Houston with Kids: A Perfect Family Day

by Erica Stall Wiggins, an AOL Travel ContributorPosted Aug 30th 2010 04:13 PM

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Houston with Kids: A Family Vacation

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Houston, Texas, the fourth most populous city in the United States, is a sprawling metropolis covering more than 634 square miles. The vast amount of space offers plenty of things to do while on a family vacation in Houston. While some criticize the city for its lack of green space, there is plenty to be found if you know where to look. Houston's summer heat and humidity are no secret, so if your visit falls between May and September, schedule outdoor activities early in the day and leave plenty of time for breaks. Here is a suggested itinerary for the perfect family vacation day in Houston with kids:


Morning


A great place to start your Houston family vacation (and step back in time) is the 59 Diner, a true 1950s-style diner and Houston institution. The kids will want the chocolate chip pancakes and a trip to the photo booth, and adults will enjoy the delicious coffee, jukebox and deep, cushy booths. The portions are large, so either go hungry or plan to share! There are five locations in Houston, but the original location on Farnham Street is the closest to our first destination -- Discovery Green.

59 Diner
3801 Farnham St.
Houston, TX 77098
713-523-2333
Open 24 hours

Discovery Green is an urban park modeled after vibrant destination parks in cities such as San Francisco, New York, Boston, Atlanta and Chicago. The concept was developed by former Houston Mayor Bill White, and the park officially opened in April 2008. Located in downtown Houston near the Astros' Minute Maid Park and the George R. Brown Convention Center, the park covers 12 acres and features a one-acre lake, a children's playground, interactive water features, an amphitheater stage for live music and other performances, public art, lots of green space and two restaurants. If your kids have extra energy to burn and you need more things to do in Houston, the park has bocce ball, a putting green, shuffleboard, horseshoes and chess, all offered for free! A reading room sponsored by Houston's innovative library system offers an indoor oasis if you need a respite from the Texas heat (and you will).

One feature of the park that your kids are sure to enjoy is the playground. Themed after the large migratory bird flyway over Houston, the area includes unique features such as a trampoline-like canopy, ropes to climb and bridges galore. From the playground, my two boys were magnetically drawn to the tallest water feature -- a towering, hourglass-shaped fountain where you can choose to stand in the mist or get drenched right underneath.

After a romp in the water – and still slightly soggy – we stopped at the Lakehouse Restaurant, located in the heart of Discovery Green. We enjoyed a satisfying lunch of cheeseburgers, sandwiches and sweet potato fries while listening to a string quartet play in the adjacent amphitheater. The restaurant is located next to Kinder Lake, a serene, model-boat basin where, spring through fall, remote-controlled sailboats (available for rent) glide quietly through the water. In the winter months, the pond is transformed into an ice skating rink, with special performances and events scheduled throughout the holidays.

Throughout the year, the park also hosts a multitude of outdoor art exhibits. We were lucky enough to catch the "Light as Air Inflatable Art Exhibition," featuring enormous, witchy feet protruding from underneath one of the park buildings (think "Wizard of Oz") and a field of huge, oblong, black "balloons" tethered to one of the beautifully manicured lawns. It was really quite a beautiful sight to see them swaying in the breeze. If you visit during the summer months, you will find a variety of events on any given weekend, from farmer's markets to Dock Dogs competitions, Pilates classes, kids craft events, movie nights and live music performances. In the winter months, programming includes Stars on Ice, holiday films, green holiday markets and even visits from Santa. Discovery Green truly lives up to its aspiration of being a year-round, livable, "destination" park for both residents and visitors, and a stop here is one of the best family vacation ideas in Houston.

Insider tips: Park information and public restrooms are available in the Alkek Building near the Gateway Fountain.

Discovery Green
1500 McKinney St.
Houston, TX 77010
713-400-7336
Open daily 6AM-11PM (hours for events may vary)

Lakehouse Restaurant
1600 McKinney St.
Houston, TX 77010
713-337-7320
Tuesday-Wednesday 11AM-3PM, Thursday-Friday 11AM-6PM, Saturday-Sunday 11AM-8PM, closed Monday

Afternoon


While visiting Houston with kids, don't miss the Children's Museum of Houston, also located downtown. With over 90,000 square feet of exhibits and 14 hands-on galleries, the museum is a must-see on your Houston family vacation. I recommend visiting on a weekday, since weekend crowds can be a force to contend with.

The museum features lots of exhibits to see, hear and explore, which can be a little overwhelming for young children. That said, the exhibits are engaging, colorful and most of all, fun! There are literally dozens of activities and exhibits for the children to explore. Be prepared to spend the majority of your day at the museum, or set aside time to come back - my best estimation is that we saw about 30 percent of the museum in a little over two hours.

The Eco Station was where we spent the most time during our weekend visit. This indoor/outdoor exhibit features a research pavilion (which had chick incubators that day), butterfly cocoons, a pond with beautiful koi and turtles (my 3-year-old's favorite), water play and beautiful landscaping. My 8-year-old couldn't get enough of the three-story climbing structure made up of spherical "steps" called the Power Tower. Other family favorites at the museum were a band of roving robots, including a C-3PO replica, and Kidtropolis, a virtual kids' town where visitors become citizens and can shop, vote, get a job and generally run the place. What more could kids on vacation want?

Insider tip: The food court leaves something to be desired and outside food is prohibited, so don't arrive hungry or thirsty. Also, check the museum's website for special free admission days and other discounts.

Children's Museum of Houston
1500 Binz St.
Houston, TX 77004
713-522-1138
Monday-Saturday 10AM-6PM, Sunday Noon-6PM

Admission Prices:
Adults and Children (age 1 and up) - $8
Seniors (age 65 and up) - $7
Active Military - $7

Evening


Exploring Houston with kids is sure to leave you craving a substantial meal at the end of the day. For a family-friendly dining experience, try Diego's Restaurant, a Tex-Mex restaurant located within walking distance of Discovery Green. The outdoor patio offers a great view of the Astros' Minute Maid Park, and even the pickiest of eaters is sure to enjoy the variety of options, including a few American favorites on the kid's menu. Parents will appreciate the family-owned restaurant's reasonable prices and authentic flavors.

Diego's Restaurant Bar and Banquet
1421 Preston St.
Houston, TX 77002
713-236-1300
Breakfast: Monday-Friday 8AM-10AM
Lunch: Monday-Friday 10:30AM-3PM
Dinner: Monday-Friday 3PM-9PM
Saturday: 3PM-9PM
Sunday: Closed (open 11AM-4PM for Astros home games)

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