Blogger, Writer, Urban Adventurer
I love a good playdate—the kids get to burn off some energy, and I get some adult conversation. While stay-at-home playdates are super easy, inevitably one of our homes ends up trashed, leaving the dreaded “pick up time” at the end of the playdate. Why not mix it up with one of these playdates in the awesome parks, museums and tunnels of Houston? Best of all, each one is under $25, because we can’t be busting our budgets on every outing. (We’ve estimated costs on activities and a snack for two children.)
For the outdoorsy kids
Where to go: Hermann Park is a destination all its own! Shows at Miller Outdoor Theatre are always free, so check their calendar to see if there is a daytime performance of interest. We enjoy walking the Japanese Garden (which is always free and rarely crowded) and saying hello to all of the koi fish. For extra fun, renting a pedal boat and taking a 30-minute trip around the lake is not as pricey as you might think: $12 gets you a boat for up to four people. We also love taking a spin on the Hermann Park Train and enjoying the manufactured breeze on the 18-minute ride around the park. At $3.75 a person, it’s a ticket-to-ride you can afford.
Where to snack: Grab a smoothie to split at the Pinewood Café or snag a popsicle from one of the many vendor carts stationed around the park.
Estimated cost: $25, if you want to do the boats and the train, but less if you pick one!
For the mini-Picassos
Where to go: Houston has several free museums or free admission times, but one of our favorites is the always-free Menil Collection. This recently re-imagined gallery has an impressive collection of contemporary and modern art, as well as world art from Africa, the Americas and the Pacific Northwest. The staff is friendly and we find the size to be less intimidating than some of the larger art museums in Houston. Pro tip: the grounds of the Menil is the perfect spot for playing games or lounging under one of their large oak trees. Around the corner from the Menil is under-appreciated the Houston Center for Photography, which typically has at least three different photography exhibits on display.
Where to snack: Stop into Bistro Menil to split one of their fantastic desserts. (There are a ton of gluten-free options, too, if that’s your thing).
Estimated cost: $8-$15, depending on your sweet tooth.
For the little explorers
Where to go: Downtown Houston has an entire underground world within the downtown tunnels. Ride the MetroRAIL ($1.25 per rider) to the Theater District stop and take a short three-minute walk to the Bank of America Financial Center for entrance to the tunnels. Here you will find Understory, the newly-opened, 10,000 square-foot space that features a blend of retail and chef-driven food markets. It also sits at the intersection of five downtown tunnels for you to explore. Use the mapsto navigate yourself to Discovery Green for some playtime, or to The Shops at Houston Center for some photo opps in front of their Texas-themed murals.
Where to snack: There are endless possibilities inside of the tunnels, but Michael’s Cookie Jar or Treebeards are great choices.
Estimated cost: $7.50 for your three round-trip MetroRAIL tickets, plus whatever food goodies you decide to buy.
For the future hipsters
Where to go: The Orange Show monument is a funky, Houston folk art landmark. Late Houston postman Jeff McKissack personally built this 3,000 square foot, maze-like environment from 1956 to 1979—with found objects!—to celebrate his favorite fruit (the orange). It is open to the public for exploration, but note that there are some steep areas that smaller children may have a hard time navigating solo. (Also note: it’s only open certain days of the week seasonally, so plan accordingly.) Once you are done taking in the full effects of the Show, walk next-door to Smither Park. The entire park has been created by over 300 self-taught artists creating a giant mosaic of creativity. You can often find these artists at work on Saturday mornings, as they are continually adding to the park.
Where to snack: There aren’t a lot of food options around the Orange Show, so we suggest packing a picnic snack to enjoy in Smither Park.
Estimated cost: Tickets for adults to the Orange Show are $5, but kids 12 and under are free.
For the hands-on LOs
Where to go: On the first Saturday of every month, the Houston Center for Contemporary Crafthosts free Hands-On-Houston crafting events, at which artists teach you and your kids how to make a project. Once you are done getting your art on, you can tour the gallery for free and maybe even catch a glimpse of one of the artists-in-residence. If that’s not enough art for you, head next-door to the Lawndale Art Center and take a whirl around their free galleries. Outside of Lawndale is a mural that changes yearly and a fun spot for family photo ops. And, on the way home, take a slight detour to check out Houston’s largest mural, aka Preservons la Creation by Sebastien “Mr. D” Soileau. This massive (180-foot wide and 60-foot tall!) mural takes up a whole city block (Fannin St & Tuam St).
Where to snack: Weights + Measures is a bakeshop and restaurant (and bar!) around the corner from Preservons la Creation. Grab a cookie or a pecan roll for the road!
Estimated cost: All of the activities are free, and baked goods at Weights + Measures will set you back about $7.50 for two items.