It’s been 25 years since I unknowingly started a tradition of traveling for the holidays. Even though I have yet to do a “White Christmas” vacation (that’s on my bucket list), I can’t imagine staying in Miami for Christmas or New Year’s Eve.
This past holiday season. my wife, four kids and I did one of the more ambitious road trips we’ve ever done as a family, driving from Dallas to Waco, Austin, San Antonio, Fredericksburg and back to Dallas. Because my wife is a Texas Latina, we usually spend a lot of time in Texas for the holidays. That said, we still manage to find something new and make each trip different, making the most of our family getaways. This time around was no exception, as we explored Texas through its great food, culture and history, visiting a number of great vacation spots.
Here are some of the highlights from each city we stopped in this past holiday season:
Dallas (The Sixth Floor Museum)
The Sixth Floor Museum is the Dallas book depository from where Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly shot President John F. Kennedy. The museum continues to mesmerize people of all ages, including my kids. The thing that makes this museum so remarkable is that a rather unremarkable building played such a huge role in changing the course of history. My kids were in awe as the Smithsonian-quality museum brought history to life with a multimedia exhibit that chronicles all the events leading up to the assassination and the subsequent mayhem that followed Kennedy’s death. One of the most impactful highlights that brought the museum’s significance to light was when we had the kids stand in the exact same spot where Kennedy was when he got hit by the first deadly bullet.
Waco (Jasper’s BBQ)
Waco seems forever haunted by its own tragedy: the 1995 cult fire deaths of the Branch Davidians. However, this trip was not about that for our family, because Waco is home to much of my wife’s family and was the locale for this year’s Christmas celebration. The highlight of our trip to Waco this time was eating brisket at the second oldest BBQ joint in all of Texas, Jasper’s BBQ. If you ever go, make sure to get the brisket. It will be first on my list when we return.
San Antonio (The Guinness Book of World Records Museum and Ripley’s Haunted Adventure)
I’ve been to the Alamo countless times and, in my opinion, it’s forever the best and most iconic thing you can see in San Antonio. I have never missed the Alamo on a San Antonio trip and this time proved no exception, except that my kids had other things in mind. They wanted to include the four attractions across the street facing the old fort: the Guinness World Records Museum, the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Museum, the Tomb Rider 3D and Ripley’s Haunted Adventure.
Our collective favorite was, by far, the Guinness Museum. In fact, our kids were upset when we had to leave. Besides having many props, photographs, videos and other educational displays, this museum also features the only place in the globe where you can attempt to break a world record live and in-person. I was sitting down catching my breath when my daughter Elena ran up to me to tell me that a couple had just broken the world record for the most dominoes lined up standing by two people (31 in 30 seconds). My personal favorite part of the so-called Attempt Arena was the machine that records how loud you can scream. I maxed out at 107.5 decibels while the record is more than 130 decibels.
Fredericksburg (The National Museum of the Pacific War)
I am fanatical about all history, but none more so than World War II history. Imagine my delight when, due to a detour, our family ended up spending two days in the delightfully German-flavored Texas town of Fredericksburg, located about 90 minutes west of Austin. It turns out that Fredericksburg is home to the National Museum of the Pacific War, a Smithsonian-quality museum a lot of Americans (and Texans) don’t even know exists!
How this six-acre, world-class museum ended up in the quaint town of Fredericksburg puzzles many until you learn that it was created in honor of the late World War II U.S. Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz who, together with General Douglas McArthur, is largely credited for defeating the Japanese. Nimitz was born and raised in Fredericksburg, and his grandfather was one of the original settlers of the city and its formerly grand hotel, the Nimitz Hotel, where the museum is now based.
I made the mistake of underestimating how much time it would take to truly enjoy the museum, which, among its many notable war artifacts, prominently features one of the only mini submarines the Japanese used to attack Pearl Harbor, as well as naval machine guns, warplanes and much more. We spent only five hours, but oh how I wish I had the entire day to explore!
Austin (The Alamo Drafthouse)
Our last days in Texas largely revolved around relaxing and recuperating from the intense road trip. We chose to take our relaxation in Austin, our second home. While there, we made it a point to catch a couple of films at our all-time favorite movie theater, the Alamo Drafthouse. For the uninitiated, the Alamo Drafthouse is a small, privately owned movie chain that features the concept of film, food and fun, all in one. The Alamo Drafthouse frequently features karaoke film nights, special custom dine-in theater menus that match the theme of each movie and much more. In fact, when Sony Pictures was looking for a theater chain to play its North Korea-banned “The Interview,” the first one to offer the banned film was The Alamo Drafthouse. We didn’t see “The Interview,” but we did catch “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.”
After this trip, our family’s general consensus was that history and BBQ really did make this trip a great family vacation. If you ever need family vacation ideas in Texas, the places mentioned, above, are staples for any Texas road trip you may be planning.