Texas is huge y’all. And while you might not be able to see it all in one visit, you can definitely try to hit up some of the most rewarding spots. What’s great about Texas is that you can experience every possible landscape in just one state. From tropical beaches to rolling hills, from dense forests to desert plains, whatever you’re looking for, Texas has it. In this guide, I’ll take you through the best places to visit in Texas with kids, no matter what landscape you prefer.
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Visit the Johnson Space Center
No visit to the Lone Star State would be complete without a trip to the Johnson Space Center. Located just outside Houston, the Space Center provides endless opportunities to explore the science of space exploration. You can experience a virtual Mars sunset, take a ride in a simulated Orion capsule, and even tour the inside of a replica space rocket! One of only two SpaceX rocket boosters on display can be found here too, so you can marvel at the steps we’re taking towards sustainable space travel.
Tram tours are included in your admission and you can choose which tour you’d like to do. On the Mission Control tour, you can visit the old mission control center, from which NASA led Gemini and Apollo missions, including the first moon landing. Depending on the day, you might be able to tour the current mission control center that is in use today to monitor activities on the International Space Station.
Another tram tour will take you through other historic Johnson Space Center locations, including Rocket Park, home to one of only three of the remaining actual Saturn V rockets, and other historic spacecraft.
The third tram tour will take you to the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, where you can watch engineers and scientists working on building the next generation of spacecraft.
The main visitor’s center exhibits include real space suits, retired spacecraft, and other items from space. Little kids will enjoy the hands-on activities, like seeing how much they’d weigh on different planets, and the space-themed play area, with plenty of twisty slides and climbing walls.
As a Texan family, visiting the Johnson Space Center is one of our favorite things to do in Texas with kids!
Where to stay in Houston with kids
For lodging, stay at the Kemah Boardwalk Inn. You’ll overlook Kemah Boardwalk, which gives you the complete boardwalk experience, including a seaside amusement park, plus live entertainment Friday and Saturday nights!
If you prefer to stay in Houston, you can expect about a 30-40 minute drive to Johnson Space Center, but you’ll be smack in the center of a vibrant Texas hub! Stay at Hotel Indigo Houston at the Galleria, a boutique hotel with vibrant colors and a distinctive sense of style. You’ll be right near tons of restaurants and shops, not to mention the famous Galleria mall, complete with an ice skating rink!
If you want to spend more time in Houston, check out this comprehensive list of things to do in Houston with kids.
Go Back In Time at the Fort Worth Stockyards
Just outside Dallas, the Fort Worth Stockyards offers the ultimate cowboy experience – including a real cattle drive! Twice a day, real cowboys will drive the cattle down the streets of the Fort Worth Stockyards. If you want to get up close and personal with the cattle, or talk to a cowboy, you can mosey on down to the pens for a visit. If you’re visiting on the weekends, you’ll get to experience the Fort Worth Stockyards Rodeo, which takes place every Friday and Saturday night.
Read more: How to spend the perfect weekend in Dallas
Fort Worth Stockyards has plenty of shops with cool western apparel and souvenirs, western-themed restaurants, and even a shooting gallery where the kids can do some virtual hunting! It’s one of the best things to do with kids in Texas that the whole family will love.
On the street, look out for the street shooting reenactment, where fully-costumed actors act out an old west shoot out right in the middle of the street.
Where to stay in Fort Worth with kids
For lodging, check out the Stockyards Hotel, where you can stay in the very room that Bonnie and Clyde stayed in in 1933! Numerous country music stars have stayed here, including Trisha Yearwood and Willie Nelson. The Drover Hotel opens in 2021, advertising ‘rustic luxury’ and will likely be a great place to stay as well.
Texas Hill Country
Texas Hill Country is an incredible oasis of rolling hills, babbling brooks, cool, refreshing rivers, and spring-fed lakes. This is a great area to visit in the summer, where you can swim, paddle, and tube to your heart’s content. Here are some of the best places to visit in Texas Hill Country.
