As adult-oriented as Houston can feel at times, it's actually a great place to raise kids — especially around the holidays. From light displays to Santa sightings to ice skating, there are myriad ways to get the whole family in the holiday spirit. Here are just a few of the great things to see and do in the Houston area during the winter season.
Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens is worth a visit any time of year. The house-turned-museum has some of the most gorgeous collections of furniture, artwork and decor in the city, and the gardens are stunning on their own. But something particularly magical happens during Christmastime.
The grounds are converted into a winter wonderland, complete with fake snow, carolers, arts and crafts, live reindeer, elaborate light displays, games, tours, model trains, a sparkling Christmas tree, and — of course — a visit from Santa. Inside Bayou Bend's mansion, live actors are there to interact with families and spread holiday cheer.
Traders Village is one of the largest open-air markets in Texas, so naturally Santa makes a point to give a special appearance every year. From the Saturday after Thanksgiving to mid-December, kids can get their picture taken with him for free. Afterward, parents can get a little shopping done, too. It's a win-win.
Given its year-round temperate — and at times balmy — temperatures, Houstonians don't often get a chance to experience ice skating outside. But in the weeks leading up to Christmas, Discovery Green park downtown sets up an outdoor rink you can visit even if it's 70 degrees outside. Themed nights make it fun to go back several times throughout the season, and yes, Santa drops by as well. While visiting the park is free, ice skating there isn't. Be prepared to drop a few bucks for both parking and skate rentals in addition to entrance to the rink.
Head on over to the Houston Heights, one of the city's nicer neighborhoods, and take in their Lights in the Heights event, located in the Woodland Heights area. One of the most popular winter activities for families in Houston, Lights in the Heights features live music, food, and awesome light shows. The event takes place the second Saturday in December, but the lights are often left up for the whole holiday season. Walk or drive through block after block of beautifully lit and decorated homes, while listening to Christmas music and sipping hot cocoa as you enjoy the sights.
This event is actually a triple treat because (a) kids like fish, and there are a ton here, (b) kids like Santa, and he's here too, and (c) Santa actually makes a guest appearance inside the tank. And the only thing better than Santa is a Santa that scubas. Be sure to make reservations as this one fills up quick.
On select days in December, hop on a 30-minute trip along Houston's Buffalo Bayou in a pontoon boat decorated to maximize Christmas cheer. Take in the gorgeous views of Houston's downtown, all while listening to holiday music. Tours take place in the evenings from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and leave every 30 minutes. Kids under 4 are not allowed, but older kids and parents will love it.
Several Houston Public Library locations have kid-friendly activities throughout the holiday season, including arts, crafts, story times, and English classes. Stop by your local branch, or visit the main website for dates and more details.
This Galveston attraction has tons of fun educational activities and things to do all year long, and winter is no exception. From roughly Thanksgiving to New Year's, Moody Gardens puts up thousands of holiday lights to see and explore, as well as ice slide, ice skating, and photos with St. Nick himself.
While much of the country starts their holiday shopping Thanksgiving weekend, Houstonians' Christmas season starts with the Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market. The massive market takes place in mid-November at NRG Park, where hundreds of vendors set up shop to sell everything from high-end chocolate to children's clothing. While kids are welcome, strollers are not, so be sure to plan accordingly.
Robyn Correll contributed to this report.