Houston Zoo Adventure – Birthday Scavenger Hunt

Our youngest monkey turned 1 year old last week, so in BigKidSmallCity fashion, we planned a birthday adventure. We usually head to Downtown Houston or Montrose for a scavenger hunt, but for this birthday, that did not quite fit. After 1 year with 3 kids, it’s become clear that the animals are running the BigKidSmallCity Zoo. In recognition of this, we took adventure to Hermann Park and the Houston Zoo.

Joe and Brooke helped to make our list of things to do while at the Houston Zoo. It included:

o Ride an animal.
o Cool off.
o Check out the giraffes.
o Eat a picnic snack.
o Splash at the splash pad.
o Find something you have never seen before at the zoo.
o Give money to a bird.
o Take a picture of a duck.
o Eat a grilled cheese sandwich.

Last Saturday we loaded up our animals and pointed the minivan towards the zoo. This happened to be on Museum District Day, so I should have added “Find a Park Spot” to the list of things to do. After circling the lot a few times, and stalking one poor family that was leaving the playground, we were able to steal a spot.

Instead of gifts, we ask for museum and zoo memberships for Christmas and Birthdays. Because of this, we have a zoo membership that allows us to walk right in and stay for as long (or short) as we want.

Once in the zoo, we remembered it was Get Out and Play Day. There were booths and games, making it easy to “find something we had never seen before at the zoo”. We stopped at the tents on the way to the giraffes.

The kids ran in through obstacle courses, searched for reptiles, won McDonald’s coupons and more. When we got hot, we cooled off at the fan misters.

We eventually made it to the giraffes and “checked them out”. Right next door, we “rode an animal” at the carousel.

Next we stopped to eat our animal cracker snack on a bench and then jumped in the water at the splash pad.

The list seemed short, but it always seems to be the case that when we are in the very back of the zoo, the kids start to loose their cool and their legs stop working. Not wanting to disappoint, my 3 monkeys started to fuss and fight in the African Forest. If you were there, you probably noticed the woman with the baby strapped to her chest and a 5 and 3 year old both sitting in the single umbrella stroller, fighting about something they made up.

We stopped in the shade to regroup and decide if we could muster up enough good behavior to finish our adventure. Fortunately we had “give money to a bird” on the list and the kids have been dying to put money in the huge bird bank near the flamingos. The kids were certain they could be good for the rest of the adventure.

But their legs still didn’t work. So, I got a nice hamstring workout as I pushed 90 pounds in the stroller and carried an additional 20 on my chest. (But don’t worry too much about me.  I haven’t worked out consistently in 5 years and I depend on these adventure meltdowns to make sure my jeans continue to fit.)

We made it to the bird bank and suddenly everyone’s legs were working. The kids climbed the steps and fed the bird a few quarters, ran around in circles and then both climbed back into my single stroller.

I pushed my crew out of the zoo and walked across the sidewalk to Pinewood Cafe. Here we ordered the famous “grilled cheese sandwiches” and ate them on the outside patio. We watched the boats on the water and, “took a picture of a duck”.

We loaded the kids back in the car and had 3 monkeys asleep when we got home.  Happy Birthday Sweet Baby James.

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!

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.


Explore Montrose with Kids – Our Scavenger Hunt

My kids and I love Downtown Houston.  We’ve been making up lists and heading out on urban scavenger hunts.  You can see the last couple of hunts HERE and HERE.   For Mother’s Day last weekend, my kids were sure that we needed to celebrate with another scavenger hunt.  Flattered that they like the outings with mom, I decided to explore another part of Houston.

This time we decided to explore Montrose.  Our list of items to find or do was:

  • Find a big grey building.
  • Find one red swing.
  • Take a picture of water.
  • Go to school.
  • Eat a picnic snack.
  • Read a book in a park.
  • Look at photographs.
  • Eat lunch at a restaurant.
  • Drink a lot of iced tea.

We printed out our lists, got our clipboards, pens, backpacks and were off. Our first stop was “lunch at a restaurant”. There are a lot of options in the area, but we decided to try something new and head to Firkin and Phoenix.  I was a little concerned about taking my kids to a pub, but since it was my Mother’s Day, I decided to try it out. To my surprise, the pub had high chairs and kids menus and was very welcoming. The English style pub was perfect for all of us.

After lunch, and “drinking lots of iced tea” (my favorite), we drove over to the Menil Campus. Here there is a lot of free parking and we were able to park and walk for the rest of our adventure.

Our first stop was the Menil Collection, housed in a “big grey building”. In fact, every house and building in the campus is the trademark grey color. We did not go inside, but we could have. The Menil is free to the public.

Instead, we went across the street to the Menil Park. Here we found one lone “red swing” hanging from a huge oak tree. We found a spot and “ate a picnic snack” and “read a book”. After climbing some trees, we went in search of some water.

Right next to the park is the Rothko Chapel.  In front of the Chapel is a reflecting pond were Joe “took a picture”.  We took a quick trip into the Chapel, which is also free, before making our final two stops.

Just beyond the Rothko Chapel is St. Thomas University.   The small campus is very well kept and has a lot of green space.  My kids ran through the grass in the center of the campus while I sat in the shade and checked off “go to school”.

The last item on our list was “look at photographs”.  Lucky for us, just one block north of the Menil is Houston Center for Photography.  We went into this free gallery, looked at the pictures and enjoyed the air conditioning.  We made a small donation and crossed the last item off our list.

At each stop, my kids were very serious about checking the list, finding the right words and checking the items off.  Our little tour through Montrose made for a perfect Sunday afternoon.

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.