New Braunfels is home to numerous tubing outfitters along the San Marcos river. Rent a tube and spend an idyllic afternoon floating down the spring-fed San Marcos river that stays a consistent 72 degrees all year long. The river is mostly a calm ride, with one tube chute that shoots you down some rapids and may cause you to tumble out of your tube. Adventurous kids will love that part, but if anyone would prefer to avoid it, you can get out of the water before the chute, walk around it, and then get back in.
Just under thirty minutes from New Braunfels is San Marcos, where you can visit The Meadows Center for Water and Environment, a project of Texas State University, and take a glass bottom boat tour, to get an in-depth look at the natural beauty of Spring Lake and the San Marcos Springs. The Center also offers snorkeling, and even scuba diving. When you’ve had your fill of the water, check out the Discovery Center, home to a 1,000 gallon aquarium filled with native Texas fish, as well as a baby turtle exhibit, and an endangered species exhibit, where you can see a number of endangered species, like Texas Blind Salamanders, San Marcos Salamanders and Fountain darters, up close. The Center also has miles of trails to explore, so it’s perfect for a full day of exploring nature.
At night, drive on up to the Stars and Stripes drive-in movie theater for an authentic drive-in experience! There’s a playground for kids to play on until the movie starts, and plenty of snacks at the concession stand.
From there, you’re not far from San Antonio, so you can take the opportunity to visit the Alamo, where brave Texian soldiers made a gallant last stand against Santa Anna during the Texas Revolution. Take a walk along the beautiful San Antonio riverwalk, or hop on a boat tour to travel the river and learn about the history of the area. You’ll also want to take a ride up to the top of Tower of the Americas to experience the view of San Antonio and the surrounding area from 750 feet up!
Where to stay in San Antonio with kids
To visit San Antonio, San Marcos and New Braunfels all in one trip, I recommend staying in San Antonio. Hotel Contessa is a great choice for Riverwalk views. And with all suites, it’s perfect for families.
For a more historic choice, stay at Hotel Emma in the Pearl Brewery district, which is actually an old brewery that was converted into a hotel and retains a lot of the old brewery elements!
For a unique place to stay in Hill Country with kids, check out the new Austin Getaway House. These “tiny houses” are located between Austin and San Antonio in the heart of Hill Country – near Jacob’s Well (more on that below). They’re small but luxurious, and the private fire pit and picnic table outside each one gives you the ultimate Texas glamping experience. Thanks to the huge picture window in each cabin, you’ll feel like your outdoors even from the comfort of your own bed. (If you like the vibe, they also have locations outside of Houston and Dallas!)
A little further north, you’ll find the capital city of Texas, surrounded by glorious nature. Austin is home to Zilker Park, where you can rent a kayak and paddle around Lady Bird Lake, or take a refreshing swim in Barton Springs Pool, a 3-acre spring-fed pool with average temperatures between 68-70 all year long. It can get pretty deep, so you’ll want to make sure the little ones have life jackets.
Read more: 8 Fun Things To Do In Austin With Kids
Just outside Austin, you’ll have the opportunity to dive off a cliff into Jacob’s Well, an artesian spring that releases thousands of gallons of water each day. There are over 81 acres to explore via hiking trails in the Jacob’s Well Natural Area, and you can even take advantage of guided tours as well. The well itself is one of two submerged caves in Texas and is 140 feet deep at its deepest. There are shallower areas to splash around in for the less adventurous, as well. The well requires a fifteen minute hike down from the parking area, so you’ll want to make sure you’re wearing appropriate shoes.
Inner Space Caverns is not too far away and offers the opportunity to explore a network of caverns that had been hidden for over 10,000 years. It was discovered in 1963 when the Transportation Department did some drilling in preparation for a highway overpass. In 1966, it was opened to the public and it’s fascinating to see the prehistoric animal remains and the various rock formations. Just beware, it’s actually a federal crime to touch any of the walls or surfaces in the cave, because the oils can destroy the rock, so if you have littles who can’t keep their hands to themselves, you may want to wait til they’re older.
