Helpful Hints, The Great Outdoors, Travel

Road Tripping from Houston to Colorado with Kids: Palo Duro and Cadillac Ranch

If you’re thinking about a road trip, now’s the time to go for it! In our first blog post in this series, we covered planning a road trip from Houston to Colorado with kids, along with some essential tips that will make the long drive easy. Now, we’ll dig into the nuts and bolts of the Texas portion – from Houston to Canyon, TX – and the rewards that await you once you get there.

It’s almost impossible to make the drive to Colorado in a day. Depending on where you want to end up, two can even be stretching it with kids in tow. Plus, you want to make those days at least a little fun, and the kids need to run around. Those factors considered, we decided that Canyon, TX was the perfect city to rest our heads in, both on the way there and back.

Why Canyon? These reasons sealed the deal for us:

  • It’s a little over 9 hours from Houston without stops – we could start at 8am, and with a few stops, be there before the kids’ bedtime
  • Colorado Springs, our first CO destination, is a little over 7 hours from Canyon, so we had time to get in a good hike in southern Colorado on our way
  • Palo Duro Canyon State Park is a place we’ve always wanted to visit
  • Cadillac Ranch is really close and right on the way out of town towards Colorado
  • There are enough places to grab some food to-go and a couple decent hotels

Getting There

There are lots of ways to get to Canyon from Houston, but the best (and most interesting) route seemed to be through Waco, up through Ft Worth, through Wichita Falls, and then on to Canyon. 45 to 287 is always an option, but save that for the trip back (in reverse, of course) when you don’t care as much about scenery and just want to get home!

We decided we wanted to make one real stop (other than bathroom breaks) on the way up, right around lunchtime. It turns out that there are two fantastic stops within just 10 minutes of each other – you can grab the best kolaches in Texas at the Czech Stop in West, TX, and then you can eat them at the Hill County NB Rest Area just north of Abbott, TX! The rest area is really the most fantastic rest stop we have ever seen. Clean, modern bathrooms, plenty of wide open spaces for running around, and tons of covered picnic areas. There was a nice breeze when we were there in late July, so it didn’t even seem that hot.

We eat a ton of kolaches, and these were WAY at the top of the list! Plus, there were autographed photos of Willie AND the Tiger King above the counter 🙂

Cadillac Ranch

Cadillac Ranch was one of two must-dos for our family. It’s an iconic Texas landmark, it has been on our list to see for years, and it would be really fun for our kids to channel their inner street artist. We bought 3 cans of spray paint before we left at Home Depot to make sure we were prepared.

If you haven’t heard of this landmark before, it’s basically 10 Cadillacs from the 1950s with their noses buried in the dirt in a field, so they are all sitting at a diagonal with the trunks in the air. These cars have been spray painted over and over again through the years, and it’s a tradition to bring your cans and tag them on your way through town. There’s no entry fee – just remember to give your cans to someone on the way out or put them in the trash.

Cadillac Ranch: Go early and bring spray paint!

At first our plan was to go to Palo Duro first thing in the morning and THEN go to Cadillac Ranch on the way out. That would have been a very bad plan for the following reasons:

  1. It’s friggin HOT out there mid-day in the middle of a field in Amarillo
  2. It gets super crowded at Cadillac Ranch starting mid-morning

The best way to pull this off is on the way up from Houston, get your rest in Canyon, wake up, and go straight to Cadillac Ranch first thing. If you get there around 8, nobody’s there yet, and you have your pick of cars to spray paint! You can take a billion photos (there is no better place on earth to get photos of your kids with colorful backgrounds!), you can keep away from others, and it’s still nice outside – even in late July. Just leave before 9:30 to get on the road to CO.

Palo Duro

We had planned to go to Palo Duro on the way up to Colorado, but we messed up and forgot to make reservations in advance by purchasing a day pass. By the time we figured this out, they were all taken for the day we needed to go. We were bummed, but this turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise. Instead, we decided to hit up Palo Duro on the way BACK from Colorado in the evening. This was perfect because:

  • It was hot, but not too hot at all – like 91 degrees at 6pm, and we didn’t have to worry about it getting hotter. It got cooler as we enjoyed the park because the sun was setting!
  • You’ll be on Mountain Time because you were just in CO, so 6pm feels like 7pm and the kids won’t be too exhausted to have a good time
  • The park is open as of August 2020 for day visitors to enter 7am-7pm, but you can stay as long as 10pm!
  • There is almost nobody in the park except a few folks camping after 6pm. We had the place to ourselves!
  • The animals in this type of environment are most active at dusk, so you get to see cool things like armadillos and other wildlife
At Palo Duro Canyon State Park, there is unbelievable beauty everywhere you look. Photos don’t even do it justice.

