Houston's massive size can make the task of finding fun activities for the kids a little daunting. As long as you're willing to drive a little—and wait in a little traffic— you'll find plenty of entertaining options for the restless youngsters in your clan.
Houston is known as a center for space technology and NASA, as a large city with many cultural attractions, and as Gulf community with its own sea life to learn about.
Ranked as a top children's museum by family magazines and travel sites, the Children's Museum of Houston takes education seriously by making it as fun as possible. Put your toddler to work as a make-believe city council member, police officer or chef in Kidtropolis, a city where kids rule. After they've earned their keep, kids can learn about budgeting by using a pretend $40 debit card to buy groceries. In the Building Zone, kids can learn about how pulleys work by hoisting a big bag of gravel. In the Powerplay area, children learn about health and fitness by doing what they do best: jump, climb and dance.
Take your kids to one of the Meet the Keeper sessions to maximize the fun. Keepers share fun facts and often interact with the animals to demonstrate interesting aspects of their behavior. The elephant bath is always a crowd favorite, and kids will be mesmerized by the daily bat feedings. For an extra fee, you and the kids can take a behind-the-scenes tour of the aquarium, children's zoo or the commissary, where food is prepared for the animals.
A stinky flower is one of the most popular exhibits at the museum. Though it rarely blooms, when it does, it's quite a show. The corpse flower's bloom can be up to eight feet tall and smells like rotting flesh.
For a stink-free experience, kids will love the Burke Baker Planetarium, a domed theater that can surround you with a starry sky, a laser light show or even a hurricane. And don't miss the paleontology exhibit's main attraction: Tyrannosaurus rex.
Space Center Houston is the official visitor center of NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston and a Smithsonian Affiliate museum.
At Independence Plaza, you can go inside the shuttle replica Independence, mounted on top of the historic and original NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft, and then explore the giant plane.
Walking into the Astronaut Gallery feels like stepping into a science fiction movie. Figures in space suits, encased in glass tubes, stare down at you from around the room. The Feel of Space presentation gives kids a sense of what it's like to live and work in space. They'll learn how difficult—and hilarious—simple tasks such as showering, eating and sleeping can be without gravity.
You can actually go on-site at NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) to tour astronaut training facilities, Mission Control, and more.
It may seem a little odd to go ice skating in the middle of a shopping mall, but it's a 30-year-old tradition at Houston's Galleria. If you plan ahead, you can sign the kids up for some lessons. And if the kids discover that they just don't have the gift for ice skating, there are plenty of toy stores and ice cream shops nearby to keep them happy.
Step inside an indoor rainforest at the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. You'll enjoy the spectacle of hundreds of butterflies flitting about in a three-story glass structure. This is one of the best things to do with kids in Houston on a rainy day.
In the Chrysalis Corner, kids can watch butterflies emerge, completing their amazing transformation from caterpillar to flying beauty. Hardcore bug lovers will want to see the hissing cockroaches and whip scorpions.
This downtown park is an inspiring example of disparate groups working together to make a lasting contribution to Houston. The former industrial site has been transformed into a beautiful public green space. Kids can frolic in a fountain, take a kayak ride in the park's 1-acre lake, or the entire family can enjoy a picnic under shade trees.
In addition to a 500,000-gallon aquarium, the Downtown Aquarium entertainment complex has a Ferris wheel, carnival-style games, a restaurant, and white tigers. At the Discovery Rig exhibit, kids can even touch horseshoe crabs and stingrays.
See the new battery-powered locomotive and ride the "Electic Eel Train" through the complex and see the shark experience.
Though much of Houston is coated in a thick layer of concrete, the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center transports you back to Houston's lush, green past. With towering pine trees, tons of birds, and five miles of nature trails, the kids will find plenty to hold their attention.
The Arboretum holds regular classes and experiences for families including a "Family Owl Prowl," and geocaching class.
