Newcomer's Guide

H-Town for Families: A Bucket List

25 must-dos everyone, big or small, young or old, will love.

By Jeff Balke October 1, 2019

Years ago a friend said something that stuck with us. “If you can’t find something to do in Houston,” she pointed out, “you aren’t trying hard enough.” She was right. From culture and sports to food and nature, there is something fun for everyone, big and small, young and old, virtually every minute of every day in the Bayou City. Here are 25 must-dos for families:

Visit Hermann Park

There is a good reason this is at the top of our list. When you consider the miniature train, the zoo, and Miller Outdoor Theatre—never mind the nearby Museum of Natural Science, Cockrell Butterfly Center, and Children’s Museum—it’s difficult to imagine a better place to take the whole family. That doesn’t even count the massive park, paddle boats on the lake, or 18-hole golf course. 

Check Out Some Alligators (or Crocodiles)

If big reptiles are your thing, consider driving south down US 288 and making a couple of stops. To get up close and personal in a controlled environment, try the Crocodile Encounter in Angleton. If you prefer to be a little closer to nature, hit Brazos Bend State Park, where you are almost guaranteed to see a few Texas gators. Either way you’ll get your fill.

Go See the Astros Play

Major League Baseball remains one of the most family-friendly sporting events thanks to its leisurely pace, good food, and reasonable prices—compared to other pro sports, anyway. And Minute Maid Park is one of the nicest ballparks in America. Plus, you know, the Astros are pretty darn good. 

Take a Sunday Drive Along Airline

Start at the soon-to-be-renovated farmers markets inside the 610 Loop and make your way north. Along the way you’ll find a seemingly unending series of markets, carnival rides, food vendors, and music, much of which is centered around Houston’s Latino culture. It’s as impressive as it is fun. 

Go Ice Skating … Yes, Ice Skating

Believe it or not, there are multiple spots open in Houston year-round, even when it’s 95 degrees outside. Both the Galleria and Memorial City malls boast public ice rinks. For something more traditional, take a Christmastime trip to the outdoor ICE at Discovery Green, which sets up downtown each year. You can pretend you’re on a frozen lake up north while—most of the time, anyway—going without a jacket.

Feed the Horses at HPD’s Mounted Patrol Stables

The Houston Police Department’s Mounted Patrol can often be seen downtown and at events including parades and festivals. The fine steeds the officers ride are cared for in stables in northeast Houston, and you can visit them. Bring carrots and apples!

Take Your Furry Friend to Bill Archer or Millie Bush Bark Park

Some families have kids with four legs, and those furry family members need a chance to run free on occasion. To get the feel of being in the great wide open, Bill Archer and Millie Bush dog parks are best bets. Both are huge—20 and 13 acres, respectively—with water features and all-important washing stations, where you can clean up your pooch before she climbs back in the car.

Indulge Your Sweet Tooth at the Chocolate Bar

Our city has no shortage of great food, as you’ll soon discover. But if you want to dig into something decadent—and give the kids the thrill of their lives—make a dessert run to this wonderland, where you can go crazy with dozens of varieties of chocolate, ice cream, cake, and other magnificent treats. 

Attend the Annual McDonald’s Houston Children’s Festival

The largest children’s festival in the country is held each spring in downtown Houston, near City Hall. It features live entertainment, celebrity appearances, food, games, and more. Best of all, the event benefits Child Advocates, a nonprofit that assists children suffering from abuse and neglect. 

Go Texan on Rodeo’s Opening Weekend

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo lasts three weeks in March, but the opening weekend has it all: the barbecue cookoff, trail riders, rodeo parade, massive carnival,  concerts, and, of course, the livestock show and rodeo itself. Plus, no one will laugh at you for wearing a cowboy hat. 

Get Medieval at the Texas Renaissance Festival

If you prefer corsets to cowboy hats, head to the beloved Ren Fest, held every October and November on grounds located about 45 minutes north of Houston. Wear a costume, dine on turkey legs, and interact with clowns, jesters, magicians, and more. 

Stroll Along the Kemah Boardwalk

What was once an empty waterfront is now one of the city’s biggest attractions, complete with amusement park rides, great restaurants, and yacht cruises from the dock, with live entertainment on offer throughout the year. It’s fun to just find a bench and watch the boats go by. 

