Stay Cool this Summer… FREE Houston Splashpads, Pools & Air Conditioned Venues!

Summer Break is here… and you know just how HOT Houston is going to get!  If you are looking for COOL things to do in Houston, with kids… but also want FREE things to do… here’s the list for you!

Look below for FREE Splashpads, Pools, Beaches and Indoor Air Conditioned Venues… and maps for each!  (And as always, tell us what else to add!)

For all the Houston events happening in summer 2017, go HERE!




Paid Admission:  Houston ZooNoah’s Ark at Quillian Center





  • Free:
    • The City of Houston has 37 outdoor swimming pools are open during the summer (June – August). All pools are FREE and open to all ages.  They are open Tuesday through Sunday, 1:00pm – 8:00pm.
    • Citizens with disabilities can also use the heated indoor pool at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center, 1475 West Gray. The 5-lane, 25-yard heated pool is open year round.
    • The City of Houston also offers FREE Swim Lessons.  All of these classes are free and are filled on a “first come, first served” basis during specified registration periods.
      • H2OSAFE LEARN TO SWIM classes are offered at three levels and are designed to teach youth ages 6 – 13 basic swim skills, swim strokes, and water safety skills to help them become proficient at swimming.
      • SwimWise is a series of FREE learn to swim classes offered for all ages and skill levels.
  • Paid Admission:  These Pools are not free, but they are available for you to cool off!
  • Map:





  • Seawall Beach: This busy beach is what you see when you drive by the hotels and restaurants.  Street parking is metered but beach access is free.
  • West Beach: Just drive on to the packed sand, back up to the water and have everything you need without hauling bags and chairs and coolers and kids.  And West Beach is free!
  • Jamaica Beach:  Like West Beach, this little section of beach has drive-on-the-beach access. The public beach is the area of sand from the vegetation line to the water’s edge.
  • Surfside Beach: This park is in the small town of Surfside (and not Galveston).  It’s free to access by foot or you can buy a permit to drive on.
  • Sylvan Beach Park: In La Porte, this small beach is closer than driving to Galvston.

Paid Admission:

  • East Beach: Not far from the Seawall is East Beach on the tip of the island. It has a pavilion, playground, restrooms, showers, concessions… and alcohol is permitted and it is known for the festivals and live concerts.
  • Stewart Beach: Located right after I45 turns into Broadway… and where Broadway meets the Seawall, the beach is very easy to find. This beach has a pavilion, concessions, restrooms, showers, playground, volleyball courts and more. No alcohol is allowed on this family beach.
  • Galveston Island State Park: The cool thing about Galveston Island State Park is that there are not many people, showers, changing rooms, a nature center, miles of trails, camp sites, places for kayaking and more.




Indoor Air Conditioned Venues:


Paid Admission:

Map: (This one includes everything in Houston… not just the free stuff.)


For all the Houston events happening in summer 2017, go HERE!


CIRCUS 1903 – The Golden Age of Circus comes to Houston June 9-11, 2017… And I have a 50% off discount code!

Sponsored Post

Oh, friends! A new circus is coming to Houston, June 9-11, 2017!

The producers of the world’s biggest magic show, The Illusionists, have teamed up with the award winning puppeteers from War Horse to present CIRCUS 1903 – The Golden Age of Circus.

AND this circus has elephants, but not the kind that you think.  Sensational puppetry puts elephants back in the ring!

Not only this, but there is a huge cast of the most unique, amazing and dangerous circus acts from all four corners of the world, from strong men to contortionists, acrobats to musicians, high wire and much more!

This show is family friendly and is meant for all ages. PLUS, I have a 50% off discount code! Just use the code peanut !

Circus 1903 is at Jones Hall, June 9-11, 2017. Learn all about it HERE… and purchase tickets HERE. Don’t forget to use the discount code: peanut !

You have to see the rock slide at Judson Park!

Address: 4201 Judson Ave, West University Place, TX 77005

Attention little rock climbers… there is only one way up this slide at  Judson Park… and it’s not on a ladder!

This West University Park does not have a ton of equipment, but it does have a giant bolder slide… making it a super awesome park (according to my kids).

The park also has a toddler playground, tennis court and lots of room to run.

We did review this park years ago… but with older rock climbers in my family, we had to go back.

There are 2 fenced off sections in this park.  One area is for children 2-5 years old and the other is for older kids.  In between is a big grassy area for games and picnics.

The small playground has a little play structure, house and tunnel.  It’s on turf and it’s perfect for the little kids.

The big playground is in a separate area and only has a few pieces of equipment… including a spinner, swings, monkey bars and awesome slide.

This park has lots of trees and is in the middle of a nice neighborhood right by Buffalo Grille.  Check out the pictures below!



