Every summer we take the kids to Texas to see my family, soak up some sun in 37+° and experience the Lone Star State. Every summer we swim, eat Tex-Mex and BBQ and have fun in our usual haunts of Austin, Houston, Lubbock and Port Aransas on the Gulf of Mexico. But this year we decided to do something different.
The friendly folks at Fort Worth invited Jenography to discover the fun activities for family there. If you and your kids want a full-on Texas experience that lives up to that image created by old Western, cartoons and every cowboy cliché you know and love, book your trip now. (And yes, they do wear hats and boots there and double yes, the cowboys do look good in Wrangler jeans.) Fort Worth is very accessible if you fly into Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) Airport, naturally. From Austin, it’s about 2 and a half hours north, straight up Interstate 35. Fort Worth is all about cowboys and cattle, with a bit of countryside thrown in.
Here, our top 9 things to do in Fort Worth as a family.
1. Eat barbecue
There are thousands of sites that will delineate the differences among barbecue from Texas, Kansas City, other places. Bone up on the intricacies…or just eat it. Your barbecue here can range from the classic experience I remember from childhood (served cafeteria style, eaten straight off waxed paper, followed by peach cobbler in a Styrofoam container) to modern dining (eaten riverside, with dishes accompanied by grilled artichoke and a microbrew). It’s messy, tasty and casual eating.
What we loved: The variety in atmosphere and barbecue style. At the Woodshed Smokehouse, the brisket was crusty and delicious. I ate pork rib tamales for the first time in my life, but hopefully not the last. At Coopers Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, the brisket with vinegary sauce was polished off (the chicken barely got a look-in). They also serve our favourite barbecue accompaniments: macaroni cheese and cobbler.
What we didn’t love: It can definitely get messy. Don’t wear white, and grab a handful of the wet wipes (packaged in individual packets) to avoid that sticky-all-day feeling.
2. Stroll around Sundance Square
This plaza in the middle of downtown Fort Worth features dramatic umbrella-like shades, jetted fountains that are turned on from 2 to 6pm so visitors can cool off in the water and changing coloured lights in the evening. It’s the place to come to eat, drink, and people watch.
What we loved: Families, groups and couples stroll the area or sit at one of the numerous tables to enjoy a drink or a bite in the evening, and the vibe is chilled and fun.
What we didn’t love: We drove by in the afternoon to contemplate a frolic in the fountains but in the heat of the day the square looked deserted.
My recommendation: Check out the site for listings of free live music and other activities all around Sundance Square.
Info: 401 Calhoun St, Fort Worth, TX 76104 www.sundancesquare.com. You can walk from downtown hotels or park in nearby garages – it’s free after 5pm on weekdays and all day and night on weekends, free weekdays with validation from Sundance Square merchants.
3. Visit the museums of the cultural district, including the Cowgirl Hall of Fame
The Cowgirl Hall of Fame is unlike any other museum anywhere else in the world –it celebrates in style the women of the American West. Trick riding, singing, working the ranch and more are all featured. Wannabe cowgirls who think anything boys can do they can do better will love it.
What we loved: The bucking broncho, where you video yourself on a horse and download the video from their site. The collection of cowgirl outfits and personal stories were illuminating. I loved the listening station where you could read about and hear popular singing cowgirls from the early 1900s to present day.
What we didn’t love: There was a lot to read and admire but I would have liked a few more interactive exhibits. Sadly, a station where you could pose like a cowgirl was out of order — one visitor with her young cowgirl-to-be had circled back to the exhibit having been told it was sorted and left disappointed.
My recommendation: Combine a Cowgirl visit with a stop next door at the Fort Worth Museum of Science & History, with IMAX theatre and kid-friendly exhibits for a morning or afternoon out of the sun.
Info: National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, 1720 Gendy Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76107 www.cowgirl.net
4. Marvel at the Kimbell Museum
The Kimbell hosts a small but excellent collection of 20th century art. It’s also features strikingly cool architecture, both in the original 1972 building by Louis I. Kahn and in the new Renzo Piano Pavilion opened in 2013. Come in the air-conditioned galleries for uplifting culture – we saw an amazing Samurai armour exhibit that included a fantastic adults’ and kids’ audio tour. Entrance is free for the regular collections.
What we loved: Everything.
What we didn’t love: That we hadn’t allowed more time to explore more of the exhibits and the building.
Info: 3333 Camp Bowie Blvd, Forth Worth, TX 76107 www.kimbellart.org
5. Kayak/Paddleboard on the Trinity River
One way to cool off is to get out onto the water in a kayak, canoe or stand-up paddleboard in downtown Fort Worth. There is a sandy beach entry, friendly rental folks and a calm stretch of water – perfect for paddling a bit them stopping several times to jump in and swim.
What we loved: The easy paddling without battling a current or worrying about the conditions in the water. Only a handful of other folks were on the water, which meant we didn’t have to dodge other visitors. There is parking right near the rental trailer so it’s easy to access and children by babies to teens are welcome as long as parents are on the water too.
