There are only thirteen (soon to be fourteen) presidential libraries scattered across the United States and Texas is fortunate enough to be home to three of them, one of which is the 226,000-square-foot George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, situated on the Southern Methodist University campus. Second in size behind Ronald Reagan's Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, the stunning complex encompasses not only a library and museum, but also the George W. Bush Policy Institute and the George W. Bush Foundation. However, most visitors will only see the museum, which features everything from numerous state-of-the-art interactive displays to a full-scale walk-through replica of the Bush Oval Office and a 22-foot tall ravaged steel beam from the World Trade Center. Also, on view are items like the Glock pistol Saddam Hussein had when he was captured, the bullhorn Bush used when he visited ground zero after 9-11 and some of the 43,000 gifts given to the President and First Lady from foreign Heads of State.
For families looking for an urban escape, this scenic wildlife sanctuary and natural science museum hits the mark. Set on 289-acres in McKinney Texas (around 30 miles north of downtown Dallas), the Heard boasts 6.5 miles of nature trails, a two-acre native plant garden, live animal exhibits and a replicated 1800s prairie settlement complete with eight playhouse scale buildings. Not to mention, this place is a hotbed for spotting migrating birds (it's an Audubon Society designated birding area). After hiking through the wetland, bottomland forest, prairie and white rock escarpment be sure to stop in the education center to check out interactive exhibits featuring everything from venomous snakes to marine life and a children's fossil dig.
While plenty of area museums feature activities for children, the Play Street Museum (with multiple locations throughout the metroplex) is one of the only places that's purposefully designed for kids ages eight and under. With everything from miniature playscapes (think supermarkets, farms and camp sites) to building blocks, science experiments and crafts galore, there's no way kids will get bored here. In addition to all the activities on offer, the museum regularly hosts special events, ranging from tea parties to painting and pottery making. Check the website for details on locations and event schedules.
This living history village, located in one of the city's oldest parks on the southeastern edge of downtown-- allows visitors to experience what life was like in North Texas during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The village is comprised of thirty-eight restored and fully furnished buildings, some of which include-- a log cabin, a Greek Revival style mansion, a school house, a shotgun house and a farmstead. Kids will especially like the general store where they can weigh products, wrap up merchandise and sit around an old stove playing a game of checkers. Adding to the atmosphere are costumed docents, live farm animals and a host of recurring events, ranging from mock gunfights to historical reenactments.
The sprawling 370,000-square-foot Dallas Museum of Art, designed by New York architect Edward Larrabee Barnes, houses one of the largest and most impressive art collections in the nation. And not only can your family check out masterpieces by heavy hitters like Pollock, Rothko, Monet, Rodin and Picasso, but they also can enjoy a variety of excellent programs that the museum offers year-round. There's everything from special late-night experiences (held on the third Friday of each month) to thematic art-making activities, story times and gallery activities for kids (held the first Tuesday of the month) and free bimonthly art tours for teens. In addition to the galleries, the museum boasts a play space as well as an art-making area, a sculpture garden and a cafe featuring a window of Dale Chihuly's glass flowers. And except for certain exhibitions and events, general admission to the museum is always free.
Nestled inside a massive refurbished warehouse in Dallas' Historic West End District, this privately-owned aquatic wonderland is home to countless varieties of marine life (many of which are endangered) from all over the world. In addition to stingrays, piranhas, electric eels, poison dart frogs and Orinoco crocodiles, the aquarium boasts a 20,000-gallon walk-through exhibit brimming with hundreds of Indo-Pacific fish-- as well as a forty-foot long glassed-in tunnel filled with sharks circling overhead. But there's more than fish that meets the eye, visitors can commune with everything from three-toed sloths, manatees and giant river otters to penguins, snakes, tree kangaroos and even a few jaguars. There's also a lush three-level (seven stories in height) recreated South American rain-forest-- complete with free-flying birds, pink flamingos, monkeys and a 40-foot waterfall. Not-to-be-missed are the talks and feeding sessions held throughout the day. Be sure to check the website schedule before you go.
Located in a 100,000-square-foot airplane hangar at Love Field Airport, this Smithsonian affiliate is a must-visit for aviation buffs of all ages. The museum is home to over 35,000 artifacts showcased in 13 galleries detailing the history of space and aviation. Expect to find around thirty types of aircraft and space vehicles, including a full-size model of the 1903 Wright Flyer, a replica of Sputnik I and a Chance Vought V-173 Flying Pancake. The Apollo 7 command module (which is on loan from The National Air & Space Museum) is also here as well as the only actual moon rock on display in North Texas. An added bonus is that there's a hands-on children's discovery area featuring a control tower for kids to climb around on. The museum hosts tons of events ranging from family days and demonstrations to docent tours, story times and more. Check the schedule so you can plan your visit accordingly.
You may know where the buck stops, but if you're wondering where it starts, then head over to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing's Western Currency Facility (AKA the Money Factory), located on the northern edge of Fort Worth. It is the only place in the world, other than Washington, D.C., where U.S. currency is printed. In addition to two floors of interactive displays and exhibits, the BEP provides visitors a behind-the-scenes look (via an enclosed walkway lined with large windows) at millions of dollars in the making before it's all shipped off to the Federal Reserve. The 45-minute tours are free and offered from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.,Tuesday through Friday.
This is one museum parents won't have to convince the kids to go to. Situated inside the Frisco Discovery Center, the NVM is a veritable retro gamer's nirvanadedicated solely to the history of the videogame industry. The brainchild of three longtime gamers, the museum features a mind-blowing collection of videogame consoles, artifacts and games, including the largest working Pong game in the world. And not only can visitors see all the great games from the past, but they can actually play them. Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, they're all here as well as an 80's style classic gaming arcade and a hall full of gaming stations where you can go head-to-head with family and friends. Oh, and did we mention that they even have an interactive 1980s-style replica bedroom and living room set up for TV gaming? Talk about a blast from the past.
Whether you're a science buff or just have a curious mind, the world-class Perot Museum offers a treasure trove of goodies that are certain to fascinate visitors of any age. Opened in 2012, this stunning 180,000-square-foot architectural gem, designed by Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate Thom Mayne and his firm, Morphosis-- features five floors of mind-blowing exhibit halls filled with hands-on activities, interactive kiosks and a state-of-the-art multimedia cinema. Highlights include a children's museum with a dinosaur dig, a hall of gems and minerals with a 5-foot geode and an earth hall where you can experience an earthquake. Not to be missed is the Texas Instruments Engineering and Innovation Hall where explorers can build robots and create their own digital music. A good way to start is to take the external glass escalator up to the top and work your way down while enjoying the panoramic views of downtown Dallas.