A family-friendly guide to a three-day Texas road trip—plus, one writer reminisces on the Texan cities that nurtured her relationship.
As a child, my family took long road trips each summer, escaping the humdrum of our everyday lives for faraway destinations. From Iowa, we’d venture to Canada, Florida, or Washington D.C. My father, a truck driver, took pride in being on the open road and finding adventures along the way. My mother, a Laotian refugee from the Vietnam War, loved learning more about her adopted country and its history. My fondest memories of growing up were those long days, the three of us in the car, packed to the brim with snacks, playing games to pass the time. There was no escape from each other, but that was the beauty of it. The proximity forced us to be close, physically and emotionally, and present like no other experience could.
I remember it was those vacations that my eyes and mind were opened to new ways of life, new experiences, and new opportunities. In fact, it was one road trip, when I was 17, to New York City that changed my life forever. As my family drove into Manhattan, I immediately knew that I would live there someday. The energy, diversity, and speed of the city called my name. And shortly after graduating from college, I packed my bags and moved there. Less than two years later, I met and fell in love with my husband, a native Texan. He would later bring me to Austin, Houston, and now finally, to Dallas. We recently welcomed our second child and have been reflecting on just how much our lives have changed since we started our life together in Texas almost ten years ago.
“Since becoming a mother, I’ve found beauty and more appreciation in my surroundings than ever before.”
Too often, I am guilty of wanting to explore a new and exotic location, always pushing to add a new stamp on my passport or feeling that escaping equates to happiness. But since becoming a mother, I’ve found beauty and more appreciation in my surroundings than ever before, particularly during the time of COVID-19.
As a way to celebrate this past decade, my husband and I decided to embark on a family journey through the Texan destinations that hold the most significance in our lives. We wanted to walk through the same streets, to revisit our favorite places, and to recreate some of our happiest moments (to the extent that we can with two children!). Our children are here because of a love that was forged long ago in these Texan cities.
Austin was the city where our love deepened. Though we may have fallen in love in New York, it was in Austin that we learned about our truest selves, both as individuals and as a couple. It was where we had our first apartment together after I had moved from the East Coast to be with him while he was in law school. That little home is where we learned each other’s idiosyncrasies and decided that we would spend our lives together. It’s also the city we said our “I dos” amongst loved ones.
Houston was the city where we grew our partnership. After my husband graduated from law school, we moved to East Texas for his work and suddenly found ourselves without friends or family nearby. We had only each other (and the two cats we would soon adopt) for company. As much as we missed our network, those days where it was just the two of us and we had few distractions were some of our happiest. We spent many weekends going into the city to explore the museums, theatres, and Asia Town. As an Asian- American growing up in Iowa, there were few grocery stores or restaurants that served our community. As a child, whenever we would travel to a larger city like Chicago or Minneapolis, my mom would take us to the largest Asian grocery store and we would spend hours stocking up on foods and household items that were not available at home.
“We simultaneously got to reflect on our past, live in the moment as a new family, and dream up our future.”
Galveston was the city where we escaped for fun and for a challenge. We love an opportunity to be near water, so weekends away here were always welcome. It was also the place where I ran my last marathon; it brings me back to a time when I could spend my weekends doing long runs and other indulgent solo activities.
Finally, Fredericksburg is the city where we spent our first days as a married couple. When we got married, my husband and I were actually in a long-distance engagement. I was in Dallas, he was in Houston. We soaked in those first few days of wedded bliss in this charming city, knowing that we would soon have to get into separate cars and drive to separate cities and lead separate lives.
Revisiting these destinations with our two young children in tow was indescribable. The beauty of this trip was that we simultaneously got to reflect on our past, live in the moment as a new family, and dream up our future.
