Blogger, Writer, Urban Adventurer
When I was a kid, I remember watching a Sesame Street episode where they toured a Crayola factory and showed us how crayons were made. I was mesmerized looking at all of those colors being created, molded and put into a box for my own enjoyment and creativity. There’s something mind-blowing about being able to go behind the scenes of something you use or see every day but never gave much thought to how it’s made.
Now that I’m a parent, I love taking our kids on behind-the-scenes tours to give them a greater understanding of how many people are working unseen to, say, deliver our Amazon Prime order or put on a play at the Alley Theater. We can even show them where some of their favorite athletes train.
Here are nine different behind-the-scenes tours in Houston you should be booking—stat.
What you’ll see: On the Sam Houston Boat Tour, you’ll see Houston from the perspective of a port city. The 90-minute boat ride tour of the Houston Ship Channel will give you an education on how our port operates and our maritime history. Along the way, you will find international cargo vessels and check out the day-to-day activities that transpire in the largest port in the Gulf Coast.
When: Tuesdays through Saturdays. There are two tours a day, typically at 10am and 2:30pm, but check specific dates on their schedule.
How to book: Go to their website to reserve your tour times. Dates can book out pretty far in advance, so plan accordingly.
Pro tip: You will be offered a beverage on board, and there is seating and indoor air-conditioning if you need a break from the boat decks.
What you’ll see: If you’ve ever wondered how Amazon is able to get a random box of diapers, a unicorn headband and a dish detergent all to you in record speed, then this tour of an Amazon Fulfillment Center is for you. Houston is one of only 23 cities in the country that offers this particular hour-long warehouse tour. You will be given a headset in order to better hear your guide in the bustling environment of the warehouse floor and they will take you through all of the steps, from categorizing inventory to getting items up for sale on the site to what happens when you hit “buy”—and how it ultimately gets packed up and sent to you.
When: Typically weekdays at 1:30pm. Amazon usually posts schedules one month in advance, but may be closed for busy seasons such as December.
How to book: Go to their site and book a date that best accommodates your family. Be advised, kids need to be at least six to go on this tour.
Pro tip: Yes, there are robots! However, the robots look a lot like giant Roombas, so manage your kiddos’ expectations on that one.
What you’ll see: Houston’s Theater District is comprised of 17 blocks that are the home to the Alley Theater, the Hobby Center, Jones Hall, Bayou Place and the Wortham Theater. We are one of only five cities to have the distinction of having resident companies in ballet, opera, orchestra and theater. Once a year, all of these amazing art institutions open their doors to the public for a Theater District Open House. This is the one day you can go behind the scenes at the Houston Ballet or step on the stage of the Alley Theater. The schedule, venues, and events change yearly, so you can keep coming back to learn more about how these productions make it to the stage.
When: This event happens once a year, typically in August.
How to book: Just show up on the selected date and times. Check their website for specific times and activities.
Pro tip: There are a lot of venues that participate in this open house. Look at the list, along with a map of the area, and plan your route accordingly. Even if you only make it to a few venues, it will be worth your time.
1510 Polk St
What you’ll see: Are you a huge Rockets Fan or have always wanted to see how the Toyota Center is transformed before a concert? You’re in luck! The Toyota Center offers two types of backstage tours. One that includes game day Rockets ticket and the other is a tour of the arena itself. You’ll check out the Arena Floor, Legend Lockers, Rockets Club, Red & White Bistro, and the Lexus Lounge.
Cost: $40 a person for Rockets Game Night tours (includes a ticket to the game) or $15 for an arena-only tour.
When: If you want to go to a game, check out this schedule. If you want to tour the area only, tours are Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10am or 1pm. You can schedule them by calling 713-758-7715 or emailing email@example.com.
Pro tips: For an arena-only tour, you need a group of 10 people, and the tour lasts an hour.
501 Crawford Street
What you’ll see: The Minute Maid Park tour will show you all around the home of our beloved Astros. They offer four different tours: the Hall of Fame, Classic, All-Star and the Ultimate Fan. A guide will take you to various aspects of the ballpark, including Union Station, Upper Decks, Suite Level, Press Box, and, of course, the Astros Dugout. No guarantees you’ll see Altuve though.