Find more Houston area park:

Get Rewarded for Reading! Houston Summer Reading Programs Summer 2017

Read and get rewarded!  At several spots around town, you can earn prizes, just for picking up a book!

Below is a preview of what to expect around Houston this summer… and we’ll update the details as they are posted.  If you know of more reading programs, let us know!

1.  Houston Public Library:

From June 1, 2017 through August 1, 2017, you register, read, record your hours, earn rewards… and it’s all FREE.

And the rewards are AMAZING! Astro Tickets, Train Tickets, Meal Passes and more!  Plus, anyone with a Texas drivers license can have a Houston Public Library MY Link card as well as participate in the program!

All you need to do is:
1. General Registration begins June 1, 2017.  Just go HERE (starting June 1).
2. Log in anytime to track the minutes and titles you’ve read.
3. Unlock badges by logging minutes and attend attending programs – don’t forget to stay for the secret code!
4. Some activities require registration; check the online calendar.

See all the rewards HERE!

2. Harris County Library:

We looking HERE for the summer program updates.


3. Barnes and Noble:

Earn a FREE book, simply by following these three easy steps:

1. Read any eight books this summer and record them in your Summer Reading Journal (English or Español). Tell us which part of the book is your favorite, and why.
2. Bring your completed journal to a Barnes & Noble store between May 16th and September 5th, 2017.
3. Choose your FREE reading adventure from the book list featured on the back of the journal.


4. Half Price Books:

Read 15 minutes per day!

Download and use this reading log and add up your minutes.. Once you’ve reached 300 or more minutes, bring your log to your local store to claim your Bookworm Bucks on or before August 31, 2017.

Roadtrip Along I10: Things to do in Louisiana, with kids!

We were planning a long drive through Louisiana… but did not know what stops to make a long the way.  That’s when Louisiana native, Ashley Ann, spoke up with these highlights for roadtripping families!

Check out these stops, from west to east, across Louisiana… and scroll to the bottom for a map.  (And these are some some of the favorites… tell us what else you like to do along I10!)


Also, if you have memberships to Houston Museums or the Zoo, be sure to ask about reciprocity programs.  You could get free or discounted admission to the zoos and museums in Louisiana (and all over the world).

Sulphur / Lake Charles:

Lafayette Area:

Baton Rouge Area:

Avery Island (Where they make Tabasco!)

New Orleans:



Mulberry Park: Bellaire’s “Secret Park” has been Renovated!

Address: 700 Mulberry Lane, Bellaire, TX 77401

I call Mulberry Park the “secret park” in Bellaire… but I bet any family playing little league baseball knows all about it.

It’s tucked behind the houses on Mulberry Lane and before the freight train tracks.  You can’t see it from the street, but this park has tennis courts, beautiful baseball field and a playground.

It used to be that the playground was pretty beat up and boring… but that has all changed!

Since other Bellaire Parks have been renovated recently (like Lafayette Park), I decided we better swing by the secret park… and look what we found!

The play structures are brand new, with great climbing features and are shaded by big canopies!

The space is still pretty small but they packed in some of the best equipment.  There is a big structure with monkey bars, bridge, stand up spinner and more.  There is also a little playground with slide and a swing set.

The play area is great and there is a free parking lot (although I gets full on baseball days).

The park is away from the street and hidden behind houses, so I’d take another adult with you for safety.  (That said, we didn’t have any issues at all.)

Next time you are in Bellaire, swing by this secret park and see what’s new!






Find more Houston parks:

Give Away: 4 Tickets to the Harlem Globetrotters at NRG or Berry Center, July 8-9, 2017!

The Harlem Globetrotters are playing NRG Arena on July 8 and Berry Center on July 9, 2017… and we have a family 4 pack to give away!!

The games are:
NRG Arena (Houston)
Sat., July 8, 2017 @ 2pm
Sat., July 8, 2017 @ 7pm

Berry Center (Northwest Houston/Cypress)
Sun., July 9, 2017 @ 3pm

To win tickets, regiter below… and if you don’t win, you can still save $7 with Code: COURT! Find tickets HERE.

Update: Congratulations to Alondra!

Contest Ends: May 15, 2017
Official Rules:

Get Rewarded Just for Reading… GAME ON! 2017 Houston Public Library Summer Reading Program

One of my favorite things about summer is the Houston Public Library’s Summer Reading Program!  From June 1, 2017 through August 1, 2017, you register, read, record your hours, earn rewards… and it’s all FREE.

And the rewards are AMAZING! Astro Tickets, Train Tickets, Meal Passes and more!  Plus, anyone with a Texas drivers license can have a Houston Public Library MY Link card as well as participate in the program!

