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52 Weekends of Family Fun

Your year with the youngsters, planned.

By Katharine Shilcutt December 29, 2017 Published in the January 2018 issue of Houstonia Magazine

From this moment until the last day of 2018, you can now confidently answer when the kids ask that question of questions—What are we doing this weekend?

We’ve tracked down the top activities for tots, toddlers, tweens and teens, with an idea for every single weekend of the year, including one-of-a-kind experiences like wolf-sanctuary sleepovers, chocolate factory–themed escape rooms, tiger-training sessions at the Houston Zoo, and conductor-for-the-day fun at Hermann Park.

And this guide isn’t just for parents: It’s for you, too, godparents and grandparents, big brothers and cool aunts. So read on and start marking your calendar now: Those tea parties and safaris aren’t going to book themselves! 

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Chill Out!

January 6

Forget those December lines for the popular Ice at Discovery Green, and lace up your skates at the outdoor rink under the twinkling lights of the downtown skyline after the New Year has been rung in. Tickets are $14 and include skate rental.

Pinkies Out!

January 13

Warm up over a cup of Earl Grey with the Petite Tea for Two service ($3.50 each) at the adorable, Victorian-themed Tea for Two Tearoom in Copperfield—or book an entire tea party ($295 for 10 little ladies), complete with fancy dress-up supplies. 

Jump, Jump!

January 20

On those rare weekends when it’s too cold to run off any energy outside, head to an indoor playspace and jump, climb, slide or bounce it off instead.

Sky Sports, West Oaks: $9 for 30 minutes, $13 for one hour, $22 for two hours
Monkey Joes, Katy and Copperfield: $10.99 per child, adults get in free
Jumping World, Pasadena, League City, Fairbanks and Sharpstown: $8 for first hour, $4 each additional hour for children 4 and under, $11 for first hour, $7 each additional hour for children 5 and up

Dress Up!

January 27

Does your child love a good story? She’ll have a blast at the Freed-Montrose Neighborhood Library’s Drag Queen Storytime, learning about love, acceptance and being oneself. Costume optional. 1–1:45 p.m.

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Eat Bugs! 

February 3

After exploring the tropical rainforest of the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s Cockrell Butterfly Center, head to the two-story Brown Hall of Entomology for a much closer look at bugs, butterflies, bees and more. Don’t miss the insect vending machine on your way out, which—yes—dispenses tasty boxes of sour-cream-and-onion crickets and cheddar cheese–flavored worms. Admission is $8 for children, $9 for adults; admission to other HMNS exhibits can be purchased separately.

Insert Coins!

February 10

Actually, no coins are required at the Game Preserve Video & Pinball Arcade in Spring: All 140 games are free with a single-day ($15) or monthly membership ($35 per person, $70 for families). But that just means you’ll have a solid shot at getting the high score in Pole Position, Double Dragon and Dance Dance Revolution. (And yes—there’s Skee-ball, too!)

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Space Out!

February 17

There are fewer than 150 pieces of Mars on Earth—and you can touch one of them at Space Center Houston’s new “Mission Mars.” This interactive exhibit also lets visitors see what the sunset looks like from the Red Planet, experience what it feels like inside the Orion capsule, and learn how to pack a rocket that will survive the long journey into space. Entrance to SCH is $24.95 for children, $29.95 for adults.

Howl at the Moon!

February 24

The Saint Francis Wolf Sanctuary in Montgomery reserves the last Saturday of the month for Howl Night ($20 for children, $30 for adults). Gather round the campfire to learn more about the wolves that live here and enjoy dinner as the sun sets and the howls begin. You can stay the night, too: Bring your own tent for Camping with the Wolves ($50 for children, $75 for adults), and the sanctuary will provide the s’mores and a hearty campfire breakfast. 

Go on an Agventure!

March 3

The Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo is a rite of passage for any Houstonian, but its indoor Agventure center is especially fun for little ones. Here, you can watch baby piglets being born, meet miniature donkeys, pet friendly rabbits and goats, see a cow being milked, and ride a pony—and all that before you even hit the midway rides. Admission is $5 for children, $15 for adults; concert tickets and ride tokens must be purchased separately. 

