If you think Texas is just wide-open spaces and cowboys, a visit to Houston may challenge your preconceived notions. Yes it’s sprawling, and the annual rodeo draws locals like bees to honey, but the art scene is unexpectedly innovative and kid-friendly. Interactive and unusual visual experiences should please even self-proclaimed museum haters. And a zoo, an aquarium and a space center are just a few of its many family attractions. Here are our favorite things to do in Houston with kids.
Houston Museum of Natural Science
This natural history museum gives all others a run for their money. It's rich in Texas-themed exhibits that explore topics like the history of oil production and native wildlife, along with all things dinosaurs, an IMAX theater and a Butterfly Center loaded with colorful winged beauties flying around in a rainforest setting.
The Health Museum
Houston has a large medical community, and it's a driving force behind this fine museum. Take a tour of the human body and learn about bones and internal organs at the Amazing Body Pavilion. Exhibits encourage kids to explore their own bodies with body scanners, computer imaging and special-effects technology.
Children’s Museum of Houston
This museum’s commitment to learning through dramatic play is noteworthy. The crown jewel is Kidtropolis, an installation that replicates parts of our grown-up world on a child-size scale. Driving an ambulance and shopping for groceries are just two of the many activities kids can try here.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
With more than 65,000 pieces from six continents, this museum is big even by Texas standards. It's rich in pre-Columbian, Impressionist, Baroque and modern art, and there's the outdoor Cullen Sculpture Garden, perfect for romping around. Museum education is emphasized at the Kinder Foundation Education Center. You’ll find comfy seating, books and materials, so kids can create or just chill.
The Menil Collection
The Menil is in Montrose, Houston’s hipster hub. The minimalist buildings surround a park with large sculptures that you can climb on. On weekends, there are pay-what-you-wish yoga classes. The Menil is home to one of the world’s most formidable private art collections. Surrealist, Pop Art and African tribal works are highlights. Drop by the Rothko Chapel. This meditative space’s lofty mission is to inspire peace, freedom and social justice through art. It’s free for all visitors.
The Houston Fire Museum
This old firehouse is the place to learn about the history of firefighting. There’s even an interactive junior firehouse space.
Art Car Museum
This funky spot celebrates the spirit of car culture mixed with a healthy dose of visionary art. Nicknamed the Garage Mahal, the institution spotlights imaginative cars decorated with innovative materials. The annual Art Car Parade is a chance to see dozens of unique decked-out vehicles.
Beer Can House
Houston takes the cake when it comes to offbeat home decor, and the Beer Can House is a folk art icon. This private home is decorated with 50,000 beer cans, bottles, pull-tops and other beer-related objects cramming every inch of surface.
The Orange Show Monument
This landmarked house took late local postal worker Jeff McKissack 20 years to finish. Oranges were McKissack’s favorite fruit and the house is a tribute to them, with orange-themed decor everywhere. Found objects, mosaics, a wishing well and additional bric-a-brac adorn its surface.
Twilight Epiphany Skyspace
The Rice University campus is home to James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany skyspace. The structure is equipped with an LED light sequence that projects onto the ceiling and through an aperture in the roof. At twilight, Turrell’s composition of light complements the natural light for a reflective experience with a psychedelic edge. The light show is free at sunset, but reservations are required.
Space Center Houston
Get a behind-the-scenes peek at space exploration at the Space Center. Head straight to interactive Kids Space Place to try on a space helmet and suit, ride the interactive flight simulator and play in the gigantic space-themed playground.
Enjoy an up-close experience with 500 species of marine life. Shark Voyage, a train ride through a shark tank, is a winner.
Pedal a boat on the lake, ride the mini-train or stroll the Japanese Garden. The Miller Outdoor Theater offers free entertainment.
You can hand-feed giraffes or watch elephants take a bath in this zoo located inside Hermann Park. Lions, orangutans, chimpanzees and many more animals call this place home. Lots of shady shrubbery should keep everyone happy.
Armand Bayou Nature Center
Located in southeast Houston, this nature center is putting its best foot forward to preserve wetlands prairie, forest and marsh habitats. Drift on a pontoon boat or join a group bird-watching walk as you enjoy the great outdoors.
Baseball at Minute Maid Park
Watch the Astros play ball in this weatherproof stadium with a retractable roof. One-hour tours give fans a behind-the-scenes experience.
Best Ways to Cool Down
Houston’s heat and humidity are legendary. Plan some activities that will keep you cool.
Wet 'n' Wild Splash Town
You’ll find 53 acres of water rides for the entire family at this park located 45 minutes north of Houston. The Flowrider and wave pool are just a few of the many wet options.
Ice-Skating at the Galleria
Rent skates and glide around the indoor rink at this large mall; there are daily public sessions.
Gerald D. Hines Waterwall Park
Located across from the Galleria, this 64-foot water wall is refreshing just to watch, as 78,500 gallons of recycled H20 pour down the structure’s sleek, black, obsidian walls.
Sky Zone Trampoline Park
This air-conditioned, indoor trampoline park is perfect when the kids need to let off steam but the temps are too hot to be outdoors.
Where to Eat
This foodie city has over 8,000 international restaurants, so you won’t go hungry. Our favorites include:
If your family enjoys Mediterranean cuisine, the inexpensive Aladdin is for you. Everything is freshly prepared. Delights include kebabs, falafel, hummus and minty tabouleh, all served with homemade pita bread hot from the oven.
This vegetarian Indian eatery serves a delectable, all-you-can-eat meal. The menu changes daily according to what's fresh. The waitstaff goes the extra mile to please fussy children, creating special plates to sate their appetites.
This visually stunning, upscale restaurant welcomes children. Kids should find the gourmet pizzas and creative pastas molto appealing. Adults can enjoy classic Italian dishes with a nod to trendy molecular cuisine. Each plate is as composed as a painting, a yummy mix of texture, color and flavor.
Houston is big, so location is everything. Staying in the Museum District or near the Galleria puts you close to many attractions. In the Museum District, there’s nothing quite like the Hotel ZaZa. Its over-the-top public art and lavish common areas make it splurge-worthy. If you’re looking for more reasonably priced digs near the Museum District, try the Hilton Houston Plaza. You’ll find clean rooms, a big swimming pool and a shuttle service that works like a Swiss clock.
In the Uptown District near the Galleria, the Hotel Granduca feels like you’ve stepped into a Tuscan country villa. The cabana-lined pool is a nice place to refresh after a day of sightseeing. Rooms are very large. You can see the Galleria from many rooms at the Royal Sonesta. This modern skyscraper’s guest rooms are heavy on creature comforts. There’s a small swimming pool and a welcoming staff.
If you visit, consider purchasing a Houston CityPASS. You get admission to many city attractions for one low price, saving nearly 50 percent over purchasing individual admissions. CityPASS includes the Museum of Fine Arts, the Space Center and the Aquarium, plus you can skip the lines, which is a nice bonus. For more information about Houston, go to VisitHoustonTexas.com