Are you planning a trip to the Panhandle? Then, make sure to swing through Happy, Texas ... The Town Without a Frown!
This petite Panhandle town is a small blip on the map that makes a fun road trip destination ... here's everything you need to know before visiting.
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When planning a trip, do you ever inspect at online maps, zooming in and out through a city? I do it often ... it's one of the best way to discover unique places that aren't found in any travel guides.
That's exactly how I found a little dot on the map called Happy, Texas! I was trying to figure out what there was to do between Amarillo and Lubbock, and of course, that name immediately intrigued me! Once I started researching the town, I remembered watching the movie with the same name (more on that below) in the late 90s.
Happy is short jog off the interstate, making it a quick little detour that won't take you too far off the beaten path. Finding spots like this is exactly what road trips are all about!
To be honest, there isn't a lot going on in this quiet town, but that's kind of what makes it a fun stop. I'm pretty sure you're going to enjoy it just as much as me, so keep reading for all the details!
About Happy, Texas
Happy is a small town in the Texas Panhandle, located about 36 miles south of central Amarillo on the Randall-Swisher county line. From Lubbock, it's about 88 miles to the north.
678 residents call Happy home (according to the 2010 census), but we only saw a few on our short trip there. If you visit during the week, you'll probably have the place mostly to yourself, too!
It's always fun visiting places with unique names, and this one makes a great pitstop on a Panhandle road trip. And with a motto like The Town Without a Frown, this is one destination that's sure to put a smile on your face!
How The Town Got Its Name
The town gets its name from the Happy Draw, which a group of cowboys discovered and were "happy" to have as a much-needed water source. Hugh Currie established a homestead and post office near the draw in 1891.
A little village grew around the draw, but in 1906 the Santa Fe Railroad was extended south from Canyon, and the new depot bypassed the town. The village picked up and moved to be near the new railroad. Happy continued to grow and was eventually incorporated in 1925.
You can still visit the original village site and the restored railroad depot ... more on that below!
Things to Do in Happy
This is one of those destinations that you really need to keep your expectations in check!
While Happy is not exactly a ghost town, it kind of feels like it. The store fronts along Main Street are mostly vacant, apart from a post office and the eponymous Happy State Bank.
There really isn't much to do in Happy either ... at least for a casual visitor. However, if you have an appreciation for history and small towns, I think you'll enjoy your trip (no matter how brief) just as much as I did!
Here are a few of the things you can expect to see.
Vintage Charm: Storefronts, Ghost Signs + Brick Street
Starting in the 1950s, Happy began running out of water. Which may explain why its downtown is so empty ... apparently, many storefronts have been boarded up for decades.
While it's definitely a little sad, if you love vintage architecture, you'll enjoy wandering around Main Street. On our trip, we spotted lots of ghost signs, plus empty storefronts with names like "Happy Center" and "Happy Game Room". The street is paved with bricks, which is also pretty cool.
Of course, there are a few business left on the street. You'll find Happy State Bank, which was founded in the town and now has 60 locations throughout the state. There's also a post office ... perfect if you need to mail a postcard from your vacation, like we did!
Main Street is also home to the Grand Theater, a former movie theater that was open from 1946 to 1958. If you visit during summer (and through November), you may even come across the local market that's held there. Make sure to check out the Grand's Facebook page for event info before your visit.
Off Main Street, you'll find the one restaurant in town, the Firehouse Cafe. We weren't able to stop by on our visit (and I'm not sure about the hours), but judging by the reviews, the food's really good!
Want to learn more about the town's history? You'll find a few sites and historical markers where you can dig a little deeper:
- Site of Old Happy - Visit the place where the original homestead was established by Hugh Currie in 1891. This marker can be found on a windmill located on US 87, about one mile north of town.
- Happy Public Schools - Current home of the Cowboys (whose motto is "Where excellence is expected, perfected, and rewarded."), the first students in this school system were taught in a one-room schoolhouse by teacher Sarah Ann Rose. Find the marker at 400 NW 3rd Street.
- First United Methodist Church - This historic church was founded by early pioneers. You can find the church and the marker at 114 North Floyd Avenue.
- Happy Cemetery - You'll find pioneers and Civil War veterans (both Confederate and Union soldiers) buried in this cemetery. To locate it, take FM 1075 west from Happy (about half a mile). The marker is located in the center of the cemetery.