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Day 1: Dallas to Houston
Eat: We would be remiss if we didn’t stop at Buc-ee’s en-route to Houston. If you’re Texan, you almost certainly know this chain of gas stations which prides itself on clean bathrooms, retail shopping, and a wide variety of snacks and food. When my husband and I were long-distance, this particular Buc-ee’s was the halfway point between our homes. I always stopped here on my drive after leaving him, stocking up on my favorite candy to relieve some of the profound sadness I felt.
When we arrived in Houston, we made a quick stop for dinner at Arnaldo Richard’s Pico for some authentic Mexican. I highly recommend the Pollo en mole negro oaxaqueño.
Stay: We departed during the kids’ naps, knowing that the 3.5-hour drive would be nearly impossible if they were awake for its entirety. While in Houston, we stayed at the InterContinental Houston – Medical Center, which was conveniently located relative to almost everything on our itinerary.
Day 2: Houston
Do: For our first full day of the road trip, we took it easy and spent our morning strolling through Hermann Park Conservancy, just blocks from our hotel. This 445-acre urban park is a gorgeous public space that is perfect for children to roam and explore. My son is an avid-animal lover, so we spent time at the Houston Zoo, conveniently located in Hermann Park. Afterward, we rode on the park’s railway, a 20-minute ride that allows you to see areas of the park that you might not otherwise explore.
Eat: For lunch, we walked over to Lucille’s, a local gem serving Southern cuisine. The tuna sandwich was one of my favorite meals on the trip. For dinner, we tried a great app called Click Virtual Food Hall. The menu is created by chefs who specifically curate dishes that are made for delivery, pick-up, or to-go service. The beauty of this for our family is that we could order various dishes from multiple “virtual restaurants” which allowed everyone to get what they wanted (which every parent knows is a win!). Brought in a thermal insulated bag, we were all happy with our choices and I was grateful for such a seamless way to have food delivered to us.
Day 3: Houston to Galveston
Do: While in Asiatown, we always make a point to stop for boba tea and I always stock up on my favorite childhood snacks—the nostalgia always gets the best of me. Because there are so many restaurants and shops, we try to make a point of walking around as much as possible to explore.
Eat: Any trip in Houston means two food stops for us: Tiny’s No. 5 for brunch and Asiatown for lunch. Knowing we had a big lunch coming our way, we stopped at Tiny’s for a light breakfast and coffee. No stop to Tiny’s is complete without heading next door to their bakery, Milk & Cookies, for some treats for the road. Expect a line on the weekends, but trust me, the chocolate chip cookies are worth the wait.
Our other must-do in Houston is Golden Dumpling House in Chinatown. We’ve been on a quest for years to find the perfect dumpling, and Golden Dumpling might be as close to perfection as you can get. In-person dining was not available due to COVID-19, but they were just as delicious in our car.
You would think that we’d be full after a day of eating and driving, but when we arrived in Galveston, we stopped at a great spot called Waterman’s Restaurant, which offers views of Lake Como and Galveston Bay. I recommend going here at sunset to take advantage of their scenic location.
Stay: After our heavy lunch, we departed for Galveston during the kids’ nap and checked into Moody Gardens Hotel and Spa, which is conveniently within walking distance of its family-friendly attractions.
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Day 4: Galveston
Do: This was probably our kid’s favorite day of the whole trip! We spent the morning at the Moody Gardens Aquarium, walking through its impressive exhibits and enjoying a 4-D short film. We also happened to stumble upon an outdoor animatronic dinosaur exhibit, which my dinosaur-obsessed son could not get enough of. In the evening we took a boat ride around the island which was a wonderful time to be out on the water.
Eat: This was an action-packed day full of kids’ activities, so we got a quick pizza at Mama Teresa’s Flying Pizza. It was exactly what we needed after a long day.
Day 5: Galveston to Austin
Do: Before we headed off for Austin, we brought the kids to the beach for the very first time! I fully expected them to be scared or hate it, but to my surprise, both kids loved running through the sand and water. We only had a short time at the beach before we had to hit the road, but I look forward to bringing them back here someday soon. Luckily, the beach exhausted them enough that they napped almost the entirety of the 3.5-hour drive.
