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Southlake Style

Pack More Fun into Summer

May 31, 2017 05:03PM ● By Pamela Hammonds

By Stacy Zimmerman

How many times during the summer do we hear kids moan, “I’m bo-o-ored!” or the whining, “There’s nothing to do-o-o!” and the dreaded, “Are we there yet?” Parents, take heart. We’ve assembled a list of megafun, totally un-boring (and some slightly quirky) sites to see with the fam within the DFW Metroplex. Skip the long, hot, boring car rides with your cranky, fidgety offspring and their squibblings. These attractions are so close, you’re practically there already. Side note: Not all the attractions are for kids only [wink!].

Wild, Wild West End

That’s right, the historic West End district of Downtown Dallas has still got it, with fun events such as Taste of Dallas in July or the summer-long West End Block Party Series. Most daytime events are family- and pedestrian-friendly, so put on everyone’s comfy shoes and hit the streets for some fun.

The one attraction that really gets and keeps the kids’ (and adults’) attention is the theatrical and performing artists located in the district. Be sure to catch “The Art of Spray” by the street artist known only as Cosmo. Groove along to loud, thumping techno dance tracks at the corner of Corbin and Market streets, and watch Cosmo use spray paint and random objects to create astonishing and unexpected pieces of art.

Cosmo has been a West End favorite since 1995, when he started with a beat-up boom box and a few cans of spray paint. Now his show is a full-blown dramatic, must-see production! Parents who grew up admiring his work now 20 years later are bringing their kids to watch Cosmo paint. His original art can be purchased onsite, or prints of his creations sell for cheap and make perfect West End Dallas souvenirs.

Within the 75202 zip code, but more for adults, is the House of Blues, located in the historic White Swan building where the West End meets Victory Park. This year is a milestone for this Dallas landmark as the House of Blues celebrates its 25th anniversary with a 365-day party at the House! The House of Blues sits calm and laid back unobtrusively during daylight hours but comes alive when the sun goes down and doesn’t let up until the wee hours of the morning. The crowd at HOB varies depending on which band is playing that night, such as Everclear or Aerosmith. Even the Irish mosh thrashers Flogging Molly have performed here.

No matter who headlines, you are in for one wild ride the second you pass through those neon lights and swinging glass doors. Usually there’s a funky mix of blues and rock jams, sometimes a little country thrown in; even local bands can get lucky and make it on stage on an open mic night from time to time. If there’s a particular genre of music you love, go to the HOB’s website and check out the current month’s calendar. Book a sitter or call grandma and check out the notorious House of Blues Dallas and help the venue celebrate 25 rocking years in Big D! Now you’re living Texas style!

A Towering Adventure

After Mom and Dad recover from the House of Blues, why not play a guessing game with the kids as to where you might be going for lunch. Hmm… is it underground? Is it underwater? Is it… in the sky? Ah, boy, do the kids get excited when you tell them you’re taking them 470 feet up to the top of Reunion Tower [aka “the Dallas microphone”] for lunch, and the amazement doesn’t stop there. Not only are there two incredible restaurants at the top of the geodesic-shaped tower, Cloud 9 Café and Five Sixty, but they belong to world-renowned Chef Wolfgang Puck. No matter how you try to play that part off, it probably won’t impress your kids, but, hey! Did we tell you it spins? “No, way!” says one. “Yes, way!” says the other, and they’re sold.

Once at the top of the tower, the all-glass exterior provides a clear 360-degree view of the impressive Dallas cityscape and skyline, viewed from inside or outside the restaurants, as the tower rotates at one full circle per hour. High-powered telescopes on deck allow you to peer down on the bustling and colorful city below. Suddenly, you begin to notice things you never saw before. You may even get lucky and be there the same day as the Cliffhangers. Cliffhanger Building Maintenance is the group of daredevil electricians and maintenance technicians that make the almost 600-foot climb and hang off the Tower’s sides to clean, replace and repair all 279 bulbs that light up Reunion Tower every night of the year. Amazing!

We’re Not Sure If We Believe It or Not!

