Houston Visitor’s & Local’s Guide: Explore Houston Like an Insider with these Things to Do with Kids!

Houston Skyline from tall grass in Buffalo Bayou Park
I was recently on a trip and looking for things to do with kids… Rather than searching multiple websites and grabbing lots of pamphlets from the airport, I wanted one place to get recommendations from a local parent.

So, I came home and created this resource for things to do in Houston with kids.  Everything here is something you can’t do in other cities… so no playhouses or generic venues… these things are uniquely Houston!

Also, this is not just a directory of things to do.  These are places I’ve taken my kids, pushed a stroller through a crowd, desperately searched for a bathroom for a toddler and politely pleaded with 3 kids to exit gracefully, well after exhaustion set in (and still liked it).  In summary, this is a parent recommended list.

Browse through this long list of things to do in Houston, with kids, and pick the adventures that are appealing to your family.  Click on the category for all the details… and look at the map below for locations.

Half Day in Houston: Having fun with the family and exploring Houston can be easy! If you have a few hours, we have ideas on how to spend them with the kids.  In this Half Day in Houston series, find a place to park, play, explore and eat… all in one spot. Pick what you like or combine with another Half Day idea.  This list is organized by location.

20 “Not-Your-Usual” Things to Do:  This list does not include usual favorites… so you won’t find the awesome Children’s Museum here. Instead, you will find things with fewer crowds, some that are a little quirky, and all that are just as much fun as the well-known spots.

Look a Little Closer: There is no doubt that there is a lot to do with kids in Houston. Just the large number of activities could keep you busy for a childhood. And if you look closer, you can find quite a few activities that are unique to Houston and some that just a little quirky and out-of-the-ordinary.  But if you look even closer, there are some things that are so surprising that they disorient you and make you question where in the world you are.

Houston Parks: Houston has hundreds of parks for you to explore.  We have the kid favorites listed here.

Free Things to Do in Houston with Kids: Over 40 Free Things to Do!

Small Museums:  Beat the crowds and explore Houston’s smaller, kid friendly, museums.

Get Wild – Animals, Nature Centers and Farms in Houston: Houston is a big city with a lot of highways, buildings and concrete… but lucky for animal lovers and those that just love to be outside… Houston has something for you too! Look here for places to see animals, to explore nature centers and to play on farms around Houston!

Splashpads:  Cool off at one of the many free Houston splashpads.

Beyond the Beltway: Things to Do outside Beltway 8!

Rainy Day Things to Do:  Top things to do when it’s WET!

Where to Find Trains: Where to take the little engineers!

Where to Find Fire Trucks: Where to take little fire fighters!

Kid Friendly Restaurants: Looking for a family friendly restaurant in Houston? We review a new one each week! See the highlights HERE, including our favorite spots, where kids eat free, gluten free spots and best burgers, tacos and more!

Current Events: Find an event happening this week and weekend!

Roadtrips:  Want to get away, enjoy a vacation with the family, but not have to work so hard to have fun? Here are the Texas roadtrips recommended by Houston parents!  Read on to see spots near Houston, towards Austin, Corpus Christi, San Antonio and Dallas.

Camping Near Houston:  Here are the spots Houston parents recommend for camping near Houston, with kids!

Things to do in Galveston, with kids:  Whether we are looking for a beach, museum, park or restaurant, the small Galveston Island has them… and they are easy to get to! Here are the places we’ve visited with kids (and not just a laundry list of things to do).

Things to do in Montrose with kids:  Walk through this hip neighborhood… and find lots of things to do in Houston with kids!

Things to do in Chinatown with kids:  Chinatown! We love it, but it can be overwhelming with all the shops and restaurants.  Here are some things-to-do to get you started.

For a map of things to do, look below!

To use it:
1. Look in your part of town.
2. Click on the dots you want to learn more about.
3.  The square in the top left will let you turn on and off layers for parks, restaurants, etc.
4. In the window that opens, click on the link to see pictures and read about the venue!


Top 6 Houston Food Markets… That Make Grocery Shopping an Adventure!

