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Family fun tour of Tarrant County

Posted 4:29pm on Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011

Tarrant County is a great place for families – whether you live here or you're just visiting.

To get you started, we picked out a few of our favorite places to hang out with kids in tow.

For animal lovers, check out the Fort Worth Zoo, home to almost 7,000 wild creatures.

For families who like some education with their amusement, head straight to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, where kids will happily wear themselves out with all the interactive exhibits.

If your family likes getting outside and getting in touch with nature, a trip to Arlington’s River Legacy Parks and Living Science Center is the way to go.

And for those who want to combine shopping with Texas history and culture (and even a ride on a vintage railroad), we suggest a day at Grapevine’s Historic Downtown.

Fort Worth Zoo

It's the oldest zoo in Texas and one of the top zoos in the nation. It features almost 7,000 animals and 14 major exhibits that are open every single calendar day.

Location: 1989 Colonial Parkway, Fort Worth, TX 76110

Hours: Open 365 days a year; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. Saturday-Sunday through Sept. 21, 2014; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily Sept. 22-Oct. 26; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily Oct. 27-Feb. 13, 2015

Why go? The Fort Worth Zoo is the oldest zoo in Texas and one of the top zoos in the nation. It features almost 7,000 animals and 12 permanent exhibits that are open every day.

Don't miss: One of the great things about the zoo is the expansive Texas Wild! exhibit, which stretches across more than eight acres. This area, which celebrates the Lone Star State's history and the plants and animals of its six distinct geographic regions, is highly interactive.

Eat this: The zoo's Ice Cream Shop features Texas' own Blue Bell ice cream.

Best souvenir: You'll find unique Texas memorabilia in the Texas Wild! General Store.

Cost: $12; children 3-12 and seniors 65 and up, $9. Wednesdays are half-price admission.

Did you know? The zoo supports conservation projects in more than 30 countries and has received numerous conservation awards for its work with species including the Jamaican iguana, Asian turtles, the red wolf and the Puerto Rican crested toad.

Info: www.fortworthzoo.org

Fort Worth Museum of Science and History

Location: 1600 Gendy St., Fort Worth, Texas 76107; 817-255-9300

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sundayclosed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day)

Why go? With more than 166,000 square feet packed with interactive exhibits and historical artifacts, this is one of the hot spots for edu-tainment in Tarrant County. There's a children's museum with play stations for those 8 and under; a DinoDig, a multi-sensory theater where you'll learn about energy; a planetarium, a 60-foot long dinosaur skeleton, an Imax movie screen, special exhibitions and much, much more.

Don't miss: The Cattle Raisers Museum, a museum within the museum. In this could-only-be-in-Texas area you'll take an interactive look at the cattle industry and the wild, wild west. Be sure to race your friends by riding the faux horses in a cattle round-up computerized game.

Eat this: Stars Café features five serving stations, ranging from Tex-Mex and barbecue to pizza and deli sandwiches. Each station includes Kid Zone choices. Insiders say the brisket and pulled pork sandwiches are popular.

Best souvenir: The String Thing ($23.95) is part-art, part-science fun. A rainbow-colored string passes through a battery-operated gadget that sends it looping around in a free-form shape. Touch the string, and a new moving shape forms. Comes with a built-in black light.

Cost: $15 for adults; $13 for seniors (60 and up) and $11 for children (2-12). (Additional charges: Omni Theater tickets are $4-$7 for adults and $3-$6 for seniors and children)

Did you know? The museum got a brand-new building in November 2009. Designed by Mexico City-based architects Ricardo and Victor Legorreta, the interior structure features oodles of geometric shapes, reinforced by intense pops of color.

Info: www.fwmuseum.org

GRAPEVINE'S HISTORIC DOWNTOWN

At the Cotton Belt Depot, visit a working blacksmith, then ride a vintage railcar over to Fort Worth's Stockyards.

Location: Main St., Grapevine, 817-410-3185; Cotton Belt Depot, 705 S. Main St., Grapevine, 817-410-3557.

