Thursday, February 12, 2015

TRAVEL: 16 fun things to do around Dallas-Fort Worth

These are some of our favorite things in and around DFW, in no particular order.  Obviously, this is just a sampling of all the area has to offer, but I hope the ideas help!


 1. Dallas World Aquarium.  1801 North Griffin Street, 75202.  Cost: A bit pricey at $21 per adult and $13 per child (free under 2).  Parking: $8 right next to the aquarium.  Entrance Deals: None, ever (at least that I found, and some reviews I found confirmed that).  Great aquarium with various exhibits, including a clear shark tunnel viewing area and two separate habitats with various levels that include birds and monkeys at tree level, and ducks and fish at water level.  There's a jaguar area, the hugest crocodile I've ever seen anywhere, sloths, penguins, flamingoes, and more.  We loved it

2. Model trains at the Children's Hospital at Medical City.  1935 Medical District Drive, 75234.  Cost: Free.  Parking: There is a ramp right there that is free for the first 20 minutes.  We were there almost an hour and paid $2, which was half price with our visitor badge sticker.  Open 6 am to 10 pm. Tip: Be sure to check in at the visitor desk.  Adults will need to present ID to get a temporary visitor badge sticker to be able to enter the building.  You then save that sticker to get reduced prices on parking.  They'll be able to give you directions to the exhibit from there.  Fun little exhibit for train lovers.

2. Dallas Zoo.  650 South R L Thornton Freeway, 75203.  Cost: $15 per adult and $12 per child (2 and under free). Parking: $8 per car.  The train is super easy to use if you don't want to pay parking, and want to try the DART, there's actually a stop called Dallas Zoo, and the zoo is right across the street from the station.  Entrance Deals: For January and February, admission is only $5.  Not the hugest zoo ever, but a big variety of animals, including some Texas wild cats I've never seen anywhere, and attractive grounds.  We weren't disappointed, and when the day we visited was cold enough to close most animal encounters, the staff went out of their way to be sure we had a nice time.

4. Resistol/Stetson Hat Outlet in Garland.  721 Marion Drive, 75042.  Cost: Free (unless you buy something... ;) ).  Parking: Free.  This is a fun place to see and try on authentic cowboy gear, at reduced prices.  I personally have never seen so many hats in one place.  There are also cowboy-style shirts, belt buckles, hat bands, "cowgirl" shirts and dresses and a small selection of cowboy boots.  I saw a $300 pair of boots for $129, but there were other boots at lower price points, too.  Apparently there can even be $1,200 boots there (what would that even look like?)  Little kid leather cowboy boots were around $50 (although now that we've shopped more down here, I don't like the boots we bought Gavin that have a black rubber sole - it rubs off on the leather boot and stains it, so I can't really recommend the youth boots we found here).  Youth hats were $19 for black wool or $25 for white straw/plastic.  There were some great deals, with "crushable" Stetson hats for $15, and some western-style snap-button men's shirts for $10.  I found a classic Stetson fedora for less than half of what the same style sold for online that I plan on wearing forever.  On another visit Mike found a classic Stetson straw summer hat, and Gavin loves his white straw cowboy hat.

5. Perot Science and Nature Center.  2201 North Field Street, 75201.  Cost: $15, adults, $10 2-11, $12 12-17/65+.  There is a special on the first Saturday of the month if you have a Bank of America credit card, but that was the only special I found.  This is an awesome museum with 4 levels of fun, including dinosaurs, robots, gems, IMAX movies, stuffed animals and a children's museum at the lower level.  We all really enjoyed this museum, and this is the one thing our 4 year old son has specifically asked to visit again.  Lots of interactive exhibits, including the one below where you flap your "wings" and see the bird onscreen react to your movements.

