Texans take heritage very seriously. In fact, there are more than 70 official state symbols. Ask any native or transplant to name a few quintessentially Lone Star State (the official nickname) things, and they’ll likely cite longhorns (official large mammal) and rodeos (obviously, the official sport). We lassoed some of the most beloved emblems — from the state instrument to the state cobbler (yep, there really is such a thing) — and found the places to see, do or enjoy each one.
Dinosaur: Paluxysaurus jonesi
Where to experience it: DinoLabs at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History
Fort Worth, 817/255-9300
Venture to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History to see a species of dinosaur that roamed our backyards long before Texas was even a state on the map. This dino was found in the town of Paluxy on the Jones Ranch in Hood County (about 80 miles southwest of Dallas) in 1982, and in 2007, this beast that was once thought to be a brachiosaur sauropod, was given its current one-of-a-kind scientific name, inspired by the location in which it was unearthed.
Additional fun for kids: Experiment with virtual fossils and reconstruct the dino — that measures a whopping 12 feet high, 70 feet long and weighs 20 tons — at the computer games within DinoLabs. Then venture outside to the museum’s DinoDig exhibit where kids excavate authentic, prehistoric clams, snails, sea biscuits and ammonites.
Price: Adults, $15; kids 2–12, $11; kids younger than 2, free
Reptile: Texas horned lizard
Where to experience it: Texas Horned Lizard exhibit at the Dallas Zoo
Texas Wild! at the Fort Worth Zoo
Fort Worth, 817/759-7555
This prickly reptile, commonly called a horny toad, bears this title because it is most widely found right here in Texas. Now threatened due to a combination of natural predators (mainly dogs and cats) and booming Texas development destroying natural habitats, these lizards are scarcely seen in the wild. They have all but disappeared in East and Central Texas and are decreasing in North Texas too. And while their protected status means zoo patrons can’t touch them, it also means that conservation efforts have ramped up in recent years.
Price: Dallas Zoo, Adults, $14; kids 3–11, $12; kids younger than 2, free; Fort Worth Zoo, Adults, $14; kids 3–12, $10; kids younger than 2, free
Large mammal: Longhorn
Where to experience it: Fort Worth Herd
Fort Worth, 800/433-5747
Though this cattle breed was adopted as the mascot of The University of Texas at Austin in 1917, it wasn’t until 1995 that it became a state symbol after elementary school kids voted on it. They recognized the longhorn as a mainstay in Texas ranching thanks to the mammal’s tough and well-adapted nature (it can go incredible distances without water, swim rivers and rustle its own food). See the massive animals daily, when 16 longhorns meander through the Historic Fort Worth Stockyards led by a trail boss and cowhands on horseback. Post up at a nearby restaurant (with outdoor seating) such as Riscky’s Barbeque or Trailboss Burgers to take in lunch and the show.
Additional fun for kids: After the drive, the longhorns settle down in a corral behind the Livestock Exchange Building. Walk around and snap photos of Texas’ iconic steer. See if any of the kids can guess the world record for the longest longhorn, tip to tip. (Hint: It’s over 8 feet.)
Railroad: Texas State Railroad
Where to experience it: The Texas State Railroad
Palestine and Rusk, 877/726-7245
All aboard for a train excursion starting and ending at two Victorian train depots in Rusk and Palestine. Established in 1881, the state’s only consistently running steam train was originally constructed and managed by the state penitentiary system, and it wasn’t designated as the official railroad until 2003. Today, take the Piney Woods excursion, a three-hour, round-trip historic tour. Pack a picnic and camera and reserve tickets far in advance because they sell out quickly.
Additional fun for kids: Train-loving tykes will go loco(motive) for special events like Teddy Bear’s Train Ride in August or the Polar Express in November and December.
Price: Starting at $32 for adults and $20 for kids 2–12
Shrub: Crape myrtle
Where to experience it: Crape Myrtle Parade
Crape myrtles aren’t native to Texas, but when seedlings were planted in Paris, Texas in 1857, they thrived so well in the arid-to-humid climate that the Texas legislature made it official. What better place to experience the state shrub than in the crape myrtle capital of Texas? Make a day trip south to Waxahachie on July 4 to hear marching bands, wave to the crape myrtle queen and see dozens of flower-inspired floats cruise down historic Main Street lined with — what else? — the towering flowering shrubs in full bloom during the annual Crape Myrtle Parade.
Additional fun for kids: If you can’t make it to the parade, find more than 120 varieties of shrubs in bloom until mid-September at the Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney (which happens to be America’s crape myrtle city). Start the tour at the 7-acre World Collection Park on Collin McKinney Parkway, where littles can run free through the crape myrtle beds. Hike up and roll down the park’s manmade promontory before continuing your tour northeast by car (download a map online).
