Arts & Culture, Food

Houston’s Chinatown with Kids: Always An Epic Adventure!

We’ve been trekking to Chinatown (aka Asiatown) for years, but the last several weekends we’ve made it a point to head down to Bellaire near the Beltway to give some extra support to a community that’s been hurting lately. Irrational fear has recently kept people away from Chinatowns in cities all across the country because of the COVID-19 virus. It’s definitely a scary thing, but it’s also scary when local businesses and the families who run them are hurting. We decided to try our best and help out by heading down to Chinatown as much as possible to support them.

If you’re trying to plan your weekend with kids, Chinatown is a place for endless fun (and food!), and double bonus: you get to help people out while you’re having a blast. Here are some of our favorite things to do with our kids.

Snacks abound in Chinatown – the trouble is choosing which ones to take home, because they are all so interesting and delicious!

Go get some groceries!
Yes, you already do this multiple times a week, but it’s different in Chinatown. Among the things you can do in any Chinatown grocery store:

  • Explore the produce: even if your kids have well-traveled palates, you’ll find at least one fruit or vegetable you haven’t seen or tasted before. Make it a point to go find the jackfruit – it’s spiky to touch and gigantic – and marvel at the wide variety of root vegetables. Pick up a few items to try at home too!
  • Marvel at the fish: you can’t get fresher than live fish, and the grocery stores in Chinatown have an incredible selection. You can see fish in giant fish tanks swimming around, watch the crabs and lobsters scuttle around, and if you’re lucky the person behind the fish counter may even cajole a live geoduck or scallop. One grocery store had live frogs! Which one? You’ll have to go explore to find out.
  • Go on an import shopping spree: whether your vice is sweets, salty snacks, tea of all kinds, or something else delicious, you’ll find it in a Chinatown grocery store. Our favorite things to get are these sesame and coconut crackers at H-Mart, every flavor of Hello Panda and Pocky under the sun, Ramune (the marble drink!), and of course every wacky flavor of Lay’s chips you can find (Cucumber? Short rib? Why not!).
  • Ask nicely for a sample: the folks giving samples aren’t as plentiful as HEB, but when have you had sea bass at HEB – and sea bass that your kid gobbles down in a blink, no less. Last time we got to try these lemon wafer cookies that are now an after dinner staple in our house!
  • Shop for kitchen goods and gadgets: Need a real wok? How about some adorable his and her chopsticks? Some beautiful bowls for soup or rice? The perfect bamboo spoon? A bargain basement rice cooker that makes perfect rice? You can find all this and more at the grocery store, and the kids love to check it all out while you shop!
The jackfruit is spiky and giant, and often there’s one cut up next to the whole ones so you can see the inside too!

Grocery stores to check out (they are all on Bellaire Blvd within blocks of each other on the north side of the street – easy to find!):

  • H-Mart: This is actually a Korean grocery store, and it’s got a fantastic selection from all around the world. It’s our favorite for the snack selection, though all of them are good.
  • Jusgo: Here you’ll find all sorts of interesting household wares, and it’s got the best selection of live aquatic animals.
  • Welcome Food Center: A solid produce and snack selection, and don’t miss the roast duck hanging in the prepared foods area.

Run Around!
Kids need a little energy burned before you sit down for a meal? Never fear, there’s a giant park just minutes away! Arthur Storey Park is right on the Beltway. It’s easy to access and fun to run. There is a playground and swing set near the front, and you can walk along the bayou or follow the trails to explore the larger park. We never have taken photos here because we are too busy running around having fun, so you’ll have to see for yourself!

We loved the ramen at Tiger Den so much that we accidentally re-enacted Lady and the Tramp in a race to the bottom of the bowl!

Get Your Grub On
When you’re ready to grab some food, you can go one of two ways – just pick a random option (you probably won’t be disappointed) or go with some of the perennial favorites. There are tons of great articles, including the ones we reference quite often in Eater and Houstonia, so we won’t provide an exhaustive list here. These are some of our favorite with kids:

  • Tiger Den: This place is always packed and there’s a good reason – the ramen just can’t be beat. It’s perfect for kids of all ages! Our kids gobble everything down, including fried octopus balls, tonkotsu ramen (mild and traditional – ask for an extra soft-boiled egg or two!), and meat and seafood skewers of all kinds.
  • Okome Don: Probably the best poke place we’ve been to, Okome Don is a light and fresh choice that allows your kids to get all their veggies in while not even noticing.
  • Fufu Cafe: Known for its soup dumplings, pretty much everything on the menu is inexpensive and awesome. Just remember that even though it’s inexpensive, it’s still a ton of food! If your server looks at you strangely, it’s probably because you ordered enough to feed a small army.
When a normal ice cream cone just won’t do the trick, add some “fairy floss” and a toasty marshmallow at Aqua S!

Indulge Your Sweet Tooth
It would be an absolute travesty to not save room for dessert in probably the best area of town to get any sort of dessert you want! We’ve had more dessert trips to Chinatown than we have fingers and toes, so here are our top picks:

  • Aqua S: Right next to Tiger Den, this incredible soft serve ice cream place won’t leave you feeling weighed down, but you will be impressed by the wild toppings you can choose!
  • Nu Cafe Houston: The perfect food on a hot day is a giant pile of shaved ice covered in fruit and gelatin. I feel like I think about it in my sleep at least once a week, and my kids can’t wait to get there and chow down!
  • 85 degrees C Bakery Cafe: If pastries and cakes are your thing, this is the place to get a gorgeous and delicious selection of desserts. Bring your crew so you can try several!

