Most dinosaur museum exhibits feature skeletons with helpful, imaginative color sketches posted nearby, but not Dinosaur Park. 20 minutes south-east of Austin, the park has accurately sized, realistically colored dinosaur statues scattered throughout its wooded landscape. Fire up your imagination by seeing full-sized, fleshed-out dinosaurs in a natural setting — crowd-favorite velociraptor, triceratops, stegosaurus, and tyrannosaurus rex all make cameos. Although the life-sized dinos are strictly hands off, the kids can enjoy going on their own fossil dig, and there are plenty of smaller-sized dinos for photo opportunities with the family.
Washington-On-The-Brazos State Historic Site north-west of Houston features the Barrington Living History Farm. This land was the home of Anson Jones, the last president of the Republic of Texas. The Jones home itself is still the original structure while the remaining buildings on site have been faithfully reconstructed from Jones’s personal diary and sketches. Historic interpreters, dressed for the times, help recreate the sights and sounds of the mid-1800s. Visitors are invited to join in and live history by learning how to spin, make soap, herd cattle, and plant and harvest crops.
The USS Lexington was the very last remaining World War II Essex Class aircraft carrier on active duty. The U.S. Navy retired her to Corpus Christi where she is now a naval aviation museum. While the Visitor Center provides a whole host of indoor activities (tour, 3D MEGA Theater, virtual battle stations, and a flight simulator), the centerpiece of the USS Lexington is the flight deck. 20 different types of aircraft are on display in the open air, including an F-14 Tomcat, the type of plane made famous by its appearance as Tom Cruise’s trusty steed in Top Gun.
Charles Umlauf was an award-winning sculptor whose work fills Texas (the most of any artist on display in the state). Considered one of the best in Austin, the museum featuring his art is tucked away just south of downtown, nearly hidden by all the activity at the nearby Barton Springs Pool and Zilker Park and Botanical Gardens. The museum building is dwarfed by the sculpture garden, a serene green space filled with works centering on religious figures, devoted families, and even playful animals. Activities available include yoga classes three days a week and the occasional garden party.
The Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum and Big Bear Native American Museum celebrate both cattle-driving and Native American history in the Lone Star State. Located south of Fort Worth, the museum offers free docent-led tours of its grounds, including teepees, a saloon/stagecoach station (complete with a restored stage coach), and a blacksmith’s shop. Two annual events bring this place to life: the Pioneer Days, which feature a Texas Rangers’ Civil War era reenactment and Native Americans in full ceremonial dress, and the May Pow-wow, offering food, song, demonstrations, and ceremonies (also in full regalia).
Perched a stone’s throw north of Dallas, the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary was founded to educate children about nature and to conserve nearly 300 acres of land as a wildlife preserve. In addition to 6.5 miles of hiking, the Heard also offers educational programs, activities (night hikes, canoeing, a ropes course), a butterfly garden, and a miniature pioneer village. Visitors can also get up close and personal with native animals, including birds, turtles, toads, and a whole mess of snakes.
The El Paso Museum of Archaeology hosts a large collection of Southwestern and Mexican prehistoric artifacts with a focus on the pottery, baskets, and beadwork of Native American peoples. The outdoor fun comes with 15 acres of trails winding through poppy fields, an Indian Garden, the Franklin Mountains, and the Chihuahuan Desert, with over 250 varieties of native plants. In addition to free tours and regular lectures, the museum provides hands-on archery and atl-atl (spear-thrower) demonstrations, as well as an annual poppy festival with all the attendant exhibits, food, and shopping.
North of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolis lies the Denton County Museum and Historical Park in Denton, TX. While covering only a relatively small area, the park does an excellent job depicting early 1900s history. Walk the park while visiting the Denton County Courthouse, the Bayless-Selby Victorian House, and the Denton County African-American Museum. With free admission to all, this park provides an eye-opening history of African-Americans in the context of Denton County and national history.
When traveling through the Hill Country in central Texas, be sure to swing through New Braunfels and check out Conservation Plaza. Here, 3.5 acres containing 18 historical buildings are lovingly maintained by the New Braunfels Conservation Society. Properties worth checking out include a saloon, a garage housing a 1907 REO auto, a one-room schoolhouse, and a barbershop (where you can actually get a shave and a haircut). Need to stop overnight? Enjoy the comforts of the Conservation Society’s very own Gerlich-Wagenfuehr Bed and Breakfast, housed in a restored historic home.
Near Big Bend National Park lies Terlingua which, while not exactly a museum, offers an opportunity to explore an authentic ghost town. Founded in the late 1800s by the Chisos Mining Company to dig for mercury, over time it has dwindled to a population of just 58. The Terlingua Trading Company (formerly the mining company store) offers Self-guided Walking Tour brochures that will direct you through the limestone ruins. Nearby Big Bend offers plenty of hiking, rafting, and camping, while Terlingua itself draws 10,000 visitors annually with its two chili cook-offs on the first Saturday in November.