Railroad schedule: Closed in January; Open Saturday-Sunday February through May; Friday-Saturday-Sunday May 30-Aug. 31; Saturday-Sunday Sept. 6-Nov. 23. "North Pole Express" oen Nov. 28-Dec. 23; after-Christmas trains to Fort Worth Stockyards, Dec. 26-30.

Why go? Many of Main Street's buildings date back to the early 20th century. Park the car and visit the many shops that line the main drag and its adjacent streets. You'll find antique stores, clothing boutiques, Texas gift shops, home décor shops, places to sip Grapevine-produced wines, a year-round Christmas store and lots of opportunities for eating, whether you're looking for a sweet treat for the kids or a sit-down steak dinner. Kids will be excited about the city's old "calaboose," or jail, which is open to the public and a good photo opp.

Don't miss: At the Cotton Belt Depot, visit a working blacksmith, then ride a vintage railcar over to Fort Worth's Stockyards, where for two hours you can shop, make your way through a giant maze, visit the city's longhorn herd and Billy Bob's Texas, and then take the return trip back to Grapevine. The Vintage Railroad has a bunch of seasonal events, from a North Pole Express and a Jazz Wine Train to an October Scream Train and a February Sweetheart Express.

Eat this: At 802 N. Main St. you'll find Tolbert's restaurant. The original location in Dallas was founded in 1976 by Frank X. Tolbert Sr. and his son. Tolbert was a well-known journalist, historian and storyteller. This location is in a 1911 historic building. Try Tolbert's chili or an angus steak. There's also a kids menu with some standard choices - burgers, hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches. The menu features several Texas wines.

Best souvenir: At Texas Tee's & Collectibles on Main Street, we like the classic "Don't Mess with Texas" shirt for $12.99 (adults) and the wide selection of reasonably priced cowboy Ts and hats for kids. And what little girl wouldn't want one of Aurora's Fancy Pal creations - it's a soft-sided purse that holds a little plush pony, $14.99.

Cost: The basic round-trip ticket on the railroad to Fort Worth is $20 for adults; $18 for seniors and $10 for children 3-12. For special events, times and prices may vary.

Did you know? Grapevine has special events every weekend, including frequent live performances and films at the Palace Arts Center and loads of festivals. Adults may want to explore the 10 Grapevine winery tasting rooms.

Info: www.grapevinetexasusa.com (downtown; wineries); www.gvrr.com (railroad)

RIVER LEGACY PARKS AND LIVING SCIENCE CENTER

If you want to get outside, connect with nature and stretch your legs, head for this North Arlington park, which features pavilions, a playground, open fields and fabulous bike and hike trails.

Location: 703 N.W. Green Oaks Blvd., Arlington Texas 76006; 817-860-6752

Park hours: 5 a.m.-10 p.m. daily

Science Center hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday (closed on major holidays)

Why go? If you want to get outside, connect with nature and stretch your legs, head for this north Arlington park, which features pavilions, a playground, open fields and fabulous bike and hike trails. The main well-paved, shady trail follows the Trinity River for almost 7 miles. If you've got a mountain bike, there's also an off-road trail. The Living Science Center is a good stop for little ones - view a tarantula, snakes, toads, frogs, turtles, a possum and other animals, and play with interactive exhibits on Texas rivers, the Arlington landfill and more. Walking paths around the center take you past native plants and a turtle-filled pond and into a rich forest.

Don't miss: Snake feedings at 4 p.m. every Friday at the Living Science Center and frequent special events in the park and Living Science Center, including nature walks, kayak paddling, story times, bug collecting adventures and seasonal festivals.

Best souvenir: A small but well-stocked gift shop in the Living Science Center features gardening kits and tools for kids, Folkmanis handpuppets (we love the soft porcupine, $12.99) and low-maintenance, highly entertaining eco-aquariums with miniature aquatic frogs for $34.99.

Cost: Free.

Did you know? Lots of Texas wildlife call the park home -- a Star-Telegram reporter even saw a bobcat on one of the trailheads.

Info: www.riverlegacy.org

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