Insect: Monarch butterfly
Where to experience it: Texas Discovery Gardens
It’s not just birds that fly south for the winter. The most recognizable butterflies in Texas also migrate thousands of miles from southern Canada to Mexico and right through the Lone Star State each fall and back again each spring. Due to the amount of time spent in Texas each migration season, these pollinators were named the state insect in 1995. To see these winged creatures, visit Texas Discovery Gardens’ extensive outdoor plant gardens, which were specially designed to please these delicate insects. Then find other free-flying tropical butterflies inside the two-story Rosine Smith Sammons Butterfly House and Insectarium. Arrive before noon to see the daily butterfly release and hear the talk in the butterfly house.
Additional fun for kids: Visit in early fall (late September through mid October) when monarchs migrate through North Texas. Or sign your bug-loving kid up for one of Texas Discovery Gardens’ many summer camps.
Price: Adults, $8; Kids 3–11, $4; kids younger than 3, free (additional costs for special events)
Where to experience it: Peach orchards and farms in the Texas Hill Country
Gillespie County Peach Farms
Peach JAMboree and Rodeo
Parker County Peach Festival
True story: In May 2013, the Texas State Legislature heard — and voted on — a bill that began, “All across the Lone Star State, perhaps no dessert is more welcome at the end of a meal than peach cobbler.” And so peach cobbler became the state’s official cobbler. To make your own, venture to Gillespie County in the Hill Country (about four hours southwest of Dallas) to pick the ripe stone fruit at Marburger Orchard in Fredericksburg (830/997-9433; marburgerorchard.com) or Jenschke Orchards (830/997-8422; bestfredericksburgpeaches.com). Or feast on the homemade dessert at the 55th Annual Peach JAMboree and Rodeo in Stonewall. The event promises a peach parade, peach patch (kids’ activity area), peach pit-spitting contest and plenty of the best peach ice cream on the planet.
Additional fun for kids: If a four-hour road trip seems too far, head to Weatherford (a little over an hour west of Dallas) for the 32nd Annual Parker County Peach Festival for a day filled with live music, train rides, face painting, carnival games and, of course, peach cobbler, ice cream, pie, jam and whole fruits for purchase.
Price: Admission to the JAMboree is free on Saturday until 6pm, then evening admission is $20 for adults and $5 for children 2–12. Admission to the Parker County Peach Festival is $5 for adults; free for kids 12 and younger.
Gem: Texas blue topaz
Where to experience it: Mason County
Topaz can be found in select areas of the country, including Utah and Colorado, but blue topaz — a Texas specialty — became the state gem in 1969. During that weekend excursion to the Hill Country, drive 45 minutes northwest to Mason County, a topaz hunting hotspot. Find the blue to colorless gems lying on the ground around creek beds and ditches (though some areas are pretty picked over). Stay for two nights at Lindsay Ranch to hunt for the jewels (with an additional fee). To dig without lodging, bring your own shovels and shifters and call Seaquist Ranch to join a daily hunt.
Additional fun for kids: None of these sites guarantee that you’ll strike gold (er, blue topaz), but kids like playing in the dirt anyway. Come armed with shovels, gloves and strainers.
Price: Varies by ranch
Pollinator: Western honey bee
Where to experience it: Round Rock Honey Beekeeping School and Native Bees for Your Garden Class
Round Rock Honey Beekeeping School
Native Bees for Your Garden
What’s buzzworthy about the western honey bee? According to state Rep. Elliott Naishtat, who proposed naming the winged insect as the official state pollinator last year, the honey bee contributes $15 billion to the nation’s economy each year” since this bee is responsible for pollinating many of Texas’ food and fiber essentials such as melons, onions and cotton. Learn about these bees, beekeeping, honey production, even suit up for hands-on experience during Round Rock Honey’s three-hour beekeeping class for adults and kids age 7 and older.
Additional fun for kids: If you’d prefer to start on the simpler side of bee education, take children ages 3 and older to a one-hour Native Bees for Your Garden class at Plano’s Oak Point Park Nature & Retreat Center. Kids will learn what bees need to survive and what role they play in our food supply, as well as make a bee box (a habitat for solitary bees such as carpenter bees) to take home. Kids will also learn about current challenges facing bee populations and what they can do to help.
Price: $125 per person for the Round Rock Honey beekeeping class; register online. $9 per child for the Native Bees for your garden class; register online.
Where to experience it: Mesquite Championship Rodeo
Influenced by the Spanish and Mexican roots of the Wild West, rodeo derived from both function and recreation. Watch cowboys make eight or hit dirt Saturday nights at 7:30pm at the Mesquite Championship Rodeo. Go for the barrel racing and calf roping and stay for the bull riding.
Additional fun for kids: In addition to the rodeo, kids activities include face painting and pony rides. And don’t miss a hilarious mock rodeo game called Mutton Bustin’, where youngins ride sheep (with a helmet) and try their best to hold on.
Price: Starting at $20 for adults and $10 for kids 3–12