Do you have any tips for exploring Downtown Houston with kids? You asked us!

Downtown Clouds
I was checking out your tips about seeing the JP Morgan Chase Building, riding METROrail and going through the tunnels. Do you have tips for exploring Downtown with kids?

I love Downtown! I would park over next to Natachees on Main Street in midtown. There is a public lot next door that is pretty cheap… around $4 for the entire day.  Natachees has a big sandbox and you could also eat there before or after your trip.

Walk to the METRORail stop right across from the parking lot. You want the Northbound train (far side of tracks from Natachees). Only people over 5 years old need tickets. Buy a ticket ($1.25) from the machine with cash or credit and jump on when it comes. (It’s the honor system… I’ve never had my ticket checked.)

When you go north to Downtown, Discovery Green is to the right and City Hall, the red button and JP Morgan Chase Tower are to the left.

I’d jump off at the Preston Street Station. Go left a few blocks to the red button and chase tower. You can also access the tunnels under the Chase building. For these, I’d just wonder around and come to street level if you get lost!

Be sure to go on a work day so the building and tunnels are open. It will also be a bit busier downtown and will be more fun.

Market Square Park is close by too at Milam and Preston. Next to this is the big “Houston is Inspired” mural.

Have a great time and enjoy your trip!


Sunni’s BigKidSmallCity Inspired Houston Birthday Adventure!

MapHi, this is Sunni!  My family has lived in the Houston area for more than 7 years, and yet there is still sooo much left for us to explore!!!  So naturally on my birthday- the day that I can request to do whatever I want, and no one is allowed to grumble- I had a list of “experiences” that I wanted to squeeze into the day.
This included: The Breakfast Klub, riding the Metro, checking out the Observation Deck in The Chase Tower AND the Observation Deck in Wells Fargo Plaza, walking the tunnels, “Burping the Bayou”, seeing the children’s room of the Julia Ideson Building, riding the Greenlink Shuttle, trying out The Listening Vessels at Discovery Green and watching the bats emerge from the Waugh Bridge.  It was a long day : )
So here’s how the day went…. We drove by the Breakfast Klub around 11am and realized that we were NOT up to wait in the line that was out of the door and wrapped around the side of the building!  We have actually gone before and their Chicken and Waffles really are that good, but we were a group of 4 adults and 3 kids with a day full of activities ahead of us.

Things to Do in Houston, with Kids, in One Afternoon – Market Square Park, Niko Nikos, Bubble in the Bayou, Downtown Aquarium

Houston MuralDo you have a few extra hours in Houston?  Make the most of them with a mini Downtown Adventure.

Three hours is enough time to grab lunch at Market Square Park, find the Big Bubble on Buffalo Bayou, explore the Bayou Trail and visit the Downtown Aquarium.  For a map of Downtown Houston, go HERE.

To start, drive or take MERTORail to the Preston Street Station.  Walk a few blocks west(ish) from the train tracks, on Preston Street, and you will run in to Market Square Park.  Just before the park, stop to take your picture on this huge Houston mural.

Market Square ParkOnce at Market Square Park, order lunch at Niko Nikos and let the kids run wild in the grass.  This park has a fantastic patio, with huge fans to keep you cool on a hot Houston day.  It is kid and dog friendly with big open space and a dog run.  There are also several fountains and many benches.

After lunch, gather up your crew and walk a couple more blocks west(ish) towards the Buffalo Bayou.  On the same side of the street as James BakerMarket Square Park, you will walk right by Baker Common.  This is a big open green space with access to the Bayou Trail.  Stop to roll down the hill or sit on the benches.

Instead of heading down to the bayou from here, head back to street level and walk to the Preston Street Bridge.  On this bridge is one of the most unexpected things in Downtown Houston.  On the brick pillar on the southeast(ish) corner of the bridge (the closest pillar, but across the street from Market Square Park), is a mysterious red button.

Peeking at Big Bubble at Buffalo BayouThere is no sign above this little button.  It is just a mysterious red button in the middle of Downtown Houston.  You don’t know whether you should press it or not.  And if you do press it, what will happen?  Where should you look?  And say you see or hear the bubbles, what is causing it?  Did you wake a bayou monster?  And if a boat is traveling down the river, what would happen if you time the bubbles just right?

