With an array of museums to choose from, a burgeoning culinary culture and a reputation for being a relatively low-cost vacation option, Houston is becoming a favorite vacation destination for families. Kids love the slight eccentricity that results from Houston’s long-standing lack of zoning laws, and the replica of presidential busts visible along the I-10 freeway unofficially dubbed “Mount Rush Hour” by local residents. These, among other attractions, make the Houston area worthy of your vacation consideration.
- Downtown Aquarium (Houston, TX 77002) – Everything really is bigger in Texas, as proved by this mammoth restaurant, aquarium and amusement park in one sprawling setting. Replicas of a Louisiana swamp, a rainforest and ancient Indian ruins feature alligators, piranhas and white tigers, respectively. Kids also love the train ride through the center of a 200,000-gallon shark tank, which houses several varieties of shark.
- Houston Museum of Natural Science (Houston, TX 77030) – Ranked one of the most highly-attended museums in the United States, the Houston Museum of Natural Science boasts four levels of installations and exhibits. Native American history, astronomy, space science and paleontology are only a small sampling of the subjects covered, ensuring that there’s something to inspire every little scientist in your family.
- The Company Onstage (Houston, TX 77035) – In addition to the classic plays directed at a grown-up audience, the Company Onstage also mounts a full season of theatrical productions aimed at kids. Reservations are recommended for children’s shows, as they do tend to sell out relatively quickly.
- Nature Discovery Center (Bellaire, TX 77401) – Kids are encouraged to explore the life inside a log, examine a crystal cave and reconstruct the skeleton of a turtle at the Nature Discovery Center. Microscopes, puzzles, books and drawing supplies are available for further research, and one Discovery Room that changes one to two times over the course of each year. There’s also a Storytime offering that features a related craft project for kids between the ages of two and five, held at four o’clock each Wednesday afternoon.
- Lunar and Planetary Institute (Houston, TX 77058) – A nod to Houston’s contribution to the American space program, the Lunar and Planetary Institute is dedicated to the solar system and any new discoveries within it. Collections of lunar and planetary data, image processing facilities and a research library make this a great destination for both kids and adults, with a Free Family Space Day held on the third Saturday of each month. Kids between the ages of five and eight are encouraged to learn about space and planetary science through interactive exhibits, hands-on activities and telescope viewings.
- Glazed Over Ceramic Studio (Houston, TX 77079) – Kids love selecting their own pieces of pottery to decorate with brushes, sponges and stencils, which are then fired by the Glazed Over staff. It’s best to plan this activity early in your vacation, because the glazing and firing process can take up to seven days to complete.
- Kemah Boardwalk (Kemah, TX 77565) – Forty waterfront acres of shops, restaurants and a carnival area make the Kemah Boardwalk an ideal destination for summer fun, with a variety of activities to keep kids entertained. Ride a miniature train and a speedboat, play in the main plaza’s dancing fountain and enjoy a low-key day free from the pressure of adhering to a tight itinerary on the shore.
- Moody Gardens (Galveston, TX 77554) – The wide variety of activities and themes within Galveston’s Moody Gardens makes this destination feel like several. An aquarium, white sand beaches, replicas of the pyramids and a 3D theater with six-story screens are all available at Moody Gardens, along with a Discovery Museum to provide a bit of educational fun.
- Houston Zoo (Houston, TX 77030) – Sprawling over fifty-five acres and home to more than 4,500 animals, the Houston Zoo includes a section called the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo. The area features a petting zoo to allow hands-on interaction with a variety of animals, a large carousel featuring sixty-four animals for kids to ride and a playground with water installations ideal for cooling off in the Texas heat. There’s also a butterfly pavilion, which is shaded from the sun and hosts shows and demonstrations.
- The Grand 1894 Opera House (Galveston, TX 77550) – Listed in the National Register of Historic Places and named “The Official Opera House of Texas” by the state Legislature, The Grand has survived several devastating storms since it was built in 1894. Three tiers of seating and opera boxes satisfy adult sensibilities, while the Children’s Series Performances introduce youngsters to the joy of live theater.
In addition to these attractions, Houston is also the headquarters of the United States’ manned space program. As a result, there are a vast array of space-themed attractions sure to wow any budding astronauts in the family.