Quick Summer Trips

By DeShonna Johnson

One problem my family usually has come summertime is deciding on a summer trip everyone in the family will enjoy. Whether we’re looking for a theme park the kids will go crazy for or a relaxing vacation fit for the adults to lay out, it seems we always struggle finding the perfect spot with a little bit of everything. Yet, where I have noticed my family going wrong —which I’m sure is the case for most families during summer trip planning — is that we focus entirely on the popular destinations: Jamaica, Six Flags, a cruise to the Bahamas. All nice places, yes. However, there are cities within our area that possess all the qualities and kinks we look for in trips to satisfy each person alike.

With a three hour drive from Shreveport in either direction, you can find yourself headed for a quick and quirky summer trip that will be fun for the entire family in either Lafayette, Dallas, or Hot Springs, Ark. From attractions that satisfy your inner food critic to those that send your adrenaline racing, these cities are equipped with them all. Outside of attractions, each possess a different culture worthy of exploration — whether it be the Cajun capital of the Boot, the BIG city of Texas, or the spa and bathhouse hub of Arkansas. Three different cultures, three different trips but the same good fun.

Lafayette, La.

Traveling to this southern Louisiana town, you need to prepare for the Cajun experience. With a historical background as far back as the 18th century, the town is an ode to its Nova Scotian ancestors, “les Acadiens,” that are the Cajun people of today. The food, the attractions, and the music that surround Lafayette are a must-see for anyone interested in re-living history.

The history of the town is important to its culture, which is a main reason for why you should invest some of your vacation time towards visiting Lafayette’s historical attractions. The Vermilionville Living History Museum and Folklife Park should be your first stop in Lafayette to indulge in the beginning of the Cajun culture. With a main focus of showcasing the lives of the Acadian (Cajun), Native American and Creole people, this museum incorporates live demonstrations by local artisans, seven restored homes from the time period including a chapel and a schoolhouse, and occasional exhibits. There are also Friday Jam sessions to spread knowledge of the Cajun culture. During July, Vermilionville will be showcasing the ‘Acadians through the Generations’ exhibit, which will display the evolution of the Acadian descendants from World War II to present day.

When you’re finished giving the kids a history lesson at Vermilionville, stop by Lafayette’s Children Museum of Acadiana (CMA). From playing a customer at the grocery store to a doctor, CMA has a variety of themed exhibits that will allow your kids to explore the big world. More than toys, the kids can sit in an actual ambulance and perform real X-rays.

For the nature lovers in the family, venture to Lafayette’s swamps where you can experience the Atchafalaya Experience, the Acadiana Park Nature Station, Zoosiana and the Cajun Country Swamp Tours. With your choice between the Atchafalaya Experience or Cajun Country Swamp Tours, you and your family can venture out among one of North America’s largest river swamps, the Atchafalaya, or Cypress Island and Lake Martin. Both will set you on a journey into the river community of Lafayette and allow for your family to see animal life from egrets to alligators, up close and personal. At the Acadiana Park Nature Station, you can take the family hiking on one of the seven miles of hiking trails or onto the kayak launch for an afternoon of kayaking on the François Coulee. For moments when you want to stay dry and not have to worry about riding boats, Zoosiana is a place to see wildlife with its selection of over 750 animals.

Cajun food is the blood of Lafayette. For a trip here, the food is far from bland as the spices of Cajun cuisine are plenty. Crawdads to cornbread, you can explore all the tastes of Acadian culture on a Cajun Food Tour with your family. For live music, art galleries, and fountains for the kids to run through, go to downtown Lafayette where the entertainment thrives. In fact, coming up July 11 is downtown Lafayette’s 2nd Saturday Artwalk where the galleries will display the works of local artists.

Dallas, Texas

For the city dweller in your family, head to Dallas where there’s more than just Texan barbecue (although that’s sure to be an added bonus). Good food, thrill rides and kooky museums are what make Dallas a great place to plan a quick summer vacation to a city with a lot of variety.

Unlike Lafayette, the history behind the city isn’t a major force in its culture. The Perot Museum of Nature and Science is a recently opened museum that features 11 permanent exhibits including a children’s museum built with an art lab, a fossil digging area, and a sports exhibit where you can race an NFL running back and see who really is the fastest. Another museum the family will enjoy is just a couple of miles outside of Dallas in Grand Prairie: Ripley’s Believe it Or Not. Glance over shrinking heads and try your shot at a laser maze at this ‘odditorium’ you have seen so many times on SyFy reruns.

