TEXAS, Dallas with Kids – Think big. The Dallas-Fort Worth “Metroplex” sprawls across two Texas counties encompassing more than 9,000 square miles. The two cities and its neighbors burst with opportunities to explore history, art, and science. With temperate weather most of the year, there is also plenty to see and do outdoors, including lakes, parks, and two acclaimed zoos.
From Six Flags over Texas to the Texas Motor Speedway, the list of fun and entertainment is extensive (it can be daunting to narrow the options). There are two keys to fully enjoying the area. The first is to stay in a central location; the second is to set aside everything you think you know about Texas, except the “big” part.
Yes, there are horses and people wearing hats and boots, including some genuine cowboys and cowgirls, but these cities in North Texas have much more to offer. Here are my suggestions for a fun and fascinating visit to Dallas-Fort Worth with kids.
Activity 1: Mingle with Lions, Tigers, and Cowgirls in Fort Worth
Think giraffes. A perfect day in Fort Worth with kids involves a morning visit to the zoo, a leisurely stroll through the lush Botanic Gardens, and a bit of “edutainment” at one of the museums in the Cultural District. The Fort Worth Zoo features 542 species, including 68 on the endangered list. It is the only zoo in the country that houses four species of the great apes– gorillas, orangutans, bonobos and chimpanzees. There are exhibits to please every age and room to roam between them. The Petting Corral lets kids put hands on the animals of Texas, including a longhorn calf.
After the thrill of the zoo, the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens could be just the ticket for a bit of quiet downtime. It is the oldest botanical garden in the state. If little legs are tired, even a drive through the lush gardens is a relaxing change of pace.
The Botanic Gardens essentially act as a gateway to the Cultural District. Choose art, science, or even cowgirl history from among the museums in the district. There are bicycle rentals, walking paths, and plenty of green space between museums. The district is also home to the Will Rogers Memorial Center, the venue for the famed Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, held in January each year.
For more on Fort Worth with Kids: Here’s the website for more information about all things Fort Worth.
Activity 2: Travel Through Time in Dallas
Think history. Dallas is home to high-rises and big business, but squeezed between the buildings are some of the area’s most interesting and entertaining attractions. Kick off your day at Pioneer Plaza, where life-sized statues of cowboys on horseback herd their bronze cattle on a trail drive frozen in time through this urban park near the Dallas Convention Center.
Next up is a visit to the Dallas World Aquarium, which may be the least aquarium-like aquarium in the country. Pathways transport you deep into tropical forests, through cenotes, and across the wilds of Borneo. Birds, fish, reptiles, and even playful otters greet you around every curve in this vertical exploration.
Wrap up your Dallas day with athletic equines and a feast from another century. Medieval Times hosts a dinner show fit for a king, or for a horse-loving family as the case may be. The choreography and theatrical presentation by the human actors are to be applauded, but the real stars of the show are the horses. Andalusians, Friesians, and American Quarter Horses charge, leap, and prance their way through the evening in displays of dressage and pure athleticism.
For more on Dallas with Kids: Learn more about Dallas attractions here.
Activity 3: Make a Splash at Lake Grapevine
Think water. Between two busy days in Dallas-Fort Worth with kids, a bit of outdoor fun changes the tempo. Lake Grapevine is a quiet oasis amid the chaos of the Metroplex. The state park includes picnic areas and public fishing. Boat rentals of all sizes are available from Sam’s Dock at Silver Lake Marina.
Pontoon boats are a popular family-friendly option. The open deck area allows for freedom of movement and attached awnings provide much-needed shade. A tour of the lake by water allows time for fishing, swimming in warm weather months, and even a picnic.
Activity 4: Ride the Rails on a Vintage Train
Think railroad. The conductor greets you with a smile and helps you up the steps and into a moment from the past. Once the train leaves the station, the well-preserved cars of the Grapevine Vintage Railroad glide along the tracks with plenty to see along the way.
A variety of fun options enhance the schedule throughout the year, including a North Pole Express, Fun Train rides with hands-on activities for kids, and even scheduled train robberies during summer months. Or just ride the train to the Fort Worth Stockyards, spend the afternoon, then ride the train back to Grapevine.
1 Great Place to Stay: Great Wolf Lodge
Think indoor fun. Great Wolf Lodge is centrally located for your Dallas-Fort Worth explorations and it is a complete lodging and entertainment experience for the whole family. From wave pools and water slides to a ropes course and a bowling alley, there plenty of fun choices for every age. There are character appearances, arts and craft activities, and a pajama party story time in the evenings.
While the kids are engaged in supervised activities, parents can take a break in the Elements Spa or squeeze in a workout in the fitness center. There’s also a Scooops Kids Spa—the perfect place for some Mom and daughter time.
As if all of that convenience is not enough, the rooms are designed with families in mind. There are standard hotel-type rooms, but the real jewels are the themed suites with fun sleeping areas for the kids made to look like cabins, wolf dens, or safari tents. For even more space, including separate master bedrooms and dining areas, the premium suites sleep up to eight. Click here to get all the details on a Great Wolf Escape.
1 Great Place to Eat in Dallas with Kids (or Grapevine): El Fenix
Think cheese. Lots of cheese. A trip to Texas is not complete without eating Tex-Mex food. From tacos and tostados to quesadillas and enchiladas, Texas-style Mexican food is served with heaping bowls of chips and salsa and plenty of cheese melted on almost everything. The tastiest and most convenient choice for Tex-Mex in the Metroplex is the family-owned chain, El Fenix.
Children are always welcome and the menus are picky-eater proof. Besides tacos and quesadillas, there are comfort favorites like mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, and grilled cheese sandwiches.
There are plenty of locations to choose from, but the Downtown Dallas location is convenient to the World Aquarium, and the Grapevine location is a short drive from Great Wolf. Read more about the history of this Texas favorite here.
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