JAX to DFW : Top things to do in Dallas with a Toddler and Baby

We traded in our “hey y’all” and flip flops for “howdy” and cowboy boots.  Here’s a run down of when, where, and why these Floridians went to Texas.



“When Closings groove, the Car Seats move.” – Caitlyn Hawkins


Despite living at the Beach, the majority of our vacations have been to tropical  locations. While thoroughly relaxing and always a blast, we decided to try something completely new that we had never experienced before.  We were going to go to Texas.


“Texas? Why Texas?” you may ask.

Endless old episodes of  “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders- Making the Team” and “Real Housewives of Dallas” were being played back to back while I was sick one weekend. After seeing all the amazing places the girls had visited, I decided we needed to experience the Western version of Southern hospitality.

Did you know there are several family-friendly destinations you can fly to directly from JIA here in Jacksonville? Dallas/Fort Worth happens to be one of those places so we took the bull by the horns and flew the family out to the Lone Star State. Saddle up for a recap of what we did and where we stayed when we got there.

Flying with a toddler and baby
“When Closings groove, the Car Seats move.” – Caitlyn Hawkins


What to Do

Fort Worth Stockyards

This was an absolute “must-do” on our Texas list. Twice a day there is a Cattle Drive in the Fort Worth Stockyards where the longhorns are marched through the street. While you are standing there! The size of the steer alone is absolutely outrageous and you are in awe from the moment you are in their presence.

Forth Worth Stockyards Texas
Fort Worth Stockyards

After their march, the ranch hands will let you visit with them and other animals in the stockyard. My son even got to sit on one!

While at the Stockyard Station, we also caught a cowboy gun-slinging show and ate amazingly authentic Texas style BBQ at Coopers Old Time Real Pit Bar-B-Que. As a self-proclaimed professional BBQ eater, I have to say that the food there was completely worth the short trip to Ft Worth.

Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar B Que
Coopers Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que

We found out a day too late that there is also a vintage railroad train that runs directly from Grapevine near where we stayed to the Stockyards. I would have loved to take my little train enthusiast on it but it only runs on the weekends. Definitely worth looking into for next time!

Stockyard Station Fort Worth Texas
Vintage Railroad tracks in Stockyard Station

I was also very intrigued by Billy Bob’s Texas, the world’s largest honky tonk. It was a little early in the day for there to be any shows or dancing going on, but after venturing inside it looked like it would be a really fun place to come back and visit with just the hubs.



Fossil Rim Wildlife Center

This place was truly incredible and by far one of the coolest things we’ve ever done as a family. The Sanctuary is affiliated with several national and international organizations that assist in conservation of species of animals that are threatened to go extinct.

wildebeest fossil rim wildlife center glen rose texas
Wildebeest- stay clear Mufasa!

They’ve built a trail where you can drive through the nearly 1800 acres property and get up close and personal with the animals.

fallow deer fossil rim wildlife center glen rose texas
Fallow Deer

And when I say up close and personal, I mean they will literally come up to your car window… or inside it!

Outfitted with a bag of feed, you navigate the pathway and encounter giraffes, zebras, assorted orxy, gazelle, and wildebeest just to name a few. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the cheetahs and rhinos as well.

Scimitar-Horned Oryx Fossil Rim wildlife center glen rose texas
Scimitar-Horned Oryx


There’s also a petting zoo, cafe, and gift shop up at the Overlook. The kiddos loved brushing the “goaps”.


Dallas Arbortoreum and Botanical Garden

We could have spent the whole day here. This place is seriously an Instagrammer’s dream. My husband was not too enthused about going to visit a ‘garden’ on vacation, but his expectations were more than exceeded and he thoroughly enjoyed our time.

The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Stunning views at the Arboretum

At the time we were there, they were the process of transitioning from the Fall pumpkin extravaganza to the Winter 12 Days of Christmas set up.  The babies ran through the pumpkin pirate ship and pumpkin cottages then we went on a mission to find all the 12 Days displays.

We were so lucky to get to experience both Seasons. Time it just right in early November and you may get to as well.



ICE at the Gaylord Texan

Gaylord hotels in and of themselves are simply stunning year round. While we were visiting, they had hung the Christmas decorations and lights leading from the mainroad to the ICE! holiday attraction. We couldn’t help but be enticed to check it out.