We asked the park ranger what to do with small kids if we wanted to be there for like 1.5 hours, and she recommended the following:

  • Drive through the park – it takes about 30-40 minutes without stopping to hike
  • Stop at the overlook at the beginning of the drive where you can see the whole canyon – second largest in the country – amazing!
  • Hike the 0.5 mile Pioneer Nature Trail (trail map here – make sure to request one from the ranger upon entry). Even though it’s short, still bring plenty of water! There are lots of little trail offshoots to explore, and it’s easy to see how to get back while still enjoying the desert scenery.
  • Stop at “The Big Cave” (stop 10 on the trail map) and climb around, getting as close as you want if you’re brave!

All in all, the front end and back end of our trip that could have been a monotonous drive to get to the finish line in CO ended up being some of our best memories. Next up, we’ll cover southern Colorado up to Colorado Springs and the surrounding area – coming soon!

Helpful Hints, The Great Outdoors, Travel

Road Tripping from Houston to Colorado with Kids: It Begins

We’ve always wanted to go on a road trip with our two kids, currently ages 3 and 6, but we figured it might be when they were a little older. A plane trip always just seemed so much easier! But then, COVID struck. After many months in quarantine and being right in the midst of Houston’s dog days of summer, getting out of town had to happen or we’d all lose our minds! So off to Colorado we went. Here’s what we did and how we did it.

Can’t beat the scenery or the weather during a Colorado summer.

The Plan

Here is what we knew about what we wanted to do (and what we had to do given COVID) that shaped how our trip evolved:

  • Stay far away from others and in the outdoors as much as possible
  • Avoid the heat (because we have enough of that right now in Houston!)
  • Take in some breathtaking scenery
  • See multiple places rather than stay in one spot to give the kids a flavor of CO as a whole
  • Eat some good food, even if we can’t eat at restaurants – and eat healthy wherever we can

Our trip shaped up quickly to focus on the eastern side of Colorado, mostly because of drive time. We also knew we wanted to break up the long drive up there (and back) into 2 days, so that narrowed down the choices rather quickly into the following 10-day plan:

Day 1: Houston to Canyon, TX (9+ hours – longest and most painful drive)
Day 2: Canyon, TX to Colorado Springs, CO (7+ hours)
Days 3-4: Enjoy Colorado Springs and surrounding area
Day 5: Drive to Boulder (1.5 hours – easy!)
Days 6-7: Enjoy Boulder and surrounding area
Day 8: Boulder to Pueblo via Golden, CO (around 3 hours – to get a jump on the drive back)
Day 9: Pueblo, CO to Canyon, TX (5+ hours)
Day 10: Canyon to HOME!

Why Canyon, TX and not some other spot? We wanted to do 2 things there: see Palo Duro Canyon State Park and check out the infamous Cadillac Ranch, both of which ended up being AWESOME. More on that later.

Channel your inner street artist at Cadillac Ranch!

Things We Learned About Road Tripping in General

There are plenty of blog posts and checklists online about what to bring on a road trip with kids, so we won’t rehash everything you should pack. Here are a few things we tried/learned that really helped us on those long driving days with the kids:

  • Over-pack your snacks: we packed a TON of snacks and stuff for meals because we wanted to minimize contact with other people. You know what? It wasn’t enough! We STILL went to the grocery store multiple times. If you think you packed enough, you probably didn’t, so grab that extra large box of applesauce and those 3 extra packs of granola bars, and more of whatever else you think you have enough of!
  • Have a solid cooler/snack bag strategy: Bring a small cooler and a reusable bag for the front of the car, both packed with drinks/snacks/napkins/etc. This should be everything food-wise you need for the day. Make sure it’s accessible while driving so you don’t have to stop to unpack and reorganize (bathroom breaks will cause you to stop plenty!). Also pack a large cooler and large bag in the back with the rest of your food. Then, restock your small cooler/bag with fresh snacks/drinks each morning so you can grab and go as needed!
  • There’s more to life than iPad: While the iPad was totally a part of our strategy, especially for those 9+ hour driving days, there were some really cool and unexpected things that were super fun beyond screen time. First, podcasts! Download a bunch of them for free – our favorite ones are Story Pirates and Storynory. The kids were fascinated, the stories were cool, and they gave us some peace – huge win for the whole crew! Next up, this random license plate sticker book – we bought several cheap things for the kids to try on the road, but this one was the biggest hit and kept them occupied for the longest. It was a good riff on an old school game. Each long driving day, the kids got to choose one movie to watch on iPad, and the oldest played an iPad game while the 3 year old was passed out napping, so everyone was happy.

Learn more in our next post, when we finally get on the road. We’ll share the stop you can’t miss on the way from Houston to Canyon and tell you the best way (we think) to visit Cadillac Ranch and Palo Duro Canyon State Park with kids!

Read the next post in this series!

Helpful Hints

Geocaching: Free outdoor fun with kids in Houston!

A microcache we recently found – it’s a super small geocache often magnetically attached to something in the environment, like a sign or a metal pole.

What’s totally free, gets you outdoors, is fun for the whole family, is almost exactly like a treasure hunt, and can be done in Houston but also all over the world? Geocaching! This “sport” has been around over a dozen years, but don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it. We’ll tell you all you need to know to get started!

