An Out-of-Towner Guide to Dallas

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READING TIME: 12 min.

Thinking of planning a trip to Dallas with the family? Moving to the area and don’t know where to start? Don’t get overwhelmed. Let local moms help. We’ve got your ultimate family guide to Dallas: where to go, what to do, and where to eat with the kids. Plus, a few extra tips to help you navigate your way around The Big D.

Already live here? Make sure to share this guide with family or friends looking to make the trip! 

visitors guide to Dallas things to do in Dallas with kids

A Few Helpful Facts Before Planning A Trip to Dallas

Know Your Suburbs ::

The city of Dallas has an estimated population of 1.35 million residents, but that doesn’t include the dozens of suburbs and families in the surrounding metroplex. That adds ~5 million more. In each suburb you’ll find unique communities and activities for all ages. Around here, it’s not uncommon to drive 20-25 minutes across town for a morning of fun or to attend a playdate. “Dallas” is so much more than its city limits.

Driving in Dallas ::

plan a trip to Dallas

Car culture is pretty unavoidable here. Since you should expect to drive almost all the time, turn-by-turn navigation will be your best friend. Oh, and people drive fast on the highways. A few tips:

Toll roads are all over the city and the signage can sometimes be confusing.
If you accidently find yourself getting onto one, don’t panic! There are no toll collection booths anymore; a bill will be mailed to the address associated with your license plate. Do NOT ignore this bill because the late fees get ridiculous. Speaking from experience. If you’re making a permanent move to Dallas, you’ll want to consider getting a Toll Tag for your car.

Major toll roads:

    • President George Bush Turnpike (PGBT) a.k.a “Bush” is a 52 mile loop on the outside of the city and quick access to DFW International Airport
    • Dallas North Tollway is 30 miles from Downtown Dallas to US Highway 380 in Frisco. We just call this one “The Tollway.”
    • Sam Rayburn Tollway (formally known as 121) runs from Grapevine to McKinney.
    • Most highways have added partial toll roads called TEXpress Lanes that run above and/or next to the free lanes. The cost changes depending on time of day and will usually be posted on digital signs near the entrances. These can get quite pricey during rush hour but are a good way to avoid traffic jams if you’re in a big hurry.

Highways are identified by both their numbers and their common names, depending on who you’re talking to or which GPS you’re using.

A few common examples:

    • Central Expressway or Central, a.k.a. US-75
    • LBJ, a.k.a. I-635
    • Preston Road, a.k.a. SH 235
    • Tom Landry Freeway, a.k.a. I-30
    • The High Five refers to the intersection of 635 & 75 (LBJ & Central)
    • The Mixmaster refers to the intersection of I-30 & I-35E. Radio traffic reports love to mention the Mixmaster.
    • Northwest Highway, a.k.a. Loop 12

If heading out into the country and using your GPS, be sure to enter “FM” before the street number when needed. It’s actually part of the street name!

Dallas is notorious for its traffic. Check your map app for the drive time prior to heading out, especially if it’s between the hours of 7-9am or 3-7pm.

Getting Around Dallas Without Driving ::

visiting Dallas

If you need to get around without driving, the DART rail — Dallas Area Rapid Transit — could potentially work. Expanding every year, the DART travels across the metroplex with stations in many of the suburbs (along with stops downtown, the Dallas Zoo, and the airports: DFW International and Dallas Love Field). We still have a ways to go when it comes to comprehensive and efficient public transit, but we’re working on it!

Downtown Dallas has a free option that will take you to popular areas and attractions: The McKinney Avenue Trolley (M-Line) is a short line with stops near Klyde Warren Park, the Arts District, Uptown, museums, shopping, restaurants, and a handful of hotels.

What to Wear in Dallas (Weather Talk) ::

planning a trip to Dallas moving to Dallas

You may have heard the phrase “Texas has two seasons: summer and winter.” It’s kind of true.

SUMMER

When visiting May-September (and into October, to be honest) expect to be HOT. It’s not uncommon to hit the 90’s by early May and stay in the 90’s-100’s throughout the summer, only coming down into the 80’s in October.

  • What to pack:: Hats/caps/visors, bathing suits, plenty of sunscreen, mosquito repellent, and layers! Businesses do a great job of keeping insides cool, so don’t be surprised if you walk into a restaurant and find yourself freezing in the A/C.

