Blogger, Writer, Urban Adventurer
Summer time means lots of free time, which is a great thing until your kids are fighting, complaining of boredom and generally driving you crazy. Entertainment for a whole family? Also not cheap. As much as my children might like it, I can’t take them to indoor play places, museums and out for ice cream every day. It all adds up fast! Here is a list of 25 free things to do this summer in Houston with kids to not only save some money, but some sanity too.
1. Feed the horses at the Houston Police Mounted Patrol Barn from noon to pm on weekdays. You can also schedule visits or guided tours ahead of time if you plan to attend with a group or want to go on a weekend by calling 832-395-0394. Only requirement? Limit it to two treats (carrots or apples) per horse.
2. Memorial City Mall has more than just Frolic’s Castle to offer families in the summer. Kidtastic on the Square brings in someone new every Wednesday in June (HMNH, Mad Science and Gymboree!) for free activities starting at 10am.
3. Take a self-guided mural tour around the city. The Houston Mural Festival has maps of the locations of their latest works, and this is my personal list of favorites across the city. There are also well over 100 mini-murals in Houston now that make for great scavenger hunts.
4. Check out the bat colony at Waugh Bridge. Arrive 30 minutes before sunset to see the full effect of the bats emerging from underneath the bridge for their dinner (very similar to the Austin bats!). Bring your camera and get ready for the spectacular exit.
5. See A Performance at Miller Outdoor Theater in Hermann Park. This summer’s children’s performances include Swing, Jive and Dance! Into Pop, which highlights dance styles from the 1930s-70s, and Once On This Island, a junior version of the Calypso-inspired musical and more. Remember to come early if you want a covered seat, but lawn space is usually pretty open, especially in the daytime.
6. Celebrate Pride on June 24 at the free, all-ages festival in Downtown. There are always tons of performers and vendors, and the parade kicks off that evening when things have cooled down. Everything is Wonderland themed this year, so expect plenty of wild costumes!
7. Enjoy free classical music and an instrument petting zoo at the Houston Symphony’s community concert series. Throughout June (check online for exact dates and locations) you can hear the music of E.T., Beauty and the Beast and more, for free right in your neighborhood. Come 45 minutes early for littles to try out the instruments for themselves. For families up north, snag free lawn spots to symphony shows at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.
8. Ride your bike along the bayou. The Buffalo Bayou Partnership has spent $12 million dollars expanding and updating the 23-acre waterfront park along the bayou. Park on Allen Parkway between Sabine and Taft for $1 an hour (3 hour max) before heading off for your ride.
9. Take advantage of free museum days. You can find a complete list of times here. While the free days are generally busy, it is a great way to try out different museums to see if you are interested in family memberships.
10. Picnic at Smither Park—a public artist space located directly next-door to the Orange Show. It features walls of mosaics created by self-taught artists. There are a few covered areas that make for fun picnic locations. On Saturdays, you can even catch the artists at work!
11. Break in the splash pad at Levy Park. With climbing walls, decks throughout the trees, spinning structures and a huge interactive water feature, there’s plenty to do. Let the kids run wild, then change them into swim gear to cool off before stopping at the library corner to wind down. Levy Park is also hosting a bevy of free eventsthroughout the summer.
12. Houston’s Art Car Parade is the largest in the world and we aren’t the art car capital for nothing! A few art cars are always on display at the Art Car Museum. Entry is free, but the hours are limited. They are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and open Wednesday to Sunday from 11am to 6pm. In addition to the cars on display, they typically have two other rotating galleries.
13. On select Saturdays over the summer, you can catch a free outdoor movie during Screen on the Green at Discovery Green. Secret Life of Pets plays June 3 at 8:45pm, Trolls on July 8 at 8:30pm, and Finding Dory on August 12 at 8:30pm.
14. Free movie series at spots like Sugar Land Town Square, Pearland Town Square and Second Saturdays at The Depot in Tomball offer families outside the loop fun freebies, too.
15. Exploring the trails of the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center is always free. Visit earlier in the morning before it gets too hot and aim to make our way on the inner loop path to one of the ponds to see the turtles. They open their gates bright and early at 7am if you have adventurous early risers.
16. Feed the ducks at Hermann Park. Go early in the morning and then enjoy a snack in the Japanese Gardens. On a hot day, pack a swimsuit for the two free splash pads (if you count the fountains over by the reflective pool). We might even take a ride on the train before heading home. While the train rides aren’t free, at $3.50 a person, we can afford to splurge every once in a while.
17. Get hands-on at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. On the first Saturday of every month (minus June!) from 11am to 3pm, this museum and gallery hosts an open house geared towards art projects that kids can do with the center’s staff and artists.
18. The Port of Houston Authority gives free, 90-minute boat tours of the Port of Houston. The boat holds up to 100 people and tours can get booked fast, so check out their online reservation form to snag a date that works for your family.
19. Experience Twilight Epiphany at sunset. The James Turrell light show/installation on Rice University campus offers free reservations via this site. While young kids might not enjoy the subtle changes, bringing something for them to color on might help you get a moment to take it all in.
20. Have a DIY photo shoot at the Water Wall. The 64-foot semi-circular structure is just begging to be Instagram-ed (it’s supposedly the most photographed spot in the city!). If you have one, take a tripod and the nice camera. Set the self timer and see if you can get a photo with you in the picture for once. Then enjoy the shade of the old oaks and have a picnic.
21. Ride at Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark or the North Houston Skatepark (it’s the largest one in the country!). If you’ve got stable bike riders or skate boarders, entry is free to these parks. Be advised, helmets are required. The City of Houston even offers free skateboard lessons for kids as young as six at select skate parks around the city.
22. Search for adventure at Bayou Bend over the summer during their Detective Days. The program is best for children ages six to 12, but free for all kids 18 and younger. (Though admission for adults is $10). Kids are given a list of riddles to solve while searching through the gardens and Hogg home. No reservations needed!
23. In July and August, the Fish Gallery hosts free story-times every Friday at 3:30pm. Kids also get to feed the fish and enjoy the touch tank. Check their calendar for exact dates and times. Rienzi House is our other favorite free summer story time; they coordinate stories with art on display in the galleries on Wednesdays in June and July.
24. Need to get out of the city? Galveston is just a short drive away, and access to most of the beaches is totally free. Check out our guide full of tips for a day trip with your family.
25. You’ve got one more reason to head to the mall to stay cool (besides indoor play spaces, ice skating in July and free A.C.). Disney Stores host Summer Play Days every day at 3pm beginning in June! You’ll get a special patch for each week that you visit. Lego stores at The Woodlands, Galleria and Baybrook malls host mini builds on the first Tuesday and Wednesday of each month, which you can sign up for, for free, in advance.
Originally Posted on Mommy Nearest