Fly Like an Eagle! 

March 10

Kids as young as 3 years old can experience the sensation of weightlessness at iFly’s two indoor skydiving locations in Memorial and The Woodlands. A two-flight package comes with a personalized certificate, gear and training for $69.95.

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Image: Visit Houston

Ride the Rails!

March 17

Stay close to home for Spring Break and book a weekend at the Boardwalk Inn (rates start at $399 per night), where the Kemah Boardwalk amusement park is just steps away. Brave the 92-foot drop on the wooden Boardwalk Bullet roller coaster, soar 100 feet over the action on the Iron Eagle zipline, and reach speeds of 40 mph on the Boardwalk Beast speedboat as it zips across Galveston Bay. Rides range from $4 to $20 per person.

Pet a Pony!

March 24

What do you get when you combine a restaurant and a petting zoo? Bear Creek family favorite Clay’s Restaurant, where—thankfully—the two are also separate: visit the playful ponies, sprawl out in the giant sandbox, and pose for pictures in front of the Old West streetscape before washing your hands and gulping down some corn dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Skate Like Bey

March 31

There’s a reason Funplex in Alief has been popular since we were kids: The 200,000-square-foot indoor amusement park has everything under one roof, from bowling lanes and bumper cars to a Ferris wheel and the famous Funplex tower. Bonus: The neon-hued skating rink is where Beyoncé shot her video for “Blow.” Tickets start at $25.

This Weekend Only!

April 7 and 8

The Houston Children’s Festival, the largest kids' fest in the United States, takes over downtown for two days of rides, games, performances by Nickelodeon and Disney stars, and so much more. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the gate.

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This Weekend Only!

April 14

Nearly 250 fancifully decorated art cars and other motorized vehicles will roll down Smith Street for the 31st Annual Houston Art Car Parade, a two-hour celebration of wonderful weirdness that’s certainly more kid-friendly than Burning Man. The parade is free, but you can pay to reserve seating at the City Hall Annex; $20 for children, $25 for adults.

Play Around!

April 22

Main Street Theater’s 22-year-old Theater for Youth, currently at the MATCH in Midtown, is the most-attended of its kind in Houston, with a 2017–18 season that’s so far featured such beloved stories as Akeelah and the Bee (Doug Atchison) and Holes (Louis Sachar). This weekend, catch another Sachar favorite: Sideways Stories from Wayside School. Tickets, $16–$20.

Get Fresh!

April 28

Your aspiring culinary artists will love learning where their food comes from at the sprawling Eastside Farmers Market, which always offers plenty of hands-on activities for young ones. Bonus: Build a picnic at Eastside, then cart it across Richmond Avenue to Levy Park’s giant, tree-shaded playground.

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Play Ball!

May 5

Minor league champions the Sugar Land Skeeters kick off their 7th season with a six-game homestand against the New Britain Bees. Friday nights at Constellation Field feature post-game fireworks, while Saturdays bring free concerts after the final pitch. Single-game tickets start at $9.

Pick Your Own Produce!

May 12

Spring and summer are the best times to don your least-favorite pair of open-toed shoes and fill a few baskets with the freshest fruit you can find. And hey—maybe your kids won’t be so picky about their veggies if they’re the ones picking them.

Tomatoes and cucumbers: Jollisant Farm, Plantersville (all vegetables $3 per pound; boxes provided)
Blueberries and blackberries: Matt Family Orchard, Tomball, 
(prices vary; buckets provided)
Strawberries: Wood Duck Farm, Cleveland ($3 per pound; buckets provided)

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This Weekend Only!

May 18–20

There’s more to the legendary Pasadena Strawberry Festival than just berries—like the Kids Adventure Zone with pig races, pony rides and a petting zoo—but you’ll still want to witness the annual cutting of the largest strawberry shortcake in the world; each $3 slice helps raise money for college scholarships. Tickets are $5 for children ages 5 to 12, $15 for adults.

Get Cultured!

May 26

The kid-oriented Katy Visual and Performing Arts Center specializes in both full-scale productions and theater classes for children. This weekend, London’s longest-running comedy takes the stage as KVPAC presents The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged, cramming all 37 plays into 97 madcap minutes. Tickets start at $17. 