- Happy Santa Fe Depot - This historic depot, which has a unique bay window, has been restored and can found in nearby Tulia. Look for the depot on the corner of S. Maxwell Street and SW 3rd Street (I'm not sure if there's a historic marker) ... the Swisher County Museum is also located on the same block.
Don't miss the two distinctive signs proclaiming "Welcome to Happy, the Town Without a Frown". Each one is slightly different, and you'll find both on US 87, one north of town, and the other one south of town.
Depending on which direction you drive in, you'll probably spot other more standard highway / interstate signs, too!
Fun Photo Destination
The main reason I convinced by family to stop here? I'm fascinated by the Panhandle, and I love exploring all the little towns. There is just so much character and history to be found in all those old (and often deserted) buildings.
If you're looking for a unique photography destination, then you've come to the right spot! Take a quick family photo in front of the Happy Center. If you're a more serious photographer, plan on spending a little more time to capture the many time-worn details.
My sister wanted me to take some photos for her blog Inspired to Run on our trip, and I knew this would be the perfect place to do it! We basically had Main Street to ourselves, and the buildings made an excellent backdrop.
While small in size, the town still has a few notable citizens:
- Joe Fortenberry - One of the first basketball players to dunk, Fortenberry was the captain of the US basketball team at the 1936 Olympics. He led the team with eight points, and they won the gold, beating Canada 19-8 in an outdoor game featuring driving rain.
- Buddy Knox - While Knox never achieved the fame of fellow Texan's Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly, he enjoyed a long, influential career in music. His hit song "Party Doll", which sold over a million copies, was voted one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
- Barry Clark - A noted American astronomer, who spent his career working at the the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in New Mexico.
- George Avila - This fictional character from the series 24, played by actor Kirk Acevedo, was born here.
The movie Happy, Texas is probably more well-known than the town itself. It stars Steve Zahn and Jeremy Northam as two escaped cons who pose as organizers of the "Little Miss Fresh-Squeezed Preteen Beauty Pageant". While set in the town, the movie was mostly filmed in Piru, California.
I hadn't watched this romantic comedy since the late nineties (to be honest, I kind of forgot it existed). So I cued it up to get in the mood for writing this post, and it was cute and funny.
Currently, the movie available to rent on Amazon and a few other channels, including Paramount+, VUDU, Google Play, and Apple TV. If you're not finding it there, search your streaming device.
Other Pop Culture Mentions
That movie isn't the only place Happy appears in pop culture! If you're charmed by this small town, check out the highly-rated romance series by best-selling author Carolyn Brown!
The series is about a former wild child who returns to her hometown (and of course finds love), and it has three titles: Toughest Cowboy in Texas, Long, Tall Cowboy Christmas, and Luckiest Cowboy of All. Sounds like a fun read!
And there's even a Happy, Texas Boot! It's named after the town, and it's really cute!
Maps + Visitor Tips
Check out the maps below to see the town's small footprint and its location south of Amarillo. Want a closer look? Use this interactive Google map to explore the streets and get directions.
Plan on heading to Main Street during your visit. All of the photos in this post were taken on there, with the exception of the sign. The rest of the town is mostly residential, with the exception of the restaurant, school, small park, churches, and some industrial businesses.
Things to Do Nearby
I hope you enjoyed reading about this petite Panhandle town! While you probably won't spend too much time in Happy, you'll find plenty of fun things to do nearby!
- Amarillo - There are tons of cool places to explore in the largest city in the Panhandle. If you've never been, make sure to read my guide covering all the best things to do in Amarillo before your visit ... there's a lot!
- National Parks - You'll find two National Parks near Amarillo: Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument and Lake Meredith National Recreation Area. Check out my Texas National Parks Guide to learn more about them.
- Lubbock - Heading south? Make sure to stop by Lubbock, which is located just south of the Panhandle. I can't visit without popping by Prairie Dog Town (why are they so cute?) or getting a photo in front of the giant glasses at the Buddy Holly Center. But there are lots of other unique places to explore, too.
- Palo Duro Canyon State Park - Visit the Grand Canyon of Texas, the second largest canyon in the US! You could spend a day at Palo Duro or a week ... the landscape is stunning, and there are so many fun hiking trails to explore.
- Caprock Canyon State Park - The Panhandle Plains area is super flat ... until a massive canyon or mesa appears, that is! Caprock Canyon is another cool state park in west Texas that's definitely worth checking out. It's different from Palo Duro, so visit both, then tell me your fave in the comments (I can't decide).