All you need to do is:
1. General Registration begins June 1, 2017.  Just go HERE (starting June 1).
2. Log in anytime to track the minutes and titles you’ve read.
3. Unlock badges by logging minutes and attend attending programs – don’t forget to stay for the secret code!
4. Some activities require registration; check the online calendar.


So what are the rewards??

Summer Reading Program Prizes (while supplies last):

Level Babies, Toddlers & Pre-K (0-4) Children 5-10 Teens 11-18
May Early School Registration (only for students who register at school) Alley Theatre tickets, first 250 to sign up (no children under 6) Alley Theatre tickets, first 250 to sign up (no children under 6)
Registration Free Book Free Book Free Book
5 Books/Hours Read Sunglasses & certificate Sunglasses & certificate
10 Books/Hours Read Finger Puppets Chipotle meal Chipotle meal
20 Books/Hours Read Rice University Athletics ticket Rice University Athletics ticket
30 Books/Hours Read Mario Brothers bibs, baby teethers (babies 0-2)Mario Brothers meal set (toddlers 3-4) Astros tickets

Pixelated bag

Astros tickets
Pixelated bag
Top Readers
(2 per location)
Retro game gift set (Pac-Man connect, Pattern Play 3D) Retro game gift set (Pac-Man connect, sticky note art)
5 Programs Attended Children’s Museum Family Pass Children’s Museum Family Pass Alley Theatre tickets
Family Completion Hermann Park Train & pedal boats

Raising Cane’s meal

Hermann Park Train & pedal boats

Raising Cane’s meal

Hermann Park Train & pedal boats

Raising Cane’s meal

Also,families (1 adult + 1 child) who complete the Summer Reading Program and write reviews for Summer Reading for Grown-Ups will be entered into a drawing to win a Family Prize Pack.

So go HERE and get to reading!!

MOMS TALK: Not a Laundry List of Things to Do in Houston, with Kids!

Today I’m giving a talk about the things to do in Houston, with kids!  To follow along, here are the highlights!

On BigKidSmallCity, we provide weekly events, a Houston area park review, a family friendly restaurant review and lots of things to do with kids.

It’s not just a laundry list of things to do… but actual parent reviews and recommendations.

Here’s what I mean…

Last Christmas I was at Target, looking for a Bingo game.  I was standing in front of a hundred games and did not see Bingo… but I did see Zingo.

I asked my mom, “If Bingo is good, Zingo must be better, right?”.

Just then, a dad came over and told me that Zingo means there are 10,000 plastic pieces on your rug that won’t fit back into the dispenser and makes everyone angry.

That is not what the box said, but that is a good parent review.

When we provide reviews and recommendations on BigKidSmallCity, we’ve pushed a stroller through the giant crowds, found restrooms in the worst of locations and pleaded with three tired kids to get from the very back of the zoo to the parking lot.

And the recommendations are not just from me… but from Houston parents.  I am lucky to get feedback from parents daily!

So what is there to do?  Well, our very favorite things to do are a little quirky and unique.  (And for Summer Break events, scroll to the very bottom.)


Stay Cool! To make it easier for you to cool off, here are the parks, pools and places we’ve reviewed. Click each link, look at the pictures and decide which is best for you.


Niko Nikos Patio
Niko Nikos at Market Square Park –  This is a Greek café where you order at the window and take your food to the patio.  You can order breakfast, lunch or dinner, coffee and alcohol.  There is a kid menu and a giant park for kids to run through.  Market Square Park is an open space and it is easy to watch your kids from the pergola covered patio!


Button on Preston Street Bridge from Wortham Theater
Mysterious Red Button on Buffalo Bayou – Have you heard about the Big Bubble in the Buffalo Bayou? Have you seen the mysterious red button on the Preston Street Bridge? A friend told us that their 5 year old’s favorite thing to do in Houston was to, “burp the bayou”, and we just had to know what this meant.


Looking at Airplanes at Black Walnut at Conroe Airport
Black Walnut at Conroe North Houston Regional Airport – This is the restaurant where you can watch planes and helicopters land… right next to your table!  See the pictures HERE!


Travis Spark Park Dinosaur Bones1
Travis Spark Park – This Houston park was designed by kids… and has dinosaur bones, a rock wall and very cool play structure.  Travis Spark Park is in the Houston Heights and is open to the public on evenings, weekends and holidays. See the pictures HERE!


Donovan Park Toddler Playground
Donovan Park – This wooden fortress is one of Houston’s coolest playgrounds. Train, castles, ropes, bridges and more at Donovan Park!  This is not a Houston public park… and was built by the Houston Heights Association. The sign at the park and the website says it’s for all kids to enjoy.  See the pictures HERE!


