Blogger, Writer, Urban Adventurer
Texas is big. Really big. It’s home to 26.96 million people; it’s made of deserts and forests, beaches and mountains. It’s larger than several other countries and, in case you’ve forgotten, the only state in the United States that was once a sovereign nation.
So Texas is big, but maybe not as big as the state pride of all its inhabitants, who each have their own idea of what makes for an essential Texan experience. With that in mind, we’ve built a list of 35 different “must dos” for raising a truly Texan kid. You’ll find a little bit of everything on this list, just like the state we all call home.
1. Take photos with Bluebonnets
Bluebonnets became the official state flower in 1901 and from that day forth, parents statewide have been on the quest to take photos of their children amongst the wildflowers. Okay, that might be a bit of a stretch, but not by much. If you live in Texas, I believe it is mandatory to have at least one framed photo of your child in a bluebonnet field. You get extra points if you travel to Brenham to take them.
2. Visit Blue Bell Creamery
There is no cold confection more beloved in Texas than Blue Bell Ice Cream. Sure, eating it at home straight out of the container is great, by why not visit headquarters in Brenham instead? You can take a ton of photos of your whole family in the (very silly) Blue Bell paper hats. The ice cream parlor is open Monday to Friday from 8am to 5pm.
3. Float the river
As soon as your kid is old enough, get them in a tube and float any river in the Texas Hill Country. While many of the tube routes have a reputation for college kids and rowdy times, fear not! State parks do not allow alcohol to be consumed on the premises, so they tend to be more family-friendly floats. Look into South Llano River State Park or Guadalupe River State Park. Another option is the Comal River, which has several points of entry. You can even ride portions of the Comal inside of Schlitterbahn, New Braunfels. Remember, the earlier in the day you go, the less crowded the river will be and weekdays are also less of a scene.
4. Climb to the top of Enchanted Rock
Enchanted Rock is a pink granite dome that rises 425 feet up from its base; it’s also the largest rock of its kind in the U.S. (see? everything IS bigger in Texas). The summit trail to the top is 1.3 miles and will take you about an hour. There are other loop trails around the rock if you are looking for a longer trek. Check the website for trail closures before you go, and pack a picnic. Make a weekend out of it with a stay in Fredericksburg.
5. Buy a pair of little boots at Cavenders
There is nothing cuter than a little kid in a new pair of cowboy boots, and Cavenders is the place to shop. You’ll never forget the look on their faces when they see the selection and all shinny belt buckles can never be forgotten. Plus, you need these boots for the rodeo season’s annual “Go Texan Day.”
6. Wake up early for tacos (of the breakfast variety)
Texas is known for its Tex-Mex food, and yes you can eat it for three square meals a day. What’s not to like about egg and bacon wrapped in a tortilla with hot sauce before 8am? I’ll take two please. Favorites include Torchy’s (now in most major cities), Tacodeli in Austin and Tacos A Go Go in Houston.
7. Spray paint Cadillac Ranch
The Historic Route 66 passes through Texas, and just outside of Amarillo is the iconic Cadillac Ranch. (Not a ranch, but a public art project of half-buried Cadillacs sticking up in the air.) Bring along a few cans of spray paint (or search among the ones left behind by other visitors) and let the kids tag the cars. Not everyone can say their family left their mark on “The Mother Road.”
8. Stand in the star of the capitol
Sooner or later, you will go to Austin to check out our capital city. When you’re in the building, you can’t miss the big star on the floor underneath the impressive dome. Make your way to the smaller, center star, tell your kids to whisper their names and watch them light up as they hear the perfect echo created in the space.
9. Use road trips as an excuse to stop at Buc-ee’s
It only takes one visit to Buc-ee’s to realize what all of the fuss is about. They know the way to a mama’s heart is with clean restrooms and a million snacks for the upcoming drive.
10. Discover a natural cavern
There are three well known caverns and caves for little adventurers to explore in Texas: Natural Bridge Caverns, Longhorn Caverns and Inner Space Cavern. These are fun to visit in the summer, because while humid, it is a lot cooler down there.
