Our family hasn’t had a lot of road trips. So let’s begin with the fact that this is new territory for us and we may get a little more excited about the mundane things than your average American family. We’re an Australian family who has recently moved to Texas. We’ve lived in China for the past four years, and driving hasn’t been an option for us for a while, so suffice to say the quintessential all-American road trip for us was new and pretty interesting for our kids. Though as new as it was, we’re still your average family and there was still plenty of sibling squabbling in the back seat over who was taking up the most room, who wasn’t sharing the Doritos packet and plenty of “are we there yet?” moments. With my kids being 12, 10, and 7 we didn’t need too much in-car entertainment, at these ages it’s all about the food, iPad, iPhones and social media for them, but we did play a few old-fashioned games like spotto and eye-spy. And, YES, in case you’re wondering, you’re never too old to play eye-spy.
For most of my research on this trip, I used the website www.visithoustontexas.com It’s got a great trip builder and planning section where you can build your itinerary and possibly one of the most user-friendly tourist websites I’ve seen in a long time. For Galveston, I used www.galveston.com also pretty handy for checking out what’s around town.
Road Trip to Houston
We took off mid-morning with a plan to stop at a road stop for some lunch somewhere midway from Dallas. One of the highlights and I say this very loosely, was stopping at Buc-ees along the way. I googled best places to stop along the road from Dallas to Houston, and you’d be surprised how many helpful articles there are online. But almost every one of them said to stop Buc-ee’s. And boy, this place didn’t disappoint! This place is definitely worth stopping, not necessarily for the food, but for the experience. This place is BIG – Texas big!
And Buc-ee it seems is so famous he has his own wonder wall of merchandise where you can buy items featuring his furry little face. There are hundreds of packets of different kinds of jerky, a colossal soda wall, a copious amount of candy and crisps and a good selection of everyday pharmacy items. Fresh food, however, wasn’t exactly anything to get overly excited about. Lots of pre-packaged sandwiches and cheese plates, and brisket and pulled-pork burgers. We all opted for a brisket burger, and while the good-ole’ Buc-ee brisket burger was pretty plain, it did hit the spot and was exactly what the road stop experience is all about.
The chain’s rabidly obsessed following includes fans who stop at Buc-ee’s on every single road trip. Considering that Texans travel more than 55 billion miles of interstate highway in a year, Bucc-ee’s locations are packed at all hours of the day so don’t be surprised at the ques. More info on locations at www.buc-ees.com
After arriving in Houston, we decided to go somewhere where the kids could have a run and use up their energy. We chose a quick trip to the Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park. The waterfall itself was great for a few selfies, and the kids loved running in and out of the backdrop of water.
The park was a good size for a quick game of soccer, and there was plenty of people-watching on the day including a group of singers using the waterfall as a backdrop for a video they were making the day we were there. It’s a pretty favourite spot to take a photo in town, so it seems. And who doesn’t want to take a cute pic by a waterfall, right?
Next move as the sun was setting was to grab some dinner somewhere very authentically Texan. With Spring in the air, we were on the hunt for an outside patio-type dining experience. We stumbled across Goode co. Armadillo Palace. This was a fantastic spot, with a great Texan food, bars and an outside courtyard with live music. It had a very rustic Texan feel with that good outdoor pub feeling, making it an excellent choice for kids to play in the courtyard and parents to enjoy a quiet drink without too many distractions. Food was priced right, and the atmosphere was casual and relaxing and free valet parking. We loved it!
Houston has many good choices for museums in town, and we chose the obvious family-fun one to entertain our kids and took them to the Children’s Museum of Houston. It had a multitude of exhibits, heaps of interactive learning areas and games for the kids to be entertained. While we were there, they also had a special Ninja Warrior show on and bubble rides. The price is pretty low at $11 for kids and $12 for adults, and they have a reasonably decent café inside.
We were fortunate with the weather, and as Houston put on a beautiful spring day for us, we wanted to check out more of what Houston had to offer outside. A must-do if you like a bit of nature and love a good park is visiting Discovery Green.
