Blogger, Writer, Urban Adventurer
We have reached the point in the summer where I begin to have vacation envy. Without camp to fill their days, my kids will start to climb the walls and it’s hard not to look at my social media feed with longing eyes, muttering to myself like Liz Lemon, “I want to go to there.”
Even if we have a few trips planned, the truth is that most of our summers are spent in “staycation” mode. Staycation is a nice way of saying, we mostly stick around the house attempting to come up with things to do to stave off boredom and not kill each other. I sometimes get so caught up in our everyday “to dos” that I forget we live in a dynamic city full of amazing (mostly affordable) things to do. I know it is nerdy, but the event planner in me can’t refuse a good themed day to help inspire us to get out and explore Houston. Here are nine different ideas for how to spend your Houston summer staycation days while you still have ’em.
I am a firm believer in exposing kids to the arts early. Music, plays, dance and visual arts—anything to help them express their creativity and get their imaginations going. We happen to live in a city that loves the arts, too. Start the day at the Museum of Fine Arts in the Museum District. This year’s Pippoloti Rist: Pixel Forest and Worry Will Vanish exhibit is worth the trip, if only for the photos. Not too far from there, you’ll find the Center for Contemporary Craft, another one of our kid-friendly art favorites. If a museum visit has inspired your little one, try a drop-in class at studios like Treehouse Arts & Crafts or the Mad Potter.
In the evening, catch a play, concert or dance performance at Miller Outdoor Theatre. Want a cheap movie night instead? Discovery Green, Sugar Land Town Square, or the Regal Dollar Movies are great options serving up family favorites throughout the summer.
Finally, if you prefer a free, DIY-style adventure, go on a scavenger hunt for murals and street art through the city.
Kids are natural born mini-scientists with all of their curiosity and questions. We often look at local Houston site, She Loves Science, for at-home experiments, but for bigger concept learning, nothing beats the Houston Museum of Natural Science! If you’re feeling a one-two-punch, pop by the nearby Health Museum, too.
If you live outside the loop, or are just looking for a more low key outing we recommend visiting HMNS in Sugar Land, or taking STEM classes at Mad Science, Idea Lab or Little Beakers. Of course, if you want the ultimate day of science, then you must visit the Space Center Houston. There is a fantastic new Science Fiction, Science Future exhibit there just for the summer!
Texans are proud of their history and aren’t shy about showing it off. In fact, we have nine different places just in the greater Houston area to learn about local history. Our current favorites are the George Ranch Historical Park, Fort Bend Museum or Bayou Bayou Bend Gardens. All three locations are offering different summer programs: Fort Bend is hosting Summer History Fridays through July and August, Bayou Bend Gardens has mystery-themed Detective Daysand George Ranch has themed drop-in activities every week (just plan to visit first thing in the morning to participate).
Houston has reportedly become the most diverse city in America. For us, that means exposing our kids to as many different cultures as possible. An easy and fun way to try that out is through food. Want a taste of Jamaica? Try Cool Runnings Jamaican Bar & Grill. Visit Peru Gourmet for yucca fries or Thien An for Vietnamese sandwiches. You could also plan a shopping trip to Ranch 99 for ingredients to make your own Chinese food dinner or grab some Indian ice cream at Kwality.
To continue learning about our local diversity, visit the Asia Society,the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir Hindu temple or the Jade Buddha Temple. But if you are looking for even more specific ideas of where to start, a new blog recently launched in Houston documenting one local family’s International Adventures in Houston with ideas on the cultures you can learn about without getting on a plane.
We love our pools here in Houston for a good reason—summer is more than a season here. We are lucky to have a number of great community pools and membership-based pools in town. If you want something new, The Woodlands has 13 different pools that are only $6 per person to visit! They even have a complete splash guide to help you figure out what pool is best for your aged kids. Noah’s Ark Pool at the Quillian Center is a toddler’s dream come true. And don’t forget all of the local water parks, some a day trip worthy distance and some hiding right in your backyard. If the admission price is holding you back, then free splash pads are always a good idea.
Day Trip Day
Galveston is only 45 minutes way! For the cost of gas and street parking, it is totally possible to have a mid-week beach day and still spend the night in your own bed. If you are looking for something even closer to home, book a night at the newly renovated Marriott Marquis in downtown and pretend you’re somewhere else entirely. Just don’t leave without a float around the Texas-shaped lazy river. Other great day trips include checking out Brazos Bend State Park, Kemah Boardwalk or heading up to The Woodlands to cruise The Waterway.
Houston has a lot of hidden gems. From underrated museums to funky landmarks, I guarantee there are parts of Houston you still haven’t explored, even if you are a native. Surprise your kids with a trip to burp the bayou or find the Presidents heads. When is the last time you took a tour of the Beer Can House or visited the Houston Fire Museum? Do your kids know there is a whole underground tunnel system downtown with restaurants and shopping? Doubt it. All of the off-the-beaten-path spots are not only out of the norm, but usually less crowded than big name attractions.
The Houston Zoo is one of our summer staples, but there are other (less crowded) places to visit animals in the city, too. The Bayou Wildlife Zoo is an open-air safari with 500 different animals from 19 countries. They even have a petting zoo and picnic space. Brazos Bend State Park has real-life alligators roaming about. You can check out some more domesticated animals by stopping by the Houston Mounted Police Barn and feeding the horses. The Downtown Aquarium and Moody Gardens also boast unique exhibits of exotic animals. Even nature walks around the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center or the newly renovated Nature Discovery Center are opportunities to learn about what creatures live in our city. If you want to view the local wildlife from a slightly different point of view, kayaking Buffalo Bayou may be just the thing you’re looking for! (Don’t forget the sunscreen and bug spray at some of these swampy destinations.)
What kid doesn’t like things that go? Plan a day focused on other modes of transportation than sitting in your car on 59. Take them on a ride on the METRORail to visit Discovery Green, or for a ride on the Hermann Park Train. Learn about the history of the railroad system at the Rosenberg Railroad Museum or watch the planes take off from Hobby Airport at the 1940 Air Terminal Museum. Use the summer at an opportunity to teach them how to ride their bikes while exploring Buffalo Bayou or Memorial Park. I hardly ever think of Houston as a city by the sea, but one trip on the free Port of Houston Sam Houston Boat Tour had me looking at Houston with fresh eyes. Happy exploring!