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5 Texas trips the whole family will enjoy

At Moody Gardens, the penguin exhibit in the Aquarium Pyramid brings a smile to a young visitor. Photo courtesy Moody Gardens

My sons, now 9 and 13, have grown up seeing the Lone Star State as a land of infinite adventures on family trips. Along with my husband, we’ve hiked among the towering trees of the Piney Woods, ordered pie for breakfast in a Panhandle diner, and huddled up in a tent to experience the breathtaking beauty of a thunderstorm in a Far West Texas desert. 

Here are some of our favorite family adventures around the state, with ideas for what you and your family can do on the open roads of Texas.

1. Houston and Galveston

From space to sea, the Houston area is packed with family-friendly activities.

What to do

Family in front of the NASA Johnson Space Center's Apollo 17 display.

See the Apollo 17 command module at the NASA Johnson Space Center. Photo courtesy Space Center Houston

At NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, kids can get an on-the-ground glimpse of space exploration by climbing aboard a space shuttle and checking out lunar samples. Afterward, head to the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern for underground echoey fun. Then challenge your family to try Flamin’ Hot Cheetos ice cream or one of the other unusual flavors in Houston’s Chinatown/International District.

People floating on the Moody Gardens Lazy River.

The Lazy River at Moody Gardens delivers lots of family fun. Photo courtesy Moody Gardens

At Moody Gardens in Galveston, explore the 3 man-made pyramids (Aquarium, Rainforest, and Discovery) or chill out in its Lazy River pool. End your evening on a spooky note with Historic Galveston Ghost Tours.  

Where to stay

Woodlands Resort waterpark.

The waterpark at the Woodlands Resort is a kid-pleaser. Photo courtesy The Woodlands Resort

About 30 miles north of Houston, The Woodlands Resort has a double-helix waterslide at its outdoor water park. Kids also love its game room and nightly s’mores. Rates start at $299 plus a daily $35 resort fee; AAA discount available.

Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa & Conference Center puts you right where the action is in Galveston. Rates start at $169; AAA discount available.

You may also like: Why you should go gallivanting in Galveston, Texas

2. Far West Texas

A trek to Big Bend National Park is more than worth the journey. Majestic mountains and deserts teem with wildlife, and the slow pace is ripe for family connection.

What to do

Make plenty of time for the park; its scale will take your breath away. Plan for several hikes, depending on your kids’ temperaments.

A guided raft tour on the Rio Grande is so much fun, too—we had a great trip with Desert Sports out of Terlingua. If you can swing it (pack your passports), visit tiny Boquillas, Mexico. You’ll reach the town by raft and burro—a big thrill for the kids. There, stop for lunch and pick up some trinkets before heading back to the U.S.

Don’t overlook the art galleries in Marfa. We’ve found gallery employees and local artists approachable and generous with hands-on activities for kids.

Stars surrounding McDonald Observatory.

The powerful telescopes at the McDonald Observatory make for amazing stargazing. Photo by Ethan Tweedie Photography

Fort Davis, with its old-timey Wild West feel, is another worthy stop. Check out its downtown shops and order a scoop of ice cream. At Balmorhea State Park in Toyahvale, take a refreshing dip in the spring-fed swimming pool. The McDonald Observatory is a must-see for budding astronomers.

Where to stay

The historic Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains State Park was under renovation as of February 2024 but is set to reopen later this year.

For a cozy option with a cute bunk-bed room, check out the Mountainside Inn in Fort Davis. We loved saying good morning to the neighborhood cat from the front porch. Rates start at $119.

StarStruck Glamping's bubble tent at night.

Settle into one of the comfortable bubble tents at StarStruck Glamping for splendid nighttime views. Photo courtesy StarStruck Glamping 

Closer to Big Bend, the bubble tents at StarStruck Glamping (rates start at $289) and Summit Big Bend (rates start at $159) are big fun.

You may also like: Must-see spots in Big Bend National Park

3. Hill Country

Hikers on the Enchanted Rock hiking trail.

Hikers make their way up to the summit of Enchanted Rock. Photo courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

We live near Austin and often enjoy day trips or overnight stays in San Antonio and nearby quaint Hill Country towns. Explore historical sites, go on hikes, and spend the day at thrilling theme parks.

What to do

Johnson City Science Mill demonstration.

At the Johnson City Science Mill, a liquid nitrogen cloud demonstration awes onlookers. Photo by Science Mill/Saunders Drukker

On your way to Fredericksburg, stop at the innovative Johnson City Science Mill. The exhibits explore science, technology, and engineering feats in a fun, experiential way.

A family's shadows on Enchanted Rock.

A family poses for a silhouette atop Enchanted Rock. Photo courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Supplement history lessons with real-world experiences at the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park and its Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm. Park staffers prepare a daily noontime meal the old-fashioned way and demonstrate how to store food for the winter in houses like the one in which President Johnson grew up.