For best results, on your walk, tell your kids you hear there is a mysterious red button in Downtown Houston and you need to find out what it does. Get them close to the pillar and see if they can find it.  Once you find it, ask for ideas on what it might do and see who is brave enough to push it.  Once pressed, try to find the bubbles and ask what could be causing them.  Finish up with several minutes of pressing the Buffalo Bayou Trailbutton, running to the side of the bridge, watching the bubbles and giggling with delight.

When you have had enough, walk across the bridge to the other side of the bayou.  You could cross Bagby Street to get to the Downtown Aquarium, but instead, find the stroller/handicap ramp down to the Buffalo Bayou Trail.  It is on the same side of Preston as the red button.

Walk down the long ramp and continue straight along side the water.  Aquarium Splash PadFeed the ducks and watch out for the many cyclist riding along the path.  The sidewalk will take you under the overpass and you will find the back entrance to the Downtown Aquarium on your right hand side.

Once you are at the Downtown Aquarium, decide how much you want to do.  If you want the full adventure pass, be sure to look on the website HERE because there are often Buy One Get One Free coupons.  This allows you to walk through the aquarium and ride all of the rides.  Another option is to just visit the aquarium for about half of the price.  Or, my favorite option, is to splash in the splash pad for free.

There is no cost to visit the big patio and the bathrooms are open to everyone.  There is a DJ, splash pad and free trainer shows throughout Trail Entrancethe day.  Without spending any money, you can have a great time at the Downtown Aquarium.

When you are out of time, walk back to your car or the METRORail.  If you don’t feel like walking, look for the horse and carriage the swings by the Downtown Aquarium.

On your way home, pat yourself on the back because this was a few hours very well spent.  You toured Houston like a local and made some memories with your kids.

Are you looking more ideas for exploring Downtown Houston with kids?  Go HERE to learn more!

 


Exploring Downtown Houston with Kids

My kids love Downtown Houston. When I ask them what they want to do, they usually don’t say the zoo or the museum. They say, “Downtown!”.

Likely they pick Downtown because we take METRORail there. Riding the train is an adventure all its own. Parking is easy at Hermann Park or near Natachee’s at Main Street and Berry. At the station you can use cash or credit card to buy a $1.25 one way ticket. Kids under 5 ride free. If you have not mapped out your own trip, jump off at Main Street Square. It’s centrally located in Downtown and close to most of the fun.

If you decide to drive instead, there is metered parking on the streets that is free after 6:00pm and on Sundays. Parking can get tight from 4:00pm-6:00pm since it’s prohibited on many streets for rush hour. Here is a map of parking options in Downtown.

How ever you get there, check out this MAP to get familiar with Downtown.  METRORail runs Northeast up Main Street. To simplify the instructions, I call it plain North.

Discovery Green is always a good destination when visiting Downtown. There is a playground, splashpad, green space and tons of events. Check the Discovery Green calendar HERE. Discovery Green is about 5 blocks east of the Main Street Square METRORail station.

Just a couple blocks north of Discovery Green is Southern Pacific Steam Engine 982. This steam engine is in the middle of a construction zone now, but worth a walk-by for the train lover in your family.

If you go back to Discovery Green, and walk one block west towards the train tracks, you can find Phoenicia Specialty Foods on the ground level of One Park Place. It is a grocery store and deli where you can pick up some items for lunch, a cookie, a drink or take the kids to the clean restroom. You can eat at tables in the store or take a picnic back to Discovery Green.

Want to check out the Downtown Tunnel System? Check out the map HERE. They system is huge and connects most of Downtown. If you are a little intimidated, start at Macy’s. Back at the Main Street Square METRORail station you will see Macy’s. Take the elevator or escalator to the basement. Here you can walk through a tunnel to an underground food court.  You can check the map on the wall and explore the two connecting tunnels or just head up to ground level. The tunnels are open on weekdays, during working hours.

If it is a weekday, don’t miss the free observation deck in the JP Morgan Chase Building. From Main Street Square, walk one block west and a few blocks north to Travis and Capitol. From the lobby you can take the elevators to the 60th floor and highest public observation area in Downtown Houston.

While on the west side of the train tracks, don’t miss the theater district and civic center. From the JP Morgan building, just walk west on Capitol. Once you hit Smith, head south to see  Tranquility Park and City Hall. One block south of here, you can stop in the Downtown Central Library or the Julia Ideson Library. The Julia Ideson building was recently renovated and has amazing architectural details inside. You cannot check out books here, but you can visit the children’s reading room and enjoy a story with your child.

