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8 Historic Downtowns Worth Exploring with Your Kids

Find history and fun in old historic downtowns

Thanks to the Texas Main Street Program and grassroots revitalization efforts, old town squares and main drags across North Texas are getting family-friendly facelifts. Spend a day wandering these historic blocks to see architecture and artifacts, test out the local playground equipment and sample grub from local farmers and eclectic eateries.

The historic square in Celina is still a work in progress, but families can already taste (literally) the fruits of the city’s labors during Friday Night Markets (142 N. Ohio St.). Once a month from spring through fall, farmers, winemakers, artists and other vendors share their wares on the square. Kids dance to the live music or join the talent show, ice cream contest or sack races — activities vary by month. During the day, sample clean, local ingredients at Toasted Walnut (222 Walnut St., 972/382-4500), a farm-to-table cafe that serves lunch Monday–Saturday. Indulge in the four-cheese grilled cheese sandwich (because grilled cheese is so not just for kids), then let the kiddos roam at the Founders Station Park (132 N. Louisiana Drive) playground a block away from the square, or take a break inside the Celina Library (142 N. Ohio St., 972/382-8655), which offers puppets, puzzles and picture books — plus story time Fridays at 10:30am — and coffee for Mom and Dad. The free Celina Museum (211 W. Pecan St., 972/382-3600) is open Thursday 1–3pm or call Jane Huddleston at 972/948-5645 to set up a tour on other days; the newspaper office-turned nonprofit museum still houses the original printing equipment, plus an old bank counter and vault and other vignettes from Celina’s history.

Saturdays from 8am–noon, local farmers and other vendors set up shop on the green lawn and pavilion in Old Town Coppell, the historical heart of the city. The Coppell Farmers Market (768 W. Main St.) runs through mid-November, and the interactive fountain next door is on through the end of October. There’s also a playground, plus men’s and women’s restrooms with changing tables. Be sure to visit the newly opened George Coffee + Provisions (462 Houston St., 469/464-3107), owned by a family of four who live above the store. George has honey and vanilla lattes for Mom, and multiple rooms to take a break with your brood, including a library where the kids can sip lemonade or dairy-free cocoa while flipping through children’s books.

An impressive stone courthouse anchors the historic Granbury Square, which attracts beachgoers in warm weather (the sand at City Beach Park on the shores of Lake Granbury was imported from South Padre Island) and festivalgoers to the town’s full slate of events. You can tour the Hood County Jail Museum (208 N. Crockett St., 817/573- 5135) on Friday, Saturday or Sunday from 1–4pm to see the historic jail cells as well as old-fashioned school desks, toys and other town memorabilia. Admission is $2 for ages 12 and up, $1 for ages 6–12 and free for littles 5 and younger. Walk a few blocks to the Granbury Doll House (421 E. Bridge St., 817/894-5194), a quaint 1905 Victorian that’s home to dolls of all makes and vintages and four fully furnished doll houses (open Friday–Sunday only), and sample the sausage at Ketzler’s Schnitzel Haus & Biergarten (101 E. Pearl St., 682/936-2777), where the kiddos can order their own schnitzel plates, and live music fills the patio on weekends.  

Look for artistically painted pianos as you wander Mansfield’s Main Street — Downtown Mansfield, Inc. gives donated pianos to local artists, who dress them up to be public art. When you spot one, the kids are free to take a seat and have a jam session. And try to take a selfie with all 30 public paintings that were commissioned for the Mansfield 30 in 30 project. Two local artists added 30 paintings to area walls, sidewalks and even utility boxes; stop by the Mansfield Historical Museum and Heritage Center  (102 N. Main St., 817/473-4250)  to pick up a scavenger hunt checklist. While you’re there, you can see exhibits on the town’s history, including recreated living quarters upstairs. On Saturdays through October, grab fresh tamales from the Mansfield Farmers Market (East Broad Street at Walnut Creek Drive). Cake makers, honey farmers and other vendors set up shop from 8am–1pm just a few blocks from Main Street.