Head to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area for a challenging 1.3-mile out-and-back hike to the summit (reservations are needed for weekend day passes).

Kid looking at a SeaWorld San Antonio sea turtle.

A friendly sea turtle catches the eye of an awestruck young visitor at SeaWorld San Antonio. Photo courtesy SeaWorld San Antonio

In San Antonio, Morgan’s Wonderland is a must-do for kids of all abilities (particularly great for preschool to age 8). Its amusement park and water park are designed for guests who use wheelchairs and scooters. It also has sensory-friendly attractions. Six Flags Fiesta Texas and SeaWorld San Antonio are fun for a day of larger amusement park style–thrills.

North of Austin in Georgetown, Sweet Eats Fruit Farm’s sprawling acreage is packed with excitement. The fun includes a petting zoo, massive jump pillows, seasonal hayrides, and an apple cannon (you shoot apples from it). In the spring, bottle-feed lambs and baby goats. Throughout the year, look for special brunch events.

Where to stay

Splurge on the deluxe JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa, which delights with an outdoor water park and multiple restaurants. It also offers planned activities for families. Rates start at $359 plus a daily $56 resort fee; AAA discount available.

For outdoor-style accommodations, check out Camp Fimfo in New Braunfels or Waco. You can rent a tiny cabin with a loft that’s perfectly kid-sized, along with a golf cart (which is a hit with kids and adults). Tent and RV sites are also available. Rates start at $213.

You may also like: Follow these routes for a retro Texas road trip

4. Dallas–Fort Worth and surrounding areas

DFW provides many options for a family getaway in a metropolitan area. Think cowboys in Fort Worth, museums in Dallas, and even more fun in the ’burbs.

What to do

Fort Worth Stockyards cattle drive.

For a Texas history lesson, take in a cattle drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards. Photo courtesy Visit Fort Worth

The historic Fort Worth Stockyards aren’t just a tourist attraction; they represent an important part of Texas history. Cattle wranglers used to stop along the Chisholm Trail here. You can still see cattle drives twice daily for free.

Family in front of Perot Museum of Nature and Science's T.rex exhibit.

The T.rex exhibit grabs the attention of a family visiting the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. Photo courtesy Perot Museum of Nature and Science

In Dallas, visit the Perot Museum of Nature and Science for thought-provoking, hands-on exhibits. Then let the kids expend some energy at nearby Klyde Warren Park

Kids dressed as firefighters at KidZania.

Kids dress the part as they pretend to be firefighters at KidZania. Photo courtesy Visit Frisco

At KidZania in Frisco, kids can try virtually piloting an airplane, firefighting, and other hands-on activities.

The Crayola Experience in nearby Plano is great for even younger kids who love to color. They learn how crayons are made in live demonstrations and can create their own colorful artwork.

You may also like: The Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District’s renovation puts a swanky new shine on ‘cowtown’

Where to stay

The Texican Court in Irving is a casual, open-corridor-style hotel that’s great for families, with firepits and a pool. Rates start at $149; AAA discount available.

Kids and adults love practicing their golf swings at Omni PGA Frisco. One of its restaurants features an outdoor hitting bay for golfers, and another one boasts a virtual version of TopGolf. The latter includes a variety of sports, not just golf. Rates start at $312; AAA discount available.

You may also like: Must-stay hotels in Texas

5. East Texas

East Texas appeals to adventurous families who want to get out and explore nature. It’s a land of tall trees, bountiful lakes, and misty bayous.

What to do

Keep your eyes peeled for alligators during an airboat tour through the swamp in Orange. Consider booking a fishing guide in Beaumont or Lake Cypress Springs in Franklin County.

Two adults picking strawberries at Tyler Berry Farm.

Strawberries are among the berries ripe for the picking at the Tyler Berry Farm. Photo by Jdevon

Deer Lake Cabins Ranch Resort in Mount Vernon offers a full slate of outdoor activities on its 800-acre property, including horseback riding, ATVing, kayaking, and an escape room. At Tyler Berry Farm, pick bushels of strawberries and blueberries or create a pretty bouquet of cheerful zinnias and sunflowers.

You may also like: Family-friendly outdoor vacations in Texas

Where to stay

Exterior of High Hill Farm's barn.

Large families enjoy the modern barn at High Hill, which sleeps up to 10 people. Photo courtesy High Hill

The accommodations at High Hill in Arp range from cozy bungalows to fully equipped vacation rental homes, some with 4 bedrooms and private pools. It also has a modern barn—with a ping-pong table—that sleeps up to 10. Rates start at $275.

Deer Lake Cabins offers spacious lakeside houses equipped with full kitchens, private fishing docks, outdoor firepits, and paddleboat rentals. Rates start at $199; AAA discount available.

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