*Let me preface the rest of this portion by saying it gets cold in Texas.*

Silly, I know. But as a warm blooded Floridian who is used to it being 80′ in the winter at home, I just always assumed Texas was the same way…. I was wrong!

It was unexpectedly in the high 40’s for the majority of our trip, so we had already ventured out and bought coats for everyone. Once we realized the ICE! exhibit was kept at 9’F and they required you wear their full length parkas, we knew we’d need to go back out and buy heavy duty hats and gloves as well.

ICE! Gaylord Texan Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer
ICE! Gaylord Texan “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer”

Upon our return, we were transported directly into the magical world of Rudolph the Red Nose reindeer. It was mind blowing how beautiful and detailed the ice sculptures were. There were even ice luges to slide down!

ICE! Gaylord Texan Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer slides
Solid ice luges at ICE!

We may have frozen our buns off, but we had a fantastic time. This year’s theme is going to be Charlie Brown’s Christmas. The hotel also had its halls decked, and there was a choo-choo track running through most of the atrium area.




Side note about where we bought our jackets and warm essentials. Grapevine Mills mall had several big name shops to choose from as well as a Sealife aquarium and Legoland Discovery center. At the time of our visit, the Legoland center was not accepting FL Legoland season passes. After being somewhat spoiled by the sprawling Legoland and water park back home, we decided it wasn’t a big deal if we skipped this one.

SEA LIFE Grapevine Aquarium
SEA LIFE Grapevine Aquarium Turtle Rescue Center

We did, however, go to the aquarium. It too was a little smaller than what we were accustomed with back home, but we all had a great time. The kiddos especially loved the sea turtle rescue center and the sting ray tower.

Where We Stayed

Great Wolf Lodge

Ever since our first family trip to Disney, my husband has been a sucker for a themed hotel. While I was looking at fabulous downtown Dallas hotels, he stumbled upon Great Wolf Lodge.

Great Wolf Lodge Grapevine Texas
Texas sunrise at the Great Wolf Lodge. Notice the giant wolf guarding the porte-cochère and water slide just beyond that.

For my Jacksonville locals, I can best describe Great Wolf as a luxury hotel with Adventure Landing’s Waterpark. BUILT INSIDE! Remember when I said it was freezing outside? We would literally go out on our excursions for the day all bundled and swaddled up. Then as soon as we’d get back to the hotel, we’d toss on our suits and spend the rest of the day riding slides and staying warm in the wave pool. It was awesome!

Great Wolf Lodge Grapevine Texas
Slides take you out of the building and back inside the Great Wolf Lodge.

Some slides will even take you from inside the building, outdoors, and then back in again.

We were able to get one of the Wolf Den Suites at a really great price with bunk beds that the babies loved. They also offer Day Passes in case you wanted to visit but didn’t want to stay on site. Waterpark open year-round, adorable theme with something always going on for the kids, AND a Starbucks? Shoot, I’d go back in a heartbeat.



Something for Dad

Gas Monkey

My husband has a brilliant mechanical mind and has been working on cars since he was basically old enough to hold a wrench. He loves car shows like “Fast n Loud” so of course we had to drive by the real Gas Monkey Garage. We didn’t get to see Richard, but we did see some fantastic cars outside.

Gas Monkey Garage Fast N Loud
Gas Monkey Garage

I surprised him afterward by taking him to the Gas Monkey Bar and Grill. The venue was stellar and I’ll tell you what their Smokehouse BBQ Burger was the best burger I’ve ever had.


Next Time

Needless to say, we squeezed a heck of a lot into 4 days. Dallas is a FANTASTIC place to take your young family. When we go back (and I know we want to!) there are a few more things to check off our ‘to-do’ list:

  • Ride the Vintage Railroad to the Stockyards
  • Go to the Texas State Fair (we had just missed it!)
  • Eat more. This one is a stretch because we ate a lot but everything was soooo good! Tex-Mex and BBQ galore!
  • Take the tour of the AT&T Stadium (home to the DCC of course!) Due to timing, this was as close as I was able to get this trip: AT&T Stadium
  • Hit up Dinosaur World
  • Trek out to Waco to see visit the Magnolia Market & the Mammoth Monument
  • Do a ranch hand experience. The babies were just slightly too young for us to be able to do a good one.


All in all, it was an amazing trip. Surprisingly, it takes longer to drive to Disney from Jacksonville than it does to fly to Dallas, Texas. But that’s a story for another day.


What’s your favorite thing to do in Texas with your family?

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