Texas Rounds Up Something for Everyone - My Family Travels

No wonder this big state's anti-littering campaign says “Don't Mess with Texas”–with so much to see and do in so many places, family members of all ages and interests will not be disappointed.

With President Bush in the spotlight (or should we say “hotseat”) these days, toasty Texas has increased in interest for the family traveler. What’s remarkable about this very large state is the variety of activities for families with varying interests. At almost any time of year, you’ll find some town, somewhere, with an unusual cultural, historical or just plain event underway.

Bandera: Cowboy Capital of the World

Each fall, a 48-day, 655-mile trail ride from Bandera to Dodge City gets underway as part of the annual Celebrate the Western Trail event. Bandera Pass once served as the gateway to the Western Trail, where over 6 million head of cattle were sent to market. Known today as the Cowboy Capital of the World, Bandera boasts a weekly Cowboys on Main event for most of the year with cowboys on horseback, musicians, and storytellers.

Bandera’s Frontier Times Museum (830/796-3864, 510 13th Street Bandera, TX 78003 ) is a 40,000 piece collection of old West, pioneer, and prehistoric artifacts–everything from a shrunken head to an old printing press. The still-operating Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar (830/796-8826, 308 Main St. Bandera, TX 78003) honky tonk plays live music Thursdays through Saturdays. There are also frequent rodeos and dozens of cheap B&Bs within Bandera’s bounds.

Living it Up Around San Antonio

A posh lodging alternative outside San Antonio, one decorated with several splash pools and ranked among the Top 30 Resorts and Top 50 Golf Resorts in North America by Conde Nast Traveler, is the Westin La Cantera Resort (210/558-6500, 16641 La Cantera Parkway San Antonio, TX 78256). There’s a supervised Enchanted Rock Kids Club, games arcade, and opportunities for golf, a massage or a daytrip to the San Antonio Zoo (210/734-7184, 3903 N. St. Mary’s Street San Antonio, TX 78212-7183), Sea World (800/700-7786, 10500 SeaWorld Drive San Antonio, TX 78251)(to ride the new Journey to Atlantis coaster) or Six Flags Fiesta Texas (210/697-5050, 17000 IH-10 West San Antonio, TX 78257).

By the way, San Antonio is very proud of the Mobil four stars recently awarded to the popular Le Reve restaurant (210/212-2221, 152 E. Pecan St. San Antonio, TX 78205), as well as the new Acenar (210/222-2362, 146 E. Houston St. San Antonio, TX 78205), a contemporary Mexican café‚ opened on trendy Riverwalk by two of the city’s culinary celebrities.

San Angelo’s Speedy Sheep

The more central town of San Angelo touts its Sheep Run every year in September. You can catch 200 sheep running down Main Street (or visit the nation’s largest sheep auction each Tuesday) and find a bargain hotel room at the Best Western (325/223-1273, 3017 Loop 306 San Angelo, TX 76904-6435). Thursday through Saturday, families can also pay a call at Miss Hattie’s Bordello Museum and Back Deck (18 1/2 E. Concho Ave San Angelo, TX), refurbished at its original location after being closed by the Texas Rangers.

Travel buffs will also like the Cactus Hotel (325/655-5000, 36 E. Twohig San Angelo, TX 76903), Conrad Hilton’s fourth and largest creation, which cost $900,000 when it opened in 1929. The San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts (325/653-3333, One Love St. San Angelo, TX 76903), with its included Museum of Children’s Art, is available to art buffs of all ages.

Texas Heritage in Abilene

Incorporated around 1883, Abilene is also proud of its cowboy heritage. The sophisticated, multimedia Frontier Texas! show and the free Abilene & Forts Trail Visitors Center are open downtown to instruct visitors in the region’s history.

Abilene has several neat family attractions, including the Buffalo Gap Historic Village (325/572-3365, Buffalo Gap, TX 79508), which preserves and reenacts Texas frontier life. Visitors wander the village’s grounds and historic buildings to see a two-room school-house, arrowheads and weapons, medical instruments, and maps from the olden days. At the Abilene Zoo (325/673-WILD, 2070 Zoo Lane, Abilene, TX 79602), kids will find their favorite wildlife standbys: over 200 species including elephants, black bears, giraffes, and monkeys. The National Center of Children’s Illustrated Literature (325/673-4586, 102 Cedar Abilene, Texas 79601) provides gallery exhibitions of illustrators’ works. On Family Fun Saturdays, afternoon children’s art activities accompany the museum experience.

