Hermann Park Beginner’s Guide: Exploring Houston’s Hermann Park with Kids
Hermann Park, in the heart of Houston near the Texas Medical Center and Rice University, is more than just the home of the Houston Zoo. The park stretches over 445-acres, and while it might seem intimidating to explore that much space with kids, we're here to guide you through the top places to see within this urban oasis. Spoiler alert: Your kids can go on a train, pedal boat, AND play in fountains all in one park.
Much of Hermann Park houses cultural institutions like the Houston Zoo, Miller Outdoor Theater, McGovern Centennial Gardens, and even the Hermann Park Golf Course. Perhaps you’re only familiar with the park because it shares a parking lot with the zoo, which is a family favorite in town, but there's plenty more to explore. (Houston's zoo is one of our favorite places, too. You can read our articles about its South American Pantanal and our best tips for the Houston Zoo.)
Here’s a beginner’s guide to some of the more popular attractions at Hermann Park to help you plan a fun outing with kids.
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Parking Tips for Your Hermann Park Outing
One of the trickiest parts about Hermann Park is figuring out where to park. There are options around the area that include street parking near the northeast side of the park by the Children’s Museum, garages, including the one attached to the Museum of Natural Science, and the surface lots by the Houston Zoo.
For the purposes of visiting the park with younger ones, the large Hermann Park parking lot in front of the Houston Zoo’s main entrance on 6200 Hermann Park Drive would allow for the closest and easiest access to the other fun stuff here. The parking is free, but on weekends, you should aim to get there before 11 AM. Otherwise, you’ll end up circling the lot for a while to snag a spot.
Riding the Hermann Park Railroad
The main entrance of the Houston Zoo faces Lake Plaza, which is also where you'll find Kinder Station, home of the famous Hermann Park Railroad. Taking a train ride is always an exciting way to start an adventure!
The mini-train in Hermann Park is an evergreen family favorite. Photo courtesy of Vicky Li Yip.
The shiny red trains of the Hermann Park Railroad take passengers all around Hermann Park on a scenic tour. It's fun for kids to ride, and gives you a chance to enjoy a comfortable overview of many parts of the park before you start exploring some of it on foot. The ride lasts approximately 15-20 minutes and makes a few stops along the way.
One of the stops is across the street from the Museum of Natural Science. Some people may get off the train to visit the museum or just to take a look around. You are allowed to leave the train at the stops and get back on the next train that comes by without needing to pay for another ticket. However, you might be hard-pressed to find any empty seats on subsequent trains, especially if you're visiting on a weekend. It's a long walk back to Kinder Station!
You can purchase train tickets at the Kinder Station ticket window attached to the gift shop. Tickets for adults and children age 1 and older are $3.75 each. Trains leave the station every 25 minutes, so expect to wait. Bring some fidget toys to play with or some other distraction to entertain the kids. If you have older children or another adult with you, you can send them off to walk around Lake Plaza or look inside the gift shop while you hold your place in line. But don’t stray too far! Sometimes trains come sooner than scheduled.
Tip: Although one of the train stops is not too far from a children's playground that you will pass on your ride, this play area is quite far from Kinder Station. So if you leave the train hoping to catch another one back, you may not get a seat depending on how busy of a day it is. The playground is not especially popular with families, partly because it's a long walk from the parking lot and therefore more challenging to access. Also, although the play structure is visible from nearby streets, some families are wary about playing there because it can feel a little too removed from the foot traffic of Hermann Park.
Pedal Boats on McGovern Lake at Hermann Park
After the train brings you back to Kinder Station, stroll around the wide open space of Lake Plaza and walk to the edge of McGovern Lake to admire the ducks and geese that swim and waddle around. This big paved area makes for a good scootering spot, or a fun place to blow and chase bubbles. You’ll likely see people on pedal boats out on the small lake enjoying a nice day. If you’re interested in renting a pedal boat, you’ll find the boathouse right around the corner from Ginger Kale, the little eatery on the Lake Plaza.
Pedal boats run every day from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (weather permitting) and cost $12 per boat for 30 minutes. Each boat fits four people and everyone on board is required to wear a life vest. This attraction can be lots of fun but remember, it requires pedaling to move the boat. If your kids are too young, keep that in mind when deciding whether you should try it out!
Interactive Fountains & Reflection Pool at Hermann Park
Follow the trail on the east side of McGovern Lake that takes you from Lake Plaza to the Reflection Pool. You'll cross over a little bridge and in just a few minutes you will come upon the water feature/splash pad that kids like to use to cool off on a hot day. This area where the Pioneer Memorial Obelisk is located is officially called the Overlook and Molly Ann Smith Plaza, but most people know it as the "interactive fountain" or "splash pad".
Beyond this fountain is the picturesque pool of shallow water that stretches 740 feet long all the way to Hermann Park Drive. Flanked by trees and greenery on both sides, we like to walk along the east side first. There are often lots of turtles and smaller minnows in the water that kids can marvel at along the way.
It's fun to picnic and people-watch at the Reflection Pool at Hermann Park. Photo courtesy of Vicky Li Yip.
On nice days, some people bring picnic blankets and find a spot on the lawn or among the trees to sit and have a snack. There are benches scattered along the path as well. This is a great spot for people watching or just taking in the scenery.
When you reach the north end of the Reflection Pool, go around it and make your way back down on the west side of the pool where you will eventually pass by the front entrance to the Japanese Garden.
Tip #1: If you are bringing a stroller, only bring the jogging kind. Unlike the Lake Plaza, the area around the Reflection Pool is not paved and is made of crushed gravel. An umbrella stroller will not do well here.
Tip #2: Don’t attempt to walk all around the Reflection Pool if your kids are getting tired or don’t generally like to walk a lot. The scenery doesn’t change much for a while so little legs may not make it all the way around without complaint. Head straight to the Japanese Garden instead.
Japanese Garden at Hermann Park
As you stroll back down on the west side of the Reflection Pool, you’ll soon find yourself at the entrance of the Japanese Garden. This lovely garden with beautiful Japanese elements is gated all around. The operating hours are from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. depending on the season. Check the website for details.
There is no admission fee to go in and explore the little waterfalls, decorative architecture, bridges, stone paths, and all the lush plants and trees that gives this quiet garden its unique character. The garden is serene and peaceful with a winding path you can follow throughout. Kids will especially like stepping on stones and crossing over the small bridges. Once you’re done with the Japanese Garden, continue heading south again and you’ll be back where you started at the interactive fountains. Wind your way back around to Lake Plaza for a treat!
Restaurant, Restrooms, and Other Info
Now that you’ve gotten in your steps and worked up an appetite, consider stopping at Ginger Kale, the eatery located in Lake Plaza near the Hermann Park Train station, for a quick bite or treat. The eatery serves a smattering of all kinds of food including acai bowls, sandwiches, salads, burgers, gluten free options, sweets, locally roasted coffee, and more. There are kid-friendly items like grilled cheese and hotdogs on the menu too. Kids love the different flavors of yummy Pop Fancy Popsicles they carry as well.
Photo courtesy of Ginger Kale.
Pick up your order at the counter and sit outside on one of the patio tables to watch the pedal boaters and pedestrians. The Hermann Park gift shop located nearby also carries ice cream treats in a freezer inside the store. If anyone needs a restroom break, the bathrooms are located right next to the Ginger Kale restaurant.
Although there are other parts of Hermann Park that are not mentioned here, you can study the online map and see if you're up for exploring even further next time. Either way, this should be plenty of adventure for a morning or afternoon out with the little ones!