I don’t know exactly when I became an official “adult”… but if it has been 15 years, I think about 5 of those years have been spent in grocery stores.  Whatever the number, I am certain that I’ve spent a whole lot of time shopping for groceries and usually with a whole lot of kids in tow.

I usually avoid any extra trips to the store… but there a 6 Houston grocery stores I think of as more of an adventure than a chore. I may not buy all my groceries at these spots… but it is sure fun to look around, find a few new things and maybe even dare the kids to eat them.

If you have more for the list, let me know so I can check them out!

 

Ranch 99 Houston Memorial Area
1.  99 Ranch Market (Memorial: 1005 Blalock Rd, Houston, TX 77055, Sugar Land: 3430 State Highway 6, Sugar Land, TX 77478)

A few years ago I was on a business trip in Taipei and ran into a grocery store to buy some candies for my kids. As I debated how to fit the treats into my luggage, my co-worker pointed out that I could get all these candies back in the United States, at 99 Ranch Market.

Since then, I’ve been in love with 99 Ranch Market and consider it to be way more entertaining to my usual trip to the store.

 

Hong Kong Market Check Out
2.  Hong Kong Food Market (Chinatown: 11205 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77072)

This Asian Market is located in Chinatown.  For us, every trip takes 2 laps around the 150,000 square foot store.  One is to take in all the weird animal parts, raw meat counter and huge live fish tanks (with men standing on the counter scooping them out for dinner), and the next lap is to select some reasonable produce, some unrecognizable things to try and, my favorite, some candies or cookies.

 

HMart Chinatown
3.  H Mart (Chinatown: 9896 Bellaire Blvd, Houston, TX 77036, Memorial: 1302 Blalock Rd, Houston, TX 77055)

The Chinatown location is very close to the Hong Kong Market… but it seems to be the “fancier” market (and also a Korean Market).  It has plenty of unique things to try… but only takes us 1 lap around… because it’s not as huge or unbelievable as the Hong Kong Market.

If you are not ready for seeing saws in the meat department, H Mart is a more tame store for you to try.

 

Phoenicia Specialty Foods Store
4.  Phoenicia Specialty Foods (Downtown: 1001 Austin Street Houston, TX 77010, Westheimer: 12141 Westheimer Road Houston, TX 77077)

Phoenicia Specialty Foods is a food lover’s grocery store that has food that can please any kid. The newer location, across from Discovery Green, has been a favorite of ours for a pre-park bite.

Phoenicia is full of freshly baked breads, ready to eat meals, imports, coffee and more. One of our favorite things to see is the pita bread conveyor belt bringing down hot pitas from the second floor.

The store is small but you could spend a long time looking at all the colorful options on the simple shelves. At Phoenicia you can buy your goods to-go or enjoy them at the dining tables. You can also visit their coffee shop and MKT Bar.

 

Alabama Theater Trader Joes
5.  Trader Joe’s (River Oaks: 2922 S Shepherd Dr, Houston, TX 77098, Memorial: 1440 S Voss Rd, Houston, TX 77057, Katy: 2717 Commercial Center Blvd, Katy, TX 77494, The Woodlands: 10868 Kuykendahl Rd, The Woodlands, TX 77381)

I used to be a Navy Wife in California (which was after I was an adult but before I was a minivan driving mom) and learned to love the funny Trader Joe’s there.  The grocery store has followed me to Texas, with one location inside the 610 loop.

They do not carry as many items as your typical store, and they carefully select the items on the shelves. Many of the products have the Trader Joe’s label, which helps keep the prices reasonable.

Some items are always in stock and others are only available for a limited time. Many of the products are healthy, hard to find and local, making every trip to the store a mini-adventure. A couple of other quirks that make Trader Joe’s fun are the Hawaiian shirts worn by the employees and the bell they ring instead of using a PA system.

You probably won’t find your diapers or basics here… but you can find Two Buck Chuck, Cookie Butter, Joe’s Oh’s and my favorite olive bagette.

