There are so many fun and interesting things for families to do in Houston! It was hard to choose how to spend our time while we were there, but based on tips from friends, our kids’ interests, and chances to visit with friends, we chose to visit the Children’s Museum, the Houston Zoo, and Hermann Park.
Children’s Museum of Houston
After the pleasant surprise of finding a reasonably priced parking space just a short distance from the museum, we walked past a large sign that boasted that the Children’s Museum of Houston was the #1 children’s museum in the country. “We’ll see about that,” we said. We’ve been to a lot of children’s museums as we’ve traveled, and there are some great ones out there. Hours later, as we dragged exhausted kids out of a closing museum, I asked Staffan to take a picture of that sign – because I think they might just be right. We haven’t been to every children’s museum in the country (yet) but Houston’s is definitely our favorite so far, and it will certainly be hard to beat.
Our admission was free through the ASTC Passport* program, and at the ticket counter, the kids were given stickers alerting the museum staff that this was their first visit, as well as a “debit card” to use in Kidtropolis.
I can’t say enough good things about all the different rooms and exhibits. Each one was more exciting for the kids than the one before it, though it was impossible to do everything and it wasn’t easy to get them to leave one area to explore the next. I’m confident that they could have spent the entire day in Kidtropolis alone. Most children’s museums have some form of role play area where kids can pretend to have different jobs. This was more complete than any we’ve seen, including chances to try jobs, earning paychecks which they could deposit into their debit card account using an ATM station, and then take out in cash to use to pay at the cafe, grocery store, etc (where they were waited on by other kids trying out the jobs). It almost has to be experienced to be fully understood, but Kidtropolis is amazing!
But if we had let them stay in Kidtropolis all day like they wanted, we would have missed the wonder that is the lower level. If it wasn’t enough that there was a whole area based around one of their favorite PBS shows, Cyber Chase, there was the Invention Convention workshop. Here was a room full of every kind of material you could imagine to be creative, test ideas, and solve problems. Peter spent the bulk of his time trying to build a Lego car that would survive the test track. Each time it broke, and he explored how to reinforce it, make it stronger or better and tested it again. Emelie used paper cups, coffee filters, wooden craft sticks and pipe cleaners, among other things, to build a flying contraption that she got to test in a variety of wind tubes. She also watched what happened, made changes and adaptations and tested again and again. Our only disappointment was that we didn’t find this room until the end of the day. The kids were getting tired and we had to leave because the museum was closing and we needed to get something to eat.
A practical note: There is a restaurant available for buying lunch and snacks, and the picnic tables are reserved for restaurant customers. If you pack a lunch, like we did, you need to exit the museum area to eat. There is a park nearby, but we chose to sit on the steps outside the side exit so that we could get back inside as soon as possible.
*We wrote more about the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) Passport Program in this post.
We visited the Houston Zoo thinking that our admission would be free as members of an AZA reciprocal* zoo. What we didn’t know was that Houston changed it’s participation in the AZA to 50% (meaning our tickets were not free but half-price) as of March 1, 2017. Neither their own website nor the AZA’s website had been updated at that point, but still they charged us for our tickets. We might not have gone if we’d known this, but standing at the zoo entrance with excited kids isn’t the time to change the plan. Credit cards out and in we go.
Most zoos are pretty similar and we did the things you would expect to do in a zoo. We walked around looking at animals, watched the sea lions show off their tricks, and went to a few Keeper Talks. We were the only ones at the Keeper Talk in the primate area, so the kids had a zookeeper all to themselves to interrogate for a few minutes. We met a monkey family whose new baby was named Micah. Our baby Micah seemed unimpressed, though, and slept through the whole thing.
Another highlight of the Houston Zoo was the Natural Encounters building, especially the aquarium with a crawl-through tube that let kids feel like they were in the water with the fish while remaining safe and dry. The Children’s Zoo was also fun, and we particularly liked the bat cave, but we didn’t make it there until later in the day and everyone was admittedly pretty tired and saturated.
Houston has a nice zoo. We wouldn’t put it in the same category as zoos like San Diego and Columbus, but we had a really good day. Weather-wise, March is a great time for outdoor activities in Houston and zoos make for great field trips. It’s a really natural way to learn about life science, geography, conservation and the environment, political and social issues relating to endangered species, and so much more.
* Read more about our AZA reciprocal membership in this post.
We have friends in Houston that we hadn’t seen in years. We knew there would be lots of catching up and “boring grown-up talking” so we wanted to meet in a place where there would be things for the kids to do that still left us free to focus on other adults for a while. They suggested Hermann Park and it was perfect. The Houston Zoo is actually a part of this downtown park, but even without going to the zoo, there are plenty of ways to fill a day!
We started out just walking the paths and enjoying the fountains, birds and sunshine. We came to a fountain that was perfect for playing and splashing in. We hadn’t planned for this, but it was a warm and sunny day and we figured they would dry in time for church that evening. The initial timidity wore off, and soon both of our older kids were completely soaked. Our restaurant plans quickly changed to a picnic in the park.
If we were to plan a picnic in Hermann Park, we would pack our food with us, or at least find a take-out place outside the park to buy food. The cafe in the park where we found outside seating for our dripping kids was really expensive for small serving sizes. But again, this wasn’t our initial plan and sometimes spontaneity is expensive. After the picnic we found a playground to allow for even more “boring grown-up talking.” Browsing the park’s website, I see that there was more to do than we ever would have had time for if we had spent several days there. Definitely worth a visit!
It isn’t surprising that Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States, has so much to offer visitors. Nevertheless, we were surprised by just how much fun we had during our two weeks in this sprawling city. Thanks for the memories, Houston. We will definitely be back!!
Posted in Explore and tagged ASTC, AZA, children's museum, family-friendly Houston, Hermann Park, Houston, Houston Zoo, Kidtropolis by Christine with no comments yet.