FALL

When visiting October-November, temperatures will be milder. Expect mid 60’s-low 80’s. Because our falls can have significant high/low temperature swings, severe weather, including tornados are possible (not to scare you, just to keep you aware).

  • What to pack:: Layers & an umbrella (just in case)! Temperatures vary a lot, so pack for cooler weather and rain but also sunshine and warmer weather.

WINTER

When visiting late November-late February temperatures are in the 40s-50s. Freezing temperatures, sleet, or snow are infrequent but not impossible. Most often it’s just gray and chilly.

  • What to pack:: Scarves, hats, and coats if planning to be outside for long to help with the wind. A ski jacket isn’t necessary!

SPRING

When visiting March-April, temperatures will be mild and cool. Expect mid 60’s-70’s and enjoy the absence of mosquitos. Rain is common but rarely lasts all day. It’s also tornado season. Again, not to scare you, but it’s not a bad idea to check out our post on Tornado Awareness.

  • What to pack:: Layers & an umbrella (just in case)! Temperatures can vary quite a bit from morning to night and day to day in the spring, so pack for cooler weather and rain but also sunshine and warm weather.

A Quick Language Lesson ::

“Y’all” is the only way to refer to more than one person. Can be used as many times in a sentence as necessary, including the hyper-plural “all y’all.”

When you’re about to do something, you’re “fixin'” to do it. Example: “I’m fixin’ to go to the store soon.” 

Notice we keep using “metroplex.” This word originated as a way to describe the sprawl of Dallas/Fort Worth and its surrounding suburbs. You’ll hear it a lot.

“BBQ” is a type of food, not an activity. If a Texan refers to barbecue, odds are they’re referencing smoked meats, not a hamburgers & hotdogs get-together.

When you’re trying to avoid cussing in front of the kids, might we suggest incorporating “dad gum” into your vocabulary? And “dang” is always useful, either as an adjective or for an emphatic “DANG IT!!!”

Things to Do in the Dallas Metroplex

visitors guide to Dallas

Dining ::

Dallas has so many great restaurants. Here are some local spots that are perfect for families:

Breakfast: 

Lunch/Dinner: 

Famous Tex-Mex: 

Authentic Texas BBQ:

Plates? Who needs plates? Don’t be shocked when they serve your meats right on your tray.

Recommended Posts:

Shopping :: 

NorthPark Center (75 & Northwest Highway, Dallas)
A sprawling upscale shopping mall with movie theater, restaurants, and events. Has wide-range of stores from Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and high-end designers to Gap, H&M, Urban Outfitters, Disney Store, and the LEGO Store. Honestly, this is a fantastic mall.

Galleria Dallas (635 & Dallas North Tollway, Dallas)
An upscale shopping mall with restaurants, attached hotel, and ice skating rink. A wide-range of stores from higher-end boutiques to major brands. We love the kids play area on level 3. Another great indoor mall!

Shops at Park Lane (75 & Park Lane, Dallas)
Directly across the street from NorthPark, this cluster of shops has a bunch of bargain-friendly options like J. Crew Factory, Nordstrom Rack, DSW, Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5th, etc. You’ll also find additional dining, retail, and a Whole Foods.

Highland Park Village (Mockingbird & Preston, Dallas)
An upscale outdoor shopping center in the heart of Highland Park, one of Dallas’s oldest, fanciest neighborhoods. Drive past multi-million dollar homes and shop (or window shop) high-end brands. Lots of dining options, too. Not all that family-friendly unless you’re coming at Christmas time, but great for a girls’ weekend! 

Knox District (75 & Knox-Henderson, Dallas)
A walkable area with restaurants, bars, big name stores (Apple, Crate & Barrel, CB2, Pottery Barn Kids, Sur La Table) and smaller boutiques.

Bishop Arts District (South Dallas)
Billed as Dallas’s most independent neighborhood, this is the spot to go for lots of indie boutiques and restaurants, all with very cool vibes. A great area to support!

IKEA (Frisco & Grand Prairie)
A tourist destination as much as a shopping destination for locals.

Legacy West (Dallas North Tollway & Sam Rayburn Tollway, Plano)
A stylish outdoor shopping center with retail, events, hotel, and plenty of great dining options. Stores range from high-end to major brands to smaller boutiques.

Watters Creek at Montgomery Farm (75 & Bethany, Allen)
A lovely outdoor shopping mall with restaurants, all manner of shops, and outdoor events (plus a playground for children!).