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Image: Shutterstock

Make a Splash!

June 2

If there’s one thing Houston doesn’t lack, it’s waterparks. Celebrate summer’s arrival by freefalling down the 81-foot Cliffhanger at Schlitterbahn, stretching out on the white sands of Palm Beach at Moody Gardens, slideboarding at Typhoon Texas, surfing at Pirate’s Bay, or tackling the Tornado at Wet ‘n’ Wild Splashtown.

Schlitterbahn, Galveston ($20.99 for children 11 and under, $25.99 for everyone else)
Moody Gardens, Galveston ($18.95 for children 4 to 12, $23.95 for adults)
Typhoon Texas, Katy ($44.99)
Pirate’s Bay, Baytown ($15 for folks under 48 inches tall, $20 for everyone else)
Wet ‘n’ Wild Splashtown, Spring ($32.99 for folks under 48 inches tall, $41.99 for everyone else)

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Build a Bot!

June 9

The American Robotics Academy teaches kids not only how to design and build mechanical, electrical and hydraulic systems, but also the computer programming needed to launch their LEGO-bots on their first missions. Classes start at $260 for half-days and $360 for full days.

Feed the Beasts! 

June 17

Crocodile Encounter in Angleton, one of the nation’s largest crocodile sanctuaries, is home to lots of crocs, of course, but that’s not all: Tours ($9.50 for children, $13.50 for adults) give guests the chance to feed everything from alligators to tortoises, while the Up Close and Personal experience (same price) brings the opportunity to interact with kangaroos, eland antelopes, and the critically endangered Orinoco crocodile.

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Get a Strike!

June 23

Break out the bumpers and the bowling shoes, assign yourself silly names for the board, and binge on baskets of deep-fried, old-fashioned alley fare.

$Del-Mar Lanes, Garden Oaks
$$ Emerald Lanes, Alief
$$$: Bowlmor, Memorial Villages

Splash Out!

June 30

Among the other offerings at The Quillian Center, a sports-and-rec facility in Westchase run by First Methodist Houston, is what’s often touted as the best swimming pool in the city, complete with a splashpad anchored by Noah’s Ark and a whole host of animals. Admission is $7.50 for a day pass, or $120 for a 20-swim pass.

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Lace Up!

July 7

Dairy Ashford Roller Rink—a family-owned Energy Corridor rink that opened in 1974—remains virtually unchanged in all the ways that count, including the cheap slices of cheesy pizza and low price of admission ($7, plus $3 to rent skates).

Take a Swing!

July 14

You haven’t lived until you’ve swung in a giant circle 200 feet above the Gulf of Mexico—though if that’s a bit extreme, there’s always the Gulf Glider’s 22-foot swings, which offer a more grounded view of Galveston Island. These are two of 16 classic rides you’ll find among the attractions at the beautifully restored Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier. All-day ride passes run $19.99 for visitors under 48 inches tall, $26.99 for everyone else.

LEGO Wild!

July 21

iKids, Inc. offers summer day camps for kids ages 3 to 12 at rec centers in West University and The Woodlands, where they can learn anything from how to build water vehicles and solar panels with LEGO Robotics to how to make a Harry Potter multimedia presentation with Photoshop and Movie Maker. Camp costs range from $150 to $300 per day.

Trade in Tickets!

July 28

There’s no better feeling than marching up to the loot counter to pick out your prize, paid for with a fat wad of tickets won off Skee-Ball and Super Shot—except perhaps beating your dad at Time Crisis 5 or playing a real-life Angry Birds complete with slingshot. Your kids will likely find the children’s menu at Dave & Buster’s equally compelling, with such creations as cheeseburger quesadillas, pint-sized surf-and-turf (sliders and fried shrimp), and a Blue Raspberry Snow Glowb (complete with color-changing ice cube inside).

Tee Up!

August 4

Everyone loves putt-putt—although, perhaps a little less so during the blazing-hot summer. Shankz Blacklight Miniature Golf in The Woodlands is notably cool for both its air-conditioning and its awesome blacklight murals. A round of 18 holes is $7.99 for kids, $8.99 for adults. For an even trippier time, rent a pair of ChromaDepth 3-D glasses for $1.99.