Cost: $10 to $25 a person, based on your age and the level of tour you book.
When: There is a schedule of specific dates and tour types here.
Pro tip: Tours last one to two hours depending on the type you selected, but all tours have a fair amount of walking, so wear good shoes!
6200 Hermann Park Drive
What you’ll see: Obsessed with sloths? Want to feed an elephant? Well, the Houston Zoo has a number of amazing Animal Encounters you can purchase to learn more about your favorite zoo residents. Each encounter gives you an education on the life of that particular animal, as well as insight into the overall impact the zoo is making on animals in their care and in the wild. Tours range from 45 minutes to over an hour.
Cost: These particular encounters are on the pricey side, but you do get a break if you’re a zoo member. Each encounter has its own cost associated with it, but if you’re looking to hang with the Big Cats, it will be $220 a person, whereas walking a dingo is $150. Smaller animal encounters like the reptiles, birds, or bugs are $90 a person.
When: You can choose particular dates or just go according to the website. It is always a good idea to book these in advance, on the off-chance the tours are full.
Pro tip: These encounters make great “non-stuff” gift ideas, and a portion of your ticket sales go directly to the care of the animals you interacted with. You are also free to spend the rest of your day enjoying the zoo after your scheduled encounter.
What you’ll see: The Level 9 Tour of Space Center Houston is the ultimate VIP experience for older kids who love the cosmos. This tour lasts 4+ hours and will take you where and how astronauts train, let you learn even more about NASA’s famed Mission Control and how it operates with the International Space Station. You’ll visit locations like Apollo Mission Control, as well as the current Mission Control room. You will also see Saturn V Rocket and the Space Center Vehicle Mockup Facility. Tour groups are no larger than 12 people, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to have all of your questions answered.
When: Tours take place Monday through Friday at 10:45am or 11:15am, depending on the group. Tours must be booked in advance and children have to be 14 or older. Sorry, littles!
Cost: $179.95 each
How to book: You can book the tours directly through the Space Center here.
Pro tip: All Level 9 Tours comes with a “second-day ticket” to come back and see the rest of the Space Center.
Behind-the-Scenes Tours of Houston Museum of Natural Science
5555 Hermann Park Drive
What you’ll see: The Houston Museum of Natural Science knows that sometimes you want more than just a walkthrough of their amazing exhibits. The most accessible tours are the daily Discovery Tours of either the Hall of Paleontology or Hall of Ancient Egypt; these tour groups happen three times a day, with a max of 15 people. You can also book a private tour of any individual exhibit to further explore a particular aspect of the museum one-on-one with your guide. For a real behind-the-scenes experience, though, check the HNMS schedule for special events hosted by curators and docents on topics like Ancient Egypt and the Afterlife, Sleuths & Secrets Mystery Night, or Fossil Prep Lab Experiences.
When: Discovery Tours are daily at 11am, 1 and 3pm. (The 11am tour is the most kid-friendly.) Private tours are on-demand, and for the behind-the-scenes tour calendar, look here.
Cost: Daily Discovery Tours are $5 a person in addition to your entry ticket. A Private Discovery Tour is $30 for one hour or $50 for two hours of one hall (also in addition to your entry ticket). The special behind-the-scenes events are $30 to $60, depending on the kind of tour/event being offered.
How to book: Discovery Tours can be booked at the museum box office. Behind-the-Scenes events can be reserved via the HMNS site here.
Pro tip: Daily Discovery Tours don’t always fill up, so chances are you may end up with a semi-private tour of the dinos!
What you’ll see: If you’re a Houston Texans fan or a frequent attendee of the Houston Rodeo, then you already know that NRG Stadium is impressive. And, with their high-end amenities, they know how to keep fans comfortable. On the NRG Stadium Tour, you’ll see a field view of the NFL’s first retractable roof, a field view of the turf, the NFL Visiting Team Locker Room, the Stadium Press Box, and explore what it is like to be in the premium seating areas of the club level and suites.
When: Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:15am, noon, and 2:00pm
Cost: Kids two and under are free, children 3-12 years old are $5, and adults are $6.
Pro tip: Parking for tours is free. Head to Gate #9, which is located at the corner of Kirby Drive and Westridge Street, directly adjacent to Bud Light Plaza.