 

Central Market Houston
6.  Central Market (River Oaks: 3815 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX 77027)

A couple years ago I was really really sick and did not eat for days.  On day four, a friend brought me chicken noodle soup from Central Market… and to this day, I consider the soup counter at Central Market to be magical.

I like to follow the maze around Central Market, find unique things for dinner and to stop at the big prepared food area and eat in the cafe.  The only trouble is that I can spend a whole lot of money in not a whole lot of time.


What is there to do in Houston… with infants? (And why I have hesitated to answer!)

James at Architects of Air
I get this questions a lot… and I’m a little hesitant to answer it.

When I was a the new mom with an infant, I was absolutely determined to make everything perfect. And if I did not do all of the things good moms do… like read books, sing songs, make my own organic baby food, fill in the baby book, send pictures to grandma, join moms groups, sign up for classes, and more… I was going to ruin my kid forever.

This was when I was working my corporate job, raising 1… and soon 2 kids, cleaning my house, doing the laundry, attempting to make decent dinners, trying to be what I thought was the perfect mom… and when I was absolutely ready to burst.

I kept this going for years, but the trouble was, there was no margin for error. If someone got sick or if I had to travel or if there was some mini-crisis, everything fell apart.

It was with my 3rd kid, really as a matter of survival, that I finally learned to give myself grace. The kids did not need everything I was doing for them… They needed food, shelter, hugs and attention.

So, if you are a new mom that feels like I felt, just ignore this list! Seriously. Hug your baby, keep them healthy and take some naps.

BUT, if you feel that meeting other parents and playing with your baby in a structured setting would make you happy, look below to see what parents recommend to do in Houston, with infants and toddlers! (And tell us what to add!)


Houston Citywide Map: Things to do in Houston, with kids!

So just pretend I tell you how great the Art Car Museum is… but when you go, it’s closed to install a new exhibit. And what if you could save the day by finding a nearby (and equally awesome) adventure?

Well, now I have a citywide map of all the things to do in Houston, with kids!  It includes parks, splashpads museums, restaurants, half-day adventures and more!

To use it:
1. Look in your part of town.
2. Click on the dots you want to learn more about.
3.  The square in the top left will let you turn on and off layers for parks, restaurants, etc.
4. In the window that opens, click on the link to see pictures and read about the venue!

 

All the places have been visited by BigKidSmallCity.com and all the pictures are our own. No stock photos… So you see what we saw!

We review a new park, new restaurant and lots of things to do with kids each week, and this is what we’ve found so far.  Keep checking back for what gets added each week… and tell us where else you recommend in Houston!


Look a Little Closer: 14 Surprising Sights to See in Houston

There is no doubt that there is a lot to do with kids in Houston.  Just the large number of activities could keep you busy for a childhood.

And if you look closer, you can find quite a few activities that are unique to Houston and some that just a little quirky and out-of-the-ordinary.

But if you look even closer, there are some things that are so surprising that they disorient you and make you question where in the world you are.

This is the list we are building below and want your help to add to it.  Please tell us what other spots make you wonder if your car transported you to another time and place… and not just down the street.

 

BigKidSmallCity.com HoustonParentsMagazine BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
1. BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir:  Drive through an industrial area off the highway, and then through apartment complexes, and then out of no where are bright white pinnacles, topped with flags.  The Mandir is the first traditional Hindu Mandir of its kind in North America and is made from 33,000 pieces of Italian marble and Turkish limestone… and it is open to visitors, for free, 9:00am-8:00pm daily

 

Rice University Lovett Hall Columns
2. Rice University: Pack up your explorers and start uncovering secrets at Rice University! Find goofy carvings, a marble wall that makes a croaking sound, whispering niches, angry dolphins and so much more.

 

Sabine Street Bridge Cistern at Buffalo Bayou Bridge
3. Sabine Street Cistern: The Cistern was Houston’s first underground drinking water reservoir. This reservoir was decommissioned many many years ago, but has been uncovered and is being improved to be a space for temporary art exhibits. Construction was underway when we visited, but the glimpse we saw was scary and amazing all at the same time. Once it is done, there will also be a periscope to view the exhibit from the top of the Water Works!

