Two-Hour Houston Excursions
For a couple of hours of fun, consider the six family favorites below in your clutch rotation.
6200 Hermann Park Drive, 713-533-6713
More than 6,000 animals, representing more than 800 species, live on the zoo’s 55-acres. With so much ground to cover, it’s helpful to look at the zoo map and make a tentative plan. Kids can brush the goats at the petting zoo at The John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo. They can feed the giraffes romaine lettuce at the The African Forest. They can watch the sea lions tumble in mid-air near the zoo entrance. Children especially enjoy observing mommy animals cuddle with they baby animals. They can catch the mommy and baby orangutans hanging out at the Wortham World of Primates. They can wave to the mommy and baby elephants at the McNair Asian Elephant Habitat. The zoo is open everyday, except for Christmas day, which makes it a sure bet for a two-hour plus adventure all year long.
HOUSTON ARBORETUM & NATURE CENTER
4501 Woodway Drive, 713-681-8433
Free admission. Families can explore nature in this 155-acre urban sanctuary. A trail map shows the five miles of pathways on the property. Budding naturalists can have chance meetings with wildlife attracted to the gardens and the grounds. They may find hummingbirds, butterflies, rabbits, turtles and lizards in their natural environments. Visitors can stroll through three major habitats: forest, pond and meadow. The playground is a sort of giant sandbox with logs salvaged and repurposed from Hurricane Ike. Inside the Nature Center building, there is an interactive exhibit that provides microscopes, field guides, puzzles and games. Young adventurers can sign up for classes and nature camps. The Center’s popular Home School Program changes course topics monthly. Topics range from herpetology (reptiles and amphibians) to entomology (insects) to microworlds (all things microscopic).
NATURE DISCOVERY CENTER
7112 Newcastle Street, 713-667-6550
Free admission. Housed in the historic Henshaw House at Russ Pitman Park, families can enjoy hands-on and interactive exhibits in the Discovery Rooms. Kids can meet, and touch, the resident animals including a grey-banded kingsnake, a bearded dragon, red-eared slider turtles and a rex rabbit. The center has conveniently organized Discovery Boxes for visitors. Each discovery box is filled with activities, pictures and specimens of a specific subject. Topics include: shell secrets, seeds and their travels, crystal cave, and critter coverings. Outside, there is a rabbit hutch, a bob white quail cage and an aviary with pigeons and doves. Russ Pitman Park is a 4-acre mix of pecan trees and prairie grasses. The oasis attracts more than 80 species of migrating birds during the fall and spring seasons.
Hermann Park Drive, 713-524-5876
One of Houston’s largest, this 445-acre park offers plenty of picnic areas, nature trails, and the Hermann Park Railroad train ride. The Buddy Carruth Playground for All Children features water sprinklers and handicap-accessible playground equipment. Families can also walk through the Japanese Garden, float in pedal boats on McGovern Lake, and even catch a show at the always free Miller Outdoor Theatre.
410 Bagby Street, 713-223-3474
Children can imagine underwater living with the more than 200 species of aquatic life from around the world. They can dip their fingers in touch tanks at The Discovery Rig, and gently pet southern stingrays, baby bamboo sharks, hand horseshoe crabs other invertebrates. They’ll encounter alligators, snapping turtles and crayfish in the Louisiana Swamp. They be dazzled by the colors in the Rainforest: red-bellied piranhas, emerald tree boas, blue dart frogs. The Sunken Temple features lionfish and pufferfish. Last but not least, they can visit the White Tigers of the Maharaja’s Temple. Outside the aquarium, there are games and rides. The whole family can take the Shark Voyage – a train ride that goes through the center of the 200,000 gallon shark tank. Other rides include the Aquatic Carousel, the Lighthouse Dive, and the Diving Bell Ferris Wheel which lifts you up right above and next to I-45 traffic.
1500 McKinney Street, 713-400-7336
This 12-acre park in downtown Houston is across the street from the George R. Brown Convention Center, just blocks away from Minute Maid Park and Toyota Center. Children enjoy the water sprinklers called Gateway Fountain and the John P. McGovern Playground. The park’s entertainment series features a line-up of free children’s shows and musical performances. In the spring, summer and fall families can rent remote-controlled sailboats to play with at the Model Boat Basin. In the winter, this area is turned into an outdoor ice skating rink.