Best things to do with kids from science and technology to art to the outdoors
Houston may be known for its aerospace and oil and gas industries, but this busy business town is also home to plenty of family-friendly entertainment. From wildlife and outdoors to science and technology to art, Houston shines as a premier place to play.
KidTripster Tip: If you’ll be visiting multiple locations on this list, consider buying a Houston CityPASS for extra discounts.
The Museum District in central Houston is home to several prime attractions that each alone could fill a day. The recently-expanded Houston Zoo (6200 Hermann Park Dr.) covers 55 acres, complete with a dedicated children’s zoo, playground, pirate ship, and splash pad. Our kids love to wave down the easily identifiable Zoo Rangers in their red shirts for an animal trading card. Cost: Youth (2-11) $13; Adults (12-64) $17.
KidTripster Tip: The Houston Zoo offers free admission on the first Tuesday of each month, September through May, from noon until closing.
The Children’s Museum of Houston (1500 Binz St.) boasts a three-story combination of playground, science museum, and cultural awareness exhibits. There’s also an outdoor water area that can keep the kids cool and teach them interesting facts about water. Cost: All (1+) $12.
KidTripster Tip: Attend free family night every Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. Or save money if you’re a Bank of America cardholder on the first full weekend of each month; offer only valid for the cardholder; must present Bank of America card.
Dig deeper at the recently-expanded Houston Museum of Natural Science (5555 Hermann Park Dr.), showcasing an amazing display of 450+ fossils and casts. The insect and butterfly exhibit will entertain those that enjoy butterflies landing on their shoulders, while cultural buffs can cut their teeth on the Halls of the Americas and Ancient Egypt with their collections of artifacts and textiles. Cost: Youth (3-11) $15; Adults $25.
And only in Texas will you find body parts the size of a giant at the Health Museum (1515 Hermann Dr.), which is geared toward children ages 8 and up. Our kids delighted in crawling inside a BFG-sized intestine, sparking interesting discussions about the human anatomy on the ride home. Cost: Youth (3-12) $7; Adults $9.
KidTripster Tip: At the Health Museum, families get in free every Thursday from 2 to 7 p.m.
At the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (1001 Bissonnet St.) head downstairs to the Kinder Foundation Education Center, where you can pick up an excellent scavenger hunt backpack with associated audio, toys, and descriptions to aid your adventure. Cost: Youth (12 & under) Free; Youth (13–18) $7.50, Adults $15.
KidTripster Tip: On Thursdays, general admission to the Museum of Fine Arts is completely free; the museum is open late until 9 p.m.
Hermann Park (6001 Fannin St.), buttressed by the Miller Outdoor Theatre (6000 Hermann Park Dr.) and Japanese Gardens (6000 Fannin St.), offers a break from the hustle and bustle of city life. Ride the train through the park and then hop onto the pedal boats for some great views. Head to the Japanese Gardens with its waterfalls, bridges, and stone paths that wander throughout the park. File in for a fantastic free show at Miller Outdoor Theatre, but arrive early the day of the performance to pick up tickets, as they run out quickly. Cost: Free.
KidTripster Tip: The Museum District locations are all accessible from the MetroRail Red Line. Try parking midtown or downtown in a parking garage in the morning to beat the crowds. Cost: $1.25/ride.
Photo courtesy: Lifted Up
1500 McKinney St., Downtown
An outdoor jewel surrounded by a city of skyscrapers, Discovery Green provides a great gathering location for those who want to get outdoors. Beat the heat at the Gateway Fountain splash pad, rent a remote-controlled boat to steer around Kinder Lake, and catch a show at one of the performance stages. The John P. McGovern Playground is a great place to play, and bookish types can take a break at the public library nook for story time. Cost: Free.
3/Space Center Houston
1601 NASA Rd. 1, Clear Lake
The first word said on the Moon? “Houston,” which makes Space Center Houston an obvious choice when visiting town. Home to the Space Shuttle mock-up, Independence, it also houses some impressive space artifacts that are unfortunately easily missed, which you can find by locating the Starship Gallery when you get there. Take a tram tour into NASA to visit the Historic Mission Control Center, the Vehicle Mock-Up facility, and the Current Mission Control Center. Our kids were most impressed to see the real Saturn V rocket at the Rocket Park. For those kids who might not be ready to fully appreciate the experience, there are all-age science education exhibits available, which rotate seasonally. Cost: Youth (4-11) $19.95; Adult $24.95.
KidTripster Tip: To get discounts on tickets, subscribe to the Space Center Houston newsletter or follow on Facebook.
KidTripster Tip: Head over to the east entrance of Johnson Space Center to visit the Rocket Park for free. At the entrance, ask the guards if you can park in the lot on the north (left) side to save yourself an extra tram ticket at Space Center Houston.
While in Clear Lake, head to Kemah Boardwalk (215 Kipp Ave.), a short 7-mile drive from Space Center Houston. Looking out over Galveston Bay, the boardwalk boasts dining, shopping, and amusement rides. An all-day-ride pass can get you as many ferris wheel, carousel, roller coaster, and train rides as you can take. Cost: Youth (under 48”) $18.99; Adults: $24.99. Feed and touch stingrays at the The Stingray Reef & Rainforest Exhibit and then stick around at the Aquarium restaurant for local seafood and views of the bay. Cost: $5.25; extra for fish food.