Allen Premium Outlets (75 & Stacy Road, Allen)
Dallas’s most popular outdoor outlet mall and shopping destination. This place is pretty massive, with 120+ outlets. You’ll get your steps in, for sure.

Kid-Friendly Activities ::

There’s so much to do in Dallas, but we’ll stick with the most popular destinations to start. We’ve also included related Dallas Moms posts to give you a closer look at each experience.

PRO TIP: It’s always a good idea to check out our monthly event guides, filled with the best family-friendly events and activities happening around town. There’s always lots of free fun listed there.

2021 Update: Due to limited capacity and/or timed entry, booking tickets online in advance is currently required for almost all of these:

Dallas Zoo
Located 5 minutes west of Downtown Dallas. As of April 21, 2021, they’ve introduced Flex Pricing; tickets will range from $8 to $21 based on seasonal attendance at the Zoo. Free for children 2 and under. Parking: $10/vehicle TIP: The DART Rail has a station directly in front of the Dallas Zoo entrance. (10 Tips for a Fun Visit to the Dallas Zoo)

Reunion Tower
Located in Downtown Dallas. Full price tickets are $18/adult and $9/children ages 4-12. Free for children 3 and under. 2021 note: restaurants are currently closed for renovations. (Reunion Tower: Better Than Ever)

Perot Museum
Located in Downtown Dallas. Full price tickets are $20/adult and $13/ children ages 2-17. Free for children 2 and under. Parking: $10/vehicle underneath Woodall Rodgers. (Why We Love the Perot Children’s Museum & Floor-by-Floor Guide: Coming Back to Life: The New Perot Museum of Nature & Science)

Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Located in East Dallas/Garland on White Rock Lake (10 minutes east of Downtown Dallas). General Admission tickets are $15/adult and $10/ children ages 3-12. Free for children 2 and under. Admission into the Children’s Garden is $3 extra per General Admission ticket. Parking: $10. (Sneak Peek: The Arboretum’s New Children’s Adventure Garden)
TIP: Food is welcome, so bring a picnic on a pretty day and enjoy the lakeside view. EXTRA TIP: Bring a change of clothes for little kids if going to the Children’s Garden as there’s many water features to play in!

Klyde Warren Park
Located in Downtown Dallas above Woodall Rodgers Freeway. It’s a public park with board games, lawn games, play areas, events, and a great view. Check their food truck schedule to see what will be there when you go. Parking is available along the street in meters, or you can use the McKinney Avenue Trolley.
TIP: Bring a change of clothes for the kids as there’s a water feature to play in during the summer. (Klyde Warren Park: Downtown’s Newest {And Best} Addition)

Dallas World Aquarium
Located in Downtown Dallas. Full price tickets are $26.95/adult and $18.95/ children ages 2-12. Free for children 2 and under. Parking available in paid lots. TIP: Expect to run into school field trip groups during the week from September-May.

LEGOLAND Discovery Center & SEA LIFE Grapevine Aquarium
Both located in Grapevine inside Grapevine Mills Mall (20 minutes northwest of Downtown Dallas). Full price tickets are $19.99/adult and children ages 3-12 and free for ages 2 and under. Combo ticket deals available for $35 if you want to visit both spots.
TIP:
Bring swimsuits during the summer as the LEGO Pirate Beach splash pad is open during the summer.

Six Flags Over Texas
Located in Arlington (30 minutes east of Downtown Dallas). Full price tickets are $49.99, ages 2 and under are free. Parking is extra, starting at $27.71.
TIP: Always check for promotions, free tickets, or passes before you purchase. There’s frequent discounts even on the Six Flags website that can get you in from $29.99 per ticket.
EXTRA TIP: Bring a swimsuit and prepare for HEAT during the summer. Water rides are open, but there’s not much shade in the park. (Family Theme Park Fun: Six Flags Over Texas and Six Flags :: A Guide for In-Betweeners)

Seasonal Guides ::

Headed to Dallas and need more advice? Visit us on Facebook or Instagram and ask questions of local moms! 

2 COMMENTS

  1. One thing I thought was missing was the brewery and distillery tours available in and around town that make for a great couple couple hour weekend getaway. The Witherspoon Distillery in Lewisville hosts tours each Friday and Saturday, and you not only learn about distilling but get to sample their spirits.

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