6. White Rock Creek/Lake trail.  Various locations in North DallasCost: Free.  You can park your car at most of the parks along the Creek trail route (just check Google maps), or various locations at the White Rock Lake Park. A 9.3 mile and a 7.5 mile trail meet up for great trail walking, running or biking experience.  Leashed dogs are allowed.  There is a helmet law for bicyclists in Dallas.

7. Klyde Warren park.  2012 Woodall Rogers Freeway, Dallas, TX, 75201 - right next to N Olive and N Pearl Streets.  Cost: Free!  Open 6 am to 11 pm.  Parking: There is valet parking for $15 at the Savor restaurant in the park (free if you eat at the restaurant), or you can park at the Art Museum underground garage nearby.  There is street parking with coin operated meters in the area also, but we didn't have coins, so my husband had to drive a few blocks (not even a mile) to find a modern parking meter that took cards.  TIP: This might be a great time to try taking public transportation-  there are some train stations not too far away, or a bus brings you right to the park (or the trolley mentioned below might work depending on where you're staying!).  This park is an incredible green space made up of several blocks right in downtown Dallas, on what used to be a highway overpass.  They made the area great for all types of people.  There is a really fun children's area with playground equipment, a crow's nest to climb and a water spray area where kids can play (plus 2 clean family-size bathrooms with changing tables, as well as water faucets if you need a water bottle refill).  For adults, there are lots of tables and chairs for relaxed seating, as well as free magazines and books to borrow and read there, as well as free games which can be borrowed.  There's a restaurant with indoor or outdoor seating, plus food trucks park in another area of the park from 11 am- 3 pm daily.  The day we went there was a deli truck with hot dogs and philly steak sandwiches, an Asian cuisine truck with lots of creative sauces and flavors, and an artisanal meat truck, plus an ice cream truck (with yummy handmade flavors and really unique sundae flavors).  Food was pricy ($9.25 for my chili lime chicken/brown rice and $3.50 for a single dish of ice cream), but good.  Or, bring your own food, and eat it at one of the tables, or lay a blanket down in the grassy area for a picnic.  So Tuesday is a great day of the week for families to visit the park, since there is a free story time from 11 am-noon, with songs, stories, bubbles and dancing.  Gavin loved it.  On Tuesdays there is also an Imagination Station station from 9 am-noon where kids can build in the grass with big spongy building block sets.  They host fitness activities (zumba, yoga, etc.) and concerts, too, so check out what's up before you go.  TIP: This park is directly across the street from the Dallas Museum of Art (free general admission) and Nasher Sculpture Park (not free), so that would be a great combined day activity.  Plus historic working trolleys stop nearby, so you can get a McKinney Avenue Trolley ride while you're here.  

Fort Worth

Fort Worth is absolutely worth at least a day trip, if you're staying in Dallas, or, for a more "Western" experience, plan to stay right in Fort Worth!  Here are some must-sees there:

8. Cattle Drive.  131-A East Exchange Avenue, 76164.  Cost: Free.  Daily at 11:30 am and 4 pm.  Parking: There is some free street parking nearby (watch the parking signs carefully), or there are nearby lots where you can park for $5 on weekends.  I think lot parking is free on weekdays.  This cute little event has cowboys "driving" a small herd of longhorn cattle down Exchange Street twice daily.  Not extremely exciting now that we've seen a real rodeo and some other events, but a fun, free little event to enjoy as part of your Fort Worth experience.

9. Cowtown Coliseum.  121 East Exchange St, 76164.  Cost: Depends on the event.  There are ticketed afternoon shows most Fridays and some Saturdays (plus twice-daily shows from the last week of December through the first week of January) for the Pawnee Bill Wild West show, a reenactment of the Buffalo Bill Wild West show from long ago, including cowboys, horses, rope and whip tricks and fancy riding tricks (Adults: $15, children $8 and seniors $11), or various rodeo shows, mostly on Friday or Saturday nights (tickets start at $13.50).  We liked the Pawnee Bill show, although the whip and gun tricks were a bit loud for Gavin's taste, but it was a good family show, and at a good time of day for us.  We were afraid the rodeo (held every Friday and Saturday night) would be a bit too much for a younger child, plus it didn't start until 8 pm.  Note that the toddler (1-2 years old) the people sitting behind us brought did NOT like the noise, and had to be consoled by watching videos on a phone during the whole show.  Keep your child's age and interests in mind.  I think Gavin, at age 4, was the youngest age I would have brought.  I don't think he would have enjoyed it as much at a younger age.  But, that would depend on your child.  It is a small auditorium, so you are pretty close to the action, which helps.