Where to stay in Austin with kids
Families who want to stay in the heart of Austin will love this Airbnb in Travis Heights, right next to South Congress Street. We stayed there for a week and it was perfect for a family of four!
For those who prefer a family-friendly hotel in Austin, check out the Embassy Suites. It offers a convenient location, spacious rooms for families and hot breakfast every day.
Stay at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines for the ultimate family vacation. This hotel offers activities for kids all day long, a kids club so you can escape to the on-site spa, and an outdoor pool and lazy river! Plus, you’ll get to meet the alpacas, and even sit on a longhorn. A stay at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines is the highlight of plenty of family vacations in Texas – it’s often considered one of the best family resorts in Texas.
Big Bend National Park
No trip to Texas would be complete without a visit to Big Bend National Park, a more than one-million acre desert park along the Rio Grande. It’s one of our favorite family vacation spots in Texas. You’ll want to plan to spend a few days here, as there is just so much to do. Take advantage of multiple horseback riding tours, as short as one hour for younger kids, up to half a day or more. You can also book a raft or canoe trip down the Rio Grande. Since our kids are younger, we opted for a half day trip that was about 3 hours, but you can do a full day, or even multi-day trip! We saw beautiful views of the canyons and even got to stop on the beach on the Mexico side for a few minutes.
The Santa Elena Canyon trail is probably the most incredible trail in the park, and a must if you’re visiting. It’s perfect with young kids too, because it’s not too long, and while the beginning has you climbing up a whole bunch of stairs, the rest of the trail is a gradual descent into the canyon and is not strenuous at all. This trail affords you some incredible views of the Rio Grande, and the Santa Elena Canyon.
Another incredible hike I recommend with kids is the Boquillas Canyon Trail. It’s a bit trickier than the Santa Elena and there is some scrambling and climbing involved, but our 7 year old was able to handle it like a champ. If you’re lucky, you’ll see some beautiful horses and donkeys meandering along your path – apparently they come from a farm across the Rio Grande, on the Mexican side.
Just outside Big Bend National Park, you’ll find the ghost town of Terlingua, where you can explore old ruins and learn about the history of the Chisos Mining Company. We discovered an old mining tunnel running underneath part of the town, which we explored part way before I chickened out. The town has a real wild west feel to it, with no real roads, streets, or properties, but rather everything just seems to have been plunked down wherever people wanted.
To be closest to the park, I recommend staying at Lajitas Golf Resort. It’s perfectly situated between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park, and offers 27,000 acres of desert wilderness. They offer tons of on-site activities, like clay shooting, horseback riding, zip-lining, just to name a few, as well as a spa, movie theater, and pool!
Terlingua has a range of other accommodation options, ranging from Airbnbs to teepees to bubbles! Be sure to read listings closely though… some Airbnbs in Terlingua only have kitchenettes and others have detached bathhouses; those aren’t necessarily bad, just be sure you know what you’re signing up for! Check out these unique places to stay in Terlingua:
Mapping the best things to do in Texas with kids
Where to go next on your Texas family vacation
Are you excited to continue your Texas adventure? Check out these travel guides:
- Visiting Big Bend National Park, Texas: MUST READ tips you won’t find anywhere else
- Best Things To Do In Big Bend National Park – Hikes And More!
- The Ultimate Weekend in Dallas Itinerary: 2 Days of Texas Fun!
- 8 Fun Things To Do In Austin With Kids
If you’re planning a longer Southwest USA trip, check out these great destinations:
- New Mexico:
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Yocheved is a New York native turned Texan. She and her family spend their time exploring the rich history and incredible natural wonders of her adopted state. She blogs about all the amazing things to do in Texas on her Texas travel blog, Texas Wanderers and on Instagram, sharing ideas for family getaways, day trips, hikes, and more!