During the last weekend of each October, locals plan to re-enact frontier life at Rendezvous located at Frontier Texas! By the way, Abilene’s ca. 1927 Windsor Hotel was leased by Conrad Hilton as his very first hotel, and once hosted the likes of Lawrence Welk and his orchestra; it is now a retirement home.

Arlington’s Contemporary Thrills

We all know that this big, big state is full of heritage, but do you like the new? If so, make centrally located Arlington a top vacation pick for your family.

Arlington is home to Six Flags Over Texas (817/530-6000, 2201 Six Flags Road Arlington, TX 76011), known as “The Entertainment Capital of Texas” for its thrilling roller coasters, family rides, and shows. Families will especially enjoy Spongebob Squarepants 4D The Ride, with its 3D glasses, bubbles, and surprising jellyfish “sting.” Little ones can play in the Looney Tunes USA area, while older adventure-seekers tackle Titan, with its 255-ft. drop at speeds up to 85 mph, or the Shock Wave, the world’s first coaster with back-to-back vertical loops. There are also regionally-specific rides like the Oil Derrick and Texas Chute Out, not to mention numerous shows featuring puppets, musicians, daredevils, and cowboys. On a hot day, Six Flags Hurricane Harbor (817/265-3356, 1800 East Lamar Boulevard Arlington, TX 76006), the largest waterpark in the Southwest, is just across the street.

The Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau (800/433-5374) has developed a number of “FUNtastic Family Getaway” packages, as well as a “Special Deals” section online for savings at the many Arlington hotels undergoing renovation.

A Texas Safari

For a more adventurous getaway, you can visit the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center (254/897-2960, 2155 CR 2008 Glen Rose, TX 76043), about an hour from Fort Worth, and overnight in rustic luxury at the Foothills Safari Camp. Choose from Lodge rooms or tents with two twins, private bath and patio. Prices range from $175/N-$300/N. Facilities overlook one of the most popular watering ponds in a 1,700-animal wildlife preserve that is home to rhinos, giraffes, zebra, antelope, and other interesting animals. For reservations, call 888/775-6742 ext. 268.

Baylor’s Prized Museum

To the south and east in Waco is the Mayborn Natural Science & Cultural History Museum Complex (254/710-1100, 1300 S. University Parks Waco, TX 76706-1221) on the campus of Baylor University. Those who saw Baylor’s prize athletes in the Olympic track and field meets will want to share with younger children the museum’s 16 hands-on discovery rooms (including a one-room schoolhouse and sound and optics experiments) and natural history galleries (see a 28-foot pliosaur from the cretaceous period and the Waco mammoth). This impressive new facility is open daily except holidays.

Lubbock’s Varied Attractions

In October, oenophiles can drive northwest to enjoy Lubbock’s annual wine festival, hosted by Llano Estacado Winery (806/745-2258, 800/634-3854, Lubbock, TX 79452), the state’s award-winning vintage. Autumn is time to tour Llano’s vineyard, and those of the CapRock (806/863-2704, 408 E Woodrow Road Lubbock, TX 79423) and Pheasant Ridge (806/746-6033, 3507 E. County Rd 5700 Lubbock, TX 79403) wineries, sample the wine and admire the ice carvings.

Lubbock’s favorite son, Buddy Holly, is celebrated at the Buddy Holly Center (806/775-3560, 1801 Crickets Avenue Lubbock, TX 79401), a collection of artifacts from his life and that of other West Texas musicians. Other unusual history collections include the Silent Wings (806/775-2047, 5401 N. Martin Luther King Blvd
Lubbock International Airport Lubbock, TX 79403) military glider museum, Texas Tech’s Vietnam Archive (806/742-3742, Texas Tech University Special Collections Library, Room 108 Lubbock, TX 79409-1041), the 36 furnished ranch buildings at the National Ranching Heritage Center (806/742-0498, 3121 Fourth Street Box 43200 Lubbock, TX 79409-3200), and a celebrated Legacy Play Village playground.

Looking toward the holidays, Lubbock hosts a two-mile-long Lights in the Canyon display of more than 60 illuminated fantasy and Christmas-themed lightworks in Mackenzie Park from Thanksgiving to New Years.

With all this to do in Texas, we’d better get going! Statewide travel information is also available at www.traveltex.com.

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