Houston, Texas offers big fun on a little budget. From world-class museums to quirky local attractions, the largest city in Texas has something for everyone. And, with a little planning, visitors can enjoy much of Houston’s family friendly fun for free!
Living in Austin, Texas, my family is lucky that we can zip over to Houston for an impromptu mini vacation any time the urge strikes. The sprawling metropolis to our east is a mere two and a half hours away, so we can easily visit without much planning. Recently, we decided to do just that. As an experiment to see how much fun one mama and five kids could cram into a single day in Houston, we embarked on the ultimate day trip. The result? An amazing adventure! I’ll share our madcap itinerary with you below, as well as details on how to visit Houston without breaking the bank.
Visiting Houston, Texas with Kids
Houston Arboretum and Nature Center
The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is a non-profit center that offers 13 nature trails of varying lengths, totaling five miles. We started our day with a half-mile nature walk along the Inner Loop trail, which delighted my kids with a variety of boardwalks, felled logs and ponds. The play area at the end of the trail is a treat, with a collection of rope and wooden swinging bridges, a tunnel, tree stumps for active kids to climb, and more. There is also an indoor Discovery Room for more exploration and learning opportunities.
Bayou Bend Gardens
Next, we headed off to explore the 14 acres of gardens and woodland paths created by Ima Hogg–known as The First Lady of Texas–in the early 20th century. Our favorite part was crossing a suspension bridge over Buffalo Bayou!
Cost: FREE for kids age nine and under; $5 for guests age 10 and up. Tours of the home are available for an additional fee. FREE for everyone on Bayou Family Days.
Children’s Museum of Houston
Parents magazine named Children’s Museum of Houston the best children’s museum in the country, and it’s easy to see why. This place is kid paradise. Littles and bigs alike can climb, jump, build, splash, and invent for hours. We designed LEGO cars to race, explored elaborate playscapes, tried DIY face paint, played at an outdoor water table, made crafts, and earned play money by working various jobs in Kidtropolis. The Museum offers creative stations around every corner!
Cost: FREE on Thursdays from 5 – 8 p.m. FREE for Bank of America customers on the first full weekend of each month (one free ticket per cardholder and you must show your valid card). Regular admission is $12 for visitors age one and up. We found street parking to be cheaper than parking in the museum lot.
Houston Zoo is 55 acres, which is a lot of ground to cover for little legs. We saw seemingly endless exhibits featuring gorillas, giraffes, rhinos, sea lions, red pandas and more. There’s also a water park (free with admission), a carousel, an aquarium, and a children’s zoo.
Cost: FREE admission on the first Tuesday of each month, September through May, from noon until closing. (You still need a ticket to visit during free afternoons, which you can get at the gate or online ahead of time.) Regular admission is $13 for children age two to 11 and $17 for guests age 12 to 64. Parking is free, but the lot fills quickly and it can be difficult to find a spot in the afternoon.
Since we had scored a coveted spot in the Houston Zoo parking lot, we extended our visit to check out the neighboring 445-acre Hermann Park. Here we enjoyed the Hermann Park Railroad (train tickets are $3.25 per person age one and up), Buddy Carruth Playground for all Children, and a splash pad. The park also offers a Japanese Garden, pedal boats, a log house museum, a small urban forest, prairie grassland, scenic trails, fountains, bridges, monuments, sculptures, a café, and the Miller Outdoor Theater. Check the online schedule for free performances at the theater, or just let kids roll down its monster hill!
Houston Museum of Natural Science
This museum is also located in Hermann Park. We didn’t have time to squeeze in a stop here during our whirlwind trip, but I wanted to mention how to save on admission.
Cost: FREE on Thursdays, from 2 – 5 p.m. Regular admission is $15 – $20. If you plan to visit the children’s museum, the zoo, and the Houston Museum of Natural Science, look into the Houston CityPass.
Beer Can House
Houston’s famous Beer Can House house warrants a quick stop, even if you can’t come during its limited operating hours (Saturday and Sunday, from noon – 5 p.m.). If you do manage a visit when it’s open, it is worth the $2 to explore the house, both inside and out. My kids enjoyed seeing what you can do with 50,000+ cans and a little imagination. The mastermind behind this monument was quoted as saying, “I guess I just thought it was a good idea. And it’s easier than painting.”
Cost: FREE for kids; $2 for ages 13 and up.