Goliad is a small town in South Texas, population 1,981 as of 2016, that figured prominently in the fight for Texas’ independence from Mexico. In fact, the first declaration of independence to establish the Republic of Texas was signed in Goliad on December 20, 1835. The battles of Goliad (October 9, 1835) and Coleto (March 19-20, 1836) both took place there, and the subsequent execution of Colonel James Fannin and his men, on Palm Sunday, March 27, 1836, commonly referred to as the Goliad Massacre, became the inspiration for the battle cry that rallied troops in San Jacinto, “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” Because of the efforts and sacrifice of Texans (or Texians as they were called then) in Goliad, at the Alamo and San Jacinto, Texas was able to liberate itself from Mexico and became an independent republic whose sovereignty was recognized by the United States for nearly 10 years before being annexed as a state.
Now, over 183 years later, the town still resembles what it was in those days, with the addition of a modern monument to mark the location where the remains of approximately 407 men were gathered a full two months after their deaths and interred with military honors. Many of the families who live in Goliad today have roots that go back to the days of La Bahia, the original Spanish name of the town. A visit to Goliad provides an instant link to the past, and a window into the proud heritage of Texas.
Where to Stay:
Unless you have family in the area, there aren’t a lot of accommodation choices within the city limits of Goliad. While planning my last visit, I found what looks to be a totally adorable and comfortable B&B in a residential area just blocks from downtown. It’s on Airbnb, listed as “Hygge“. It caught my eye because hygge is a Danish word, an idiom that defies direct translation but loosely means “a quality of coziness or comfort”. I was intrigued because you don’t often hear Danish idioms thrown into conversation in small South Texas towns. I ended up staying with family after all, but Hygge received great reviews, and based on that and the photos, I will stick my neck out here and recommend it. Let me know if you stay there, and how it goes! If Hygge is not available, you may have to broaden your search and stay 20-30 miles away in a neighboring town, such as Cuero, Victoria, Beeville or Kenedy. The highways are smooth, flat and fairly straight, so the driving is easy, and the pastoral scenery makes the trip go quickly.
Where to Eat
When it comes to food in and around Goliad, I will tell you what I told my significant other when he asked if there was anyplace we shouldn’t eat in Goliad: The standard of excellence is so high in that area, especially for local specialties like barbecue or Tex-Mex, any restaurant that wasn’t competitive would soon be out of business. That being said, I have a couple of favorites, one that has been around for longer than I have been going to Goliad, about 37 years, and they show no sign of closing down anytime soon.
The Empresario Restaurant
141 South Courthouse Square
Goliad, Texas 77963
The Empresario is a sentimental favorite of the older families of Goliad. For as long as I can remember, “Let’s meet up at The Empresario.” have been six words packed full of the promise of special family occasions or long overdue reunions between old friends. Its lasting power isn’t solely based on sentiment. The Empresario has long been known for consistently good food. If it’s your first time at The Empresario, or just your first time in a while, go ahead and have the chicken fried steak. You won’t regret it.
Blue Quail Deli
224 S Commercial St
Goliad, Texas 77963
Four words: Cream. Of. Jalapeno. Soup. The Blue Quail is enjoying a well-deserved craze over this award-winning soup. If you are somehow tired of Tex-Mex (How is that possible??) the Blue Quail Deli is an excellent option, located on the square next door to the Von Dohlen Building.
Mattie’s Bakery and Café
131 S. Courthouse Square
Goliad, Texas 77963
For something sweet, stop into Mattie’s. They serve light lunch fare, but they’re really known for their cookies and pies, which can be purchased whole or by the slice!
Where to Shop
Shops on the Square: Take a walk around the historic town square in Goliad and you’ll find an ever changing selection of home decor, clothing, and antiques shops. The names change over the years, but the historic buildings have remained unchanged for generations.
Market Days – Held on the 2nd Saturday of every month, on the lawn of the historic downtown courthouse, this is a popular spot for residents and visitors alike to get together and socialize while perusing the many crafts, second hand items, and food items in booths set up around the square. Market Days are held every month of the year and often feature more than 200 vendors.
Where to Tour
Presidio La Bahia – This is where it all started for Goliad. Presidio La Bahia is the Spanish fortress and mission established before any town existed, and that later gave its name to the town that eventually sprang up. The town of La Bahia eventually changed its name to Goliad, an anagram of the name of a Spanish missionary priest, Father Hidalgo. Today, the mission is a museum that holds a wealth of artifacts and information about the area, making it a great place to start on your visit to Goliad.
The Colonel Fannin Gravesite Monument marks the place where the tragic events of the Goliad Massacre unfolded that ultimately secured Goliad’s place in Texas history books. Situated near Presidio La Bahia, this is hallowed ground. It is an actual gravesite, where over 400 Texas heroes are buried, so please treat it accordingly.
Goliad County Fair and Rodeo – This is a fantastic event that takes place in Goliad every year in March, not coincidentally the month when the events leading to Texas’ independence from Mexico are celebrated. I love this particular event because while it is actually a stop on the pro-rodeo circuit (PRCA sponsored) it maintains an intimate, small town atmosphere. Over the years, seats have been added to the arena to accommodate ever growing crowds, but you can still get very close to the action, and even get a little dirty as the dirt flies! I have attended several times over the years and you can read about my most recent visit in “My Justins”.
Christmas in Goliad – Christmas in Goliad includes several special traditions. The parade is a highlight, as well as a special holiday version of the Market Days event described above. The Christmas season in Goliad culminates in a tradition called Las Posadas. Las Posadas is a procession from the town square to the mission about a mile out of town. The procession is led by volunteers playing the parts of Mary and Joseph as they travel looking for “room at the inn”. The route is lined by luminarias, candles inside of paper bags, along the entire route. This lovely tradition draws visitors from out of town, some of whom visit Goliad just to participate in Las Posadas.
Goliad County Courthouse and the Hanging Tree – The courthouse reigns supreme over Goliad’s town square. Not just a beautifully restored historic building, it houses actual county offices. Next to it stands the famous hanging tree where sentences handed down in the courthouse were carried out immediately.
Live Oak Trees: Centuries old live oak trees stand protected in the middle of many of the streets in Goliad. Be on the lookout when driving because many are surrounded by limestone barriers and marked with only a small reflector or two. If you happen to hit one with your car, you will get little sympathy from the townspeople or local law enforcement.
Goliad High School Football Games – If you know nothing else about Texas, know this: Texans love high school football. In a state where there is no shortage of professional and college teams to watch, high school football somehow still enjoys the passionate devotion of fans, and in a small town, it seems that every single person is a fan. On Friday nights during football season, most town businesses close early, and everyone, whether you have a kid on the team or not, heads to the high school football stadium. If you really want a taste of what life is like in a small south Texas town, try to make it to the game. You might as well, because there won’t be much else open while the fight rages on. Go Tigers!