There are Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditoriums at a few locations around the United States, and Grand Prairie happens to be one of them. This particular location, near the heart of Dallas, also features one of the many starring attractions: Ripley’s Moving Theater. Is it a movie? Is it a ride? Is it mind-blowing? Yes, yes and yes! The audio is pumped through a state-of-the-art surround sound system, and the theater enhances the movie with 7D technology, with seats that move, dip and vibrate in sync with the movie on the screen. The movies themselves contain digital, laser and optical effects, too, so all this combined truly makes for the most ultra-realistic movie experience in the history of ever! 

Through Ripley’s timeless doors and walls of glass, discover seemingly endless rooms and hallways lined with wonder-filled cases and mysteriously stuffed figures one can only assume at one point were alive. Challenge the kids to unearth the weirdest, most bizarre, least normal object they can find among literally thousands of curiosities. “Why, look, here are four stuffed ferrets, fully dressed in their Sunday best, sitting at a table playing a game of gin rummy!” (Well, of course, Mom. Duh.)

Undeterred by the unexplainable, your children will enjoy browsing every nook and cranny of Ripley’s as if taken back in time to the original discovery that led to the enigmatic specimen arriving there, in Grand Prairie, just so we could all be simultaneously enticed and disgusted by it. In fact, it’s highly recommended that you take as many photos as possible of your children standing with their favorite exhibits. Strangely, this is likely to be one of their most treasured childhood memories. Don’t be the Mom who didn’t bring her camera into Ripley’s. Just don’t. This is one venue you do not want to miss. Tickets and passes to events can be purchased individually or as a package deal for a discounted rate.

All Aboard the Grapevine Vintage Railroad

For the train enthusiast in your life, take the Cotton Belt Route aboard actual vintage Grapevine Railroad locomotives from the 1920s and ’30s. These aren’t replicas and they sure as anything are not the zoo train! There are two trains: Puffy, an 1896 steam engine and the oldest running locomotive in the entire Southern United States, isn’t anticipated to be operational this summer, but will be back in service in 2018. In the meantime, Vinny, a GP-7 diesel engine, which has been running since 1953, is up to the task of running the rails. These authentic railroad locomotive trains are maintained and housed at the downtown Grapevine Station, just as they have been for nearly 100 years.

Unlike the view from the back seat of a minivan, this train ride delivers something much different. It is a locomotive, heavy and strong that travels along real wood and steel railroad tracks laid across the Texas terrain, worlds away from freeway interchanges or congested tollways. What kids will see instead are Grapevine Station and the surrounding historic area on Main Street; an authentic vintage locomotive that you get to actually ride in and experience firsthand; and part of Fort Worth that possesses true Texas charm.

The main attraction is the train ride along the original Cotton Belt Route, which runs about 27 miles between Grapevine Station on Main Street in Grapevine and to the Stockyard Station in Fort Worth. During summer months, the train departs Friday through Sunday at 1 p.m. and arrives in Fort Worth at about 2:20 p.m. Passengers debark the train and have time to take part in one of many activities in downtown Fort Worth before boarding the train at 4:05 p.m. and making the journey back to Grapevine Station. The journey ends upon arrival in Grapevine around 5:45 p.m. While at the Stockyards, grab a bite to eat at one of the many charming restaurants or cafes and be sure to explore the Cowtown Cattlepen Maze. The perch above the maze allows parents to keep an eye on their wandering kiddos and provides a great place to take photos. It’s an all-day affair and perfect for anyone who loves trains, trains and more trains.

Mommy, Can I Pet Him?

What a joy to watch a child’s face light up the first time he reaches out to pet a live farm animal. Whether it’s a baby goat nibbling feed from his hands or perhaps a baby duckling following him around, the animals at Fritz Park Petting Farm have made it possible for parents to capture precious memories with their families since 1970. The farm is open only June through July (closed on Mondays) and weather permitting, of course.

If you grew up near the Irving farm, you now have the opportunity to bring your own offspring back to the same Fritz’s Farm you loved as a child. Fritz’s Park Petting Farm provides the perfect safe and controlled environment to allow kiddos to connect with domesticated critters such as goats, chickens, deer, lambs, rabbits and even tamed giant turkeys. The park is well-shaded and suitable for guests of all ages. The farmhands take every possible question a kid can throw at them and turn it into a teaching moment about farm life, for people and animals both who spend their entire lives on farms. Fritz’s Park Petting Farm is a longtime Dallas favorite and surely will be for even more generations to come.

Be sure to tag your photos #SummerStyleDFW on social media so we can see your adventures. Happy summer, friends!