What is Geocaching?

When you geocache, you hunt for small containers hidden in the landscape by people that plant them in nooks and crannies just for you to find them. You find these containers using your phone, which takes you to the location, and then you use your treasure hunting skills (and sometimes a few hints) to find the exact place they are hidden. The kind folks that hide the containers do it just for fun – there’s no financial incentive, and the fun is to surprise and delight – and to see how many people can find it!

Geocaches abound all over Houston, so it’s the perfect thing to get your kids outdoors and in pursuit of a super fun goal.

How do I get started?

You’ll need a few key things if you want to have a successful geocaching experience:

  • Close-toed shoes, water, sunscreen, and bug spray: these caches are in the great outdoors, and sometimes they can be pretty hidden. You may find yourself in a forest, a field, in a neighborhood, or near a bayou – so make sure you’re really ready to explore!
  • The Geocaching app: this free app by company Groundspeak is available for iOS and Android. You will want to download the app on any phones that will be involved in the hunt. We made a family account so we can log all our finds on the same app, and we signed in on multiple phones. With a free account, you can access tons of easy and medium level geocaches. A paid, annual account gets you harder caches, but don’t do this until you get really good! There are plenty of free ones to choose from.
  • Your phone: You will need to access the app on your phone so you can choose a cache to find, navigate to it, see information about the cache, and record that you’ve found it, among other things. Don’t worry, you won’t be buried in your phone the whole time – it’s just a tool to help you get to your goal.
  • A pen: It’s fun to sign your name when you find a geocache, and most of them contain a list to do just that!
  • Small trinkets: The larger geocaches may have small toys or trinkets inside, so bring a few of your own so you can either contribute or swap them out. Good geocache etiquette requires that if you take something from a cache, you put something back in!
There is a list inside many geocaches so you can write your name and when you found it. It’s fascinating to see when it was last found. Some caches ask you to put where you’re from, and you’ll see people from all over the world that have found it!

Geocaching Lingo

Once you’ve got everything ready, you’ll need to know some geocaching vocabulary. This is an extremely popular hobby with a dedicated following, and like any specialized craft, there are plenty of new words to learn!

  • Geocache: this is the actual container you will find – “geo” because it’s located using GPS, and “cache” because the container has things inside it. Geocaches can be tiny (size of a kid’s finger) to the size of a shoebox, and anything in between. They are usually made of something very sturdy like metal or plastic, and many are magnetic because they are affixed to metal of some kind. There are also those hidden in the landscape under brush. Sometimes they are painted to camouflage with their surroundings. The goal is for the inside not to get wet, because there’s stuff in there!
  • Muggle: when you search for caches, it’s very important that innocent passersby not see you find it or place it back. These people are called muggles – if they do see you, they might get curious and take the cache or put it back in the wrong spot, which would ruin the fun for everyone. Watch for muggles and wait for them to pass!
  • DNF: In the racing world, this means “did not finish,” but in the geocaching world, it means “did not find.” When you try to locate a geocache but you just can’t find it, log a DNF in the app so others know it wasn’t found. Sometimes caches get moved or lost (remember muggles?), so this alerts others that it might not be there – or may be super hard to find.
  • TFTC (Thanks for the Cache!): You might see this abbreviation when you’re looking through the activity section on a cache – people write TFTC when they find a cache to to thank the person who originally hid it.
  • FTF (First to Find): This is the ultimate achievement in geocaching – being the “first to find” a geocache! They are being placed all the time, so you may very well get a FTF in your adventures.

How to Geocache with Kids

Pre-planning is key when geocaching with kids. It doesn’t take long, but you will increase your chances of success if you:

  1. Bring plenty of water and snacks: you don’t want to cut your adventure short because the kids are hungry or thirsty, so pack a bag like you’re doing some light hiking.
  2. Keep the explanation simple: Tell them they are going on an outdoor treasure hunt! They won’t get to keep the treasure unless you find a cache with trinkets, but it’s really rewarding and fun to find a geocache regardless.
  3. Find a spot with several geocaches: Sometimes caches are hard to find or not there anymore, so make sure to guarantee success and increase your odds. Great places in Houston include along the major bayous, larger thoroughfares (think Heights Blvd, Heights or Midtown Hike and Bike Trails), parks (Memorial Park and the Arboretum are great spots), and unique neighborhoods (Old Sixth Ward). The rule in placing caches is that it has to be free to enter so it’s accessible to everyone.
  4. Try, try again! Sure, it’s frustrating if you can’t find a cache, but keep hunting and you will be rewarded. On our last outing, we found 2 of the 4 we searched for. I’m pretty sure one was there and we missed it, and the other I think was legitimately missing. We have small kids so searching for a long time isn’t an option. Better to move on and get a quick win by finding a different one! You can always go back and try again another time.

We hope geocaching is as fun for your family is at is for ours. Hopefully we’ll see your name on a geocache around Houston soon!