What are your favorite Chinatown spots? 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!

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?

Arts & Culture

How to Enjoy Art with Young Kids in Houston

Street art can be found in the most unusual places!

Even though my kids aren’t really into coloring, crafts, or art of any kind that they make themselves, we have tried really hard since they were born to make sure they at least appreciate and get to see different kinds of art. Lucky for us, Houston some fantastic opportunities to see and interact with art that kids can really enjoy.

Some of the principles we try and stick with when exposing our kids to art may be helpful in planning your adventure:

  1. Infants and older babies love to look at bright colors and patterns. Modern art is perfect for helping these little ones soak in the world! Get them out of the stroller and hold them up so they can see and you can engage with them.
  2. Toddlers are learning their colors, names of items in their world (food, transportation, nature, etc), and discovering emotions – a scavenger hunt to find these things in painting and sculpture is super fun. A well-rested toddler can have a blast at a museum when engaged to look at and talk about the art. Be sure to corral them so they don’t damage anything, but let them walk around and move toward art and objects they are fascinated by.
  3. Elementary aged kids have plenty of opinions! Make sure to ask them to find their favorite piece of art and tell you why they love it. If your kid likes to draw, bring along some pencils and paper so they can capture the essence of something they love.
  4. Art doesn’t have to be in a museum, especially with the emergence of so much great street art in this city! It’s worth making an effort to seek out works by Houston’s local and extremely talented muralists like Anat Ronen, Mr. D, and Nicky Davis, not to mention sculptures from the legendary David Adickes.
  5. Ask your kids developmentally appropriate questions about art. Talk to your kids about what art is and isn’t, and get their thoughts on it. Ask them what they like and what they are inspired by. If they can’t talk yet, follow their lead as they point.
  6. Let kids of any age linger as long as they like when they find art they love. Come back again and again to enjoy it. If it’s in a place like the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, get a membership so you can make quick trips.
  7. Don’t worry about feeling like a fish out of water if art is new or unfamiliar to you. Some art is actually meant to evoke these feelings. Experiencing art with your kids will help you both learn and grow, whether you’re new at this or a seasoned gallery owner!
Our favorite, the Matisse at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston!

Here are a few ideas to get your Houston art journey started with your kids, no matter how small or big they are:

  • Visit the Museum of Fine Arts, especially in the summer when the interactive exhibits come to town. Really, it’s amazing all year round. Don’t miss the tunnel by James Turrell connecting the two main buildings that changes colors. Ride the super long escalators. Spend extra time looking at the modern and contemporary art for some great engagement and conversation. Explore the historical artifacts from ancient Greece and Rome, and trace your fingers in the carved letters of the giant stone indoor donor wall while you see if the little kids can recognize any of the alphabet. When you’re hungry, the MFA Cafe is newly redone and has delicious food for kids and grownups. When you need to stretch your legs, go run around the Cullen Sculpture Garden or walk up to the roof of the Glassell school to see Montrose from a whole new angle.
  • Go on a scavenger hunt for street art! Here’s a guide to a ton of sites, but remember – they are always changing, so try to find something new, special, and unexpected by taking a drive around town. East Downtown and Westheimer are two places to start your adventure. Take advantage of the car nap while you’re at it!
  • The Menil Collection is a perennial favorite because it’s free, really easy to do in small doses, and there’s a nice big park with oak trees outside (perfect for a picnic). If you didn’t bring food, check out Bistro Menil across the street for fancy dining or head down the road to West Alabama Ice House to get a beer along with taco or five from Tacos Tierra Caliente. Don’t miss the Surrealists, Pacific American Art, and art from Africa, all in the Menil’s permanent collection. Also remember that the Menil is a campus with several different buildings that you can visit and enjoy. Ask the person at the desk for a map and go explore!
  • The Contemporary Art Museum of Houston is small with only 2 galleries, but it’s worth a visit. Check before you go to make sure the exhibitions are kid appropriate, because sometimes they can be scary to young kids or contain adult themes. When it’s good, it’s really good! It also has the BEST museum gift shop around with lots of fun things for kids to play with and for your to purchase.
  • Other free and awesome art museums in Houston for kids include the Museum of Contemporary Craft and Lawndale Art Center, which are right next to each other and generally good for kids. Be sure to check their calendars and go when they have a kid-friendly activity, because they are really creative and happy to have kids explore. At the Museum of Contemporary Craft there are artist spaces where kids can sometimes see artists in residence at work!
  • Galleries like those at Silver Street Studios or Art League Houston are fun and unexpected opportunities to interact with the art community and see something innovative and really different.
  • In a class all its own, the Orange Show and all its wonderful tentacles like the Art Car Museum, Smither Park, and Beer Can House deserves and will get its very own post. Kids of all ages will be fascinated by all of it!
  • Annual art events that happen in Houston include Via Colori street painting festival in November and Bayou City Art Festival in April/March (Memorial Park) and October (Downtown). They are both very kid friendly and worth attending!
Via Colori street painting festival

This is not even close to scratching the surface of all the wonderful opportunities for art in Houston, but hopefully it provides some inspiration to explore something you didn’t know about and make a memory with your kids. Let us know what art in Houston inspires you and your kids!