Eat: When we arrived in Austin, we had dinner at Sour Duck Market, which ended up being the best meal of our entire trip. The outdoor seating, delicious food, and passionate staff made this a fan favorite for our entire family. Their kids’ meals were also the best we’ve ever had—my husband and I even finished off our son’s quesadilla because it was that good. We will absolutely be coming back next time we’re in Austin.
Stay: When we arrived in Austin, we checked into Lone Star Court, located on the edge of the Domain shopping area. I loved the boutique hotel’s retro vibe and its large outdoor area which was perfect for my children to run around in and explore.
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Day 6: Austin
Do: This day was full of nostalgia. We spent our morning walking through the University of Texas, which is where my husband went to both undergrad and law school. He guided us through the beautiful campus and shared some of his favorite memories as a student there. Then we drove out to our wedding venue to walk through the grounds. We hadn’t been since our wedding day! I didn’t expect to get so emotional, but I found myself teary-eyed throughout our time there, thinking back on the beauty of that day with all of our loved ones. It was an incredibly emotional experience to see our children standing on the same spot we said our “I do’s” and reflecting on how much has changed since we said our vows.
Eat: While walking South Congress, we grabbed a quick bite of Mexican food before the kids’ naps. We were exhausted at the end of the day, so we did take out from a restaurant in the Domain and ate in our hotel rooms. The location of the hotel made this so easy for us to try out dishes from Flower Child and North Italia.
Day 7: Austin
Do: We decided to take this day nice and slow. We drove past our old apartment and got coffee at Mozart’s, which is right next door to where we hosted our rehearsal dinner and is one of our favorite spots in the city. We spent most of the afternoon out at Lady Bird Lake and let the kids run outdoors.
Eat: During our walk around the lake, we got smoothies from Juiceland (I always order the Peachy Green) and for dinner, we enjoyed burgers and fries at one of our favorite burger spots, HopDoddy.
Other highlights: Theo had his first s’more ever and his life will never be the same.
Day 8 and 9: Fredericksburg
Do: After we strolled through Main Street, we decided to drive out to Enchanted State Park and go on a hike. As a family, we often go hiking and camping in nearby state parks—however, this hike was special because we were able to have a ranger go along with us. Not only did the ranger share history and facts about the park, but she also came prepared with ideas to engage our son throughout our time together. He particularly liked her insect catcher so that he could get a close look at bugs and help release them back into the wild.
Later, we made a stop at Das Peach Haus to tour the grounds and stock up on some gifts for family and friends. You would not be able to tell from its location off the interstate, but they have a beautiful wide and open area to enjoy wine and snacks from their delightful store. Though they’re known for their roasted-raspberry chipotle sauce, it was their peach cider that really won me over.
Eat: After a morning hiking in the heat, we got sandwiches and ice cream at Clear River Ice Cream & Bakery. If you stroll on Main Street, you can’t miss it—you’ll see the vintage horse and a long line out the door of people waiting for a scoop of their delicious ice cream.
Stay: In Fredericksburg, we stayed in a great vintage home, called Clover Haus. After a week of staying in hotels, the extra space to roam was welcome. The home’s location, within a few blocks from Main Street, made it even better.
Day 10: Final day in Fredericksburg
Do: We only had a short time before we had to hit the road, so we walked through the Pioneer Museum, where we learned more about the city’s German roots. Fredericksburg will be celebrating its 17th-anniversary next spring, so it was a perfect time to educate ourselves and hopefully come back and celebrate next year!
Eat: For our final morning, we hopped into Woerner’s Warehouse, a lovely cafe attached to a small shop that sold local goods and antiques. For lunch, we had an incredible picnic at Pontotoc Weingarten. The outdoor patio area made it a perfect place to stop with my family and enjoy some wine tasting and pimento cheese.