 

Climbing at by the Houston Skyline Fish Family Play Area Buffalo Bayou Park
4. Buffalo Bayou Park & Fish Family Play Area: Right along Buffalo Bayou, next to the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark is the Barbara Fish Daniel Nature Play Area at Buffalo Bayou Park!
Not only does it have a slide, climbing structures, water features and drums built 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.

 

Menil Park Sculpture
5. Menil Collection: Walk through 3 free art exhibits, create your own works of art and then play with the art… all at the Menil Collection Campus in Montrose!  This adventure takes you through an art museum. It’s not the Children’s Museum and it’s not the Natural Science Museum… it’s something new to try with the family.  All are welcome in these exhibits and all are within walking distance of each other. If your kids can take a hand and use quiet voices for 5 minutes, give it a try.

 

Teo Chew Temple Chinatown
6. Chinatown: Shops, restaurants and cultural centers.  Driving down Bellaire Boulevard, from 610 to 8, you are transported much further than 7 miles.  Find a restaurant, like House of Bowls, bakery, like Six Ping, a grocery story, like Hong Kong Market or temple like Teo Chew Temple.

 

Bethel Baptist Church Pews
7. Bethel Church Park: Just west of Downtown is a neighborhood with some houses and lots of townhomes. I’ve driven through many times, but I never realized that the fire damaged Bethel Baptist Church was now the Bethel Church Park!  You need to see the pictures.

 

Sisters of Charity Park Houston
8. Sisters of Charity Park: This park does not have a playground… but it’s the most surprising thing you’ll find in Downtown Houston. Lush gardens, winding paths, tunnels, water and the coolest table you ever saw.

 

Helens Park Path and Water
9. Helen’s Park: This might just be one of Houston’s best kept secrets. Google Maps doesn’t even know about it.  It’s tucked in between the Stella Link YMCA and McGovern Library, right behind Sheltering Arms Senior Services. It’s not marked on the map, but it’s open to the public.

Helen’s Park has winding sidewalks, a meandering brook, bright flowers, palm trees, mosaic fountain and huge trellis covered walkways. This park does not have playground equipment and is not for bikes, sports or even picnics (according to the posted rules). It is for “thoughtful contemplation” and visitors are encouraged to “listen to the birds, enjoy the color, follow the brook, walk the pathway, delight in the fountain, rest on the benches, admire the flowers, relax, think, enjoy…”.

 

Battleship Texas
10. San Jacinto Monument and Battleship Texas: Many years ago I was a Navy wife and spent a lot of time near Navy ships… but each time I see Battleship Texas, I have to stop and wonder where I am and what year it is.  And this one has giant cargo ships passing right by.

Touring the battleship, and the nearby San Jacinto Monument, certainly fits into the Surprising Sights category.  Read all about HERE.

 

 

Steps at Bayou Bend Houston
11. Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens: Once you cross the giant suspension bridge over the bayou, you are on the amazing property of Ima Hogg.  Winding paths, hidden garden rooms and beautiful mansion.

 

Church at Sam Houston Park
12. Sam Houston Park: Sam Houston Park is Houston’s oldest park. It is located just behind City Hall in Downtown and is a huge piece of green space in the middle of skyscrapers.

 

Hermann Park Centennial Garden Pergola1
13. McGovern Centennial Gardens: This park at Hermann Park is picture perfect.  This 15 acre garden was renovated to celebrate Hermann Park’s 100 year birthday in 2014. There is a rose garden, family garden, 30 foot mound… with a sidewalk that circles up to the top, sculptures, gazebo, lounge chairs and restrooms.  And it is beautiful. I mean wedding-reception beautiful.

 

Hermann Park Japanese Garden Bridge
14. Japanese Gardens: This is being renovated now… but we’ll be waiting to be transported to Japan.

 

Do you have a place to add?  Let us know… because we are always looking for new adventures.  If you like this list, check out the Top 20 Not-Your-Usual Things to Do in Houston, with Kids!

 


Get Wild: Animals, Nature Centers and Farms in Houston!