10. Shops along Main Street and Exchange Street.  Cost: Free to look!  For sure try Fincher's and Maverick, but there are great shops in all budget ranges, including some that include vintage items or antiques, plus some of the fanciest Western-inspired items you'll ever see!  Mike was looking for belt buckles, and found options priced from $15 to $1050!  We got Gavin a cowboy hat for $10, but obviously you can find handmade hats up to virtually any price range.  So, whether you're in search of your bargain souvenir, or your special Texas memory, you'll find it.  And don't worry if Western isn't your style - some of the more upscale shops had fabulous items that didn't scream "cowboy".  I saw a beautifully made wool riding jacket (with the lower hem in back) in a tasteful plaid, as well as some fabulous soft leather bags in simple, classic styles.

This whole area has a great vintage vibe, with great old neon signs, and some older buildings that are fun to see - one old movie theater, in particular, has great character.  I found the whole area around the Cowtown Coliseum charming, and would love to return and explore even more.  There's the Stockyard Hotel, some established bars and honky-tonks and restaurants I'd love to check out.

The best part?  It actually felt real, not "Westernized" for tourism, like Wisconsin Dells or other tourist attraction areas you might go through.  No, you'll see actual people walking around in cowboy boots and hats, as well as some great Western shirts, plus all the shops and restaurants actually seem to have a history, and actually sell to regular people who wear their products, not just tourists who pick up cheap imitation item or two as a souvenir.  (It could be because we visited on a rodeo day, so there were lots of rodeo aficionados in town, but that was my observation.)

11. Joe T. Garcia restaurant - 2201 North Commerce Street, Fort Worth.  Cost: varies by dish (not cheap, but very generously portioned).  (Bring cash!  They don't accept cards, but there is an ATM in the restaurant.)  Parking: Free, right around the restaurant.  There's not a menu, and only 2 items are served: fajitas or enchiladas, but they are generous, and good!  And the setting is absolutely worth the visit alone.  The complex basically takes up a city block, including indoor, outdoor patio and "fiesta" pavilion.  The "fiesta" area, which is essentially an open patio with glass windows added and stretched plastic "walls", but it has stucco pillars, indoor gardens with palm trees and other shrubs, or the outdoor patio area has gorgeous water features and is a perfect spot to relax and enjoy a margarita (delicious, as well).  The patio has standing outdoor heaters (practically 2 to a table), and the "fiesta" patio has many heater "bars" hanging from the ceiling, so you are set in all seasons.  We visited in January, on a warmer evening (it was in the 50s F during the daytime), and were almost too warm, so you shouldn't worry if you stop by on a colder day.  Oh, and an adult and a child could easily share the fajita plate, or even two adults if you weren't starving.  We each got a fajita platter, plus a kid's fajita plate for Gavin, and we had LOTS of leftovers - even though we had been really hungry when we arrived.  (Especially since you get a giant basket of chips with salsa when you sit down, so you're not starving by the time your entree comes anyway.)  TIP: If you want to sit on the patio, there is a separate line-up area in the middle of the building.  If you enter by the front door line up area, you'll be seated inside, at least on busy weekend nights.

12. Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.  3400 Burnett Tandy Drive, Fort Worth, TX 76107.  Gate admission: $10 adults, kids 6-16 $5, 5 and under free. Rodeo admission, depends on seating and event, $15-25 - tickets required for ages 2 and over.  TIP: Rodeo tickets include general admission (wish we had known this!!), so just buy that ticket if you know you want to stay until the rodeo that night.  If you happen to be in the area during late January and early February, BE SURE to go to this show.  It is absolutely incredible, with lots of free events (cowboy storytelling, cow roping competitions, livestock competitions, children's petting zoo, plus lots of shopping in several different arenas, from jewelry, clothing, cowboy boots, cowhide rugs, handmade furniture, hats, boot polish, saddles, and other one-of-a-kind items.  We had a great time browsing, and there were more good deals than I could take advantage of.  I tried my first pair of cowgirl boots on - and ended up buying them!  The grounds also include an area with carnival rides and food open from 4-10 pm, if that's your thing. The big show is the rodeo each night, building up to the final show of the three-week event.  This is the real deal, with professional bull riders and ropers competing in official events during the day that lead to the winners competing in the big show in the rodeo that night.  It's pretty huge.  Gavin hasn't stopped pretending he's a cowboy since that day.  TIP: If happen to hit the timing right to do the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, you won't need to check out the little daily cattle drive or Pawnee Bill or weekly Cowtown Coliseum rodeo show.  This is the big event and will make those seem small.

Qualifying team roping event:

Petting zoo:

Opening parade of the rodeo:

13. Fort Worth Zoo.  1989 Colonial Parkway, Fort Worth, TX 76110.  Cost: $12 adults, 3-12/seniors $9, Free for 2 and under.  Parking: $5 per car.  Locals have strong opinions whether Dallas Zoo or Fort Worth zoo is better - and most of our friends told us they liked Fort Worth Zoo best.  We felt that they were both nice zoos, and one of them is worth a visit during your trip, especially on a beautiful day.  There are bigger animal habitats at Fort Worth, and the overall zoo grounds seem larger, but there seemed to be a bigger variety of animals at Dallas Zoo, including some species we hadn't ever seen before  If you choose based on where you're staying and your other travel plans, you'll be happy either way.  You don't need to do both zoos during a short visit, however.  They aren't that different, and both have the prerequisite kiddie train rides and carousels (although Fort Worth's train is actually on rails, not the little  wheeled "train car" shaped wagons that most zoos, including Dallas Zoo, have).


14. PLANO, TX: Interurban Railway museum, 901 E 15th Street, Plano TX 75074.  Cost: Free.  Parking: Free, right next to the building.  This is a small museum that seems to be run by retired train aficionados (or so it seemed on our visit).  They host story times at 10:30 on Friday mornings for smaller children, and there are some really interesting displays inside that help show the principles on which electric trains run that older kids would enjoy.  There is a historic train car outside, as ask the museum attendant, he or she can open it up and show you around inside of it.  TIP: There is a small park around the museum if your kids are want to play some more, plus there are some restaurants nearby you could walk to from the parking area if you're hungry.

15. MCKINNEY, TX: McKinney is a really cute town 20 minutes north of Dallas on highway 75.  It has a simply adorable downtown (just follow the clearly marked exit signs for downtown McKinney) with cute shops, tons of restaurants, and non-chain coffee shops (a rarity in the area), plus some nicely maintained historic buildings.  Definitely worth a gander if that's your scene.  And, be sure to check out the shop of one of my favorite bloggers, Kendi Skeen of Kendi EverydayWest & Lou on 203 West Lousiana Street, McKinney, TX 75069.

16: ALLEN, TX: A couple of exits north of McKinney, up Highway 75 is Allen, TX.  If you like outlet shopping, there is a large outlet mall in Allen (Stacy Rd exit, there are signs along the highway) that includes stores like Kate Spade, Coach, Michael Kors, SAKS Off 5th and lots more.  Across the highway from the outlet mall is a large indoor mall, with a huge Macy's that is a flagship store, that supposedly has items regular Macy's stores don't carry.  

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