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5-Day Big Family Tour of Texas – Dallas, Waco, Austin, Galveston Island, Houston

    A long weekend in Texas for $80/person round trip? – hell yes!!!!

    In our community school district kids start back to school mid-August, way too early when there’s still so much summer fun to be had! To soften the transition and give us something fun to anticipate, my family has planned a trip in October over Columbus Day weekend for the past few years.

    The kids have off school the holiday Monday and also the Thursday and Friday before for parent-teacher conferences (we connect with the teachers in the week after). Our recent travels over that long weekend include Washington DC, Minneapolis, Universal Studios in Orlando and most recently Texas.

    We typically start researching flights in August that week before school kicks off. My 15-year-old daughter likes to take the lead on entering possible destinations into Google Flights and setting up alerts to notify us of sales.

    This year we scored $80/person roundtrip airfare on Spirit airlines flying into Dallas late Wednesday night and returning from Houston’s International Airport the following Monday evening.  We’re practiced at packing light so we each brought only a backpack to avoid any extra baggage fees.

    None of us had ever visited TX (aside from my husband on business – but with those trips you don’t see much). We booked the Comfort Inn DFW. Knowing we weren’t getting there until almost midnight we were looking for something cheap.

    If you’re in the same situation I would recommend. The airport shuttle was a bit sketchy, and there were fries on the elevator floor the night and morning we were there but the staff was friendly, rooms were clean, the breakfast was tasty – with a state of TX shaped waffle maker! 

    Day One- Silos Baking co. and Magnolia Market

    On our way out of Dallas, we drove through Dealey Plaza with the grassy knoll, the city park in the West End district of downtown, where JFK was assassinated. This was my husband’s idea, and I am glad he suggested because it sparked an interesting talk about conspiracy theories.

    Once in Waco, we went straight for the Silos. We laughed at ourselves because we thought they were located out in the country but they are smack in the middle of downtown Waco. There’s tons of free parking, on the street and in lots within a block or two.

    The lawn gathering area at the Silos is welcoming with an open green space for family play, dozens of picnic tables in areas with shade and sun. Also, there’s the garden, the store, the bakery, and plenty of food trucks.

    We were there on a Thursday and appreciated that the line for the bakery was only a smidge around the corner (we heard it can be a lot longer). My kids devoured the s’mores cupcakes and I savored my giant ‘Silo’ cookie. If anyone has replicated the recipe, please share!

    My teen daughter and I could have lingered in the Magnolia Market shop longer but my littles and husband were getting hungry for a real lunch after our bakery treats. We had heard good things about the local TX Whataburgerand were happy to find one on Google maps a short walk away.

    The servers were very welcoming, the burgers hit the spot, and when my son asked for if they had bumper stickers the manager gave him a bag o’ swag – trip highlight for my 10 year old son!

    We walked back to the Silos and hopped on the free trolley that stops right in front the Magnolia Market and runs through the Waco downtown district passing the Dr Pepper Museum, and more restaurants and shops. There’s a second LaSalle-Circle free trolley that departs from the Silos and drives along the Brazos River and Baylor campus. You can check out the routes here.

    Feeling some quiet time would be appreciated by all, we skipped the other trolley ride to check in at our Waco Airbnb home. Centrally located, spacious, smartly decorated and already cooled to a refreshing airconditioned temperature when we arrived, we highly recommend for a family’s stay!

    That evening we picked up a few essentials at the local grocery store, made dinner in, and relaxed reading and watching TV.

    Day Two- Start at Magnolia Table

    Friday morning we woke up at the sound of a rooster cock-a-doodle-doo-ing! We later saw a little black rooster in a neighbor’s yard and wondered if it was him, and what his name was. The early start worked great because we planned to get breakfast at the Magnolia Table and wanted to beat the rush.

    We arrived about 9 am. The staff was very hospitable and happy. They estimated we’d need to wait about 45 minutes for the five of us to eat at a community table. There are private tables too, but the wait is longer. We are open to eat with and meet others so that was a no-brainer.

    We gave them our cell number to be texted when our space was ready and went into the terrace area and had a blast playing yard Jenga. (I loved the game so much my family made me a set for my November birthday!). Fifteen minutes later rather than forty-five (lucky us!) we got a text our table space was ready.

    My teen daughter and I thought the restaurant was even more beautiful in person than we had seen on TV. We had fun sharing and sampling a flight of their interesting natural juices. The biscuits with strawberry butter were the lightest and fluffiest any of us had ever tasted. My son and I ordered the breakfast tacos with eggs and homemade salsa  – I added avocado – they hit the spot!

    Fueled up, we rallied the team for a family hike. I had read about great trails in Cameron Park near our Airbnb. Some trails are better marked than others and we found most are on google maps which helped us take an adventurous route. There was some moaning and sarcasm to start but people came around and I recommend the outing for the view of the river and the woodsy scenery.

    That afternoon we created our own sightseeing and food tour of Waco. We mapped a route to see a sampling of homes that had been renovated on ‘Fixer Upper’.

    We had fun spotting the renovated homes and seeing the surrounding neighborhoods. We also included stops by a few of Waco’s famed street murals – my youngest daughter was a willing model to strike a pose with the art.

    Some murals we found were larger than expected, others smaller, but all invoked good feelings and worth seeking out.

    The food sampling stops we mixed in should also be included in your Waco must-do’s: acclaimed Captain Billy Whizzbang’s for a taste of their Whizz-pig – 1/3 lb. half ground bacon & half ground beef burger. And George’s  for their ‘Big O’ (18 ounces of frosty cold beer served in their signature goblet) and the largest serving of onion rings we’ve ever had, literally a platter full!

