With beaches for building sandcastles, state and national parks for outdoor exploring, museums for fun and learning – and amusement parks for when your child needs a little more action – Texas is an ideal family destination. Locals love little cowpokes, so expect a warm welcome here.
Best Regions for Kids
- San Antonio & Hill Country
Historic sites with activity books, plus theme parks, make San Antonio especially family-friendly. In Hill Country, Kerrville and New Braunfels serve as launch points for river inner-tubing.
- Gulf Coast & South Texas
Beaches line the southern Gulf Coast: some have diversions, some simply star nature herself. Galveston Island, with its organized beaches, pleasure pier, water park and amusements, offers much fun. Corpus Christi is home to the USS Lexington Museum, the huge Texas State Aquarium and a lovely bayfront promenade.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science has popular hands-on exhibits on chemistry, energy and other science disciplines.
- Dallas & the Panhandle Plains
Nearby in Arlington, a theme park and water park don't hurt either.
Texas for Kids
There’s not too much to worry about when traveling in Texas with your kids – as long as you keep them covered in sunblock.
Dining It’s more than fine to bring kids along to casual restaurants, which often have high chairs and children's menus. Many places break out paper placemats and crayons for drawing.
Lodging Most motels and hotels offer rooms with two double beds, which are ideal for families. Some also have roll-away beds or cribs that can be brought into the room for an extra charge. Some hotels offer ‘kids stay free’ programs for children up to 18 years old. Note that most B&Bs do not allow children under 12 to stay.
Supplies Baby food, formula, soy and cow’s milk, disposable diapers (nappies) and other necessities are widely available in drugstores and supermarkets. Breastfeeding in public is accepted when done discreetly. Many public toilets have a baby-changing table, and gender-neutral ‘family’ bathrooms may be available at airports, museums etc.
Health & Safety
Though hopefully not needed, medical services and facilities in Texas are of a high standard. Urgent Care facilities can handle minor emergencies and cost much less than hospital emergency rooms.
For automobiles, Texas law requires that children under the age of eight, or under the height of 4ft 9in, ride in a federally approved child safety seat. Every car-rental agency should be able to provide one (usually $10 per day) if you request it when booking in advance.
Note that while Texas' beaches are great, many allow driving on the beach and children will need to be monitored closely.
Children’s discounts are available for everything from museum admission to movie tickets. The definition of a ‘child’ varies, but usually means those between two and 12. Under two is generally free.
Domestic airlines don’t charge for children under two who are carried on your lap. Others must have a seat. Southwest Airlines is one of the few that have discounted fares for children.
The four main cities – San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and Houston – each have children's museums, public parks and many other attractions. See individual city sections for more options.
- Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston A giant new dinosaur hall, hands-on chemistry experiments, butterfly house and planetarium.
- Dallas World Aquarium, Dallas Fourteen different watery ecosystems brought to life.
- Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas Loads of interactive fun: travel through space or design your own robot in Dallas' Arts District.
- San Antonio Children’s Museum, San Antonio Two floors of dress-up, crawl-around, role-playing fun.
- USS Lexington Museum, Corpus Christi Tour a retired aircraft carrier, complete with foldable airplanes, in Corpus Christi.
- Moody Gardens, Galveston Three glass pyramids contain a greenhouse, an aquarium and science exhibits in Galveston. Outside there's a beach and a boat ride.
- Stewart Beach; Galveston Family beach with umbrella rentals, snack stands and organized activities.
- Isla Blanca County Park; South Padre Island The southernmost beach on SPI; numerous concessions and facilities plus a small aquarium facility.
- IB Magee Beach Park; Port Aransas Part of 18 miles in the coastal village on the north tip of Mustang Island; facilities available.
- Padre Island National Seashore; Corpus Christi area One of the longest stretches of undeveloped seashore in the US; limited facilities.
Parks & Rivers
- Big Bend National Park, West Texas Junior rangers have extensive trail choices here, but it's far from anything else.
- Guadalupe River, New Braunfels Take a family float down the river, then splash things up at the Schlitterbahn Waterpark.
- Hermann Park, Houston Ride paddle boats on the lake and a train around this big park; also home to the city zoo.
- Barton Springs, Austin Cool off in a spring-fed pool in the center of town.
- Six Flags Over Texas, Arlington Thirteen roller coasters are only a small sampling of rides at the state's largest amusement park; outside Dallas.
- Schlitterbahn, New Braunfels This Texas-size water park has four locations: South Padre Island, Galveston, Corpus Christi and this original in New Braunfels.
- Splashtown, San Antonio Beat the Hill Country heat in Texas' biggest wave pool at this kids' favorite on the edge of San Antonio.
When to Go
Be warned: most of Texas gets quite hot in summer, and sights and amusements will be crowded. Spring has much nicer weather. Texas schools’ spring breaks cover all the weeks in March, so book ahead during that time or – even better – avoid it completely.
What to Pack
Don't forget the sunscreen. Many of Texas' best activities for children are outdoors, and the sun can be brutal here. Count on needing mosquito spray at some point as well. If you're going to a beach or a river, be sure to bring water shoes to protect sensitive little feet .
For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
- Family Travel Files (www.thefamilytravelfiles.com/locations/texas) Vacation-planning articles, tips and discounts.
- Travel Texas (www.traveltex.com/trip-ideas.aspx) Tourist-board trip planner with family-friendly ideas.