Show up early to enjoy Breakfast on the Bayou. You'll cruise along in a pontoon boat while snacking on pastries. The marshy environment at Armand Bayou supports an astonishing variety of birds and other wildlife, including deer, owls, armadillo, rabbits, and raccoons. The park also has a small collection of captive animals including snakes, spiders, hawks, and bison.
Learn About the Human Body
Go inside the human body at the Health Museum. The museum provides interactive and educational experiences for the whole family. Take a walking tour through a huge human body and learn how it works. The Health Museum, affiliated with Texas Medical Center, has created a colorful experience that takes museum visitors on a journey to learn about the physical and mental aspects of themselves. The Health Museum also houses Houston's first 4D theater where you can see the 3D film "Planet You."
Tour the Houston Astros Ball Park
The Houston Astros' home field is Minute Maid Park. When they aren't playing, 1.5-hour tours will take you behind the scenes at the park to see historic Union Station (which is where the tours start), the broadcasting booth and press box, and a luxury suite. Tour participants can take a lap around the field and see the dugout, bullpen, and manual scoreboard. Game Day tours are a bit different but are also exciting as you can get in early and experience the excitement as the Astros prepare to play ball.
Minute Maid Park is an interesting place to visit and even features a vintage, full-sized locomotive that runs along 800 feet of track on the left-field wall in keeping with the historic railroad history of the area.
Spend the Day at Brazos Bend State Park
Only 40 miles from downtown Houston you'll find this 5,000-acre park where you can go biking, hiking, boating, and fishing. There are interpretive programs and guided hikes to take.
The park contains a Nature Center where you can learn about the area's ecosystems and inhabitants and a nature-oriented gift shop.
At the George Observatory, also in the park, you can investigate the cosmos through high-powered telescopes. For information on programs or passes, visit the observatory website. If you want to spend a bit more time, camp out at Brazos Bend State Park and go star-gazing.
Encounter a Croc
Crocodile Encounter has the largest group of Nile crocodiles in the country. This interactive nature center brings allows you to learn about and get close to these reptiles safely. There are other interesting animals located there including huge tortoises. The center is located 30 miles from downtown Houston.
Meet the Livestock
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is an annual, family-friendly event that is both educational and entertaining. Events showcase the area's Western heritage and serve youth in agriculture. There is much to do at the show and rodeo ranging from competitions (even a barbecue contest) to a carnival and ranching expo.
The parade before the show opens goes through downtown. Decorative floats, horseback units, marching bands and dignitaries fill the parade route.
Get Some Air
Urban Air is an indoor adventure park. It's an ideal place to go during the hot, humid summers. You can jump on their trampolines, get competitive on the Warrior Obstacle Course, climb walls, go indoor skydiving, and have fun on the Sky Rider indoor coaster.
Catch a Show
The Miller Outdoor Theater in Hermann Park provides an eight-month season of free shows and programs.
This family-friendly outdoor venue presents classical music, jazz, world music and dance, ballet, Shakespeare, musical theatre, and much more. You can bring a picnic to the park and enjoy the show.
Kids can always go to Topgolf with an adult, but the Spring Academy is just for kids ages 6 - 12. The academy provides three days of entertainment and learning all about golf. Kids will learn golf etiquette, chipping, putting and improve their full swing. The courses are taught by Topgolf's pros and provide individual hands-on instruction.
Visit the Pyramids
Moody Gardens, an amusement complex on Galveston Island, has pyramids—a Rainforest Pyramid, an Aquarium Pyramid, and more. There's plenty of action at the 3D and 4D theaters and for a laid back change, ride the replica of an 1800s paddlewheel boat.
There's plenty going on to entertain the big kids as well as the little ones.
See the Fountains Dance
You can walk along the Woodlands Waterway in downtown Houston. While this area houses many businesses, it's a fun place to stroll. See a free show at the Pavilion and walk down to the fountains for a colorful, choreographed light and fountain show in the evening.