What we didn’t love: The scenery from the banks is typical of the region but not teeming with wildlife or striking vistas. Go for easy fun on the water, not a nature experience.
My recommendation: Wear your swimming costume so you can take a dunk in the Trinity and change before you arrive. There is a portable toilet onsite but you probably want to go before you get here.
Info: Backwoods Paddlesports at Panther Island Rentals, 480 N. Taylor St, Fort Worth 76102 www.kayakfortworth.com
6. Mosey around the Fort Worth Stockyards
When you go to Cowtown US, you have to visit the Stockyards. The Friday and Saturday night rodeos are just one activity in this historic district, with an old-west feel and loads of shopping, eating and family activities. There is a twice daily cattle drive down the cobbled main street (a small but impressive herd of longhorn cattle), stables which run horse rides along the old Chisholm Trail used for cattle drives in the 19th century, a petting zoo, a cowboy hall of fame and more.
What we loved: The Cowtown Cattlepen Maze is an old west version of a hedge maze, in which you time yourself to find all the clues amid the turns and blind alleys. The grown-ups raced the kids in our group and I’m happy to say the grown-ups won.
What we didn’t love: We ate at Riscky’s Steakhouse (there is also Riscky’s Barbecue in the Stockyards), which was friendly and loaded with kitschy wild west appeal, but our steaks came rare rather than medium rare and my filet was stringy.
My recommendations: Plan to spend a couple of hours, expect to buy a souvenir or two (the chili seasoning packets are authentic and easy to pack) and bring a hat to protect against the sun. Evenings before the rodeo particularly buzz with activity.
Info: 500 NE 23rd St, Fort Worth, TX 76164 www.fortworthstockyards.org
7. Cheer at the Rodeo
Every Friday and Saturday night cowboys and cowgirls take to the ring to ride bulls, rope calves and barrel race at the rodeo in the Stockyards district. This rodeo has all the over-the-top patriotism, pageantry and down-home appeal as any I’ve attended. It’s a highlight of any trip to Fort Worth.
What we loved: The action in the ring was fast-paced and an eye-opener to our kids, who had loads of questions about the rules. There are two activities for children, in which under-8s and 8-12-year-olds chase a mutton or a calf to grab a piece of tape on its back. Yes, this is a thing and my daughter loved it.
What we didn’t love: Nothing, really.
My recommendation: Buy a programme, which describes the events as well as lists that evening’s participants.
Info: Cowtown Coliseum, 121 E.Exchange Avenue, Fort Worth. TX 76164 stockyardsrodeo.com
8. Splash down in Hurricane Harbour
This big waterpark is part of the Six Flags Over Texas theme park. It’s actually based in Arlington, about a 20 minute drive, between Fort Worth and Dallas.
What we loved: The kids loved the thrilling water slides, many of which you can do as a family — racing against each other or riding in twos, threes or fours. There are wading and splash pools for younger kids, 2 body boarding surf machines <TK>, slides too scary for me to contemplate, a wave pool and a lazy river. We all welcomed the chance to cool off in sizzling temperatures.
What we didn’t love: The park felt a little tired in general and could do with a meaningful lick of paint. Like all theme parks, concessions are exorbitant.
My recommendations: Go for a half day to get your fill of the place; take flip flops or water socks for walking between rides – the pavement gets griddle-hot; spring for a Flash Pass regular or better yet Gold to avoid lengthy queues on popular slides. Our favourite was The Tornado.
Info: Six Flags Hurricane Harbor, 1800 E Lamar Boulevard, Arlington, TX 76006 www.sixflags.com/hurricaneharbortexas
9. Boot scoot at Billy Bob’s
Hailed as the world’s biggest honky tonky, Billy Bob’s was made famous in Urban Cowboy, which the kids probably haven’t seen — but it’s still a pretty awesome sight and a certifiable slice of Texana. There’s a wide stretch of coin-operated pool tables and arcade games, free Thursday night 7pm line dancing lessons and unlike anything you’ve seen. Afternoons are family-friendly for a drink, snack and games. Friday and Saturday night there’s indoor pro bull riding (extra entrance fee)
What we loved: Kids under 11 don’t pay the $2 entrance fee Sunday-Thursday.
What we didn’t love: The food we tried was pretty mediocre. You’re better off going across the street to Coopers Bar-B-Que, for tasty brisket and mac cheese.
My recommendations: Plan to go with dance-appropriate footwear, play a couple of games of pool or pinball then as a family do line dancing, which has a fun, inclusive atmosphere.
Info: 2520 Rodeo Plaza, Fort Worth, TX 76164 billybobstexas.com
For more information about visiting Fort Worth go to http://www.fortworth.com/ and follow #HowdyFortWorth on Twitter.
Read more of my travel tips on visiting Texas with kids, including:
- Visiting Dealey Plaza in Dallas
- Is Franklin Barbecue in Austin the best in the world?
- Fun in a trampoline park in Austin