    Day Three- Austin

    Saturday morning we made a quick stop at Common Grounds, the coffee shop on the Baylor campus featured on the show. It’s even more charming in person, we definitely recommend for a delicious coffee concoction and taking in the ambiance of the cottage and the backyard.

    After a drive of just under two hours, we started off our Austin adventure at the Texas state capitol building. The building itself is striking to see with the local ‘sunset red’ granite exterior and the historic grand interior.

    I read online of a special (& free) Fall ghost stories of the capitol building tour hosted during October. Sadly, our guide spoke so softly we couldn’t hear her over the echoes from people in the rotunda.

    We politely peeled off as the group moved along and drove down South Congress across the Colorado River to the hip SoCo neighborhood with interesting shops, eateries, and street performers. Amy’s Ice Cream (1301 S. Congress) came highly recommended and hit the spot to cool us off in the afternoon heat. Strolling the strip, the kids each found souvenirs and we got a real feel for the “Keep Austin Weird” local pride.

    We lodged at the Embassy Suites – Austin Central, not in the heart of the city but an easy five miles north up the highway. With the manager’s reception in the evening of unlimited free drinks (alcoholic included) and snacks, and the complimentary full hot breakfast for our family of five, we just about came out ahead staying there by my calculations!

    Their rooms are true suites too. Ours had two queens in the bedroom and a great sectional couch that my younger two made into cozy nests in for the night.

    Set on having TX barbecue while in Austin, we chose dinner at Rudy’s Bar-B-Q (3914 N Lamar Blvd) for family-style chicken and pulled pork, recommended by locals friends over the trendier joints with lengthy lines.

    We all give a double thumbs up to the tender and tasty meat, the no-frills checked tablecloths and folding chair seating, and the out of the ordinary hand-washing station that my 8 & 10-year-olds couldn’t get enough of even though at home they need numerous reminders that hand washing will keep them healthy.

    Our evening fun was to try to catch sight of the estimated 1.5 million Congress Avenue Bridge bats as they take flight after dusk to feed each night. Since 1980 when while widening the bridge expansion joints created concrete holes 16-inch deep and one-inch wide, bats have called the bridge home each year from March until early November when they migrate back to Mexico.

    We knew we were at the tail end of the ‘bat season’ but wanted to try spotting this unique sight despite the creepy factor of being near bats in flight! Long after the mid-October sunset just as we were about to give up we started to hear the bats the bat noises and see swarms of them flying out from under the bridge. It wasn’t as spectacular as seeing them fly out at sunset but definitely worth our time & wait.

    Day Four- Galveston Island

    Sunday morning we set off for Galveston Island, just under a four-hour drive southeast of Austin. We broke up the drive with a stop at the infamous Buc-ee’s mega truck stop – you have to experience it to understand what an oasis it is: from fifty-nine cent liter fountain sodas, dreamy oreo fudge & addictive potato chips made on site, to TX college fan gear, beef jerky, and batteries – Buc-ee’s has it all!

    We loved the place so much and the mascot plastered on highway billboards for miles that we were inspired to get an I ‘heart’ Buc-ee bumper sticker. Soon after though, we cursed those liter sodas as we had to make two more bathroom stops before we made it to Galveston only little over an hour away.

    Our home on the island for the night was Galveston’s new Homewood Suites (110 Seawall Blvd.) located literally across the street from a gorgeous section of beach offering clean and comfortable true suites, ours had a kitchenette too – perfect for a large family. We liked the hotel so much, we just booked another stay there for a couple of beach days after we return from a family Spring Break cruise out of Galveston’s port.

    We couldn’t get into our swimsuits and out to the sand and water fast enough. We jumped the warm water waves for hours. The sand was powdery soft and pristine on the beach and in the Gulf clear of rocks, seaweed, and shells.

    We were all taken with the natural beauty and being there in October enjoyed having the place nearly to ourselves. So taken with it all my youngest asked, “Mom, why don’t we live here?”.

    Day Five- Space Center Houston

    On our final day we toured NASA. Tip to other teachers out there – they offer discounted passes for educators and their families, just call and they will email a code for purchasing passes online.

    The tour starts off slow with a walkthrough of an old simulation center, all the technical equipment was incredibly dated. But then the tour grew more interesting as we viewed a command center for the international space station.

    We learned fun facts like the space station travels at 17,100 miles per hour and orbits Earth every 90 minutes. So the astronauts witness 16 sunrises and 16 sunsets every day!

    One highlight was standing next to an actual rocket that was built and never launched. The enormity of it can’t be described. Also in that hangar check out the pictorial timeline of space missions – very interesting!

    In the museum section, you’ll find interactive exhibits and a shuttle replica to explore. Before visiting, we recommend watching Hidden Figures and Apollo 13 as a family – great NASA stories!

    On our way to the airport, the kids convinced us to pick up Whataburgers to take on the plane pointing out how we can’t get them at home. So one last taste of Texas and this family’s weekend tour of this great state was complete!

    Tina L. Park

    Tina L. Park

    Tina Park has been creating exceptional travel experiences for her family and friends for several years. She lives in Elmhurst, IL - a quick train ride from downtown Chicago - with her husband and four kids ages 8 to 18 where she serves on her City Council, tutors students in mathematics, and coaches her kids' youth basketball teams. She enjoys yoga, walks, wine and book discussions with friends. Upon the return from each trip with her family, she starts planning and researching the next which is usually many months out. Her love of anticipating & learning nearly equals the adventure itself.