Crocodile Encounter Tortoise
Houston is a big city with a lot of highways, buildings and concrete… but lucky for animal lovers and those that just love to be outside… Houston has something for you too!

Look below for places to see animals, to explore nature centers and to play on farms around Houston!

Houston Zoo: Animals in the middle of the Museum District!  See how to beat the crowds and save some money HERE.

Bayou Wildlife Park: Safari rides through acres and acres… feed the exotic animals that come right up to the tram!

Crocodile Encounter: Alligators, crocodiles and giant tortoises to feed!

TGR Exotics100 animals representing over 25 species.

 

Houston Arboretum: Make crafts, read books, walk on the rope bridge and take a hike.

Nature Discovery Center: Small nature center with trail and indoor nature rooms.

 

7 Acrewood: Petting zoo, mini golf, pony rides and play town.

Blessington Farm:  Animal encounters, berry picking and farm fun.

Dewberry FarmOpen fall and winter for train rides, slide mountain, zip lines, pedal cars and so much more!

Froberg Farms:  Berry picking, fresh produce and seasonal activites.

Oil RanchOpen seasonably… milk a cow, ride a horse, climb the hay bales and so much more.  Free pumpkins for kids.  See last year’s post HERE.

Old MacDonalds Farm:  Year round outdoor fun!

P-6 Farms: Open each fall. 

 

Houston Parks: Houston has hundreds of parks.  If you want to get outside and play, there are a lot of free options!

 


Small Museum in Houston: Enjoy a Museum Day… without the Big Museum Crowds!

Houston Fire Museum Kids Playroom
Houston has A LOT of museums… and sometimes we want to visit them, but we do not want to deal with the crowds.  Lucky for us, Houston has a long list of small museums that are prefect for a quieter day with the kids.

Houston Police Museum: The Houston Police Museum is small… but let me tell you why we love it.  It is located on the first floor of a real police station… meaning you get to walk through the metal detector, talk to real police officers and be a part of the action.

Houston Fire Museum: The Fire Museum is located in old Fire Station 7 and has a great kid’s area! There is the cab of an actual firetruck, with working lights and sounds, a fireman pole (and mat) for the kids to use, a play house for the kids to climb in, uniforms, hats, boots, books and activity kits.

Art Car Museum: The museum is funky and small (and free and air conditioned), making it just right for kids.  The museum’s goal is to “encourage the public’s awareness of the cultural, political, economic and personal dimensions of art.

1940 Air Terminal Museum: The Air Terminal Museum is a hidden Houston gem located right by William P. Hobby Airport!

Houston Maritime Museum: No big crowds to fight, a guided tour customized for you and a play room for the kids.

The Printing Museum:  Visitors can take self-guided tours (and pick-up a scavenger hunt list if available), or come for a guided tour. The guided tour is extra cool because you get to help with the hands-on printing of a copy of the Declaration of Independence (and more).

Menil Collection: It’s not the Children’s Museum and it’s not the Natural Science Museum… it’s something new to try with the family in Houston!  All are welcome in these exhibits and all are within walking distance of each other. If your kids can take a hand and use quiet voices for 5 minutes, give it a try. (If your kids are in a rebellious-run-around-like-a-wild-person-phase… this might not be for you just yet!) The cool thing is, the Menil Collection is always free. You can try it and if it’s just not working, head outside to finish the fun.

Houston Center for Contemporary Craft: The Craft Museum has rotating exhibits and artists at work in the studios each day.  Go for a quick (and free) visit or… if it’s the first Saturday, go make your free craft at Hands-On Houston!

Houston Museum of Natural Science Sugar Land: Housed in an old prison, this is the smaller version of the Houston Museum of Natural Science.  Use your HMNS membership to enter for free.

Rosenberg Railroad Museum: The museum is located about a 45 minute drive from Houston and has been celebrating railroading in Fort Bend Country for over 160 years. Did you know that Rosenberg was (and still is) a hub for multiple rail lines?

