by Carmel L. Mooney
Amarillo, with its warm hospitality and small-town appeal, offers vacationing families the perfect West Texas road trip, right on historic Route 66.
When we flew in we loved the small, easy-to-navigate Rick Husband International Airport. We’d never before seen such friendly TSA folks, a clean airport, and all the airport staff was exceedingly efficient and generous.
When we got into Amarillo we found the downtown area the hub of history and peppered with locals who have a true sense of community, pride, and fellowship.
Where to Stay In Amarillo
Staying in the beautifully restored Fisk Building in the brand new Courtyard by Marriott proved to be the best choice. The comfortable and well-appointed new rooms overlook the historic downtown strip which is currently being revitalized by the proud citizens of Amarillo.
A labor of love, these folks have a long-term vision to bring back the best of downtown and they are well on their way. The charming brick streets, Pueblo-Deco-styled architecture, and retro neon signs are part of the process and add to the fun and ambiance.
Good Grub, Amarillo Style
Some of the best eateries downtown are just a few hundred feet from the Courtyard’s front door which is wonderful with kids in tow.
A block from the hotel, The Texas sushi rolls at Young Sushi are a must-try where friendly and entertaining sushi chefs donning cowboy hats add to the entertainment of this locals-loved restaurant. It recently moved to a newer and bigger building after literally outgrowing the old one as locals and visitors alike had been lining the streets to dine on the delicious fare served daily at this hidden gem. An unexpected surprise is the authentic floor dining areas in the back area, both Japanese and Thai styles.
Across the street from the hotel, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast at Café Marizon, where the homemade biscuits may take 20 minutes but are worth the wait, with every mouthful. They serve breakfast and lunch.
On the subject of food, The Big Texan is over the top. They serve Calf Fries, -yes, fried calf testicles, but why not? When in Texas, do as Texans do…besides everything is big in Texas. Especially the 72 oz. steak served for free if you can finish it all and the sides to boot, in less than an hour. If being kinder to the digestion is on the menu, the Big Texan has an array of various, less-obscene sizes of tender streak cuts, along with every side and beverage you’d expect from a famous steak house. The atmosphere is pure fun with calfskin tablecloths, conversation pieces, and live music. It is a must-stop landmark on Route 66 and a free limo will pick up your family in style and bring you back from the Big Texan, to area hotels and inns. The kid’s meals are even served in a real cowboy hat.
For an authentic taste of Amarillo, try a hearty breakfast at the Stockyard Café where the owner, a world-renown New York-trained chef, serves the most discriminating cowpokes, a stick-to-your-ribs meal.
Gunny sacks as window coverings, cowboy paraphernalia, and gifts and conversation pieces make this joint a fun and unforgettable dining encounter for all ages. Time your visit so that the kids can watch the livestock auction after breakfast for a real hoot.
Unearthing the Gems of Amarillo
The gorgeous Palo Duro Canyon State Park just outside Amarillo is much like the Grand Canyon but in many ways better. It is uncrowded, immaculate, and offers a chance for a family to hike, horseback ride, mountain bike, and enjoy the flora and fauna of such a spectacular geological wonder in a relaxed way.
Try, even if just for a short hike to get off the main road and take a walk or hike on one of many gorgeous trails. Communing with the wildlife while meandering through the juniper, mesquite, yucca, and prickly pear cactus, you will see a whole different side to this getaway gem, where the quiet stillness of the desert will speak to your soul. A junior naturalist program is perfect for the kids and will add to the excitement.
Cliff hugging, family-friendly cabins with incomparable views are available for rent. There are only a few so book early but this may offer one of the most rugged yet comfortable stays where mind-blowing sunsets and sunrises are guaranteed and you can have a relaxed family picnic and enjoy the majesty from your private little slice of heaven. The state of Texas and Amarillo residents are proud of the longest-running musical theatrical drama in the state which is shown throughout the summer months in the park. “Texas”, with its awe-inspiring effects, drama, history, and fireworks draws a cast from around the world.
Yes, big again…the Panhandle Plains History Museum is in a class all its own. It’s been described as a Smithsonian with a Texas accent and accurately so. We were amazed that this stupendous museum covers everything in and of Texas with displays of windmills, firearms, art, oil history, dress, native Americans, and much more. Allow a few hours for the entire family to truly enjoy and experience the vastness of this cultural wonder. We were awestruck!
The American Quarter Horse Museum and Hall of Fame are exceptional. Any horse or western lovers must spend an hour or two here. A wonderful blend of history, education, and artifacts makes this a gem in Amarillo. There are lots of great hands-on exhibits for the little ones. Anyone who has ever owned a horse or dreamed of it will be enthralled.
The Kwahadi Kiva Indian Museum and Event Center in Amarillo is a unique glimpse at the native American heritage of the region. Housed in a gorgeous building and ran by dedicated staff, this cultural center is to be praised for its outstanding commitment to community, country, and history. Amazing art, artifacts, and live shows make this a must-stop.
The Kwahadi Dancers Venture Crew 9 who travel around the world performing in top-notch quality make this their home. The intricate and authentic costumes made and worn by these youth who are mentored by native Americans in dance, costuming, and customs are surprising. It is more than heartwarming and entertaining to see a collaborative effort so meticulously presented and enjoyed both on a regional and international level by folks so dedicated to the betterment of their cultures, community, and world. All ages are simply captivated by the beauty of the performances.
Warmth, community, history, quality, diversity – are just a few ways to describe the flavor of Amarillo.
We found Amarillo to be one of the best family travel experiences and destinations we’d ever encountered across our great nation. Surprisingly, Amarillo is only a day’s drive from many hot spots in New Mexico and Colorado. On your next visit to Texas, Route 66 or through the southwest, take a few days to experience this true gem of West Texas.
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Carmel L. Mooney is a travel columnist and the editor of Road Trips for Couples.