Houston and its surroundings are packed full of great things to see and do – including plenty to keep the kids happy.
Extending out to Galveston Bay, the vast Texan metropolis is a hotbed of culture, learning and entertainment. The city’s compact downtown district is at the heart of the action, but the opportunities for fun and adventure stretch out into the city’s suburbs and wider metropolitan areas. If you’re visiting Houston with little ones and would like some inspiration about how to spend your time, we’ve picked out 20 of the best family-friendly attractions and activities that the city has to offer.
Visit a world famous space centre
The concept of space can be a little abstract for kids, but add astronauts into the equation and their enthusiasm tends to – excuse the pun – skyrocket. The Space Center Houston is an institution of international importance, as well as a fabulous place of learning for anyone with an interest in the magic of spaceflight. The centre is home to more than 400 space artefacts, including flown spacecrafts and the world’s largest public collection of moon rocks. There are also several interactive exhibits, including the chance to experience a virtual Martian sunset and climb into a simulated Orion capsule.
1601 East NASA Parkway / Tues-Thurs 10am-6pm Fri-Sat 9am-6pm Sun 10am-5pm Mon 9am-6pm
Explore a children’s museum
Another of the city’s perpetually popular indoor attractions for kids is the Children’s Museum Houston. Housed in an eye-catching Robert Venturi-designed building, the museum is packed with 90,000 square feet of innovative, interactive exhibits for kids that invite them to explore, learn and play. Among the permanent exhibits FlowWorks, which dives into the forces and properties of water through currents, vortices and rapids; and Kidtropolis, a bustling child-run metropolis where little people start businesses, hold jobs, and elect their peers into city government.
1500 Binz Street / Tues-Sat 10am-6pm Closed Sun-Mon
Check out Houston’s subterranean world
Houston is home to America’s largest underground tunnel system and this fascinating subterranean world can be explored on a guided tour. During the Underground Tunnel Tour of Downtown Houston, you’ll get to discover why the city, the most populated in Texas, can resemble a ghost town during warm summer days. The answer lies beneath, and more specifically the miles of underground tunnels that can be found 20 feet below street level, encompassing Texas’ tallest skyscrapers. Over two hours, you’ll get to marvel at the historical and artistic sections of the tunnel system as well as the corporate buildings above.
Discover an array of exotic animals
There are few more sure-fire winners with kids than the promise of a day out at the zoo. Spread across 55-acre oasis in the heart of the city and drawing over two-million visitors every year, Houston Zoo is home to a huge assortment of exotic species hailing from across the globe, including African lions, Asian elephants, California sea lions, gorillas, giraffes, storks, tortoises and many more. For adventurous visitors keen to get even closer to the action, there are also feeding and petting sessions, as well as exclusive Animal Encounter and ‘behind the scenes with a zookeeper’ experiences on offer.
6200 Hermann Park Drive / Mon-Sun 9am-5pm
Get a taste of Houston’s food scene
Houston has a vibrant and diverse culinary scene that can be discovered during a food-themed guided tour. Held over around 3.5 hours, the Downtown Houston Food Tour lets you visit some of the district’s best restaurants as well as sample street food and cuisine from across the globe. On foot you’ll take in the north Downtown area, including the warehouse district, Market Square Park, and Main Street, stopping along the way to sample local favourites, regional specialities, and artisan foods, including Tex-Mex, Greek, and Spanish dishes, while your guide regales you with tales and facts about the city’s food heritage.
Attend a fun-packed festival
One of America’s largest and most prestigious juried fine art festivals, the Bayou City Art Festival sees some 300 national and international artists come together with thousands of art-loving patrons in Houston for three full days of art, live music, food, beverages and entertainment. Held in the vast green expanse of Memorial Park, the family-friendly outdoor event also provides patrons with a chance to meet artists, view original works, and purchase world-class art, all against a backdrop of the Houston skyline
Houston Design Center / October each year
Another popular cultural event with plenty to see and do for kids is the Japanese Festival of Houston. Taking place in Hermann Park, not far from the Japanese Garden near downtown Houston, visitors can experience the rich cultural heritage of Japan through traditional and contemporary performances of Japanese music, dance, and martial arts, Japanese-inspired food, as well as demonstrations and displays of flower arrangement, tea ceremony, origami, shodo calligraphy, bonsai, and more, all designed to cultivate the enduring alliance between Japan and the United States.
Hermann Park / April each year
Watch a real life rodeo
One of the most quintessential Texan experiences is attending a live rodeo show and Houston lays claim to one of the world’s largest. Each year, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo draws more than two-million fans to watch thrilling rodeo action, along with major musical acts, horse shows, and an enormous carnival. Be sure not to miss the Calf Scramble too, a hilariously entertaining event in which participants compete to catch a herd of runaway calves.
NRG Stadium, NRG Parkway / Feb-March each year
Connect with nature at an arboretum
Perched on the western edge of Memorial Park, a few miles from downtown, the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center offers an escape from the hubbub of city life and the chance to experience the natural world in all its wonder. The 155-acre urban sanctuary provides education about the natural environment, playing a vital role in protecting native plants and animals in the heart of the city where development threatens their survival. Visitors can walk the venue’s five miles of trails free of charge, and there’s also a range of interactive exhibits and activities for nature lovers of all ages.