If you are interested in visiting the Downtown Aquarium, go back north on Smith, past Capitol, and go west on Preston. This will take you over Buffalo Bayou and to the Aquarium.

Need more information? Head over to DowntownHouston.org.  Looking for an event? Check HERE. Hungry? Check out the list of restaurants.  We can personally recommend El Rey, Bombay Pizza, Jason’s Deli, Bangkok Chef, Phoenicia and The Shops at Houston Center.

Whether you want to do a little or a lot, we recommend spending some time in downtown. We were intimidated by the scene the first time we went, but once we started using the train tracks as a reference point, we were able to confidently navigate around our city. Now we spend most of our free time there and my kids just can’t get enough of Downtown Houston!


Super Secret Downtown Houston Adventure

Whenever someone in our family has a birthday, we hit the streets of  Houston for a scavenger hunt adventure. Last week was Grandpa Papa’s birthday, so Joe got to planning his super-secret birthday adventure. He would not tell Papa what was on the schedule, just to meet at our house on Saturday morning. Each time Joe would talk about it, he’d have to cover his mouth with his arm, and pretend to cough, because he didn’t want to give away any details with his smile.

The reason this is especially funny is because the adventure he planned was essentially the same as the one we had for cousin Jake last January!  It wasn’t really a super-secret adventure, but it was certainly enough fun to repeat for a second time.

We drew up a list of things we had to do on our adventure. It included:

  • High five the birthday boy.
  • Perform your favorite song.
  • Find a big sandbox.
  • Ride a train.
  • Find a wall of water.
  • Find a real shark.
  • Go below a stingray tank.
  • Ride on an animal.
  • Sing happy birthday while upside down.
  • Tickle the birthday boy.
  • Take a picture of a sky scraper.
  • Kiss your mom.
  • Find a cookie cake.
  • Get home before the Husker’s game.

When Papa and our cousins arrived at our house, we started down the list. The high fives and tickles were easy. Our cousin the cheerleader performed her favorite cheer. Joe and Brooke danced and sang “Call Me Maybe”.

Next we piled in the minivan and parked near Natachee’s. We paid for a day of parking ($3 on weekends) and headed to the Natachee’s to check “Find a big sandbox” off our list.

After the kids played and ate lunch, we walked across the street to the HCC/Ensemble METRORail Station. I bough tickets for those of us over 5 ($1.25 each) and we jumped on the next northbound train. On ride, we checked off “Ride a train”.

We jumped off at the Preston Station and walked two blocks south(ish) and about five blocks west(ish) to the Downtown Aquarium. Check out the Downtown map HERE.

After walking through the Theater District, we crossed over Buffalo Bayou. Here we stopped to “take a picture of a sky scraper” and “take a picture of a bayou”.  The Downtown Aquarium also has a huge “Wall of Water” that we saw from the bridge.

At the Aquarium, we used our Buy-One-Get-One-Free coupons so each person could walk through the Aquarium and ride all the rides for  $8.00 each. The coupons are frequently available on the Downtown Aquarium WEBSITE.

Inside the Aquarium, there is a place to pet stingrays and sharks. There is also a place to crawl under a sting ray tank, so we checked that off the list.

Outside the Aquarium, there is a Shark Voyage train ride that takes visitors through a tunnel surrounded by sharks. As the sharks swam over our heads, we checked off that item. While we had waited for the train to pick us up, we had flipped over and sang “Happy Birthday while upside down”, giving us another check mark.

Next we jumped on the carousel and rode on dolphins, sea horses and sharks and checked “ride on an animal” off the list.

We then walked back to METRORail and back to our car. At home, the kids found the cookie cake and sang to Papa.   Just before Papa left so he could “get home before the Husker’s game”, I pointed out that somehow, someone had added “kiss your mom” to the list. I had *no idea* how it got there, but my kids all had to kiss me.

The kiss sealed the deal for me.  It was an awesome Super-Secret Downtown Adventure.  James’s first birthday is on Wednesday… I wonder where in Houston his adventure will take us!


Ultimate Downtown Walking Tour

Have I told you lately how much we love Downtown Houston?  We use DowntownHouston.org to check the events calendar and view the best downtown maps.