Day Trips from Houston, Food, Helpful Hints

Houston Day Trip with Kids: Rosenberg, for Nature, Great Food, and Trains!

It’s hard to call a trip to Rosenberg an actual day trip from Houston (it’s basically still Houston all the way past Highway 99 these days), but there’s so much to do there that it’s well worth planning a whole day of family fun!

To start, pack up your snacks and water and head straight to Seabourne Creek Nature Park. Located just off 59, it’s just past the National Guard Armory (look to the left when you’re driving to see a big tank!) and the Rosenberg Civic Center. Maintained by the Texas Master Naturalists, this former plain green field with a detention pond has turned into a natural oasis hosting an abundance of wildlife. These wonderful volunteers have painstakingly recreated three beautiful Texas habitats in a single park: woodlands, prairie, and wetlands.

Part of the wetlands habitat at Seabourne Creek Nature Park

The hiking’s easy at Seabourne Creek – it’s perfect for small kids, because each habitat has one main trail that is about 1/3 mile long. You can easily see all of them in just over an hour. Logistically, the parking is plentiful and the bathrooms are clean and right up front. Just a few of the things to do when you’re there:

  • Take binoculars (or just use your eyes!) and see how many birds you can spot – we found egrets, roseate spoonbills (they look like flamingos with spoons on their bills – cool!), and so many more
  • Enjoy a snack on the picnic tables in the woodland area
  • Run along the boardwalk in the wetlands
  • Count the ducks in the lake
  • Search for butterflies in the butterfly garden
  • Check out the greenhouse where they are growing the native prairie grasses and restoring the habitats

When the kids start saying “pick me up!” or “I’m hungry,” head over to the Ol’ Railroad Cafe in Rosenberg (the old downtown – it’s pretty adorable) for a lunch that satisfies both kids and grown ups. The salads are outstanding, and the burgers are on fresh-baked buns, but pretty much everything is delicious.

The tour is a must-do at the Rosenberg Railroad Museum

Next up, walk just a couple blocks over to the Rosenberg Railroad Museum (closed Mon/Tues). Well worth the entry fee, you start at the small indoor museum, and kids get to do a fun scavenger hunt that ends in them getting to pick a special prize when they complete it. Outdoors is an amazing scale model of Rosenberg 70 years ago with trains chugging through the landscape. If that weren’t enough, there’s a play area where the kids can climb all over a wooden train play set, and you can check out the REAL trains chugging by from a platform to get the perfect view!

Also included is a tour you can take as a family: even if you don’t think your kids can handle tours (we generally don’t do them because we’re pretty rowdy and easily distracted), go for it! They are great with kids and the tour is fascinating to everyone, and it includes a trip through two train cars – a shiny red caboose and a very fancy passenger car.

Put a cherry on top of your day at Another Time Soda Fountain in downtown Rosenberg!

Now that you’re thoroughly exhausted and your kids are almost to the point of losing it, head across the street to Another Time Soda Fountain to wrap up the day and reward everyone for being troopers. You can belly up to the bar on old-time barstools if your kids are old enough or settle in at a table and enjoy the ambiance there. Choose from a great selection of delicious shakes and malts, or introduce your kids to the ever-classic Coke Float.

By this point, there will almost surely be naps in your future on your way home, if they haven’t happened already. Enjoy the quiet time and that drive back to Houston!

Do you have any other favorite Rosenberg haunts? Let us know in the comments!

Best Of, Helpful Hints, Houston Events, The Great Outdoors

Best of Houston with Kids: Transportation Edition

If your adventures are anything like ours, sometimes getting there is the best part. Somehow kids can rattle off dozens of modes of transportation way before they can count to 10 – it’s probably because these many-wheeled vehicles are just so darned cool.

On our travels through Houston, we’ve searched high and low for the best places to enjoy planes, trains, cars, trucks, buses, and construction vehicles, and we’d love to share them with you. You may find yourself geeking out more than your toddler!

You can actually ride these trains quite a long distance at Zube Park!

Best transportation-themed park, inside the loop: Donovan Park. A classic, albeit crowded, choice for fun, the wooden train is the signature element of this super fun place to play. Get there early to beat the crowds and the heat, and head across the street to Melange Creperie or Cloud 10 Creamery for a well-deserved snack afterwards.

Runner up, best inner loop transportation-themed park: Hermann Park. Another get-there-early (like when the gates open at 8:30) kind of place, it’s worth it to experience the train! Trains start at 10, so snag some donuts on your way, enjoy a donut picnic, and watch the ducks until you can get your ticket. If you’re feeling really brave or your kids won’t dive headfirst off the boat like mine will, try the pedal boats too!

Yet another runner up for best ITL transportation park…because, fire trucks: Fire Truck Park. Nestled right in the middle of West University, this park is best for the younger set – infants through maybe age 4 – with tons of age-appropriate things to do and see.

