Texas is the second largest state in the U.S. with a landscape that varies from the Gulf Coast, plains, mountains and basins. Those from the Lone Star State like to joke that “everything is bigger in Texas,” and with its large land mass, visiting Texas might require a bit of driving. But there are a multitude of activities for families with young kids that you won’t want to miss. In this blog post, Hike it Baby member Jordan Else shares her itinerary for some things to do and places to see in San Antonio, Austin and Dallas.
Fun Things to do with Kids from San Antonio to Dallas
1. The Alamo
Built in 1718 by Spanish settlers, The Alamo was originally named Mission San Antonio de Valero after St. Anthony of Padua to house missionaries. It got its current name, The Alamo, in the early 1800s when Spanish military troops who were stationed at the mission called it “El Alamo” to commemorate their hometown in Mexico. The Alamo played a pivotal role in Texas’ quest for independence as it was the location of the Battle of The Alamo in 1836.
With its 300-year history, The Alamo is a gem the entire family will appreciate visiting. Entrance is free and the exhibits were thoughtful. It’s self-directed; however, if you want a guided tour, there’s an extra cost. There are a few vending machines on site and a gift shop. The space is not huge and is partially shaded. Note that photography isn’t allowed inside the Alamo Church or Long Barrack Museum.
2. San Fernando Cathedral light show
Founded in 1731, the San Fernando Cathedral is the oldest church building in Texas and is still in use today. It’s located at the heart of the city of San Antonio and is marked by the medallion imbedded in the floor of the Cathedral.
For four days of the week – on Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday – The Cathedral features a 24-minute light show called San Antonio|The Saga in which video art by French artist Xavier De Richemont is projected onto the cathedral depicting the story of San Antonio from its beginning to present day. The 7,000-square-foot projected light show on the façade of the cathedral is a colorful one-of-a-kind experience for the entire family. Admission is free and show times are 9, 9:30 and 10 p.m.
3. Caving at Natural Bridge Caverns
The Natural Bridge Caverns were founded by four college students in 1960 and sits below a natural limestone bridge that spans 60 feet. There are several tours to choose from – one of them being a lantern tour – and other activities to add on to customize your visit. The lowest descent is 180 feet and the temperature inside the caves is a constant 70 degrees year-round with 99% humidity, so prepare for that depending on what time of year you visit.
After the underground exploration, there are other fun activities for all ages above ground. Small kids can play at the Sky Tykes playground where they go through obstacle courses to learn confidence. And visitors of all ages will have fun challenging themselves to find their way through the 5,000-square-feet outdoor AMAZEn’ Ranch Roundup. Other activities include a zip line, mining for gems and fossils and the gift shop.
4. San Antonio River Walk
The San Antonio River Walk, one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, is a world-famous pedestrian street that runs alongside the San Antonio River and is lined with restaurants and shops and connects tourist attractions via a series of bridges, including The Alamo. Every year, thousands of visitors flock to the River Walk to unwind after exploring the city’s rich history. With its many shops and restaurants – and the option to take a boat ride down the river for some extra bit of relaxation – visitors can stay until the wee hours of the morning and take advantage of the San Antonio culture.
5. Rainforest Café
After a long day of outdoor play, if you’re visiting the River Walk, reward your kiddos with a visit to the Rainforest Cafe. They’ll be intrigued by the sounds of the creatures that live in the rainforest. Take a walk around and try to find all the creatures large and small who call the rainforest home hiding in the trees.
1. Zilker Metropolitan Park
Just west of downtown Austin across the Ladybird Lake is Zilker Metropolitan Park, which spans 350 acres and offers families a variety of activities from hiking, swimming, a nature center, picnicking and playground, among other things. If you want a quick overview of the park before diving in, or if you don’t have time to explore the entire park, just hop on the Zilker Zephyr miniature train and go for a 20- to 25-minute ride around the park. The train leaves every hour and doesn’t accept credit cards, so come prepared with some cash if you plan to ride the train. Also, it’s not covered, so bring a hat or sunscreen to protect against the hot Texas sun.
Another attraction at Zilker Zephyr is the Barton Springs Pool. Just steps away from the train, the pool provides a great respite from the summer heat. The pool is a reservoir with running water from the river, so it’s always 68 degrees. There is a minimal fee for the pool and a small cafe if you need to purchase snacks. There’s a shallow end for kids but be careful as it can be slippery so keep water shoes on hand. Read these suggestions on what to bring should you make a visit to the Barton Springs Pool.
2. Mount Bonnell
As Austin’s highest point at 775 feet, Mount Bonnell is a popular destination for watching the sunset, having a picnic or appreciating the aerial view across Austin. To reach the peak, you have to climb 102 stairs – your duration depends on how fast or slow you take on your ascend. Pack a picnic and take your time to appreciate the views of Lake Austin, the city of Austin and the surrounding hillsides. Or even more perfect, time your visit to coincide with sunrise or sunset and watch the skies explode with color.
3. Mayfield Park
Mayfield Park is a small park with a cottage, beautiful botanical gardens, ponds and walking trails. Visitors can find free-roaming peacocks on the grounds and oftentimes in the trees and even on the rooftop. There are a few hiking trails to choose from on the grounds that start at 0.3 mile and, if combined with other trails, can total close to a mile. Some of the terrain are rocky, so watch your kiddos’ footing.
4. Bat Colony under Congress Bridge
Congress Bridge, officially known as Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, in downtown Austin is home to the world’s largest urban colony of bats that live within the crevices of the bridge. At dusk, hundreds of spectators visit the bridge to watch over a million bats fly out from under the bridge. To avoid congestion, Jordan highly recommends parking south on Congress at the meters and walking north as it was convenient for grabbing dinner after. The lower part of the bridge is the spot to be as you can spread out a blanket if you arrive early enough. There are rare reports of bites on lower legs on the top of the bridge, so be sure to wear long pants if you choose to watch from up there.
Waco Mammoth National Monument
One of the National Park Service’s newer national park sites, Waco Mammoth offers an exciting opportunity for visitors to learn about and see remains of Columbian mammoths that roamed the area during the Pleistocene Epoch. Take a guided tour and spend some time at the mammoth dig site. Be sure to bring water and sun protection with you; however, there are no bathrooms or drinks allowed inside so take care of that before you enter.
Dallas World Aquarium
The Dallas World Aquarium is an aquarium, zoo and botanical garden all wrapped into one. What makes it unique is that it houses threatened or extinct animals, as well as features animals from different parts of the world. Before heading to the aquarium, you can visit the aquarium’s endangered list and familiarize yourself with their history and the plans to protect them. And check out the feeding and talk schedule and plan to be present to learn more about the animals that live at the Dallas World Aquarium.
Texas is a big state and we’ve only covered some family-friendly activities. What are some of your favorite activities or suggestions for families while visiting Texas? Please share with us in the comments below.
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Itinerary contribution and photos by Jordan Else.