Traveling with littles
Road-tripping with toddlers can make a parent want to turn around and head home. Fits, fights, and full-blown meltdowns are all potentials — and that might be within the first 30 minutes. But when the end destination offers activities and amenities the entire family can appreciate, like toddler-friendly play areas, easy access to nap time, and spacious accommodations (with maybe a cocktail bar for Mom and Dad), a summer getaway is worth the drive — tantrums and all. Here are five easy trips from Dallas to check off your list — no need to wait until the kids are potty-trained.
Cinnamon Shore, Port Aransas
The Gulf Coast town was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, and some businesses are still working to recover. But this beautiful beachfront resort, located fewer than five miles from Port A proper, was virtually unharmed. It’s the farthest destination on this list, but family activities are big here and worth the longer drive. Think kids’ movies on the lush lawn, sandcastle lesson, s’mores nights, evening outdoor live music, bonfires on the beach, buggy and bike rentals, and plenty of splash time at multiple on-site swimming pools.
Parents can enjoy yoga on the beach, paddleboard yoga, surf lessons, and the opportunity to have some downtime while older kids (age 5 to 12) participate in afternoon kids’ camp activities.
But the biggest draw might be the luxurious vacation rentals painted in pastels of turquoise, coral, yellow, and sea green. Each features classic architectural styles with clean lines and crisp coastal décor. Spacious layouts offer plenty of room for the entire family, and the distance from Port Aransas’ busy hub means a much less-crowded beach.
Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort & Spa, Bastrop
Truth be told, the entire family could spend all day at the pool here and be happy as clams. It’s essentially a small water park featuring a winding water slide, lazy river, splash pad, basketball and volleyball areas, and shaded canopies. There's also a sandy beach area for kids to play — perfect if the littles want some sandcastle time and a trip to the beach isn't on the agenda.
But there is so much more to do at the 400-acre Hill Country resort, which is located fewer than 30 miles east of Austin. The kid-friendly staff organizes all kinds of outdoor games and activities, from arts and crafts (think jewelry-making and picture frame fun), scavenger hunts, pony rides, face-painting, outdoor movie nights, fireside s'mores, and horse-drawn carriage rides.
About 500 scenic guest rooms, including 58 suites, are located along the banks of the lower Colorado River (where Dad or Mom could sneak away with a fishing rod) against a backdrop of rolling hills. Some suites offer residential-style amenities with separate living and dining areas, but note that there are no kitchen facilities. On-site restaurants like the casual Firewheel Café will keep families well-fed. There's also an ice cream parlor and emporium, hot dog stand serving shaved ice on a cone, a food truck, and bar for poolside sips and bites.
Beavers Bend State Park, Broken Bow, Oklahoma
Find shady solace in a towering forest of pine trees at this picturesque Southeast Oklahoma destination, located about three-and-a-half hours from Dallas-Fort Worth. The 3,482-acre park sits along the shores of Broken Bow Lake and the Mountain Fork River, which is popular for fly-fishing, thanks to a year-round trout-stocking schedule. But toddlers will have fun (and burn lots of energy) with several park activities, including twice-an-hour miniature train rides, horseback riding, swimming, playgrounds, and lots of room for outdoor play.
Rustic and modern cabins are available within the park, along with the 40-room Lakeview Lodge, where guests get a free continental breakfast each morning. While more than 40 cabins stand in the park, dozens more surround it — many with luxury amenities like wraparound porches, private hot tubs, stone fireplaces, and secluded outdoor views. Visitors will also find mini golf, ice cream parlors, and several family-friendly restaurants and breweries just outside the park entrance.
There’s even a petting zoo with an array of barnyard animals, birds, reptiles, and exotic animals cared for by licensed wildlife rehabilitation staff just a few miles north of the park entrance in Hochatown.
Schlitterbahn Waterpark & Resort, New Braunfels
Schlitterbahn is already well known for its rip-roaring rides and tubular fun along the Comal River in New Braunfels — the water park is touted as the world’s first and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
But many may not realize the 70-acre park first started as a resort. Several options for convenient overnight accommodations still exist there today. Room styles range from basic hotel rooms and condos to riverbend cabins and luxury “treehaus” suites. There’s also a five-room vacation home for large parties, and pools reserved just for resort guests. For baby guppies and toddler tadpoles who still require a midday nap (or two), having a relaxing retreat just steps from the park can turn a potential tantrum into a rejuvenating snooze — a win for all parties, parents included.
There also is plenty of splashy entertainment for little ones. The Kiddie Coast offers an easily climbable pirate ship, yellow submarine, and friendly octopus, all with slides made for kids less than 48 inches. There’s also the Tadpole Kiddie Pool with frogs, turtles, and seashells that masquerade as slides; Kinderhaven, with more shallow water slides and shady seating areas; and Sea Creature Cove with giant mushrooms that spray water to keep kiddos cool. Life jackets and puddle jumper swim jackets are available in the park.
Parking is free, and guests may still bring in ice chests of any size at no fee. So pack the fruit pouches, squeezable yogurts, Goldfish crackers, and any other must-have snacks that will appease “hangry” toddlers during an all-day stay. Note that outside alcohol is not permitted, but adult beverages are sold inside the park — another win for parents.
It's just a five-hour drive from Dallas to get on island time in Galveston, where there are 32 miles of beaches to explore.
Most hotels and restaurants are located on the iconic Seawall Boulevard, Galveston’s main beachfront drag that stays pretty hectic with traffic. Staying on the Seawall will require a short stroller or wagon trip across the busy boulevard, but there are several pedestrian pathways for crossing.
Stewart Beach, located on the island’s eastern side, is popular for families and offers a playground, showers, concessions, and chair and umbrella rentals, along with lifeguards on duty. But leave the alcohol at home.
Drive right up to the water at East Beach, located on the island’s easternmost shores. Note that alcohol is permitted here, and festivals with live music take place often.
For those looking to stay right on the shoreline, head farther south and look for beach houses, condos and resort-style hotels along Terminal San Luis Pass Road. Many hotels here feature pools with beachfront views, and the Gulf Coast sands are just a boardwalk stroll away — meaning toddlers can have quick access to both building sandcastles and taking a hotel room nap.
Break up beach time with a trip to Moody Gardens. The educational entertainment complex features an aquarium with countless sea creatures, including penguins and sharks; an enclosed rainforest with free-roaming animals from monkeys to macaws; a discovery museum currently offering a SpongeBob “Subpants” adventure exhibit; and a Dora the Explorer-themed play area.
Moody Gardens is also home to Palm Beach, a small water park with a lazy river, wave pool, two water slides, and a splash pad for little ones with dump buckets, spray arches, and fountains. Tickets may be purchased by attraction or for all attractions via value pass.