Best transportation-themed park, outside the loop: Zube Park. March through November, the Houston Area Live Steamers graciously offer train rides to kids for free (donations accepted!). It’s a popular attraction, and it’s so special that this passionate group of train lovers wants to share their hobby with kids just for fun! Totally worth the drive.

Did you know there are planes that have fold-up wings? We didn’t until went to Lone Star Flight Museum!

Most awesome transportation museum: Lone Star Flight Museum. This was a complete surprise to us the first time we went – we love this museum! There are two spotless indoor hangars, a gallery to experiment with all things flight, and a super amazing gift shop to find something unique on your way out. They are always hosting interesting and creative educational events, too, so visit often or become a member!

Best place to be a fireman: Houston Fire Museum. Located in midtown inside historic Fire Station No. 7, built in 1899, this museum caters to both little kids and adults. Be sure to check the calendar, because they’re often closed for birthdays (which are extremely fun, by the way), but it’s worth the wait! There’s a place to dress up as a fireman, slide down a fire pole, play in a play house to learn how to escape a fire, and get inside the cab of a real life fire truck to save the day!

There is just nothing quite like the Bayou Wildlife Zoo…

Craziest transportation experience, animals included: Bayou Wildlife Zoo. Our family is still questioning what on earth happened at this place! It’s a blast riding the rickety tram, listening to the speech of the creative tram drivers, and dodging hungry camels as they try and grab a bit of food from your bucket. It’s definitely down-home, and definitely memorable.

Best cheap transportation experience that will actually get you somewhere: The METROrail. Whether you are headed to the ball game or just plain bored, the METROrail is where it’s at. Park anywhere along one of the lines, buy a ticket, and enjoy the ride. Sometimes we park far away to go somewhere along the line just so we can ride the train for a few stops!

We can’t even remember how many super cool trucks we sat in at Touch-a-Truck!

Coolest transportation-themed event: Bellaire Touch-a-Truck (once a year, in March). This is the OG touch-a-truck event in Houston. Just Google “touch a truck houston” and you’ll see what I mean. They’re all a ton of fun, but they really bring it at Evelyn’s Park! See every form of transportation you can imagine, climb all over them, talk to real firemen and truck drivers, and so much more!

Most Texan twist on transportation: Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo (3 weeks in March). You might not think of the Rodeo as a place for enjoying things that go, but think again. There are tons of tractors and trucks to check out, along with ponies to ride!

What did we miss? Do you have any transportation-themed favorites? Let us know in the comments!

Day Trips from Houston, Helpful Hints

Houston Day Trip with Kids: Galveston

Often, trips to Galveston follow a pretty similar narrative: either a weekend at a beach house or a day relaxing on the beach…with tons of traffic there and back. These are both excellent choices (traffic excluded), especially with kids, but there are countless options for fun that don’t involve a swimsuit!

Winter is probably the most beautiful and awesome time to be in Galveston with your kids!

Here are some tips for getting the most out of Galveston with your kids:

  • Go when it’s winter. Houston winters are gorgeous, and the crowds in Galveston are way more manageable too.
  • Be an early bird. Your kids get up early, so take advantage of that pre-dawn wake-up and get out the door before 9! Chances are, you’ll miss all the traffic!
  • Bring a picnic. Sure, there are great places to eat, but a lot of them are overly touristy and expensive. If you must chow down in a place with 4 walls, try The Spot. Still touristy, but the food is great and you will want to reuse their kids drink cup for as long as your kids need a lid!
  • Use the car…for sleeping. Galveston is pretty far, so if you have to come back early, do it during nap time. Or, commit to a full day: put them in their PJs before you leave to go home, let them pass out in the car, and put them straight to bed when you get there.
La King’s Confectionery on the Strand is a classic: you can’t leave Galveston without going there!

We won’t detail everything to do in Galveston – you can find info about Moody Gardens (great place – a day trip in itself!) and the way-too-expensive-and-not-that-great-for-kids Pleasure Pier all over the place – but here are a few gems that we consider tried and true:

  • La King’s Confectionery: It’s the most wonderful candy shop, taffy pulling experience, ice cream shop, and soda fountain you can imagine. This historic and popular Galveston attraction is located on the Strand, a fun place to shop and walk around.
  • The Elissa: Located just off the strand, this ship hails from 1877 and is a part of the Texas Seaport Museum. Explore the decks, check out the captain’s quarters, marvel at the engine room, and actually take the helm! The all-volunteer crew sets sail each March and spends the rest of the year training and making her seaworthy.
  • Galveston Island Brewing: Kids are totally welcome at this super casual spot, and they have root beer!
  • Galveston Railroad Museum: So much more than a static display, a ticket to this museum lets you ride a real train by the cruise ship terminals.
  • Port Bolivar Ferry: The best free thing to do in Galveston, this is your chance to feed the seagulls, try and spot dolphins, and enjoy the sea breeze. Often we just go over and right back again just to enjoy the experience.
  • Galveston Children’s Museum: Located in a basement, it’s a fun place to spend a couple hours. It’s not shiny and new, but the exhibits are all hands on and the kids L-O-V-E it!
  • Galveston Tree Sculptures: After Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston, artists decided to make something out of the destruction. Many trees that were broken were turned into works of art, and you can drive around and find them all!
  • Go treasure hunting on the beach: Take a drive to Galveston’s west end (away from super busy East Beach), way past Moody Gardens, and find a place where you can pull in. The shells are way more plentiful and the beach is much more serene and less crowded!
If you’re lucky and the Elissa’s volunteer crew is getting ready to sail, they may even let you help with the ropes!