On DowntownHouston.org I also found the Ultimate Downtown Walking Tour.  It is a 2 hour, 2 mile, walking tour of my favorite part of Houston.

The tour takes you from Discovery Green, across through the Theater District to Buffalo Bayou, and then back down Main Street by the train tracks.  Along the way you will see the Southern Pacific 982 Train, Minute Maid Park and Old Union Station, the JP Morgan Chase Tower, the METRORail and much more.

Go HERE to get the map.


Free Downtown Bus – Greenlink Starts June 11, 2012

We love Downtown Houston.  We frequently take METRORail and visit Discovery Green, eat lunch or just explore.

While we are there, Joe is always asking me to ride the bus.  As adventurous as we are, I’ve never figured out the downtown bus schedules and we’ve never taken a ride on the bus.

This just got a lot easier.  Greenlink is a new FREE bus service in downtown!  Starting June 11, 2012, the buses will run Monday through Friday, 6:30am to 6:30pm.

Get more details HERE.

Okay Joe, we’re finally going to ride that bus!

 

 


Our “Measure It” Scavenger Hunt in Downtown Houston

If you follow this blog, you know that my kids lover Downtown and they love scavenger hunts.  Today when the kids woke up, our conversation went something like this.

Joe: Is it a school day?
Me: No, it’s Memorial Day. It’s a holiday where we think about the soldiers that keep our country safe.
Joe: Oh [insert lots of questions about Memorial Day]. If it’s a holiday, we need to go on a scavenger hunt Downtown.
Me (in whiny voice): Nooooooo, it’s toooooo hot.
Joe: But Mom, you always say it’s better to go out and have fun than to sit at home.
Me: Oh yeah. Pack you bags, we’re going downtown.

I sent Joe to find the clipboards for our list, but he instead came back with a ruler. He was determined that we needed to use the ruler, so I decided we could do a little learning on our adventure. Our list of items to find or do was:

  • Take METRORail.
  • Eat a picnic lunch. Measure your lunch.
  • Find 5 leaves and measure them. Which is the longest?
  • Measure Joe, Brooke and James.
  • Find a snack and measure it.

The kids packed their backpacks with the list, a map, binoculars, snacks and water and we jumped in the car.  Parking near Natachee’s, we were able to jump on the the train at the HCC/Ensemble METRORail stop.

We jumped off the train at Main Street Square.  Since it was the holiday, and most downtown restaurants are closed, we headed to Phoenicia next to Discovery Green.  Here we were happy to find the fresh pitas coming down the conveyer belt from the ceiling.  Here we picked up the fresh bread, humus, a po-boy and cookies and headed to Discovery Green.

We found a shady picnic table, pulled out our lunch and measured it.  Joe’s pita bread and humus burrito was 6 inches long.  The water bottle was 8 inches long.

The kids then ran around found their leaves and measured them.  They also measured themselves.  Joe is 3.5 rulers, Brooke is almost 3 rulers and James crawls too fast to know for sure.

Before leaving the park, the kids just HAD to have a snow cone from the Kona truck.  We got one to share and enjoyed the buzz around the park.

While we sat, I found that Joe had packed crackers and a slice of cold pizza for his snack.  I thought this was a funny snack, but I can now tell you the pizza was 7 inches long.

Afterwards, we headed back to the METRORail and headed home for some air conditioning.  Although it was a hot outing, Joe was right.  It’s always more fun to go out and explore than to sit around at home.  And we learned a little about measurement on our adventure.

 


Downtown Houston Adventure & Kid’s Scavenger Hunt

It is becoming a BigKidSmallCity tradition to go on a Houston Adventure for our family birthdays.   For the last birthday, we took Grandma on a Downtown Adventure.  Since this April outing, the kids have been asking (daily) to do it again.  For Brooke’s birthday last Friday, we hit the streets of Houston again.

We made a list of things we had to find or do, packed our backpacks with the list, a pen, map, binoculars and some snacks, and headed for the METRORail station.

