Sometimes bigger IS better. The Houston Bay Area is home to over a thousand acres of urban green space, dozens of world-class science and cultural institutions, a thriving culinary scene and numerous historical landmarks. Read on to explore the hidden gems and must-see spots before packing your bags and heading on a cultural adventure of Texas-sized proportions.

Downtown Houston Mural 4photo: courtesy VisitHoustonTexas.com

Houston, Tx

Houston is one of the most diverse cities on the planet and home to a thriving cultural scene. From Hermann Park to the Art Block and Children’s Museum of Houston, downtown Houston is a vibrant urban center filled with awesome activities and adventures for families.

If you visit, consider picking up a City Pass. From the Space Center Houston to the Natural Science Museum, the Children’s Museum of Houston, the Downtown Aquarium and much more, you’ll have access to all of the incredible attractions while saving tons of cash on admission prices.

What to Do

Hermann Park Walkers with dogphoto: courtesy VisitHoustonTexas.com

Hermann Park
Located in the middle of Houston, Hermann Park offers visitors a wide range of activities: the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the Houston Zoo, paddle boats, train rides, the Japanese Tea Garden, concerts at Miller Outdoor Theater and more. Here are our favorite picks.

HoustonNaturalScience_GabbyCullen_Houston_RedTriyclephoto: Gabby Cullen

The Houston Museum of Natural Science
This world-class science museum has an impressive Hall of Paleontology, which is always a hit with kids. You can walk through time, gape at Stan the T-Rex and Lane, the only Triceratops mummy in the world before checking out the impressive collection of sea monsters and other fossils—60 mounts in total. Another must-see exhibit is the brand new Cabinet of Curiosities, a narrow hall designed to look like an old library or eccentric professor’s study filled with cool artifacts and drawers of collections: feathers, fur, tools, arrowheads, animal skeletons, shells and more.

Wander through the Texas ecosystems from the High Plains and the Piney Woods to the Coastal Wetlands and Guadalupe Mountains before heading over to the impressive Egyptian exhibit, where the kids will get a kick out of the mummies, sarcophaguses and jewelry. If there’s still time, go to the Welch Chemistry Lab or explore outer space at the Burke Baker Planetarium.  

5555 Hermann Park Dr.
Houston, Tx 77030
Online: hmns.org

Giraffes2_GabbyCullen_Houston_Redtricyclephoto: Gabby Cullen

The Houston Zoo
At the other end of Hermann Park you’ll find the Houston Zoo. Set in a 55-acre lush tropical landscape, the Houston Zoo is home to more than 4,500 exotic animals. Whether you are strolling the boardwalk through the primate exhibit, watching the elephants take their bath (10 a.m. everyday!) or feeding the giraffes, there’s no end to the family fun. The Naturally Wild Swap Shop is a unique feature; kids can bring in things they’ve collected and discuss the items with a naturalist, earn points and swap the stuff for something else cool. Don’t miss the crawl-through tunnel in the Amazon River Basin for a super close up view of animals in action and the two playgrounds and carousel located in the Children’s Garden are a must for parents with tiny tots in tow.

Good to know: It gets hot in Houston! Be on the lookout for misters located in prime areas throughout the zoo.

6200 Hermann Park Dr.
Houston, Tx 77030
Online: houstonzoo.org

millleroutdoortheater_Leroy Gibbins_houston_redtricyclephoto: Leroy Gibbins via Miller Outdoor Theater

Miller Outdoor Theater
Pack a picnic and head for the park! Miller Outdoor Theater has been offering free events (evening events require tickets for assigned seating in the covered area) since 1924 and the eclectic line up ranges from dance performances to movie nights, the Hilltop Children’s festival, musical performances, Shakespeare and more. If you don’t feel like packing snacks, there’s also a concession stand—the proceeds help maintain the theater. With over seven acres of lawn, there’s plenty of space for kids who need to blow off a little steam before the show starts.

Good to know: Riding to Miller is a breeze on the METROrail. The Hermann Park/Rice University station is located across the lawn on Fannin.

6000 Hermann Park Dr.
Houston, Tx 77030
Online: milleroutdoortheater.com

Children's Museum of Houston 5photo: courtesy VisitHoustonTexas.com

The Museum District
There are several museums all within walking distance from one another. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Children’s Museum of Houston should be on your to-do list.

ChildrensMuseumofHouston2_GabbyCullen_RedTricyclephoto: Gabby Cullen

Children’s Museum of Houston
There’s a reason why the Children’s Museum of Houston is rated one of the best children’s museum in the world. Featuring 90,000 square feet of interactive and bilingual exhibitions in the areas of science, technology, history, culture and arts, you’ll want to mark off an entire day to spend at this mecca for edu-tainment. One of the most popular (for good reason!) exhibits is Kidtropolis where tiny visitors can run their own city, compile TV new reports, shop and learn about banking, all while having a total blast. Afterwards, take the elevator downstairs to check out the Invention Convention where you’ll find stop-motion animation stations, test tracks where kids can send their LEGO creations down chutes and a tinkering wall to end all tinkering walls.