Galveston Railroad Museum: Located in Downtown Galveston, this museum has an old depot, lots and lots of restored trains, a model train building, concessions and more. On certain days, you can even take a short train ride on an old caboose!

Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum: The Ocean Star Museum is housed in a retired jackup drilling rig. There are three floors of models and interactive displays that show the history of offshore oil and gas. There are movies, scale models, actual drill bits, vehicles and more. There is also a third floor skywalk to the drill floor of the rig.

Lone Star Flight Museum:  One of the top flying museums in the United States is at Ellington Airport.  If you a fan of all things that fly and hands on STEM projects, check it out!

Woodland’s Children’s Museum: Houston has an AWESOME Children’s Museum… but if you’ve been, you know that it is BUSY.
As much as my kids love the Houston Children’s Museum, sometimes I just can’t handle the crowds. This is why I like The Woodlands Children’s Museum.

Texas City Museum: Learn about the Port of Texas City, how much traffic comes through each day and just how dangerous it can be.  There is a kids play room and great model train layout.

 

For more Houston museums, big and small, go visit the Houston Museum District’s website!

 


BigKidSmallCity’s 20 Most Popular Posts for 2015

It has been a big year!

BigKidSmallCity greeted thousands of kids at Toddler Tuesdays and the ICE at Discovery Green, hosted 7 crazy events at Gallery Furniture (with monkeys, exotic birds and sharks), read a pile of stories at Brazos Bookstore, published over 700 posts on things to do in Houston, with kids, and… my favorite… was finally able to work full time on BigKidSmallCity!  Thank YOU!

Cowboy Boots at Swing
I am so happy that you have found your way to BigKidSmallCity, whether it’s through a search engine, through social media, from hearing about it from a friend, seeing a poster around town or another way. People get here in a lot of ways… and these are the 20 posts that had the most number of views in 2015.

  1. Top 9 Places to Eat in Houston, with Kids:  BigKidSmallCity reviews a new restaurant each week… and the updates our favorite list as needed.  Some restaurants are “playground” restaurants… others are nicer that are good for parents and welcoming to kids.  Fun fact… the restaurant posts are usually the most controversial.  Sometimes people love them… sometimes people hate them… and it’s often the same exact place.  People have different preferences, so my recommendation is… if you walk in somewhere and it’s not for you… turn around and leave.  Houston has no shortage of restaurants to try!
  2. Birthday Party Venues in Houston – Where to have your Kid’s Next Birthday Party: This post is always a favorite.  I was getting asked over and over for the best places to host a birthday party… so I asked YOU and compiled the list.  I update it every few months.
  3. Free Things to Do in Houston:  This list includes over 40 free things to do in Houston, with kids.  Who doesn’t love free fun?
  4. Parent Recommended Houston Area Preschools… Where to Send the Little Ones to School: Just like the birthday party list, I was getting asked for recommendations all the time. Since I only know a few pre-schools first-hand, I asked YOU.  Every few months I ask for new recommendations from Houston parents.
  5. What are the best Texas roadtrips to take from Houston, with kids?  This is one of my favorite posts… because I really really like roadtrips.  They are fun outings but do not take a ton of work to plan.  I compiled the list of places BigKidSmallCity is reviewed… and asked Houston parents for more recommendations.
  6. Free Public Splash Pads at Houston City Parks: This is a favorite each summer!
  7. Spaghetti Warehouse – The Most Haunted Building in Downtown Houston:  This post was written at the very start of BigKidSmallCity… and gets search engine traffic each day.  Honestly, if I had read the ghost stories before we visited, I probably would have been too scared to go!
  8. Parent Recommended Houston Summer Camps – Where to Send Your Kids to Camp!  Once again, this was a question I got over and over… so I asked Houston parents for their recommendations.
  9. Bucket List: Things to Do in Houston, with Kids, this Summer!  This list was compiled by Christi at Christi’s Creations… and is organized by the days the venues are open, with addresses, websites and which are air conditioned and which are hot in the summer!
  10. Burping the Buffalo Bayou – The Big Bubble in the Bayou & the Mysterious Red Button on the Preston Street Bridge:  One of my all time favorite things to do in Houston.  A 5 year old named Samuel told me about this button.
  11. Top 9 Things to Do in Houston
  12. Visit the Houston Police Department Mounted Patrol Stables:  This might be even cooler than the red button.  Feed nearly 40 police horses… for free!
  13. Little Matt’s – Our Search for Houston’s Best Restaurants for Kids
  14. Top 8 Things to Do in Houston in the Rain
  15. Top 20 “Not-Your-Usual” Things to Do in Houston, with Kids, Over School Break: This new post quickly because one of the most popular of the year.  This list does not include usual favorites… so you won’t find the awesome Children’s Museum here. Instead, you will find things with fewer crowds, some that are a little quirky, and all that are just as much fun as the well-known spots.
  16. JPMorgan Chase Tower Observation Deck in Downtown Houston – Highest Public Observation Deck in Houston:  Located near the red button, this is also one of my favorite things to do in Houston!
  17. Downtown Tunnel System – 7 Miles of Tunnels Under the City! These tunnels run under downtown, including the JP Morgan Chase tower!
  18. Things to Do in Downtown Houston:  This old post is due for an update with the new rail line… but it will easily get you around Downtown!
  19. Houston Parks Passport – Visit a New Houston Park Each Week!  The parks posts were started a few summers ago… and were so popular, we’ve now reviewed over 120 Houston area parks!
  20. Where in Houston? Biscuit Paint Wall in Montrose! This is a funny post to get so much traffic… but it’s an excellent backdrop for a photo… so people are searching for it!