Create Chemistry!

August 11

Little Beakers offers summer camps and after-school classes for the young Marie Curies or Louis Pasteurs among us, but for those who just want to drop in, there’s Open Lab on Saturdays and Sundays at The Woodlands and Cypress locations, featuring 30 different explosions experiments across six lab stations. One hour is $10, two-and-a-half hours $16, and an all-day Open Lab pass is $25 (adults get in for free).

Go Fast! 

August 18

Whatever the driver’s level, there’s a go-kart track for them. Little ones will love the mini go-karts at Elise’s Family Fun Center, while the Danica Patricks and Dale Earnhardts of the world will dig the F1 speedway at Track 21. Speedy’s classic outdoor course, meanwhile, has something for everyone.

Elise’s Family Fun Center, Winnie ($20 entry fee, all attractions included)
Learner’s Permits:
Speedy’s Fast Track, Spring Branch ($7–11 per 5-minute race session)
Track 21, Bear Creek ($15 for kids, $18 for adults per 10-minute race session)

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This Weekend Only!

August 25

The AIA Sandcastle Competition, the biggest and best event of its kind on the Gulf Coast, takes over Galveston’s East Beach for one day a year as local architecture and engineering firms create massive structures that will inspire and amaze. Parking is $15, but the contest itself is free to view.

Chill Out!

September 1

Even if you don’t have a Mike Modano or a Michelle Kwan on your hands, there’s a good chance your offspring will love hitting the ice when it’s desperately hot and humid outside.

Aerodrome Ice Skating Complex, Willowbrook ($10 per person, $4 skate or walker rental)
Ice at Memorial City, Memorial Villages ($10 per person, $4 skate rental, $10 walker rental)
Sugar Land Ice Center, Sugar Land ($12 per person, including skate rental)

Take a Hike!

September 8

The snakes and alligators who call the wetlands of the Armand Bayou Nature Center home are still active in September, and a guided hike is the best way to spot and learn about these cold-blooded creatures. The hikes, which take place every Saturday and Sunday, are included with admission: $2 for children 4 to 12, $4 for adults. Bonus: Admission is free on every first and third Sunday. 

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Play Zookeeper!

September 15

Watch how the Houston Zoo trains its lions and tigers, come face-to-face with a white rhino, feed a frenzy of piranhas or meet a living dinosaur: the dagger-clawed cassowary. These are just some of the animal encounters offered by our zoo—and you’ll want to book these amazing experiences in advance. Costs range from $65 to $220, and include all-day admission.

Go Fish!

September 22

Of the many amenities at the popular Mary Jo Peckham Park in Katy, the lake is our favorite. There’s no minimum length for the catfish or rainbow trout stocked in the picturesque pond, though you’ll have to toss back any bass bigger than 14 inches. Remember: kids under 17 don’t need a fishing license, but you do!

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Make a Discovery!

September 29

There are kids’ programs for every day of the week, camps for every season of the year, and activities for every age at the Houston Arboretum in Memorial Park and Bellaire’s Nature Discovery Center. Join the Tadpole Troopers ($15 for members, $23 for non-members) at the Arboretum for weekend nature walks and crafts lessons, or book a Saturday Meet the Animals session ($10 per family) at the Nature Discovery Center classroom.


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Pick Your Own Pumpkins!

October 6

The annual Pumpkin Fest at P-6 Farms in Montgomery offers much more than just a pumpkin patch (where you can pick your own gourd for $3–6, depending on the size). There’s also the famous corn maze, the cow train, wheelbarrow racing, apple blasters, a candy cannon, and—of course—“hillbilly pig races.” General admission is $15.95 per person and includes access to most activities.

Go on Safari!

October 13

Take a 45-minute tram ride across the 80 acres of natural habitat that make up the Bayou Wildlife Zoo in Alvin, where you’ll spot over 60 different species of animals, from camels and cattle to scimitar-horned oryx and ring-tailed lemurs. A petting zoo and pony rides round out an animal-filled day. Admission is $10 for children 2 to 11, $20 for adults.

