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 a 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. Even if your kiddo has never skated before, it's still fun to try. 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 and 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.