I recently flew to Lubbock, Texas, to join four travel writers on a press trip. I fell under the spell of the “Hub City” of West Texas: its quirkiness, the high plains (Lubbock sits at 3,256 feet; you can see for miles), its culture, food, and people — not to mention Lubbock is the hometown of rock ’n’ roll pioneer Buddy Holly and the home of Texas Tech University.
What do 6.4 million annual visitors to Lubbock, Texas, do when they visit the Hub City?
“We don’t have a roller coaster or a whale that does flips in the air, but tourism is very important to us,” John Osborne, president and CEO of the Lubbock Economic Development Alliance and Visit Lubbock, says as he greeted our group convened in the breezy outdoor space of Lubbock’s newest luxury boutique hotel, the Cotton Court.
With daily American Airlines flights from Evansville Regional Airport to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, and from Dallas to Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport, traveling to Lubbock is easy. You will want to rent a car to get out in the wide-open spaces and drive to the Bruno Steel House, among other attractions (like Prairie Dog Town).
Home to world-renowned artists, iconic musicians, state-of-the-art theaters, award-winning wineries and breweries, and a range of cuisine, Lubbock holds an unexpected find around every corner of its wide streets. Its West Texas charm and way of life are deeply rooted in the soil that grows 90 percent of all Texas wine grapes and nearly half of the nation’s cotton.
The Cotton Court Hotel celebrates the city’s cultural history. As you check in, notice the cotton exchange rates in the main lobby. Each room is outfitted with carpeting that showcases an aerial view of Lubbock’s cotton fields, 100 percent cotton sheets, and a mid-century-modern aesthetic in appliances and furniture. Pet-friendly rooms are finished with stained concrete floors and step right out into the courtyard.
Recognized as the one of first Cultural Districts designated by Texas, Lubbock celebrates the local art community. From world-class galleries to hands-on, walk-through studios like Charles Adams Studio Project, art lovers peruse exhibits across the city.
On the Texas Tech campus, the second largest public art exhibit on a college campus showcases one of the top 10 public art collections in the nation, recognized by Public Art Magazine. See more than 100 pieces of art scattered throughout the campus.
Deep in the Cultural District, the cornerstone of Lubbock’s downtown revitalization efforts serves as the focal point of the city: The Buddy Holly Hall of Performing Arts and Sciences. After several years of envisioning a venue that would house acclaimed entertainment performances in a facility designed by internationally recognized Diamond Schmitt Architects, the privately funded, 220,000-square-foot campus opened in January 2021. The venue features two theaters with an acoustic value of NC15 — an ideal rating on the Noise Criterion scale established to measure indoor sounds — offering musicians, performers, and young, aspiring artists the opportunity to perform on stage in a world-class venue.
In June 2014, Holly’s widow, Maria Elena Holly, granted permission to use her late husband’s name in the title of this performing arts facility, free of royalty.
To see the memorabilia and history of Buddy Holly’s brief life and blazing musical career you will want to head to the Buddy Holly Center (as opposed to the aforementioned Buddy Holly Hall). The Buddy Holly Center collects, preserves, and interprets artifacts relevant to Lubbock’s most famous native son, as well as to other performing artists and musicians of West Texas. The West Texas Walk of Fame, featuring a statue of Holly by sculptor Grant Speed, is located inside the Buddy and Maria Elena Holly Plaza, just west of the Center, on the corner of Crickets Avenue and 19th Street.
Architecture students from around the world make their way to Lubbock to visit the Robert Bruno Steel House. Bruno was a Texas Tech architecture professor, inventor, and artist most widely recognized for his steel house sitting on the edge of the jagged caprock escarpment that overlooks Yellow House Canyon in the residential community of Ransom Canyon a few miles east of Lubbock. The home is inside an established neighborhood; you can drive right by. You won’t find tour tickets for sale on a website; visitors call Henry Martinez, a friend of Bruno’s and the home’s caretaker, to schedule a visit for a small fee.
For a complete High Plains-inspired meal, make your reservations at The Nicolett, owned by Lubbock native and world-trained chef Finn Walter. Indulge in four courses featuring local ingredients prepared with European techniques. We enjoyed our dinner under the string lights and succulents in the greenhouse.
Lubbock offers a wide array of cultural eats from across the country and around the world, beginning with Latin tapas at La Diosa Cellars, which is known for its house sangria. For a Hub City twist on a southern staple, visit Dirk’s for a plate of tender fried chicken, fresh oysters, and traditional sides.
Garry and Suzanne Bailey of Evansville (meet them on page 13) have visited Lubbock often since 2008 when their son Christopher elected to pursue a fine arts doctoral degree at Texas Tech. After graduation, Christopher wed a classmate who grew up in Ransom Canyon.
I asked the Baileys to share a few memories of Lubbock:
“With over 50,000 students, (at Texas Tech) Christopher never felt like a number. He developed a great fine arts family and still stays in touch with his colleagues from his classes. Texas Tech is in a pocket all its own in the state of Texas. It is a great center of arts and athletics, with football games lasting from Friday nights to Sunday evenings. After getting used to Texas Tech, with a population of so many students from everywhere, you learn a great set of coping and life skills. One that we soon learned after driving around outside the city was how to remove a rolling tumbleweed from under the car … and how to drive for two days and still be in the same state. The wide-open spaces are fabulous and, as they all describe it, ‘A sky that goes on forever,’ always makes us ready to return. There is a special kind of glue found in the people of Texas.”
A Tornado Disaster Memorialized
Soon after my arrival in Lubbock, Texas, in the piazza of the Cotton Court Hotel while enjoying a Chilton, the drink of the region, John Osborne, president and CEO of the Lubbock Economic Development Alliance and Visit Lubbock, welcomed our group with a dramatic story.
On May 11, 1970, the Lubbock Tornado struck the city, plowing through downtown and taking the lives of 26 people. It was the first documented F5 tornado in the U.S.
“The impact of the infamous 1970 tornado changed the culture of Lubbock forever,” Osborne says. “In a matter of half an hour, the thriving heart of the city turned into ground zero for one of the most devastating natural disasters of its time. Now, Lubbock’s downtown is exhibiting a new birth of activity as revitalization efforts continue to shape the downtown of today. As we look back 50 years later and see the effect of the tornado, we are overwhelmed by the strength of the city and find hope in how we move forward together, honoring the past and paving a way forward to the future.”
On May 11, 2021, 51 years after the tornado, Lubbock unveiled its Lubbock Tornado Gateway Memorial Project. The memorial uses 20-foot-tall walls inscribed with quotes, facts, and names of the victims to represent the paths of the tornado. On one end of the memorial is a fountain; its roaring waters mimic the sound of the storm that night.
Photos of the Nicolett, Buddy Holly Hall staircase, McPherson Cellars, bull statue, and Tornado Memorial photos provided by Visit Lubbock. All other photos by Kristen K. Tucker.