Take a Hay Ride!

October 20

Whether or not there’s a nip in the air, it’s still the season for a fall hayride across a bumpy pasture—overalls optional.

7-Acre Wood, Conroe ($3 per rider)
Blessington Farms, Simonton ($18.48 general admission per person for all activities)
Oil Ranch, Hockley ($19.95 general admission per person for all activities)
Old MacDonald’s Farm, Humble ($10 general admission per person for all activities)

Ramble Down the River!

October 27

The Ivory Bill is ideally equipped for navigating the shallows of the cypress-lined backwater channels of the Neches River. The covered boat leaves Beaumont’s Riverfront Park for public tours of these wildlife-rich areas of the Big Thicket every Saturday. Neches River Adventures tickets are $10 for children 4 to 12, $15 for adults. Best of all, proceeds benefit the Big Thicket Association.

Get Out!

November 3

You have 60 minutes to explore the chocolate factory, find the golden ticket, and escape with the secret recipe—and that’s just one of the kid-friendly scenarios offered by Willowbrook’s Escape Now. There’s also Superheroes Hideout, Classroom Capers, Spy Alley and more. Escape Now takes ages 8 and up, with admission running $24 a pop.

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Image: Shutterstock

This Weekend Only!

November 11

Heroes and Villains was the newest themed Texas Renaissance Festival weekend in 2017, and it’s back this year, so come dressed as your favorite superhero—or supervillain. Once you’ve made it to the festival grounds in Todd Mission, fortify yourself with turkey legs before catching everyone’s favorite family-friendly acrobatic act, The Clan Tynker, and a heart-pounding jousting tournament or two. Admission is $15 for children 4 to 12, $30 for adults.

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This Weekend Only!

November 17–18

The streets of downtown come alive with colorful chalk art during the annual Via Colori festival. Young artists and their street paintings are showcased in the Via Apprendista area, where last year 16 high schools were represented among the talent. Children 17 and under get in free; general admission is $7.

Take the Train!

November 24

Let your kid play conductor for a day, working alongside the Hermann Park train team to get the locomotive up and running, take tickets, greet visitors, blow the whistle and ring the bell. The $150 experience includes an engineer’s cap, bandana, train whistle, name badge and certificate of good conductor-ship. Not ready for that kind of commitment? Book a seat next to the conductor for $50, and the little one can blow the whistle at every stop in the park.

Cut Your Own Christmas Tree!

December 1

Pick a saw and measuring stick, and a tractor-pulled wagon will take you and the family out to the Old Time Christmas Tree Farm, where you’ll fell your own Frasier fir (or cypress, or Virginia pine)—so no complaints you couldn’t find the perfect tree this year. Trees under six feet aren’t for sale; prices run from $64 for the six-footers to $274 for those over 13 feet. While you’re here, snap a photo with Santa.

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Light Up the Night!

December 8

The annual Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens in Galveston has expanded over the years to include seven other attractions, including Ice Land (two million pounds of ice carved into fantastic structures and sculptures) and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer at the 4D Special FX Theater. Festival tickets start at $15.95 ($10.95 Sundays).

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Craft Your Own Ceramics!

December 15

Help your kid make a gift that will truly be cherished: Potter’s Wheel in Vintage Park offers the chance to not only paint your own pottery, but create it, too. Classes are booked in advance, but walk-ins can always choose from 300 pieces of already-fired pottery to paint. Children paint for $5, adults for $7 (plus the cost of pottery).

Feed the Horses!

December 22

Bring the beautiful horses at HPD Mounted Patrol Stables a Christmas gift of apples and carrots, which they’ll happily munch from inside their barn off 59 and Little York. It’s free to feed the equine officers, but you’ll need to schedule your visit a few days in advance.

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Explore a Miniature World!

December 29

The Children’s Museum of Houston gets decked out for the holidays, and that includes its Kidtropolis main street, where little ones can shop ’til they drop in a tiny H-E-B, sling gyros at a mini Niko Niko’s, produce the nightly news on a small-scale set, and even check up on stuffed pets at the vet clinic. Admission is $12.