Make the 30-minute drive northeast from Denton to see the historic architecture in Denton County’s oldest town. Let the kiddos release some energy at the freshly renovated Old City Park (130 E. Division St.) a block away from the town square. The park has lots of swings — including one that can accommodate a wheelchair — plus a brand-new play structure and a splash pad that runs through the end of September. When you need to refuel, stop by Magnolia Station (110 E. Liberty St., 940/686-2060), a 1920s filling station-turned-grub spot with barbecue, burgers and community-style outdoor seating. Order a Black and Bleu burger for Mom and Dad and grilled cheese for the littles, or ask the chef to whip up a mini burger plate. For dessert, try the homemade birthday cake gelato at PiPo’s Chill Factory (108 N. Washington St.), a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ice cream shop behind the old bank building that’s open 3:30–8pm Tuesday–Saturday. The bank building itself is perhaps the city’s most famous landmark, as it appeared in the 1967 Bonnie and Clyde starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. Every year, the city hosts Bonnie and Clyde Days with a reenactment, fun run, kids’ zone and more.

Roanoke’s revitalized Oak Street is the artery of the Unique Dining Capital of Texas — but before you indulge, grab a walking tour brochure at the Visitor Center And Museum  (114 N. Oak St., 817/491-6090) housed in a 19th-century saloon, where you’ll also find locally unearthed mammoth molars and an old-fashioned telephone the kiddos can crank. Then take your pick of Oak Street’s culinary offerings, from casual taco joints like Tacos & Avocados (101 S. Oak St., 817/491-4442) (which has a patio with picnic tables) to local produce from the Roanoke Farmers Market (221 N. Oak St.), open Saturday mornings through Sept. 30. Don’t forget dessert — take home a mini pie or a slab of fudge from Oak St. Pie Co. (110 N. Oak St., 817/490-0994) or visit Hey Sugar! Candy Store  (111 S. Oak St., 682/831-9900)  for sweets of all kinds, an array of specialty sodas (the pickle juice soda is surprisingly not bad) and their concoction du jour: cupcake ice cream sandwiched between cherry Pop-Tarts. The brightly painted shop has a coin-operated horse and car on the front porch and TVs inside showing films like Tangled and The Wizard of Oz, though the kiddos will be plenty distracted by the canisters of old-fashioned candy waiting to be scooped for $2.50 per quarter-pound.

Morning or evening? The best time to visit historic downtown Rockwall is up for debate: Saturday mornings through Sept. 30, the Rockwall Farmers Market  (101 E. Rusk St.) offers local produce, fresh food and live music from 8am–noon. But on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights through the end of October, the area hosts the San Jacinto Plaza Music Series  (104 S. San Jacinto St.) — bring lawn chairs and coolers to wind down with live tunes. No matter when you visit, take a self-guided walking tour (download the history-packed map and guide from rockwall.com/mainstreet) and share a pizza from Zanata  (202 E. Rusk St., 972/722-2822) topped with organic ingredients and local veggies — the kids can even watch the pies going into the wood-fired oven. For something sweet, stop in to Rockwall Drug & General Store (106 S. Goliad St., 972/722-3784), a pharmacy that also stocks oldfashioned candy, colorful wooden toy sets from Melissa & Doug (including demo toys to keep little hands busy) and Blue Bell ice cream — get yours in the form of a milkshake or float.

Wide Awake Wylie lives up to its nickname: Ballard Street hosts popular events year-round, from a summertime bluegrass festival to October’s Boo on Ballard, but you and the kiddos can go anytime to see historic architecture (watch for the stately Brown House to reopen for tours this fall) or do a palette-pleasing cafe crawl. First play “I spy” using the giant mural in Olde City Park  (112 S. Ballard Ave.) that honors the city’s history. After hitting the swings and climbing the park’s two new playground structures, treat the littles to frozen hot cocoa or a custom Italian soda (and grab yourself some nitro cold brew on tap) at Conversations Coffee Bar  (304 N. Ballard Ave., 469/863-7387) and challenge them to a game of cornhole. Or take it inside at Shoemaker & Hardt (105 N. Ballard Ave., 972/442-0860), an eclectic gift shop with an impressive coffee and ice cream menu and a checkers table at the cozy seating area. For a heartier meal, try the just-opened Angel’s Ice Cream And Deli (101 S. Birmingham St., 469/888-2225). They’re off to a good start serving $1.99 kids’ sandwiches, Boar’s Head meats and homestyle ice cream to enjoy in the rustic interior or at picnic tables outside.