Houston may not seem like an obvious choice for a family vacation, but the city is an underrated destination with fun activities all year round. Even though this city experienced historic flooding last summer, all of the city's attractions are currently open and waiting to be explored. America's fourth-largest city is becoming an increasingly popular, budget-friendly family destination.
Houston earned its nickname, Space City, by putting men on the moon only eight years after the space program was launched there in 1961. Today it's equally well known for Space Center Houston, which hosts one million annual visitors. The Smithsonian-affiliate museum displays artifacts that include past and present Mission Control center replicas; the Apollo 17 module; space shuttles; space station and Mars Rover exhibits; the tallest rocket ever flown (363 feet); and the world's largest collection of space suits. Astronauts themselves make appearances on Fridays and Saturdays, as the NASA Johnson Space Center is right next door, where astronauts are trained and tram tours are given to museum visitors.
Space is not the only topic kids can learn about in Houston. The city is home to three other family-friendly museums—all walking distance apart in the Museum District—that are among the best of their kind in the U.S. A floor-to-ceiling ribcage and a 12-foot-tall beating heart are part of the Amazing Body experience at The Health Museum, where kids get to know how the human body works. Also appealing to inquiring young minds is the Houston Museum of Natural Science nearby, which includes a planetarium and three-story butterfly zoo, and the Children's Museum of Houston, where tots to teens can learn, create, invent and play.
Houston may not be a coastal city, but numerous beaches on Galveston Bay and Galveston Island are within an hour's drive. One big family attraction on the bay is Kemah Boardwalk, which offers classic thrill rides (including a wooden rollercoaster), a Ferris wheel and a double-decker carousel. A bit farther south on the Gulf is Galveston Island's Moody Gardens, where attractions include an aquarium, water park, zip line, ropes course, paddlewheel boat rides, rainforest zoo and 4D Special FX Theater.
Families who prefer “doing" to spectating also have ample choices in Houston. Average highs from the sixties to eighties through spring make outdoor fun pleasant. This may mean a stop at the Houston Zoo, where the African Forest is the newest major addition, or taking the Hermann Park Railroad two-mile ride and pedal boating at McGovern Lake. All are located near the Museum District in Hermann Park. Families can also rent a bike from a bike shop or at any of the 51 Houston BCycle bike-sharing stations for a spin on the river-hugging Buffalo Bayou Trail near downtown Houston.
Family-friendly festivals can be enjoyed all year in Houston. Families can take part in a traditional Chinese New Year festival (Feb. 24-25), where seven lion dance troupes will perform, or the American tradition of watching a big rodeo (Feb. 27-March 18), where a parade and horse show are also featured. In April, they can attend America's largest children's festival (April 7-8), with 300 activities and four entertainment stages, or see the world's wackiest-decorated vehicles at the 250,000-spectator Art Car Parade (April 14). Kids of all ages should enjoy Comicpalooza on Memorial Day weekend. Or, looking further ahead, they can visit Houston for the big July 4 weekend festival or Thanksgiving weekend parade.
If you go
United Airlines offers flights to Houston from numerous cities throughout the U.S. and abroad, and MileagePlus® Rewards can help pay for your car rental and hotel room once you arrive. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your family getaway to Texas.