Fire Truck at Fire Truck Park
Fire Truck Park – For kids under 5 years old, there is a new fire truck play structure.  All around the new fire truck is unique equipment, for big kids, that you do not you see at every Houston park. The merry-go-round is made from a tire, there are little “flowers” where the kids sit and spin themselves and there is a very unusual rock wall for the biggest kids.


River Oaks Pumpkin Park Carraige
River Oaks Park (aka Pumpkin Park) – Southside has the Firetruck… but River Oaks has the Pumpkin Carriage!  You really need to see this public park, just off of Westheimer.  There is a royal pumpkin carriage, big playground, small playground and some of the coolest ladders, monkey bars and more!  The park also has a community center, wishing trees, trail, sand volleyball and many more things to do… all under giant oak trees.


Levy Park Houston Splashpad
Levy Park – This remodeled park is AMAZING.  Tunnels, rock wall, spider web, reading carts and so much more.


Slide at Fish Family Play Area Buffalo Bayou Park
Fish Family Play Area at Buffalo Bayou Park – This nature play area is along the banks of Buffalo Bayou.  It has a slide, climbing structures, water features and drums build in to the landscape, but this park has an amazing view of the downtown skyline, access to the Buffalo Bayou trails, has free parking, new restrooms at the Water Works  building… and a newly uncovered historic cistern.  It is as cool as it sounds.


Waugh Bridge at Dusk
Waugh Bridge Bat Colony – Just down the bayou from the Fish Family play area is a bat colony.  Each night at dusk, watch hundreds of thousands of bats emerge in the middle of the city!


Art Car Museum Houston
Art Car Museum – This funky museum is small and free.  Stop by with the kids while you are in the Houston Heights!

Boys at Mounted Patrol Stables
Mounted Patrol Stables – Visiting the Houston Police Departments Mounted Patrol Stables might just be the coolest free thing to do in Houston.  Bring your own carrots, quartered apples and peppermints, and you can stop in to visit the horses, during visiting hours.

Bring a giant bag of carrots… like the ones you get a Costco… because there are nearly 40 hungry horses to feed!


Joe Hermann Park Conductor for a Day
Engineer for a Day – My son counted the days until he was 7 years old and could be Engineer for a Day at Hermann Park. Now 8 years old, he asked to drive the train again as his Christmas gift.

Kids arrive in the morning and help open up the train barn, perform safety checks, wash the train and get the railroad ready for the day. After about an hour of preparations, they sit right next to the conductor and help take the train around to Kinder Station.


Eat Bugs – At the Houston Museum of Natural Science, you can find a vending machine full of bugs.  Some are chocolate coated, some are coated in sour cream and onion flavor… and none are something I want to eat.My kids are much braver and enjoy the black ant chocolate cookies. The ants make them crunchy.  (Yikes!)  If you are bored with the usual Snickers bar, check out the butterfly center!


Magnafying Glass at Swap Shop
Swap Shop – In nature or in a book, find something that interest the kids. Learn about it and bring the item to the Swap Shop at the Houston Zoo. If you don’t have a shell or bone or physical item, you can bring in your “knowledge” or you can bring in a poster, report, diorama… anything to leave at the shop.The kids earn points and get to swap it for items in the shop!  There are stones, shells, bones and more!


For things to do for Summer Break, go HERE.  To get an email with things to do each weekend, go HERE!

The Midtown Park I Missed… Wiley Park and Splashpad

Address: 1414 Gillette Street, Houston, TX 77019

Montrose/Midtown is my part of town… and how I missed this park is beyond me.  We’ve visited all the surrounding parks, but somehow, we never saw this green square on the map.

It was last week when we were headed to a little league game at Carnegie High School that I ran right into Wiley Park.

The park has nice new equipment with some great ninja monkey bars and ladders.  It’s not huge, but it’s cool!

There is also a splashpad that looks older than the playground… but we did not use it.

This park is very close to Barnaby’s Midtown and is surrounded by both really new townhomes and really old bangalows. (And apparently kids live close because as we were driving away, I saw an infant, in a baby walker, “running” down the sidewalk… and a dad chasing with camera in hand!)

When we visited, the park itself was empty and we had everything to ourselves. That said, I heard from some neighbors that this park is a hangout spot for unchaperoned kids in the evenings… no one said it was bad, just that it’s odd that pre-tWeen kids are hanging out with no parents around.

So, there you have it… a park that is right next door to me and I had no idea it was there.  If you are looking for more Montrose/Midtown parks, look at the map below.  I’m almost certain I’ve covered them all.  Almost certain.

Find more Houston parks:

A "Houston Parents Magazine" Blog ---- For the Best Summer Break Ever, Click HERE
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