Learn about space. See elephants and giraffes. Find out whether “chicken fried steak” is chicken or steak. There’s no end to family-friendly fun in Houston!

Located on the bayou near the Southeastern edge of Texas, Houston offers tons of fun for families with children. Here are a few of the most popular attractions you won’t want to miss.

Where to Play in Houston

Children’s Museum of Houston
Voted the #1 children’s museum in the nation by Parents Magazine, the massive Children’s Museum is the perfect place to let tots burn off energy while they learn. It offers an outdoor play area (including the Flow Works water play zone), several floors of indoor space to explore (including the multi-floor PowerPlay climbing structure), and the Tot Spot for tiny tykes 2 and under. Admission: $8 ($7 for 65 and older).

Houston Zoo
The 55-acre Houston Zoo will wow your kids with its displays of ostriches, lions, rhinos, and giraffes — in fact, the African Forest exhibit may have you wondering whether you’re really in Texas! The Reptile and Amphibian building hosts a huge komodo dragon and a colorful chameleon, among other creatures. Want to cool off on a hot day? Head for a Chill Out talk given by a zookeeper, where you can learn about animals while you enjoy a frozen treat.

The Galleria
Have little shoppers? Or just need to take a break from the heat outdoors? Head to the Galleria. In addition to 375 stores and restaurants, plus 2 hotels, the Galleria boasts an ice skating rink. So even if they don’t enjoy shopping, the kids can get refreshed and have fun inside this impressive shopping center.

Discovery Green
Sprawling over nearly 12 acres, Discovery Green is the place to take your kids in downtown Houston. Children can pilot a remote-controlled boat in Kinder Lake, and jump, climb, and slide on the playground. If it’s hot, have them run under the picturesque Mist Tree and through the splash pad. All kinds of events take place here, too, so be sure to check out the park’s events calendar.

Space Center Houston
The visitor’s center for NASA’s Johnson Space Center — known as Space Center Houston — offers plenty for kids to explore and do. Older kids will enjoy the tram ride, which takes you through mission control and lets you see a Saturn V rocket up close. Fifth graders and younger can frolic in the Martian Matrix, a multi-story playscape. There are also historical films and educational exhibits to check out. Buy tickets online and save $5 off the admission price ($15.95 adult/$11.95 kids 4 to 11).

Kemah Boardwalk
An old-fashioned waterfront boardwalk in Texas? You bet. About 30 minutes south of downtown Houston, the Kemah Boardwalk boasts rides like a Ferris wheel, wooden roller coaster, carousel, and more. The playground and splash pad are completely free. If you get hungry, why not eat at the Aquarium Restaurant? The kids can watch the mesmerizing tropical fish. Afterward, feed the stingrays at Stingray Reef.

Where to Stay

Boardwalk Inn, Kemah
Speaking of the Kemah Boardwalk: if you’ll be spending lots of time there, you can’t beat the Boardwalk Inn. Its rooms offer views of the Galveston Bay water channel, and the free splash pad sits right outside its front door.

Woodlands Resort
The amazing Woodlands Resort may be located about 40 minutes north of Houston, but it’s well worth a stay. Its most kid-friendly feature? The Forest Oasis Waterscape™. It includes a 30-foot Forest Tower with a double helix water slide and waterfall. While the older kids race down the slide, younger kids can keep cool at Puffy’s Sprayground. Special family events like drive-in movies and s’mores roasts occur between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Hotel Zaza
A boutique hotel within walking distance of the Houston Zoo, the Miller Outdoor Theater, and the Museum District (including the Children’s Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts), Hotel Zaza puts you right in the middle of everything.

Hilton Americas-Houston
If you’ll be staying in downtown, try the
Hilton Americas-Houston. It’s right next to Discovery Green, and an easy train ride from the Museum District. If you’re into sports, this hotel puts you within walking distance of the Toyota Center (home of the Houston Rockets) and Minute Maid Park (home of the Houston Astros).

Where to Eat

Breakfast. Every family knows how important it is to start the day with a great breakfast! Fortunately, you can find impressive morning eats in Houston.

The Breakfast Klub is an extremely popular spot — try the chicken wings and waffles, topped with hot syrup. If you head to this spot, though, be sure to make it early, since a line often forms at the front door. (The friendly staff keeps the line moving quickly, though.)

If you’re in the southern part of town, don’t miss Dot Coffee Shop. The huge omelettes and superb chicken fried steak (yes, that’s a breakfast food in Houston) make this casual diner a must. It’s also a great dessert spot: kids will love the pie. Check out their Facebook page for more info.

Lunch and dinner. Of course, Houston has the same ubiquitous fast-food restaurants with playscapes that you’ll find anywhere in the country. Those spots are fine for a quick bite on-the-go.

But if you’re looking for something a little different, head to the Downtown Aquarium. Its full-service restaurant offers standard fare, but the real attraction is the aquatic life on display here. Over 200 species live in the half-million gallons of water of the Aquarium complex. Outside, there’s even a splash pad and Ferris wheel.

Looking for really authentic Mexican food? Karanchos (no website) in Channelview offers tacos de trompo — corn tortillas filled with pork slow-roasted on a spit. The Houston foodie scene has gone wild over this place, and for good reason. On cool days, sit outside and watch the kids play on the playground while you enjoy delicious tacos with lime, onion, and cilantro (no cheese or lettuce here!).

For great Southern comfort food, try Kelley’s, a Houston tradition. Try the country-fried chicken breast, meat loaf, or — of course — chicken-fried steak. The helpings are so huge, you’re sure to need a doggie bag!

This is a guest post from our friend Melanie Seiberta freelance writer and mom of three who lives in Friendswood, Texas. She blogs at The Lark: Fun things for families to do in Southeast Houston. She also makes a mean chicken-fried steak.