Power up the time machine for an adventure through some of Dallas’ oldest and grandest sites, with kid-friendly “assignments” (i.e., cool experiences) to bring the past to life. These mini history lessons are the perfect way to get your family into the back-to-school spirit while making the most of the dog days of summer.
Sixth Floor Museum
Dates Back To: 1898 (but most importantly 1963)
Lesson: The Dealey Plaza building where Oswald fired the fatal shots had originally had been the Texas School Book Depository since the early 1900s. The building was vacant for years before its sixth floor was converted into a memorial museum in 1989.
Assignment: The museum offers a deep dive into all things JFK. While conspiracy theories and crime scene speculations attract a lot of attention, the museum gives your kids a chance to learn about the longlasting political and social impact of Kennedy’s short presidency. Ask for a kid-friendly version of the audio guide for an age-appropriate selfguided tour. $16 for adults, $13 for ages 6–18, $4 for age 5 and under.
411 Elm St., Dallas, 214/747-6660; jfk.org
The Heard Natural Science Museum
Dates Back To: The Cretaceous Period
Lesson: Dinosaurs weren’t the only prehistoric predators that roamed North Texas. In 2008, the bones of a Mosasaur—a fierce marine reptile that looked somewhat like a shark and ate like one too—were found in Garland and are now on display at the Heard Museum, along with other fossilized bones and shells.
Assignment: Before stepping outside to walk the trails or visit the Heard’s animal ambassadors, take a spin through the (air-conditioned!) indoor exhibits to see the Mosasaur and learn how volunteers excavated and prepared it for display. The kiddos can also climb inside a giant clam in the shell room. And on Sept. 1, the annual Dinosaurs Live! exhibit kicks off with nine new animatronic dinos roaring and chomping along the trails, plus a fossil dig area where mini paleontologists can practice unearthing the past. Admission to the Heard is $9 for adults and $6 for ages 3–12; prices increase Sept. 1.
1 Nature Place, McKinney, 972/562-5566; heardmuseum.org
The Texas Theatre
Dates Back To: 1931
Lesson: This Oak Cliff cultural gem offers a healthy serving of local lore. The ornate and technologically advanced Texas Theatre was partially funded by Texas-born billionaire, aviator and filmmaker Howard Hughes (yes, the one played by Leo DiCaprio). But the cinema house gained infamy on Nov. 22, 1963, when Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested while watching a movie after assassinating President Kennedy.
Assignment: Enjoy the air-conditioning (The Texas Theatre was the first in Dallas to offer that feature) on a guided tour, where you’ll learn about the history of the theater and see the approximate spot where Oswald was arrested. Or visit for a show—the theater plays new indie releases, plus older titles, including the occasional family-friendly flick.
231 W. Jefferson Blvd., Dallas, 214/948- 1546; thetexastheatre.com
Old Collin County Courthouse
Dates Back To: 1875 and 1927
Lesson: When this building was completed in 1875, it was the third iteration of a courthouse in McKinney Square and reportedly Texas’ tallest structure north of San Antonio. A remodel in 1927 added a story and changed the architectural style from Second Empire (so 19th-century) to Greek Revival. With county offices relocated in the ’70s, the building is now home to the McKinney Performing Arts Center.
Assignment: While you can’t watch any trials, drop in for a show in the Courtroom Theater. Two local companies perform here, including the Young Actors Guild. Be sure to pay a visit to the art gallery too, if only to walk through the vault door (think old-timey bank vault) from 1927. 111 N. Tennessee St., McKinney; 972/547- 2650; mckinneytexas.org
Highland Park Soda Fountain
Dates Back To: 1912
Lesson: Though the pharmacy part closed in 2010, the soda fountain hasn’t changed much since it opened—with its long bartop, vinyl stools and mirror wall behind the counter, it’s a time capsule from the heyday of soda fountains, an American staple in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Assignment: Practice old-fashioned soda fountain slang with your “soda jerk” (your server—who is actually nice!) and order an “American” (grilled cheese) and a “Waco” (Dr Pepper, of course). But no trip is complete without a milkshake or an ice cream soda. The cherry on top: Froggie’s 5 & 10 toy store is just down the block.
3229 Knox St., Dallas, 214/521-2126; highlandparksodafountain.com
McKinney Avenue Trolley
Dates Back To: Late 1800s
Lesson: Though the first streetcars were pulled by mules, not electricity, Dallasites used to ride the rails around town from the late 19th century into the mid-20th century. In the 1980s, the nonprofit McKinney Avenue Transit Authority decided to revive the old streetcar tradition (sans mules) and now operates a free, daily trolley route through Uptown and the Arts District.
Assignment: Look for the maroon M-Line Trolley signs to catch a ride on a restored streetcar from the early 1900s. Each car has a name (we’re fond of Green Dragon) and a bell to ring when you want to get off. To track the cars’ progress, visit track.mata.org.
Dallas, 214/855-0006; mata.org
Museum of the American Railroad
Dates Back To: The mid-1800s
Lesson: One of the key turning points in Texas history was the development of the railroad: With easier transportation came a wider market for farmers, putting Collin County towns on the map.
Assignment: If your kids are loco for locomotives, you can’t miss a trip to the Museum of the American Railroad—it’s under construction, but you can still take a guided, outdoor tour of the museum’s train cars, from Pullman sleeping cars to cabooses. Summer tours start at 11am Wednesday–Friday and 10am and 11:30am Saturday, through Aug. 18. $8 for adults and $4 for ages 3–12.
6455 Page St., Frisco, 214/428-0101; museumoftheamericanrailroad.org
Neiman Marcus Flagship
Dates Back To: 1914
Lesson: Seven years after its founding in 1907, the luxury retail company moved to this Renaissance Revival building, which has acted as its headquarters for over a century and a window into the fashion empire led by Carrie Marcus Neiman. She made European fashions available to Dallas women, and the fall fashion shows she began during the Great Depression made Big D a destination for haute couture.
Assignment: Before you even step inside, feast your eyes on the window displays. (And come back during the holidays, when the windows are decorated to resemble the store’s legendary Christmas catalogue.) When the kiddos need a break from shopping, make your way over to The Zodiac Room, where slathering strawberry butter on popovers is a 50-year tradition. 1618 Main St., Dallas, 214/741-691l; neimanmarcus.com
Dates Back To: 1918 via 1965
Lesson: We shudder to think where Tex- Mex cuisine would be without El Fenix. The restaurant chain that brought Tex-Mex to Dallas is celebrating its 100th birthday on Sept. 15. When the original cafe and ballroom in downtown Dallas were sold to the city to make way for the Woodall Rogers, operations shifted across the parking lot to the current downtown outpost in 1965.
Assignment: Thanks to El Fenix’s enchilada specials, Wednesdays are basically holidays in this town, but you can stop by any day to taste Texas’ culinary history. While the menu has expanded from the short list of dishes offered by founder Miguel “Mike” Martinez, the flavor and experience of El Fenix has remained the same. (The kids’ menu, however, received an upgrade two years ago in partnership with Medical City Children’s to offer healthier—but still Tex- Mex—choices.)
1601 McKinney Ave., Dallas, 214/747-1121; elfenix.com