Take Photos in the Wildflowers … But Be Gentle

Texas is blessed with an abundance of wildflowers each spring, particularly bluebonnets, our state flower. Houston has spread wildflower seeds along area bayous, creating a canvas of color in March and April, perfect for family photos. But remember, they’re delicate! Please tread lightly so that others can enjoy this wonderful spring bounty, too. 

Discover the Ship Channel on the Sam Houston Boat Tour

The Port of Houston is an incredible feat of engineering, and you can get a glimpse of it on this popular free tour, a 90-minute ride through a rarely seen part of our city. Plan ahead, because reservations typically fill up at least three months in advance. 

Visit the San Jacinto Monument and Battleship Texas

Located near the Ship Channel, this historic monument is the site of the famous Battle of San Jacinto led by General Sam Houston. You can tour the monument—the top gives an incredible view of the city—and the enormous USS Texas, which participated in both World Wars (and which needs repairs and could move soon, so hurry!). 

Show Your Pride at the Houston Gay Pride Festival & Parade

One of the largest Pride festivals in the country—featuring one of the few parades held at night—takes place annually on the fourth Saturday in June. Since the late '70s members of the LGBTQ community and other Houstonians have gathered each year to celebrate and to stand up for equality. The event attracts hundreds of thousands of revelers, including many families; the festival starts at noon. 

Launch Yourself into the Space Center

For anyone who grew up in Houston, visiting the Johnson Space Center was a field trip rite of passage. Newcomers will want to be indoctrinated, too, as today NASA’s Mission Control is almost like a theme park, with tours and experiences for kids of all ages. Don’t forget: “Houston” was one of the first words spoken on the moon. 

Gather for Story Time

Getting kids, especially small children, to sit still for even a few minutes can be, well, challenging. Fortunately, both the Houston Public Library and the Harris County Public Library offer fun and enlightening storytime events every week at branches across the region. 

Ride a Model Train with the Houston Area Live Steamers

What kid—or adult, for that matter—doesn’t like trains? A trip to visit the enthusiasts at Steamers is a particular treat. Once a month the club’s members offer “public run days,” inviting Houstonians to come take a look at, and ride, their replica model steam machines. 

Learn About Houston Flight History at the 1940 Air Terminal Museum

This museum, located on the west side of Hobby Airport, makes use of the original, fully restored terminal and air-traffic-control tower. Not only is it a fascinating look at early flights in and out of Houston, it’s a monument to Art Deco architecture. 

Get Cultured in the Museum District

In addition to the wild and woolly Children’s Museum near Hermann Park, the area features sophisticated artistic gems that kids will enjoy, from the treasure-packed Museum of Fine Arts, Houston to the world-renowned Menil Collection—also a great picnic spot!

Be Amazed, and a Little Creeped Out, by the Waugh Bridge Bat Colony

Say ew and wow in the same breath while witnessing thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats emerge from beneath the Waugh Street Bridge each evening at dusk, off to hunt for dinner. 

Find Your Inner Weirdo at the Art Car Parade

Houston has always been a little different, and few events demonstrate that fact like this quirky parade, the largest event of its kind in the world. Each spring hundreds of wildly decorated vehicles drive down Allen Parkway and through downtown, wowing hundreds of thousands of Houstonians. It is a spectacle like no other.

Hit the Coast with a Trip to Galveston

Living less than an hour away from the ocean is not something to take for granted. Galveston is an absolute treasure of an island, and it’s fun to make the trip just to swim in its warm waters. But the beach is far from the town’s only offering: Family-friendly attractions include the Pleasure Pier, Schlitterbahn Waterpark, Moody Gardens, the Galveston Railroad Museum, and the Historic Strand. 

Image: Visit Houston

Explore the Many Facets of Buffalo Bayou

Buffalo Bayou stretches all the way from west Houston to Galveston Bay, traversing some of the most interesting and beautiful parts of the city. Whether you take a pontoon boat ride through the East End, walk or kayak around Buffalo Bayou Park, wander the trails in Memorial Park and the Houston Arboretum, or ride bikes through Terry Hershey Park, there are near-endless ways to enjoy Houston’s most scenic waterway.