Top 20 “Not-Your-Usual” Things to Do in Houston, with Kids

You can always find the list of current event round up on BigKidSmallCity.com… but here are some unique things you could do any day of the year… but may not always remember to do!

This list does not include usual favorites… so you won’t find the awesome Children’s Museum here.  Instead, you will find things with fewer crowds, some that are a little quirky, and all that are just as much fun as the well-known spots.

Below you will find: Restaurants, Parks, All-Time (Unusual) Favorites & Experiences.

Check the links for holiday hours… and get to exploring!

Lost Lake at Buffalo Bayou Park
Restaurants:

1. 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!

2. Maryam’s Cafe – This coffee shop/restaurant is like an old antique store where you can order coffee, juices, smoothies, ice cream, breakfast or lunch… and in the back there is a playroom for kids!

The only trouble with it is, how do you decide between playing in the back or sitting in the thrones (yes, king and queen thrones) in the front window?

3. The Dunlavy – As you walk up the stairs, you find yourself at tree height and the huge windows on 3 sides of the dining room let you feel the outdoors. The dining room is the most beautiful room we have seen this year.

One focal point is the dozen of crystal chandeliers, all different, all elegant, all softening the room. As your eyes go down from the ceiling, the warm wooden tables, large enough for big groups or to share, are welcoming and casual. Then your eyes go back outside, to the green foliage, to the bayou or to the peaceful lake.

I love Houston for its easy-going attitude. People seem to mix peacefully and respectfully embracing each other’s differences and cultures. Last Saturday, at lunch time, it was a perfect example of Houston’s best. Well-dressed ladies happily mixed with families with children, with bikers dressed in bright colored outfits and us!

4. 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!

 

Travis Spark Park Dinosaur Bones1
Parks:

1. 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!

2. 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!

3. Jaycee Park – Not far from the popular Donovan Park and Travis Spark Park is the cool and unique Jaycee Park!

There are the usual slides and ladders… but there are also loops for scaling across the play structure, music stations, a rope bridge, curving rock wall, spring-loaded seesaws, a bumpy slide, a fireman pole, a stand-up swing that you go around and around on… and that’s just the start of it.  See the pictures HERE!

4. Barbara Fish Daniel Nature Play Area at Buffalo Bayou Park – Right along Buffalo Bayou, next to the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark is the Barbara Fish Daniel Nature Play Area at Buffalo Bayou Park!

Not only does it have 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. You need to see the pictures HERE!

Also, very close by in the Buffalo Bayou Park is the Waugh Bat Colony and at dusk you can see hundreds of thousands of bats emerge!