Since we went on a weekday, we were sure to add JP Morgan Chase Tower and Downtown Tunnels to our list.  It included:

  • Ride METRORail
  • Go to the Top of Downtown Houston
  • Go to the Bottom of Downtown Houston
  • Eat Lunch at a Restaurant
  • Find a New Downtown Park
  • Take a Picture of City Hall
  • Read a Book Downtown
  • Dance Like a Princess or Prince
  • Find Train Tracks that Go Over Water
  • Find your Favorite Skyscraper
  • Eat a Picnic Snack
  • Sing “Happy Birthday” 5 Times

We parked next to Natachee’s and paid $2 for all day parking.  We went to Natachee’s to grab lunch, watch trains, play in the sandbox and check “Eat Lunch at a Restaurant” off the list.

After lunch, we walked across the street and jumped on METRORail towards Downtown.  We got off at Main Street Square, checked off “Ride METRORail”, and walked a few blocks north to Capital.  Here we turned left (west) and walked a couple more blocks to the JP Morgan Chase Tower.  Check the Downtown Houston map HERE to follow along.

Inside the lobby we took the elevators to the 60th floor observation deck were at the “Top of Downtown Houston”.  Here I was scared to death of the view and the kids had their noses pressed against the windows.  Before heading down, we looked at our list and decided to “Dance Like a Princess or Prince”.

Back in the JP Morgan Chase Tower lobby, we took the escalator to the B1 basement and were at the “Bottom of Downtown Houston”.  We walked through the underground tunnels back towards Main Street.

Back in the sunshine, we headed south and west to City Hall.  Here we were able to “Take a Picture” and hit the Visitor Center for drinks and a bathroom.

Sitting in Tranquility Park next to City Hall, we “Read a Book”, “Ate a Picnic Snack”, “Found our Favorite Skyscrapers”  and “Sang Happy Birthday 5 Times” while “Dancing Like a Princess or Prince”, giving us a second check mark on the dancing line of the list.  We also “Found a New Downtown Park”.

The kids really enjoyed exploring the city and crossing off each item on the list.  They took pictures (with my drop proof camera), looked at the map to see where to go next and felt like they owned the big city.  Along the way we also saw construction trucks, police cars, Fire Engine 18 and a police horse.  With such a huge day, it was lucky that we only had one more item on the list, and it was back at the Main Street Square station.

Just north of the southbound station, the METRORail tracks go over a large water fountain.  We checked this off the list and headed back to our cars.  We just love Downtown.  And boy can it make you tired.


Downtown Houston Adventure Party

The BigKidSmallCity crew loves Downtown Houston.   So what better way to celebrate a birthday than with a Downtown Adventure Party?

To keep us on track, we created a list of items that we had to find or do before our day was over.   This included:

  • Find the Confetti Eggs
  • Find the Cookie Cake
  • Sing Happy Birthday 5 Times
  • Find the Silver Gift Bag
  • Perform “Ruby Tuesday”
  • Get a METRORail Ticket
  • Drink lots of Iced Tea
  • Pack a Picnic Snack
  • Find a Leaf from a Tree
  • Take Picture of a Skyscraper
  • Take Picture of a Playground
  • Drive a Model Boat

 

Everyone arrived at our house at noon. We were able to quickly check off confetti eggs (mostly broken on Grandpa’s and Grandma’s heads), perform our favorite “Ruby Tuesday” and find the hidden gifts. Pretty soon we had to head downtown to check off the rest of the items.

The kids packed adventurer backpacks with the list, clipboard, pen and water and off we went. We parked in a lot near Natachee’s for $3 and jumped on METRORail (crossing “ticket” off the list).

We got off at the Main Street Square station and headed 5 blocks east to Discovery Green. Along the way we reviewed our list, took pictures and checked “skyscraper” off the list.

Just before Discovery Green, we stopped at Phoenicia to pick up some snacks for a mini-picnic. The explorers packed the food in their backpacks and we headed across the street to the park.

Discovery Green has a ton of free events, and this weekend was the Earth Day festival.   The park was buzzing and the kids enjoyed being part of the fun.

Here we had our picnic, took our playground picture and found the model boats.  From the front office we rented the model boat for $5 and the kids proved to be capable (and slightly crazy) drivers.

After spending the afternoon in the park, we caught the Welcome Home Parade before heading back to METRORail.

The kids loved checking the list and crossing of each item.  I see another scavenger hunt in the near future.  Next time we’ll explore the other great parks in Downtown.  To see the list, go HERE.

Want to know more about Downtown? Check out our last post HERE.