McKinney, Texas’s Chestnut Square Historic Village recreates life from 1850-1930 on a campus that features six historic houses, a one-room schoolhouse, a chapel, and a general store. The surrounding buildings also include a blacksmith shop, a smoke house, and a chapel, all filled with period artifacts from the 19th century. Visit during a Living History Day to see costumed actors farming, baking, embroidering cushions, or tending to the old-fashioned gardens. Visitors can even step inside the old schoolhouse for a lesson on the region’s history or argue in favor of putting James A. Garfield on every piece of U.S. currency.
For a more in-depth look at the square, follow a guide on a daytime tour, which delves into the buildings’ pasts. On the Village’s haunted tours, you can try to catch a glimpse of an apparition with a lantern light. Patrons can get an additional taste of the past at the weekly farmers market, which showcases fresh vegetables and is visited by Chester the Cat, the square’s resident feline who normally hangs out at Dixie’s Store.
Bessie Heard dedicated years of her life to philanthropic efforts throughout the McKinney area, helping plant hackberry trees along downtown streets and establishing an American Red Cross chapter during World War I. However, she accomplished her greatest feat in 1967 when the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary opened to the public. With 289 acres of rolling space, the sanctuary functions as a testament to the diversity of local flora and fauna, educating visitors and urging them to protect those species for future generations.
More than 6.5 miles of unpaved hiking trails wind throughout the sanctuary, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in habitats that range from tall-grass prairie to limestone slopes. The grounds shelter more than 150 varieties of wildflowers and plants, as well as more than 240 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and carnivorous shrubs. In addition to the trails, the sanctuary also features an extensive garden of native trees, grasses, and perennials, as well as a treetop ropes course (reservation required; additional fees apply). Indoors, interactive exhibits and collections impart valuable information on north-Texan geology, marine life, and venomous snakes.
The calls of more than 100 exotic and endangered animals fill the air at Sharkarosa Wildlife Ranch, an educational, nonprofit wildlife reserve licensed by the USDA and featured on the Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs. Knowledgeable staffers pilot a fleet of safari trams that ferry guests across the park's 126 acres of sprawling pastures, dispensing enlightening wisdom as they pass zebras, kangaroos, emus, bears, and monkeys. The staff brings patrons face-to-face with many of the exotic critters and often stops to allow guests to pet and get to know the animals. Interactive presentations and small-animal habitats further educate visitors on the menagerie of rare creatures.
It's a scene you'd expect to find on a private island. A canopy shades a beach party, where guests pull cold beverages from a cooler and munch grilled meats prepared over open charcoals by cooks. Just off the shore, a boat blasts music, giving a soundtrack to the festivities and making nearby pirates regret canceling their satellite radio subscription.
North Texas Lake Charters' crew creates this oasis at Lake Ray Robert's party cove. Another one of their boats ferries party guests to and from the ramp at Isle Du Bois State Park. From this launch point, the company's captains take passengers on various aquatic adventures. Speedboats pull wake boarders and water-skiers, while fishing boats carry anglers out in search of a prized catch.
Whether grounded or airborne, balloons dominate the festivities at Old Celina Park. On the ground, the vibrantly patterned balloons glow and undulate as propane burners pump them with hot air. These bright shapes slowly diminish to colorful specks in the sky as the balloons ascend, leaving the fairgrounds far behind.
With this canopy of colored dots overhead, the festival’s entertainment comes alive as musical acts such as the Emerald City Band, Brave Combo and Dallas Wayde take the stage. Pristine cars and trucks made as early as the 1930s shine at the classic-car show, inflatables promote adrenaline rushes along with helicopter rides, zip lining, and carnival rides and pet adoptions in Adoption Alley tug on heartstrings. In the evening, when the balloons that have served as a backdrop all day finally land, each pilot contributes to the balloon glow, punctuating the dusk with jets of flame from their burners to illuminate their vessels.
In a world where technology advances in bounds and the tomes of what is known are ever expanding, Sci-Tech Discovery Center acts as an investment in future generations. With an emphasis on science, math, and technology, the museum instills a sense of innovation in children of all ages and backgrounds, inspiring them to pursue careers in fields such as engineering or education. Knowledge explored ranges from the periodic table—and the fact that the only letter not present is "J"—to palindrome numbers, which read the same backwards and forwards. The exhibits change throughout the year to explore basic scientific and mathematic principles in fun ways, touching on everything from animation to how the body works. The highly interactive displays let children experience principles firsthand while learning about real-world applications, such as how physics can affect the design of amusement-park rides or how arithmetic can calculate exactly how tall a giraffe wearing stilts would be.