5. Fire Truck Park – When Southside’s  first fire truck was retired in 1970, it was kept in this park, making it the Fire Truck Park. This truck and the other playground equipment came into disrepair after many years of use, so in 2012, a completely renovated Fire Truck Park was opened. And it is fantastic.

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.

(Need more parks?  Find them HERE!)

 

Juarez JP Morgan Chase Tower
All-Time (Unusual) Favorites:

1. 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.

2. Update: The Observation Deck is NOW CLOSED to the public.  JP Morgan Chase Tower Observation Deck – The JP Morgan Chase Building is 75 stories tall, making it the tallest building in Houston and one of the tallest buildings in the United States. The observation deck is on the 60th floor.  During business hours, Monday through Friday, 8:00am to 5:00pm, this observation deck is open to the public for free.

3. Caninos Market & El Bolillo – Visit Canino’s Produce Market and be amazed by the cases of pastries at El Bolillo!

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

5. Orange Show and Smither Park – Experience art so unique you can only find it at a monument celebrating oranges. Visit the Orange Show and then picnic at Smither Park!

6. Beer Can House – When you drive up, you think you’re in just any residential neighborhood until you see a shiny silver house with beer can chimes blowing in the wind.

This house belonged to John Milkovisch who was a retired upholsterer for the Southern Pacific Railroad. He was tired of mowing the grass, so in 1968 he started creating “art” by adding marbles and rocks to concrete and making unique lawn ornaments. When the yard was full, he started to cover the house in beer can siding. Over 18 years, John added over 50,000 cans to his house.

7.  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!

8.  Waugh Bridge Bat Colony – Each night at dusk, watch hundreds of thousands of bats emerge in the middle of the city!

 

Joe Hermann Park Conductor for a Day
Experiences:

1. 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.

Engineer for a Day is a pretty cool experience. So cool, that my 6 year old girl is now counting down the days until she turns 7 and can be the Engineer.

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.

Read more about it… and see the pictures HERE!

2.  Feed the Giraffes – At the Houston Zoo, the Giraffe Feeding Platform opens to guests. You can walk up the ramp, so you are eye level with the animals, and feed them dinner.

For $5 $7, you can buy 3 pieces of lettuce. Use a 3 for 1 person, or share them between kids.

It might seem like a lot of money for a little lettuce, but when you get face to face with the Masai giraffe family, and see their cute faces and long black tongues, you might just change your mind.

When you buy your lettuce at Giraffe Exhibit, ask for a frequent feeding card. When you fill it up, you’ll get to feed the giraffes for free!

Once you are done feeding the giants, visit the Swap Shop.  You can bring in things you found in nature, earn points, and swap for something new.  Learn all about it HERE!

3.  Eat Bugs – At the Cockrell Butterfly Center inside the Houston Museum of Natural Science, you can find lots of butterflies fluttering around, lots of interactive displays on insects… and 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.
Kinderwagon
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!

 

Wherever you go, enjoy the time with your kids!  If you are looking for the gear I use for urban Houston exploring, go HERE!

And if you are still looking for more fun, check out these suggestions for parking, exploring and eating, all in one stop.  Here are over 30 Half-Day in Houston ideas!


Video: What should we do in Houston, with kids, on a rainy day?

It’s another wet day in Houston and my house is starting to look like a daycare full of toddlers emptied every single box, bin and shelf. If you are also looking to get out of the house, and put an end to the mess making (and mess cleaning), check out this video with Things to do in Houston, with kids, in the rain!

For details on each venue mentioned in the video below, go HERE

This isn’t a place in Houston, but it’s something we like to do on rainy days.  We live in a very walk-able neighborhood and very often we see people caught in the rain.  Sometimes it’s a family walking from the store, sometimes it’s a waiter getting his uniform drenched and sometimes it’s a homeless man or woman.  I like to buy ponchos and umbrellas in bulk (or at estate and garage sales) and hand them out in the rain.  We keep them in the car and just grab them when we see someone getting soaked.


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