Blogger, Writer, Urban Adventurer
I know I am not the only Houston mama who has visited a local mall without actually spending a dime. Before moving to Texas, the concept of heading to a shopping mecca just for its free indoor play space or cheap carousel ride seemed like a reach, but now I’m totally in on the secret. Houston’s malls are entertainment zones full of indoor activities, free air conditioning on a hot summer day and, of course, plenty of places to spend. Here are our favorite places to shop ’til you drop—and the kids will actually have fun doing it!
The Memorial City Mall is actually on my list of best attractions for any family spending time in Houston. As the slogan says, it is “Much More Than A Mall,” and here’s why.
Best stores: Build-A-Bear Workshop and the American Girl store for them; Loft and Target for you.
Best food options: For a special treat, book lunch at the American Girl Doll Bistro. There are also family faves like California Pizza Kitchen and Berryhill Baja Grill.
Play space: Frolics Castle is hands down the best mall play structure in town. It is spacious, gated with a guard and free! You’ve just got to be under 48 inches to play there. They’ve also added a new soft play area especially for toddlers. Memorial City also has a double-decker Venetian-style carousel that is $2 per ride. The ice skating rink is open seven days a week with admission for $10 and skate rental for $4. You can even rent walkers for beginning skaters for $10 an hour. Keep tabs on the calendar, too because they host kids’ events in The Square regularly.
There are more than 175 stores at the Katy Mills Mall, including several outlet stores, but that’s not the only reason you should visit.
Best stores: My kids love checking out the Bass Pro Shops. You’ll like shopping the J.Crew Factory store and Kate Spade.
Best food options: There’s a Rainforest Café at Katy Mills Mall, need I say more?
Play space: There are three indoor play spaces at Katy Mills. For kids over 12, consider challenging them to a Segway race at Segway Outback. If you’re looking for something to keep them busy all afternoon, then Tilt Studio should have them covered with laser tag, black light mini-golf, mini bowling lanes and a Tilt-a-Whirl ride. For the younger kids, Jump Street is an awesome trampoline park priced out by age. The mall does feature a small, free play structure, but it’s not worth a trip just to play there. And naturally, they have a carousel ride in the food court, too.
The Galleria is Texas’ largest shopping center and boasts more than 30 million visitors a year to the more than 400 stores. This is where you’ll find all of the luxe brands like Tiffany & Co., Chanel, Prada and Louis Vuitton, but there are still things for the little ones to do.
Best stores: The Galleria has an official Lego store that often hosts events like Mini Builds. And we love shopping the fashionable kids lines at H&M and Hanna Andersson. If you want to feel like you’re Beyonce-level mommin’, try window-shopping the Kids Atelier line. For you, stroll All Saints, Athleta (for those leggings) and David Yurman if a special occasion is coming up.
Best food options: The food at the Galleria can be as fancy as the stores, like the Mariposa at Neiman Marcus. The Galleria also has a Rainforest Café, but we like dining at the mini Ninfa’s Mexican Café on level 2 best.
Play space: The Little Galleria is located on the 2nd floor and is always open play. While there’s no gate, it does have a bench area for easy viewing of the entire play area. Free toddler playdate idea: get to the mall at 10am, strap the tots in the stroller and do some air-conditioned laps with a cup of coffee, before taking them to run around the mini-mall replica play structure. The Galleria also has an Olympic size ice skating rink, which offers public skating, ice skating lessons and hockey lessons year-round. Don’t miss an opportunity to visit the oft’ Instagrammed Waterwall in Gerald D. Hines park just outside the Nordstrom’s wing.
A definite trek for inside-the-loop families, The Woodlands is really for North Houston natives (though you won’t regret a trip up). While Market Street isn’t part of the official Woodlands Mall, it’s just across the street and feels like an outdoor extension with an additional grassy play space and extra shopping and eating options.
Best stores: Inside the mall, the Lego store and Disney Store will be a hit (obviously). You can test drive gadgets at the Amazon Pop Up, get your boho fix at Free People and try everything in the Kiehl’s store. Market Street’s got Madewell and Kendra Scott for mom.
Best food options: You can never fail with Chick Fil A or P.F. Changs at the mall. Market Street has a Zoe’s Kitchen, which is a people-pleaser, too.
Play space: Inside the mall, find the Enchanted Forest Soft—a 2,000-square-foot nature themed play space for kids under 42 inches. It’s free and open daily from 10am to 9pm. Keeping with Houston Mall tradition, there is also a carousel! The most unique part of the Woodlands Mall is that it’s a ride location for the Woodlands Waterway Taxi, so you can easily hop on a boat (they depart every 35 to 40 minutes); tickets are only $5 a person and kids under the age for four are free. Market Street has a great outdoor grassy plaza for playing and an in-ground fountain kids love to play in.
Another non-traditional mall atmosphere, LaCenterra is a 34-acre shopping destination with a more relaxed feel and just as many options for spending.
Best stores: For you, White House Black Market and the Round Top Collection Gallery; for kids, shop new looks at Justice and Crazy 8.
Best food options: Dish Society and Snooze are two of the best options (and both have breakfast for early-risers!). For a quick bite, you can’t beat Torchy’s Tacos.
Play space: LaCenterra’s play area is called the Central Green, a half-acre outdoor area with a stage, beautiful oak trees and seating for a meal. They host weekly events from concerts to movie nights. You can also catch a movie at Alamo Drafthouse for some extra fun!
What was once West Houston’s Town & Country Mall is now an open-air shopping, eating, playing destination (aka a fancy mall). This is really just a shopping destination for parents, as there aren’t any kid-specific stores on site, but that doesn’t mean they won’t want to tagalong.
Best stores: J.Crew, Lululemon, Sephora, Sur la Table—whatever you’re looking for, you can shop it here (on the high-end spectrum, of course). Charming Charlie and H&M are there if you want to save a buck.
Best food options: Bellagreen is the best option if you’ve got dietary restrictions in your family (and still want something delicious). Yard House has everything from burgers and tacos to pizza and a whole veggie menu.
Play space: There is a central green space perfect for resting on your end, and running a little wild on their end. There’s regularly scheduled live music, fitness groups, and family events like a Noon Year’s Eve party and Gymboree Parachute Play.
Last, but certainly not least, this open air shopping area is very near the Galleria, which means when you don’t feel like trekking through the country’s seventh largest mall and the crowds that come with it, you can come here instead. The holiday lighting of rows of palm trees is a favorite Houston tradition, and an especially fun time to visit this upscale shopping center. Stop by on Saturdays (9am-1pm) for the Highland Village Farmers Market!
Best stores: Pottery Barn Kids and Janie & Jack for them; Restoration Hardware, William Sonoma, Anthropologie and Kiehl’s for you. (We told you it was upscale.)
Best food options: Tex-mex at Escalante’s can be followed with a treat from Sprinkles cupcakes. Get them from the ATM for extra fun!
Play space: The biggest downside—no real play area here. Bribe the kids for good behavior with a trip to that cupcake ATM.