4501 Woodway Drive / Mon-Sun 7am-7.30pm
See the stars at a planetarium
If a visit to the Space Center hasn’t quite quenched your kids’ thirst for the cosmos, then the Burke Baker Planetarium is the perfect companion attraction. Located within the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the planetarium invites guests to immerse themselves in the vastness of space, experiencing the thrills of soaring through the universe, roaming planetary surfaces, and navigating asteroid fields. During a 20-minute high-tech display, there’ll be projections of planets, stars, and entire galaxies delivered via the world’s leading digital planetarium software and projection system
Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Hermann Park Drive / Mon-Sun 10am-4pm
Spend the day at a water park
The ideal place to cool off on of the region’s swelteringly hot days, Typhoon Texas is a huge waterpark jam-packed full of thrilling water-based rides and slides. Spread over 25 acres in the city of Katy, a 30-minute drive west of central Houston, the park features an array of enticing waterslides, along with a lazy river, live entertainment at the huge wave pool, and real Texas BBQ smoked daily. Visitors can also hire cabanas for the day to kick back and relax while the kids go wild.
555 Katy Fort Bend Road, Katy / Mon 11am-10.30pm Tues-Thurs & Sun 11am-7pm Fri-Sat 11am-9pm
Catch a live performing arts show
Located in downtown Houston, the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts puts on a busy roster of shows, performances and special events across its two acoustic theatres. Created with the mission of expanding Houston’s reputation as a world-class cultural centre and fostering accessibility to the performing arts, the centre has become one of the city’s most important entertainment venues down the years. There’s also an impressive grand lobby and a contemporary American restaurant for pre or post-show dining.
800 Bagby Street
Enjoy an abundance of marine life
A multi-functional attraction boasting a Ferris wheel, an aquatic carousel, and a popular restaurant with spectacular wall-to-wall marine life views, the Downtown Aquarium in Houston makes for a great family day out. Among the aquarium’s exhibits is a shipwreck which invites visitors to step inside the sunken hull of a 17th-century Spanish galleon and look out at the diverse species the ocean has to offer, and the chance to explore the lush environment of the world’s tropical rainforests and the life inside their rivers.
410 Bagby Street / Sun-Thurs 10am-9pm Fri-Sat 10am-10pm
Head to a historic pleasure pier
Featuring an assortment of family-oriented waterfront fun and entertainment, the Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier is a unique coastal attraction less than an hour’s drive southeast of Houston. There are a wide number of rides – many over the water that have you soaring over the Gulf of Mexico and flying high above the crowds – as well as carnival games, a selection of food venues and retail shops, and the chance to cool your thirst with beer, margaritas, wine, sodas and more.
2501 Seawall Boulevard, Galveston / Sun-Thurs 12pm-9pm Fri-Sat 12pm-10pm
Take in a baseball match
In Texas – much like the rest of the US – baseball is a big deal and the city of Houston has its own much-loved baseball team in the shape of the Houston Astros. They play their games at Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston, which holds over 40,000 spectators, with many visitors often among them keen to enjoy a classic American activity by catching a ball game during their trip. While the games can last longer than other sporting events, have no fear as there are plenty of refreshments to keep you well-nourished and watered.
501 Crawford Street
Spend the day in a state park teeming with nature
If you can gather a large enough group together, the Sheldon Lake State Park & Environmental Learning Center is a fantastic venue for connecting kids with nature. Situated a 30-minute drive west of Houston, the Park and learning centre offers a variety of nature and ecology programs on a reservation basis. Park staff and volunteers will teach you all about nature and ecology through nature walks, and there’s also catch-and-release fishing in two stocked ponds, as well as pond ecology, native plant gardening, hunter education, composting and recycling. Programs range in time from 1-2 hours each.
14140 Garrett Road / Mon-Sun 8am-5pm
Marvel at a huge bat colony after dark
Home to 160 acres of picturesque scenery, along with hike and bike trails, performance and outdoor activity spaces, the 2.3 mile long municipal park that stretches along the banks of the Buffalo Bayou near downtown Houston attracts huge numbers throughout the year. One of the park’s more unusual sites is the Waugh Bridge Bat Colony, where hoards of Mexican free-tailed bats spiral out from the crevices of the bridge after dark each day. The bats can be seen from various viewing points nearby, but for a unique look at this natural phenomenon, pontoon boat tours are also available
Take a ride on a miniature railway
Once a month the Houston Area Live Steamers invite visitors to enjoy free rides aboard diesel and steam engine model trains along their 4700-foot track in Zube Park, half-an-hour’s drive northwest of central Houston. The Cypress Creek & Southern Railroad track takes passengers on a scenic loop through the park, over miniature bridges and past model windmills – all crafted by the Live Steamers group. People of all ages turn out to ride the model railroad and smell the distinct aroma let off by the steam engines as they roll down the tracks.
Visit a buzzing boardwalk
Overlooking Galveston Bay, 20 miles from downtown Houston, the Kemah Boardwalk is considered among the premier boardwalks in the US and is home to themed restaurants, retail shops, and amusements for the whole family. Boasting a carnival-like atmosphere, the 35-acre site has a giant carousel, a Ferris wheel and rides like the Aviator and the Boardwalk Tower. Don’t miss the arcade and Midway games either, and for thrill-seekers, there’s the Boardwalk Beast, an adrenaline rush of a boat ride that takes passengers four miles into Galveston Bay at speeds up to 40mph.
215 Kipp Avenue, Kemah / Mon-Thurs 12pm-9pm Fri 12pm-10pm Sat 11am-10pm Sun
Walk through a butterfly-filled rainforest habitat
The Cockrell Butterfly Center invites you to walk through a living butterfly habitat, and marvel at spectacular live and preserved specimens of some of the world’s largest arthropods in a naturalistic rainforest setting. Visitors can expect to see 50 to 60 different species of colourful butterfly species, flying through the air, hovering over flowers or sipping fruit juice – and, for the lucky ones, perhaps even landing on your shoulder. There are also interactive games and quizzes designed to test and build upon your entomology knowledge.
Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5555 Hermann Park Drive / Mon-Sun 10am-5pm