What are your favorite things to do in Galveston with kids? Let us know in the comments!

Helpful Hints

Getting Your Kid’s Energy Out: Indoor Edition

We all know the weather in Houston is mighty unpredictable: it could be 80 degrees in January, or there could be a 2-week streak of downpours in September. Or, it’s just plain 105 degrees in August with 95% humidity and there’s no way you’re going outside. In these instances, having a few places in your back pocket where you can take kids to release pent up energy is essential. Here are some favorites that have saved us from going stir crazy!

For the toddler set, options are limited. There are plenty of places that charge a membership fee that fit the bill, but most of those places are full with birthday parties on the weekends and also really pricey. It’s also hard to find places where toddler’s don’t get stepped on by the big kids. A couple of go-to spots for us include:

  • MajestKids in Sugar Land: It may be far for many of you, but the drive is worth it. Especially because you can get a good nap in on the way there or back! Located in a small strip center, this place is perfect for kids 3 and under. There are giant foam blocks, big wooden playsets, a bounce pillow, a foam pit, and there’s even a dedicated infant area. They have healthy snacks at the snack bar too. Though it was a 30+ minute drive for us, we found ourselves going back again and again.
  • Weiss Energy Hall at HMNS: Houston Museum of Natural Science is super fantastic overall and a source of endless fun, but you don’t normally think about it to expel a toddler’s energy. The 4th floor houses Weiss Energy Hall, and despite its elevated purpose (I’m not sure I could ever begin to explain fracking or viscosity to a 2-3 year old), toddlers can have a blast here. Despite it being one of the neatest spaces in the museum, it has never been crowded when we’re there, and there are tons of cool things to push, pull, see, and do. The space is gigantic, and the lights and tech are super cool for parents and kids alike. Bonus: when your kid gets tired, leave through the dinosaur exhibit on the first floor and marvel at the larger-than life skeletons that look like art!
  • Lowe’s or Home Depot: Ok, hear us out. It sounds weird, but there are two big things this option has going for it. First, giant, long aisles to run down. Second, fascinating things to look at and explore! If your kid has extra energy, put something heavy in the cart and let them push it around. Bonus: you can get light bulbs and plan your next home renovation while your kid touches every single carpet sample and opens and closes the washing machines to their heart’s content!
These giant foam blocks at MajestKids are just one of many awesome features for kids under 4!
Lowe’s is a great rainy day locale for running wild through the aisles with a toddler!

For kids that have passed the toddler phase and have boundless energy to burn off, the choices are plentiful all over the city. We have a particularly active elementary school kid, so we’re often challenged with finding the most interesting and varied indoor activities to exhaust him when the weather’s crummy. Here are some unique ones to try:

  • Urban Air on 290: This is a place where kids from toddler age to adult can have a blast, but the sweet spot is elementary school. There are several Urban Air locations, but this one is our favorite because of the combo of a great ninja warrior course, tons of trampolines, a huge playground, and several rock walls – all of which are included in the price of admission. If your kid is older elementary, they can even do a zip line!
  • Texas Rock Gym: There’s nothing like a giant rock wall to tire out a 5 year old! The folks at Texas Rock Gym know how to work with kids – they offer day passes, memberships, and camps. Your child can try the auto-belay and go up the wall on his or her own, but the best way to play is for you to belay and your child to climb. It’s a great bonding experience, and you both get to enjoy it. You can rent a harness for each of you, and if it’s your first time, you’ll get a one-on-one training to show you exactly how it works.
  • Urban Movement: This is a new one for us, but it’s so awesome that it’s now in our regular rotation. Urban Movement is for kids and adults and focuses on the sport of parkour – aka using your body to run, jump, and climb over all sorts of things. This is a class-based program, but that’s sort of necessary so you know what to do. After an hour of instruction, there’s an hour of free play in the gym. Your kid will literally never want to leave!
The ninja warrior course at Urban Air on 290
Texas Rock Gym has a wide variety of routes ranging from beginner to expert.
Urban Movement uses parkour to teach balance, build strength, and build confidence

Lastly, sometimes you can’t go anywhere when the weather’s bad, or you just don’t want to. For those occasions, we recommend a couple of key pieces of equipment that will help you tire out your little one, no matter their age:

  • Plastic cones
  • Masking tape
  • An indoor trampoline (Little Tykes has a great one!)
  • A soft ball you can throw around inside and not break a window or the TV

With these simple tools, you can build countless obstacle courses that will challenge your kids and make being stuck inside a blast. Use your watch to time them, add in challenging things to jump on/over/around, require a few jumping jacks here and there, and they’ll be passed out on the couch in no time.