Tiny tots ages 0-35 months can enjoy the tot spot, a special place just for them; kiddos ages eight and up can sign up to be a S.E.C.R.E.T. agent in the Top Secret Gear Shop. Be sure to look for the phone man, a huge art installation made from phones of varying decades! If it’s a hot day, Flow Works is a refreshing water station located outdoors, next to the Eco Station and the Concrete Jungle. Active kiddos will get a kick out the three-story climbing structure in Power Play, along with the rock climbing wall and obstacle course.

Good to know: There are touch screens with maps and other info located all over the museum, as well as phone chargers in and outside.

1500 Binz St.
Houston, Tx 77004
Online: cmhouston.org

smores_amazongrill_gabbycullen_Houston_redtricyclephoto: Gabby Cullen

What to Eat

Amazón Grill
Families will love this restaurant that dishes out Latin cuisine with tasty dishes for the parents (empanadas, Cuban sandwich, ceviche and chicken soup) and the littles will enjoy palate pleasing fare such as quesadillas, popcorn chicken and DIY s’mores for dessert. Be sure to order a basket of plantain chips to much on while you wait for the main course!

5114 Kirby Dr.
Houston, Tx 77098
Online: amazongrill.com

Barnaby’s
It’s easy to see why you can find Barnaby’s in eight different Houston locations. A bustling, dog-friendly cafe that’s also perfect for hungry diners with tiny tots in tow, kids can request wooden building block sets for the table and they’ll be amused by the bright and cheerful murals that adorn the walls. Giant salads, overflowing bottles of lemonade, delicious mac ‘n’ cheese and friendly servers make this diner a great option when out and about in the Museum District.

1801 Binz St.
Houston, Tx 77004
Online: barnabyscafe.com

Springbok_gabbycullen_houston_redtricyclephoto: Gabby Cullen

Springbok
Springbok, in downtown Houston is a perfect setting for a casual brunch. Featuring traditional South African fare, there’s also a safari theme to the decor and the vibe is perfect for kicking back and enjoying a unique rugby pub atmosphere. The frittata is excellent and the bloody mary has kick!

711 Main St.
Houston, Tx 77002
Online: springbokhouston.com

MagnoliaHotel_GabbyCullen_Houston_RedTricycle

Where to Stay

Magnolia Hotel
If you want unique lodging, the Magnolia Hotel in downtown Houston is your best bet. Beautiful rooms fill 22 stories of the historic building, the roof top pool gives guests a view of the Houston skyline and the fun, cheerful lobby is a welcome sight to weary travelers. The complimentary buffet breakfast is hearty and the milk and cookie bar is the perfect way to end a busy day.

1100 Texas Ave.
Houston, Tx 77002
Online: magnoliahotel.com/houston

Galveston_SeawallBeach_GabbyCullen_Galveston_RedTricyclephoto: Gabby Cullen

Galveston Island

Just a 45 minute drive down Hwy 45 lies Galveston, a charming beach town filled with historical buildings, legendary seafood and family-friendly beaches. Read on to discover our favorite reasons to be on island time.

What to Do

Moody Gardens
There is a lot to do and see at Moody Gardens. Our picks include the aquarium pyramid, the 3D movie theater, the Colonial Paddleboat and Palm Beach.

Aquarium_GabbyCullen_MoodyGardens_Galveston_DallasMomsBlogphoto: Gabby Cullen

The Aquarium
The aquarium at Moody Gardens has three levels and is the fourth largest aquarium in the Southwest. The spotlight attraction is the one million gallon tank teeming with sea life: sharks, turtles, tuna and more. Wander through the underwater tunnel before getting a show from the sea lions and watching the stingrays move gracefully through the water. The South Atlantic exhibit is a favorite with kids; take a peek at Wagner who (at age 32) is the oldest chinstrap penguin in North America, then go behind the scenes for a Penguin Encounter. The 45-minute experience includes meeting a few friendly penguins, watching them paint and learning about their habitat.  

Good to know: Little underwater explorers can go on a scavenger hunt for different ocean animals and get a passport stamped at different stations located around the aquarium.  

The MG 3D Theater
The Moody Gardens 3D theater is the largest in Texas. Choose from six different films, ranging from animated favorites to incredible documentaries.

Colonel Paddlewheel Boatphoto: courtesy VisitHoustonTexas.com

The Colonel Paddlewheel Boat
You’ll be transported back in time when this charming 675-passenger paddlewheel boat takes you on an hour-long cruises around Offatts Bayou.

Palm Beach
Palm Beach is the only white sand beach in Galveston and it’s a huge attraction in the summer months, so be prepared for a crowd. In 2011, Moody Gardens added a lazy river, wave pool and waterslides which, when added to the splash pad, sand volleyball court and spray arches, is THE place to spend a hot summer day. A live music series, firework show and a wide variety of events happen throughout the summer months, check the schedule to see what’s coming up.

