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 and alfresco ice skating, the "Space City" puts on a myriad of happenings to get the entire family in the holiday spirit. You can marvel at miles of lights in various parts of the city or get a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of old Kris Kringle scuba diving. Learn about the best holiday activities and events for kids around Houston.
Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens Christmas Decorations
Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens is worth a visit any time of year, but during the holidays, the house-turned-museum exhibits elaborate decorations in addition to its permanent collection of (already stunning) furniture and artwork. From December 5 through 31, 2020, the first floor of the historic property will feature five Christmas trees, each decorated to match their respective rooms. Outside, the house will be bedecked with holiday wreaths and garland.
Virtually, the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens will also offer free cooking demonstrations, workshops, and other activities for both kids and adults. A virtual Family Day will feature music, art, games on December 6.
Traders Village Holiday Market
Traders Village is one of the largest open-air markets in Texas, and something that big is never skipped by Santa Claus. The man in red makes a point to drop by for photos every weekend, this year from November 28 through December 20. In 2020, Santa will be offering no-contact visits and prints will not be sold, but guests are welcome to photograph meet-and-greets on their phones. He'll be located on the stage at the Gray Expo from 12 to 4 p.m. Afterward, parents can get some holiday shopping done.
Ice Skating at Discovery Green
Given its year-round temperate—and at times balmy—climate, Houstonians don't often get a chance to experience open-air ice skating. But in the weeks leading up to Christmas, Discovery Green park downtown becomes the temporary home of The Ice, an outdoor rink you can visit even if it's 70 degrees outside. Themed nights and visits from Santa make it always lively. While visiting the park is free, ice skating costs $15 and skate rentals cost $8. In 2020, all tickets must be purchased in advance.
Lights in the Heights
Woodland Heights is one of Houston's most historic (and beautiful) neighborhoods, comprising 2,000 homes in the greater Heights district. Every year, residents indulge in a little friendly decorating competition called Lights in the Heights, which would normally feature live music and food in addition to elaborate light shows. In 2020, however, the event has been reimagined as a scavenger hunt. Guests are encouraged to spot a dinosaur, Hanukkah bear, flying pig, and more, then submit their findings via email to the organizing committee. The decorations will be on display throughout the month, but awards will be announced December 12.
Breakfast With Santa at Aquarium Restaurant
Never seen Santa Clause scuba dive? You will at Downtown Aquarium's annual Breakfast with Santa event. The immortal bearded icon has been known to join the sharks in his suit at this Houston institution. In 2020, breakfast will be served on December 12, 19, 20, and 24. Stay on Christmas Eve (or Christmas Day) for additional family fun until 7 p.m. Reservations must be made for breakfast in advance.
Moody Gardens Festival of Lights
This Galveston attraction, about an hour's drive from Houston, is a non-profit destination that educates kids about conservation and wildlife through nature. During the holidays, from Thanksgiving through New Year's, Moody Gardens sports thousands of holiday lights, plus it offers ice sliding, ice skating, and photos with Santa. This year's season runs from November 21, 2020, to January 2, 2021, and opens daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m, including on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market
While Thanksgiving weekend kicks off holiday shopping around the country, Houstonians' Christmas season starts early, thanks to the annual Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market. The massive market usually takes place at the NRG Center, where hundreds of vendors set up shop to sell everything from high-end chocolate to children's clothing and vintage nutcrackers. In 2020, the event will be held virtually from November 11 to December 11.
Christmas Cruise on Buffalo Bayou
Usually, the holiday season would be synonymous with 30-minute cruises in a decorated pontoon along Houston's Buffalo Bayou. These festive cruises show guests gorgeous views of downtown Houston from the water (plus: holiday music and hot chocolate). In 2020, all Christmas Cruises have been canceled.