Thrifty Student Trips in Texas

The school year is starting up again, as you know, and if you're a parent or teacher wanting a place to teach away from the whiteboard, look no further. Texas is a big state and there's no shortage of educational yet fun attractions for your students to enjoy without you spending a ton of money.

All of the following attractions are free unless otherwise stated.

Austin:

  • Texas State Capitol - Self-guided tours of the capitol, the grounds, and the Trail of Trees is available for free upon request and is offered in several languages.
  • Zilker Park
  • Mount Bonnell
  • Austin Nature and Science Center - An 80 acre nature center with educational exhibits and recreational activities. Educational programs occur year round but groups can also visit to see the Dino Pit, wildlife exhibits, Naturalist Workshop, and Beverly S. Sheffield Education Center.
  • Barton Creek Greenbelt
  • Concerts at Central Market
  • Harry Ransom Center - Archive, library, and museum through the University of Texas at Austin. See an original Gutenberg Bible circa 1454 (one of five in the Western Hemisphere), works by Frida Kahlo, original manuscripts by E.E. Cummings, Walt Whitman, and much more.
  • Austin Fire Museum
  • Blanton Museum of Art (Thursdays free)
  • Sept. 20th - 2015 Austin Museum Day, 44 museums admission free

San Antonio:

  • The Alamo - The infamous Texas mission which marks the battle between a handful of brave Texans against the army of General Santa Ana, a siege lasting 13 days.
  • Brackinridge Park
  • HemisFair Park
  • King William Historic District - A 19th century district designed by German immigrants to be a fashionable architectural district of Italianate, Greek Revival, and Victorian mansions. The area well supports walking tours and boasts a wonderful shopping area as well.
  • Japanese Tea Garden
  • San Antonio Missions National Historical Park - A beautiful park holding four out of San Antonio's five historic Spanish mission churches, the Alamo being the fifth. Built between the 17th-19th centuries, these missions stand in various levels of ruin but are all amazing pieces of history worth visiting.
  • Riverwalk
  • Fort Sam Houston Museum

Dallas-Fort Worth:

  • Public Art Walk - Guide yourself through 3.3 miles of public art featuring 30 significant pieces.
  • Dallas Arts District
  • Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum - Home of the Samurai Collection, holding over 1,000 ancient samurai artifacts and art.
  • African American Museum
  • Economy in Action exhibit at the Federal Reserve Bank
  • JFK Memorial at the "Grassy Knoll"
  • Hall of State - Located at Fair Park, memorializing Texas history in a beautiful Art Deco building.
  • Dallas Heritage Village (free 3rd Sunday of each month)
  • Pioneer Plaza
  • Founders Plaza
  • Cedar Ridge Preserve
  • Trinity River Audubon Center (free 3rd Thursday of each month)
  • Klyde Warren Park
  • Dallas Farmers Market

Houston:

  • Menil Collection
  • Museum of Printing History
  • Buffalo Bayou - Kayak, canoe, hike or bike and then check out the Waugh Bridge bat colony at dusk when 250,000 bats swarm out from under the bridge in a frenzy.
  • BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Houston - Hindu temple of extraordinary architectural importance as well as religious and historic significance.
  • Julia Ideson Library
  • Washington on the Brazos State Historic Site - The site on which 59 delegates decided to declare independence from Mexico in 1836, creating the Republic of Texas. The site includes several attractions and caters to school groups.
  • Heritage Center for Photography
  • Houston Museum of African American Culture
  • Rothko Chapel
  • Children's Museum (Thursdays 5-8 pm)
  • Museum of Fine Arts (free Thursdays 10 am-9 pm)
  • Houston Museum of Natural Science (free Thursdays after 3 pm)

El Paso:

  • El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center
  • El Paso Museum of Art - Home to many significant acquisitions like Gilbert Stuart's 1796 Portrait of George Washington, works by Botticelli and other European masters, as well as a large collection of Mexican artwork.
  • Ft. Bliss and Old Ironsides Museums
  • Heritage House at UTEP
  • Mount Cristo Rey
  • Franklin Mountains State Park
  • El Paso Museum of History
  • El Paso Missions Trail - Three historic missions make up this amazing trail. Lead your group via smart phone app or map to the missions of Ysleta, Socorro, and San Elizario.
  • San Elizario Historic Art District
  • Hueco Tanks State Park and Historical Site (adults $7, children under 12 are free) - A site of great significance for native Texans before Spanish settlements. See petroglyphs, learn about the original settlers who lived in the area as far back as AD 1150, and explore early ranch remains and ruins.

Libraries, campus tours, and public parks are almost always free to walk around as a class or student group. Also look into requesting tours of fire stations, police departments, your local city hall and other civic related centers. Government buildings will almost always grant guided tours of their facilities upon request and these make for fantastic learning environments because you are led by someone working in the field instead of a hired guide, allowing students to gain insight into the career path. Likewise, older students might find it beneficial to visit college campuses and other destinations that would enlighten on potential career paths; this is easy enough to do on a budget as well.

Historic walking tours didn't make it on the list because you can literally do this in any city, it's not particularly unique to one destination. The older Texas cities like El Paso and San Antonio will, of course, have more to see from a street-side historic perspective but all you need is a little information on where to look. Churches and religious centers are great places to look for education and enlightenment as well, and many will offer free tours although most may ask for a small donation for student groups.

Have fun with it. Whether you're a parent or a teacher, with a little creativity, you can make anything educational on a budget.