One Hope Blvd.
Galveston, Tx 77550
Online: moodygardens.com

thebryanmuseum_gabbycullen_galveston_redtricyclephoto: Gabby Cullen

The Bryan Museum
The Bryan Museum opened in 2015 inside the Galveston Orphans home, a historical landmark building. A must-see for history buffs (We recommend this spot for older kids and adults.), the museum includes 70,000 items including Native American artifacts, folk art, rare maps and southwestern jewelry and saddles. Kids will get a kick out of the bottom floor, where the ocean-themed decor includes a cave, seascape murals and even buried treasure!

Good to know: Photography and bags are not allowed inside the museum.

1315 21st St.
Galveston, Tx 77550
Online: thebryanmuseum.org

Downtown Galveston Strandphoto: courtesy VisitHoustonTexas.com

The Strand Historic District
With its southern charm and architecture, The Strand reminds visitors of New Orleans. If you want to buy silly souvenirs, look for ghosts or enjoy music, movie nights and art strolls, The Strand is where it all happens.

2100 Strand
Galveston, Tx 77550
Online: galveston.com/thestrand

stewartbeach_galveston_houston_redtricyclephoto: Galveston.com via flickr

Stewart Beach
Easy beach access, affordable parking, floats available for rent, horseback rides, a playground and snack shop make this beach a hot spot for families. There are lifeguards on duty and the showers and restrooms make for easy clean up when the day is over.

6th St. and Seawall Blvd.
Galveston, Tx 77550
Onlinegalveston.com/stewartbeach

What to Eat

gumbodiner_galveston_flickr_redtricyclephoto: Galveston.com via flickr

Gumbo Diner
A perfect combo of New Orleans flair, southern comfort and American classics will make you want dine at Gumbo Diner more than once. Be sure to order the very popular and very tasty beignets and the near-perfect chicken and waffles. During peak season, get in early or go later in the day, otherwise be prepared to wait for up to an hour! 

3602 Seawall Blvd.
Galveston, Tx
Online: thegumbodiner.com

Hotel Galvez
This hotel and spa is known for its amazing brunch, so head for Hotel Galvez on Sunday. The spread is impressive: full pasta station, omelette-making station, waffles, gumbo, seafood bar, prime rib, standard breakfast fare and an awesome dessert table. Best part? Kids six and under eat for free.

2024 Seawall Blvd.
Galveston, Tx 77550
Online: hotelgalvez.com

LaKingsConfectionary_GabbyCullen_Galveston_RedTricyclephoto: Gabby Cullen

La King’s Confectionary
This old fashioned ice cream parlour and candy factory is the best place in Galveston for a sweet treat. Choose from over 50 different handmade chocolate goodies, hand-pulled taffy or a scoop of Purity ice cream—Texas’ first ice cream manufacturer, founded in 1889 on Galveston Island.

2323 The Strand
Galveston, Tx 77550
Online: lakingsconfectionary.com

MOD Coffee & Tea House
MOD is a charming coffee shop in downtown Galveston. Stop by for fair trade coffee, lattes, espressos and chai teas made by experienced baristas. MOD also offers yummy baked goods including espresso brownies, survivor bars, scones, and more. Check out works by local artists, enjoy the free wifi and quiet space of the Community Room or stay for a chat with the locals and get the latest island news. 

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2126 Post Office St.
Galveston, Tx 77550
Online: galveston.com/mod

Gaido’s
If you’re looking to treat yourself and your crew to an unforgettable dining experience, try Gaido’s on the Seawall. The white tablecloth restaurant has been serving up fresh Gulf seafood in its classic dining room for over a century. The dipping sauce that comes out with freshly baked bread is tangy and tasty, Gaido’s is known for their crab dishes and don’t leave without trying the famous lobster bisque and pecan pie.

3828 Seawall Blvd.
Galveston, Tx 77550
Online: gaidos.com

Where to Stay

moodygardens_galveston.com_flickr_redtricyclephoto: Galveston.com via flickr

Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa and Convention Center
The newly renovated Moody Gardens Hotel, Spa and Convention Center is filled with family-friendly amenities. Guests can choose from rooms, junior suites or full-sized suites, all of which include access to the three restaurants, pool, and seasonal kids crew activities. Palm Beach, the Pyramids, the Zip Line, Sky Trail Explorer Ropes Course and Schlitterbahn Waterpark are within walking distance and golfers can perfect their swing on the award-winning Moody Gardens Golf Course. It’s especially fun to stay at the hotel during Moody Garden’s famous seasonal events—ICE LAND: Ice Sculptures and the Festival of Lights.

Good to know: There are special packages just for families.

Seven Hope Blvd.
Galveston, Tx 77554
Online: moodygardenshotel.com

What do you do when you go to the Houston Bay Area? Share with us in a Comment below.

—Gabby Cullen