- January 6, 2014

Free Fun in Houston

Last week, my husband headed back to work and the visiting cousins returned home, but we still had a few days of winter break left to fill. What to do, but pile the kids in the car for an impromptu trip out of town! Destination: Houston.
The kids and I tried to see how much fun we could cram into one day, exploring the metropolis to our east.  This was our itinerary, including details on when you can visit these attractions for free. 

Houston Arboretum and Nature Center – FREE.

The nature center offers 13 trails of varying lengths. We started our day bright an early with a half-mile nature walk along the Inner Loop trail, which was dotted with boardwalks, felled logs and ponds. At the end of our walk, we stopped in the play area and paid a visit to the indoor Discovery Room. 

Bayou Bend GardensFREE for kids; $5 for ages 10 and up (tours of the home available for an additional fee). FREE for everyone on Bayou Family Days.

Any adventure that starts with crossing a suspension bridge over Buffalo Bayou is okay by us!  We had a wonderful time exploring the 14 acres of gardens, fountains, and woodland paths, created by “The First Lady of Texas,” Ima Hogg, in the early 20th century.

Beer Can HouseFREE for kids; $2 for ages 13 and up.

This house warrants a quick stop, even if you can’t visit during its limited operating hours (Saturday and Sunday, from noon – 5 p.m.).  If you do manage a visit when it’s open, it is worth the $2 to explore the house, both inside and out.  My kids enjoyed seeing what you can do with 50,000+ cans and a little imagination.  The mastermind behind this monument was quoted as saying, “I guess I just thought it was a good idea. And it’s easier than painting.”

Children’s Museum of HoustonFREE on Thursdays from 5 – 8 p.m. FREE for Bank of America customers on the first full weekend of each month (one free ticket per cardholder). Regular admission is $9 for ages 1 and up. We found street parking to be cheaper than parking in the museum lot.

Parents magazine named Children’s Museum of Houston the best children’s museum in the country, and it’s easy to see why.  This place is kid paradise.  Littles (and bigs) can climb, jump, build, splash, and invent for hours. Design LEGO cars to race, explore elaborate playscapes, DIY face paint, make crafts, and earn play money by working various jobs in Kidtropolis. There are creative stations around every corner!

Houston Zoo – FREE admission on the first Tuesday of each month, September through May, from 2 p.m. until closing. Regular admission is $10 – $14 for kids age 2 and up.

The catch with visiting the zoo in winter is that it’s only open until 5 p.m. and the last entry is an hour before closing. It took us half an hour to find a parking spot, so we arrived at the gate right at 4 p.m. and weren’t allowed in.  But, we bought tickets for Zoo Lights (6 – 10 p.m. on select nights in December and January) and returned later in the evening.  

While we waited, we explored the surrounding Hermann Park.  The train was a hit ($3.25 per person age 1 and up), as was the Buddy Carruth Playground for all Children.  The splash pad was turned on, but it wasn’t quite warm enough to enjoy (there is a water park at the zoo as well, which is free with admission). Snacks at the cafe next to the train depot were reasonably priced ($1 for chips or cookies; $1 for a can of lemonade).

Next to the zoo entrance is the Miller Outdoor Theater, so check the schedule for free performances if you go. Even if there are no shows, kids will enjoy rolling down the monster hillside!

Houston Museum of Natural ScienceFREE on Thursdays, from 2 – 5 p.m. Regular admission is $15 – $20.

This museum is also located in Hermann Park.  I have heard rave reviews, but we didn’t have a chance to go this time. The average museum visit takes two hours and the museum closes at 5 p.m.  If you plan to visit the children’s museum, the zoo, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science, look into the Houston CityPass to save on admission. 

Now it’s your turn!  Tell me where we should visit the next time we do a one-day whirlwind tour of Houston.