gazebo (and handy music stage), life-size statues of a depot agent, town namesake Tom Ball and other town characters. The park is perfect for picnics with lots of shade trees and lush lawns.
Insider Tip: There's a trio of eateries are just across the street from the Depot: Brautigams Bar & Grill serves an American menu (106 Market, 832-698-4461) while The Empty Glass offers wine, tasting platters, sandwiches and pizza (104 Market, 832-698-4722) and Nonnie's Soda Fountain is a throw-back to 1950s-style malt shop with ice cream, desserts and sandwiches (102 Market, 281-516-1942). Just steps away from the Depot, the three are popular with park visitors. Expect crowds on weekends and during events.
The Tomball Museum Center (510 North Pine, 281-255-2148) captures life as it was in the mid-19th century with a collection of historic buildings built by some of the area’s earliest settlers. The structures include the 1860 Griffin Memorial House and 1895 Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church (which still hosts weddings), a one-room schoolhouse, doctor’s office, fellowship hall and gazebo.
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Across the street is the Farm Museum, complete with cotton gin, two log cabins, a collection of authentic farming tools that date back to the 1860s and a tiny patch of cotton (just in case you’ve never seen any actually growing).
More Insider Tips: Make sure you stay off of the Tomball Tollway unless you have an E-Z Pass. You can’t pay the toll fee in cash and violators are enthusiastically prosecuted.
Tomball's less than 45 minutes away so most Houston-based visitors will return home at the end of the day. If you want to stretch your stay overnight, there are several hotels in the area. Some have rooms available for less than $100 a night (Americas Best Value Inn and Suites Tomball offers rates as low as $79 + $13 tax). Most average just a little more (you can get a room for $125 + $24 tax at La Quinta Inns & Suites, 14000 Medical Complex Drive, 281-516-0400). Make your reservations well in advance if you're looking for a room for a holiday or festival weekend (including the nearby Texas Ren Fest).
You can find more information about these and other Tomball attractions and events at the Greater Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce, 29201 Quinn Road, 866-670-7222, tomballchamber.org or the Tomball City Hall, 401 Market, 281-351-5484, ci.tomball.tx.us.