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, The Great Outdoors

Ode to the Donut Picnic

What do you do when the kids wake you up at 5:45 on a Saturday morning and you can’t get back to sleep? You have a donut picnic!

To avoid the Houston heat and humidity (a normal thing after 9 a.m. most of the year), take advantage of those early morning kid wake ups and get outdoors. A few great reasons to do this in Houston:

  1. You beat all the traffic and the long lines at the donut shop
  2. The weather is pretty darn nice in the early morning, even in August
  3. You get first choice of all the best donuts
  4. Your kids get the sugar they crave AND get to run it off before they crash for nap time
  5. You make some great memories with your kids!

To make this happen, you need 2 things – donuts and a really good, kid-friendly park. If you’re not the biggest fan of donuts, any breakfast item will do! Here are some combos that have worked well for us (you can tell we do this a lot):

  • River Oaks Donuts and River Oaks Park – these two establishments are right across the street from each other. River Oaks Donuts gives you kids a cool crown (pictured above), and you can get some delicious coffee. They also have FILLED donut holes and really creative donut options! River Oaks Park is great for kids ages 5 and under – they have a Cinderella carriage and plenty of great age-appropriate play structures. It’s tucked away on a quiet street and there usually is plenty of street parking, especially early.
  • Shipley Do-nuts and Jaycee Park (or ANY park for that matter!) – you just can’t beat Shipley for warm glazed donuts…especially the one at 3410 Ella. Go through the drive through and make sure to order at least half a dozen of the glazed donuts, because they are always perfectly fresh and warm at that location. Don’t forget kolaches too, another Houston tradition! Jaycee Park is tucked away just outside of the Heights, not too far from the Shipley mentioned above, and it’s got everything you need for the perfect donut picnic for kids of any age: picnic tables, a playground for younger and older kids, and a big field for running after eating.
  • Kolache Shoppe and Levy Park – you’re right, these aren’t donuts, but these kolaches are pretty much the best thing ever and worth calling out. If you’re not from Houston and you don’t know what a kolache is, race over to the Kolache Shoppe immediately and grab at least a dozen! If you’re going to Levy Park, hit up the Greenway Plaza location (note: this Kolache Shoppe location is closed on Sundays). Levy Park is by far the most awesome park in Houston for so many reasons. You can spend hours here, and everyone in the family can enjoy it.
  • Hugs and Donuts and Donovan Park – The donuts at Hugs and Donuts are special and a lot of fun to both eat and pick out. Bring ’em over to the “train park” as Donovan Park is affectionately called, and you’ve got a home run!

Don’t forget to grab some juice and coffee as well to enjoy with your breakfast. We usually eat the donuts so fast we don’t need paper plates, but a few napkins will do in case you need to lay them down. Find a picnic table or nice spot on the grass at the park, and you’re in business!

A small note about cleanup – part of the fun is to let the kids get icing all over themselves, so make sure you’re armed with every parent’s secret weapon: WIPES.

As you can tell, we eat a lot of carbs and spend a lot of time outdoors. I guess it balances out…