The most populous city in Texas is a top choice for a family getaway, whether you have a future artist or astronaut on your hands. You could spend at least a week exploring its kid-friendly attractions, including urban parks, cultural centers and historic sites. What’s more, a simple-to-use light-rail system makes the city a cinch to navigate.
Step Back in Time
Sometimes seeing historic sites can feel more educational than exciting—but not so in Houston, where we can all but guarantee there’ll be no groans of boredom. Start by visiting the place where Texas gained its independence from Mexico, in 1836 (during an 18-minute battle), at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site (3523 Independence Pkwy. S., LaPorte; 281-479-2431; admission, free), 30 minutes by car from downtown. The grounds are home to the San Jacinto Museum of History (1 Monument Circle, LaPorte; 281-479-2421; admission, free; special attractions, $6; children 11 and under, $5.50)—where you can learn more about the state’s journey to independence—and the 570-foot-tall star-topped San Jacinto Monument (rides to the top, $6; children 11 and under, $4.50), whose observation deck affords great views. This fall marks 100 years since World War I ended, so it’s an especially relevant time to check out the site’s impressive naval ship, Battleship Texas (self-guided tours, $12; children 5–11, $3; children 4 and under, free), the last vessel of its kind that served in both world wars. On a self-guided tour, you can get a look at everything from the engine room to the sleeping quarters. Back in the center of Houston, The Heritage Society (1100 Bagby St.; 713-655-1912; tours, $15 a person; students 6–18, $6; children 5 and under, free) has helped preserve 10 storied structures, relocating all but one to Sam Houston Park. To see inside them, you’ll need to sign up for a docent-led tour (Thursdays through Saturdays), which takes you to a reconstructed general store with old-fashioned toys children can play with. If you happen to be there on the first or third Friday of the month, the society offers a made-for-kids experience ($10) at its one-room cabin called the Old Place; a costumed guide will shed light on what life was like in the 1820s. Your brood will be amazed at how much people accomplished before cellphones.
If you’ve traveled with kids before, chances are you already build playground time into the itinerary. Happily, the green spaces in Houston have plenty more than slides and swings. At the Museum District’s 445-acre Hermann Park (6100 Hermann Park Dr.; 713-524-5876; train rides, $3.50 a person), there’s a train you can ride that makes an 18-minute loop around the grounds, with a stop at The Houston Museum of Natural Science (5555 Hermann Park Dr.; 713-639-4629; adults, $25; children 3–11, $15; children 2 and under, free). The park’s Family Garden hosts a children’s story hour on Fridays at 10 a.m., after which everyone is free to taste fresh veggies and herbs. Be sure to pack a swimsuit for a visit to Discovery Green (1500 McKinney St.), which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The downtown park has tons of water features, including the Gateway Fountain and its 14-foot-high arches of spouting water (open until November). On weekends, keep an eye out for the Art Carts, which offer complimentary rentals of everything from Hula-Hoops and Frisbees to oversize games like Jenga. And special events abound, including outdoor film screenings and Frostival (Nov. 17), which kicks off the opening of the park’s 7,716-square-foot ice-skating rink. The city’s newest outdoor space, Levy Park (3801 Eastside St.; 713-522-7275), in the Upper Kirby neighborhood, is already a favorite for having a playground, table tennis, a putting green and board games on loan.
Get Your Culture Fix
It’s not every day you’ll find an activity that will satisfy both gearheads and creative kiddos. Enter the quirky Art Car Museum (140 Heights Blvd.; 713-861-5526; admission, free), known for its collection of classic automobiles that have been transformed with mosaics and other decorative elements; one is even in the shape of a rabbit. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1001 Bissonnet St.; 713-639-7300; adults, $15; children 13–18, $7.50; children 12 and under, free) has more-conventional works, ranging from Egyptian antiquities to large-scale modern pieces. On Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., the Family Zone program runs games and two storybook circles. The youngsters can also burn off some energy among works by the likes of Rodin in the neighboring museum-affiliated Cullen Sculpture Garden (900 Bisonnett St.; admission, free), designed by Isamu Noguchi. For a music-filled weekend morning, the Houston Symphony (615 Louisiana St.; 713-224-7575; tickets, from $23) has two upcoming child-friendly shows, complete with crafts before and after: Peter and the Wolf (Oct. 6 at 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.) and A Polar Express Christmas (Dec. 8 at 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.).
Unleash Your Inner Astronaut
Houston has long played an important role in the aerospace industry—namely thanks to NASA Johnson Space Center, where future astronauts are trained and which acts as mission control for spaceflight programs. The only way to get access to this 1,620-acre campus—and a glimpse of its 363-foot Saturn V rocket—is on a NASA Tram Tour, which is included in a visit to Space Center Houston (1601 NASA Pkwy.; 281-244-2100; tours, $30 a person; children 4–11, $25; children 3 and under, $5). You can also touch a piece of Mars and, every Friday and Saturday, meet an astronaut. Outside on Independence Plaza, explore the living quarters, flight deck and cockpit inside a 240-ton shuttle complex, as well as view the original NASA 905 aircraft.
Goode Co. Barbeque
Nothing beats this institution’s original location. It serves beef brisket, pork ribs and classic sides like jalapeño pinto beans. 5109 Kirby Dr.; 713-522-2530; dinner for two, $31*
Known for its menu of delicious burgers and garlic fries, this spot also has an arcade that was created with kids in mind. 6203 Edloe St.; 713-592-6200; dinner for two, $20
Satisfy your sweet tooth with freshly made ice cream and bite-size cupcakes. 2700 W. Alabama St.; 713-520-7007; ice cream for two, $7.50; baked goods, from $2.25 each
State of Grace Go for the family-style supper every Sunday to feast on chicken-fried steak, Gulf Coast gumbo and collard greens. 3258 Westheimer Rd.; 832-942-5080; Sunday supper, $29 a person
RCI® affiliated resorts near Houston include:
On Lake Conroe, where water sports abound. There’s also a miniature-golf course and sand volleyball court. 8350 Piney Shores Dr., Conroe
Member Review: “Nice villas, and close to everything.”
Unwind in one- or two-bedroom units with a Jacuzzi tub and cozy living-room area. 47031 Kingston Cove Ln., Willis
Member Review: “We love coming here with the family.”
Beautifully channels the Southwest with its stucco exterior and terra-cotta roofs. 100 La Costa Dr., Montgomery
Member Review: “Our room was absolutely spotless.”
After teeing off, you can relax near the pool surrounded by tall oak trees. 117 Private Rd.,
Member Review: “We had an excellent meal at the clubhouse restaurant.”
Just steps from the beach, along the scenic Gulf of Mexico. 19320 W. San Luis Pass, Galveston
Member Review: “The staff was so friendly.”
Check for upcoming local events before you leave for your vacation! Houston in the fall offers events for the whole gang: festivals, art fairs, sports, Oktoberfest celebrations and more.
For complete member reviews (as member reviews have been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.
Non-RCI affiliated resorts in Houston include:
An Italian-style villa whose 122 rooms come with balconies and free Wi-Fi. 1080 Uptown Park Blvd.; 713-418-1000; granducahouston.com; doubles from $309 a night
A chic, centrally located 223-room hotel, five blocks from Discovery Green and close to
a light-rail station. 1070 Dallas St.; 713-242-8555; hotelalessandra-houston.com; doubles from $229 a night
- *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: Fall 2018