Photo courtesy: Space Center Houston
4/Main Street Theater
2540 Times Blvd., Midtown
In its newly-designed location, Main Street Theater presents adaptations of beloved stories, books, and movies that will delight everyone. Purchase a book or memento based on the play, which helps fund the theater’s youth education programs. Cost: Varies.
KidTripster Tip: Hang around afterwards for a program signing or quick photo with your favorite characters.
410 Bagby St., Downtown
Another great location to touch and feed stingrays, the Downtown Aquarium is the best downtown place to experience the Gulf. Sea creatures, amphibians, and reptiles of all shapes and sizes can be found here. Cost: Youth (under 42”)$9; Adults: $12.
Photo courtesy: Landry’s, Inc.
5085 Westheimer Rd.
The 375 stores at The Galleria provide ample opportunity to window shop. As the largest mall in Texas, it has an expansive food court encircling a ice skating rink, where you can take a spin or just watch. I routinely take the kids to the Little Galleria Play Area to entertain them while shopping. Public skate cost: Youth (5 & under) $9; Other $11; skate rental $3-4.
Forget big city life and take the short hour-drive to Galveston Island for lovely beaches, a thrilling water park, and a vibrant museum community. Galveston Island State Park (14901 Farm to Market 3005) routinely marks our first stop on the island for the kids to stretch their legs and enjoy the scenic, natural beach. Plenty of hiking and paddling trails line the park, all centered on an interactive and educational nature center. Cost: Youth (0-12) Free; Adults $5. For wet and wild adventures, head to the epic, Texas-sized Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark (2026 Lockheed Rd.) with fantastic slides and rides for kids, teenagers, and adults. I love the multi-person rides, so no one is left out of the fun. Cost: Youth (3-11) $40.99; Adults $52.99. For a traditional carnival atmosphere, head to Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier (2501 Seawall Blvd.), featuring a boardwalk with high flying rides, cool games, and your typical carnival fare. Cost: Youth (under 48”) $19.99; Adults $26.99; discounted family all-day packages available.
Kidtripster Tip: Check the Galveston Island State Park website for seasonal events. We’ve hunted for sea turtle tracks, taken hikes along the ocean, and watched as staff gathered up sea creatures for observation.
Throw on your conductor hat and hop aboard the Galveston Railroad Museum (2602 Sante Fe Pl.) with entertaining exhibits for kids and adults. Historical trains covering the past 200 years are on display, as well as elaborate model train arrangements. Cost: Youth (4-12) $5, Adults $10. The Lone Star Flight Museum (2002 Terminal Dr.) offers legendary aircraft to view, along with historical artifacts that tell a compelling story of flight. Cost: Youth (5-17) $8; Adults $10. Our younger kids enjoy the interactive exhibits at the Galveston Children’s Museum (2618 Broadway Ave. J), located in the basement of the gorgeous Moody Mansion. Cost: Youth/Adults (Ages 2+) $7.
8/Houston Arboretum & Nature Center
4501 Woodway Dr.
Looking for some of the best outdoor fun in Houston? The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center offers 5 miles of hiking with opportunities to explore a pond, spot some of Houston’s diverse birds, and search for all the animals that escaped city life to this wildlife sanctuary. It’s a great outdoor adventure in the heart of the city with an interactive Discovery Room for kids to learn about Houston’s native creatures and habitats. We always make a trip to the children’s playground behind the nature center, where kids converge on the sandbox and balance on the rope bridge. Cost: Free.
Continue on to Memorial Park for an additional 30 miles of trails with cycling, skating, mountain biking, and picnic areas. Across from Memorial Park Golf Course Clubhouse is the Vale-Asche Foundation Playground, specifically designed to be accessible for children with disabilities.
Photo courtesy: Houston Arboretum & Nature Center
River Oaks, Montrose
Buffalo Bayou anchor’s Houston’s downtown. Our first stop is always the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark, where my boys are entranced by the spectacular tricks. A few feet away lies the imaginative Barbara Fish Daniel Nature Play Area and Picnic Pavilion, beautifully integrated with the surrounding scenery. A 33-foot long slide is tucked into the hillside, where you can go down again by climbing up a treehouse or scaling the rock cliff. Another wooden climbing structure and kid-adjustable flowing creek/waterfall rounds out a great outdoor activity location.
KidTripster Tip: The Bayou also offers a 30-minute, docent-led Park Cistern Tour that takes you underneath the early underground reservoir built in 1926. Cost: $2; no children under 9 allowed; advanced reservations recommended due to popularity; free on Thursdays, but reservations still required.
10/Wet 'n' Wild Splashtown
21300 Interstate 45 North, Spring
Galveston’s northern Schlitterbahn competitor is a behemoth among water parks. With 80 acres, Wet 'n' Wild boasts the right combination of kids rides, family rides, and thrill rides. Newly-renovated with two children’s areas, it has eight locations for food, drink, desserts, and snacks and plenty of shaded and sitting areas. While cheaper than its southern counterpart, it does require paid parking ($10) and options for locker rental ($10-$20), single tube ($6) or double tube ($12) rental; the park does not allow outside food and drink. Cost: Youth (48”under) $31; Adult $41; more on weekends; discounts available for online purchases.