As they say, everything is bigger in Texas. Dallas is the epitome of BIG culture. When you think nothing can top what you may have seen in the past, Dallas tops it. Head over to the Dallas World Aquarium where it’s more than an aquarium; it’s a wildlife extravaganza. Outside of its 20,000-gallon aquarium tunnel, you can see animals from all over the world like axolotls, Hoffman’s two-toed sloths, and South African black-footed penguins.

After seeing the aquarium’s display of exotic birds, let the thrill-seekers of your family fly from the trees at the Trinity Forest Adventure Park. This aerial forest ropes course is a great place to hit in Dallas where the family can create their own thrill ride as they zip line from tree to tree and even participate in military-style obstacles. Kids as young as six are able to participate, so there are no worries about the young ones having to sit out. If your family isn’t really into heights, there are other options. Take the kids to Legoland or Shenaniganz in Rockwall, Texas where both offer a number of fun activities for a wide range of ages including rides, go karts and a jump zone.

Of course, the food in Dallas is going to be memorable. Stop by Lockhart Smokehouse to indulge in some Texan BBQ from brisket and ribs by the half-pound and the traditional southern side dishes. Hypnotic Donuts is a great place to stop by for a donut topped with bacon and peanut butter like the Evil Elvis or one of its freshly made chicken biscuits.

Dallas seems to be quite the exciting trip, but don’t worry, you won’t lose all your energy. Take your family to one of Dallas’ Addison Summer Series concerts in Beckert Park during July for free music and a laid-back picnic or to see the band Imagine Dragons on July 17 at the American Airlines center.

Hot Springs, Ark.

A scenic beauty, Hot Springs, Ark. coins itself, ‘America’s first resort.’ Compact with a view of the Ouachita Mountains and three lakes, the town is a destination meant to relax and soothe. Named after the hot springs that are pumped into its many downtown spas, the town was designated the first federal reservation in 1832 by President Andrew Jackson.

But forget everything you have ever heard or read about Hot Springs. Sure, it’s a great resort for spas and bathhouses, however, there is much more to this Arkansas town than meets the eye. There are hidden treasures this site offers including great Latin food (even BBQ), fun attractions and beautiful scenery.

In Hot Springs, you can rent a cabin on one of its three lakes in the area: Catherine, Hamilton and Ouachita. Spend the last of summer with your family fishing, hiking, swimming or laying out in the sun. When you’re ready to seek all what Hot Springs has to offer, try taking a National Park Duck Tour where you will spend an hour and a half riding on a Duck — a DUKW, or a WWII landing craft used to ship cargo from sea to shore — through the town and straight into Lake Hamilton for a cruise around St. John’s Island.

After your bout on Lake Hamilton, you should head to the Garvan Woodland Gardens where there is a sight that will make you glad you missed the spa. With 210 acres of lush forest, the Gardens include a Japanese garden, a children’s garden and a bird sanctuary. Take the kids to the Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo where they can hold an alligator. Like Dallas, you can take the family on a zip line course but also take a look into Ron Coleman Mining where your family can mine for their very own crystals.

Although an overall relaxing destination filled with a number of bathhouses and spas, Hot Springs has great attractions for the kids to be active. Magic Springs and Crystal Falls water and theme park features nearly 20 rides and a water park with a splash zone and four major attractions. There’s also the Maxwell Blade Oddities Museum and Theater of Magic where the family can enjoy a magic show and dinner after seeing nearly 300 rare and unusual artifacts from around the world.

Don’t worry about dining when you visit because the cuisine is as diverse as the town’s attractions. Dine on the patio at Rolando’s for authentic Latin cuisine while tuning your ears to the live music or go back in time in its ‘20s-themed speakeasy. Satisfy your sweet tooth when you stop by The Fudge Factory where you can grab homemade fudge and candy in time to catch one of Hot Springs events.

All three cities are fantastic places to take the family before the task of back-to-school shopping edges closer. They may not be Montego Bay or Nassau but that’s the beauty in them. They are treasures in your backyard, and what could be better than that?

BONUS: Make a splash at Holiday Springs Water Park in Texarkana. Info here.