So, what did we forget? What recommendations do you have for indoor places in Houston to go for kids to get their energy out?

Helpful Hints, The Great Outdoors

Discovering Nature in Houston with Kids, Inside the Loop

Most people think of Houston as a giant, sprawling concrete jungle. While those people may be right (ok, fine…), there are plenty of unexpected natural areas to explore with your kids inside the city limits – even inside the loop.

In later posts, we’ll cover some of the incredible natural spaces outside the city, including state parks. For now, let’s stay closer to home and see what our fair city has to offer!

Hike the trails, climb the trees, and find unexpected treasures at the Houston Arboretum!

Many native Houstonians have heard of the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, but more often than not, it seems like most haven’t had the chance to check it out. Kids or no kids, it’s absolutely one of the best places in the city to get in touch with nature. It’s like you just stepped into the piney woods! If you do have a family, you can let your kids to run, climb, explore, and create wonderful memories. A few highlights of the Arboretum include:

  • Plenty of easy hikes filled with fun things to see. The newly-opened Ravine Trail is short, near the entrance, and has some nice elevation changes. The half-mile Inner Loop Trail is perfect for strollers, as it’s flat and wide without being boring. Check out the map on the website for more detailed trail info.
  • A phenomenal nature center. While it’s getting renovated as a part of the Arboretum’s Master Plan and will no doubt get even better, the old one is still a real gem. Go on a scavenger hunt, see fish, bugs, and other critters, and talk to the fantastic staff that are there to help your kids learn.
  • A place to find the unexpected. We got the chance to visit frequently in the morning before taking our oldest to summer camp (which is the best camp in the city if you kid likes the outdoors, by the way!). We found crazy looking flowers, turtles in the pond, a wayward skunk, tons of bugs and birds, and bees and butterflies in a beautiful garden. Taking your time and looking closely at your surroundings is well worth it!

Another wonderful gem in an unexpected spot is the Nature Discovery Center in Bellaire. I always regret that we don’t take photos when we go there, but we are way too busy having fun! It’s free, and there are indoor and outdoor areas to explore:

  • Russ Pitman Park is the outdoor area that allows you to experience different types of native Texas habitats. It’s sort of similar to the Arboretum in some ways (though a lot smaller), but here there is a big sand pit and a ton of natural play opportunities. Bring a change of clothes – it’s way worth getting dirty!
  • Discovery Rooms are inside the Nature Center, which is actually a cool old house, and you can’t miss them. Have fun putting on a play, seeing live animals, talking to the knowledgeable staff, checking out books, and just looking at all the cool treasures!

Both the Arboretum and Nature Discovery Center have frequent events for kids of all ages, so be sure to get on their email list. You can also become a member of both places to show your support and receive some really great benefits.

A less formal but equally awesome nature opportunity is West 11th Street Park in the Timbergrove area. It’s a densely forested patch of nature that offers a slice of wilderness literally in the middle of a neighborhood. There’s no play area, but there are some great trails and chances to spot wildlife and natural beauty!

Buffalo Bayou Park has a great nature play area right in the center of Houston.

Our final recommendation isn’t as natural as the ones above, but it’s a great trend to see happening for kids in Houston: the emergence of nature play areas. These are popping up all over the place. Instead of the typical plastic slide and play structure, several parks are using natural materials to give kids a more authentic nature experience.

If you want to check a couple of these nature play areas out, try Buffalo Bayou Park near the Sabine St Bridge and also Evelyn’s Park. The area at Evelyn’s Park is small, but it’s so much fun to climb up the tree stumps and go down the big hill slide – and of course play in the sand.

How do you and your kids experience nature in Houston? What would you recommend exploring next? Let us know in the comments below!

Food, Helpful Hints

Eating Your Way through Houston’s Food Scene With Kids

Izayaka Wa in Memorial is a kid-friendly place where kids can explore new tastes!

Ever since that GQ article crowning Houston the “new capital of Southern cool,” people around the country are beginning to notice the treasure we already knew was here. One of the benefits of raising kids in Houston is that they get to learn and play alongside people different than they are, hear different languages, and explore new and amazing flavors through all the culinary traditions imaginable. If you’re just beginning to uncover Houston’s incredible food scene, or you want your kids to experience it, we’re here to provide you some recommendations for getting started – even if your kids don’t yet eat everything under the sun.