With over 11 acres of public land, extensive play equipment, a lake with kayaking, water fountains, stage areas and a limited time outdoor roller skating rink, it’s well worth the visit.
The Rollerskate rink was on from March 2-April 1 for the Spring season when we were there, so be sure to check out their website above for more dates through the year.
For dinner, we checked out another alfresco dining option (can you tell we were craving outdoor opportunities on this trip!) We dined at the popular Batanga Tapas and Drink in Downtown. It has a lovely outdoor brick patio, cute string lights, shared meals and good drinks. Find it at www.batangahouston.com
“Houston, we have a problem.”
If there is one ultimate kid’s bucket list item that should be on every families list for Houston it should be seeing where all the buzz of NASA takes place.
The Space Center Houston is the famous site of astronaut training and the mission control center where NASA astronauts communicate with today. While we probably went on one of the busiest days of the season, and it was busy with a lot of lineups it was still a fantastic experience for my kids to see and learn about this historic space center.
There’s so many great exhibitions, science shows, tram tours, movies, interactive games and info on the famous moon landings and rocket launches that you’ll want to allow a few hours here at least.
On The Road to Galveston Island
Galveston is an easy and less-than an hour drive from Houston, so if you’re planning your itinerary, it’s a simple plan to take off after you visit the Space Museum. We didn’t have too many ideas here; we just wanted some family time to relax and get some sun. As an Australian who is used to some of the most spectacular beaches in the world, we didn’t have our expectations set too high on these beaches, but for what it’s worth, while the water may not have been aqua, the sand was white and fluffy, and the beaches were clean, there was plenty of palm trees, pelicans in the sky and a fresh sea breeze which are all pluses for this ocean-loving family.
For dinner, we headed to the famous Fisherman’s Wharf. Located in the historic Strand district. It’s worth getting there a bit early and taking some time to stroll the pier area and see the tall ships moored on the docks. On the way home, we couldn’t help taking some pics around the street art murals for fun. My kids and I love street art so we can’t help ourselves when we see some great artworks.
One thing Galveston lacks in, at least on the waterfront areas, is excellent breakfast choices or some good healthy food choices in the morning. So my tip would make sure you get breakfast included in your hotel stay as there isn’t much variety on the strip except for McDonald’s and IHOP. If you venture away from the beach into town, there are some excellent choices for real coffee and some very cute bakeries and cafes. I say “real” coffee because it still amazes me in America that establishments can call themselves a café and not actually serve barista-made coffee. Mod Coffee Shop on Post Office Street, did serve barista-approved coffee, and it was good!
After a good caffeine hit, we spent the day checking out all the rides of the famous historical Pleasure Pier. For an Australian family, we loved experiencing the all-American boardwalk amusement park experience.
The rides were fun; there wasn’t much of a line-up on any rids, despite being spring break and my 7-year-old could go on every ride, so it was happy days for us. We also went back at night to experience the rides, and I have to say, being suspended 230 feet in the air on the Texas Star ride, and overlooking the Gulf of Mexico by night was pretty scary but also very exhilarating.
Day 5 & 6
Besides lazing by the pool for most of the day, the other exciting thing about Galveston is how much history is in this town. We loved checking out some of the grand old mansions and architecture, some which date back to the 1800’s. Places like Moody Mansion, Michel B. Menard House and Bishop’s Palace are worth a look, even if you just do a drive-by. I also loved walking around and seeing some of the colourful-painted Victorian style weatherboard houses.
There are some adorable ones which make for a pleasant stroll or afternoon bike ride. For walking tours or more information on these historically significant sites check out www.galvestonhistory.org
If you’re a foodie and interested in a few good eats, there were a couple of good family-friendly food places we checked out that we were pleased with: Hubcap Grill, Olympia Grill at Pier 21, The Gumbo Diner, and for a sweet treat try Patty Cakes Bakery and Frio’s Gourmet Pops.
For anyone new to the area who wants to check out this road trip or even if you’re a Texan local and haven’t done these areas since you were a kid, I highly recommend it. A lot has changed in these areas, and we had a fantastic time on our first road trip in the USA! If you have any more suggestions on road trips for us to cover, comment below or drop us a line through the contact page.