11. Go camping for the weekend at Big Bend
Big Bend National Park is more than 801,00 acres of rivers, deserts and mountains. It offers opportunities for camping, hiking, biking, fishing, rafting and more. You can camp out old school style or book one of the national park lodging sites. If you have 4th grader, don’t forget to take advantage of the “Every Kind in a Park” program. All current 4th graders and their families to get free access all national parks!
12. Visit a Texas beach
If we’re being honest, Texas can’t claim the prize for the most scenic of beaches, but your kids don’t know that! Galveston and Rockportare our family’s go to spots. Rockport even has a man-made section with very small waves perfect for little ones who aren’t strong swimmers yet. There’s also South Padre Island, Corpus Christi and Port Aransas.
13. Remember the Alamo
It’s one of Texas’ most famous sights to see…though it is hard to imagine the battle for Texas independence taking place so close to modern day retail shopping. Consumerism aside, seeing the Alamois a must for all Texans and any San Antonio visitors. You can either do a quick stop and photo op or join up with some of the guided and audio tours.
14. Eat (and cruise) on the River Walk
The San Antonio River runs through the city and along its banks are a number of colorful shops and restaurants aptly named the River Walk. You can eat and shop along the river, or take a boat tour. Bonus—there’s an access point to the River Walk right around the corner from the Alamo.
15. Join in Dia Le Los Muertos
Texas belonged to Mexico many moons ago, so its only fair that we teach our kiddos about the state’s history and native people through this huge holiday celebration. San Antonio’s Day of the Dead festivalincludes tons of live entertainment, art workshops and the Altar Contest, too.
16. Learn about sea turtles in South Padre
Sea Turtle Inc. in South Padre is open year round for guests. Their mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured sea turtles. During your visit, you’ll have the opportunity to hear a turtle talk, see a feeding and check out the recovering turtles in their tanks. If you want to see something really special, plan your visit around one of the hatching or release dates in June or August.
17. Go full on cowboy at the rodeo
We’re big fans of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo that takes place over three weeks in March each year. No matter if you go for the BBQ Cookoff, the livestock show, the carnival or for just the rodeo and concert you are sure to have great time. There is a reason it draws 2.6 million visitors a year! San Antonio has a great rodeo scene, too.
18. Stargaze at McDonald Observatory
The McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis (roughly 450 miles outside of Austin) is an astronomical observatory run by the University of Texas. They have daytime tours and solar viewings as well as evening events. Every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday night they host their popular Twilight and Star Parties. Reservations for those events are strongly encouraged.
19. Blast off at NASA
“Houston, we have a problem,” is arguably one of the most famous Texas-centric (mis)quotes in history. (Read about the real quote here!) But you can still learn all about the Apollo 13 mission and much, much more at Space Center Houston. If you are there on a Friday, we highly recommend sticking around for a “Meet the Astronaut” talk.
20. See the bats on the South Congress Bridge
Every night during the summer months, people line up along South Congress Bridge in Austin to take in the sight of Mexican free-tailed bats coming out to eat. Get there around 8pm (or earlier for better spots) and wait for millions of bats to appear.
21. See a longhorn or two at the Fort Worth Stock Yards
The Fort Worth Stock Yards are a historical stock yard (as you might guess) turned family attraction. Shop for boots, antiques and western wear of all sorts before stopping for some BBQ. Everyday at 11:30am and 4pm you can also see the worlds only twice-daily cattle drive through the yards.
22. Ride to the top of San Jacinto Battle Monument
The San Jacinto Battle Monument and Museum is located just outside of Houston and open daily from 9am to 6pm. It is a U.S. National Historic Landmark commemorating the Battle of San Jacinto during the Texas Revolution. The highlight is riding the elevator to the top of the 567-foot tall column and taking in the view. From the top, you can even see Battleship Texas, which is also worth a visit!
23. Visit Big Tex at the State Fair
The State Fair of Texas in Dallas is a sight to behold. The fair has taken place every year since 1886 (with the exception of periods during both world wars) and runs for about three weeks. You’ll find all the best fair staples—carnival, rides, contests for “best in state,” the best fried foods and events like pig races, dog show and a new Horse Spectacular. And for all of you college football fans, It also traditionally takes place during the Cotton Bowl.