Here are some tips on adventurous dining with young kids before we dive in:

  • Start ’em early – if eating raw fish is normal when you’re a toddler, it’s no big deal your whole life! I started eating sushi in college, but my kids started when they were two. If your kids are a little older, the time is now to start your adventure!
  • Start with “normal” (for your family) and work up to exotic – we all have our specific ways of cooking, so it may take longer for kids to get used to more unusual flavors. Try and pick foods or cuisines that have familiar elements in the beginning.
  • Pack emergency snacks – You never know when picky’s going to strike! Bring backup snacks to augment the meal just in case if your kid has a particularly narrow view of what they’re going to try or eat
  • It’s a win if you try – even if your meal isn’t successful this time, it’s ok – you got out there! Try again and again, and retreat a little if you need back to something more familiar.
  • Sharing is caring – try to eat family style so everyone can sample different dishes and decide their favorite. In restaurants that serve appetizers and entrees, focus on lots of appetizers rather than one or two large plates to get a feel for the place.

Getting hungry? Here are a few of the key cuisines in Houston that you’ll want to try. This is by no means an exhaustive list – there are so many wonderful types of food here! The goal is to give you some ideas, and for you to find your own treasures and create your own memories. Let’s get started!

Killen’s Barbecue is a drive, but it’s well worth it. The kids can nap on the way back!

Barbecue – Nope, it’s not exotic, but understanding what makes really good barbecue also makes you a true Houstonian. Places like Corkscrew (Spring), Tejas Chocolate and Barbecue (Tomball), Killen’s (Pearland), Truth, or Pinkerton’s are good spots to start. With kids it’s crucial to order ALL the sides (mac n’ cheese, potato salad, beans, coleslaw, etc), and of course get 1/4 to 1/2 lb of every meat you can find! If you decide to take a pilgrimage to Killen’s, Tejas, or Corkscrew, remember – get there early (10am), because you’re going to wait in line, and they go until they sell out. Killen’s and Corkscrew have space for the kids to play – don’t forget the sunscreen and an umbrella if it’s blazing hot that day.

Chinese (not the American kind of Chinese food)Wanna Bao and Pepper Twins inside the loop. Even better – go to Chinatown! While we have our Chinatown favorites, Eater’s got you covered on a selection of really delicious places that are time-tested. Dumplings are a kid fan favorite (bao – soup dumplings – are king at Wanna Bao), and the rice dishes are plentiful. The servers at multiple Pepper Twins locations have been more than accommodating in trying to find a good not-so-spicy option for kids.

These are the dumplings at Pepper Twins – they are on the menu at the Fairview location and one of the best things we’ve ever eaten.

Japanese – There are tons of sushi places all over town these days, but Japanese food doesn’t just mean sushi. Explore other special elements of Japanese cuisine at the original Izayaka Wa in Memorial. It’s a family-friendly place that’s unique and memorable!

Real Mex – The places to get legit Mexican food are endless in Houston. El Rey Meat Market near the wonderful collection of produce vendors formerly known as Canino’s or Brother’s Taco House for solid tacos and a great, authentic experience. You may not know what’s in all those tacos, but that’s part of the fun! Or, play hooky from work, grab your kiddo, and head downtown to Irma’s if you want something fancier. There’s no actual menu, but the lemonade is always a must-drink. If you’re looking for a weekend option, try Hugo’s for brunch. It’s expensive, but it’s beyond worth it. Don’t pass up the chance to eat a grasshopper, either – they’re on the buffet – do it!

South Asian – fast food Indian is a great place to dip your toe in the water if your kids are new to the cuisine. Try Tarka Indian Kitchen to start and get a variety of foods to try, such as samosas, biryani, a mild tikka masala or korma curry, and of course a delicious mango lassi to sip on. Finish off the meal with gulab jaman (deep fried pastry balls in honey syrup) and everyone’s happy. If you’re up for more adventure (do it!), try the revered Himalaya or any number of wonderful restaurants in the Mahatma Ghandi District near 59 and Hillcroft.

Can’t go wrong with the tacos (those TORTILLAS!) at El Rey Meat Market!

Tex Mex – We can’t not mention it. Perhaps the only truly Texas cuisine other than barbecue, any Houstonian can point you to some incredible gems like Ninfa’s on Navigation, El Tiempo, or the always-packed Pappasitos. You’ve probably already hit them all up, and the kids have tried every kind of enchilada. If you haven’t yet, a few great menu items to try with your kids are enchiladas, fajitas, and of course a ginormous bowl of queso. Don’t forget to order yourself a margarita as a reward for making such a good choice.

Vietnamese – This healthy and kid-friendly cuisine is an easy go-to when we’re trying to figure out what on earth to eat. Nam Eatery in the Heights and Huynh in East Downtown (pronounced like “win”) are delicious inside the loop options, but Asiatown (AKA Chinatown) is of course the place to be. What to order? Try pho if your kids like chicken noodle soup. Banh mi (sans jalapeno) on fresh, crispy French bread can’t be beat for the sandwich lovers. Banh cuon at Huynh is a sure bet if your kids like lots of different textures – we like to call them “Vietnamese fajitas.”

We hope you now have a few more ideas for Houston food adventures with your kids. What’s your favorite Houston cuisine, restaurant, or dish to share with your family? Let us know in the comments!