Family Travels: Texas

Monday, 12 January 2009

Travellers: Steve and Sally McDonald, and kids Jenna (7) and Zack (5). Steve worked hard to construct the new US Embassy here in Beijing.

The plan: This San Antonio family have loved living in Beijing, but their hearts lie in the most-visited city in Texas. During summer vacation 2007, the family went home––with just a few stopovers along the way.

The itinerary: From Beijing to San Antonio Texas, via London, Manchester, Dublin, Tokyo and Minneapolis––a world-hopping journey of 30 days.

How to plan: The family organized their entire stopover-ridden trip with the help of their company travel agency, however you can do the same thing through any number of Beijing agencies. Try Beijing Westminster Air Services, 8527 6936 or itravel@hkwtl.com. Round-the-world tickets start from around 26,000RMB, with four to five stopovers. Kids aged 2-11 usually pay 75 percent of the adult fare.

Where to stay: Sally recommends the Omni La MansiĆ³n del Rio for authentic San Antonio flair (http://www.omnihotels.com/) or anywhere downtown, along the River Walk. There are plenty of hotels to suit every budget; try http://www.sanantonio.com/.

Getting around: The family believes rental cars are the way to go if you want to gad about town easily. Although there is no subway, the bus network is extensive, inexpensive, and a one-day pass for unlimited travel on all buses and streetcars costs only $3.75. You can even buy tickets online; see http://www.viainfo.net/ for more information.

Chowing down: Mexican food is muy delicioso, and San Antonio’s famous fare will delight the whole family. Sally recommends La Fonda (http://www.lafondaonmain.com/), Mamacita’s (www.mamacitas.com/sanantonio.html) and Los Barrios (http://www.lhdlb.com/) for a spicy meal. Be sure to try traditional fajitas, enchiladas and tacos, but Sally says chalupas, queso, chimichangas are good, too. Queso, and cheese and bean tacos are the McDonald kids favorite, and don’t forget the margaritas for mom and dad! If you prefer a little less spice, try the infamous Texas BBQ. Rudy’s comes through with classic BBQ fare like pinto beans, brisket, cream corn and spare ribs (http://www.rudys.com/).

What to buy: Everyone will be happy at La Cantera, according to Sally. A large outdoor shopping mall, mom will love big guns like Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, while the kids haunt the children’s play area and dad cruises the food hall (http://www.theshopsatlacantera.com/). Cool Texan mementos to take home include cowhides, leather boots and of course––the ubiquitous cowboy hat.

Family fun: Sally says SeaWorld is great for the whole family, with shows like Pirates 4D and great ways to get wet––think Texas Splashdown and Journey to Atlantis. Don’t miss the Great White loop-the-loop rollercoaster (www.seaworld.com/sanantonio).

Texan summers are sweltering, so water parks are the perfect way to cool down. Schlitterbahn Waterpark in New Braunfels, 40 minutes north of San Antonio, is well worth a day trip according to the McDonalds. There are loads of water activities including slides, tubing, surfing machines and water playgrounds (www.schlitterbahn.com/nb). Six Flags Fiesta Texas has a water park, family rides, kiddie rides and “super” rides––Superman: Krypton Coaster should have them squealing. Don’t miss the nightly fireworks (www.sixflags.com/fiestatexas).

In the wild: For animal lovers, visit the San Antonio Zoo––a McDonalds kids favorite. It features a small kids zoo with a beach, train ride and butterfly house (http://www.sazoo-aq.org/). Outdoorsy families will love Natural Bridge Caverns where kids can wander deep into an underground world and see some natural marvels. Older kids can even abseil on an adventure tour (http://www.naturalbridgecaverns.com/).

For the ultimate in Texas living, you can’t miss a ranch. Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch offers an amazing wildlife safari experience, all in the comfort of your own car. Kids can feed the animals from their window and there’s also a petting zoo and picnic area (http://www.wildliferanchtexas.com/).

San Antonio’s famous River Walk, which runs right through town, is an outdoors must-see. Walk along the buzzing shoreline or take a dinner boat cruise (http://www.sanantonioriverwalk.com/).

A sporting chance: Basketball lovers, cheer on the McDonald family’s very own NBA team––the Spurs–at the AT&T Center. Kids will love every heart-pumping minute (www.nba.com/spurs). Catching a game with the Dallas Cowboys in action will satisfy every wannabe footballer’s dream (http://www.dallascowboys.com/).

Cowboys and Indians: Remember the Alamo? It’s an absolute must-see for history buffs––a historical mission where Texans fought in the 1836 Battle of the Alamo. Kids can peek down a cannon, see treasures like Davy Crockett’s original buckskin vest, and witness a live reenactment––check the website for dates (http://www.thealamo.org/).

If you have a family full of cowboys, be sure to witness that other umissable Texan institution––the rodeo. Time your visit for February when rodeo season will be in full swing, with events including horse racing, bull riding, calf roping and loads of entertainment (http://www.sarodeo.com/). Afterwards, hit Far West Rodeo for some country music and some serious boot scootin’ (+1 210 646 9378).

Out of town: For an awesome Texan trip, the McDonalds head to the gorgeous Hill Country, a little over an hour away. Fredericksburg is a long time favorite of the family, and there are B&Bs if you want to stay the night. Enjoy the day picking famous Fredericksburg peaches, and gobbling up the fabulous food––a Texan/German fusion (www.fredericksburg-texas.com). If you prefer the ocean to the mountains, head to Port Aransas near Corpus Christi on the Gulf Coast. Just under three hours away, kids can run wild on the long, wide beaches and take a dip in the cool Gulf sea.

Best fun: The McDonalds loved going home to see family and friends, and to spend some quality time together, away from work and school. Their best fun was simply playing in big back yards, swimming and heading to the beach with flashlights to catch sand crabs at night. Another family favorite was heading to the family ranch in Junction, Texas where the kids loved feeding deer, catching crawdads in the creek, skimming rocks and riding on golf carts.

For Sally and Steve, it doesn’t get much better than a front porch in the early evening, the sound of kids playing, the whiff of a BBQ, and a cold drink in hand. Just add a cowboy hat, and you’ll be holidaying in true Texan style.

First published, in part, in beijingkids magazine and on the beijingkids website.

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