24. Reach new heights at Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Big Bend may get all the glory, but outdoor adventurers shouldn’t skip a trip to Guadalupe Mountains National Park either. Here you’ll find camping, day hikes and Jr. Ranger programs. The park is known for Guadalupe Peak, which is the highest point in Texas at 8,749 feet.
25. Board the USS Lexington
The USS Lexington Aircraft Carrier and Museum is located in Corpus Christi was nicknamed the “Blue Ghost” by the U.S. Navy during WWII. It is open year round for tours and the visitor center features virtual battle stations, a flight simulator and a 3D theater. There are five self-guided tours offered covering 100,000 square feet of the carriers’ 11 decks.
26. Eat authentic BBQ
Anyone from Texas knows that we don’t joke around about BBQ. In fact, there are several websites with unofficial BBQ trails that suggest routes for eating your way through Texas. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but Salt Lick (Driftwood), Luling City Market (Luling) and Black’s Barbecue (Lockhart) all make our family’s favorite list.
27. Visit the Houston Zoo
In 2016, the Houston Zoo took the honor of being named the second most visited zoo in the country right after the San Diego Zoo. The Houston Zoo has tons to offer, with indoor and outdoor exhibits, an onsite splash pad and plenty of animal encounters. They seem to be continually updating and expanding their facilities to accommodate the animals and their human visitors. We also never leave without at least one carousel ride.
28. Plunge in a swimming hole
Texas can be a hot place the majority of the year, so it is no wonder that swimming holes make the list. While most offer frigid temps on 100+ days, these spots also happen to be some of the most scenic in the state. Barton Springs (Austin), Jacob’s Well (Wimberly) and Krause Springs (Spicewood) are all fantastic places to start your natural Texas swimming adventures.
29. Get your thrills at Six Flags
Want amusement park adventures a bit closer to home? Look no further than Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington. It’s the home of the Six Flags franchise, hosts the neighboring Hurricane Harbor water park for those summer months and has plenty to do for thrill seekers young and old. Just don’t forget the sunscreen.
30. Cheer on the local high school football team
No matter where you live in Texas, it’s almost certain the local high school has a football team with a passionate fan base, and you should get yourself a seat in the bleachers come Friday night. The action at a high school football game is way more than just the pigskin; kids will love the energy, plus cheerleaders, drill team and marching band can keep anyone entertained through half-time.
31. Check out Palo Duro Canyon
Palo Duro Canyon State Park outside Amarillo is home to the “Grand Canyon of Texas.” The canyon is the second largest in the U.S. and is roughly 120 miles long with an average width of six miles. There are 30 miles of marked trails around the park to explore and onsite cabins you can book if you don’t want to camp, however, be sure to book those well in advance.
32. Two step around Gruene Hall
As far as picturesque small towns go, Gruene, Texas is one of the best. And the town is anchored by the state’s oldest and most famous operating dance hall, Gruene Hall. While this makes an excellent date night destination (you can see all the big country and americana acts here), kids are always welcome and can enjoy the live music, too. Saturday and Sunday afternoons may be your best bet to still hit bedtime.
33. Experience Czech food in West
If you’re traveling through central Texas, squeeze in a stop at the Czech Stop in West. While you fill up on gas or take one of many potty breaks, grab a few of their famous kolaches to help hold off your hunger until the next Whataburger appears. Plus it’s right of I-35 and couldn’t be an easier break from the endless, “are we there yet’s.”
34. Enjoy a Whataburger
Whataburger is to Texas what In-N-Out is to California. Traditions, people. Find your go-to burger order (or grilled cheese for the veggies), and try to make it in line in time for a honey butter chicken biscuit one lucky morning (at least). Breakfast will never be the same again.
35. Visit a working ranch
King Ranch is the largest and most famous Texas ranch, but there are plenty of spots to visit for an inside look at ranch hand life. King Ranch sprawls across six counties and more than 1,200 square miles on which you can find a museum and daily tours of the ranch and the surrounding South Texas landscape/wildlife. South Fork Ranch near Dallas (and made famous by the show Dallas) also offers trail rides and tours.
Originally Posted on Mommy Nearest